Well, last week I introduced a brief series—at least I thought it would be brief; may get extended a bit—on the subject of heaven on earth, and I want to return to that this morning, and probably next Sunday I’ll be able to wrap it up. This is an important series for me and for all of us, so that we understand, really, the foundational nature of the church.
Let’s begin this morning with a familiar verse everybody knows, Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That is really the mandate of the church. That is the only place where the righteous will of God will be manifest on earth. That’s the church’s identification and its calling to be the heavenly kingdom on earth.
Scripture identifies believers as children of God—the family, the household of God through salvation in Jesus Christ. And then it identifies us as citizens of heaven, as the assembly enrolled in heaven. Why? Because if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have become a part of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. Your home is in heaven. Your family is in heaven—“the spirits of just men made perfect,” the glorified saints. Your King is in heaven. Your inheritance is in heaven. Your heart, therefore, should be in heaven, and your treasures as well. Our Lord said in Matthew 6, don’t lay up treasure on earth, where moth and rust corrupts, and thieves break through and steal. But lay up treasure in heaven, where that does not happen; because where your heart is, that’s where your treasure will be.
Everything that matters to us on an eternal level is part of the heavenly kingdom. And I know that sometimes that’s hard to grasp because we are so captive to the world in which we live, and so earthbound. But in 1 Peter 2, we who are a part of the heavenly kingdom are called aliens and strangers in this world. This is not our country, not our nation, not our home. One way to understand it, I think, maybe this will help, is to view the church as a colony of heaven. We all know what a colony is. You have a nation, a ruler who decides that he wants to plant his power and plant his influence and plant his blessings in a place far away.
There were thirteen such colonies that started the United States of America. There was a great era in the Western world of colonization; we understand that. And I think you can look at the church as a colony of heaven. Our King is in heaven. He rules from there. His law is there, but His law has been transferred to a colony on earth. His power and His presence are there in heaven, but they too have been transferred to a colony on earth where His people embody His presence and His power through the Holy Spirit. We are to be the culture of heaven on earth. We are to reflect our King, King Jesus, and the law of His kingdom as well as the benefits and blessings of His kingdom. That’s what the church should be. It should be a colony of heaven. In many cases, that would be a stretch. The church is a ragged Cinderella so often. But we have to go back to the foundation; and this is a necessary emphasis, I think, in our day, when churches have lost sight of what they really are to be.
Now the will of our King is not difficult to know. And we’re not waiting for voices from heaven; the will of King Jesus is His revelation in Scripture. As Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.” We know what the King desires. We know what He wills. We know what He promises. We know what He punishes. We know all that is necessary for life and godliness, all that is necessary to proclaim His name and His glory and His Word across the earth. In fact, in Matthew 24:14, it says this good news is to “be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations.” This good news concerning our King and His kingdom and its benefits and blessings is to be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. That’s framed up another way in a few chapters later in Matthew 28: We’re to teach everyone to observe all things that have been commanded by God in Christ in Scripture.
So the church is heaven’s colony on earth, and what marks the church, in particular, is truth, is truth. In 1 Timothy 3, we saw last time, the church is identified as the pillar and support of the truth, or the buttress and foundation of the truth. We speak the truth, proclaim the truth, and live the truth in a world of lies. That’s why we make such an issue out of Scripture and sound doctrine, because everything is built on the truth. The church cannot be built on lies, falsehoods, half-truths; it has to be built on the truth. And there are just a few truths among all those marvelous truths in Scripture that are very foundational, you could say maybe the cornerstones of our doctrinal foundation; and I mentioned them to you last week, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at. Very basic doctrines, very familiar doctrines, very necessary doctrines—and always the priority, if the church is to be a faithful colony on earth, manifesting heaven’s glory in the midst of earth’s darkness.
