15
Sep
14

should christians vote?

For most Christians (in the West) their freedom in Christ to vote is axiomatic. However, there is still a significant rump who believe that voting is wrong.  I know quite a number of Christians who so believe.  In my view, this is a mistaken belief and I thought I would outline why in the hope that I may free some consciences to vote.  I write this in Scotland and in the week the country votes on whether or not to leave the UK.  In temporal terms this is a hugely important vote and Christians ought to be best placed to vote wisely and responsibly. It will be a great pity if many desist owing to a mistaken belief.

The (mistaken) belief arises from wrong thinking in a number of issues.

christians shouldn’t vote because involvement in politics is worldly

Now it is not my intention to advocate whole-scale Christian political engagement. In my view, this belongs to a few who have such a calling and gifting (just as some have callings to medicine, teaching, law, science etc). It is even less my intention to give the impression that Christians can greatly change (much less redeem) a culture through socio-political action, especially since Christianity is increasingly a minority and unwelcome voice in the democratic West.  Yet this does not mean we should not play a responsible part in our culture and seek its welfare. Jeremiah’s God-given instruction to Israel in exile seems germane:

Jer 29:7 (ESV)
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

Taking civic responsibilities seriously seems to me an axiom of Christian living. Surely, at a bare minimum this means exercising the (hard won) vote we are given and urged to use; it is one small (but significant) way of promoting just and responsible government and democratic government itself.  Yet we are told by some that Christians ought not to engage in the political process because politics belongs to the world that crucified Christ and the world from which through Christ we have been delivered.

Two questions lie begging here: what does the Bible mean by ‘the world’ and what should be the nature of the Christians interaction with it?

The ‘world’ in Scripture means a number of things.  Sometimes it means simply the material world, the earth.  At other times it means the mass of humanity since Adam in opposition to God.  Still further it may mean the whole system or culture that this rebellious humanity has created.  When Scripture and Christians speak negatively about the world they mean a combination of these latter two definitions. John seems to include all three within a few lines when he writes:

John 1:9-10 (ESV2011)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (earth). He was in the world (earth and perhaps human culture), and the world (earth) was made through him, yet the world (humanity in opposition to God) did not know him.

The essential nature of this rebellious human culture (the world) is humanistic; its root impulses are ‘the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life’.  That was its nature at the fall in Eden: Eve saw it was good to eat (lust of flesh), delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes) would make one wise and they would become as God (pride of life… Gen 3:6).  Since the fall in Eden its essential impulses have never changed.

So, yes politics is part of ‘the world’ for politics is part of fallen human culture.  But it is no more part of fallen human culture than medicine, education, law, music, science, commerce, industry, etc.  All belong to a civilization that has rebelled against God and crucified Christ and we need only be involved a little in any or all of these to see the rebellious nature of humanity in action; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life pervade all.

How then are Christians to relate to this ‘world’ from which we are delivered (Gals 1:4) and to which we are crucified (Gals 6)?  Well, we are not to love it (1 Jn 2:15), be conformed to it (Roms 12:2), or wish for its friendship (Jas 4:4).  We are to keep ourselves unstained by it (Jas 1:27).  Does this then mean we are to withdraw from it?  No it doesn’t.  Jesus’ prays in John 17 for his disciples.  He states that they are not ‘of the world’ (17:14,16), nevertheless, Jesus does not pray that they be ‘taken out of the world’ (17:15a) but that they ‘be kept from the evil one’ (17:15b).  It is within this tension of being ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ we are called to live and can do so with confidence because we have the intercession of Christ our heavenly advocate to enable us to so do (Jn 17).

So what am I saying? I am saying that it is true politics is part of the world but it is wrong to limit ‘the world’ to politics or any other single aspect of its culture (the arts, for instance).  Many do this and as a result their concept of ‘the world’ and of ‘worldliness’ is far too constricted.  The world includes as we have noted, all the other aspects of culture such as medicine, law, industry, commerce, education etc.  Do we withdraw from these?  Do we say, because they are part of the world we must have nothing to do with them?  Of course we don’t.  Neither, in principle, should we withdraw from the political realm.  After all, government is God’s idea.  Human governments are ordained by God and have a good and honourable purpose – they are to promote good and punish evil (Roms 13).  Their function is to engender a fair, just and safe society.  Whatever we may say about other aspects of society the political (government) has God’s explicit sanction.

So what is to be our approach to the world and it’s ‘polis’?  We return to Jeremiah and God’s instruction to Israel living in an alien country… we are to care for the welfare of the city while refusing to embrace the wrong attitudes and actions that are endemic to it (the lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life).

Worldliness is not political involvement: worldliness is political involvement that embraces the sinful values, actions and attitudes that are rife in politics.  To embrace these means we are not merely ‘in the world’ but ‘of the world’. Worldliness is engagement in the affairs of life motivated by the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life rather than by the fear of God and the desire for his glory. This distinction is vital to grasp. Other-worldliness isn’t a monkish refusing to engage in the structures of civil life but a holy refusing to collude in the way these are misused and idolised.  Involvement in politics is not worldly in itself, nor is it friendship with the world, though the way we do so may well be, as it may be in every other area of life in this world.  On the other hand we should remember that if our engagement in politics or any other aspect of life is from the standpoint and standards of faith rather than that of the world we will face opposition.  We will be hated as Christ was hated but we will please the Father and it is his love and love for him that must be our motive (1 Jn 5:4; 3:13; 2:15,16; Jn 15:18).  It is, in fact, this standpoint of faith, as we engage in the various spheres of life, that will enable us to overcome the world as Christ did (1 Jn 5:14).

We are called as Christians not only to share the gospel but to live the gospel by doing good to all men and part of that doing good may legitimately involve seeking to ensure good or best government (i.e. through voting). We do not do so, I repeat, with any vain pretensions of greatly improving culture, far less of ‘redeeming’ culture or bringing about the kingdom of God through socio-political engagement (for that kingdom is spiritual and cannot even be seen apart from the new birth). Rather we hope simply to show mercy and alleviate hardship where we can in a world under judgement. In this surely we share the heart of Christ.

jesus didn’t get involved politically

It is true that Jesus did not get involved politically, at least directly.  His message concerning the kingdom of God was of course in its own way an assault on all human kingdoms but be that as it may.  However, if he did not get involved in politics neither did he get involved in other civic aspects of society.  He did not engage with medicine, education, science, industry, commerce etc.  When we meet him in adulthood in his public ministry he is a rabbi with followers and lives outside of all these spheres.  If his non-involvement politically means that we must distance ourselves from politics then his non-involvement in the other spheres of life presumably means we must distance ourselves from these too.  But we don’t and rightly so.  Jesus is our model for Christian living but this does not mean we are all to be itinerant preachers, culturally Jewish, celibate etc.  In Scripture, it is his loving self-sacrifice for others, his self-humbling, his perseverance in faith, his non-retaliation, his suffering, his holiness, his obedience to his father etc that we are called to emulate not those aspects which were specific to his calling.

the slogan, ‘Our ‘Man’ is already in’

This is a rather supercilious slogan and beneath comment were it not for the fact that many apparently believe it expresses a genuine reason for not voting. Of course, all Christians believe that Christ is the Ultimate Ruler in the kingdoms of men. We find security, peace and confidence in this and rightly so. But this does not mean that the role of earthly rulers in the present is redundant or irrelevant. Again Roms 13 gives the lie to this; they are ordained servants of God. Government is God’s (good) idea for the temporal well-being and ordering of humanity.

