GOD'S ETERNAL PURPOSE: THOUGHTS AND RESOURCES

CLARK E. WADE's picture

"In reading this (Ephesian letter), you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ. Ephesians 3:4

The Secret of the LORD have they who fear and worship HIm and HE will show them HIS covenant and reveal to them its deep, inner meaning." Psalms 25:14

"Our passage from Ephesians says more...The gospel includes not only the person of Jesus Christ and His unfathomable riches, but also that mystery which was hidden in past ages--which has to do with God's eternal plan. The practical outworking of God's eternal plan is the church as it is described in the same epistle.

"Our understanding of the gospel is one-sided, and too much focused on man. As strange as it may seem to some, the New Testament gospel contains things which have nothing to do with sin and lost souls. When we reduce the gospel to mere salvation of the sinner, we distort it and fundamentally alter its character and message. And we counterfeit its results. When I preach only salvation, all I get is converts. If I make forgiveness the central theme of the gospel, the only result is people whose sins are forgiven. We could proceed to list a number of things in this way, and it would occur to us how improper and unbiblical modern evangelism is compared with New Testament witness.

"And what was the result of the work and ministry of the apostles in the New Testament? Church, communities, the body of Christ! Did they preach the church? Was the community of believers the focus of their message? Never! They proclaimed Christ! They were witnesses of the incomparable Christ! They spoke of the mystery and plan of God which HE purposed before the foundation of the world and which HE carried out in Christ Jesus and churches were the result of their preaching! Outwardly, they were communities with various strengths and weaknesses, each with its own merits and disadvantages. Inwardly, however, they were churches which embodied the living God, churches in which Christ resided, which took on the form of a body. The head was Christ and members were one in Christ.

“The results of modern, large-scale evangelism cannot even be compared to the fruits of New Testament apostolic preaching. That is the best evidence that we are not preaching the same gospel they did. It is proof that we are not preaching Christ but rather things pertaining to man and his situation. The things we preach may be biblical, but that is not the deciding factor. God evaluates all things by Christ. The Bible testifies of Christ. We have to put the gospel’s original substance and power—as well as all its forgotten aspects—back into our evangelism. Then we will encounter God’s eternal purpose, because, in the final analysis, what the gospel really proclaims is that God’s purpose can now be carried out in Christ. Everything which stood in its way before has been attended to or disposed of.” (Manfred Haller, “God’s Goal: Christ as All in All”)

This heavenly epistle, this unfolding of "God's Eternal Purpose," writ as a lyrical song to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and HIS Son, is a divine subject that has been lost for 1700 years. As an experiment, I looked up the "belief statements" of several denominations and could find nothing written regarding God's Eternal Purpose. Considering that Paul made God's Eternal Purpose in Christ the central focus of his preaching and teaching, I think this is significant. What I did discover is that most of these belief statements, as Manfred Haller pointed out, seems to focus on God's gift of salvation. In other words, rather than seeing the church as God's divine vehicle, created out of the Son in order to fulfill God's Eternal Purpose, most of these belief statements are centered on man and what God has done for him. Here is a belief statement example:

We believe in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Genesis 1:26; Matt. 28:19, II Cor. 13:14

We believe that Jesus Christ, Son of God, Born of the Virgin Mary is truly the Savior of the world. Matt. 1:21; Rom. 4:25.

We believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers; and the gifts of the Spirit to the faithful. Luke 11:13; I Cor. 12:3-11.

We believe that the Church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head, and shall be preserved to the end of time. Romans 12:4; I Cor. 12:12-28; Col. 1:18; Matt. 16:18.

We believe in eternal life, which is the gift of God. Romans 6:23.

We believe that all persons are sinners standing in need of God's forgiving grace. Romans 3:10-26.

We believe that all persons must repent of their sins and through faith accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord if they would enter the kingdom of God.Matt.4:17; John 3:1-7; Matt. 3:2.

We believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the whole world; and that everyone who will believe in the atoning sacrifice of Christ's blood on the cross may be saved. John 3:16; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14-22.

We believe that Jesus Christ will come again and at His coming God's eternal kingdom will begin. Luke 21:27; Acts 1:11; I Cor. 1:7-8; Phil. 3:20; I John 2:28, 3:2.

We believe that it is our sacred duty to identify ourselves with a congregation of believers with whom we can worship God, observe the ordinances of Christ, exhort and support one another, labor for the salvation of others, and work together to advance the Lord’s Kingdom (Acts 16:5; Hebrews 10:24).