And I’m suggesting that there are five of those foundational truths: the church and election, the church and identification, the church and purification, the church and revelation, the church and restoration. Those five categories are foundational. Another way to say it: the kingdom and sovereignty, the kingdom and substitution, the kingdom and sanctification, the kingdom and Scripture, the kingdom and Second Coming. And you can’t replace doctrine with style, you can’t replace doctrine with sentimentality, you can’t replace doctrine with experience, the church must be built on the foundation of divine truth.
So last week we looked at the first two; let me just give you a quick review. First of all, a foundational doctrine in the church is the church and election, or the kingdom and sovereignty. And what that says is that the church is being built by the Lord Himself. It is His church. It is composed of His chosen people, chosen before the foundation of the world, names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, called in time to repentance and faith, regenerated, justified, and becoming part of His church. This is all a work of God.
Let me give you kind of a review, briefly, by having you turn to Romans 8. This is so important. Romans, chapter 8. We looked at it briefly, but there’s more to say.
If you look at verse 28 in Romans 8, very familiar verse: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God had a purpose, and that purpose was to redeem men and women and bring them to eternal glory. He called those people, and is calling them even now, and that’s a call that is irresistible and efficacious. It’s a real call; and as a result, they are the ones who love God. For those whom God has purposed to save, for those whom God has called, for those who by regeneration now love God, the promise is, “God causes all things to work together for good.” Not all things are good, but nothing—nothing, no matter how evil, no matter how bad—can ever alter the end. There are plenty of evil things in and around us; none of them can alter salvation because God is causing all things to work together for good in order to fulfill His purpose.
And further, notice verse 29 as He unfolds the details of this: “Whom He foreknew”—doesn’t mean He knew about something in advance, it means He predetermined—“for those He predetermined, He predestined,” “He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” That is to say, He predestined them all the way to eternal glory in Christlikeness. God didn’t predestine people to be saved and then lost, He predestined them to Christlikeness and eternal glory, and nothing can alter that, no matter what it is. And that, again, is the reason that all things, no matter what they are, work to good, because God’s purpose was to bring the elect to glory.
And He says that in verse 30: Whom He predestined, He called to Himself; and whom He called, He justified, and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Those that He predestined, He called, He justified, and will glorify. And again, there’s no one lost in the process. And all those things that threaten our salvation, God works to good because His saving purpose will stand.
A few rhetorical questions follow. Notice what Paul says in verse 31: “What shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” What he is saying there: Who’s more powerful than God? If God has determined that all the predestined will be glorified, and if God is working everything out for our eternal good, who is more powerful than God? Who can alter that? The answer is obvious: “He who didn’t spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” He wouldn’t give His Son to die for us and then lose us; but He will give us all things as He promised. “Who will bring a charge”—another rhetorical question—“against God’s elect?” No one can overpower God, and there is no higher court than God, and “God is the one who [justified],” and He has declared us righteous in Christ. There is no higher judge.
Verse 34, “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also [interceded] for us.” Christ won’t condemn us, because He took our condemnation, He paid it in full; and God validated that by raising Him and setting Him at His right hand to intercede for us. This is the security of God’s divine, elective purpose.
Verse 35 poses another question: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” Will hardship separate us from the love of Christ? No.
Verse 37, “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. So I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God the Father predestined us, God the Son paid the price for our sin, God the Holy Spirit gave us life; that will never change.
This is the glory of the church at its most foundational level. We are God’s people by His choice; and you have to view the church that way. You have to understand that the church is the possession of God forever, forever. And consequently, we triumph. We looked at that in 2 Corinthians 2, we always triumph in Christ, which is another way of summing up what we just read in Romans 8.
Secondly, last time we looked at the foundational doctrine, the church and identification. We talked about the fact that the church is in union with Christ. There is common eternal life between Christ and His church. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” one spirit. It’s a marvelous truth. It’s all throughout the New Testament. Just a reminder, 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 30, “By His doing”—that, again, refers to God’s sovereignty—“by His doing you are in Christ Jesus”—you not only believe in Him and receive Him, you are in Christ, you are inseparable from Christ—“who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” You are in Christ, and in that union is heavenly wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
I love the way the apostle Paul lays this out in Romans 6. Look at Romans 6 just briefly, and verse 3 is a good place to start: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ”—immersed into Christ; not talking about water, it’s using it as a way to express being immersed into Christ. If you have been immersed into Christ, you have been immersed into His death. This is a staggering reality: that when Christ died, we died in Christ.
