Can I be certain? (January 5, 2020)
Can I be certain?
It’s confusing times we live in right now. It’s hard to have any kind of a discussion in which two people have opposing views because who’s to say who’s right anymore? There’s household rules that are probably different between my house and your house. There’s societal norms that often shape and guide the way we live. And even so, we can have a wide range of opinions on different things. Who’s to say who’s right. So often you really get nowhere in a conversation as we all just agree to disagree, all have the right to our own opinion on everything. And that’s only if we’ve managed to keep the discussion from getting too heated! It seems today that if you make a firm stance on anything, you are deemed too judgmental in a dismissive kind of way.
In a recent conversation I had with a friend, we began talking about future influences on our children, and what we will do to help guide and shape their futures. The conversation then moved to gender and relationship issues and how much we should weigh in on our kids’ lives. They were of the mindset that each person can choose their own path. And they supported their point with both societal norms and the idea that if it’s not something they can change even if they try, then it must not be wrong. They were polite and listened to my viewpoint as well, but in the end, who’s to say who’s right? Can we be certain about anything anymore? And should we be certain? Or… for fear of being called “judgmental” should we just back off and let society run its course unchallenged?
Looking at Ephesians 3, the word “mystery” comes up a number of times. Now, many people take that word and run with it saying, “That’s exactly what God’s Word is. It’s a mystery. We can never really be certain about what it says because it’s a mystery.” And you can take that the next logical step and go one of two directions. Either, there’s a secret key to unlocking God’s Word, and unless you have that key, unless that key is revealed to you, then you will never be able to be certain about what it says. Therefore, search for that key in numerology, or astrology, or all other kinds of “-ologies”. Or… since God’s Word is a mystery, we must each take away our own meaning from it – our own truth. They say God’s Word is to be read privately and personally interpreted. So, what I get out of it may be different from what you get out of it, and that’s ok. That’s the “mystery” of God.
That’s not at all what the word “mystery” means. As an example, consider a mystery novel. When you finish reading a mystery novel and report back to your book club “Who dun it,” you all have the same answer. You all have the same answer because the mystery was not ambiguous, it was definite. The mystery was not left a mystery, it was revealed and clearly spelled out in the last chapter. The same goes for God’s will in his Word. It was a mystery. It was hidden. But now, Paul said, “you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed” (Eph 3:4-5). Again, a little later he says, “[God’s] intent was that now… the manifold wisdom of God should be made known” (Eph 3:10).
So where is God’s wisdom revealed? In his Word. There it’s spelled out in black and white so that you can be certain what God’s will is. “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). And although this is spelled out most clearly once Christ came into the world, although it was more hidden in the Old Testament era, it was there all along. Look again and see that from the beginning of time the knowledge of the true God was available to all peoples. The Old Testament writings proclaim the message of a world-wide Savior. Recall God’s promise to Abraham that, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). Note in Leviticus how often God refers to foreigners (Gentiles) living among the Israelites and nowhere excludes them from sharing in the blessings of salvation. Go with Elijah to Zarephath and with Jonah to Nineveh. Read Isaiah’s book and hear God’s proclamation to the islands and distant nations. God’s will is that all people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.
There is truth. There is unchanging truth. There is truth that you can be confident in. And if you are called too “judgmental” for standing firm in the truth, it’s not you they are calling judgmental, it’s really God they are calling judgmental. And it’s because they fear an impartial judge that they try to excuse themselves and seek lenience. And really, it’s not different from what we do when we excuse our own sins and seek lenience. We too feel that God is judgmental.
Instead of lenience and bending the truth, you can show them God’s answer to the conscience that is pricked within every one of us. Not leniency, but mercy. It’s in God’s Word where we see the right judgment of Jesus for all people. “All of us lived [in our transgressions and sins] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” – I’m not being judgmental because I put myself in the very same boat as you! – “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:3-5). So, whether you are Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian, church-goer or not, Jesus – who has the right to say who’s right – says that we were all in the wrong. But, each one is made right through faith in Christ. Through whom God also pours out his rich mercy, his rich love, the riches of salvation to you.
God’s wisdom was to cut though all the things that may divide us and put us all on the same level, so that he could lead us to the one and only way to be saved. The one and only way that any of us are made right in God’s eyes. That mystery is now revealed, plain as day, to be Christ. So that in Christ, “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people” (Eph 3:8), yet in the same way – just as anyone else – I am forgiven in Christ. Jesus proves to us that he alone has the right to judge and justify because he is the one who died and rose again. He proved himself to be the one true God by rising from the dead after mercifully taking all our judgments to the cross and dying with them. Because he’s proven himself to be the eternal God, and given us his Word of truth, we can be certain.
It was this certainty of God’s Word that led the Magi to only one possible conclusion when they saw the star in the sky. It was this certainty that led them to carefully gather not only provisions but also gifts they planned ahead of time to give. It was this certainty that spurred them on to take a journey of hundreds of miles, spanning weeks maybe even months. It was this certainty that made these high-ranking officials from a far-off kingdom not even question why they got down on their hands and knees, down to the level of a child to worship and to pour out their treasures to him. They knew who this child was. God’s Word revealed the mystery. “You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler” (Mt 2:6). He was God in the flesh, Immanuel – King of kings and Lord of lords.
It was this certainty of God’s Word and the fulfillment of every detail in Christ that scattered the apostles far and wide to reveal God’s wisdom, so that people everywhere might have a taste of the truth and hunger for more. It was this certainty that kept them anchored despite being forced on by riots, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, even killed. It was this certainty that enabled martyrs throughout the centuries to consider the truth of God’s Word more valuable than even their very lives.
Can we be certain? Yes. Who’s to say who’s right? God is. And he’s spelled out what is right from the beginning in his Word. It hasn’t changed. It’s stood the test of time. So that no matter the nations move or shift, no matter societies change and bend, no matter individuals stand firm or not, God’s Word has never changed. It has remained a steadfast and certain source of truth.
And it’s no mystery what that truth is. It’s spelled out plain as day. I may not always like it. I may twist and writhe trying to contort myself around the truth so that I can live how I like, but the truth never changes. And that truth is, through God’s mercy we are “heirs together… members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6). God established it. Jesus fulfilled it. And for centuries his servants have shared it. This is most certainly true.