Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 5
Preached in Manhattan, NY on August 20, 1989
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22
We’re looking at what this passage in Ephesians 2 tells us about the church of Jesus Christ. This week and next week we’re continuing to look at this passage. Tonight we’re going to look at what it means to be citizens of the kingdom.
More than a few years ago, the Baltimore Orioles had a third baseman named Brooks Robinson. The Baltimore Orioles are a baseball team in the major leagues. Robinson was an okay hitter, but he was an incredible fielder. He was incredible at third base. At one point when he was at the peak of his career, somebody made this comment about him. They said it was almost as if he came down from a higher league and was just tuning up and getting ready to go back. Except, of course, we know there is no higher league. So it was a tremendous compliment.
How would you like to do everything in your life … your work, your play, your relationships … in such a way that people looked at you and said, “This person looks like they’ve come down from a higher plane, a higher league, and they’re just tuning up to go back?” The Bible tells us that’s what should be true of Christians. That’s what can be true of Christians. It’s all because of this verse and this particular statement, this truth: “… you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people …”
Philippians 3:20 says the same thing only in a slightly different way: “… our citizenship is in heaven.” The word citizenship here is a good little Greek word, politeuma, from which we get our word politics. Your politics are in heaven. Your way of living with people, your way of conducting yourself in the world should have the aroma of a higher league, a higher plane from heaven itself. That’s what it’s saying.
What difference would it make if that were true of a group of people? What difference does it make if a certain group of people are citizens of heaven? What difference does it make if that group of people live out their citizenship, grasp it and live it out? What difference does it make? All the difference in the world. It will mean the difference of whether or not there will be joy and stability in the private life and creativity and excellence in your public life, your professional life. I mean that.
To get the hang of it, imagine you’re in some totalitarian country. You’re there as a U.S. citizen. What condition are you in? On the one hand, you adapt. You learn the language of the country, right? You observe its customs. Of course you adapt. But at another level, at the most important level, you’re a U.S. citizen. The duties and the rights you enjoy are those of a U.S. citizen. That country and that government, as totalitarian as it is, though you have to give it respect and know it can harm you, you don’t belong to it. It really does not have the same rights over you it has over its own citizens.
The Bible says that is what it means to be a Christian in the world. The Bible says in Colossians 1:13 that the moment you receive Christ as Savior your citizenship is “transferred … into the Kingdom of his dear Son …” At that moment you have a whole new set of duties and rights, a whole new way of conducting yourself with other people, a whole new way of relating to the world. Your politics are completely changed. That’s what it says. A whole new way of dealing with the world.
Malcolm Muggeridge, who was a man who became a Christian later in life and was a pretty well known writer and critic in London, says after he became a Christian, “As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust, and that every earthly kingdom must some time flounder. As Christians, too, we acknowledge a King men did not crown and cannot destroy, just as we are citizens of a city men did not build and cannot destroy.”
What if any group of Christians, what if any group of people lived as if this was true, reminded themselves of it every day, and worked out the implications in a consistent and diligent way in every area of their lives? What would we be like? We’d be the most compelling (that’s the word I like to use) community of all the many communities of humanity.
Now if we want to do that, let’s just try to understand a little bit more about what this is teaching. What does it mean to be citizens? What is this truth? Now this verse 19 gives us this truth both negatively and positively. First it tells us what we’re not anymore, and then it tells us what we are. It says, “… you are no longer …” What? “… foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people …”
Let’s look at it negatively first and then positively. “… you are no longer foreigners and aliens …” Now the word foreigners, xenoi, from which we get our word xenophobia, which means a hatred of refugees and people of other races, literally means a stranger. It means a person who doesn’t fit, a person who has sat down and his surroundings are completely unfamiliar. He doesn’t know the language. He doesn’t know the culture. He doesn’t know the customs. He is disoriented. Everything is unfamiliar. He feels cut off and isolated. He just doesn’t fit.
Now what is intriguing here is the Bible says if you’re not a Christian, that is your condition in the world. It doesn’t say you’re out there having a good time before you become a Christian. It says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens …” No longer. Colossians 1:13 says, “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son …” Here we have Ephesians 2:19 saying, “You were in a state of alienation, of strangeness.”
The point is if you are not in touch with the Creator, if you are living a life of disobedience, if you are not living a life of faith in Jesus Christ, the condition you are in is one of fragmentation, of incoherence, of isolation, and of being in pieces versus being whole, coherent, unified, and free. Now the Bible teaches this everywhere. It’s not that before you become a Christian you’re in a great state and then you get into a kind of, “Let’s get down to business.” Before, you were having a lot of fun.
People over the years have said to me, “I’d love to become a Christian, but first I want to enjoy my life.” Of course, at that point what you have to say is, “Whatever you think it means to become a Christian, you are so far off the wall; you can’t do it when you want to.” Here’s a person who says to me, “I know what it means to become a Christian, but I want to have fun for a while. Then I’ll become a Christian. I can do it when I want to.” Anybody who believes that doesn’t know what Christianity is and couldn’t possibly do it.
No, the Bible says before you are a citizen of the kingdom you’re in a state of strangeness. You’re in pieces. For example, there is a word that comes up often in the New Testament. It’s the word anxiety. Jesus says, “Have no anxiety about anything, but consider …” Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything …” The word anxiety in Greek (merimna) literally means the state of being in pieces.
