(Article written on 11 Jan 2020, but actually completed in the first week of June 2020)
(God’s message to man is an eternal message, which has come to us finally, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is God’s final word to man. There is no other message apart from or in addition to Christ. Since this message is in a person, it is a highly daunting task to understand Him, since we almost always seem to cast him in the mould of fallen humanity. It is also a solemn and a daunting task to fulfill the calling to be God’s messengers at a time when there are so many voices claiming to be speaking for God. But it must be done, not because one has any confidence in one’s self but because the One who calls is faithful to uphold. “And who is sufficient for these things? … Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God”
Although I wrote this in January 2020, I felt that we were not ready for it yet. But since the onset of the coronavirus and the devastation it is leaving behind across the globe, I felt the time was right to release it. But the things I have written in this message are very serious. I have thought over these, prayed, wept, talked with myself and with God for several years. In fact, I do not feel up to the task at all. Even if neither I nor anyone else that I know has followed wholly what I have written here, this message needs to be spoken/written for no other reason than that it must be spoken/written. Yes, very few have lived or practiced what I have written here. To my knowledge only two men in history lived and challenged others to follow them – the Lord himself and his apostle, Paul. I am sure there are others. Some thoughts needed repetition under different sections, so please bear with me if you find the article repetitive. It is also because I want to be clear, coherent and emphatic. I am writing not because I obeyed the Lord completely but because I am compelled to write, if it is only to set the bar for myself and for anyone who cares to read. My hope and prayer is, that someone somewhere who reads it will take up the challenge and live it. One thing I can claim and that is, I have been given the grace to write what I have. May the Lord speak to you as you read and listen)
“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” These were the words of John the Baptiser to those who came to him to be baptized at River Jordan.
A lot can be said about these words of John but two questions that arise immediately…
- What is the wrath that John is talking about?
- What does ‘to come’ mean here?
‘Wrath to come’
Other contextually similar references to wrath in the New Testament are, (the rest of the page 1 contains scriptural references. You could skip these for now and come back to them later).
John 3:36, “…but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”
Romans 2:5, “… you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.”
Romans 2:8, “…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
Romans 5:9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
Romans 9:22, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”
Ephesians 2: 3, “… and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Ephesians 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Colossians 3: 6, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
1 Thess 1: 10, “…Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
1 Thess 5: 9, “God has not destined us for wrath…”
Revelation 6: 16, 17, “…calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Revelation 11: 18, “…We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
Revelation 16:17-21, “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.”
Revelation 19: 15, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
Two major observations can be made from the above references to ‘wrath’ from the New Testament.
- The wrath of God is already upon the world and upon all that man has done and does outside of His relationship with God. The phrase ‘wrath to come’ – to come is in present active participle in Greek, which means it is already coming upon us.
- There is a future unleashing of God’s wrath upon all of humanity, which will be after the final judgement
To begin with, a brief explanation of Romans 1:18 is in order, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” The words ‘is revealed’ suggests that it is happening already. The words ‘ungodliness and unrighteousness’ must be understood as anything that is outside of a relationship with God. Not to believe in God nor to acknowledge Him and to live independent of Him is ungodliness and unrighteousness.
God’s wrath is God’s displeasure to man’s choices. It means God lets man reap the consequences of his rebellion by letting him have what he has chosen. And the more man proceeds in his actions apart from God, the more God lets him proceed in the direction of his choices. This leads to more and more degenerate behaviour (Romans 1:18-31). This is how God’s wrath is revealed against all that humans have done, independent of God since the fall. Therefore, all that man has done apart from God since his fall is under the wrath of God.
What is generally known as ‘common grace’ operates in the realm of the natural or the physical world so that everything that ought to happen in nature happens in general, regularly. And whatever ‘goodness’ you see humans demonstrating is because of the image of God in man. But even such goodness, since it does not flow from a relationship with God, is not good in the sight of God. Once man disobeyed and went away from God, any goodness he shows is still not considered good as far as God is concerned. Since any good he does now, he does from motives of self-interest – to find his meaning, value or worth apart from God.
