Jeff Robinson interviews Jonathan Catherwood on the Gospel Coalition website.
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I would lay it down as a basic proposition that the primary task of the Church is not to educate man, is not to heal him physically or psychologically, it is not to make him happy. I will go further; it is not even to make him good. These are things that accompany salvation; and when the Church performs her true task she does incidentally educate men and give them knowledge and information, she does bring them happiness, she does make them good and better than they were. But my point is that those are not her primary objectives. Her primary purpose is not any of these; it is rather to put man into the right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God. This really does need to be emphasised at the present time, because this, it seems to me, is the essence of the modern fallacy. It has come into the Church and it is influencing the thinking of many in the Church—this notion that the business of the Church is to make people happy, or to integrate their lives, or to relieve their circumstances and improve their conditions.
There are people who will argue, ‘But wait a minute; are you not preaching the law to us? You are to be a minister of grace, and yet you seem to be preaching pure law. You are reminding us of the being and character of God, as expressed in the Ten Commandments and in His moral law; are you not putting us back under the law? Are you not excluding every one of us from the kingdom of God? Surely you are forgetting the gospel! You have been referring to the original kingdom, and the original law that God held before mankind; but now the Lord Jesus Christ has come, and we are confronted by something quite new; we are no longer confronting the law; all we are asked to do as Christians is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We could not be saved under the law, for the law made it impossible, saying, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” But now God has brought in another way which makes it easier for us; we are no longer confronted by the demands of the law and the tremendous holiness of God. It is just a matter of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall be save.’ Now that is their argument, but I am bound to say that it is one of the most subtle, dangerous heresies that can ever be offered to men and women. And yet it characterises a great deal of modern evangelism.
The answer to all this is perfectly clear in the New Testament itself. Christ is God, and He did not come into this world to change God’s law; He Himself says specifically in the Sermon on the Mount that not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away until all be fulfilled. He did not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. And as the apostle reminds us here, the kingdom of Christ is also the kingdom of God! It is one kingdom. The saints of the Old Testament are in the same kingdom as we are. They were in it before us. We as Gentiles have been brought in; we were strangers from the covenants of promise and outside these things, but we have been brought in, we have been made fellow-heirs with them, this division as between old and new is false; and the argument that the law has got nothing to do with us is a case of the devil appearing as an angel of light. There is but one eternal standard.
In the kingdom of Christ we are brought face to face with GOD! And what is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ? Why did He come? He came to bring us to GOD, says the apostle Peter. He came, says Paul, and gave Himself for us, ‘that he might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’; He came to make us holy! We find a perfect statement of the matter in the Epistle to the Romans: ‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that [in order that] the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’ (8:3-4). It is the kingdom of Christ and of God, and the standard is not lower in the kingdom of Christ than it is in the kingdom of God. The kingdom is one, and holiness is ever the one and only standard. The Lord Jesus Christ did not come into this world to lower the standard or to make it easier than it was before for us to slip into the kingdom, as though we could enter saying, We believe in Christ, and yet be holding on to our sins. Our Lord said, ‘Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord! … but he that doeth…’! And remember the illustration of the house built on the rock and house built on the sand. It is introduced by these words: ‘Whosever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock’ [Matthew 7:24]; the man that heard Christ’s sayings and did not do them is like the man that built his house upon the sand.
Justification is by faith alone. It was while we were yet enemies that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; it was while we were ungodly, while we were sinners. There is no question about that; it is a cardinal doctrine, a first great principle. But justification is only one step, an initial step, in a process. And the process includes not only justification but regeneration and sanctification and ultimate glorification. Justification and forgiveness of sins are not ends in and of themselves; they are only steps on a way that leads to final perfection. And that is the whole answer to the problem. Some Christians persist in isolating these things, but they are not isolate in the Scriptures. ‘Whom he called, them he also justified and whom he justified, them he also glorified’! ‘But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’! There is the whole process. And the truth is, that if you are in it at all, you are in at every point. We cannot divorce justification and forgiveness from other parts of truth. And the remaining steps are put very clearly before us in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: ‘Such’, says the apostle, having given his terrible list of sins – ‘Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God’ (6:11). It means that God does not justify a man and leave him there. Not at all! If God justifies a man, God has brought that man into the process. If you can say that you are justified, I say about you that you have been washed, that you have been sanctified, that you have been taken out, you have been removed from the old, and you have been put into a new realm, into a new kingdom; you are in this process of God that is leading to your ultimate, entire perfection. And the verse that we are looking at here is saying that if there is no evidence in our lives of this process into which God puts the people whom He justifies, then we have not been justified, but are merely saying, Lord! Lord! And His response will be: ‘I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ For the argument is that when God justifies a man He does bring him into this process, and these things happen to him.
These warning, these threatenings, these alarming statements, are the things that God uses to sanctify us; He applies them to us by the Spirit for this purpose. We can all test ourselves as to whether we are Christians or not. How do you react to my text? Does it concern you? Does it alarm you? Does it make you feel ashamed of yourself and your life? Do you say, It is absolutely right and I am ever in danger of relapsing into Antinomianism. If so, I tell you that you are in the kingdom. God has used this verse through the Holy Spirit in order to promote your sanctification. These words come to awaken the true believer, they do not touch the others. The others are just made to feel uncomfortable. They say, ‘What you tell me is all wrong, I thought I was justified by faith only.’ But they really mean to say, ‘I thought that the gospel said it did not matter if I went on sinning, and that all was right with me if I believed in Christ!’ They make the blood of Christ a cloak to cover their sins, they make merchandise of the cross, they are balancing, putting themselves right. But the man who is really called, the man who is in the kingdom, says, ‘This is right, it must be right.’
…people who cleave to sin obviously cannot have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. There is no contradiction between these statements and the doctrine of free grace and justification by faith only, for the God who justifies goes on with the process. And unless we are giving evidence of being in the process and of being perfected by it, there is but one conclusion to draw – we have never been in the kingdom at all, we must go back to the very beginning, we must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
You may listen to this sermon in its entirety by visiting http://www.mljtrust.org/collections/book-of-ephesians/5/ and scrolling down the page to the sermon on Ephesians 5:5, The Kingdom of Christ and God.