Let me give you a definition of worry. Worry is being out of touch with the boss. I hope this is true for some of you. Imagine you work in a place where you have a boss over a department. If that boss is not only a wise person, but let’s just say he is also your best friend, your dearest friend, your closest confidante, you’re able to go about your job in a very relaxed way. Why? First of all, you’re not afraid of messing up. You’re not afraid of making one little mistake. You’re not going about it really worried or anxious.
Not only that, if something goes awry in the department, if something happens that is very strange and confusing, you don’t panic; you say, “Well I figure I’ll find out from him. I don’t have to worry. I know I’ll learn about it. I know I’ll get the inside scoop. I know I’ll be brought into it. I won’t be marginalized. I won’t be on the outside.” So you have this peace about your job. You’re in touch with the boss.
What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be a citizen of the kingdom? On the one hand it means you are in touch with the person who is in charge of all of history, all circumstances. If you are not on close speaking terms, if he and you are not in a position of being intimate, then you get worried about things. You don’t know what’s going on. You get scared. You get frightened because you’re not sure, and you’re in pieces. That’s what the words worry and anxiety mean.
I’ll put it another way. If you are living out of touch with God, if you’re living a disobedient life, then you’re a person who is not obeying your own owner’s manual. If you buy a machine and you get out the owner’s manual, the person who built the machine tells you how to maintain it. If you oil it with a certain kind of oil at certain intervals, the machine will hold together, stay coherent, and be in one piece. But if you fail to do the maintenance that the designer who built the thing knows it needs, it will very soon go to pieces. It will fall apart.
Essentially what it means to be a believer is you come and you submit to the owner’s manual, which is the Word of God, the person who built you. This isn’t busywork. This isn’t the sort of thing my seventh grade algebra teacher used to give people to keep you off the street. Busywork. It’s not what the Word of God is. A Christian is somebody who has come in under the Word of God, submits to it wholly, and as a result finds he or she fits into the world of this God. You feel like you fit because when you do these things, you’re doing things you were built for. When you don’t … fragmentation. You feel like you’re in pieces.
There was another Presbyterian minister, a man in my denomination, who had a relationship with a young French scientist named Philippe some years ago. Philippe, though he was friendly with this pastor, was an atheist. They had many talks, but he was never convinced. At one point Philippe fell in love with a woman named Francois, and they decided because of their careers the worst possible thing they could possibly do for their careers would be to get married. It was true. If they got married, it would definitely ruin somebody’s career, or both.
So they sat down and they reasoned it out. They said, “We don’t have to get married. Besides that, we don’t have to stay together. We have these hormonal needs, and we’re fulfilling each other right now. When we go to other places, we can find someone else to fill those hormonal needs. There is absolutely no reason why we should ruin our lives.” Two years of emptiness and unhappiness, and they finally got back together, and they got married.
Philippe wrote this pastor this letter, which I think is very revealing and quite intriguing. Remember, this man is not a believer at all. He says, “I don’t know why it’s so hard to live without a permanent commitment.” Now of course the Bible explains that, but he can’t figure it out. “My scientific understanding of man is that we are the result of chance happenings in the universe. Our desires are the results of genes and instincts and hormones, so love is actually an illusion. But I never realized my ideas had drained life of its joy. My lover, Francois, and I cannot live on the basis of these views even though we’re sure that they are correct. It’s almost as if we don’t understand who we are.”
He is a stranger in the world he believes in. He doesn’t fit. His own views are out of accord with who he really is. He is not following his owner’s manual. He experiences fragmentation. He is in pieces. The Bible says when you become Christians, when you receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, “… you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but …” Let’s look at it positively “… fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”
Now the reason I think Paul brought up this idea of citizenship was because in the Roman world individual cities were actually not just cities as we know them, but city-states. So a person who was a citizen in a particular city would be traveling around the Roman Empire and would continue to have the duties and the rights of a citizen of that city wherever he or she went.
So for example … Some of you might be familiar with this. Paul was a Roman citizen. When he was in Philippi, because he ran afoul of a bunch of people, they threw him into prison. Now most people could just be thrown into prison by the local authorities, but if you were a Roman citizen what was one of your rights? Yes, you couldn’t be thrown into prison without a trial. That was a right.
After he had spent a night in prison, Paul explained this to the Philippian supervisors. They were aghast. Why? Because he had rights. Though he was outside of Rome, he had rights that were still intact. That’s what Paul is thinking about here. A Christian is somebody, though he doesn’t live in heaven, who has the same rights and duties of a citizen of heaven. Now what are those rights and duties? Unfortunately there is an innumerable list, but I’m going to suggest just three of them tonight.
1. The right of appeal
Now by that I mean that a citizen has the right to go to the top if necessary. We already said Paul had the right not just for a trial, but Paul, as a Roman citizen, had a right to appeal to the emperor. Other people did not have that right. Can you imagine what a tremendous right that was, what a tremendous privilege it was to be a Roman citizen and have the right to go to the emperor if you weren’t happy with how some other authority or supervisor had treated you?
If you’re a Christian you have the same right, only it’s far greater than what Paul had. Take a look at Jesus. Again and again blind men approach him, children approach him. What do his followers say? The disciples are always saying, “Get back. Our boss is too important for such as the likes of you.” What happens there is Jesus always is turning around and saying, “Cut it out,” or to put it another way, “Suffer the little children to come unto me …” Jesus is the kind of emperor who, if you are his citizen, is always interested in your case.