Verse 4 says, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” We are in union with Christ in His death and resurrection. As a result of that, verse 6 says, “Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, [and] we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him . . . . So”—verse 11—“consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” “in Christ Jesus.” This is an amazing reality. He is in us; we are in Him. This is the great doctrine of identification, or substitution, or imputation. And since this is true, every believer has Christ dwelling in him and in her.
We talked about the practical implications of that last time. Whenever you meet a Christian, you’re meeting someone in whom Christ lives. How you treat each other is critical, because how you treat each other is how you treat Christ. And we looked at Matthew 18 to see the practical implications of that: You don’t ever want to despise one of Christ’s; you don’t want to cause one of Christ’s to stumble into sin. You’d be better off drowned, Jesus said. You want to do everything you can to avoid an offense to one in whom Christ lives.
So the church can only be understood foundationally as the elect of God who are in living union with Christ. We live, “Yet not I,” says Paul, “but Christ lives in me.” We are in Christ, and He is in us. This is the true church.
Now let’s come to the third foundation pillar, if you will: the church and purification, the church and purification, or the kingdom and sanctification. The church is being built by the Lord Himself; that’s foundational. The church is united to the Lord Himself; that’s foundational. And the church is called to be like Christ. You heard that in the song just a moment ago. Pressing toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus is to press toward Christlikeness. The church pursues holiness.
Go back to Matthew 18—and we looked at that last week. But in Matthew chapter 18 and verse 15, really this is the first instruction in a corporate sense to the church. And it’s this, Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you’ve won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”—an outsider.
Now this has to be balanced with the reality that you recognize that fellow believers are the elect of God (they’re on their way to eternal glory); that you recognize that fellow believers are also temples of the Spirit of Christ (Christ lives in them, and they in Him); and so you must be careful how you treat them. But at the same time, fulfilling that treatment of fellow believers, and in a way that honors Christ, calls for confronting their sin, confronting their sin. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.” That’s a command. That’s a command.
Even though they are the elect of God, even though they are one with Christ, we’re still in our fallen flesh; and if we are to be the church, then we are to be pursuing Christlikeness, which is pursuing holiness. So when you know another believer is in sin, you go to him in private; if he does not respond, or she does not respond, you get a couple of other folks to go with you to confirm the sin. If they still don’t respond, you tell the church, the whole church. That’s how important holiness is to the Lord. Tell the whole church. Tell the whole church to go pursue that sinning believer because the Lord wants purity in His church.
I remember when I first came to Grace, and I told an older pastor that I felt I had never seen a church that did that, but it was so explicit, we had to do that. And his speech to me was a long one about, “You’ll destroy the church. People won’t allow that.” And my response to that is this: “People who want to be like Christ will allow it. People who want to be like Christ want all the help they can find, all the encouragement they can find; and even the confrontation is welcome to those who are Christ’s.” He wants a pure church.
Just so we don’t get overly obsessed with this confrontation, verse 21, Peter poses a question: If we’re going to be pointing out everybody’s sin, confronting everyone’s sin, “how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” The rabbis said three times. Peter thought he’d double it and add one just to be magnanimous. And Jesus said no, seven times seventy times. So again, the balance of this confrontation is in this endless willingness to forgive.
So we understand that we are the elect of God, we are the possession of God; we understand that we are the dwelling place of Christ as individuals. Yet we understand that our sin has to be confronted. But we also understand that it has to be forgiven, mercifully and endlessly. The Lord wants His church pure.