Christ is our great Physician, yet this does not mean we do not visit the doctor when we are ill believing simply the Lord will heal. He is our divine Teacher but we do not boycott the education system and consider it redundant. He is also our cosmic Advocate but we do not diss the judiciary and refuse to use the law in our defence when we are threatened (as Paul did in Acts). The Builder of all things is God but this does not mean we smugly ignore the wisdom of the architect and builder when we are planning to build a house. Why should politics be an exception? Why should Christ’s cosmic rule mean that engagement with temporal political structures is worldly while engagement in these others is not?  Why should we refuse to support or use the support of government when we do not refuse to support or use the support of these other spheres of ‘the world’?

It may seem wise and other-worldly to declare ‘our Man’s in’ but in actual fact it has no bearing at all on whether one votes or not. Our citizenship is indeed in heaven and our hopes and aspirations belong there for it is home but this does not mean that we do not value and engage with the structures of this present world in which we live as pilgrims though it does mean we will hold them in perspective and neither fear them nor lose our hearts to them. As Christians, we seek to do good and influence for good in all ways we can, including the political. We do not pass by on the other side refusing to help but we show the compassion and care of Christ wherever we have the opportunity to do so.

we should not vote for we may find ourselves voting against the will of God

This seems to be a genuine concern for some. The problem here is a confusion of God’s secret and revealed will (Deut 29:29). We are not expected to know God’s secret will or second-guess it; it is ‘secret’ after all. What we do know is God’s revealed will for he has given it to us in Scripture and the Spirit of God enables us to grasp and understand this will. It is this will we are expected to obey and it is this revealed will that should guide us when voting. We ought to vote for those who champion policies that are fair and just and beneficial for society, those that best reflect God’s expectations of government.

We apply this secret will/revealed will distinction in other walks of life without a second thought. For instance, if we become ill we do not ask whether it is God’s secret will that we should recover before we call the doctor. We rightly and responsibly do what we reasonably can to improve our health and leave the ultimate outcome with the Lord. Exactly the same process is at work when we vote. In the coming Independence debate it may be that God has decided to punish the UK for rejecting Him. He alone knows whether his patience has run out. However, we vote on the principle of what we believe is best for the future of the country (Scotland and rest of UK) and leave matters about judgement with God, where they rightly belong. What he delights in is our obedience to his revealed will while he will carry out his secret mysterious will according to his own wisdom and ways.

conclusion

There are other aspects of political involvement that deserve to be discussed. For example, even if we decide to vote it is not always clear for whom we should vote. Are there sufficient differences between the parties to make a vote meaningful?  Party manifestos are a mixed bag making voting for any party difficult.  Politics of course is always the art of the possible. It always involves living with compromise; again in this it is no different from any other job or walk of life.  There is the question too of how best to use our limited time and resources.  We cannot do everything and we must be wise in our use of time. We must prioritise needs and not let the good get in the way of the best.  But these and other questions and complexities must be left for this post is not exhaustive.

In the coming Scottish Independence vote, the issues are above party politics and more momentous (in a temporal sense).  I hope that if you have doubts about the propriety of voting as a Christian these comments may help free your conscience and empower you to make a considered vote informed by revealed Christian values and wisdom. Such responsible voting will know the favour of the Lord and will be a benefit to our needy world.

12
Jun
14

an apology…

You may well think, and with justice, that my apology is for my long absence.   I do apologise for this and take the opportunity to thank those who have encouraged me to get in gear again. This is my first effort at doing so.  I felt it fitting to begin with an apology, not in the conventional sense, but in the more theological or philosophical sense – an apology for my faith, that is, why I am a Christian.

why I am a Christian?

Why am I a Christian?  I suppose deterministic sociologists may insist I am the product of my upbringing.  My background was staunchly evangelical.  I was reared by devout Christian parents, and it is true that this influenced me.  I thank God it did.  Yet it would be untrue to infer that I am a Christian merely because I was raised in a Christian environment.  After all many are raised in Christian homes yet turn away from the faith in which they were nurtured in later life.  So Christian parents were a significant influence but not determining and defining in my faith.

There are of course wider influences on a boy growing up.  For me, my wider circle of family and friends was a fairly balanced mixture of Christian and non-Christian though, in retrospect, I am not inclined to think there was any marked influence from either, certainly in terms of personal influences.  Formal church influence however, well that’s another matter.

An undoubtedly strong influence was the preaching I regularly heard.  I was taken to church services from as far back as I can remember.  One of these was the ‘gospel’ service.  Each Sunday evening the preaching (forty-five minutes or so) was specifically evangelistic.  It was unambiguously directed at ‘unsaved’ folks, and being a non-covenantal Church (we did not believe in covenant children but that all from birth are ‘children of wrath’) the young from the earliest were in no doubt they were part of the ‘unsaved’ and should understand the message to be directed at them.  The message was simple: we are all sinners before God heading for a well-deserved hell who must look to a crucified Christ for salvation and trust in him.  I heard this message in various forms week in and week out.   I knew Christian parents, though a God-given privilege didn’t make me a Christian. Rather, with privilege came responsibility; judgement would be worse for those who, knowing the truth, turned from it.  Often the realities of hell were graphically described and, for young impressionable minds, frighteningly so.

My view now is that  ‘hell fire and damnation’ preaching directed at the young was, if not wrong-headed in principle at least over-zealous in its intensity.  I say this with some diffidence because I believe divine judgement is necessary in a moral universe; if God is a moral God and we are moral creatures then judgement and punishment follow and the destruction of hell (conscious punishment) a necessary moral reality.  Our western world, of course, does not really believe in punishment but that is more due to a soft-bellied liberal sentimentality born out of a cushioned and self-indulgent existence than out of any true moral perspective.  Ask the parent of a murdered child whether he believes justice involves punishment and you will get a different answer.  Ask those who have suffered atrocities at the hands of murderous regimes for their view.  Indeed, ask your own heart, and free from ideological notions, it will affirm the need for justice and punishment.

