THE MYSTERIES OF GOD Lesson #2
The Mystery of Godliness 1 Timothy 3:16
When Paul says, “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness,” he means for us to understand three things.
1. The doctrines of the gospel are irrefutable facts. Sometimes the Word “godliness” refers to the whole body of revealed truth, particularly the truth of God as it relates to the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is saying, “The doctrines of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ are indisputable, undebateable, irrefutable facts, so plainly revealed and evidently manifest in Holy Scripture that no reasonable controversy can be raised about them” Yet...
2. The gospel of Christ is a mystery no man can comprehend. It cannot be known, understood, or received by any human being except by divine revelation and regenerating grace (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:5-6). Even to those to whom and in whom the gospel is revealed it remains a mystery that we cannot fully comprehend. “We see through a glass darkly.”
3. The basis and motive of all true godliness is the gospel of Christ, the Person and work of our God and Savior. Generally, when we use the word “godliness,” or when it is used in a biblical context, it refers to the believer’s devotion and consecration to Christ. Looking at it that way, Paul is telling us that the mystery of godliness, which the world can never understand is not a legal bondage, but the constraint of love (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 John 4:19; 3:23). In Christ God’s elect are free, entirely free from the law (Rom. 6:14, 15; 7:4; 8:1; 10:4; Gal. 3:13; 5:1; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). Believers are not motivated or ruled by legal principles in any way or to any degree.
Having said that, Paul goes on to assert six facts, six matters of divinely revealed gospel truth, which to mortal eyes are incomprehensible mysteries. I want us to examine these six statements in this study. These six mysteries of faith are the things that inspire and compel the believer’s heart in the worship and service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“GOD WAS MANIFEST IN THE FLESH.” The incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ was an absolute necessity because of God’s eternal purpose of grace to save his elect. There was no other way for God to be just and yet justify the ungodly (Rom. 3:24-26). The Lord God declares himself to be both “a just God and a Savior” (Isa. 45:20). If there was any other way for him to save that did not involve the incarnation, righteous obedience, and sin-atoning death of his dear Son, “then,” as the Scriptures plainly state, “Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21; 3:21). In order for God to save his elect all the demands of his holy law and infinite justice had to be satisfied on our behalf. Someone, whose righteousness and sacrificial death would be of infinite merit, and therefore of infinite efficacy, must make atonement for our sins. Someone had to live and die as our substitute. The only person capable of such substitutionary obedience must be both God and man; and that person is Jesus Christ, who is the incarnate God, God manifest in the flesh.
The results of his obedience unto death as our substitute before God are certain. This great Savior cannot fail to save those people whom he came to save (Matt. 1:21; Isa. 42:4). Therefore every believer may rightfully enjoy the blessed comfort and assurance of his acceptance with God. We have an Advocate with the Father who is so infinitely meritorious, whose advocacy is so justly efficacious that God cannot in justice impute sin to those for whom he lived and died (1 John 2:1-2; Rom. 4:8). This great work of redemption by Christ was planned and purposed in eternity by God the Father (Eph. 1:3-6), effectually purchased and obtained for the elect at Calvary by God the Son (Heb. 9:12; Gal. 3:13), and is effectually and irresistibly applied to every chosen, redeemed sinner by God the Holy Spirit in regeneration and conversion (Heb. 9:13-15). Jesus Christ, who is God manifest in the flesh, has fulfilled for every believer all the will and purpose of God according to the Scriptures (Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7; Mic. 5:2; John 1:1-3, 14, 18; Heb. 1:1-3; 10:5-10).
Having accomplished redemption for us, the Son of God was “JUSTIFIED IN THE SPIRIT!” While he walked upon the earth, his claims as Messiah were justified by the fact that the Holy Spirit was given to him without measure (John 3:34). Particularly at his baptism, as he began his public ministry, in a very public manor the Holy Spirit descended and abode upon him in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:13-17), thereby vindicating his claims and the mission he had come to accomplish. The miracles he performed by the Holy Spirit justified his claims as Messiah (Lk. 11:20; Matt. 1:21). When he was resurrected from the dead, he was by the Holy Spirit justified from our sins that had been imputed to him. He was slain because he had been made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). When he arose from the dead three days later, his resurrection was God’s public declaration that all the sins he bore in his body on the cursed tree were forever put away. Thus, his resurrection vindicated and justified his claims; and he was justified as our Representative and Surety (Rom. 4:25). The Son of God in all his claims as our divinely appointed Savior was justified by the Spirit through the ministry of his chosen apostles (Heb. 2:3). And he is justified in the Spirit every time the gospel is preached in the power of the Spirit to the salvation of redeemed sinners.