We read a passage earlier in “Words of Encouragement.” Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …” What is that? That is the right of appeal. You had better not take that seriously. You had better not be like the German journalist whose name was Heinrich Heine. As he was dying someone said, “Do you believe God will forgive you?” Though he had lived a life of licentiousness and rebellion and unbelief, as he was dying his last words were, “God will forgive. That’s his job.” The answer to that is, “No, that’s not, any more than somebody from Zambia can appeal to George Bush for justice. It’s not George Bush’s job to give justice to everybody.”
The fact is that right of appeal is a right of access we talked about last week. Because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you can go all the way into the central height for justice for your case. Because of what Jesus has done, he has opened the way right into the King. In the Old Testament, one of the best stories in the Old Testament, just a great story, is the history of Esther. At one point Esther has to go in to see the king of Persia, the emperor. She knows if she goes in she could be put to death to approach the emperor. If he puts forth his scepter, if he stretches his scepter out, that shows he has favor on her. She can approach.
If, on the other hand, he does not put his scepter out, she is put to death. What does she say? Now this is another sermon, and I’ll get back to it someday, I guarantee you. She says, “I’m going to do what I have to do, and if I perish, I perish.” Yeah. “I’m going to obey, and if I perish, I perish. I have to obey. I don’t have to live.” Now what happened is the scepter came out, and that’s a picture of what it means to be a Christian.
My dear friends, if you’re a citizen of the kingdom, if you’re a citizen of the King, the scepter is always out. Always out. I just want you to know, some of you in this room are afraid to go in because you say, “I know some things, and God knows what those things are. Why should he listen to me?” If you’re a citizen of the King, the scepter is always out.
That brings up a very important point at this spot. This concept of citizenship tells you an awful lot about what it means to be a Christian. Christianity, bottom line, is a status, a standing, a legal standing. I once heard a person talk to a pastor about people in his church. At one point the person was saying to the pastor, “Well there are some people in your church who are Christians and converted and some people who are not.”
The pastor went through the roof. The pastor said (and many, many pastors would say this), “Don’t you dare say that. These people out here are all trying their best. There are different degrees of Christians out there. Only Jesus Christ was a real Christian. Everybody else is on the way, so don’t be so judgmental.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? No. It’s a complete repudiation of what this verse is saying. There are no degrees of citizenship. You either are a citizen or you’re not. If you’re not a citizen, you may be applying, and then you become one. It happens in a moment. Some of you might be in doubt about your approach to God for this very reason because you don’t understand the citizenship of the kingdom.
You say, “I know things I’ve done. Some days I feel like I’m doing pretty well at living according to God’s standards. Other days I’m doing lousy.” Another thing that really gets you kind of confused is you see people who are not believers at all, who repudiate Christianity, and who are living far more disciplined, well-controlled, moral lives than you are. You don’t even want to go near God. You say, “How could I do that?”
Friends, what makes a person an American? The color of his or her skin? The language he or she speaks? The fashion he or she is wearing? What makes a person an American? None of those things. What makes a person an American? Is it race? Citizenship is what makes you an American.
What makes you a Christian? The fact that today you’ve been better than yesterday? This is it. What makes you a Christian is … Have you applied for citizenship? Was there ever a time in which you said, “Lord, I know I’m an alien. I know I have no right to be accepted by you, but I no longer trust in my own efforts. I trust in what Jesus Christ has done for me. Accept me for that sake. Bring me into the kingdom?” You applied for citizenship, and anybody who applies for citizenship like that, who humbles himself or herself like that, gets citizenship. That’s a moment. That’s what it is. You cross over the line. Appeal.
Some of you will not approach God with your problems. Some of you don’t feel like you can go near him. Why? Because there is a little voice that says, “He hardly ever hears anyway when you ask him. Beside that, why should he? He hardly ever does anything when you ask him. Beside that, why should he?”
There is only one answer to that kind of voice. I don’t know what you’re saying. If you’re saying to it, “Well, I’ll try better tomorrow,” you yourself know maybe you will do better tomorrow, but then what about Tuesday? The only answer to that kind of voice is, “I’m a citizen.” The right of appeal.
2. The right of escort
Let me tell you about the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Have any of you heard of the War of Jenkins’ Ear? I hope not. In 1739 when Britain was at the height of its naval power, a particular … You’re laughing already. I haven’t even told you this story. This is true. Honest. It’s Sunday. I’m a preacher. We’re in church. I wouldn’t tell you a lie now, okay?
There was a lone British vessel that was attacked wrongfully by the Spaniards. In the battle the captain (his name was Captain Jenkins) had his ear cut off by a sword. He saved the ear, and he put it in a bottle of liquor to preserve it. He sailed back to England. He went into Parliament. He told everybody what happened, and he held up the ear.
By the way, visual aids are very helpful in speaking. I was trying to think of a good visual aid for tonight, and I just couldn’t come up with one. I’m sorry about that. This was a corker. He put up his ear. Parliament declared war on Spain, and it was called the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Now on the one hand, wouldn’t you say one particular human being is not worth going to war for? From one perspective, yes.
