THE NATURAL SEED AND THE SPIRITUAL
When writing his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul makes a very important statement, “That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for seed. For this was the word of the promise, at this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son” (Romans 9v8&9). He tells us that he lived in a state of heart he described as “great heaviness and unceasing anguish” for his fellow- countrymen the Israelites unto whom God promised so much. What of their salvation and why were so many of them resisting the gospel of Jesus Christ? They were not embracing the promises of God and the word of God was having no effect upon them because pride in their natural lineage was blinding them to the truth. Pride of race prevented them from grasping the riches of grace. Although they were Israelites after the flesh this did not constitute them as the real Israel, that is, the children of God after the Spirit. They could trace their lineage right back to father Abraham and rejoice in the privileges that had brought to them but all of this failed to make them the Israel God was looking for. He had spoken explicitly to Abraham, “in Isaac shall your seed be called” (Genesis 21v12) and this son was not the outcome of the natural energies of his parents. Instead, he was a gift from God specifically given by promise when both Abraham and Sarah were too old to reproduce in the natural way. Isaac was a miracle child through God’s initiation, intention and intervention. How sad it is that multitudes of Isaac’s offspring should pride themselves in their Jewish ness and completely misunderstand their heritage, they considered themselves God’s children because they were of the seed of Abraham. Their national pride deceived them, they were children of the flesh and were not the spiritual seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made. They occupied themselves in striving to establish their own righteousness and failed to submit to the righteousness given by God as the result of faith in Jesus Christ. It is through faith alone and in Christ alone that they could become the children of promise. Through such faith they would become the spiritual seed of Abraham and therefore children of God. Alas, they rejected the gospel and hardened their hearts; they stumbled on the rock of offence that is Christ and faith in Him. These truths Paul mentions as he pours out his heart in Romans chapter nine.
ALL WAS OF GOD
It is vital to grasp the implication of the fact that “the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the offspring” (Romans 9v8). It is central to our salvation and if we fail to understand it and obey God in this most important matter we will forfeit all the benefits God has given us in Christ and be excluded from the promises of God. It is impossible to be a person who inherits the spiritual blessings promised us by our Heavenly Father unless we are born of Him and become one of His children thereby! If we desire to be right with God, we must submit to His way of salvation and it has pleased Him that this comes only through the faith that is in Jesus Christ. The conception and birth of Isaac is the perfect example Paul uses to demonstrate this truth. In this all was of God, the flesh (man, human efforts and works) had no part in it, the only requirement necessary on the part of Abraham, (and it was essential), was that he believe God. The salvation which is in Christ Jesus it is in the same way, all of God; for God accomplishes and supplies every element of it. The striving of human self-effort counts for nothing, it is entirely excluded, instead, all is by His wisdom and power. The simple words, “ believe and you will receive” express man’s part and responsibility in the light of what He has done. Flesh will always boast of its achievements, (remember how the Jews were boasting of their natural lineage!) and it is for this reason that the pride of man in all his works can never satisfy God; He does not accept any man’s person nor his apparent prowess, no flesh shall boast before Him and He will not give His glory to another. It would not be an exaggeration to affirm that God detests the vain show of the flesh and all it produces. At first this may be hard for us to understand but the humble heart shall learn this lesson that first appears in Bible narrative when God accepts Abel and his sacrifice but rejects both Cain and that which he brought to offer (Genesis 4v4&5). Yet this story, (which contains numerous instructive elements), is but the first of many in which God uniformly shows what He accepts and what He rejects. We too must take care for it is likely that many of the apparently good works we attempt to do for God, when the day comes and all is tried by fire, will fail to stand the test because they were initiated and produced by our own self will and labor of the flesh (1 Corinthians 3v13-15). Blessed indeed are those who learn to wait on Him even when He seems to tarry. It is so easy on those occasions try to obtain answers by resorting impatiently to human methods but each of us must learn to submit to God and His way of doing things, or we shall continue to abide in ignorance and darkness and these will harden into rebellion as it did in the case of the many Jews who rejected God’s way of salvation through faith in Christ alone and tried to work out their own righteousness (Romans 10v21).
IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR THE LORD?
