Paul's last instructions to men of God as found in Second Timothy might well remind us of vibrant echoes resounding through long corridors of the centuries, yet there is reason to fear that these often receive but little heed. Among those of us who recognise the extraordinary significance of Paul's unique apostleship, it seems there are some who become unduly preoccupied in trying to further elucidate Hebrew prophecy. Others have become no less zealous in attempting to establish an accentuated dispensational distinction between Paul's earlier epistles and those written later at Rome whereas we prefer to recognise a progressive revelation; an unbroken continuity through all of Paul's teaching; from, his pre-prison epistles through Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians; then finally his last admonitions to Timothy.
We would do well to look once again at our Apostle's final words of instruction, noting that much of what he had to say to his son in the faith is personal and practical—not the revelation of any new form of teaching, but guidance as to the attitude and behaviour of one who is entering into an era when men "will not tolerate sound teaching, but, their hearing being tickled, they will heap up for themselves teachers to accord with their own desires, and, indeed, they will be turning their hearing away from the truth and will be turned aside to myths" (II Tim. 4:3-4 CV).
Timothy stood at the threshold of that era, whereas we are all deeply involved in it; in the days when Paul said that "perilous times shall come; therefore also we should seek with urgency to find the way in which we ought to face these times, and the instructions which inform us what we should do. Having every reliance upon God, we should not imagine that He would leave us without guidance to meet the time when wicked men and deceivers would wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Timothy was enjoined by Paul to fully follow his teaching, and in turn to entrust it to faithful men who were able to teach others also; and, from Paul through Timothy, by the power and activity of Holy Spirit, there always have been such faithful men; perhaps few in number and often disregarded as to their words, but nevertheless a true apostolic succession whereby God has maintained a witness to His truth.
All Paul's words to Timothy can be regarded as part of that instruction, especially as to the background on which they are based; namely, that all Scripture is inspired by God and is beneficial for teaching, for conviction, for correction and for discipline in righteousness. But certain of his words come to us with special force, because Paul prefaces these with a most solemn charge:—
The believer, in contrast to those whom Paul accused as having no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18) is duty-bound to respect his seriously-worded charge with the solemn awe it demands; and his unequivocal first command is that we "Proclaim the Word" (II Tim. 4:2). As stated also in the notes of A. E. Knoch. "This is the greatest need in these last days. There is no lack of preaching or proclaiming, but the Word of God has entirely too little place in it." Reading the Scripture carefully, it is apparent that we are not enjoined to preach it "in season or out of season," but to STAND BY IT, opportunely or inopportunely, going on to expose, rebuke, entreat with all patience and teaching. Religion, as we all know, concerns itself with a myriad matters entirely outside this command, being now dominated by humanitarianism, the under-privileged, loca1 politics, and so on. And, regretfully, the saints are often far more concerned with arguments and theories than they are with obeying this command.
And to Timothy, Paul continues: "Be sober in all things, suffer evil as an ideal soldier of Christ Jesus, DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST, fully discharge your service" (4:5,6). Do the work of an evangelist? What sort of picture does this conjure up in our minds? And is it a noticeable part of the activity of the informed believer? As we have noted, part of the professing Church prides itself upon being "Evangelistic," imploring us therefore to remember the missions and so on, while sermons abound with repeated appeals to "make a decision;," to "Come to Christ," and to be "saved."
It is usual for the Evangelical to speak much about conversion, but we would do well to ask ourselves what is meant by conversion; and, in fact, whether the word actually has any Scriptural meaning. The Concordant Version never seems to find it necessary to use "conversion" and "convert" in the sense usually employed in evangelism and rightly, I believe, although the A. V. uses "conversion" once (Acts 15:3) where the C.V. has "turning about." So we reach the inescapable conclusion that the Greek Scriptures have nothing whatever to say about "conversion." A very different situation is found in the churches, particularly those which call themselves "evangelica1," where the words "convert," "be converted," and "conversion" are frequently heard. But we must readily admit that, despite this departure from Scripture, there is a considerable measure of truth in what is said by them about "conversion."
Instead of exhorting people to be converted, instead of trying to convert them, the people of God should try to persuade them to believe, particularly to believe God.
Take your concordance and see how often "believe" occurs in the Greek Scriptures, and it will strengthen your faith beyond measure, for the Christian is one who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, and therefore believes the written Word He has given.
We must not dispute the fact that a person has an experience which he has been led to call "conversion." We are not merely disputing about words, but we cannot accept in this connection an experience about which Scripture says nothing at all. Does it matter? It does, for the constant habit of describing the first act of believing God as "conversion" tends to make people expect some great and startling experience, and unless they get this experience they feel unsure whether they are converted. But believing God is not necessarily an experience; it does mean a change in our whole outlook and manner of life, but this change does not happen immediately, though believing does necessarily and eventually lead to that change as a cumulative experience over a period of time. A moment of "one great illumination" may easily be a delusion. That is why so many "converts" at missions eventually turn away, because what they had was an experience instead of just believing God.