Captain Jenkins, as one particular human being … in fact, just his ear … is not a good enough reason to go to war. But Captain Jenkins, as a citizen of the British Empire, is enough reason to go to war. Why? Because each citizen represents the Crown, or better yet, an attack on a British citizen represented an attack on the Crown. All the might of the British Empire escorted that one citizen, Captain Jenkins, back to the scene of the crime.
Now friends, if you’re a citizen of the kingdom, you have all the power of the kingdom escorting you through your life. You do. The kingdom is power. That’s another sermon, too. Second Corinthians 10 says, “We fight with weapons that are not earthly weapons.” They’re not actual Uzis. They’re not actual swords, but they are spiritual weapons. Let me just give you a couple.
First of all, you have kingdom power against your own internal weaknesses, your sins. Don’t you know you have habits, fears, drives, and desires that have been ripping you up for years, that have been holding you back for years? What are you going to do about them? Are you going to give up? You have kingdom power. You have the Word of God, which is alive and active and which can deal with those things. You have the Spirit of God. If you don’t know that and if you’ve given up on yourself, you’re not thinking like a citizen; you’re thinking like a slave.
Let me give you an illustration that is worth repeating. I will, and draw it out even more later on. Imagine a person who had been a slave all of his life in the South of the United States up until the Civil War. Every day he used to come into a town. He would walk up and there would be men who would come and laugh at him, jeer at him, say, “Get me a drink of water,” and order him around. He had to because if he didn’t they could beat him within an inch of his life, and it was perfectly legal.
Then one day Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, and that person is now a citizen. The next day he walks into town, the same guys are there yelling and screaming and telling him to do all kinds of things, only this time he knows if he doesn’t do what they tell him to do, he is a citizen, and though they could still make trouble for him, he can make trouble for them. Now it’s not easy after 40 years of being a slave on one day when you’re told you’re now a citizen to suddenly start acting like a citizen. Probably what the guy will do is continue to act like a slave. That’s natural. He is still a citizen, but he is acting like a slave.
That’s what a lot of us in this room are like, because the moment you were transferred into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, the fears in your life, the pride in your life, and the sins in your life that were ordering you around because, before you got into the kingdom of God they were in your life with the full rights of citizens, your sins are now illegal aliens. They no longer have power over you. You do not have to do what they say. Are you going to act like a slave or like a citizen?
It’s not going to be easy, any easier than it would be for that man, but the only way you’ll ever overcome the things that are in your life is to recognize that truth. The only way that man would ever stop acting like a slave is to remind himself, to tell himself, and to begin to step out on the basis of what is true legally.
That was mighty, mighty hard to work into his personality after all those years. It’s hard for us too. But do you believe God’s power is escorting you through life? Do you believe you have God’s power in your life to deal with those things? Are you acting like a citizen or like a slave? Not only that, God is escorting you with his power through history.
The Bible does not say if God is your King you won’t have troubles, but the Bible does say, “… all things work together for good …” That means in a sense God is overwhelming and overpowering troubles that come into your life so they are the things you need to change you, to help you, and to grow you. Remember Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers? In Genesis 50:20, he looks his brothers in the eye. Why isn’t there any bitterness?
Because Joseph was sold into slavery, he was able to rise up into great places of power in Egypt. He looked at his brothers and said, “… you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” God escorted me through history. With his overwhelming power he worked out for good even the troubles that came into my life.” That kind of power is in your life, too. God is your escort if you’re a citizen of the King.
3. The duty of representing your people
If you are a citizen you represent your people. If you’re a citizen you represent the king. Here we’re told if you’re a citizen that makes you a nation. If you’re a citizen you’re part of a nation. First Peter 2:9 comes right out and explicitly says, “You are … a holy nation …” Or right here in verse 15 of this same chapter it says, “God takes Jew and Gentile and makes them one new man. You’re a new humanity. You’re a new race. You’re a new nation.”
Now the word nation in 1 Peter 2:9 is the word ethnos, and the Bible says when you become a Christian you become a new ethnic. What is an ethnic? How do ethnics differ from each other? Well I’ll tell you. An ethnic group is something very different than an organization or a club, isn’t it? Two clubs differ from each other only in a couple of areas, like how do the Optimists differ from the Boy Scouts? Well they differ in age. They differ in activity.
How does a German differ from a Chinese person? In all kinds of ways, because your ethnicity, your culture tells you how to live in every way, doesn’t it? It tells you how men and women relate. It tells you how parents and children relate. It tells you how to dress. It tells you what is good art. It tells you what is good labor. It tells you good business practice. It even tells you what is humorous and what isn’t, right? Your culture tells you everything.
What does it mean when the Bible says, “You have become a new ethnic?” This is radical. It means if you’re a citizen and you know you’re a citizen, the church is not just a lecture hall, the church is not just a social club. It’s a counterculture. It’s a pilot plant of what humanity would be in every area under the lordship of Christ. It’s a counterculture.
We’re told in Deuteronomy 4, God says to the children of Israel, “Obey the laws I give you so the nations will see how wise and great you are and how wise and great I am.” That means our citizenship, it says here in verses 19–20, is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. That’s the Word of God, the New and the Old Testament. As we submit every area of our lives to his lordship, we become a new ethnic.
When the world looks at us, it shouldn’t just see people who come and get kind of a high every so often or come and get a little enrichment. If you’re a citizen of the kingdom, that means Christianity cannot be another file in the crowded drawer of your life, another Weight Watchers program, another enrichment program. Instead, it should be the center of your life out of which every part of your life is controlled. Every part. To be a new ethnic.