When the three angels met with Abraham and Sara in the plains of Mamre God’s promise to the barren couple was, “At this time I will come, and Sara shall have a son” (Genesis 18v10 & Rom. 9v9). Abraham was almost one hundred yeas old by this time and both his body and Sara’s womb were dead and useless as regards natural reproduction. He had no sperm and she could not conceive for the natural cycles of her menopause had passed long ago. She was in the tent when she overheard the conversation between God and her husband and laughed when the promise of a son was made (Genesis 18v12). Who can blame her for laughing, her beloved husband had also laughed earlier on when he realized that God really meant what He said (Genesis 17v17)! The Lord was serious, He was faithful to His purpose and promise and did not intend to change His mind nor take His word back. He was working all things according to the timing, purpose and counsel of His will. What God wanted of Abraham His friend was that he believe Him and it is clear that the old man did for he obeyed God’s command and was immediately circumcised in perfect response to what God said (Genesis 17v22-26).
God’s words “I shall come” (Genesis 18v10) are significant indeed for they showed to them (and assure us also), that this son would be the son of God’s promise and the result of His own personal visitation and miraculous intervention. The story reveals that God did not fail, at the right time He visited both Abraham and Sarah with His empowering presence and she conceived and brought forth Isaac the promised son. Isaac’s conception was through a miraculous act from God, not only the seed needed for the conception was provided when God strengthened Abraham but Sara’s womb was rejuvenated and opened enabling her to receive that seed, sustain it, and finally she delivered the child. (There were no caesarians in those days). The Lord had asked Abraham earlier “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18v14) and the answer is of course, no!
Every child of God is born from Him by His direct action and begetting through Jesus Christ. Isaac is a clear Biblical type of this fact. Now read the words of Paul when he says, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Galatians 4v8). What did he mean by that? Why are we classed as the children of promise as Isaac was? The answer is simple, it is because, like Isaac, we have not become the children of God (saved), by and through any human effort or will. It takes place through faith in Him alone, as Abraham believed the promise of God so must we, “For you are all sons of God through the faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3v26). Further, we are born of God because the promise from our Father abides faithful and He fulfils His word perfectly. He begets us Himself, by His own Spirit and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our new birth takes place not because of our choice as such, but because He chose and purposed in His heart to have children, “of His own will, He begat us with the word of truth (James 1v18). We are born unto Him “not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1v13).
IT ALL BEGAN IN THE GODHEAD
Yet when and where did this glorious purpose of God commence, the idea of generating a family of sons, did it rise in God’s heart after time, as we call it, had begun? The general testimony of the Scriptures shows us that this plan and all its promises were made firstly in God Himself, between the Persons of the Godhead. He made promise in Himself long before any aspect of it was revealed to any creature either in heaven or on earth. This was and is God’s eternal purpose originating in His eternal being alone (Ephesians 1v4 & 1 Timothy 1v9). In due course, as the creation came into being and what we know as history unfolded His eternal purpose became formulated and expressed in promises legislated into various arrangements called covenants. When the writer to the Hebrews is speaking of two of these he tells us ‘But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted (legislated) on better promises” (Hebrews 8v6). In this verse the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ covenants are brought before us and we know that for a period the first covenant was in force between God and the people of Israel. It was given from Mount Sinai after God had delivered them from Egypt. This covenant was conditional upon their obedience; God would bless them if they continued to respond obediently. From the outset the beneficiaries of God’s promises failed to keep their side, it was all in God’s purpose though for this first covenant was to be temporary. There was no power to change the hearts of the people given within its laws and it was made with but one nation. Neither of these things could satisfy God nor fulfill His ultimate purpose. Thankfully the New Covenant differs in numerous ways, it really is a ‘better covenant.’ It was not temporary and was (and is) a more perfect expression of the eternal covenant (Hebrews 13v20). In this covenant there is power to accomplish all that is promised, it expresses the commitment of the Three Persons of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to work for its fulfillment. God the Son is the guarantor of this covenant and the mediator between His Father and the appointed heirs. But He does not only stand between God and man, He is also appointed to be the representative of the heirs. Their inability to fulfill the demands of the covenant required that someone stand for them before God and Jesus has done so. Nothing of this could come into force before the death of the testator, (Hebrews 9v17) Jesus had to go to Calvary or the blessings of the New Covenant would not be made available. All is done in God, between God, from God and unto God and so it partakes of the nature of the eternal, it lasts and will not fail for it is all accomplished “from Him and through Him and unto Him are all things” (Romans 11v36).
