Jeopardy by Disobedience to God
By Fred O. Blakely
“Let no man deceive you with vain words:for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
Since God is altogether righteous and authoritative, He cannot – and will not – ignore sin and rebellion in His family or kingdom. To do so, would be to foster anarchy and ultimate chaos. Sin will surely evoke God’s punishment and that punishment will be determined by God Himself. Its measure has been set forth by Holy Scripture, and is to be duly recognized and heeded, precisely as it stands, without any minimization or attempt at circumvention whatever. Hence, the certain jeopardy, or exposure to loss or injury, incurred to God’s people through disobedience to Him, as contemplated in this article.
The Rampancy of a False Theory of Grace
Any theory of divine grace held must allow this to be the nature and propriety of the case. To the extent that it fails to do so, it is false, and should be renounced. Theology, or the science of God, is good so long as it restricts itself to the revelation which God has given of Himself. However, when it takes one portion of that revelation, makes of it a Magna Carta, and uses it to nullify the force of another part of the revelation which appears to the theorist to be in opposition, it has corrupted itself, and perverted “the right ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:10). In such case, the wisdom, or rationalizing faculty, of man is exalted above the revelation of the All-wise God, and the divine Word is made of no effect through human interpretation and tradition.
The High Relevancy of the Subject. In this particular subject we have a field in which this perversion of kingdom principles has run rampant through the centuries, and continues to do so. Because of the great and precious principle of salvation by grace, legions of people have concluded that all of the multitude of warnings of His wrath against disobedience by His people are not really as bad as they sound. Somehow, it is inferred, they do not mean exactly what they say in the Scriptures. God, as it were, pronounces them with His tongue in His cheek, and, after all, everything will be all right, however we may continue to sin and disregard the holy commandments.
I wish to here denounce that philosophy for the blatant error and falsehood which it is. We are to take the Word of God precisely as it stands, as I have said, without modification by our theorizings concerning the kingdom. Thus, when, over and again, we are warned of the jeopardy consequent upon sin, we are to receive that warning as it is written. This is in order that it may work in us the effect of repentance and reformation, which it was designed by God to work. To do otherwise, is to despise the riches of God’s grace in apprising us beforehand of the severe displeasure which His family’s sins provoke in Him, and of the inevitability of His retribution for them.
The Principle Enunciated by Scripture
The Scriptures, when considered by hearts unveiled by preconceived notions of exemption from divine punishment, make unquestionably plain and emphatic that God requires submission to His will by the saints, and that those who refuse it will not escape the consequences. Indeed, it is written, “Judgment must begin at the house of God,” and, again, “The Lord shall judge His people” (I Pet. 4:17; cf. Jer. 25:27-30; Ezek. 9:5-7; Mal. 3:5; Heb. 10:30; cf. Ps. 50:4).
The Requirement for Holiness. The certainty of God’s wrath against disobedience is stressed in connection with His demand for holiness of life in His people. Of the “works of the flesh,” which are enumerated, it is declared, “They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21; cf. I Cor. 6:9-10). The extent to which some will go to escape the force of this plain assertion is demonstrated by an absurd explanation of it which is currently offered. A denomination of the day which appears to plead divine grace in obviation of human responsibility gives the explanation. It is that “the kingdom of God” here means their denomination, and that the Scripture simply teaches that those given to the sins which Paul designates are not eligible for denominational fellowship with them. Albeit, they affirm, that explanation does not impugn the salvation of such sinning “believers,” there being no reason to question their ultimate admission to heaven. By that “exposition,” it is easier to gain entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem and the eternal fellowship of the glorified saints than to qualify for acceptance by the humanly-contrived and -named denomination.
A cognate text by the same Apostle, occurring in Colossians 3:5-6, forthrightly explodes the ridiculous evasion, however. Speaking of essentially the same category of fleshly sins, Paul sets forth their consequences on this wise: “For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” To the same effect is the proclamation which follows the exhortation in Hebrews 12:14; “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Cf. Mt. 5:8). “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die,” is the unequivocal apostolic decree (Rom. 8:12-14); again, “To be carnally minded is death” (vv. 6-7); and again, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:7-8). It must be considered that all these declarations, along with such others as Romans 1:18; 2:4-11, were made to the church, not to the world, and are to be received as God’s Word to professed believers in His Son. Does your theology insist that all of God’s wrath was expended on the Son? These Scriptures contradict that doctrine, repeatedly warning of divine wrath reserved for disobedient children. (Cf. Col. 1:24).
