Each Summer the Sovereign Grace Church in Gettysburg, PA, hosts a week-long conference. In The speakers always include their elders, their pastor, Rev. Jay Fluck, and guest ministers. In recent years, these have always been RCUS ministers. This year they invited Rev. Ron Potter and myself as guest speakers.
The theme for this year’s conference centered on the goodness and severity of God. The assigned topics revolved around Romans 11:22, which of course considers the goodness and severity of God. His goodness focuses on God’s grace, mercy, care, and love. His severity speaks of the just judgment that God will bring upon those who fall. I began my presentation with the following introduction.
Let me begin with just a few introductory thoughts after which we will focus in on the Scriptures that will apply directly to my assigned subject. (I was asked to speak twice: 1. Worship and Prayer: Our Response to God, and 2. Worship and Prayer: Our Relationship to One Another).
The Conference Theme Verse is Romans 11:22, “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”
This verse is speaking about presumption. Presumption is a belief that something is true even though it has not been proved. In terms of covenant membership, you have presumption when you assume that one’s identity of belonging to God’s covenant people is sufficient to guarantee your continued membership in it.
The theme verse for this conference teaches against the idea that God’s covenant people (in any generation) will be saved just because they are externally members of God’s covenant people. This was clearly the case for God’s Old Testament people. Their ethnic identity was as the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were members of the 12 Tribes of Israel. For anyone familiar with the history of Old Testament Israel, it is plain to see the results of this way of thinking. All but a remnant were judged and cast away. 1 Corinthians 10:5 says, “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”
While the remnant that returned from the Exile avoided many of the excesses of idolatry and immorality of the previous generations, their faith was largely formalized into following laws and rules, as is typical in the sect of the Pharisees. They were ethnically God’s people, but many did not really know God or worship him aright. The Lord Jesus’ main criticism was that they were drawing near to God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They were teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. They assumed their understanding of God and His Word was correct, and did not see that they were in fact hating and attacking the God they were claiming to serve. It was the spiritual leaders of God’s covenant people who most vehemently hated the Christ and in the end had Him put to death.
So is this whole discussion just relevant to ancient history? I don’t think so. I am convinced this same presumption explains the decline of the Christian Church throughout history. Thankfully, there have been times of renewal and reformation. The heritage of the Protestant Reformation and the Reformed faith are bright spots that continue to shine. Over and over again the Christian Church has often lost its focus. The last 150 years have been particularly troublesome. Churches that had been faithful and true have succumbed to the spirit of the age and been set adrift from “the faith once delivered to the saints.” I don’t believe we can accuse just one competing theological system –it is basically the fruit of unbelief and a failure to hold fast and pass down the living faith from one generation to the next. Many of us have seen the decline of the churches and denominations of which we have been part.
So, the question at this point then is whether this is the actual warning that we receive from the Scriptures themselves? I think it is clearly the point or application of our theme verse. Those whom God rejected were those who fell; those who are kept are those who continue in the faith. But that’s not all. The concluding phrase indicates that if we do not continue in our profession, we too will be cut off. The unmitigated call of the Gospel is unrelenting faith and devotion to God our Creator through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Remarkable to this whole discussion is that it takes place in Romans 9-11, which is expounding the doctrine of God’s predestinating and electing grace. God is sovereign above, beyond and within time. Man is responsible and accountable and never escapes the truth that what he sows He will reap. In himself he has no life –he is dead in sin. God effectually calls and regenerates and through the ordinary means of grace, man is converted through faith and repentance. At that moment in time he is justified (declared righteous) and throughout the rest of his life he is sanctified (made righteous). After this life, his faith becomes sight and he will be glorified forever in the heaven.
As I conclude my introductory comments then, let us never forget that we serve the True and Living God. He is the LORD and Master of all. There’s not a thought in your mind or a word on your lips that He does not know completely. He is not looking for those who will hop through the right hoops or recite the right truths in the right way. He calls us and brings us to Himself. He speaks Life and we live. He calls us and we come. He says believe in me and we do. Arise! Awake! And by God’s sovereign grace, we do.
Rev. Randall Klynsma, Kansas City, MO