Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matt 13:52).
I was going through some old files on my computer and I stumbled on this one. It’s kind of an epistle, written to my own church community. At the time, I just printed it out and anonymously stapled it into the book provided by the church for anyone to write a prayer or a prophetic word.
If nothing else, it bears witness to my faith at a specific time in history. Overall, it’s still a relevant, and reasonably powerful exhortation of confidence, joy, faith and prayer.
But it raises the question. Are modern “epistles” relevant? If so, how should they be judged?
What you will find in it
It’s arguably unremarkable, even though it is from five years ago, and I had not studied any theology at that time. But there is little in it that I would change if I was to produce a “second edition” – only very minor updates to emphasis. In fact, if I was to say that there is anything at all remarkable about it, I would point to the fact that there is nothing remarkable about it! You see, at the time of writing it, I had been a Christian for just two years (before which I had been an Atheist, and had never read a Bible).
I remember being burdened to write it to the church because I had become aware of certain things that were clearly troubling various believers. They were the things reflected in my headings: The knowledge of God, God’s wrath, Guilt and self-condemnation, and assurance of Salvation. To me, it was unimaginable to suffer anxiety about such things, as evidenced by my tone in the letter, especially for people whom I considered to be mature in the faith, and useful guides for me in my own new faith.
I do find it interesting that it’s written in Biblish (that peculiarly idiomatic style of language found in the Bible, even when translated into English). I’m not sure that there is any way around this. After all, there are idioms in the New Testament Greek which are “Biblish” transliterations and wooden translations from specific Hebrew idioms found in the Old Testament. The idioms had meaning in that form, and to reconstruct the meaning into natural Greek would have diluted the language. For example, there are no negative imperatives in Hebrew, and the equivalent negative future indicative “you shall not…” from Hebrew is often retained in the Greek instead of the more natural Greek negative emphatic/imperative “do not…”. And that kind of thing makes for a Biblish form of Greek. I happen to like Biblish. It has a place, particularly in applications like this, when phrases and sentences are deliberately imported directly from Scripture into the prose, sometimes with blurred edges.
In one part of the letter I reveal my (still current) un-Calvinistic soteriology. I’m more than happy to discuss that with anyone who spots it and is interested. Whilst affirming that I am not “a Calvinist”, I also deny that I am “an Arminian”. To many, there is no such third category. I disagree.
I think my favourite bit, although not wholly sufficient as a reflection on the fear of God, is this: “[Christians] do not fear the presence of God but His absence, for we understand that there is nothing apart from Him. This is the fear of God.” Well, that and the closing prayer, to which I again repeat “amen”.
The Epistle to St Stephens, Belrose (2007)
From a willing recipient of the treasures of heaven, in replacement of carnal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to the dear saints that bless the congregation of St Stephen’s Belrose, and to our brothers and sisters everywhere. May the full knowledge of the grace of God be abundant within you by revelation exceeding understanding.
“The truth will set you free” my friends, and yet you find yourself bound by chains of guilt and obligation. You possess the promises of the sovereign God in whom you trust and yet you fear His retribution. Who has bewitched you?
On the knowledge of God:
The words of God reveal many things to us, of which we desire understanding. By studying these words carefully we seek to gain knowledge of the matters of God, but for what purpose? Our father Adam and our mother Eve sought knowledge of the matters of God and when they tasted the fruit of that knowledge they died under the curse.
The matters of God are these; good and evil. But good and evil are not properly matters of knowledge but matters of spiritual discernment. “Knowledge” is the engagement of the mind to achieve understanding and this is not the pathway of spiritual teachings. “Revelation” is an act of the spirit which is the way of all spiritual things. This is because only flesh can come from flesh, and spirit only comes from spirit.
Ours is to know God’s heart through the Spirit, not to know His thoughts through our mind. His thoughts are high above and cannot be attained by our mind because we cannot contain them.
God has not esteemed knowledge, but rather spiritual discernment. We are born mortal, fallen and carnal. We are not able to attain to spiritual discernment in our natural state but we rely on God’s own act of resurrection in us to bring forth a spirit within us, by which we can learn through revelation and so experience His glory. In our life which has received revelation by the Spirit, we are discerning and so we seek God through Christ and are saved. But we never require the knowledge of God’s matters, which are the law, and which lead us to death because we cannot properly comprehend them.
By the leading of the Spirit we may seek and learn infinite revelations of God in the scriptures. However in our human, intellectual capacity we may search the scriptures for a lifetime and find only the empty clanging of a gong. Jesus has said, ”When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”
He will guide you.
On God’s wrath:
We hear much about God’s wrath but is there any among you who fear it? God has spoken many warnings but aren’t you the ones who have heeded and obeyed the call? What do you fear? God’s wrath is real and manifest but it is not directed at you. Indeed He showed is love for us in this, that while we were still sinners (and responsible for God’s wrath), Christ died for us.
