The Last Generation: in recent years we are hearing many different things about the idea of the last generation. Some see the idea as simply describing God’s gospel purpose for end-time Christians. Others attack it as an unchristian heresy.
It is fascinating that something so fundamental, something that should be clear and obvious, so indisputably true or false, could come to be so much in dispute. Is it really that difficult to understand the Bible? Are the inspired writings God has given us so plastic and malleable that they can easily be misunderstood? If the core of the message and mission of God’s church is so disputable, how can we anticipate uniting together in a faithful work and seeing Jesus win the great controversy between good and evil?
In this series of studies we are going to begin by laying out key Bible ideas that help us understand the last generation theme. That will be the first half of the series, a very bare-bones laying out of key ideas. The last half of the series will explore historical developments few people know about yet which show exactly where the confusion is rooted.
1 BORN WITH WEAKNESSES AND TENDENCIES TOWARD EVIL
Man was designed to live, not die; wired to succeed, not fail. But when Adam disobeyed, his nature was catastrophically disordered. Since then, humans are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. Humans enter life needing divine help to seek God and His righteousness.
God made all things through Jesus Christ. "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible... all things were created by Him, and for Him" (Colossians 1:16). He "is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:32).
God designed man to live and flourish; not to die (Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:11). Made in the divine image (Genesis 1:26, 27), he was given freedom to think and to do. He designed us in our deepest depths to be worshiping beings. God shows humans what is right and what is wrong but does not force us to choose right. Everything began with free choice.
God created a being worthy of the hand that gave Him life. His design is for us to be holy, healthy, and happy. We were created as moral beings; to make moral choices, to have our home in a moral universe, to echo the righteousness of a moral God. Adam and Eve were created with an original enmity toward evil.
This they foolishly abandoned. From failure in the first generation, the great controversy proceeds until success in the last. God puts enmity toward evil back in place (Genesis 3:15). Can He do it? Can He do it without being unfair in doing it? Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden. But God is merciful and opportunity was given to repent. A Lamb was provided (Genesis 22:8, 13; John 1:29; Revelation 13:8). Jesus intervened.
As soon as there was sin there was a Savior. Jesus promised He would die in man's place. He would take the penalty of the law broken, and be broken for us (1 Corinthians 11:24). He would become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Adam had been changed because of his choice to sin. All of his descendants experience the results. Our race is weakened by the impact of thousands of years of disobedience. Each generation is degraded compared to the one before.
Our race, damaged at the Fall, has been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth. Our powers have decreased in a long downward slide. Each generation is born more damaged than the one preceding. The liabilities received are stronger in every newborn child.
Is anything more practical than knowing there can be no help for us in our fallen humanity? God alone can reach down and save us (Genesis 28:12-17; John 1:51). Jesus is Himself that Ladder whose base rests on the earth and whose top rung reaches to the gate of heaven. Had that Ladder been even one step short of reaching us, humanity would be forever lost. But Christ reaches us where we are.
He took our nature and overcame, that we, through taking His nature, might overcome. He asks us through faith in His empowering grace to echo the glory of God's character. Though we are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil, Jesus is ready to give victory all the way to glory (Revelation 3:21)!
We receive neither sin, nor guilt, nor condemnation from someone else's fall, but are thrust into a situation where we need healing only Jesus can provide. Let us speed to His side for His helping strength (Hebrews 4:16).
2 LOST BECAUSE OF PERSONAL CHOICES
Men and women will be lost because of personal choices, not because of being born with disordered natures. History screams that after-the-Fall humans are broken. The human timeline traces a catalogue of atrocities. Lostness is the inevitable result of misusing our God-given freedom. Adam and Eve were free moral agents but abused opportunity and permitted themselves to be overcome by appetite. Distrusting God, they sold their innocence. By their own free will they became sinners and separated themselves from the favor of God (Isaiah 59:2).
It was choice in operation.
Why do you kill the mosquito in your house? Because that insect is beyond redemption. You cannot communicate with it, cannot persuade it to go against its instinctive programming, It is not made in the image of God; it has no capacity for moral choice.
Mosquitoes carry diseases such as malaria, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue, encephalitis, and West Nile virus. Through disease transmission, mosquitoes have caused more human deaths than any other creature. They are a health risk for us and our children. They are not safe to save and they cannot be made safe to save.
We make a distinction between evil and guilt. Trees and animals are full of sin’s results, but they are neither condemned nor redeemed by God. They have no knowledge of moral values. Only man has a knowledge of moral values, and because of this knowledge he is condemned as guilty for evil acts. The atonement addresses guilt by forgiving it and evil results by recreating and restoring what the curse of sin has done.