Hence, it is most shocking and very scary to note that all human effort, all human endeavor and all human enterprise, howsoever wise and noble by human standards, howsoever grand and beautiful to human perceptions, and howsoever beneficial to human need – everything is already under the wrath of God; since it is outside of man’s relationship with God and therefore in disobedience to God’s will. This is a fact that is often lost on even those who call themselves as God’s own people.
All the knowledge that man has acquired and amassed during his existence on earth; all the scientific knowledge and technological expertise that he has discovered and explored; all the economic systems, all the political ideologies he has espoused and experimented with, all the religious philosophies and ideologies, all the sociological structures, practices and traditions, all his architectural marvels and all his philanthropic and humanitarian activities – everything that humans have done since his fall from God, everything is under the wrath of God. This is the stand of the Bible, even if its own proponents have often missed it.
Often this is missed because many so-called ‘children of God’ were involved in several areas of these human enterprises and many have participated, prospered and promoted these. Some of us even claimed that we were led by God! I wonder if that is possible! How can God lead us into that which is under His wrath, especially if it is to find our value in it?! The case of Joseph and Daniel and his friends is different. They were either sold as slaves or taken captive. They did not go seeking their careers in those nations. God might lead us to be there as his witnesses but not for pursuing careers nor to find our identities and securities. Christians, beware what you are doing there, in and with the world! This I would say my friends, is a deception of millennial proportions.
To think that, that which is good, beautiful and necessary in the transient, temporal and the physical world (of fallen humanity’s making), is acceptable to God and that one can pursue, participate and enjoy these with prayers, thanksgiving and piety is a deception of global and millennial proportions. Actually, such Christianity is no different from any of the other religions of the world. This is nothing but blindness caused by the god of this age, so that we do not see the glory of God in the face of His Son, Jesus Christ. This being the case we have totally missed the point of the incarnation of the Son of God and the life he lived on earth. We just cast him in the mould of fallen humanity and interpret and understand his life as one without sin which in our understanding is, not to have any moral imperfections. (More on this later in the article)
We simply presumed that it was alright to pursue and participate in the activities of fallen humanity, thinking that it was necessary for living. Such thinking was also supported by world-affirming and world-accepting sermons from our teachers and preachers. By world, I do not mean the physical or the natural world but what fallen humanity has done by his study and exploration of the natural and the physical world independent of the Creator. Whatever we think as ‘good, beautiful and safe’ around us is only ‘good, beautiful and safe’ because of what is termed as ‘common grace of God’ in nature and the image of God in man. But for this, our situation on earth would have been unimaginably unbearable.
We have been so enamoured and enthralled by the physical and what is seen on the outside as ‘good, beautiful and safe’ that we have lost God’s way of seeing. We have lost the spiritual and eternal perspective with which we as God’s people are supposed to see, hear, feel and understand. We have actually lost our spiritual senses because we became more tuned to the physical and the material world. Some of us have never developed our spiritual senses. Therefore, our behaviours are infantile – seeking and satisfying purely the transient, the temporal and the physical. (There is more on this later in the article)
That the world is already under the wrath of God is the consistent view of scripture, of Lord Jesus Christ and of his apostles. There is no ambiguity, no commiseration, nor any glossing over of this fact. Nor does any of them make an apology for it. Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (Jn 7: 7). Why evil? Because they are alienated from God. “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Col 1:21).
A lack of this understanding about the world, is the real cause for worldliness among Christians today. This is the reason why it is shocking to see those who claim to be the people of God, courting, cavorting and cohabiting with the world without any compunction. The story of Achan from Joshua 7 is very instructive here. When the redeemed people of God indulge with that which is under God’s judgement, they too become liable to the same judgement (Joshua 7: 11-12). And it is precisely because of this reason I wonder, if much of what passes for Christianity among us will stand God’s judgement on the last day. And it is because of the same reason I wonder if God’s judgement is not already on much of what passes for Christianity among us today!