Punishment is integral to moral outrage and I find no difficulty with this biblical emphasis.  I also believe it is important to preach about hell – who did so more graphically than Jesus (Luke 16).  He stood in the stream of prophets who warned their contemporaries of coming divine wrath (Lk 21:23; Jn 3:36).  He warned men to fear not those who could destroy the body and do no more but he who could destroy body and soul in hell forever (Matt 10:28); end time wrath was also eternal wrath. Indeed, he went further and asserted that all judgement had been given to him; he not only prophesied judgement he claimed to be the judge (John 5:22, 27).  Nowadays fear is popularly understood as a negative and unhealthy emotion.  It is not always so.  In a world like ours we must inculcate fear.  Fear of danger, moral or physical, is wholesome not harmful.  We warn of strangers… roads… fire, and so on. The question for me is how early and heavily the fear of divine judgement (or for that matter other threats in life) should be impressed on young minds not whether it should so be.

Children today are viewed differently than a generation ago (when they were to be seen and not heard).  They are unhealthily molly-coddled.  They are romantically regarded as innocents to be protected at all costs from the uglier realities of life.  To speak to them of an eternal hell is considered monstrous and criminal.  The truth is children are not innocents and as soon as they are able to assert their will we find out just how selfish (like ours) it is.  They need love but they need discipline.  They need freedom but they also need boundaries. They need security but they also need to learn fear if they are to live securely. Fear is part of true knowledge, indeed, as the Bible makes clear ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’.  How true!  Where God is held in awe humanity will find true wisdom and children should learn that God is to be held in awe and is not to be trifled with. Thus a compelling case exists for warning of coming wrath. The only question is at what age this wrath should be impressed.

Yet, having said all of this, I suspect the Lord who said ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’ may have stressed upon them his holy love more than his holy judgement, he may have drawn them more in their tender years by the beauty of his grace than the horror of his wrath.  All that being said, coming wrath wonderfully concentrated my young mind and led me at the age of nine to cry out, ‘what must I do to be saved’.  The psychology of fear had its due effect and in some ways it still (rightly) does (Hebs 10:26-31; 12:25-29).

What of human psychology?  Is there a psychology predisposed to faith?  Is there a ‘religious gene’?  Is my faith simply the product of my psychology?  I am quite sure it isn’t.  For one thing Christians reflect every kind of human psychology.  There is no Christian psychological ‘type’?  Among Christians just as in the wider society can be found all personality types.  What distinguishes Christians and non-Christians is much deeper than personality type and goes to the heart of our being – our nature itself, our fundamental spiritual core.  Non-Christians have a core naturally opposed to God whereas Christians have,  by God’s grace, been gifted at conversion with a new heart that naturally loves God and is drawn to him.

But if (God’s )grace first taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved then grace has since that early lisping of faith consolidated it in so many ways.  Firstly, and most importantly, this faith has been consolidated intellectually.  I am a Christian today because my faith-foundation intellectually has been simply deepened and reinforced over the years.  I could write a taxonomy of considerable length enumerating the ways my faith has been intellectually reinforced/confirmed.  I will mention three that for me have been particularly foundational.

the question of origins

I find existence compellingly argues a Creator.  To me it is a slam dunk. I cannot see the vagaries of naturalistic evolution, even allowing for time and chance being moderated by ‘evolutionary intelligence’, producing our world as we know it.  This seems to me utterly incredible, far more incredible than a Creator. The most natural, reasonable, and instinctive conclusion is that creation argues powerful, creative, moral intelligence, a Creat0r.  The Christian faith maintains just this and adds that God-consciousness is also innate (Roms 1:18-26).  My heart concurs.

the nature of existence

It is an enigma to me that some Christians are embarrassed by the Christian claim that the human heart is intrinsically evil for this seems to me one of the most concrete and unassailable facts of Christian belief.  The Christian faith insists that humanity although initially made upright has fallen from how it was created and is now morally and spiritually broken. The human heart is now viciously self-regarding and opposed to God; it is sinful.  I find this description of the human condition compelling.  Human evil is axiomatic.  The Bible’s description of the human condition is a powerful concrete apologetic for the Christian story.

Of course, it is a big step from believing God exists, and even man is evil, to believing in the Christian God, which brings me to the third foundation I find convincing.

the phenomenon of Jesus

Why am I a Christian: I am convinced by Jesus.  Christians trust Jesus.  Ultimately my ‘faith’ is ‘in’ Jesus.  He is my ‘apology’, my foundation of foundations. I observe him and believe. I observe: he fulfils OT expectation albeit in a way unexpected; the Kingdom signalling miracles he performs, attested by people no less cynical of the miraculous than we are; the wisdom of his instruction, prophetic, authoritative, and profound, has the unmistakable ring of truth and is authenticated by later events; the character authority he exudes carries the weight of someone truly human but not merely so – full of grace and truth; his resurrection, prophesied by him and verified by many, sealing his claims – the extraordinary beyond-category outcome of an extraordinary beyond-category life.

The unique phenomenon who is Jesus is why I am a Christian.

Of course, I could add all sorts of other reasons for my continuing faith.  I could point to the ongoing influence of Christian friends, various experiences of life, a Christian wife, books I’ve read and so on but these, important as they are, are secondary rather than primary, part of the superstructure rather than the foundation.  Yet all aspects foundation and superstructure contribute to the building – the fortress – that is my faith.  These are all the influences, the stones, that God has used in the building of my life for I have no delusions that my faith is sourced in me.  No, it is sourced in God’s grace.  He has shaped my life.  He has brought me (sometimes it seems against my will) to where I am now.  His grace has brought me safe thus far and his grace will lead me home. My own small life is an apology for gospel grace; I have known God.

Why am I a Christian?  Because God has made me so.  I am a creation of his redeeming grace.  All is of God.  This is the baseline confession of all intelligent Christian faith and experience, and it is mine.  By the grace of God I am what I am.

26
Feb
13

i am crucified with christ (3)… dead to world

(This is the third and last in this small series.  Unfortunately, it was the tail-end of a talk and I have not had time to expand/develop it.  We are in the process of moving house at the moment and will be in transit for a couple of months or so.  As a result there will be no further posts for a few months. However, normal service will (D.V.) be resumed as soon as possible. :) )

Finally, we are in the cross,

Dead to the world

Questions

  • How should Christians approach secular education, entertainment and enterprise?
  • Can Christians change the world and should this be our aim?
  • Should Christians try to impose Christian values on a non-Christian world?
  • Is Christendom a biblical concept?
  • Is new creation simply the original creation restored?
  • Does new creation mean we can dismiss the structures of the original creation?

