In recent times the Lord has laid upon my heart a vision involves the bringing together in functional unity of believers from various nationalities for the task of mission. This is a call of such disturbing difficulty that it can only be realised by his sovereign grace.
If, “The test of the vitality of a religion is to be seen in its effect on culture.” (Elton Trueblood), much maturing is desperately needed in the global Church. Australia is full of ethically separated churches: African churches, Asian churches, Aboriginal churches, Indian churches and so on. If we have found it so difficult to attain operational unity in the mainstream Caucasian Church, what are the chances of working together in prayer and mission across all the diverse people groups that comprise the Church today? East Africans are vastly different in temperament from West Africans; let alone Chinese and Aborigines, Indians and Afrikaners with white Australians all functioning as one.
I strongly sense that cooperation for global mission can come only from a deeper revelation of the heart of God. Only a new immersion in the depths of the divine Fatherhood can bring about the functional unity he is seeking.
Fatherhood in the Beginning
In preaching to those who have never heard the gospel, Paul links creation with fathering. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth…made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”(Acts 17:24-28 ESV) The nations are all created by the one God to be his children. Elsewhere Paul is even more specific about recognising the relationship between Fatherhood and ethnicity.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” (Ephesians 3:14-15 ESV). The “families” referred to are to be identified with “all the families of the earth” blessed in God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:3) i.e. the Gentile nations beyond Israel. The deepest identity of each people group on earth draws its foundational reality by the fact that the name “Father” is declared over it. A recognition that in our diversity as people groups we all have the one Father depends on a manifestation of the presence of God in a highly specific mode.
Fathering through Fear
The classic text concerning the created identity of humanity is found in Genesis, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…” 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion…” ” (Gen 1:26-28). To be in the divine image and likeness of God involves sharing in his gloryas a son reflects the image of a father (Gen 5:1-3; Luke 3:38; Mal 1:6).
Adam and Eve were to image the likeness of God by ruling over the earth in righteousness and holiness. This is indicated by the ethical nature of the command, ““And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:17). This prohibition powerfully conveyed the character demanded of those ruling as God’s representatives by warning that the consequence of disobedience was death. Such a strong admonition was designed to impart fear of the LORD to the human inhabitants of Eden. To rule as God rules requires submission to fatherly disciple undergirded by holy awe. In refusing to eat the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve would have perfectly imaged God’s Fatherhood and been empowered to effectively teach their children the difference between good and evil. They would become the spiritual parents of the glory all humanity. Sadly, this was not to be.
Fleeing from the Father
To be created as a son involves dependence on a father-figure recognised by his superior wisdom. God’s own pointed word of command highlighted to Adam and Eve that they did not personally possess the wisdom that brings eternal life (Gen 2:17) for they did not possess life-in-themselves (John 5:26). The entrance of Satan into Eden was an essential part of the divine plan, for it provided an occasion for the first people to actively choose that the LORD alone would be their Father.
To be fully and functionally one with the LORD, Adam and Eve needed to repeat his fatherly Word of warning (Gen 2:17) to other “sons of God”. Before they had their own children, it was the Satanic presence in Eden that provided them with the opportunity to exercise authority through the discipline of God. If the fear of God reigned in their hearts they would have banished evil from the earth and all subsequent generations would have been nurtured in the loving discipline that perfects holiness (Jer 10:7; Heb 12:5-11). This however was not their chosen path.
In tempting Eve Satan hones in on the spoken Word of God and replaces it with an alluring promise, “”You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Gen 3:5). Through these words the devil presents himself as an alternative father (John 8:44; Eph 2:3) and forces Eve into a decision. She must desire to be solely like the Creator or like the new image of deathlessness held up before her eyes.
Whereas God’s Word was imperishable (1 Pet 2:23) devilish “wisdom” led not to immortality but to corruption (2 Pet 1:4). God’s warning of dying was designed to convey fear but was no cause for shame, but obedience to Satan’s promises caused Adam and Eve to be filled them with fear and shame in the face of certain death (Gen 3:8-24). Everything glorious seemed lost.
God however had always planned a way back to knowing him as true Father. If the first sin arose from a failure to fear God, redemption would come from a restoration of godly fear that would nurture a desire for the Lord alone, no matter how great the cost.
The Father who Exalts
Abraham is the foundational figure in God’s saving plan who receives an unbreakable oath, ““I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV). The climactic promise “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” is word about a universal fatherhood that offers hope to all nations of knowing God as Father. Indispensable to its fulfilment is the episode recorded in Genesis 22 known as “The Sacrifice of Isaac”.
God commands Abraham ““Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2 ESV)” Abraham does obey the command but is stopped at the last minute from slaying his own child. In response to Abraham’s unquestioning obedience the LORD makes two great declarations, it is the first of these that requires our attention.
“the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said… “now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me….”” (Genesis 22:11-12 ESV. In saying he now knows the reality of Abraham’s godly fear the LORD declares that he recognises the unconditional costly obedience of Abraham has formed a new depth of relationship between them. God now experiences Abraham’s fear in a way that thoroughly pleases him. In the Abrahamic line of fathering there would now be no limit on what God could accomplish for the salvation of the world. To further develop the importance of this story for the theme of the functional unity nations we need to focus on the impact this “sacrifice” had on the life of Isaac.
This is best measured by how Isaac’s own life impacted his son Jacob. Jacob applies a name to God that profoundly echoes his father’s faith. Speaking to the threatening Laban he remarks, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labour of my hands and rebuked you last night.”” (Gen 31:42 v.53). The Fear of Isaac is a name for God transmitted to Jacob via the testimony of Isaac to the awe-inspiring experience of being offered up as a living sacrifice to the LORD! Jacob worships the same God whom his father Isaac served with sacred fear, for Isaac had come to recognise that God is more important than anything, including himself.
