The Stuff of Martyrs

by Darrel Cline

Chapter Eight: The Martyr and the Covenant, Part II

So far we have seen that the Abrahamic Covenant was given by God to meet Abraham's personal needs as a person (just like you and me) having body, soul, and spirit capacities. We have seen that the categories run throughout Scripture. We have also seen that God has actually organized His dealings with humanity in history along the lines of the terms of the covenant.

However, as a believer in the twentieth century, how does this covenant actually apply to me?

This is the issue of this chapter. God focused upon the land aspect of the covenant during His dealings with the nation of Israel before Christ came. Does this mean that I have no land promise from God? If not, what about my physical needs? If so, in what sense do I have such a promise?

He has been focusing upon the seed aspect of the covenant during the era of the multi-national Church (from Pentecost until the present). How does His present focus actually affect me? What are the terms of His relationship with me and what may I expect from Him?

He will focus upon the great name aspect of the covenant in the age to come. Does that mean that God has no interest in my present need to have significance and to have a task comparable to my status? If so, how do I deal with my sense of inadequacy and inferiority? If not, how do I trust Him for my significance needs?

To answer these questions, we will look again at the issues of the land, seed, and great name. But we will look at them in light of the New Testament revelation for the Church of Jesus Christ. By doing this we will know what to expect from God.

God's Former Focus: A Land for the Body

As we have pointed out, God promised Abram a land because He was demanding that Abram leave the land of Ur. Land is critical because it is what our bodies essentially are. From the time God formed our bodies of the dust of the earth, we have had a demanding tie to the land. From it we receive what we need to live physically.

In the era of God's focus on the land, there were many promises that focused upon the Israelite in his physical well-being. For instance, in Deuteronomy 28-29 where the blessings and the cursings are found that are related to the land covenant, there is an inordinate focus upon physical realities (health, fruitfulness of body, abundance of crops and physical provisions, etc.) And as the people reacted to the covenant (in obedience or rebellion), God responded by dealing with their tie to the land. He either opened the rain-gates of heaven so their crops would flourish, or He banished them from the land. But that was because God was focused upon teaching us about His willingness to provide for us as physical creatures.

God's Present Focus is Not on the Land

Today, that is not God's focus. In the New Testament, once we move beyond the initial stages of the new era, there is no commitment of God to provide a this-worldly national identity for His people in a given land. The Church is a chosen nation, but its land is a yet future inheritance in a yet future Kingdom. But does this mean that the believer has no hope of God dealing faithfully with him in respect to his physical body and its very real needs?

The key to the answer to that question is to be found in the words dealing faithfully with him in respect to his physical body. To deal faithfully means to do according to your word. So, what is God's word to us in respect to our physical well-being?

There are two basic New Testament promises for us as we relate to time. First there is a word for our future time. In the eternal future, our physical well being is underwritten by physical resurrection and a dwelling place in a new heaven and earth with a super-abundance of food and drink to provide for our physical neediness. But what about now? What is the word for our present time? The New Testament offers two possibilities. The first of these possibilities is physical health and well-being. James 5, a passage often abused, teaches that if I am physically ill, I can call for the elders of the church to come and pray for me and I can, under certain circumstances, be restored to health. So, physical health and well-being is one possibility. But when the apostle Paul was physically afflicted and called upon God three times to restore him from the physical weakness, God stated another possibility: sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, there are two words from God in the New Testament regarding me as a physical being in this present age. If physical affliction has occurred in my life as a disciplinary action of God for sin, the prayer of the elders will often effect both forgiveness and a restoration to health. However, there are other causes for physical illness than divine discipline. In those cases, I may certainly ask for healing, but I may well be denied a positive answer. In those cases, God promises a sufficient grace--so sufficient that life can continue with great contentment and peace.

The reason for this second option with God is that He is at present trying to educate us to the sufficiency of a relationship with His Son through the fellowship of His Spirit. Often it is necessary in that process for me to suffer physical infirmity so that the reality of the sufficiency of fellowship with God can be made abundantly clear. The world (and indeed, even the carnal Church) can gripe and moan about its illnesses and diseases--and cast aspersions toward God and the Christian's faith--with impunity until it runs into a believer who has significant physical infirmities and yet has the abounding joy of a relationship with Christ. At that point, the world has to deal with the contradiction of its fixation that life must include physical pleasure and the absence of pain and weakness. God wants us to know that HE is sufficient for life and joy without artificial boundaries such as physical well-being. This is a part of His soul/seed focus during the era of the Church.

Three Promises

Therefore, I have three basic promises with which I may effectively deal with my physical neediness:

  1. I have a promise of eventual resurrection to a quality of physical life that I cannot even imagine at this point;
  2. I have a promise that in some cases I may have relief from God for a physical problem by the action and prayer of the elders of my local church; and
  3. I have a promise that if His answer to my prayer for relief is No, I will be given by Him a greater grace that will be sufficient for my life in the face of my physical pain and lack.