Some might ask ‘Then how do you explain so much good that is going on in and through the church and the thousands of ministries worldwide?’ I wouldn’t say everything, but much of what is going on in and through the churches and ministries and much of the ‘goodness’ among Christians is because of the ‘common grace’ and the ‘image of God’ in us. The life and the power of the kingdom of God, which was brought through Jesus Christ and his redemptive work of grace is hardly in evidence among us. Although this is true of the earlier centuries, it is more true of the latter half of the 20th Century and the early decades of the 21st than ever before. And I feel devastated saying it!
I firmly believe that everything we are doing as Christians today – the way our lives are constituted and lived, our churches and our ministries along with all their systems, structures, patterns and strategies, from the least to the greatest reek of the world. And this has been going on for several centuries now. Our condition as Christians is more pitiable than of the world. Because in the glare of the light of the gospel, we cozied up to and lived comfortably with the world and its ways. Can there be anything more horrifying than that!?
Some might think that I am painting a bleak picture of our present condition and the future. The truth is, it is a very bleak one, and I am only being truthful. Examine the scripture and seek the face of the Lord, do not be carried away by what people think as good or that which is purely physical, external and temporal good. This is not the time for gentility nor for platitudes. In fact, the Lord said If we seek praise from men, it is hard to live the life of faith (Jn 5:44; 12:43). This is not about spiritual perfectionism either. I am talking about what our consistent and continuous course of living ought to be. We cannot be living continuously and consistently in the ways and patterns of the world and not expect God’s displeasure!
How to live then?
But the real question is, how then should we live? There are at least three ways this question can be answered.
First, if it is about escaping the wrath of God which is already upon this world then the simple and straight forward answer is ‘to be in Christ’. For, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1). Those who are in Christ do not habitually and continuously live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. The word flesh here should not be interpreted only as ‘fallen sinful nature’ as has been done often. It must be understood as not living purely for the physical but to learn to live in the realm of the spiritual as those who are now born of the Spirit of God and are therefore essentially spiritual beings living in a body. For the physical is temporal but to live in the Spirit is eternal (2 Cor 4:18). This means we no longer live under the control of our bodies but under the control of the Spirit of God.
Hence the words of Paul in Romans 8: 1-16,
- Those who are in Christ Jesus are no more under the wrath of God
- They do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit
- They set their minds on the things of the Spirit and not on things of the flesh
- They are indwelt by the Spirit of God
- They are led by the Spirit and are the sons of God
- To live in the flesh is death but to live in the Spirit is life and peace
- Those who live according to the flesh cannot please God, and are hostile to God.
Paul’s words in Romans 8: 1-8 suggest that it is possible for those who are born of the Spirit to set their minds on the things of the flesh and to walk according to the flesh. Having been regenerated in the Spirit, they must learn to walk in the Spirit and set their minds on the things of the Spirit. But the pressures of living in the world are so great that often we let our minds to think of the purely physical to the detriment of our spiritual life and growth. So, we begin to focus on food, clothes, house, education, employment, marriage and so on. This was the first temptation of Jesus, to think about his physical need of hunger. But Jesus knew what the issue was. So, his reply, “Man shall not live by bread alone’. The genius of Jesus knew when to say ‘no’ and where to draw the line between what is necessary and what is not. This is where most Christians and their leaders have faltered.
All focus in Christian living and ministry ought to be to lead people to a closer walk with the Lord – to learn to be led by His Spirit and to live in the Spirit. All physical activities of Bible-reading, church gathering, evangelism and so on must be geared towards the same goal. None of these activities have any value in themselves, unless they are done as a result of the leading of the Spirit of God and for the sake of knowing God. If not, they degenerate into purely physical activities leading to spiritual pride and to the puffing up of the flesh. So ironically in the name of teaching people to ‘walk in the spirit’ we maybe actually leading them to ‘walk in the flesh’. This is what we see happening mostly among Christians today. Thus, not only meriting God’s displeasure but actually becoming hostile to God. Alas, my friends!