We believe in the Bible as God's own Holy word; written by men of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. II Peter 1:21.

We believe that soul winning is the “one big business” of the Church on earth, and that every hindrance to worldwide evangelism should be removed (James 5:20; Mark 16:15).

We believe that tithing and offerings are ordained of God to sustain His ministry, spread the Gospel, and release personal blessing (Malachi 3:10; 1 Corinthians 16: 1, 2).

Do you see here how so much of this belief statement does center on man's salvation? It appears that over half of what is stated here does refer to what God has done for man. But God had a purpose for the creation of man before the foundation of the world that was planned in HIS heart before the Fall. What we have done in centering our preaching and teaching on man's redemption rather than God's eternal purpose is to egregiously miss God's high calling in Christ Jesus.

As we continue to contemplate God's Eternal Purpose in this epistle, there are a couple of things that may happen if the LORD is gracious to us:

1. The scales will fall from our eyes; we will realize how far we have strayed from God's purpose. It will dawn on us how narrowly New Testament truths have been handed down and continue to be taught. We will see how carelessly and indifferently we have regarded the deep things of God.

2. The longing will awaken in us to do everything we can to see that God's principles and desires are obeyed, and His intentions realized. (Manfred Haller, "God's Goal: Christ as All in All).

What I want to do here is to add thoughts and resources that may help us in our understanding of God's Eternal Purpose. If we would ever experience revival in the church, we must see revival of the deep things of God in Christ Jesus. We need to pray that God's Eternal Purpose will be recovered in its New Testament fulness and glory and that we will no longer contend with God by substituting other spiritual things in the place of HIS purposes as revealed in Paul's writings.

If any of you know of other resources or writings that would be of benefit, please post those as well.

P: I pray here in the Name of Jesus Christ, that those who follow You, who love You, who serve You will not give rest to our eyelids until we have made a place for Your Eternal Purpose in our thinking, in our practices, in our praying, in our serving. May everything we think we know submit to all that You are in Your Eternal Purpose. Forgive us LORD for substituting spiritual things, spiritual experiences, and all spirital pursuits that do not lead us deeper into Your Eternal Purpose as co-workers and co-participants with You.

CLARK E. WADE's picture

GOD'S ETERNAL PURPOSE by Frank Viola

God’s Eternal Purpose: A Critical Addition to the Missional Conversation

THE MISSION OF GOD

Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul spills a great deal of ink trying to unveil the eternal purpose of God to the Christians in Asia Minor. The entire letter is a breathtaking unfolding of the divine purpose. In it, Paul puts the most sublime truths into human words. In Ephesians, the ultimate purpose and passion that God has had in His heart from ages past is richly set forth.

Ephesians teaches us that the purpose of God stands far outside the reaches of redemption. In eternity past, God the Father has been after a bride and a body for His Son and a house and a family for Himself. These four images—the bride, the body, the house, and the family—comprise the grand narrative of the entire Bible. And they lie at the center of God’s beating heart. They are His ultimate passion, His eternal purpose, and His governing intention. To put it another way, God’s eternal purpose is intimately wrapped up with the church.

As I write this book, there’s a great deal of talk about the Missio Dei (God’s Mission or “Sending”) in Christian circles. I think this can be a healthy emphasis. But exactly what is God’s mission? I suggest that it’s nothing other than God’s eternal purpose.
As long as I’ve been a Christian, I have made this simple observation: Our modern gospel is entirely centered on human needs. The plotline of that gospel is one of a benevolent God whose main purpose is blessing and healing a fallen world. Thus our gospel is centered on saving man’s spirit/soul (evangelism) and/or saving his body (healing the sick, delivering the captives, helping the poor, standing with the oppressed, caring for the earth, etc.). In short, the gospel that’s commonly preached today is “human centered.” It’s focused on the needs of humanity, be they spiritual or physical.
But there is a purpose in God that is for God. That purpose was formed in Christ before the fall ever occurred. The meeting of human needs is a by-product, a spontaneous outflow, of that purpose. It’s not the prime product.

Tellingly, God didn’t create humans in need of salvation. Go back to the creation project in Genesis 1 and 2, and you will discover that God’s purpose preceded the fall. That should lead us to ask a very incisive question: What was God going to do with human beings if they had never fallen?

Throughout my years as a Christian, I’ve been involved in movements that majored in evangelism, others that majored in social activism, and others that majored in spiritual gifts. All of these things were made “ends in themselves.” None of them were integrated into God’s ultimate purpose. In fact, “the eternal purpose” was never mentioned. The result was that those activities, though good and noble, failed to satisfy the beating heart of God.