When a man dies he ceases to live in this world.  Its influence and authority in his life comes to an end.  We were once alive in this world, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air’.   That is how unbelievers are.  They are dead too, not to sin, not to the world, but to God.  God has no authority or place in their lives.  They are blinded by Satan, the god of this world and follow him. The whole world lies in the Evil One.  All who are part of it are willing, if wilfully blinded, followers of the fashions and fads that Satan orchestrates.  They are what Revelation calls ‘earth-dwellers’; their horizons are limited to this earth and life on it.

But believers are not like this.  We are not captives to Satan.  Our horizons are not bound by this world.  We have died to the world and to all the authorities and spirits that hold sway in it.  Thus Paul says,

Col 2:20-22 (ESV)
 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings?

What are these elemental spirit of the world to which we have died?  We saw that surprisingly they refer, at least in part, to the OT law, but that is not all they refer to.  They refer too, to the thought forms of the world itself.

Col 2:8 (ESV)
 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
 

These Christians had believed the gospel.  They had accepted Christ.  They needed to understand grasp what this really meant.  It meant that all that was necessary for life (spiritual) and godliness lay in Christ.

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The problem is they were beginning to add to Christ.  They were introducing to the gospel, not only Judaistic law, but aspects of contemporary philosophy (all the errors that have plagued the church are simply some combination of these).  They thought in some way worldly wisdom could further enlighten, further enhance and further elucidate what they had in Christ.  They did not realise that human philosophy belonged to the world and neither they nor Christ belong to this world.

Philosophy was fallen human wisdom and not infallible divine wisdom.  It was wisdom from below and not from above.  It was mere empty deceit and human tradition.  It had nothing to do with living the Christian life.  It added nothing to the gospel instead it detracted from it and subverted it.

We must recognise that the wisdom of this world in whatever shape or form it comes is ‘of the world’ and not of God.  We must never make ourselves subject to its authority.  We must never treat human wisdom as if it were revealed divine truth.  We may (like Paul himself) be educated in its wisdom and learn from it but we must never be controlled by it or trust in it.  The world at core is opposed to God.  This is true of all of it: its philosophy, its arts, its science, and every other area of human culture; all come through a corrupt and flawed prism.  We must never let these define and shape the gospel or define and shape us.  Philosophy has never been a friend of Christianity.  The world’s wisdom never revealed God it was the foolishness of preaching that is,the preaching of Christ crucified, that did this.

1Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Philosophy is humanity trying to find answers to the questions and problems of existence apart from God; it is utterly humanistic.  It is a substitute for revelation in Christ. When introduced to faith it has always subverted it. Science too, all too often pretends to certainties it cannot claim.  Nothing is neutral.  All human learning and culture is shaped by a world that hates God and crucified the Lord of glory.

If my faith is shaped by philosophy or science, or cultural norms rather than by what is revealed and known in Christ then it is slipping away from the gospel.  We can see these human wisdoms everywhere trying to impose on faith.  Philosophy has ever tried to impose authority on the church and often successfully. It was seen in the Gnosticism of the first few centuries.  It was seen in the philosophical rationalism of the C19,20 liberals who denied the miraculous and supernatural.  It is seen in the postmodernism of many emergents who are on a journey of faith that never arrives at conclusions and for whom absolutes and dogmas are arrogant.  It is all the mixing of philosophy with Christianity. 

We see the imposition of science in theistic evolution and in the denial of an historical Adam. 

We see the imposition of cultural norms in the present pressure on patriarchal distinctions in leadership in Church and the home; in the move to accept the legitimacy in church of same-sex relationships.  It is all according to human tradition, the wisdom of this world, and not, to use the words of Paul in Colossians 2:8,  ‘according to Christ’.

No, the person who belongs to Christ, seeks the things which are above where Christ is and not things on the earth.  Of course this means much more than not embracing egalitarianism nor endorsing homosexuality.  It means that we will not live for careers, for possessions, for money, for social position, for mere earthly pleasures – for all these are ‘things on the earth’ we will not place value on them or be enslaved to them.  If we grasp that we have died and our life is hid with Christ in God we will not give power to these.  The cross means we are crucified to the world and the world is crucified to us.  We reject the world and the world rejects us.  Our life, our hope, our happiness, lies in an unseen world and is enjoyed by faith not by sight…  nothing draws our affections away from this world like affections focussed on Christ in heaven.

We need to recognise we are pilgrims here.  We are citizens of heaven living as foreigners on earth.  In this tent we groan longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.  We belong to the Jerusalem that is above.  Our true position is not here at all but in Christ in heaven for as he is so are we in this world.

We belong ultimately not to this creation at all but to new creation.  We need to see that the church is God’s people ‘not of the world’.  Now this does not mean we must live in a monastery.  Nor does it mean we must avoid engaging in the normal activities of life, but it does mean we will have no illusions about the world.  The world (of men and culture) is opposed to the Father and always will be.  We are called to act as salt and light and as foreigners to care for the welfare of the city but not to have any romantically unbiblical (and unrealistic) notions like Clement Atlee that we can build the new Jerusalem on England’s green and pleasant land.  It means too we will engage with caution in life’s activities keeping our bodies under lest we be enticed to indisciplined living and the things that are seen and passing blind us to the things that are unseen and eternal.  We will live as those dead, as those crucified – the world will not hold us in its grip.

The effects of this radical otherworldliness are far-reaching.  Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7.

1Cor 7:26-35 (ESV)
 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
 
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
 
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Such are the priorities of new creation that even those things which God has declared good and created for our blessing in this life must take second place.  The calling of the new creation supersedes the privileges of the old creation.  Now notice these are privileges are good and Paul’s language is guarded here.  Our death to the old order does not write-off nor rewrite that order itself.  The cross does not give us freedom to reconfigure God’s creational order.

We are told today that the ‘trajectory’ of new creation means the creational order is superseded.  In Christ there is neither male nor female.  There is of course truth in this.  When new creation is consummated at the coming of Christ the norms of the old will be radically transformed.  There will be no more marriage for example and this itself signals a community we cannot imagine.  But despite this we are never called while living in this world to subvert or change what God has ordered in creation.  We are still male and female.  We still marry.  We are still called to uphold creational roles and distinctions.  Despite all the claims of the so-called ‘trajectory’ hermeneutic we are not called to move beyond patriarchy and God’s model of marriage as heterosexual monogamy.  These are upheld and honoured in the NT.  They are upheld on a new basis – we do all we do now ‘as unto the Lord’.  Thus we may be free (as those dead)  but we subject ourselves to the authorities for the Lord’s sake.

