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Monday, November 05, 2007

Applied Theocracy

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 6:24

I'll begin with a quick recap of the last post, by defining my working definition of Theocracy. Theocracy literally means the "rule of God". My use of the word describes the principle of an individual allowing God the right to rule one's life, in the present. For a further explanation of what I do and do not mean by Theocracy, refer to the last post.

Any discussion on Theocracy would be futile without considering the practical outworking of God's Sovereignty. If our understanding of God's rule doesn't bring us to the place of obedience, then our pondering reduces itself to mere trivia or entertainment. Woe unto us if we allow this to happen to such an important theme.

Before we begin, there is something we must consider.

God Cares For Us

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7

He cares for us!!! It is absolutely vital that we see this, and that in the light of this fact, He not only can be trusted to have our cares cast upon Him, but He even invites us to do so. This is the major component of the basis of obedience, and a great source of humbling, that the Almighty God cares for us.

Consider the one whose hand penned these words. Peter was the one who, when Christ spoke of his imminent death at the hands of sinful men, rose up as a loyal subject, promising to defend his King (Matt 16:21-23). Even though it is normal for a king to cast his cares upon his subjects, and to put his needs and desires before theirs, Christ had shown Peter that God, not only cares for His subjects, but He actually desires to attend to their cares (see John 13:3-17).

Now, knowing this about God, let's move on to His rule.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
Rom 11:36

The Westminster Shorter Catechism cites the above verse, while answering its first question with, "The chief end of all being is the glory of God, and to enjoy Him forever." This verse clearly states that "all things" have their origin, continuance and destination in God.

There is no room given for another source of anything. These facts are confirmed in statements such as "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.." (Heb 12:2) and "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" (Rev 1:8). It is the present tense statement that we are facing in this post. The question we are raising is, "How do we live in the light of the knowledge of 'all things' being 'through Him'?"

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Heb 11:6

There are two things which we must digest before we come to God. Firstly, "He is". He is a present reality, existing now and is active at this moment, just as He was and will be. The exhortation is given, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb 3:12-13)

The ever present "is" of God testifies to His "living". Not only did He die for us "while we were yet sinners", but He "raised again for our justification". Which leads to the second fact about God that we must believe, in order to come to Him, "He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him". It is a promise made by the one "that cannot lie" (Tit 1:2;Heb 6:18), therefore we can be assured that He will do just as He has promised.

It is on these two facts, that "of him, and through him, and to him, are all things", and that God "is, and he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him", that can anchor our understanding of the means by which He governs our lives. This is the foundation of His Personhood, and the manner by which He expresses His love toward us, as it underpins even His death, burial and resurrection.

Having said all this, it is important not to ignore our role in this: "without faith it is impossible to please him..". In order to receive the benefit of that which He has "freely given", we must surrender our complete trust to His reliability and integrity. Otherwise our life will be spent in the terror of doubt, fearing that He will let us down, and falling short of the abundant life that Christ promised to give us.

And now a short aside in order to make a vital connection between the theory and the experience of God's rule over our life.

'Is' Not 'Has'

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
1 Cor 1:27-31

It should be of interest to note that the text states that Christ "is" wisdom, righteous, sanctification, and redemption. It doesn't say that he "has" these things, but that he "is" these things. While this may not seem like much at this point, it will soon become apparent why this is so important...

This will end our introduction, let's now look at the means by which God rules an individual's life.

Ordered Steps

23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
Psalm 37:23-24

Matthew Henry's comments bring some interesting insight into these statements:

"By his grace and Holy Spirit, he directs the thoughts, affections, and designs of good men. By his providence he overrules events, so as to make their way plain. He does not always show them his way for a distance, but leads them step by step, as children are led. God will keep them from being ruined by their falls, either into sin or into trouble, though such as fall into sin will be sorely hurt."

The question that needs to be asked is "What is a 'good man'?" Jesus responded to the Rich Young Ruler, who called him "good teacher", by saying, "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God" (Luke 18:18-19). In light of Paul's statement that Christ is made unto us "righteousness", amongst other things, it must be understood that anyone that Scripture would dare call a "good man" must have been "made good" by God.

Therefore we can plainly see that David's words assure those that have been made good, or righteous, by God, that He orders their steps. Asaph bore witness to David's words:

23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
Psalm 73:23-26

In the light of his opening words, "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart" (Ps 73:1), and we can see that the "clean heart" is the one that is upheld by God, rather than being "cleansed" by one's own self-exertion (Ps 73:13). Again Paul reveals the means:

For Christ is the end (ie. logical conclusion) of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Rom 10:4

...and how do we claim this free gift? Sometimes it’s easy to forget how easy it is meant to be:

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10

"We" confess (ie, openly acknowledge) our sin and "God" does the cleansing. Bible teacher, Chuck Missler refers to 1 John 1:9 as the "Christians bar of soap". Diligently seeking Him, in this area, would be to lean our full weight on this promise, and the reward is righteousness. This means coming to God with an attitude that says, "If God didn't want to do this, then He shouldn't have made the promise." That is the faith that pleases Him, and the only prescribed means of being made righteous. "Gaining righteousness" is synonymous with "losing unrighteousness", just as one is "made clean" by being "cleansed of dirt".