Evil in the world is an indirect byproduct of sin. When one animal kills another, we don’t regard it as guilty. It acts according to its programming. But if a human kills another human, we react differently. Why? Because humans are made in God’s image. We have conscience. We are moral beings. We can know and harmonize with God’s will. One human being killing another usually is not only an issue of evil, but of guilt. We make a distinction between evil and guilt.
Only when we tolerate an impure thought, only when we cherish an unholy desire, is our soul contaminated (James 1:14, 15). Satan sends unsolicited messages. He suggests and arouses thoughts and feelings that annoy even the most consecrated. If these thoughts and feelings are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt. Condemnation comes when light is given but rejected or neglected (John 3:19-21).
Jesus' suffering and death has made atonement for all sins of ignorance. All the effects of sin, such as illness, physical or mental defects, and deterioration leading to death, are addressed. Neither sins of ignorance nor the effects of sin incur guilt or condemnation. Nor do they require repentance, confession, or forgiveness. These responses apply only to sins for which we are guilty.
Every homeward step in our experience can deepen our repentance. We can never be satisfied to reflect a character only partly like Christ while persisting in some measure in selfishness. God will reveal to all of us our illegitimate internal commitments to self-service, so that we experience in our lives the situation of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his fall. The Lord’s prayer will reach its mark. He will "deliver us from evil," deep hidden evil that only the Holy Spirit can, and will, bring to light (Matthew 6:13).
Our faulty nature still answers to the will. Our flesh, of itself, cannot act contrary to our own will. Our body is wired to our mind; our flesh can never be condemned apart from our personal choices. If we use our will to rebel, then we are choosing moral wrong. Only then are we condemned (Ezekiel 18:20-24; John 3).
We are not born guilty, but ready to become guilty. We are not born with sin, but ready to sin. We are ready to go astray (Isaiah 53:6). From the first Fall in Eden the power of evil became closely identified with our human nature, but we are condemned only for our own disobedient choices, our own sin. The practical benefit to us is that all dodges from responsibility and excuses for disobedience are neutralized. Personal choice makes me responsible. Sinful indulgence is starved in order to make a Christian.
When we understand sin as choice, God’s character is not impeached for being unjust. His gift of free choice exalts the morality of His goodness and respect for His creation. He is shown fair in His relations and interactions with His beloved creatures. He is ready to empower us to live above the hell-bent inclinations of our nature.
Without clarity concerning what sin is, there can be no clarity concerning what righteousness is. Without clarity on what righteousness is, we cannot know the differences between right and wrong, but are left to guess at what changes are needed in our behavior. A correct definition of sin is the continental divide (1 John 3:4). When it comes to your view of the gospel, everything hinges on how you answer the question: what is sin? Choice, or nature? Is it what we think and do, or is it what we are?
God might have created man without the power to transgress His law; He might have intervened and prevented Eve from eating the forbidden fruit. But then men and women would have been automatons, mere robots. Without freedom of choice, obedience would not have been voluntary. It would have been forced. There could have been no development of character. Love could not have been experienced for love cannot be forced.
Were we only a race of biological robots, intelligent creatures incapable of choice, then God’s moral demands upon us would be unreasonable. His requirements would be unfair because of our inability to choose and do the right. Satan’s charge that God makes unfair demands upon His children would be sustained; God’s goodness would be impeached. But that is not how He is. Or, how we are.
God made man upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29), and in His image (Genesis 1:26). He gave noble traits of character, with no bias toward evil. But man chose disobedience and death. The result was a bent, disordered nature, inclined to evil. And yet, we can be made safe to save!
The mosquito has bad equipment and so do we. But we were made in God’s image, just a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7). The mosquito is only an insect. We have an inheritance in the moral realm. We inherit everything that Adam and his descendants could pass on. We inherit all of the leanings, all of the tendencies, all of the desires; thus we are born in a way that God did not originally plan. But sin comes through choice; sin, itself, is not inherited.
Does God hold me guilty or condemned for this bent, disordered nature that I am born with? Or is the sin for which I am guilty due to choices I make? How we answer this question determines how we understand God’s salvation plan. Our answer is reflected in our vision of the Christian life.
Some prefer to go farther than Scripture. They say that because of our fallen humanity, even when we are not willfully sinning, our nature needs forgiveness. But the evil in my nature requires healing--not forgiveness. Sin requires forgiveness, but evil needs to be repaired. The theory of total human depravity is wrong. It is true that there is none good, no not one (Romans 3:11). But does that describe a person who has been empowered by the Holy Spirit and who cooperates in the development of the fruits of the Spirit?