It must be stressed here that once you choose to live purely for the physical, the external and the temporal and go against God’s leading, you begin to go on a path which is hostile to God and end up displeasing Him. This further leads to God letting you have what you want, because that is what you have chosen. His nudging and promptings continue but when you do not heed, He lets you have what you want, thus experiencing His judgement. But rather than seeing this as judgement, many think that God is actually prospering them in their efforts for bigger, greater and larger reach in life and ministry. This is true of many in ministry too. My dear brother and sister, beware when God lets you have what you want!! This means he is letting you go on the path of your own choices and self-interests as He did with fallen humanity. This also means He is letting you go on a path of self-destruction. This was the story of the Israelites who perished in the wilderness and of those who entered Canaan but never experienced the promised rest. This is also the story of Samson and of king Saul in the Old Testament and the story of hordes of Christians worldwide and also of many who are in the ministry.
I must add here that many who have begun in the Spirit have lapsed into purely physical, temporal and external patterns of living and ministry. Many begin in faith but are now overtaken by concerns for the future and to conserve what they think is the vision given by the Lord. They begin to do things from motives of insecurity or to seek identity in who they are and what they do rather than in the Lord. This happens when the free will lapses into self-willed decisions, and we do not heed the promptings of the Spirit of God, because what we have chosen by our self-will is not bad in itself and might be even for ministry causes. God does speak but since we do not heed Him, He gives up on us to our own devices. His giving up on us is His judgement of our ways. The blind admirers and sycophants who surround us and whose identity is contingent upon our success affirm us and encourage us in our ways. The downward slide begins to get easier for the sheer force of gravity drags us down leading to the deception that God is actually working on our behalf since it is getting easier to do what we have chosen to do!
A classic example of this is seen in the lives of King Saul and King David. One did not pay attention to God but another did. King Saul wanted to offer sacrifices to God with the goats and sheep he spared but in blatant disobedience to the word of God. In the bargain he lost the throne. David, on the other hand wanted to build the sanctuary for God. Even Prophet Nathan thought it was a good idea and encouraged him. But God’s word came to Nathan saying that it was not David who would build a sanctuary. David heeded God’s word and retained his throne and for eternity, in the Son of David!
Since the second half of the 20th Century, we have seen a proliferation of Christian ministries which are mostly run on the private entrepreneurship and the globalisation model of the business world. Since the cause is ‘good’ according to our thinking, no one asks the question if these are of the Lord. I wonder how many of them were successful because the Lord had given them up to the devices of their own self-will! When you have adopted the model of the business world for doing the work of God, is it not abject blindness if not willful presumption, to think that your success and greatness was of the Lord? Isn’t this the reason the Lord says, ‘I do not know you, you workers of lawlessness’ Lawless because they did not seek the Lord but sought their own success and glory! Hence, I do not hesitate to say that all such works are under the wrath of God because they left the shelter of His grace by following the ways of the world which is under His wrath!
There has been a distortion of the way the gospel has been understood and presented in the last 100 years or so. This happened by focusing on ‘forgiveness of sin, escaping hell and going to heaven’ in the preaching of the gospel. Gospel is about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15), which is about God’s rule in our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ. We certainly must repent and confess our sin to be saved. But the sin that we repent and confess is not only the moral infractions and violations of the law but we must also repent of the original sin of man, of rejecting God and not living in the dynamic of a relationship with Him. Having rejected God, man chose to live independently – by acquiring knowledge of the world to decide what is good and what is not, for himself. This has led him to explore the world and to create by his own knowledge, systems and structures that would make life easy for him. To repent of original sin is to turn our back on all that man has done after breaking faith with His creator and to enter into relationship with God and live by that dynamic. This is the meaning of entering into the kingdom of God – to live by a totally different dynamic – the dynamic of the resurrection of Christ. To live with this dynamic is to live a life that is totally different from anything in this world. It requires a total break with the world and the way life is understood and lived by humanity now – of acquiring education, securing a job, earning money and so on. To preach anything less than this is not only to mislead people into a faith which is not of Christ and of his apostles but it would be a gross distortion of the gospel and would cease to be the gospel. Such deficient preaching is an anathema to Biblical faith and would certainly merit God’s displeasure.