We must be fair. Some do have an experience of "conversion" and discover that they have come to believe God, but this is not the only way, for neither Scripture nor every individual case will support it. We must not add ideas to Scripture and thereby deny the full sufficiency of Scripture.
For the Evangelist, and indeed for all of us (since we should all seek to do the work of an evangelist) the word Salvation holds a very prominent place. It is a perfectly proper Scriptural word, but some may be surprised to note that "save," "saviour," "salvation" and "saving work" take up but a third of the space occupied in a concordance by the words connected with righteousness. This does not mean that they are less important, but it is a pointer which we should follow. Paul s first use of "salvation" in Romans reads:-
There can be no doubt here that righteousness out of faith has the priority! Life results from getting this righteousness, and the Evangel embodying it is God's power into salvation. Salvation is highly important, but righteousness comes first in order. Study the relative degrees of importance in Romans 10. In the first eleven verses "righteousness" occurs seven times while "faith" and "believe" together occur six times, but "save" and "salvation" occur no more than twice each. In Paul's instructions to Timothy, with which we began, he dwells on the supreme importance of the Scriptures which "are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus;" in other words, they have the power in themselves to give the wisdom which carries us into salvation and to "discipline in righteousness," that the man of God may be equipped, fitted out for every good work." This is unequivocal testimony to the power of the Scriptures, but it has been much objected to by those who do not really believe the Scriptures, and those who claim that Scripture must be read "under guidance of the Church." Naturally, those who do not really believe the Scriptures are not in favour of their circulation and are particularly opposed to this passage as quoted from Scripture.
There is nothing whatsoever wrong, and there is certainly nothing mistaken, about seeking salvation, provided that it is sought in the right way. This means that it must not be sought as an end in itself, or sought apart from faith, or apart from God's righteousness, which comes from faith alone. Those evangelists who talk about salvation as though it were an end in itself are getting their priorities all wrong. They are substituting what concerns self and what appeals to self for what belongs to God, and to Him alone. To seek salvation apart from the righteousness of faith is to chase a shadow. Salvation comes through FAITH in an EVANGEL which is not primarily concerned with sin or self or sinners or their feelings: the Evangel is concerned with CHRIST. We hear of people "evangelising the heathen;" to be correct, they should be EVANGELISING CHRIST. Paul commences his primary and basic Romans' Epistle with the words "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, a called apostle, having been severed for God's Evangel.... CONCERNING HIS SON."
Israel failed because they sought salvation—"being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and their own righteousness seeking to establish." Consequently, they were not subject to the righteousness of God. Zeal they had, indeed, but not according to knowledge. This is essentially the same position as taken by those who want salvation but do not particularly desire righteousness; and this must be because they really lack faith. Paul's message is quite clear. There is no salvation apart from righteousness, and there is no righteousness apart from faith.
We first hear about God's righteousness in Matthew 6:33: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." The Lord Jesus spoke these words but He left it to His Apostle Paul to indicate just how the two were to be sought, for "God's righteousness" is not mentioned again until Romans 1:17, except in connection with judgment in Acts. And, as Paul most plainly shows, there is no way at all for anyone to receive righteousness or salvation except through faith. There is no disparagement at all to the fact of salvation by getting it into proper perspective. The divine order is faith—righteousness—salvation. And who would dare to alter this?
If we are to do the work of an evangelist let us be clear as to God's definition of the Evangel. As we have seen here, "It is God's power into salvation for everyone who is believing;" that is its character. And the character of what is unveiled in it is "GOD'S righteousness." In Romans 3:21,22 "God's righteousness" occurs twice. That which has the character of divine righteousness has been manifested now apart from law as Divine righteousness through Jesus Christ's faith, into and on all who are believing. And this brings us right to the heart of the matter, showing that divine righteousness is inseparably linked to faith, and to nothing else whatever because "The One knowing no sin He makes sin for our sakes, that WE may be becoming God's righteousness in Him."
Twice more is this character of divine righteousness referred to. James tells us that "man's wrath is not working God's righteousness" (James 1:20) and we find Peter writing to those whose lot it is to "have equally precious faith with us in righteousness—of our God and of Jesus Christ" (II Peter 1:1). The character of that "precious faith" is in righteousness; the righteousness of the One Who is our God and our Saviour, and unless that faith of ours is equally precious, it is not the real faith enjoined by the Apostle Paul. Here is a case where there is complete harmony of teaching between the two Apostles.
Apart from the instance we have mentioned in Matthew 6, there is no reference to "the righteousness of God" anywhere in the Greek Scriptures outside Paul's Epistles, which gives very special point to our Lord's words. The emphasis is on the fact that it is OF GOD, and it is thus a particular kind of righteousness by contrast to what the Jews supposed was their own righteousness. Paul refers thereto as "the out of God righteousness" (Phil. 3:9). R. B. Withers translated the more inclusive passage thus.
