Distinct Privilege of the New Testament Church
Before the foundation of this present world, a large number of angelic beings made the unenviable choice to challenge the nature of God. It constituted a monumental act of rebellion.
Concordant with the nature of God, no challenge to His authority can remain unanswered. As a consequence, the rebellious angels were judged and sentenced to eternal condemnation.
In accordance with the eternal plan of God, the sentence was temporarily suspended to allow for the fulfillment of a greater purpose. During the suspension, the fallen angels would contribute, albeit unwittingly, to the revelation of the true nature of God in both heaven and on earth.
Although their sentence was temporarily suspended, the fallen angels were not exempt from the immediate consequences of their rebellion. They experienced separation from the presence of God and banishment from His kingdom. It was a tragic reality characterized by death, degeneration and darkness.
According to eternal plan, God renovated the earth in spatiotemporal form and populated it with a new type of creature; mankind. The renovated earth and its new inhabitants were designed to serve a dual purpose. They would provide God with an arena in which to demonstrate the true attributes of His nature and serve as a source from which He could replenish the populous of His kingdom.
Within the arena of space and time, the heavenly host, comprised of angels holy and unholy, would witness a progressive demonstration of the attributes of the divine nature and the gradual repopulation of the kingdom of God. For the holy angels, the fulfillment of the eternal plan of God has been nothing less than awe-inspiring (cf. 1 Peter 1:12). In contrast, the fallen angels have viewed it with burning anger and intense jealousy.
Witnessing the plan of God unfold in the arena of time and space, the fallen angels could not simply remain passive. Therefore, they devised a scheme they believed would cause disruption. If successful, it would make mankind look less favorable and, by comparison, the fallen angels less unfavorable. In other words, it would serve to “level the playing field”. As a consequence, the fallen angels believed that God would be forced to lessen the severity of their eternal sentence.
The scheme of the fallen angels involved enticing mankind to join them in their rebellion against divine authority. In a fallen state, the human race would be incapable of contributing to the demonstration of the attributes of the nature of God. Moreover, they would be equally unqualified for kingdom citizenship. Or so the fallen angels thought…
Foreknown by God, Adam, the progenitor and covenantal head of the human race, fell for the devilish scheme. Like the fallen angels, he experienced legal alienation and organic separation from God. Therefore, Adam was also banished from the kingdom of God. In accord with covenantal stipulation, the entire human race, the covenantal body of Adam, was subjected to the same fate.
Mankind had been created to enjoy intimate fellowship with God. However, the fall of Adam produced a radical disparity between God and mankind. By nature, human life became incompatible with divine life.
In spite of the fall, God graciously chose to pursue reconciliation with mankind. His pursuit was not related to any apparent worthiness in the nature of the fallen. Instead, it is congruent with the attributes of His nature.
According to the perfections of His nature, God provided fallen mankind with the revelation necessary to recognize His existence and perceive His offer of reconciliation. The revelation is both general and specific in nature.
Generally, God has revealed Himself to mankind by means of His creation. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20).
In addition, God has provided specific revelation for the benefit of fallen man. The original manuscripts of the Holy Bible constitute specific communication from God in written form.
God has clearly provided man with the opportunity to recognize His desire for reconciliation. It is provided generally through means of His creation and specifically through the written word.
The path to reconciliation with God does not lead through the practice of religion. In fact, the Bible reveals that human religion is contrary to the eternal plan of God.
Fundamentally speaking, the practice of religion does not originate from God, but mankind. It constitutes a human attempt to appease and please God.
No matter how elaborate, complex or diverse, the practice of religion is characterized by a presumptive flaw. It is based on the errant presumption that man, in his natural condition, is capable of appeasing or pleasing God.
The New Testament clarifies that mankind in his fallen state is utterly contrary to God. Therefore, human religious effort is incompatible with the person, purpose and plan of God on earth.
The primary opponents of the earthly ministry of Christ were the religious (cf. Matthew 3:7-10; 5:20; 6:5, 7, 16; 7:21-23; 11:16-19; 12:1-7; 15:1-14; 16:5-12; 22:15-23:12; etc.). In addition, the religious opposed the earthly origination and subsequent growth of the New Testament church (cf. Acts 4:1-31; 5:17-42; 6:8-7:60; 8:1-3; 9:1; 14:2, 19; 16:22-24; 19:23-41; 2 Corinthians 11:22-28; Philippians 1:27-30; Hebrews 10:32-33; etc.).
Derived from fallen man, the practice of religion is nothing more than an empty shadow of God’s desire for humanity. According to the Bible, the true substance is divine life indwelling man, unveiled on earth through the person and work of Jesus Christ (cf. John 5:39-40; 10:10b; 11:25; 14:6; Colossians 2:16-19).
The Christ was not sent to earth to initiate a religious movement or participate in preexisting religious practice. He was sent by the heavenly Father to share divine life with fallen, spiritually dead human beings (John 1:4; 3:16-17; 10:10; 14:6; 17:3; 1 John 1:1-3; 5:11-12).
Relative to his fallen condition, mankind is characterized by a darkened mind, perverse will and deceitful emotions. As a consequence, he is blind to the biblical message of life and, therefore, all too willing to stop short of the pursuit of the living God and settle for the practice of lifeless religion.