If people come to Christ for ‘forgiveness of sin, escape hell and go to heaven’ and have never been born of the Spirit, how do they grow spiritually or what do they grow into? To grow spiritually is to grow in greater intimacy with God. It is also about growing out of fleshly or worldly mindedness and increasing in ‘setting our mind on the things of the Spirit’. Spiritual growth is also about learning to be increasingly led by the Spirit and not by the criteria of the world – the physical, temporal and transient. If people have not turned their back on the world or the life of fallen humanity, they will never see any kind of spiritual growth. Such people would grow only in the physical, temporal, transient aspects of life but never spiritually. Our ‘churches’ are full of such people. It is heart-breaking that this is the state of affairs of most who call themselves as Christians! How alarming and how sad!
Os Guinness writes, “Hardly any Christians are world-denying these days…On every side we see Christians pursuing the rage for relevance, whether seeking the respect of the “cultured despisers’ of the gospel, reaching out to the contemporary “unchurched” with a “user friendly” gospel, or just enjoying the comforts of the age. For many believers the Christian life is now a good life: it simply “goes better with Jesus” even if there is no God and no Resurrection. The result is a series of adaptations of the Christian faith to modern man that are a capitulation with few rivals in two thousand years.” (The Call, Os Guinness, 2003)
Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), founder of the Royal College of Physicians and a distinguished Oxford humanist, was so troubled after reading the four gospels for the first time said, “Either these are not the gospels or we are not Christians.” I believe what he said is as true today almost six centuries later as it was during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII in 15th century England. The gospel that is being preached today and the lives that many Christians profess to live is totally repugnant and anyone who thinks that this is what it means to be Christian, does not know Christ nor understand the meaning of the cross. Such preaching and such lives are totally of the flesh and of the world and are patently hostile to God.
Our inordinate focus with life in the world, worrying about food, clothes, education, jobs, careers, houses and the preoccupation with the ‘physical aspects of worship’ namely attendance at a physical place, building of such places thinking that these are mandatory for worship and fellowship. All these indicate that our focus is on the physical. Even our prayers mostly focus on these. To set our minds on the things of the flesh is to be enslaved to the physical. But it also sets us up against God. What a sad state of affairs? In order to escape the wrath of God, we come into Christ and lapse into living in and for the flesh and end up displeasing God! Millions of Christians are totally oblivious to the danger they are in, because they think they are safe! Do you still wonder why the Lord asked, “When the Son of man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
The second answer to the question how then should we live is, to live as Christ lived. In fact, Jesus is the only one who models for us ‘life in the Spirit’. All the statements from Romans 8:1-16, can be applied to his life on earth and they fit Him perfectly. But there is another way to look at his life. We can look at his life as portrayed for us in the gospels and learn how we should live. His was a life which was not under the wrath of God or a life that turns its back on everything which is under the wrath of God. In fact, it was only about Him, God declared that He was totally pleased. Therefore, to live outside of the wrath of God is to live as Christ lived.
To think of Christ as morally perfect, in the sense of one without sin needs explanation. The word for sin in the Bible is, ‘missing the mark’. The question that needs to be asked is, what is the mark that has been missed? The mark is the mark which God has set for man to follow in order to make his life meaningful, coherent and complete. According to the Old Testament and Jesus Christ, God’s mark for man is “The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4.5; Matt 22:37,38) To seek God, to love Him and to obey Him is the mark of God for man. Jesus is the only one who met that mark perfectly. To love God and to live for Him is the only thing moral. Everything else is immoral. It is the only thing lawful. Everything else is unlawful. It is the only legitimate way of living. Living for anything else or anyone else is illegitimate. To love and live for anything else is evil, sinful and to be under the wrath of God.