If you don’t understand this, you can’t understand a lot of things in Scripture. For example, 1 Corinthians 6 says, “No two Christians should ever sue one another in court.” Did you know that? First Corinthians 6. You didn’t know that. Well what does that mean? Is that just busywork? How did God come up with that one?
It’s very simple. If we are to be the people of God, if we are to be a new ethnic, if we’re to be a pilot plant showing the world what a new humanity would be underneath the lordship of Christ, we need to show the world justice. If we can’t work out our own disputes, if we can’t show we know how to deal fairly with people, work out disputes, and work out justice within our own community, we’ve bought the ranch. We’ve blown the ball game. For two Christians to go to court means you’ve failed to be the people of God. You do not understand your citizenship at all. You don’t understand what it means to be an ethnic.
It also means the church is not a place to come just simply to get a little bit of inspiration for the week. It is a counterculture. You come here because you’re saying, “How in the world do I get my Christianity out in every area of my life, including my public life?” If you’re in fashions, for example, have you ever sat down and worked out what the Bible says about clothing? The Bible says a lot about clothing. God invented clothing, you know.
He invented clothing both to conceal certain things and to reveal certain things. Have you ever worked that out? Have pastors, Christian people in the fashion business, and other believers worked together to figure out what some of those principles are so we can work them into our public lives and hold each other accountable? A counterculture is a place where we give one another support to be citizens of the kingdom in every area of our lives.
It’s going to be very hard to get that off the ground because for the last 50 or 80 years, the churches have gotten no concept of citizenship. We see the church as simply a lecture hall or a social club, and we don’t give that kind of thing because we don’t have a concept of the kingdom. That is a duty: to represent, to exhibit the King. Now there is another part, but I won’t even deal with it. I’ll deal with it next week. That is being an embassy and spreading the kingdom, but we won’t get to that. I’m going to close up right now.
My dear friends, here is the bottom line. In this room my guess is there are some of you who are citizens who are living like aliens or strangers. There are some of you on the other hand who are aliens who are living like citizens. Let me explain. Some of you are believers. You received Jesus Christ as Lord. You’re citizens, but you’re not living like citizens. Are you living in fear that somehow God is not going to help you with your problems?
You’re not living like a citizen. You have the right of appeal. Are you living in anger because your life has been messed up? Angry at people for having done it? Angry at God? You’re not living as a citizen. You don’t see the escort God has for you. Some of you are living cowed before problems in your life, and you’ve given up on yourself. You’re living like slaves and not like citizens.
The main way some of you are not living like citizens is you’re just being mindless about your public life. In your private life you’re a Christian. That means on the weekends and the evenings and whenever you get off, but the rest of the time you don’t look any different. Nobody ever looks at you and says, “That person looks like they’ve come down from a higher league.”
There is a distinctiveness and a creativity about Christians who try to work out their citizenship because they know they’re a new ethnic and they’re going to do everything in their lives, including their public work, ethnically Christian. Are you a citizen but you’re living like a stranger, you’re living like an alien, you’re living like a slave? Are you? My friends, demand your rights but don’t demand them of God. He has been offering them. Demand them of yourself. Don’t demand them of God. He is the source of those rights. Look at yourself and say, “You idiot. Why are you living like this?”
Then there are some of you I would think who are living like citizens who are really aliens. Now what I mean is you expect God to take care of you. You expect God to bless you. You expect God to escort you. You expect God to listen to you. Yet you’ve never actually applied for citizenship. Well how do you know if you’ve done that? Very simple.
Number one, you have to admit you’re an alien. Let me tell you, nobody has ever come to the United States and tried to become a U.S. citizen without at least admitting they weren’t one. You have to admit you aren’t a citizen before they’ll ever let you be one. A lot of folks just won’t do that. “I’ve tried my best. I’ve lived a healthy, clean life.”
My friends, you can’t become a citizen until you admit, until you say, “Oh Lord Jesus Christ, I owe you everything because you invented me. You made me. I should be loving you with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, but I don’t. I have no rights before you at all. I am an alien.” Then secondly, you turn around and you say, “Oh Lord, because of what Jesus Christ did, oh Father, because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross, he bought my citizenship for me.”
As you transfer your trust from yourself to Jesus Christ, he transfers your citizenship from darkness into light. When you do that, you’re in. You’re a citizen. Are you a citizen? Are you a citizen living like an alien? Are you an alien living like a citizen? Let’s apply this to our hearts in a moment of silent reflection. Take time. Think it through. Go to him, pray, and apply this truth to your own heart. With the Spirit’s help, let’s do that now.
In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting. Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.
Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:
Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).
Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).
Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).
Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.
Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.
The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.
Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.
The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.
Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.
Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.
Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.
The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.
Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.
SERIES: GENESIS – PART 5
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2
When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, he received more abuse than perhaps any modern scientist. To be sure, even Einstein originally objected to Slipher’s discovery of an expanding universe. He wrote, “This circumstance irritates me” (Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 28). Others also objected. But none of these heaped personal abuse on Slipher. Darwin, by contrast, was greeted with: “Rotten fabric of speculation. … Utterly false. … Deep in the mire of folly [and] … I laughed till my sides were sore” (Jastrow, Until the Sun Dies, 19). The remarkable thing, however, is that the theory that became the laughing stock and then eventually the battleground of the second half of the nineteenth century has now become widely accepted, not only by scientists but also by a wide variety of people from most walks of life.
