Throughout my recent summer ‘holidays’, I began preparing for my upcoming sermon series on the New Testament letter to the Thessalonians. In the process, I came across two verses that really stuck out at me:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV)
But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word – Isaiah 66:2.
The first one struck me because it is a prayer of encouragement for the whole church to be one with God in ALL things: body, spirit, and soul. Much of Christianity today, especially in Sydney, there is a conservative Reformed evangelicalism that prides itself on knowing about God rather than knowing (and being known) by Him. For many Reformed Christians, the Holy Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible, rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Many such churches certainly do not emphasise walking in wholeness of body, soul, and spirit; for many, the spirit and soul may be seeking to walk with God, but the body and mind are somewhere else altogether. Gradually, that actually prevents the spirit and soul from being completely sanctified by the Holy Spirit, much like a man’s hands and head cannot move away if he has a foot fastened to a brick tower.
This verse struck me because I need – really need – to have more of a walk with God which has me uniting all three of these things together. 99% of the church does too. In his book to student pastors, ‘Lectures to My Students’, CH Spurgeon once wrote, “Sacerdotis Christi os, mens, manusque concordent” – [which means] a servant of Christ should have his tongue, heart, and hand agree”. (Chapter: The Minister’s Self-Watch). And the Christian walk is just that: seeking to have absolutely every part of himself united and knitted together with Christ, for Christ, so that we give God ‘access to all areas’ of life.
That is where, interestingly, Isaiah 66:2 comes into play. The verse, if you notice, does not say, “But on this one will I look: on him who … reads My word “. Many people know the Word of God – even Satan does, as did those who killed Jesus – and yet do not change one bit from it. They can quote it, use it for their own purposes, use it for evil purposes, disobey it, mock it, dilute it, add to it, subtract from it, put words in God’s mouth through selective reading, and attack those who live by it. But reading it, per se, does not change a man.
At issue for God in Isaiah is what our attitude is when we read His Word, not merely the crude reading of it. The reading of God’s truth is to be accompanied with godly fear (trembling). We fear God because He is the powerful all-seeing, all-knowing God who will one day judge all souls for both the good and the bad that they have done (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). The God behind the book has the power to cast into hell those who disobey His good and loving Word. They know and trust that God’s Word is good and is not to be mocked or twisted (Isaiah 5:20-21) – and so they tremble at it. This is probably the basis of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17:17, in His farewell discourse: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
At the end of all time, Revelation tells us that the Lamb will overcome [the powers of evil] … and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (17:14). Later, in chapter 19, the saints in heaven proclaim: Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (19:7-8). What will define Christians at the end of all time and heaven are their acts of obedience towards God.
This is a shock in today’s world because there are many in the church who don’t like this. They think it too ‘strict’ and emphasise salvation divorced from obedience post-salvation. They often do this by emphasising an “uber-grace” message of Once-Saved-Always-Saved, so that all you need do to be saved is confess Jesus as Lord but never evidence that salvation with a changed life. It’s like being married, but still acting like you’re single. Such people like to think you can walk up to a wedding banquet in the White House in beggars’ clothes, as you burn the curtains with cigarettes and spoil the carpet with red wine. But according to Isaiah 66:2 and Revelation, it’s not those who read the Word and merely call upon Jesus as Lord and Saviour who get to heaven and receive God’s blessings – it’s those who tremble at His Word in reverence and demonstrate all that in obedience. God saves people to make them holy and presentable to Him, not to keep provoking His displeasure by continuing to live in sin.
This continues to amaze me because there are parts of me that still don’t quite grasp this and disbelieve. But God wants all of me (body, mind, heart, will, spirit, soul, etc) to be one with Him and presentable on the Last Day. I can’t be ‘all good’ with God a little bit here and a little bit there, like a dissembled jigsaw puzzle, and ‘not good’ in other aspects. The Israelites of Isaiah’s day tried it, and failed – and it will always do so. Genuine faith cannot be faked or half-baked, and Isaiah 66:2 gives the impetus for having such a faith – it’s to have a humble, fearful disposition that has been cultivated over time by obedience and a trust in the goodness of the God who wrote the Holy Scriptures.
This, then, is my New Year’s resolution: to have more of me in more complete submission to God in body, soul, and mind, and to tremble in loving, trusting fear of my God and Saviour.