The life of Jesus was marked by total devotedness and dependence upon the Father for everything. He loved God with a single-hearted devotion and single-minded commitment. He denied himself of his own will and yielded to the Father’s will. He did not seek his own pleasure nor his own safety nor even his own glory. He did not waver in this even if it meant incarnation and atoning death upon the cross. Everything he said or did was drawn from his relationship with the Father. Neither he nor any of his immediate followers sought their strength nor sustenance for living from anything of fallen humanity.
Jesus depended on God even for his knowledge and teaching. Jesus very clearly stated that even his teaching was given to him by the Father and he did not acquire it by learning. His knowledge was not by acquiring information but was learnt intuitively by dependence upon the Father through the Spirit. “And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” (John 7: 15, 16). “Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me”. (John 17: 7, 8). The deep love and intimacy that existed between Jesus Christ and God is unparalleled in the history of humanity. No man ever loved God, as Jesus the Man had. No man ever served God, as Jesus the Man served. No man ever depended on God, as Jesus the Man did. Jesus depended on God not only for sustenance, security and identity needs but also for His guidance in making decisions about where to go and what to do, including who to heal and who to teach and who to save (John 5:19,20). His decisions were not based on the availability of funds nor the numbers who would benefit and not according to human time-line.
If his knowledge was by learning or acquiring learning, he would have sought the religious teachers of the day. Hence the religious leaders were surprised again and again by his teaching, as to where he got it from. This was also evident when he was twelve years of age, “And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” As Jesus says, those who speak with knowledge gained from the world, speak for their own glory, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory” (John 7:18) but the one who speaks from God seeks God’s glory. It is because of the same reason Paul, the apostle writes, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7, 8) And I believe it is for this reason, Christ chose simple fisher men, who had nothing to boast of, to be his disciples and all the others who followed him were men who repudiated what they acquired in the world. That was the basic condition in the call to follow him – to deny oneself and to forsake the world.
Such is the only life that passes muster before God and such life is the only life that escapes the wrath of God. Every other way which depends upon the world for its sustenance, significance and satisfaction is not of the Father but is of the world and is under the wrath of God.
Do you still wonder that some will hear the words, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”? In fact, I feel there will be many in that category. Many who think they are living for God and many who think they are serving God are actually living for themselves and serving themselves – to build their futures, their careers, their securities and their identities. As mentioned above, not to love God and not to live by the life drawn from our relationship with Him is lawlessness and therefore merits God’s displeasure. This is not an opinion or a perspective. Examine it and see if it is not the truth of the word of God. Ignore it my friend if you will, at your own eternal peril.
The third way to understand and to answer the question, how then should we live, is to put it in terms of the two alternatives that were given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The way of the ‘tree of life’ and the way of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’. The first option leads to life and the second leads to death. Adam and Eve chose the second and thus brought the wrath of God upon all humanity, which is already upon us and the full brunt of it will be upon us after the final judgement.
This is the reason scripture repeatedly warns us that this world is passing away or that all humanity is under God’s wrath. Since everything is under the wrath of God, therefore everything is in the process of dissipation, of decay and death. To be born of the Spirit of God and to live by the Spirit of God is the only way to escape the dissolution in this world and the one to come.
Hence the words of John the Baptiser, “… flee from the wrath to come” – to repent of everything that one has learnt or acquired from the world and to enter into the Kingdom of God. It means to turn our back on all that the world has to offer. Its knowledge and wisdom – including all the knowledge that man has amassed through science and technology; its power and glory – including all the structures of power and position it offers whether political or economic; its religious beliefs and institutions (including much of what passes for Christianity) – for they are all creations of fallen humanity to provide eternal solutions for himself; its promise of life – which is purely for the temporal and physical but nothing of eternal significance. We must repent and turn our backs from all these and follow Christ. To follow Christ is to learn to live as he lived in devotion and dependence upon the Father. This is actually the way of the tree of life.