This is not to say that evolution is the only theory going. It is merely the dominant view today and is therefore the one with which any discussion of the theory of origins should start. Actually, our discussion in this and the following sermons is going to take us over five competing theories: 1) atheistic evolution, 2) theistic evolution, 3) the so-called “gap theory” popularized by C. I. Scofield, 4) six-day creationism, and finally 5) progressive creationism. We are going to see what each of these theories has to commend it and then also explore its weaknesses.
Let us say at the beginning that a final answer as to how the universe came into being may not be attainable now. We may exclude some possibilities, both as Christians and as scientists. As Christians we may exclude even more. But this still falls short of a full answer to the “how.” Indeed, even taking the explanations of origins in the order proposed above does not necessarily imply that the latter positions are better than the earlier ones. They are taken in this order simply because they have appeared in this order historically.
The Evolutionary Theory
We begin by noting that in spite of the association of evolution with the name of Charles Darwin, evolution itself is nothing new. It existed among the ancient Greeks, for example. Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Epicurus, and Lucretius were all evolutionists. So also was Aristotle (384–322 b.c.), who believed in a complete gradation in nature accompanied by a perfecting principle. This was imagined to have caused gradation from the imperfect to the perfect. Man, of course, stood at the highest point of the ascent.
Again, there were evolutionists in more modern times before Darwin. Some early precursors were Francis Bacon (1561–1626), René Descartes (1596–1650), and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). The first biologist to make a contribution to evolutionary thought was George Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707–1788), the French naturalist. Another was Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), the grandfather of Charles Darwin. The first fairly complete theory of evolution was by Chevalier de Lamarck (1744–1829), who became a professor in zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Paris and later popularized his views in Philosophie Zoologique.
It was Charles Darwin, however, who rightly captured the world’s attention. His theory was developed to a degree that none of the others were and, perhaps even more importantly, it was supported by an impressive array of observations collected initially on the world-encircling tour of the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836. Darwin’s theory may be arranged in these postulates and conclusions.
Postulate number one: variation. There are variations within individuals of the same species.
Postulate number two: overproduction. In most cases, more individuals are born to a species than can possibly survive to maturity.
Conclusion number one: struggle for existence. In order to survive individuals must compete with other members of the same species.
Postulate number three: survival of the fittest. In a competitive environment only those individuals best fitted to survive will survive.
Postulate number four: inheritance of favorable characteristics. Fit individuals pass their “good” characteristics to their descendants.
Final conclusion: New species arise by the continued survival and reproduction of the individuals best suited to their particular environment (This summary of Darwin’s theory is taken from John W. Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution. St. Louis, Concordia, 1970, 34-35).
What has happened to this theory in the one hundred or so years since the publication of Darwin’s Origin? For the most part it is still held, though much work has been done in the one area that presents a flaw in the argument. As anyone can see, the chief mechanism of evolution according to Darwin’s theory is “natural selection,” the impersonal preference given to a certain variation in a species permitting one individual rather than another to survive. This is supposed to explain how the variety of forms we know came about. But this is precisely what it does not do. Natural selection may explain how certain individuals have more offspring than others and therefore survive, or survive and have offspring while other less favored individuals do not. But it does not tell us how there came to be the various organisms or “good” characteristics of organisms in the first place.
Thomas Bethell, editor of the Washington Monthly, has written of this problem in an article for Harper’s Magazine. He observes, “There is, then, no ‘selection’ by nature at all. Nor does nature ‘act’ as it so often is said to do in biology books. One organism may indeed be ‘fitter’ than another from an evolutionary point of view, but the only event that determines this fitness is death (or infertility). This, of course, is not something which helps create the organism, but is something that terminates it” (Harper’s Magazine, February 1976, 70-75).
To deal with this problem evolutionists have come to speak of mutations as the primary source of variations. This was proposed first by a Dutch botanist, Hugo de Vries, in a work entitled Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation (1905). It has since been suggested that mutations are caused by cosmic radiations, the latter being perhaps far more intense than in modern times.
The Fossil Record
What are we to say of Darwin’s theory? We must begin by noting that there is no question on the part of any informed thinker or writer that there are varieties within a given species. This is simply to say that all individuals are not alike. Some are tall, some short. Some are strong, others weak, and so on. The question is whether these acknowledged variations are sufficient to account for the development of entirely different species and, second, whether such development has in fact occurred. (The possibility of the development of species in this manner does not prove that this is the way it happened.)
At this point we have to turn to the evidence for evolution, and when we do we must acknowledge that the only true historical evidence is the evidence of fossils. There are other things that might be seen as supporting evolution: the possibility of classifying organisms from the simple to the more complex, similarities of structure in “related” species, the existence of vestigial organs (that is, organs like the human appendix for which no present function is known), similar blood types between some species. But these are all circumstantial arguments, and in some cases they are also ambiguous (See Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution, 120-73). The only truly historical evidence—evidence that evolution has actually occurred—is fossils.