1Pet 2:13-17 (ESV)
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1Cor 9:19-23 (ESV)
 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
2Cor 4:7-11 (ESV)
 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
 

We may be kings and all things may be ours (which should keep us from lusting after things we presently don’t have) but presently our calling is that of our Lord while here on earth – to live as a servant of all.  Our calling is to live in the place of death, or to say the same in the pre-cross language of Jesus,

Luke 9:23-24 (ESV)
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
22
Feb
13

i am crucified with christ (2)… dead to law

If we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God we will discover that this death is not simply to sin. Our death, in Christ, has even farther-reaching implications.   We have died not only to sin but to every power and authority that would seek to control us in a fallen world.  Death severs all relationships in this world. 

If in Roms 6 we are said to be dead to sin, then in Roms 7 we have died to the law for law, like sin, is an authority in the world.

Dead to the Law

 Questions

  • Is the law the ‘rule of life’ for Christians?
  • Where does the NT regularly direct us for the source and shape of our sanctification?
  • Should Christians have certain ‘holy days’ and observe festivals such as lent?
  • Are candles, impressive buildings, and other aesthetic and sensory stimulation an aid to (an advance in) Christian worship?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us that we are dead to the Law, that is, to God’s Law, the Mosaic Covenant and its commandments (and we may safely say, by implication, to all other rudimentary morality codes as binding authorities  Cf. Gals 4:9).  In Ch 6 he hinted at this when he said,

 Rom 6:14 (ESV)
 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

His point is that the Law has no authority in the life of the believer, he is not ‘under it’ rather he lives in another realm, the realm and reign of grace (Roms 3:21-30, 5:2,15-21).  Grace and law are different realms with opposing principles of rule.  In Romans 7:1-6 he makes  essentially the same point through the metaphor of marriage.

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
 
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

In the patriarchal culture of the C1 a woman submitted to the authority of her husband and did so until he died.  Paul uses this analogy to show how Christian obedience (particularly Christian Jews to whom the law specifically applied 7:1) is no longer to the law but to Christ for death has brought about a change in authorities (or husbands).  Jewish believers were ‘married to the law’ (the Mosaic Covenant had been the authority that controlled their lives) but in death (and the analogy is inverted in that it is the woman who dies not the husband) they have been freed from this marriage to marry another, namely Christ.  Consequently, their former husband has no rights or power over them.  They are not obligated to him any more.  Why?  They have died and no longer live in the realm or world where law has authority and rights.  Indeed, as those married to Christ, to subject themselves to the requirements of the law would make them bigamists.

Now the function of the Law in redemptive history is a big one that generates much controversy.  We cannot hope to deal with it at any length in this post.  Let me sum up briefly the two main functions of the Law as I understand them (as Paul outlines them in Romans).

  • The Law was given to reveal the reality of sin
Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
 

Sin always existed in a fallen world but the law revealed its nature and true power.  Law  (an explicitly articulated command generally accompanied by a sanction) made explicit what was previously implicit and so increased the gravity of the offence; sin became more sinful for it became an infraction or transgression of a legal demand.  Further, because fallen human nature meant none could keep the law, indeed all railed against it, sin is seen in its true colours as an evil malignant destructive enslaving power (Cf. 4:15, 5:13,14, 5:20, 7:7-12; Cf. Gals 3:19).  Law came in to increase the trespass (Roms 5:20) by exposing, exaggerating and exciting it.  

Rom 5:13-14 (ESV)
 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
  • The Law was given to point to Christ
Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

It pointed to Christ a) by showing the moral bankruptcy of humanity and so the need of a Saviour b) by foreshadowing the coming Saviour and salvation in various ways.  Other functions of the Law may be added, such as being a hard taskmaster that would contrast more clearly the liberty in Christ (Gals 3:23-25), but these are subsidiaries of the main two functions, namely to give knowledge of sin and knowledge of Christ.

Most evangelicals will happily agree that the Christian is not ‘under law’ as a means of justification.  The Law (many will agree, though not all) was a covenant of works.  Life was promised for a life of law-keeping righteousness; law’s premise was ‘this do and live’ (Ex 24:7; Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12 Cf. Roms 7:10; Gals 3:21).  Law offered ‘life’ on the basis of obedience, it did not assume life, in fact it assumed the absence of life (thus, this do and live).

However, although the Law promised life upon obedience, life by law-keeping was impossible because law-keeping for sinners under it was impossible.  Addressed as it was to fallen humanity, it was only a counsel of despair (Roms 7:7-10).  Instead of providing life it became a vehicle of death; the curse of a broken law fell on the law-breaker and all under it were law-breakers (Deut 11:26-28, 27:26, 30:15-20; Gals 3:10).  From its inception it was clear that the revelation of law, although promising life, could only purvey death (Ex 19:12, 20:19).  We need only read the many death threats explicit in the law to see its danger to sinful people.  It is probably not without significance that the Law-giver, Moses, dies outside the Promised Land; typically it confirmed the inability of law to bless.  Thus, what offered life, because of the corruption of human nature, became an administration of death (Rom 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6,7).  By the works of the law no flesh would be justified for by the law came only knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20).  The Law only condemns and brings wrath (Rom 4:15).  Humanity under law needed to be rescued from it.  This is, in fact, what happened in Christ.  As Paul says to Jewish Galatian believers (in Galatians ‘us’ and ‘we’ refers to Jews and ‘you’ refers to gentiles)

Gal 3:11-14 (ESV2011)
 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Law and faith, like Law and gospel-promise, are opposite in principle (Gals 3:12, 18).

The majority of the above will have unanimous consent among evangelicals.  However, while many will happily affirm that we are not ‘under law’ for justification some (many) will just as vehemently affirm that we are ‘under law’ for our sanctification.  The law, they say, takes us to Christ for our justification but Christ takes us to the law for our sanctification.   The law they will insist is the believer’s ‘rule of life’.  Such assertions are entirely mistaken.  Paul does not imply we are not under law for one aspect of salvation but under it for another; Christ is the source of both justification and sanctification for the Christian.  Christ, not the law, is the believer’s rule of life.  We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6).  Christ is sufficient for all things.

For Paul, we are either married to the law or we are not married to the law.  He makes no subtle nuances or qualifications here.  Theologians,and theological systems may do so, but Paul does not.  There is no half-way house regarding Law, we are either under it or not under it, either obligated to it or not obligated to it.  We are not free from the law for justification but married to it for sanctification.  The relationship is absolute and admits of no exceptions.  If we are married to Christ then we are not married to the law and vice versa (Gals 5:4).  We are not bigamists and even less are we encouraged by Christ to be such, the very suggestion is blasphemous.  The second husband never sends us back to the first saying ‘obey him’.