The way of the tree of life is totally different from anything this world has ever known. It is totally contrary to everything that this world does. Except Lord Jesus Christ and a few of his followers down through centuries, very few understood it or explored it. It is a life lived in relationship with God and everything else that flows from that dynamic. This way of living is so rare that it is very difficult to visualize or to even write about it. It requires a very close and careful observation of the life of Christ in the gospels. An observation and study which must make sure not to cast his life in the mould of the life which humanity has chosen, namely, the path of tree of knowledge of good and evil. But the Christ we seem to be following is of our own image and our own likeness! Tragically and to our own loss, this is what happened down through centuries and therefore we hardly know Christ as he ought to be known. Hence Paul’s words in Eph 4: 20 (though in a slightly different context), “But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus”.
In this path, what do we do for our living in the world? The words of the Lord in Matt 6:25 are clear, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” So, the whole approach to living is by way of trusting God and not one’s own efforts to provide for oneself. We pursue God’s rule or kingdom in our life and trust God to take care of our needs. He does it by guiding us to provide for ourselves or by providing it to us in inexplicable ways. Very few explored this way of living so very few of us know about it. And when the few who know it, talk about it we explain it away as coincidental or that it was because of the generosity of others.
But it is the people who are in the way of the tree of knowledge of good and evil who worry about ‘what to eat, what to wear and so on’. They worry and strive with their own knowledge and effort for their sustenance, security and identities. “For after all these things the Gentiles seek.” All of humanity’s efforts for education, economics, commerce and trade, politics and everything else, arise from the quest for sustenance, security and identity. Over the years these efforts have taken the shape of careers and middle-class pursuits. Such that even ‘ministry’ has become a career to pursue for one’s own growth and development and the church has become an enterprise which promises sustenance, security and identity. And God? Well, He is there to take care of me as I live my life and pursue my career, isn’t He?!
Many who follow Christ begin on a right note but as life goes on, they succumb to the cares of life and the pressure that builds up to make a good living. This is true even of many pastors, teachers, preachers and the men who we consider as ‘great men of God’. This pressure has increased manifold with industrialisation, consumerism and globalisation. What is unfortunate is, that we have begun to interpret scripture to suit this adaptation to the world as wise management of life or as good stewardship. This is the trap in which millions of followers of Christ are mired in and do not even know that they are far from what the calling to follow Christ entails!
As Lot, who saw the green pastures of Sodom and Gomorrah, we too seek better prospects that are on offer in the world and stray from the life of faith as that of Abraham. But for the intercession of Abraham, Lot would have perished with Sodom.
The truth is, practically all of us with very few exceptions have just followed the ways of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ – in our lifestyles, in our worship patterns, the way we ‘do church’ and ministry, In our understanding of knowledge and how we acquire it including biblical knowledge as imparted and acquired whether in the church or in the seminaries and in the way our church administrations and organizations are structured and so on. There is practically no area where we have learnt to live by the ways of the ‘tree of life’. In fact, we can safely say that the way of the ‘tree of life’ is totally alien to us! And we don’t even know the difference. Nor have we ever cared to think about it!
Do you now understand why I said earlier that much of what is going on among us today is because of the ‘common grace’ and the ‘image of God’ in us? We hardly know nor have we seen the power of the kingdom of God or the way of the tree of life in our times. If we cared to study the life of Christ without the blinkers of fallen humanity, we would see that it was totally different from anything that we know or have seen in the world. We were busy capitulating and adjusting with the world and its ways. The pressures of living dictated it. In all our ways of knowledge and scholarship we have been actually ‘trimming our ways’ (Jer 2:33) to make it easy to accommodate with the world with its patterns of living and weave it into our theologies and into our hermeneutics. Our theologies and hermeneutics were more focused on missions and evangelism; on the great commission rather than on the greatest commandment. Consequently, our interpretation of scripture and preaching became focused on the pragmatic way of living; on the here and now. Rather than engaging in exegesis, we began to indulge in eisegesis, such that we now understand scripture from the perspective of the needs and values of modern living. Hence, we have Christians whose lives are so well adjusted to the world, they do not even know that they are actually plundered and enslaved to it!