We may fret about whether or not we are in His plan, but this verse clearly states that He keeps those who are His own in His will. Whether or not I am in His will should not be my primary concern, but whether or not I am a "good man". The issue is whether or not we have been made righteous in Him, because if we have then our steps will be ordered of Him.

It could be said that for a Christian to know where God would have them be, he need only look to his feet. There is a sense in which the whole of a disciple's life is ordered of God, from start to finish, even their life prior to being born again. Upon pondering my personal history, and my life of sin prior to yielding to Christ, I often wonder if it would have been possible for the Lord to bring me to the end of myself, had I not been a drug addict. In this way even the sinful history of the Christian is redeemed in Christ.

Now onto His actual means of leading His own...

Heeded Voice

26 believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
John 10:26-27

This statement was made to some Jews who demanded that Jesus told them plainly whether he was the Christ or not. In the third chapter of John's Gospel, Nichodemus began a discussion with Jesus stating that the Sanhedrin's standard of validating Christ as a "teachers sent from God" were his miracles (John 3:2). Here Jesus cited the same standard, by saying "I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me" (John 10:25) in response to the Pharisees' question, "If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10:24).

So what has this to do with Theocracy? To the Jew, Meshiach (ie, Christ) was to be the coming king, the inheritor of the throne of David. If Christ simply said, "It is as you say" at that point, they probably would have begun to conspire to overthrow Herod, Pilate and the Romans and install Jesus as their king. The thing is, Christ was not only establishing his right to rule but was describing the means and manner of his rule.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
John 10:11

In this statement, Christ established his Davidic inheritance and his intrinsic right to rule, based on his surrendering of his own life as a good shepherd would for his sheep. One's mind could recall David's account to Saul of his slaying the lion and the bear, as he offered to risk his life in battle against Goliath, just as he had risked his life for his sheep (1 Sam 17:34-37). This is the nature of a "good shepherd" and the only difference was that Christ not only risked his life, but he actually laid it down.

4 And when he (the good shepherd) putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
John 10:4-5

These words address a common issue in the Body of Christ. Just as we saw earlier, with the issue of being in the will of God, people tend to fret over hearing God's voice. We have Charismatics coming experiencing shame from failing to have an "experience" and Evangelicals allowing a "Book" to come in between them and God. Please understand that I am neither implying that God has ceased to speak, nor that Scripture is anything but authoritative and true. What I am saying is by and large, many have replaced the "Person" of God, with a concept of Him. As a result, obedience has been reduced to submitting to a means of "knowing what God would will", over being led by God, Himself.

There is a view that says that we need to learn to distinguish between the voice of God, Satan and self, and yet these words of Christ seem to imply that there is no need to fear. After all Jesus quantified his words, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" with, "And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers."

Following Him is the natural by product of being one of His sheep. Perhaps for those of us in western urban societies tending sheep is a foreign thing, so allow me to slightly alter the illustration:

Imagine a man taking his dog to a park. He lets the dog off the chain, and it plays in amongst all the people. There are children laughing, yelling and screaming, parents talking, and various other noises, including other dogs being called, but this dog is unmoved. But when it comes time to come home, the dog’s ears prick up because it has heard the voice of its master calling its name. However if another voice, that the dog doesn't know, called then the dog would either ignore it, or recognise it as suspicious.

Just as earlier when we saw that "the steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD", and found out that our primary concern should be whether or not we are good, so here we must ask ourselves, "Why aren't we His sheep?" Hearing Christ's voice is the least of your problems. If you are not His sheep, then you must to repent, and trust in the Saviour.

The Shepherd and the Stranger

Even though we need not fear the voice of the "stranger" if we belong to Christ, it is important note the mention of this competitor for our obedience. This is the real issue of obedience is that of the existence of two kingdoms, and the need to choose one, and reject another (Mat 6:24).

So there we have it. Two kingdoms and one choice. We start off as slaves to sin, and then we become new creations, and take on a new nature. Our "stony heart" is removed and replaced with a "heart of flesh" (Eze 11:14). Having been made righteous, God promises to order our steps. Having been redeemed by the "good shepherd", we will hear His voice and follow Him, ignoring the voice of the "stranger".

In other words, we are transformed from one thing into another. Herein is the perfection of God's ordering revealed. Rather than demanding reluctant obedience from His subjects, God invests the desire to obey into the core of our being (Ps 37:4), so that obedience is spontaneous (Mat 12:33-35).

Trusting in the Lord

So our obedience is firmly anchored on His faithfulness. This does not allow room for complacency, however. As we saw earlier, God cleanses us of unrighteousness in response to our acknowledgement of our sin. We can see more in the words of the Psalmist:

5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
Psalm 3:5-7

In order to "lean not on our own understanding" so that we can "trust in the Lord", we need to have access to another opinion than our own, and to consult another with our decision-making. This is where prayer and Bible study come in. It is not a matter of these disciplines "saving us", but they serve as an expression of our trusting Him, as we believe that He "is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."


The essence of obedience is based on us doing our part, trusting that He has done, and will continue do His part. And this is the foundation of Theocracy. May you hear His voice and follow Him, as He orders your steps and directs your paths.

Edit - This post is part of a PodBlog simulcast -