NO SONS WITHOUT A MOTHER
Up to this point our emphasis has been mainly upon the father Abraham who is himself a type of God the Father but there can be no family of son’s without a mother also and Paul the apostle shows that Sarah is an old testament type of the spiritual ‘mother’ of the family of God, “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bond woman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and represents Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4v22-26).
Our Father is God; He begets us, yet He does so through our mother, the New Covenant of promise. Our mother is the freewoman, not the slave covenant that could only bring forth those who remained in bondage. We are not of the earthly Jerusalem with its particular covenant arrangements but we are begotten through the womb of the Heavenly Jerusalem. God’s son’s are born from above, both from Father and mother! The prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit of God prophesied concerning the coming Messiah and the glories that would follow and in the Spirit he saw the new covenant of promise bringing forth her children. He cried out in exuberant joy, “Sing, O barren, you that did not bear, break forth unto singing, and cry aloud, you that did not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says the Lord. Fear not; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be put to shame: for you shall forget the shame of your youth, and shall not remember the reproach of your widowhood any more. For your maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name. And all your children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54v1, 4&13). This new covenant ‘mother’ is pictured as being far from barren; she would be more fruitful than the old covenant could possibly be. At first, like Sarah, this new covenant had no children, it was unable to do so and did not travail and bear sons. But then, in the fullness of time (Galatians 3v19&25,4v4) the seed, the Lord Jesus came and lived, then passed into death giving up His very life so that now, through this mothering New Covenant many sons could be born. God did all in His perfect way.
Contrast the first covenant now made old because the new had come (Galatians 3v23& Hebrews 8v7). It had been arranged between God and man, the earthly Jerusalem with its temple became the headquarters of this covenant arrangement and brought forth many children. However, because it involved the law, like Abraham’s relationship with Hagar the children were born quite easily by the natural processes of the flesh of both father and mother but resulted in strife, struggle, bondage and failure. The first covenant produced slaves and not sons (Galatians 4v30). The Old Covenant had its place though, those who had eyes to see knew that it exposed the utter inability of man to please God and pointed the way to that time when the Son would come and through Him sons could be brought forth to God. The coming of Jesus changed everything, He fulfilled the demands of the first covenant, and He pleased God in all things and also bore its punishment in His death on the cross. He Himself is the fulfillment of all things. In His life, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father the New arrangements came into full force and its terms began to be preached by the apostles. Immediately, on the Day of Pentecost this New Covenant gospel mother brought forth children, three thousand of them in a day (Acts2v41)! The good news of Christ crucified, raised and glorified and the life that comes from Him could be preached freely throughout the world to all without respect of person or nation. The incorruptible word of God could be let loose, the seed that brings forth new creatures, the sons of God! It was not only in the physical realm, but that of the spirit where Christ settled everything, each part of the Jigsaw puzzle found its place in Him and His work. From death He rose, the first of a multitude and in this was fulfilled the promise of God “For your maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name (Isaiah 54v5). The waiting of the gospel mother was over, her unfruitfulness ended; there was new life from the dead, her first Man Child Jesus rose victorious!
HOW? THROUGH THE WORD AND SPIRIT!
Nicodemus was a teacher, well versed in the Jewish scriptures yet his heart was troubled and he came to Jesus by night, bringing his questions with him. It was not long before Jesus cut through his words and told him of the need of a birth from above, one which comes by water and the Spirit (John 3v5). We should not be surprised to read that Nicodemus was totally bemused by this and he asked the obvious, “How can these things be?” Immediately Jesus pointed him to His coming death on the cross by saying that the Son of Man must be lifted up in the same way that Moses had lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so that every one that believes should not perish, He continued by saying that “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3v14-16&Numbers 21v9). In these few sentences Jesus brings together the facts of spiritual birth, His cross, believing and bases all in the love of God. All God’s children are the fruit of His love being born unto Him through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is a mystery in the preaching of Christ crucified that the carnal man cannot comprehend, to many it appears to be so much foolishness. However, the word of the cross (1Corinthians 1v18) operates powerfully when preached in the power of the Spirit, it is the incorruptible seed of God for the birth of His children. When Christ is revealed through the preached word the power of God works to penetrate the hard, resistant, barren heart causing it to open and receive. Without the word of the cross the spiritual seed cannot be born, without conviction and convincement there cannot be any spiritual conception. As soon as the apostles began to preach the Gospel of Christ other gospels, false seeds began to be sown. It is so in our day also, modified; imbalanced, cross-less gospels are being peddled in many places. The story of the cross of Christ and He Who hung there is not popular, its implications are death to the natural man and it is not heard from as many pulpits today as it ought to be, yet it is still the power of God unto salvation. The word of the cross was the gospel preached by Paul and the other apostles and they were not ashamed of it for they had themselves experienced the power of the Christ of Whom they spoke. “For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness but to us that are saved is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1v18 & Romans 1v16).
When Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost he did so in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not a religious, well-prepared smooth sermon; but an utterance of the living word. He spoke the truth and all his fellow apostles stood with him in total agreement, there was no dissention, their unity confirmed the word (Acts 2v14). None of these doubted what their friend said and he was very bold, not sparing his audience, “you men of Israel hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles…. you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and murdered” (Acts 2v22&23). He declared the word of the cross unto life and it brought conviction. God worked with His word and it pierced the hearts of the listeners, causing them to open and receive. That day the new covenant gave birth to many sons to the Father. From that day even till now this New Covenant word of the Christ crucified has not ceased bearing children of promise and these all show the marks of sons for they keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12v17). Hundreds of years earlier, the psalmist who perceived with prophetic insight, the privilege of being a child, not of old Jerusalem (the old covenant) but of Zion, the New Jerusalem (new covenant), broke out into a crescendo of praise saying, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. And of Zion it shall be said, this and that man was born in her and the Highest shall establish her, The Lord shall count, when He writes up the people, that this man was born there” (Psalm 87v3-5). He did not speak of earthly things but of the heavenly. None of the children of the flesh shall be in that counting, this has nothing to do with being religious, no one merely living under the letter of the law shall be reckoned among the freeborn number. These may belong to Jerusalem below but not that which is above. There will be those who strive to plant churches, build religious organizations, move in ministries, graduate from bible colleges, create excitement in crowds and sway congregations into emotional responses, they may even employ psychological expertise to convert men, but none of these can bring forth the children of the promise unless they are men of the Holy Spirit and minister the word of the Christ crucified. No one can be counted as His seed or called His child unless He gives them birth from above. The religious or those who simply profess Christianity are not counted as God’s seed, He does not know them (Matthew 7v21-23). No one can simply appropriate to themselves the status of God’s sons presuming that they are such because of attempted obedience to a religious code. Sonship is from God the Father; He gives both the life and status of sons through faith in Jesus Christ. He knows His sons and assures them that they are His (2 Timothy 2v19).
MINISTERS OF THE NEW COVENANT
The gospel of Christ is not a doctrine or a truth alone, no matter how wonderful that truth may be. It is the revelation of a Person, the Person of the Son of God and the unfathomed value of His work through the cross. This revelation has to be borne into our hearts by God the Spirit and as that takes place we are drawn to God, brought into spiritual liberty and Christ becomes in us, a fountain of life and power (John 4v14). It is important that every preacher of the gospel has something of this revelation before he begins to minister. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him” (Galatians 1v16). Paul preached Christ and this included the Christ revealed to Him and in Him in his personal, daily experience. It is for this reason that he called his gospel the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of the new covenant is all about Christ, His perfections, His work, His glory, His beauty, His fullness, His unsearchable riches, His dignity, His Lordship and the blessedness of being united to Him.
There are other “gospels”, based on wrong concepts of who Christ is, but these have nothing to do with the gospel Paul was preaching. Perverted gospels usually have a message setting forth a corrupted Christ, they are not faithful to the truth as it is in Him and they involve a cross-less Christ. If He is not in the word spoken and the Holy Spirit is not present the saving grace of God will not be at work and children of God will not be born where such a weak gospel is preached. Yet, along with these other gospels presenting another Jesus, another spirit is ministered and as that spirit is received it leads the hearers into bondage and deception (Galatians 3v1& 2 Corinthians 11v4). God calls His people to be ministers the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit and the desire of every true minister of God will be that he or she might fulfill this calling. We must be ready and willing for Him to work in us, sometimes ruthlessly, to shift us away from any confidence in ourselves. God’s co-workers have no confidence in their gifts, talents, wisdom and personal charisma, dependency upon Him and in the power of His gospel is the key to all New Testament service. To trust Him for all from beginning to end in whatever Christian ministry we are engaged is the lesson of a lifetime for every one of us. “And such confidence we have through Christ to God ward: Not that we are sufficient to think anything of our selves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also made us able ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit: for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthian 3v4-6).