Even then he has no righteousness that he can call his own. But it is also true that even the unconverted desire not evil but good gifts for their children (Matthew 7:11). Just as real guilt is possible through choice, so is real righteousness through chosen cooperation with God’s provision and power. Our disordered human organism (our fallen nature) can pull but it cannot choose. If it cannot choose, it cannot incur guilt or condemnation.
We are born as if with a disease, like the drug baby. The police do not take the baby to jail for the drugs in its veins because mommy was on methamphetamines. But the baby is born into an awful situation. It doesn’t need to be declared guilty or not guilty; it needs to be healed. Guilt always has to do with one’s personal choices. It makes as much sense to say man is born condemned for something he had no responsibility for, as it does to say that the victim in a head-on automobile collision, caused by a drunk driver who crossed the centerline, is guilty. No, the victim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time--hardly a crime.
3 GOD TAKES THE INITIATIVE
Repentance is a gift from God, who has taken the initiative to bring it within man’s reach. His grace is sent out in search of us before we understand our need. Not even repentance can be earned; nor should it be considered human “works.” Only our Father makes repentance possible (Romans 2:4).
We score no points for our repentance; it is only our repentance because God has made it possible for us to choose it. All the strength by which we repent comes from God. He draws (John 6:44, 45;12:32). Our part is very simple and very limited. We choose. He gives the gift.
Without divine intervention, we would never repent. Our nature is so disordered because of the Fall, that while we retain an appreciation for righteousness, God must move toward us first. Only then can we turn to Him. Because we cannot repent on our own, we can never claim credit for repenting. Turning to Him is just part of being His friend. Repentance (turning the mind around) is not a one-time ceremony or event. At every stage of our Christian experience, our repentance should deepen. We only turn because of God's intervention (John 6:44).
We still seek to fill the hole created by human abandonment of Him. Desire to worship is in us by design; we are constituted worshipping beings (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11). But our basic nature has been turned from outward to inward. Now we seek out fulfillment in the wrong places.
Repentance is more than mere sorrow for sin and its results. The Greek word speaks of a change of mind; the Hebrew, of turning. Repentance is purifying and transforming or in truth it has not happened. How much repentance is in us? Let’s be clear: we do not repent on our own. God grants it--it is up to us whether we will receive it. Consider the clarity of Acts 5:29-32:
“We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.”
Christ’s mission as Prince and Savior includes His giving to the people of God today the gift of a more-than-human repentance. Forgiveness and repentance belong together. The legal penalty for transgression is paid through Christ; the needed heart-change is offered through Christ. He is Savior, both on the cross and in the believer.
Some have charged that Last Generation Theology is built upon a mistaken understanding of the gospel, that it takes the emphasis off of God and places it upon man; that in LGT, man saves himself.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
When Adam and Eve disobeyed, man was taken captive by Satan. He would have remained so indefinitely had not God specially intervened. The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan and disobeyed, Christ stood between the living and the dead. Jesus volunteered to take our punishment and to stand in our place. Thus each human being would be granted his own personal opportunity to return to God.
Jesus made it possible for man to have a fresh start. Men and women would have a fair, informed opportunity to determine how they will align themselves morally for the rest of their existence. God has the right to determine in what measure the lives of men and women become evidence that He has been fair in asking for their undivided allegiance. If He determines that the lives of last generation believers will aid in persuasively making his case for an unselfish universe, that is His prerogative.
4 No Merit for Our Deeds
Nothing we do in the Christian walk earns us even the slightest merit toward our salvation. Far from claiming any shadow of glory, our part is to bow before the cross and declare, “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14). Salvation is all about healing (Isaiah 53:4, 5; Matthew 8:17) and character (Exodus 33:18, 19; 34:5-8; 2 Peter 3:11-14; 1 John 4:8). The gospel is far removed from mere legal declarations. Through the ages God and Satan have vied producing their character fruits.
Christ has a design for His followers. They keep His commandments with the same faith that made Him an overcomer (Revelation 3:21; 14:6-12; 1-5; 18:1). What will be the result? Our focus too often is “What must I do to be saved?” Some seek assurance of their personal salvation more than to deny self and copy Jesus' example. Self-centeredness is easy but God is putting enmity back between man and Satan (Genesis 3:15).
It is always a sign of false religion when people think somehow they can earn their salvation. The clear sign of true religion is experiencing faith that works (Galatians 5:6). Only God can judge correctly.
When the Protestant Reformation came Christendom was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Many held to Catholic viewpoints on salvation, affirming that men are saved in part by their own works. The Reformation was launched, not first against salvation by works, but the abuse of indulgences. The Bible contains no doctrine of indulgences or suffering in purgatory. The answer to our sin problem is not further suffering. The gospel does have a legal aspect, but is more concerned with bringing people back from sin to righteousness.