God is angry about many things, and with good reason. But ours is to fear God, not to be fearful of Him. Our fear of God is this: we understand that apart from Him we can do nothing, and that in Him is everything. We do not fear the presence of God but His absence, for we understand that there is nothing apart from Him. This is the fear of God.
“The righteous one shall live by his faith”, says God. To walk by faith, which is faith in God through Christ, is to be righteous before God. It is this faith which saves us, and no deed or action or thought or transgression can separate us from it so long as we continue in that faith, for none can snatch you from the hand of the Lord. Only by deliberate unbelief you can walk from Him and He will then give you over to your lusts. Not because He cannot save you, but because you have not trusted in His salvation but in yourself instead.
We dislike this teaching because it suggests that obedience is not required. But we know that obedience to a law is obedience unto death, and the one who walks by faith will, as part of that same faith, worship in spirit and in truth. Such worship includes walking in the nature of the Spirit, which is not to conform the ways of this world unto death, but to overcome the world, which is to live.
To obey a law is of no merit because the law is for criminals. To break the law is to suffer a penalty, but to keep the law is nothing at all. Do you require to be congratulated for not murdering your brother? No. So then, the law is not of any value to the one who does not transgress, but it is certain death to the one who breaks it. For this reason the law cannot improve our status, it can only bring us down. God alone, in His Spirit can raise us up. All other things draw us down to the grave.
Search your heart for the truth. Have you placed your trust in God through Christ? If so then believe not only in His name, but in His words as well. After all, to those who are about His business, God’s greeting is, “Fear not”.
Has the Christ of God died in vain that you should remain uncertain of God’s abounding love for you? Are you not yet convinced that He came, taught, promised and died for one reason, which is to save you? Is there some way in which His sacrifice was flawed, that you should doubt it?
Your faith is credited to you as righteousness. You have none of your own but you abide in Christ’s righteousness, which is by His death. The Spirit is at work to convict the world of this righteousness and He will convict you of it if you will trust in His truth – if you will repent and believe.
Our scriptures hold the promises of God – that He would make our wickedness to be as purity. He promised to provide the lamb, the sacrifice of which would be our righteousness. We have believed in the lamb, which is the Son, the Christ. We have partaken in the covenant. Shall we now steal from God by accepting His part of the covenant and yet withholding our own, which is faith?
I proclaim to you in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom you have believed, and in whom you place your faith, that you are saved by the grace of God alone. Your works will not save you because they have no spiritual value, but the works that He does in you are good, and are for your benefit because they feed you a food, the bread of life, which is to do the will of the Spirit that now dwells in you.
Come, eat and be satisfied.
On the bonds of guilt:
There are bonds of steel and bonds of spirit, and bonds of the spirit are the hardest. Do not be bound by the guilt that you are somehow failing to please God in your spiritual life. Do not let any man, by teaching guilt and fear, steal your joy from you or destroy it.
You are a Christian and have placed your faith in Christ. He has said:
“The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
What do you think, then, of someone who will teach a follower of Jesus Christ in a way that steals their joy and kills their faith and destroys their innocence? Do not heed their teachings!
Jesus’ mission on earth was not to condemn the world, but to provide a way by which we might be saved. Listen to the teachings you hear – test them! Do they proclaim Christ, and Him crucified, as a sufficient and complete sacrifice for your sin, joining you completely in the inheritance the kingdom of heaven? If so, rejoice! If not, then turn from that teaching, however cleverly it weaves verses together from your scriptures. It will steal and kill and destroy because it is a thief.
God has willed that we should have life, and have it to the full. This will is whom God is, which is Christ, God’s Word in the flesh. Any teaching that shows otherwise is false.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
Who can know that they are saved?
Do you wonder if you are saved? Are you troubled?
Do not ask men if you are saved, and do not ask yourself. Only God can save and only God can judge. Pray God for the assurance that He has saved you. He alone can comfort you. After all, who is your saviour, and where does your help come from?
The Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, so if your spirit has not yet felt the breath of God then pray! Ask Christians to pray alongside you. A journey of faith may be required. The Spirit will lead you on it. It may be a journey into repentance. It may be a journey into revelation. It may be a journey into mercy or love or generosity. Only God knows.
When you place your faith in Christ, He places His Spirit in you. Not as an exchange or a transaction, but as a consequence. Your spiritual journey is not a journey to find God, nor to find the magic password for the kingdom of heaven. Your journey is one on which you will find faith. The destination of the journey is your child-like faith in Jesus Christ, which is the kingdom of heaven, which is your salvation.
Believe. This is salvation. Christ has declared:
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
God is interested in your peace. He will provide it. He will not bedevil you with doubts and fears. So place your faith! And then in that faith take comfort. Do not be troubled by the fears and doubts of others who will teach according to their shortcomings. Rely on God’s promises to you. Go in peace.
May the body of Christ know its divinity, sending a fragrant melody to the halls of heaven, to give rest to the ear of God, which is wearied from hearing the incessant call of the blood of the innocent in the ground. Amen.