The law is not the means or measure of our sanctification, Christ is.  Indeed the law can no more sanctify than justify.  Paul is clear and emphatic on this.  Romans 7, where Paul discusses the believers relationship to law, is less concerned with the question of justification than it is with that of sanctification.  The law produces only ‘the fruit of death’ (7:5).  It is a wife-beater demanding love but unable to either create or provoke it.  Only by being freed from it (through death) and married in resurrection life to Christ can we produce ‘fruit for God’ (7:4).  All of this is sanctification and it is Christ who is its source not law, decidedly not law.

Yes, we are told, but the law is how Christ sanctifies believers?  He sends us back to the law as our rule of life.  Implied bigamy aside, why do you say this?  Where does the NT teach this?  Paul says something quite different.

Rom 7:6 (ESV)
 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

And what does the Spirit do?  Does he send us back to the law and say follow that code?  Does he tell new believers that the Christian life is a whole series of rules and regulations that they must learn and observe – for that is what the law is?  Does he say, ‘go back to the Ten Commandments and keep them’?  Does he say, ‘grow in grace by growing in the knowledge of the law’?   No he doesn’t.  Only rarely in the NT is the Mosaic Code explicitly cited in the context of moral living and never as an absolute authority requiring obedience.  The new way of the Spirit is not to send us back to the old way of the written code. This is palpable contradiction and folly.

We are not directed to the law for holiness but to the gospel.  The measure of a holy life is Christ not the law.  We grow in grace and in the knowledge (not of law) but of Christ Jesus.  The work of the Spirit is to floodlight Christ.  He points us to Christ and the grace and truth in him (Jn 15:26).  In the gospel we have the means, motive and measure of sanctification.  It is grace, not law that saves a wretch like me.  Grace teaches our heart to believe and relieves our fears.  It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home.  Married to Christ we learn from Christ and are sanctified by him (Eph 4:20, 5:25-27). Living by the Spirit we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:20).  Under grace, we are taught by grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011)
 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

And here is highlighted precisely the difference between the method of the Law and the method of the Spirit.  The law makes us look inside ourselves and examine our lives.  It suggests righteous living comes through keeping a long list of rules and regulations and so inevitably engenders introspection and despair as we self-analyse and constantly find ourselves falling short.  Look at the person under law in Roms 7;  he is constantly looking within, constantly focussing on the ‘I’ and constantly finding only failure and frustration.  The Spirit by contrast takes us outside of self.  He focuses our attention on Christ.  He sets our mind and affections on things above.  He gives us a vision of Christ and as we gaze on a glorified Christ we are changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.

2Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We never need more than Christ.  In him, God’s fullness dwells (Cols 1:18).  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cols 2:3).  We are complete/filled in him (Cols 2:10).  What draws our hearts to hate sin is not a set of rules but a growing love for Christ.  What teaches us the ugliness of sin is the beauty of Christ.  It is the clean fresh air of heaven that makes us conscious of the foul air of earth.  We do not focus on mere restraints that when all is said and done outline only the basic rudiments of morality, but on Christ and all he has accomplished, and it is this that gives our soul power to live with God’s sentence of death upon the flesh and so produce fruit for God (7:5).

An imperfect illustration

Suppose you are driving along the road and you keep seeing road signs saying drive at thirty.  Do you obey them?  You see speeding cameras too.  You may break but it will be an external obedience – your heart won’t be in it.  Your heart resists them and wants to find ways of thwarting and outwitting them.  The law and its sanction only creates the desire to breach.

But supposing you have just viewed a beautiful sunset, or just got engaged to the girl you love, or just met and been bowled over by the person who made the road rules – will you still want to break them?  Will your heart filled with glory by the sunset, the love of the woman you adore, the worth of the one who created the rules, not find itself driving in such a way as reflects these experiences.

Let me say, if you have been taken up with Christ you will drive differently behind the wheel than if you’re simply focussing on road signs.

To the Colossian Christians who were in danger of adopting a gospel that added a number of things to Christ, including OT law, Paul says,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Everything for life and godliness resides in Christ.  Mark this well.  If you need to go beyond Christ you are on dangerous ground.  These Colossian believers were in such danger.  They were in danger not simply of adopting the law as a rule of life for sanctification but as a rule for religious observance.  They were creating a religious calendar of OT rituals and regulations such as were found in the law.  They were being encouraged to observe days, months, seasons as well as abstaining from certain foods that were to do with ritual holiness.  Paul is perplexed and appalled.  They have not grasped the significance of the cross.  Notice what he says

Col 2:8-23 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
 
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
 
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
 
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Do you see his point?  The cross ended all this form of externally imposed religious observance.  We have died to the world in which this kind of religion had place. Law was a religion designed for man in the flesh not in the Spirit (Gal 3:2, 4:21-31).  Its very basis is sensuous or fleshly.  It focuses on externals and on sensory and aesthetic experience.  It placed great emphasis on impressive buildings (the temple) religious clothing, smells and bells; candles and altars, rituals and regulations.

But all this belongs to the old age before Christ.  In Christ we died to this.  Now we must grasp this today for evangelicalism is rushing headlong down the route of religious paraphernalia.  At one time the observing of liturgical calendars, special religious feasts like lent, the use of candles, incense and icons were denounced by evangelicals now they are embraced.  Evangelicals want a religion of ‘flesh’.  We want the sensory and aesthetic mistakenly thinking a sensory or aesthetic experience is an authentic gospel-driven spiritual experience (Hebs 12:18).

We must understand that magnificent buildings, stirring music, impressive oratory, and ethereal rites do not bring us closer to God.  They will not produce the slightest knowledge of God nor lead us into a holy life.  They are, says Paul, of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh, instead they feed it.  Christ, and Christ alone, the Christ seen by the eye of faith, leads us to God.  We come to the Father through him (Jn 14:6).  That is why Paul says,

Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Instead of a focus on what is earthly (buildings, altars, incense, music, oratory, rituals, ascetic practices etc) we must seek what is in heaven.  We must focus on Christ.  He is the source of our life.  He is our satisfaction.  He is our food and drink.  He is our vision.  He is our altar.  He is our High Priest.  He is our sacrifice.  He stirs and satisfies the heart.  As Robert Murray McCheyne used to say, ‘No man can ever need more than is freely given in Christ’ We live by faith not sight.  We like Moses endure seeing him that is invisible.