The Demand for Fruitfulness. Dereliction with regard to God’s demand for spiritual fruitfulness by His people places one in the way for certain vengeance from Above, according to the repeated declarations of Scripture. “I have chosen you, and ordained you,” Jesus told the disciples, “that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (Jn. 15:16). Again, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye should bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples” (v. 8). Thus, as the Apostle later asserted, the purpose of our union with the glorified Christ in His death and resurrection is “that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). So do we have our “fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (ch. 6:22). It will be recalled that, as the “workmanship” of God, we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Accordingly, it is “by patient continuance in well doing” that we “seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:6-7, 10).
Obviously, to disregard this divine ordinance for ourselves, failing or refusing to adorn ourselves with “good works,” as becomes those “professing godliness,” is to rebel against God (I Tim. 2:8-10; cf. Tit. 3:8, 14). And such rebellion, if persisted in, will unfailingly evoke the divine anger and affliction. That is the pronounced representation of our Lord as He spoke of those things. “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away,” He declared. Again, “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (Jn. 15:2, 6; cf. Mt. 3:10). We must receive this warning from Christ the King just as it stands. It is taking from God’s Word to soften its stern import for the unfruitful with a perverted application of grace.
The Master’s parable of the unfruitful fig tree graphically demonstrates and drives home the certain consequences of unfruitfulness in the divine kingdom (Lk. 13:6-9). The vineyard owner “came and sought fruit thereon, and found none,” He related (v. 6). His ireful reaction was recounted thus: “Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” (v. 7). In adaptation to the matter at hand, God may well be considered as pronouncing the same judgment against an unfruitful professor of the faith: “Take him away from the Vine; why cumbereth he the ground?” In His cursing of the fig tree, Jesus also demonstrated God’s wrath against unfruitfulness. “He was hungry,” Mark records; “and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves.” “And Jesus answered and said unto it,” the writer continues, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever” (Mk. 11:12-14). Matthew adds, “And presently the fig tree withered away” (Mt. 21:18-20; cf. Mk. 11:20).
Isaiah’s depiction of Israel as God’s vineyard and the dire results that ensued from it failure to produce the desired fruit is also a case particularly in point (Isa. 5:1-7). The Lord “fenced it,” we are told, “and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein” (vv. 1-2). In other words, He full equipped the vineyard to do what it was supposed to do, namely, yield its fruit in due season (vv. 3-4). However, the Prophet goes on, “and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (v. 2). What was God’s response to this perversion of His endowments? “I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up,” He proclaimed to the nation; “and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will lay it waste” (vv. 5-6). All these things, of course, were done as the Lord forewarned, when Israel, continuing in its unfruitfulness and sin, was finally overrun and captivated by its enemies.
The Exaction of Obedience. God’s exaction of obedience is another area in which people’s shortcomings expose them to His punishment. It will be recalled that Christ “became the Author of eternal salvation unto all that obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). The Scriptures commit Him to save no one else. In fact, it is made plain that continued disobedience brings the wrath, not the grace, of God upon those involved therein. By such a course, they treasure up unto themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom.2:5-6).
The conclusion of our Lord to His sketch of the fundamental aspects of kingdom citizenship, recorded in Matthew 5 through 7, serves to clinch this as the result of persistent disobedience. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven,” He declared; “but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” (7:21). He likened those who do not do the things which He requires “unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” Under the trials which are inevitable for every profession of faith, “that house” fell, He asserted: “and great was the fall of it” (vv. 26-27). Obviously, the proper application of this conclusion is to make us acutely diligent to do the things which the Master requires of us, lest, as Paul remarks, we should be “a castaway” (I Cor. 9:27).
The Danger of Falling Away. We are well aware that it is commonly taught that there is no danger at all of falling away, once a person has received Christ. Clearly, the tendency of such teaching is to cause people to cast aside due caution and diligence to prevent such an occurrence. But what saith the Scripture on the subject? How readest thou in the sacred writings? Let us look at a few typical examples of what it has to say.