Thus, I have all I need from God in this age: His commitment to my life through physical health, or His commitment to my life through greater grace. Those promises are the New Testament foundation for my dealing with my neediness as a physical creature. They are enough.

God's Present Focus: A Seed for the Soul

The soul's need is for a powerful champion to give it security as a hedge against the problems of this life; problems which surface on the physical level, the emotional level, and the spiritual level. The issue at stake is the question of whether God has made a sufficient provision for the soul to be at ease ("Come unto Me and I will give you rest"). The ultimate seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ. Since He is God, if He is my Champion, I am secure. No one can be more secure than he that has the personal presence of Jesus Christ in his life at all times day and night. Jesus' word in regard to this is: "I am with you until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). The author of Hebrews reacted to this promise in Hebrews 13:5-6 in this way: [Let your] conversation [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord [is] my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (KJV).

Here it is very clear that Jesus' promise to be with us is designed to take fear out of the way. Since the soul needs a sense of security, its greatest enemy is fear. With fear out of the way, security reigns and the soul is satisfied. Thus, I have a promise from God that I have nothing to fear. This is not a promise that nothing negative will happen to me. It is, rather, a promise that Jesus will be with me in an active fellowship, in every eventuality of life, that will enable me not merely to survive, but to be more than a conqueror. My soul can rest with this promise if I believe it. If I don't, no amount of physical pleasure or protective devices will give me the sense of rest and security that I need. God's promises are to be believed, not merely subscribed to with the mouth.

The Nature of the Promise is Critical

The issue of this promise is the issue of a sufficiently personal and intense interaction with God to enable a confident and peaceful life in the face of anything and everything that comes along. This is the heart of the Church's gospel. Heaven and Hell are side issues: the real issue is the reestablishment of personal fellowship with God on a day to day basis that is real, sustaining, and motivational. There is no point to theology, life, or anything if God remains impersonal and distant after we have believed the proclamation of a Gospel of life. He is life. Without Him we are nothing, can have nothing, can do nothing, and are the embodiment of Chaos. Thus, in this era of God's focus upon relationship, His focus has been upon our relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. He has not promised a physical land in the technical sense, but He has promised a soul-restoring relationship with a superior Seed. In this day God often sacrifices the physical in order to make the relational shine brightly enough to impart life to the observers. Ask Joni Erikson Tada. Relationship with God is enough for this life in this world.

God's Future Focus: A Great Name for the Spirit

God has planned a future of extraordinary exaltation of the sons of God. In that day, we will inherit the impact of the promise of a great name. But the day is future. How am I supposed to deal with the present? My spirit needs to sense its significance and have a task comparable to it. But the world denigrates the believer and caricatures us as hypocrites, idiots, selfish-agenda pushers, bible-olaters who worship a myth, etc. We have to live under spiritual abuse daily. How to deal with this? One way is to jump on the self-esteem bandwagon. But that wagon is headed down the wrong path and all who ride it will find too late that it doesn't produce what it promises. Another way is to hop aboard the social agenda train--the one which is moving out of the station under the strident call for social action by Christians in order to be salt and light. But this train was derailed in history before Jesus ever came (it is the point of Jewish history that Truth cannot win without the Governor of Truth sitting upon the throne). And it was again derailed in the American experiment (the New World was set up by social activists of the Christian persuasion who had the power of governmental control and today is the sorry result--the Truth will not win in the social realm until Jesus returns).

A better way is to believe what God has said about our significance, and to live daily under submission to His agenda. In a word, He has said we are important enough to have the God of the universe lay down His life in order to impart that life to us. How can we come to a greater importance than that? The measure of value is the price someone is willing to pay. You are precisely as important as the person who is willing to sacrifice for you determines. God died for you. It is for you to believe.

Self-esteem exercises that ignore God's death for us are worthless, and those who acknowledge it are simply pointing us back to the faith. The issue is, once again, the declaration of God in His love for us and our willingness to accept it by believing wholeheartedly in that declaration.

With the declaration that God died for me, I can rest in my spirit because I am important. And not only that, but God has called upon everyone who believes that to be directly involved in the commission to take the Gospel to every nation. This, not social activism, is the task suitable to our identity as the beloved children of God. With His death for us we are important; with His assigned task we have an activity suitable for our spirits to fully engage.

Those who believe and engage are spiritually satisfied.

Those who don't aren't.

Conclusion

The Abrahamic Covenant was designed to put Abram in a condition of total life with God: confident of God's physical commitment to him; confident of God's emotional commitment to him; and confident of God's spiritual commitment to him. That same covenant is the foundation of our life with God. We are, by faith of the same kind, the children of Abraham. What God promised him, He promised to us. There are some technical qualifications because of His penchant for our education in this world, but we are fundamentally safe in His covenant. He promised us life and the promise is good for those who believe His covenant promises.

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