Actually, for the benefit of those who claim that Romans and Philippians belong to "different dispensations," they should note that this particular passage flatly contradicts that idea, for it would be difficult to name a more comprehensive reference to Romans in so few words; and it is in the "Perfection" Epistle of Philippians that Paul wrote this!
How then can we evangelise Christ, show men how they can find God's righteousness? Paul says that it has been manifested apart from law, that it is "through Jesus Christ's faith, into all and on all who are believing." That is the first part of the answer to our question. The second part reads: "for there is no distinction, for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God; achieving righteousness gratuitously by His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.... towards the display of His righteousness in the current era, for Him to be righteous and the One putting right the one out of faith of Jesus." So God's action thus explained is still proceeding, now as then.
We cannot insist too often that righteousness out of faith, Abraham's righteousness is the key doctrine of the Greek Scriptures. All other doctrine is related to it, because until a person is put right, is righteous before God, it is impossible for him to take one single step forward. This righteousness, like Abraham's, is especially discussed by Paul in Romans 4 and Galatians 3; indeed, the former is preceded by a long treatise in which the word "faith" occurs no less than fifteen times! The Lord Jesus told the Pharisees: "If you were children of Abraham, the works of Abraham you would be doing." But they failed to get the point! And we should bear in mind that although the Lord Jesus, and later His Apostle Paul, were referring to Israel, what they said is for us also. One must always keep the vital point in mind that Abraham believed God as a Gentile. From this beginning came Israel, but Abraham believed God in uncircumcision. Israel's covenant, if it is to have any meaning or efficacy at all, must follow faith. Never does faith follow from it. All of the covenant people who were of faith in no way depended upon their covenant standing; always their works show that they believed God even as Abraham did.
In today's apostate Christendom this fact is denied by most of the deeds of the nominal church. For circumcision is substituted a spurious baptism of infants which declares a so-called covenant between the child and God. A quite unreal conventional fiction, of course.
This is just one of the many man-made religious conventions which deny the essentials of the Evangel. God's way is perfectly clear; His word must be believed completely, and this faith makes the believer righteous with God's righteousness, and consequently he becomes saved. Nothing more is required by God or men. This is a fact which applies to all God's people and not simply to one section of them. Paul's revelation in Ephesians 5:22-24, confirms this when we reflect that he would have had no revelation of Christ as the Head of the church and Saviour of the body, if there never had been any "body" of those who believe, for in their believing all such children of faith had become children of Abraham. We cannot claim to be blessed with all spiritual blessings (in the heavenlies) in Christ Jesus unless we first enjoy God's righteousness which has come to us as the blessing which comes through God's Evangel. In fact, we can obtain no spiritual blessings in Christ AT ALL by any other means than faith such as Abraham had. This fact, by itself, completely disposes of the arguments put forward by those dispensationalists who try to drive a wedge between the various Pauline Epistles. Romans 4 still stands, whatever men may say, and we cannot get rid of Abraham to please such people any more than we can do without Abraham's faith.
Upon reflection, it is apparent that salvation without righteousness must be a contradiction in terms. Once a man is convicted of his sin, his longing is for salvation from sin and its consequences. Where then can he find such salvation unless somehow he can be made righteous before God? We know that eventually all will appear before God, and as the poet writes:—
The only way is by complete faith in God and His Word; therefore by believing and accepting His Evangel in which His righteousness is revealed out of faith, into faith. This righteousness is granted without distinction to EVERYONE who believes on the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh. If you would do the work of an evangelist to those who ask "What must I do to be saved?" there is indeed further revelation you may share with them, but the basic essential is exactly as Paul and Silas answered the Philippian jailer: "BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
The far higher altitude seldom attained in most of today's evangelism by preachers preoccupied chiefly with sin, self and human needs is what Paul calls "the evangel of THE GLORY OF CHRIST" (II Cor. 4:4). "All is of God," he declares, so that God has done everything needful to conciliate a world unto Himself as He has determined. This is the word He has given us to herald forth for all to hear. All that the sinner need do is BELIEVE GOD Who has made Christ a Sin Offering for our sakes that we may become God's righteousness in Him. Even the SAVED sinner can acceptably do no more than thank, praise, honor and adore Him! Let us therefore model our evangelism from these exemplary words of Paul to the saints at Corinth as quoted from Rotherham's version at II Cor. 5:18-21:—
It is all of God, through Christ, and the work of an evangelist is our duty as ambassadors of Heaven's high court. God has placed in us the reconciling discourse. He beseeches! Amazing condescension: "In behalf of Christ, we entreat." Now, indeed, is an acceptable time; now is a day of salvation.
Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Eighteen, August-September 1975)