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Heb. 3:12-14). “But Christ as a son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (v. 6; cf. Col. 1:21-23). Unless we hold “the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end,” we shall not be made partakers of Christ. That is what the Hebrews 3:14 text declares, as well as that of verse 6 and the cross-reference from Colossians. That it is possible to lose that confidence -- nay, that there is a very real jeopardy of not keeping the faith -- is made plain by the simple fact that we have inspired anticipation of those who did so. Paul foresaw the “younger widows” who began to “wax wanton against Christ . . . having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith” (I Tim. 5:11-12).
In another place, he forewarned that “some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” (ch. 4:1, ASV). The Lord Himself predicted this spiritual tragedy in His parable of the sower (Lk. 8:11-15). “They on the rock are they which, when they hear, receive the Word with joy,” He said, “and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (v. 13). Again, He anticipated him who “began to build, and was not able to finish” (Lk. 14:28-30).
“It is impossible for those who were once enlightened . . .” it is declared in the letter to the Hebrews, “if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (ch. 6:4-6). As we have said, many teach that no such possibility exists. But the Scripture both asserts it as a reality and, in the most solemn and urgent manner, warns against it. Actually, it is against the dark background of jeopardy at this point that we are to understand and receive the exhortations to “fight the good fight of faith” and “stand faith” therein (I Cor. 16:13; I Tim. 6:12). “He that endureth unto the end shall be saved,” the Lord promised, but only those, it is clearly implied (Mt. 10:22). Again, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Such exhortations undeniably postulate the jeopardy of not enduring and of unfaithfulness; otherwise, they make no sense at all.
The Rule Illustrated in Biblical History
The principle of the danger of coming short of God’s promises (Heb. 4:1), and incurring the sore penalties resulting is abundantly demonstrated in the scriptural record of His people. What is more, that demonstration is urged upon the church as an object lesson and grave warning against the peril which confronts it. “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest,” exhorts the Apostle, “lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” and disobedience (Heb. 4:11). The example to which he refers is that of Israel’s destruction in the wilderness because of unbelief and its fruitage of overt sin (see I Cor. 10:1-12; Heb. 3:15-19).
Jude also direly reminds “them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Christ Jesus, and called” (vs. 1) of the hazards that continually beset the faith life. “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not” (v. 5). Continuing his appeal to the history of God’s judgment against sin, he calls up the case of “the angels which kept not their first estate” (v. 6). Peter likewise cites this instance of the divine punishment, declaring, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (II Pet. 2:4).
The Case of Israel’s Condemnation. The case of Israel’s overthrow in the wilderness is particularly relevant to our subject. They “were all baptized unto Moses,” Paul points out, and “did all eat the same spiritual meat,” and “drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:1-4). “But with many of them God was not well pleased,” he continues: “for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (v. 5). Of the “baptized” and spiritually nourished men above twenty years of age when they left Egypt, in fact, only two “obtained the promise” (Heb. 6:15). It was the 599,998 -- the rest of them -- that came “short” of the promise to which the Apostle euphemistically alludes in that word “many” -- “with many of them God was not well pleased.” Nailing down the example for the church – to which he was writing -- Paul goes on. “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (vv. 6-12). “Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches,” [which lost their first faith and sinned], he emphasizes to believers in another place, “neither will he spare thee” [if thou fall into the same state of unbelief and sin] (Rom. 11:21, ASV).
The Awful Punishment of the Jews. The destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem’s later destruction by the Romans, the breaking off of the natural branches from their own “olive tree,” and dispersion among the nations awesomely witnesses to the jeopardy which confronts the people of God (Rom. 11:17-21). The Prophets cried persistently, warning of the Chaldean’s razing of the holy city and the terrible suffering, captivity, and death that were to follow. The people refused to take them seriously, and bore the consequences. It was the same with the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
Jesus and John the Baptist warned of it and called the people to repentance, but they “would not” (Mt. 23:37-38). They doted on the fact that they were Abraham’s seed, and refused to take due heed to the warnings. They neither knew the time of their “visitation,” nor turned from their unbelief and sin (Lk. 19:41-44).
These tragic examples should teach us, as they are designed to do, that God means exactly what He says in His Word. We are not to foolishly conclude that, for some reason, He does not. “These things” both “happened” unto Israel “for our ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:11-12). Indeed, let him give diligence to make his “calling and election sure” (II Pet. 1:10), always being on sharp alert, lest, “being led away with the error of the wicked,” he “fall from” his own “steadfastness” (ch. 3:17).
