As believers in Christ, we face many challenges in our walk with Him. One of these challenges is the tendency to drift away from the living person of Christ to religion, which is a matter of doing things for God but doing them apart from Him. In particular we tend to be unconsciously influenced by elements of Judaism, which is based on things God gave to His people in the Old Testament—mainly the temple, the law, the priesthood, and the earthly promises. As New Testament believers, we should be clear about the essential differences between Judaism and the church so that we may recognize and reject religious elements in ourselves and turn back to the living person of Christ.
The Earthly Promises
In Genesis 12:2-3, God promised to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
In Exodus 23:20, 25-26, He promised to Israel, “I am now sending an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared…. And you shall serve Jehovah your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from your midst. No one shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.”
These are examples of God’s earthly promises to Israel, His earthly people. But we, His New Testament believers, are His heavenly people, and as such, we have been given heavenly promises with heavenly, spiritual blessings. Consider the following three verses (emphasis added): “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3); “In order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14); and “To me, less than the least of all saints, was this grace given to announce to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ as the gospel” (Eph. 3:8). Our blessings are spiritual, and all of these blessings come to us in the Spirit as the unsearchable riches of Christ—“what Christ is to us, such as light, life, righteousness, and holiness, what He has for us, and what He accomplished, attained, and obtained for us” (footnote 3 on Eph. 3:8). We are free to partake of these riches through God’s “precious and exceedingly great promises” granted to us by “His divine power” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Since our blessings are heavenly, what should we as believers expect while we are on the earth? Watchman Nee points us to the suffering of the cross when contrasting Israel’s earthly blessings with the earthly experience of the church:
The purpose of the Jews in serving God is that they may reap more wheat from the fields and that their oxen and sheep will not drop their young but multiply manyfold, just as in Jacob’s case. They are after blessings in this world. God’s promises to them are also promises of earth, that among the nations on earth they may be the head and not the tail. But the first promise to the church is that we must take up the cross and follow the Lord. Sometimes when I preach the gospel, men ask, “Will there be any rice to eat when we believe in Jesus?” I have replied, “When you believe in Jesus, the rice-bowl is broken.” This is the church. It is not that we will gain more in everything after we believe. Once when I was in Nanking, a certain preacher said in his message, “If you only believe in Jesus, you may not make big money, but you will at least make a fair living.” When I heard this, I thought that this was not according to the church. The church does not teach how much we shall gain before God, but how much we will be able to let go before God. The church does not think that suffering is a painful thing; rather, it is a joy (www.ministrybooks.org, The Orthodoxy of the Church, Chapter 3, Section 4).
God does not want His believers today to pay attention to earthly blessings—or sufferings. Rather, in the midst of all the earthly situations He desires that we become heavenly and holy, more and more receiving and enjoying the rich heavenly blessings—the riches of Christ—bestowed on us in the Spirit (1 Cor. 15:49; cf. Dan. 12:3; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). We can enjoy the Spirit even to the extent of being beside ourselves to God by calling on the Lord’s name, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and being filled in spirit through speaking, singing, and giving thanks to God (2 Cor. 5:13; Rom. 10:12; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-20). So “as long as it is called ‘today’” let us be sanctified (made holy) by partaking of His heavenly calling, putting away the earthly, encumbering things, taking up our cross and looking away unto Jesus, who has endured the cross and gone before us into glory, into which now also He is leading us (Heb. 3:13; 2:11; 3:1; 12:1; Matt. 16:24; Heb. 12:2; 2:9-10). “For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly and bountifully supplied to you” (2 Pet. 1:11).
- Message 9—“The Captain of Salvation (1)”
- Message 14—“Holy Brothers and Partakers of the Heavenly Calling”
(Most references in the Further Reading can also be viewed on www.ministrybooks.org.)