There’s an illustration in the fifth chapter of Acts, you can look at it just briefly, where Ananias Sapphira famously lied to the Holy Spirit. We won’t go through the whole story, I know you remember it. But Peter says to Ananias in Acts 5:3, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?”—the open, public claim of something he did that he really didn’t do. He overstated the generosity of his gift, and it was a lie.
And what happened? Well, what happened is in verse 5: “Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.” It wasn’t adultery. It wasn’t homosexuality. It wasn’t robbery. It was—he lied about his giving. And in that early church, God sent a lesson never to be forgotten, and killed Ananias right in the middle of the service.
His wife showed up later, down in verse 10, “She fell at his feet, breathed her last”—feet of Peter—“and the young men came in and found her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” And verse 11 says, “Great fear came over the whole church.” They got a lesson in the fact that the Lord wants His church purified. He wants a pure church.
Another very important illustration of this, turn to Revelation chapter 1. Revelation chapter 1 is the first vision of John, which is an image of Christ; and looking at that image, he sees Christ in the midst of lampstands, which shows Him moving in His church. That’s the significance of it. Verse 14 says, “His head and hair were white like white wool, like snow; His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, which has been made to glow in a furnace.” This is Christ moving in His church. And moving in His church, His penetrating, laser eyes are like a flame of fire, finding sin. And His feet like burnished bronze glowing in a furnace are an expression of judgment to stamp it out. Even in that magnificent vision of Christ in His church, there is the threat of judgment. Judgment must begin at the house of God. The vision was so frightening, verse 18, John said—verse 17, John said, “I fell at His feet like a dead man.”
Christ wants a pure church, a holy church. This shows up in the seven letters to the churches. Chapter 2, verse 16, to the church at Pergamum, “Therefore repent; or else I’m coming to you quickly, and I’ll make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
Church at Thyatira, verse 21, “I gave her time to repent, and she doesn’t want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I’ll throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” Our Lord is saying, “I’ll judge your church according to its deeds.” Deeds of sin will bring down judgment from Christ, the head of the church.
To the church at Sardis in chapter 3, verse 3, he writes, “Therefore if you do not wake up, I’ll come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” And to the church at Laodicea, in verse 19 of that chapter, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Purification is at the very heart of the life of the church.
What is the practical implication of that? I think a good illustration is found in 2 Corinthians 12, 2 Corinthians 12, verse 20, Paul writing back to this church which gave him so much trouble. And he said, “I’m afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish”—“I’m not going to like what I find, and you’re not going to like me because I’m fearful that there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances.” Verse 21, “I’m afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality, and sensuality which they have practiced.”
And what would he do if he found that? Chapter 13, “This is the third time I’m coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses”—right out of Matthew 18. “I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come . . . I will not spare anyone.” That’s a loving pastor. If the church is heaven on earth, the church is elect in union with Christ and marked by purity.
Back in chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians, verse 2, Paul said, “I’m jealous for you with a godly jealousy; I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”
One other text comes to mind, Ephesians 5, the marriage passage. But notice its reference to the church: “Husbands, love your wives,” Ephesians 5, “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
We have to understand the kingdom and sovereignty, the kingdom and substitution, and the kingdom and sanctification. If the church is holy, it is heaven on earth, it is heaven on earth. If the church is dealing with sin, it is heaven on earth, it is heaven on earth.
Thinking about that, I couldn’t help but be drawn to a book written by a Puritan named Thomas Brooks, who lived from 1608 to 1680. I admit that Thomas Brooks was on my mind because my latest great-grandson is Thomas Brooks MacArthur. He’s two months old; and that’s a wonderful label to carry.