For the past 2000 years, it has been presumed that the church on earth is the true path to God and the fulfillment of the deep longing of the heart that is inherent in fallen man. Some joyfully testify that their church experience has succeeded in satisfying their deep longing. However, others indicate that it has only served to exaggerate it. The incongruity cannot be reconciled by human presumption, but only by divine illumination.
Biblically speaking, the church is indeed the chosen path to God and the vehicle for the fulfillment of man’s deepest longing in this present age. However, the church on earth has not always shared the distinctiveness of the church of the New Testament.
Temporal or Eternal
The New Testament and church history reveal the existence of two very different types of churches on earth. Fundamentally, they can be distinguished by their differing source of origination and animation.
In spite of a variety of different denominations, doctrines and dispositions, the church on earth is originated from one of two sources; God or mankind. Therefore, its source of origin is either eternal or temporal.
The eternal church is heavenly in origin. It was conceived in the heart of God and finished in the eternal realm before the foundation of the world (cf. Hebrews 4:3).
Mankind did not serve a role in the origination of the eternal church on earth. It was originated by the will and work of God alone.
The eternal church was designed for animation by a distinct life source, the heavenly life of God (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21; Colossians 1:27; 2:13; 3:4). Rather than populated by human beings living for God, it was given the utter privilege of living with Him, cooperating by means of faithful submission to His indwelling life.
Corresponding to its eternal source of origination and animation, the eternal church is characterized by a simple, organic function and form. The function of the eternal church is to facilitate fellowship between God and man. Its supportive form is a spiritual body.
In contrast to the eternal church, the temporal church was originated by mankind. It was conceived and developed by man within the earthly confines of space and time. Characterized by a beginning and an end, it is temporal in nature.
The temporal church is the fruit of human religion. Derived from the heart of fallen man, it is characterized by a complex, organizational structure that is subject to human effort for operation and development.
The eternal church is the distinct church of the New Testament. It is a gracious work of God for man. Conversely, the temporal church is a presumptive, religious work of man for God.
New Testament Church Life
Life is a major theme in the Bible. First and foremost, it reveals the incompatibility between the heavenly life of God and the earthly, fallen life of mankind. As a consequence, the Bible clarifies that the need for fallen humanity is the acquisition of new life that is compatible with divine life. It is the sole means by which mankind is able to experience reconciliation and, thereby, personal fellowship with the living God.
The New Testament contains several Greek words translated into the English word “life”. Two of them are used most frequently; zoe (dzo-ay') (135 times) and psuche (psoo-khay') (103 times). Context of usage reveals that both words have more than one meaning in the New Testament. It was necessary to convey the varied nuances related to the concept of life.
The Greek word zoe is used often in the New Testament in reference to life in fullness or in the absolute sense. In the absolute sense it refers to the perfect, eternal, higher life of God.
The Greek word psuche is most often translated “life” and “soul” in the New Testament. Context of usage guides interpretation. When context dictates an interpretation of “life”, psuche generally refers to the temporal, earthly life of man that is shared in common with the animals. Psuche is interpreted as “soul” in the New Testament only when its context is more specifically related to the immaterial part of man, the seat of his personality. Regardless of whether interpreted as “life” or “soul”, psuche is commonly used in the New Testament to refer to the earthly, temporal, lower life of man.
The Greek words zoe and psuche are sometimes used together in the New Testament in contrast to one another. For example, “He who loves his life (psuche) loses it, and he who hates his life (psuche) in this world will keep it to life (zoe) eternal” (John 12:25).
The contrast between psuche and zoe can be distinguished as follows:
According to the Bible, if mankind is to move beyond the mere practice of religion and enjoy the fullness of God he must receive new life that is heavenly or eternal in nature. The absolute highest quality of life; it is the very life (zoe) of God.
God initiated a selfless, irrevocable covenant before the foundation of the world by which He could justly share His life (zoe) with undeserving, fallen man (Isaiah 53:10; John 6:39; Titus 3:5-7; Hebrews 6:19-7:3; 7:11-8:6; 9:11-17, 23-28; 10:5-10, 19-25; 12-14; 29-39; 11:1-12:17; 12:22-29; 13:10-14; 20-21; etc.). Known as the Eternal Covenant, its fundamental stipulations included the sacrificial death of the Son for the payment of all human transgression of divine law and His resurrection to new life by the Father. Its benefit is applied to the elect by the Spirit. The Eternal Covenant is the sole basis for reconciliation between God and man.
The ultimate benefit of the Eternal Covenant is new life. By grace through faith alone, the New Testament church is privileged to share life with the Mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ.
Concordant with the stipulations of the Eternal Covenant, the sharing of divine life (zoe) necessitates the regeneration of fallen mankind. Generally speaking, to generate means to create or produce. To generate life is to create or produce life. In contrast, to degenerate means to decline or fall to a less desirable state. Degeneration of life speaks of a decline in quality of life. Regeneration means to reform or recreate in a new and improved state. To regenerate life is to reform or recreate life to a new and improved state.
In the Bible, regeneration is a gracious act of God by which He reforms or recreates degenerate man into a new state of life. The new state of life is suitable for accommodation by His indwelling life (zoe).