Abraham’s costly obedience in “sacrificing” his only son qualifies him as the father whose faith exalts Isaac, and then us all (Rom 4:16). The great message that such fear-filled fathers of faith pass on to their sons is that God must always come first, no matter what the cost! This is the gospel message that Jesus brings to perfection.
Jesus and the Father
To see Jesus is to see the “glory… of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14; 14:9 cf. 2 Cor 4:4; 2 Pet 1:17) for he only did what he saw the Father doing, (John 5:19). Christ completely reflects the image and likeness of God (John 10:30; Col 1:15) and stands in striking contrast to the fallen image of Adam. Yet it is only in the shadow of the cross that can we comprehend the radical difference between the Son of God and our fallen humanity.
In prayer prior to his arrest Jesus is deeply conscious of a distinction between himself and his Father. He yearns for “the glory that I had with you (Father) before the world existed.” (John 17:5 ESV). As he stands on the threshold of the cross Jesus is acutely aware that the fullness of the perfection of the Father is not yet completely indwelling his humbled human form. He recognises that the Father of his spirit (Heb 12:9) is a “Holy Father” (John 17:11) wills to cleanse humanity “from every defilement of body and spirit, (by) “bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Jesus must be “made perfect” through a “suffering” that would draw out of him absolute “godly fear” (Heb 2:10; 5:7-9). The Holy Father can only exalt the Son to the fullness of his own image through asking for a supreme sacrifice. By faith (Heb 12:2) Jesus must accept by faith (Heb 12:2) his mortal humanity can be exalted through death-and-resurrection. There is however another and often neglected side to the cross.
The cost of the cross is agonising difficult for the Father, but its outcome is the final revelation of his perfect wisdom and trustworthiness to the Son. The perfect holiness, wisdom and maturity of God can only be manifested to and recognised by Jesus as the Father is willing to sacrifice the pleasure of their own fellowship for the eternal joy they will share together of a wider family. This is and essential motivation behind Christ’s suffering.
Luther said of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane, “no man ever feared like this man”. It took the totality of Jesus’ heart-filled devotion for the Father to say, ““Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36 ESV). Christ inwardly knew that only through accepting the smiting Word of his Father (Zech 13:7) could “the perishable put on the imperishable and the mortal put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:54). Resurrection into glory would require horrendous death.
For Jesus to know the full measure of the Father’s holiness he must experience in himself that God holds nothing back in dealing with his rebellious sons. Hanging on the cross in the place of our sin Jesus loses all consciousness that he is reflecting the likeness of his Father. This is the meaning of his terrible fearful cry, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Yet in perfectly fearing the divine judgement against our sin Jesus offers to God as a Holy and Righteous Father the devotion of a true S/son. As such his fear-filled faith atones for the sin of the world and is powerfully effective in turning men and women to God. Even before he breathes his last Jesus brings another son in fear and faith to his Father.
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.””(Luke 23:39-43 ESV). This rebel recognises in Jesus the one absolute God-fearer of promise (Isa 11:3) that is the Saviour who does not need to die for his own sins but only for ours. The criminal’s fear formed faith in Christ saves him.
This first study attempts to explore the foundation upon which God can bring the diverse ethnic groups of the Church into a functional unity in the cause of global mission. Its central thesis is that the fear of the Father is the key to a spiritual maturity that transmits growth in the likeness of God. Whereas Adam failed to fear God and lost his glory, the LORD has raised up a line of fathering that will achieve his universal saving purposes.
Abraham is a striking illustration of a mature fatherhood formed through godly fear. The “sacrifice of Isaac” brought the flow of unlimited blessings to future generations and families across the world. Such God-pleasing fear came to perfection in Jesus’ obedience to death on the cross. This realm of holy awe broadcasts to each generation that sacrificial obedience to God is more important than anything else, including our own lives. Anything less than such an awe-inducing state of mind shall see us fall prey to the corrupting power of evil that will frustrate every attempt to unify the people of God.
I believe however that there are in the Church today trustworthy leaders from all the families of the earth in whom the Spirit of the Father can be recognised. These men and women can be recognised by their steadfast refusal to compromise the will of God, no matter what the cost. They are true God-fearers!! These are the spiritual parents whose godly leadership can transcend the limits of culture and race that hold back the functional missional unity of the people of God. What this might look like in practice will form the second part of this teaching.
 Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming the most Christianised part of the planet, yet in the 1990’s 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by fellow “Christian” Hutus.
 The Greek word here is ethne, from which we get “ethnic”, it does not refer to our modern nation state.
 Ps 8:5; Isa 43:7; Rom 3:23; 1 Cor 11:7.
 The presence of the fear of God in Eden is consistent with scriptural revelation. Eden means “delight”, and the Messianic Ruler “will delight in the fear of the LORD” (Isa 11:3).
 Godly fear is a desired response to the divine Fatherhood in scripture (Ps 103:13, Mal 1:6; 1 Pet 1:17).
 In Hebrew thought the modern Western idea of complete self-rule, autonomy, is impossible.
 Proverbs makes clear that wisdom is a son learning the ways of a father, 1:8; 3:12; 4:1, 3; 6:20; 10:1; 13:1; 17:25; 19:13, 26; 23:24; 28:7.
 As an angelic being Satan was also created a “son of God” (Gen 6:2, 4; Deut 32:8 ; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps 8:5).
 Adam and eve failed to discern that the snake was already sentenced to the second death (Matt 25:41).
 Our second study will focus on the second which flows from the first.
 The author of Hebrews understands that the story is one of Abraham possessing faith for the resurrection of Isaac (11:17-19). A human impossibility eventually fulfilled through Jesus’ filial fear (Heb 5:7).
 Cf. “the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)