Thomas Brooks wrote a book called Heaven on Earth. And thinking about his book and its purpose moves us from understanding that the church is heaven on earth to the individual. Thomas Brooks was writing to believers, helping them to understand how it could be that they not only were part of the church which is heaven on earth, but that they were experiencing heaven on earth in their own lives. He looked at the personal aspect of heaven on earth. Listen to the things that he said: “To be in a state of true grace . . . to be miserable no more . . . to be happy forever. A soul in this state is a soul near and dear to God. It is a soul much [blessed] and very highly valued by God. It is a soul housed in God. It is a soul safe in God’s everlasting arms. It is a soul fully and eminently interested in all the highest and noblest privileges. The being in [such] a state of grace makes a man’s condition happy, [and] safe, and sure.” And then he said this, “But . . . the knowing of himself to be in such a state, is that which renders his life sweet and comfortable.” What heaven on earth is it if you don’t know you’re in a state of grace? Thomas Brooks was writing about assurance of salvation.
The church is heaven on earth, and all who are true believers are the colony of heaven on earth. But those who have assurance are the ones who, Thomas Brooks said, live in two heavens, two heavens: the heaven above and the heaven within, the heaven of being blessed by your own conscience.
“Assurance,” he wrote, “is a reflex . . . of a gracious soul, whereby he clearly and evidently sees himself [as] a gracious, blessed, and happy [person]; it is a sensible feeling, [it’s] an experimental discerning of a man’s being in a state of grace, and of his having a right to an eternal crown of glory; and this rises from [his] seeing in himself the special, peculiar, and distinguishing graces of Christ, [seeing] in [himself] the light of the Spirit of Christ . . . [who bears witness] with his spirit, that he is a son, and an heir . . . to glory.”
There are many Christians who do not enjoy the internal heaven. Brooks followed that up by saying this: “Assurance is the beauty and apex of a Christian’s happiness in this life. It is usually attended with the strongest joy, with the sweetest [comfort], with the greatest peace. It is a pearl that most want, [but] a crown that few wear. His state is safe and happy, whose soul is adorned with grace.” To have grace is one thing, “to be sure that [you] have grace, is glory upon the throne,” he said. “It is heaven . . . this side of heaven.” If you are in a state of grace but you have no assurance of that, that’s a kind of hell. Individually, personally, we want heaven, heaven on earth, heaven in our hearts.
Let’s go back to where we started this morning, 1 Peter 1, and I’ll close here, 1 Peter 1. Now if you are in a state of grace, you have a living hope, verse 3. Through the resurrection you have been promised an inheritance, verse 4. Verse 5, you “are protected by the power of God. . . . In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials”—what role do they have?—“various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Yes, your assurance comes from the witness of the Holy Spirit. Your assurance comes from spiritual graces which dominate your life: love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. But here is the strongest force in assurance. It is this: Though distressed by various trials, your faith holds; you’re triumphant. It’s easy to sustain your faith when you’re being blessed, when all is well; but the real proof of your faith is being tested by fire and having your faith stand strong. And that confidence that comes out of a tested faith, Peter says, is “more precious than gold which is perishable.” It is another way of saying it is heaven on earth. I can’t imagine what life would be like for someone who was told that they were in a state of grace but never had any assurance, because assurance is the sweetest taste of heaven in this life.
It’s wonderful to be a part of the church because this is heaven on earth. It’s even more wonderful when you know you’re not just a part of it, but when heaven on earth is in your heart because you are Christ’s and you know that. And again, that confidence comes through the work of the Spirit, but in particular, Peter is saying, it comes through various trials. And out of those trials you come, in verse 8, and you love Him, and you believe in Him, and you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. When that’s you in the trial, that’s the proof of your faith, and that is heaven on earth in the believer’s heart. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we are so thankful that You have blessed us with all these great realities, that they’re so inexhaustible; a thousand lifetimes would not penetrate all the glories of this truth of salvation. We feel like we’re just on the edges of it, and it’s so magnificent. We want this church to be what You want it to be. We want these people to be like Christ, so that heaven does come to earth, and you can see a taste of heaven in the living and loving and worshiping and serving of the church on earth.
May we be such a colony of heaven that everyone knows. We’re not part of this world, we’re part of a kingdom in heaven. Give us that assurance individually, and that confidence corporately. We thank You in Christ’s name. Amen.
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