The fossil remains may be evidence of evolution, but what is not adequately said today is that they do not prove evolution and are in fact highly questionable when applied to evolutionary theory. Let us begin with positive statements. First, although very fragmentary, the fossils do lend themselves to a historical sequence in which the more simple forms of life may be dated earlier (because found in older rock) and more complex forms of life may be dated later. Thus, although the very ancient dates given may be wrong, it does seem that algae, protozoa, and sponges came first. After that are fish, reptiles, and amphibians, then the land animals, including the dinosaurs. Finally, there are the animals we know today, and then man. Another positive statement is that some species have become extinct, the dinosaurs being the most notable example. The combination of these two sets of observations suggests that new forms of life develop and that others become extinct—according to Darwin.
But it is not that simple. There are problems in fitting the fossil record into an evolutionary system. Moreover, these are so great as to bring the entire theory into question.
For example, if evolution is true, what we should expect to find in the fossil record is finely graded and generally continuous development from the simplest forms to the higher forms. Although this is often claimed for the fossil record, it is not what is in fact found when we study it closely. Certainly there are simpler forms in (presumably) earlier rocks. Higher forms (like man) come relatively late. But there are no gradual developments. On the contrary, the major groups appear suddenly, and there is little or no evidence of transition. Everett C. Olson, a well-known evolutionist, mentions this difficulty: “More important, however, are the data revealed by the fossil record. There are great spatial and temporal gaps, sudden appearances of new major groups, equally sudden appearances of old, including very rapid extinctions of groups that had flourished for long periods of time. There were mass extinctions marked by equally simultaneous death of several apparently little associated groups of organisms. At the time the record first is seen with any real clarity [in Cambrian rock strata], the differentiation of phyla is virtually complete. As far as major groups are concerned, we see little clear evidence of time succession in differentiation with the simpler first and the more complex later” (Everett C. Olson, “The Role of Paleontology in the Formation of Evolutionary Thought,” Bioscience 16, 1966: 39. Quoted by L. Duane Thuman, How to Think about Evolution & Other Bible-Science Controversies (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1978, 103. Thuman discusses the problems raised by the fossil record at some length, as do also J. Kerby Anderson and Harold G. Coffin, Fossils in Focus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
It may be argued at this point—indeed, it is argued by evolutionists—that the fossil record is simply incomplete, that if fossils for every prior form of life existed, such gaps would be filled. But in a hundred years of study the tendency has not been this way, and it is hard to convince oneself today that this will yet happen. It is not just a question of several missing links. There are hundreds of missing links. Moreover, the grouping of major species in certain past periods of earth’s history works strongly against this argument. Christians can argue, even if they cannot fully prove, that special creation is a far better explanation.
A second major problem with the use of fossils to support evolution is the subjective nature of arranging fossil histories. It might be argued by one who has seen the difficulty just mentioned that there is nevertheless evidence for development within one of the ancient time periods, even if not from one to the other. The supposed development of the horse from the Eocene period to modern times is an oft-cited example. During 60 million or so years the horse is supposed to have increased in size, lengthened its limbs, reduced and then eventually discarded toes, and become a grazer. Many museums have skeletons or pictures that are supposed to represent this development. But the fossils do not prove this development. They may suggest it, and the development they suggest may in fact be right. But there is still no evidence that one supposed form of the horse gave place to another. In actuality the skeletons may have come from similar but otherwise unrelated animals. Moreover, even if the fossils of these horselike animals prove a development, it is still not an example of the development of new species but only of a change within a species.
Another area of difficulty for evolution is the mechanism used to explain the emergence of significant variations in the species, chiefly mutations (sudden unexpected changes brought about by otherwise unexplained alterations in the organism’s genes). This was the solution to the problem of “newness” proposed by Hugo de Vries. De Vries did his work with the evening primrose, a weed that he found in a potato field. He bred this plant over a period of several generations in the course of which he noticed a number of abrupt changes that he called mutations. He concluded that these were developments of such magnitude that the process itself could explain the emergence of new species.
Unfortunately, the new “species” of de Vries were not new species but simply varieties within the same species. Moreover, they were not produced by mutations in the sense of that word today but rather by breeding out recessive characteristics. In other words, de Vries produced nothing that was not in the plant originally.
De Vries’s failure does not entirely discredit the theory, however, for mutations do occur and can be passed down from generation to generation. The question is whether these mutations are sufficient to account for new species. Are they? Many evolutionists would say yes at this point. But it is important to note that no one has as yet demonstrated this to be so. In fact, there is important evidence to the contrary. Walter Lammerts is a rose breeder from southern California and the author of the books Why Not Creation? and Scientific Studies in Creation. He tells of attempts to breed roses with more petals or less petals, using every imaginable technique including radiation. He acknowledges that it is possible to use radiation to create roses with a significant increase in petals. But here is the point: there is a limit beyond which the increase in petals apparently will not go. If a rose has forty-four petals, for example, it may be reduced to thirty-two or increased to fifty-six. But that is all. Moreover, if the hybrid rose is left to mix with others from that point on, it does not retain its new characteristics but soon loses them. In fact, all the hybrid roses we have would soon turn to wild roses if left to them-selves—because they are bred from the wild roses originally. And if that in itself is not enough to cast doubt on the theory, there is the fact that the “improved” roses did not attain their improved form naturally but rather through the concentrated and prolonged efforts of Lammerts and other breeders. In other words, even in so limited a matter as this there is need for a design and a designer, a planner and a plan (For a fuller discussion of mutations as a possible mechanism for evolution see Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution, 256–91).