Please read what the Lord said about His people Israel in Isa 42, “17 They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, “You are our gods.” 18 Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? 20 He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. 21 The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious. 22 But this is a people plundered and looted; they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become plunder with none to rescue, spoil with none to say, “Restore!” 23 Who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come? 24 Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey? 25 So he poured on him the heat of his anger and the might of battle; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart.”
Therefore, I repeat in view of what is written above, it is not only the world and the people of the world who are in dire danger but even Christians and churches are in that danger. For practically none of us seem to have understood the call to follow Christ nor the life Christ lived while he was on earth. While claiming to be born again and following Christ we have been actually following the world and the way of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What makes us think that we are safe when even God’s own chosen people were not spared? Yes, we are complacent that we are under grace. But do not be fooled! If we do not live consistent with our calling, as those who are in Christ then we expose ourselves to the wrath of God which is already upon the world. In fact, many of us already do experience the wrath of God but we have become so thick skinned that we do not think of it as His wrath. We have been plundered and looted of our calling and our witness and we do not even know it. As Isaiah says, we are ‘trapped in holes and hidden in prisons’ of our own making – of the ways of the world and of fallen humanity. Alas, my friends!
Axe is laid to the root of the trees
Three further points to note about the warning of John the Baptiser. The context indicates that, ‘the axe is laid to the root of the trees’ here, refers to the coming of Christ, by whose measure God will judge everyone and everything (Acts 17:31). The axe of God’s judgement will begin its work at the roots, namely with the foundations of human thinking, knowledge, power and everything else which began since the fall of man. This is true even about churches, ministries and lives of individual Christians.
Second, appeals to lineage or pedigree or history will be of no avail when God wields His axe. That is, the name of the great man of God whom you emulated or followed, nor the traditions you kept howsoever ancient they were; even if you were to trace your roots to apostles Paul, Peter or Thomas or even the patriarchs like David, Moses or Abraham, nor how beneficial they were to humanity historically – nothing will stand the axe of God’s judgement. Whatever you are and do must conform to ‘the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone’ (Eph 2:20). A cornerstone in the foundation is the stone according to which every other stone is set. Since Christ is the cornerstone, even the prophets and the apostles must conform to him.
Third, in the words of John ‘bear good fruit’ the word ‘good’ must be understood not as what seems good in human understanding but what is good in the sight of God for all human goodness and righteousness is like filthy rags in the sight of God (Isa 64:6). The problem with most of us is that we have not tuned our minds to what is ‘good’ in the sight of God. We look at human, physical and temporal good and think that it is good in God’s sight as well. What the people of the world call as good, beautiful or necessary is not what God calls as good, beautiful and necessary. This must sink deep into our minds and learn to orient our minds to God’s way of thinking. And because many of us are not tuned to God’s way of thinking, we run after what the world calls ‘good, beautiful and necessary’!
You need to know that none of the adjectives or superlatives we use to describe people or things in the world – educated, uneducated, learned, unlearned, sophisticated, unsophisticated, cultured, uncultured, great, simple, famous, unknown, successful, failure, good, bad, beautiful, ugly, safe, unsafe, essential or not and so on – none of those carry any weight or value in the kingdom of God! (Read Luke 16:15; 12:15; Jer 9: 23,24; 1 Sam 16: 7; Is 55: 8,9; 1 Cor 2: 1-16). The early you learn this the better you are suited for the kingdom of God otherwise you would be in for a great shock when the Lord wields his axe!
So, my friends the Lord’s word to you today, is to flee from all that the world calls ‘good, beautiful, safe and necessary or any of the other categories’, lest the axe of God’s judgement fall on you.
The final question then is, what will stand the scrutiny of God’s judgement? As mentioned above, the answer in Scripture, without any ambiguity nor any apology, clearly and categorically is, CHRIST. For he was the only one of whom the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” and of NO ONE ELSE in the history of humanity.
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power… So, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God… but Christ is all and in all.” (Col 2: 6-10, 16-19; 3:11).
Hence, God’s word today to the one who claims to believe in Him and to those who do not, ‘flee from the wrath of God, which is already upon this world and the wrath which is to come in the future’. Hear… hear…!