Next, Paul tells us that our Redeemer was “SEEN OF ANGELS!” Of course, he was seen of angels in his pre-incarnate glory as our Mediator (Isa. 6:1-7; Rev. 4:8-11; 5:8-10). He was seen of angels at his incarnation. When the angels of God saw God the Son, their Creator in human flesh coming into the world to save fallen men, they were overwhelmed with wonder. "Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13-15). They were astonished at his miraculous conception (Matt. 1:18-21; Luke. 1:26-35) and virgin birth (Luke. 2:8-14). The angels of God observed his life, his baptism (Matt. 3:13-17), and his temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). After his temptations in the wilderness, they rushed to minister to him. The angels of God observed with reverence all his words and works of mercy throughout his public ministry. They beheld him in awe upon the Mount of Transfiguration, as the Father displayed his approval and acceptance of all he had done and would do, and gave a demonstration of the glory that he now enjoys in his exaltation, the glory he obtained by virtue of his obedience (Matt. 17:1-9; Phil. 2:8-11). The angels saw him (How utterly astonished they must have been!) when the God-man’s heart was crushed in Gethsemane, as he cried out to his Father at the prospect of being made to be sin for us. No doubt, those holy spirits were moved as they had never known they could be moved, when they saw him break out in bloody sweat. They followed him on to the judgment hall and observed his mock trials, the jeering taunts of the soldiers, the humiliations he endured at their hands, and the beating of his holy body. The angels watched the parade of infamy, the crucifixion, and the torments heaped upon him as he hung upon the cross. The angels observed his willingness to endure it all, observed his dying love for his people, heard his tender words upon the cursed tree; and the angels observed the great transaction of justice and truth. They watched God make his Son to be sin for us. They heard the Savior’s cry and watched him as he was forsaken by his Father that we might forever be accepted by him. They saw Immanuel die! The angels were there when he went into heaven with his own blood and obtained eternal redemption for us. They saw him rise from the dead, attended him in his ascension, and shouted for joy as the King of glory sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
“When in heaven He took His seat, The seraphs sang all hell’s defeat!”
Next we read that our Savior was “PREACHED UNTO THE GENTILES!” This was indeed a mystery. The Jews who had despised him never dreamed that God would reject them and send his grace to the Gentiles. They did not understand the prophets or the gracious purpose of God revealed in them. Certainly, the Gentiles, lost in pagan darkness, idolatry, and superstition, never thought of such a thing. Yet, God had from eternity purposed to gather his church and kingdom, his Israel, out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue. Therefore, when the fullness of time had come, the gospel of redemption and grace in Christ, the God-man, was preached to the Gentiles. Chosen Gentiles, hearing of God’s purpose of grace toward them, hearing of redemption accomplished by the Son of God, and of the free and full forgiveness of sin by his blood, believed. "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). The Son of God will continue to be preached among the Gentiles until all God’s elect have been saved. When the fullness of he Gentiles has been brought in, when the number of the saved equals the number of the elect, then “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26).
As the result of Christ being preached among the Gentiles, he was and is “BELIEVED ON IN THE WORLD!” God could call out his elect by any means he desired. Had it been his pleasure to do so, he could have called them without any intermediary means. Had it been his pleasure, he could have sent angels to proclaim the gospel to them. He could have spoken the word of grace by a donkey, or a rock. But “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). The preaching of the gospel is God’s ordained means of grace to chosen sinners (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Here is a great act of mercy and condescension toward us. Not only has God chosen to save sinners, he has chosen to allow saved sinners to be the instruments in his hands by which other chosen sinners hear the gospel of his grace and believe on his Son unto everlasting life (1 Cor. 1:26-31; Eph. 3:8). Christ lifted up upon the cursed tree accomplished redemption; and Christ lifted up by the preaching of the gospel is the means by which God calls chosen sinners to himself in saving faith (John 3:14-16; 12:32).
Our great, incarnate God and Savior, having accomplished eternal redemption for us, was “RECEIVED UP INTO GLORY.” There is a man in glory today who is God manifest in the flesh. Once his work of redemption was finished, he sat down at the right hand of God and took possession of heaven as the Representative and Forerunner for God’s elect. There he sits in all the ease and tranquillity of total sovereignty. He is there as our Advocate and High Priest to make unceasing intercession for his redeemed (Heb. 7:24-25; 1 John 2:1-2). Therefore, believers may confidently raise those great challenges of faith found in Romans 8:33-34. "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Not only does he intercede for us, the God-man, our Savior holds the reins of the universe in his hands, ruling the world and all things in it for the salvation and eternal, spiritual good of his elect. God the Father has invested his Son, as our Mediator and Savior, with all power, dominion, and authority over all flesh to give eternal life to chosen, redeemed sinners (John 17:2; Rom. 8:28). Every child of God ought to seek grace from God to live every day in the constant, confident awareness of this fact. It would comfort our souls in the midst of every trial, heartache, and trouble we are constrained by God’s providence to endure. God’s purpose in all things is our everlasting salvation and the salvation of all his chosen. At the end of our brief time in this world of woe, we will confess, like those mentioned in Mark 7:37, who beheld his works upon the earth, “He hath done all things well!”