No, law, in all its forms, is an authority for men in the flesh, for people ‘alive in this world’ but we are not in the flesh we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us.  We do not live by and in the shadow we live by and in the substance; we do not seek the things of spiritual infancy but of spiritual maturity.  Christ not law is the source of our life; Zion not Sinai is the mountain to which we come (Hebs 12:18-24)

None of this is to say we cannot learn from the law nor even less that there are no obligations or responsibilities in the Christian life; we can and there are.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, reproof, training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16).   However, it is one thing to read OT Scripture (through the prism of redemptive history) and learn from it, it is quite another to say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ for the believer for to say this is to make the law an authority we must obey.  Let me summarise some of the problems such a mistake creates.

  • It obliges us to qualify Paul’s insistence that we are not under law.  This is exegetically indefensible.
  • It emasculates the law.   If we accept its authority then we must also accept its sanctions (Gals 3:10).  To try to ‘draw its teeth’ is to demean it.  Sanctions (blessings and cursings) lie at the heart of the covenant; they give it glory (Ex 19:18-25, 20:18, 24:16,17; Deut 5:24, 28:58-68; Hebs 12:18-21)  We cannot reject the Law as a route of justification and embrace it as a rule of sanctification for the covenant does not give us this permission.   It is a covenant which cannot be altered.  We must accept it totally on its own terms or not at all.
  • It means living culturally as a Jew.  If we are obliged to keep one command of law we must keep them all.  Law is a covenant agreement.  We cannot be obliged to keep some but free to ignore others (Matt 5:19; Gals 3:10, 5:2,3; Jas 2:10).  We cannot enforce the Ten Commandments and jettison or modify the many other commands of the covenant.  The covenant demands obedience to all or it is broken (Ex 19:8, 24:3; Deut 27:26).  Accepting the covenant means accepting a Judaistic lifestyle.
  • It means keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day and not the first day and to change the day to another day was unacceptable and covenant-breaking.  The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex 31:13; Ezek 20:12, 20). That Christianity focuses on another day strongly enforces that we are not under law; to abandon the Sabbath was by implication to be free from the covenant.
  • It means embracing what belongs to infancy and is ‘weak and beggarly not intended for sons (Gal 4:1-11) . Law is a rudimentary moral code that Christians ought to have no need to hear anyway.  We should not need to be told not to steal, commit adultery etc.  The works of the flesh are obvious (Gal 5:19).  Christian holiness should be beyond these prohibitions (1 Tim 1:6-11).  

Life under grace, by the Spirit, married to Christ, produces a morality in excess of laws demands.  Law expressed the demands of relationships existing in this life and no more. It did not require that a man lay down his life for his friends, far less that he lay down his life for his enemies.  It did not conceive or demand pure self-sacrificial love motivated by nothing other than pure love.  This is a life modelled only by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart.  Such Christ-modelled, grace-induced, Spirit-enabled love is the heart of Christianity.  Such love fulfils the law (Roms 8:4, 13:8,10; Gals 5:14) and fulfilment in Scripture usually eclipses/excels the original expectation.  Or to put it another way, against such Christ-like, Spirit-produced love there is no law (Gals 5:23).

Gal 5:1-14 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The cross means an end to law-keeping religion.  For Paul and for the early Jewish converts this was precisely its offence (Gal 5:11) and the reason why they were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (Gal 6:11-16).  The world will tolerate religion that makes much of ‘the flesh’ but it will not tolerate Christ. Christ and all who follow him it will crucify.  We must live as those crucified with Christ, as those who having received the law’s own sentence of death, have died to it.  Such is the effect of the cross in Christian living.

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

11
Feb
13

I am crucified with christ (1),,, dead to sin

Recently, I was asked to speak on the implications of the cross in the life of the believer.  The following three posts are simply my presentation on this topic.  I hope they will prove useful.  Please excuse the less literary and more oral nature of the post.

The Living Cross

We are gospel people.  And we are gospel people in the fullest sense. Our lives are created and shaped by the gospel and right at the heart of this gospel is the cross.

The cross is critical to the gospel as this winter series has reminded us.  The cross is God’s answer to the fundamental problem of existence – the problem of human sin. God’s glory and man’s happiness are both jeopardized by human sin.  What is the solution?  The solution, the only solution, God’s solution, is the cross.  There in the death of Jesus all is made right.  God’s glory is vindicated.  His heart of love towards man, even though he is a sinner and a God hater is declared.  His own integrity is revealed as he shows how he can be right while declaring right the ungodly.  His holy wrath is displayed in all its glory against sin yet in a way that exonerates the sinner. The cross is God’s propitiating sacrifice for sins.  There the debt of sinful humanity is more than fully met as Christ who knew no sin became sin for us and underwrote our liabilities. There the stain of sin whose defiling effects have pervaded the whole universe was expunged in Christ through whom God has reconciled all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

At the cross, God’s power is placarded as every cosmic enemy of God and man that found strength through sin was disarmed and defeated and disgraced as Christ triumphed over them by removing the sin that gave them leverage through the sacrifice of himself.

An inglorious Roman cross, paradoxically, is the great revelation of God’s glory and basis of all human happiness. I say paradoxically for of course to any other than those who have eyes of faith the cross is an object of derision.  It is a symbol of folly and failure.  Criminals died on crosses. Failed messianic pretenders died on crosses.  Wisdom, power, salvation did not lie in a cross; it was the opposite of these.  Such is the perceived wisdom of the world.  Yet God’s wisdom delights in confounding the worldly-wise and his power mocks the pretensions of the strong. Ironically, God reveals the glory of his infinite wisdom in the folly of crucifixion, and the glory of his mighty power through the weakness of one crucified.  Such, and much more, is the story of the cross.

In this cross we believe.  Of this cross we preach.  But, and it is an important but, the cross is not simply a spectacle we observe, and a paradox in which we believe, it is an event in which we participate. If our lives as gospel people are gospel-shaped then this means they are cross-shaped.  The cross is not an icon we wear it is an experience we share, our identity, our lives are cross-shaped, they are cruciform. We are a crucified people.  Identities are shaped by histories or narratives; our history, our narrative, is that we have been crucified with Christ.

In Philippians Paul says it succinctly,

Gal 2:20 (ESV2011)
 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In a sense, Paul’s whole understanding of the Christian life is packed into this text.  It is a life of faith-union with Christ that takes us out of this world and into another.  At conversion by faith and through the Spirit we are united to Christ and share in Christ’s death and resurrection life.  At the cross our moral history as people alive in this world came to an end.  When Christ died we died.  When Christ was raised to a new life in resurrection so too were we.  If Christ is now in heaven then so too are we; holy and without blame before God in Christ is our true moral position.  This is where God sees us and it is here we must see ourselves.  For Paul, Christian living is simply this reality of death and resurrection unpacked and applied.