The Good End Sought and Served
Although such warning and admonitions of Scripture as we have adduced are lightly brushed aside by many as irrelevant under the new covenant, they are not so. It is to be observed that we have confined ourselves to new-covenant writers in the citations, and that, as we have said, the applications by them are to the church. Obviously, the intent of this body of emphasis is not to frighten believers to the point of discouragement in the warfare of faith. Rather, as we have indicated, it is to put them on acute guard against the wiles of the Devil and the weakness of the flesh. “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold,” our Lord warned (Mt. 24:12). “In the last days perilous times shall come,” the Apostle foretold (II Tim. 3:1-5). Under the influence of false religious teachers, he continued, “they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables” (ch. 4:3-5). “And for this cause” -- that is, “because they received not the love of the truth” -- “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they might all be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Tim. 2:10-12).
The Aim of Repentance. For those who have begun to wax wanton against Christ, casting off their first faith and love, the threatenings and examples cited have an equally salutary purpose. They are designed to prompt repentance and reformation, and will effectively do so in those who are properly exercised thereby. The consequences are inevitable, if sin is persisted in, because God is God, and He will not be mocked. The warnings of punishment to come are thus an act of grace with a view to constraining people to repent and turn to God, so doing His will and qualifying for His blessing in Christ. Thus Paul: “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (II Cor. 5:10-11). And Peter: In view of the great and terrible day of the Lord, “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness?” (II Pet. 3:11-12, ASV).
The benign objective of God in delivering the warnings of wrath to come against unrepentant sinners is made unmistakably plain in Scripture. “At what time I speak concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy,” it was declared through Jeremiah; “if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Jer. 18:7-8; cf. Ezek. 18:20-23). The case of the repenting Ninevites is a classic example of this (seeMt. 12:41). The Word of the Lord by the Prophet was, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jon. 3:4; cf. ch. 1:1-2; 3:1-2). In response, “the people of Nineveh believed God” and repented of their sins, “from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (ch. 3:5-9). “And God saw their works,” we are told, “that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not” (v. 10).
In the Revelation given to John, the purpose of repentance is repeatedly set forth as the intent of the divine threatenings and punishments. Of “that woman Jezebel” in the congregation at Thyatira, it was declared, “I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death” (ch. 2:20-23). (Cf. vv. 4-5, 16; ch. 3:3, 16, 19).
Following the sounding of the sixth angel’s trumpet and the plagues that followed, we read of the continuance of stiffnecked rebellion against God. “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands . . . Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts” (ch. 9:20-21). When the fourth angel had “poured out his vial upon the sun,” it evoked this response, rather than that of the designed repentance: “And men . . . blasphemed God, which had power over these plagues: and repented not to give Him glory” (ch. 16:8-9). It was the same with the emptying of the fifth angel’s vial. “They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven . . . and repented not of their deeds” (vv. 10-11). It is written of the faithful Noah that he, “moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house” (Heb. 11:7). But it was not so with these against whom the wrath of God was wreaked. They “repented not,” as they should have done.
The Right Theology in View of the Facts
Certainly Christ and the Apostles knew of grace with all of its sustaining and preserving accompaniments, They give abundant evidence of this in their pronouncements touching these subjects. Notwithstanding, they, with the Prophets, speak in the terms which we have set forth concerning the consequences of persistent sin. This they do without stopping, as many do, to blunt the force of their warnings with appeals to the love and mercy of God, and assurances that He will not really be very rough with His children, after all. Let all preachers who would proclaim “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) follow their steps, keeping their teaching free from watered down dilutions which stem from distorted theorizings of exemptions through grace.
May we all have genuine grace to take God at His Word, improving its warnings and admonitions to the required discipline of our lives. This we must do, “lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest,” any of us “should seem to come short of it” (Heb. 4:1). Let us, with Peter, “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation,” and not presume thereupon (II Pet. 3:15). Instead, let us meekly repent, if we are in sin, and, acknowledging the error of our way, earnestly make our way back to our Heavenly Father, as did the prodigal in Luke 15:11-24. And let us “give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb. 2:1), for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).