Let me explain the last paragraph by giving an illustration. Imagine that a general contractor purchases twenty acres of land by which to build a housing complex. After the houses are built, he wishes to have a landscape garden at the entrance of the complex. This is his goal. So he hires someone to plant beautiful trees. He hires another to lay large rocks. He hires another to plant beautiful flowers. And he hires another to plant shrubs and bushes.

The person who plants the trees plants them randomly throughout the complex. The person who lays the rocks does the same. So does the person who plants the flowers. The person who plants the shrubs and bushes does the same.
When the contractor observes what they have all done, he’s very disappointed.

His goal was a landscape garden. Instead, he sees that the flowers, rocks, trees, shrubs, and bushes are all disconnected and scattered about the complex haphazardly.

Is it good to plant trees? Yes. Is the planting of flowers a positive thing? Certainly. But these things “in themselves” were not the contractor’s goal.

He wanted a landscape garden.

That describes the kingdom of God today. Many good deeds, but an overwhelming disconnection from God’s ultimate goal—which happens to be from Him, through Him, and to Him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16–18; Eph. 1:5).

Overshooting the Main Point

Why is it that so many of us Christians have shot past the main point? Why have we not seen the greater purpose of God amid all of our books, magazines, Web sites, blogs, CDs, DVDs, conferences, and seminars?

If I knew the answer to that, I would be twofold a Solomon. I’ll make an educated guess, however. I think part of the reason is that evangelical Christians have built their theology mostly on Romans and Galatians. And many nonevangelical Christians have built it on the Gospels (particularly the Synoptics—Matthew, Mark, and Luke). And for both groups, Ephesians and Colossians have been but footnotes.

But what if we began, not with the needs of humans, but with the intent and purpose of God? What if we took as our point of departure, not the earth after the fall, but the eternal activity in God Himself before the constraints of physical time?

In other words, what if we built our theology on Ephesians and Colossians and allowed the other New Testament books to follow suit? Why Ephesians and Colossians? Because Ephesians and Colossians give us the clearest look at Paul’s gospel with which Christ commissioned him. These two letters begin, not with the needs of postfall humans, but with God’s timeless purpose before creation. They also introduce us to Christ in His preincarnate state.
I assert that if we did this, the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament (let alone the entire Old Testament), would fall into a very different place for us. And the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ and His counterpart, the church, would dominate our understanding of everything spiritual and physical.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Gospels are not the beginning point of the Christian faith. Neither is the Old Testament. Both give us the middle of the story. Ephesians, Colossians, and the gospel of John are the introduction and the opening chapters of that story. Those writings give us a glimpse into Christ before time and what His mission is all about.

His earthly life that’s portrayed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke must be understood against that backdrop.

In this regard, we can liken the gospel that most of us heard to watching Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI first (which is the way they came out in the theaters). But for us to really understand what’s going on in that drama, we must begin at the right place with Episodes I, II, and III.

Again, human beings didn’t come into this world in need of salvation. Saving souls, feeding the poor, and alleviating the suffering of humanity was not part of God’s first motion in eternity past because the fall had not yet occurred.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not against any of these things. On the contrary, I’m strongly for them. But God has a purpose—an eternal purpose—that humans were to fulfill before sin entered the scene. And He has never let go of it. Everything else is and should be related to it. As DeVern Fromke says,

This which we see in Ephesians is what the Father intended to realize in His Son, and it has never been affected by sin, the fall, or time. It was this purpose which had previously been a mystery, that the Apostle Paul was now unveiling. For the Father from eternity had a wonderful purpose for Himself which of course included man. Redemption is not the end, but only a recovery program. It is but a parenthesis incorporated into the main theme.

Most evangelical Christians begin the Biblical story with Genesis 3 (the fall) and then go on to Romans and Galatians (salvation). The Biblical story, however, begins with Ephesians and Colossians (God’s purpose before time). And it continues on to Genesis 1 and 2 (God’s intention for humankind before the fall) and then the Gospels (in Jesus we see God’s eternal intention). If we learned the story this way, it would change everything.

Truthfully, it would require another book to unfold the eternal purpose of God adequately. (I’m in the process of writing such a book.) In this chapter, I will briefly introduce some of its major elements. They are ….

This article has been excerpted from Chapter 7 of Reimagining Church by Frank Viola. The chapter is entitled “Reimagining the Eternal Purpose.”

CHRIST IS ALL IN ALL,
Clark




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