The Crucial Areas
An essay such as this can only begin to suggest a few of the problems the theory of evolution poses. But even in such a short study, concentrating on the basic scientific evidence for and against evolution, we can hardly pass over the far greater and (from the point of view of the Christian) unsolvable problems that exist where the crucial points of evolution are concerned. There are four of them.
First, even were we to grant the truthfulness of the evolutionary system as currently put forth, we still have the problem of the origin of the matter from which the later forms sprang. Evolution implies matter by the very meaning of the word, for in order for something to evolve there must be something there in the first place to evolve, and that first something cannot evolve but rather must be either eternally present or created. Since the eternity of matter is today increasingly untenable, as we saw in a previous study, we must have God as Creator. And this obviously nudges us toward the Christian position, whatever our opinions of a greater or lesser degree of evolutionary development may be.
Second, there is the form of matter. We may speak of “mere” matter as if it were a simple irreducible entity, but we do not actually know of any such “simple” matter and cannot in fact even conceive of it. Everything we know, however simple, already has a form—generally a highly complex form. Even hydrogen, the basic building block of everything according to astrophysics, is not simple. It has a proton, neutron, and electron, all operating according to fixed laws. Where did this fixed form and laws come from? They did not evolve. They are in matter to start with.
Third, there is the emergence of life. This is a complex problem, and much has been done to develop laboratory models according to which life could have arisen on earth during the early ages of the planet. The most acceptable model is a three-stage process involving: 1) the origin of bio-organics (amino acids, sugars) from inorganic compounds (hydrogen, water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane); 2) the origin of biopolymers (large molecules such as proteins) from the bio-organics; and finally 3) the origin of primordial life (simple plant or algaelike cells) from the biopolymers. But this is an extremely complex process, even assuming that this is how life came about, and therefore has an extremely low level of probability. True, scientists have achieved the first two of these stages in carefully controlled laboratory experiments. But the crucial third stage is elusive. And even in the second stage, the polymers seem to deteriorate faster than they would normally be created in anything approaching a natural environment. Again, it is not a matter of a single event of low probability. It is a matter of a long series of events, each with a very small probability, so that, as one writer says, “for all practical purposes the probability of this series of events may safely be regarded as zero” (Donald England, A Christian View of Origins. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972, 97).
Two scientists, who nevertheless believe in the spontaneous generation of life, write, “The macromolecule-to-cell transition is a jump of fantastic dimensions, which lies beyond the range of testable hypothesis. In this area, all is conjecture. The available facts do not provide a basis for postulating that cells arose on this planet” (D. E. Green and R. F. Goldberg, Molecular Insights into the Living Process. New York: Academic Press, 1967, 407. Quoted by England, Christian View, 94. England discusses the problems with a theory of the spontaneous generation of life on pp. 33–100).
The fourth of the truly great problems for an atheistic theory of evolution is the emergence of personality in man, or to be more specific, the emergence of the soul, spirit, or God-consciousness. What caused non-man to become man? One writer asks, “Where did the soul of man come from? Why is it that the highest and best animals are unable to pray? They are unable to communicate in a rational way. They are unable to do the things that man is able to do. The lowest type of man upon the face of the earth is far higher than the highest of the animals, because he has the capacity to worship God and can be brought to be a child of God, able to live in the glory of God through Jesus Christ, and that is true of none of the animals.” This writer concludes, “I am not ashamed to say that I believe in the first chapter of Genesis, but I should be ashamed to say that I held to any form of evolution” (E. J. Young, In the Beginning, 56–57).
I conclude with this question. Why is it, if the theory of evolution is as weak as it seems to be, that it has the popular appeal acknowledged at the beginning of this sermon? Why is it that evolution is today’s dominant view and not one of the other views mentioned? I think there are four answers, three of which I want to put in the form of statements and one of which I want to put in the form of a question.
The statements are these.
First, according to evolution, everything—absolutely everything—is knowable, and this has obvious appeal. Everything comes from something else, and we can trace the developments back. It is a closed system. There is no need for anything outside. Above all, there is no need for God who by the very definition of that word is One who is unknowable and who does not need to give an account of himself.
Second, according to evolution, there is one explanation for everything. Everything evolves: matter, life, ideas, even religion. We can project this framework from our own small world throughout the universe.
Third, and this is perhaps the chief reason, if creation of the world by God is eliminated (as many clearly wish to do), evolution is the only other option.
On the basis of those three statements I now ask my question: Is it not possible, then, that in the last analysis the appeal of evolution is in its elimination of God and its exaltation of man? In this system man does not merely become the highest point of creation, which Christians would themselves willingly affirm. He becomes the god of creation. Consequently, to challenge evolution is to blaspheme against man, and blasphemy against man is the sin for which there is now no pardon. Algernon Charles Swinburne gives expression to this spirit in his Hymn of Man.
But God, if a God there be, is the
Substance of men which is Man.
Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten;
Thy death is upon thee, O Lord.
And the love-song of earth as thou diest
Resounds through the wind of her wings—
Glory to Man in the highest!
For Man is the master of things.
Is man the master? If he is, then he can go his way and devise any theory of origins he chooses. But if he is not—if there is a God—then he is the creation of this God and owes this God allegiance.
About the Preacher
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 5 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.
Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.
He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.
Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.
Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).
A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.
Sources: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website
from the Tenth Presbyterian Church website
1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,