Some are ready to label anything touching the necessity of obedience as being a form of self-salvation. But God alone can read the motives; a working faith could easily appear to be a salvation-by-works plan. We want to be changed so that God’s honor takes first place (Exodus 20:3). We are determined to follow wherever the Lamb leads (Revelation 14:4) but we are not trying to impress Him. We must not approach Him as worshippers approached their pagan gods. Our relationship with Him is secure. It is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32)!
It is not that we do nothing at all; it is that in the doing we are not earning or attempting to appease God. A Christian will be doing (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:17-22). But nothing we do in our own strength apart from God can have any part in saving us. Some insist that even the work that God does in us has no “saving” effect. Their “gospel” is limited to their misunderstanding of a few lines from Paul’s Romans and Galatians, largely ignoring the gospels and most of the Greek and the Hebrew Scriptures. The larger thrust of the Bible is missed.
The gospel transforms. Matthew 1:21 tells us that Jesus came to save us from sin; and informs us that not only Jesus, but Peter did, in fact, walk on the water. Mark teaches that true relationship with God comes from doing, not just hearing (Mark 3:34, 35); and that it was the faith of blind Bartimaeus that made him whole (Mark 10:46-52). Luke tells us that the prodigal needed to return before he was restored to his privileges as a son (Luke 15:20, 22, 24); and that it was while the lepers were in the very process of obeying Christ’s command that they were healed (Luke 17:11-19). John states that Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, commanding him to take up his bed and walk, and immediately he did (John 5:7-9); and that it was not Christ but the father who did the works that appeared in Jesus’ life while on earth (John 14:10).
Paul shows the same transforming gospel; the only one he knows! It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16); not the hearers of the law, but the doers of it, shall be made righteous (Romans 2:13); Jesus overcame sin in our flesh so that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:3, 4); salvation means a renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1, 2); our hope of overcoming comes only through Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27); and that while we are not saved by our own effort, what does save us is “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).
Paul urges us to “go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1). Jesus does not leave us where we are, He lifts us up to heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). It is His plan to stand on Mount Zion at time’s end with a people who have walked with Him until there is no guile in their hearts, who stand at last transformed, without fault before the throne of God (Revelation 14:1, 5). Another word we can use here is “maturity.”
Keep clear two different kinds of perfection: character surrender and character maturity. Perfection of character is attained and maintained throughout our Christian lives if we persist in character surrender. The only condition for salvation, really, is character surrender. We live up to all the light granted us; we turn to God at every occasion of testing; we surrender to Him every idol just as He reveals it to us. Thus we may be perfect at every stage of growth.
Perfection is never equality with Christ. Perfection means neither lack of weakness nor absence of mental or physical mistakes. No one who is perfect will ever feel he is perfect. Perfection is an unbroken exercise of faith which keeps the soul pure from every stain of sin or disloyalty to God. Perfection refers to the dynamic, growing lifestyle of the person who reflects the life of Jesus. He no longer yields to rebel, sinful desires.
Perfectionism emphasizes an absolute point beyond which there can be no further development. Originating in Greek philosophy rather than the Bible, perfectionism focuses on a quality in man which can exist independently of the abiding Christ.
I am committed to the vindication of God’s character first. It is matured character that vindicates Him. Earth travels from Eden to Eden. In the end, a people are developed. Just as God asked Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job?” (Job 1:8; 2:3)., so, at the close, He asks again, have you seen My servants in the end-time? Have you seen what happens when all the light of the gospel shines with all the power of the Holy Spirit on a generation that gives all of their hearts to Jesus?
We are saved apart from the law (Romans 3:28), but we are not saved without law. The Holy Spirit uses the law to convict us of sin, of what is right, and what is just (John 16:8-10). The law cannot give life (Galatians 3:21), but the law is holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12). Jesus’ death on the cross, far from abolishing law, upheld it (Matthew 5:17, 18).
Active cooperation, according to some, is either legalism or Roman Catholicism. Things are fine so long as behavior is understood to not truly matter in our relationship with Jesus. James warned against such views. We have seen that God will make the last generation holy. How? They permit Him to work in them. We call God’s work in us “sanctification.” Sanctification is part of the gospel. God will, as part of His gospel, sanctify the last generation. Satan bitterly opposes every effort to keep justification and sanctification in a right relation to each other. But the final generation will understand and experience the full gospel. When the righteousness by faith of Scripture is operating in the life, God will finish what He has begun (Philippians 1:6).
Next week we continue with Christ’s character reproduced in us, obedience and salvation, Jesus emptying Himself and taking our fallen flesh, and Jesus and temptation.
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