Our task tonight is to explore some of the ways Paul unpacks this reality, particularly the reality that we are now crucified with Christ and are now dead.  We could turn to may Scriptures to do so but we will limit ourselves to a few.

Firstly, Roms 6.

Died to Sin

Questions

  • What would be your response to someone who said they were a Christian but seem unconcerned about sin in their life?  What would you say to a Christian who said all evangelical talk about seeking holiness was legalistic pietism and a denial of our justification?
  • How would you counsel someone who claims to be addicted to some sin?
  • How would you answer someone who claims to keep trying to die to sin but with no success?
  • What do you say to someone who feels disgusted/hates at who they are and tends to despair?
  • A popular slogan is I am simultaneously a saint and a sinner?  Is this true?
  • How would you counter the claim that the gospel of grace is a licence to sin?

Paul’s answer to each is found in Roms 6.

Paul has taught that we are right with God purely by grace apart from works (Ch 3-5).  We can do nothing to bring about our own salvation.  Our right standing with God is a gift and comes through grace (5:17).  Indeed Paul has just said, where sin has abounded (by law making sin more sinful) God’s grace has abounded all the more (Roms 5:20).

If, however, our salvation is all of grace in the face of human sin and has nothing to do with our own efforts does not this encourage sin?  If my standing with God has nothing to do with my personal responsibility but is sourced in God taking the entire responsibility for my righteousness will I not cavalierly give myself to sin?

Rom 6:1 (ESV2011)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

Paul’s answer is clear.

Rom 6:2 (ESV2011)
 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Don’t you know, Paul says, your baptism enacts your participation in Christ’s death (2b).  In his death, not only were our sins dealt with (Roms 3:25, 4:7) but so too was sin – the entity or power.  It was dealt with because at the cross the person we were in Adam died; we were crucified with him for the express purpose that sin should lose any rights over us and so any hold upon us (vv 6,7).

You can’t accuse a dead man of sin – he is beyond it.   Sin cannot demand his obedience for he is no longer alive; dead men don’t sin.  Sin has no rights, no claims, no power over someone who is dead.  While a man is alive he is responsible for his actions and will be judged by them but when he is dead he is beyond all of this – he is no longer accountable for them.  Nor is he going to sin again because he is dead. All living people in the world are under the authority of sin.  It rules their lives (Eph 2:1-5).  It dominates their existence.  But dead people are not ruled by sin.  Sin cannot come to a dead person and accuse him or demand his obedience.  He is beyond its jurisdiction, its claims, its sphere of influence and control.

On the cross Jesus placed himself under the jurisdiction of sin.  He took sin’s charges and accusations upon himself.  But in death he moved beyond sin’s authority never to have any relationship with it again.  The death he died to sin, he died once for all, but the life he now lives he lives to God (Roms 6:10).  He rose out of death into a realm where sin had no place, no influence or authority.  He lives now in the presence of God, and for God, never to have to do with sin again.

Now says Paul this is your location as one who participates in Christ.  Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Roms 6:11).  As he is now so are you in this world.  Treat this as the reality of your life.   He does not, in Roms 6, tell us in detail how this is realised in our lives.  He does not tell us that we are born of God, are partakers of the divine nature, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit who enables us to hold the flesh in the place of death and live a new life to God.  All of this will come later.  Here we are simply told it is all the product of living under grace (Roms 6:1,11).  For at the moment he simply wants us to grasp the change in jurisdiction is what the cross achieves and the moral implications it carries.  We are says Paul, as far as this world is concerned, dead.  We no longer live in the realm where responsibility to gain righteousness and life lies in us.  All the responsibilities of the old age have no legitimacy in our lives for we do not live in it.   This is the logic, the moral force, the moral imperative of the cross in your life.  At the cross whatever was involved and entailed in being a son of Adam (authorities, relationships, and responsibilities/obligations to these) came to an end.

But, is not all this talk of gospel grace dangerous?  Is it not a licence to sin?  If you tell a man he is, from God’s perspective, no longer a responsible man living in this world will not this result in antinomianism and freedom to sin?   If you tell him when he does sin that he can say ‘it is no longer I but sin dwelling in me’ (Roms 7:17) is not this a means of passing the buck and promoting evading moral responsibility?  Will it not simply encourage sinning with a sense of impunity?   No, says Paul, for how can we if we have died to sin wish to live any longer in it?  It is a moral contradiction, an incongruity.  The whole reason you became a Christian was to be done with sin.  To be free from its rights over you.  You wished to be free from the great burden of being a failed person.  You saw just how much of a sinner who were and that if you were held responsible for right living  you would ever stand condemned.  You needed to be free from all of this responsibility and this is precisely what God did in the cross.  He took you out of the realm where responsibility for living lay with you and so sin reigned and placed you in another realm, the realm of grace where all is ‘of God’.

Little wonder such teaching frightened people and led to accusations of antinomianism.  But Paul’s response is not to water down his claims.  Rather it is to press home the inner logic of them.   Your participation in Christ has taken you out of the world where sin has rights why would ever want to subject yourself to it again.  If you give yourself to obey sin you have not understood what the cross is all about.  The moral force of the cross means you have done with sin.  The moral imperative is now to live as one dead to sin (one who will never allow it authority again) for that is your new position and standing and anything else is contradiction and inconsistency.

Rom 6:17-18 (ESV)
 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

But you don’t understand sin has a grip on me.  There are sins I am addicted to.  First of all remember we are talking of sin as a force and power not individual sins.  You may commit individual sins because Christians fail and slip back into unbelief.  We fail to live consistently with who we are in Christ.  But this must not shake our confidence in who we are.  We must not think because we sin, we must sin.  Grace has freed you from this power, this tyranny.  Grace works in your heart through the new nature and Spirit so that you need not sin.  You may sin but you are not addicted to sin, nor to any individual sin.  This is a lie of Satan.  You have died to the realm where sin has authority and cannot be resisted.  You live in the realm of grace where the authority is ‘grace’ and so all is of God.  Sin for a Christian should not be regarded as an inevitability to which we resign ourselves.  All God’s power in grace is available to enable you to overcome sin.  You need not yield to sin.  Sin has no longer dominion over you.  It cannot force your obedience.  You may find it difficult to forsake any specific sin but I assure you, in Christ, you can.

It is a matter of faith.  It is a matter of asserting to yourself – I have died to sin’s power, I need not sin, I will not let this particular sin or any other sin have control in my life.  This applies to anything.  It applies to addictions of every kind.  It applies to the draw of pornography, lying, stealing, covetousness, greed, etc.  I must never assume as a Christian these are inevitable for they are not.

A temptation may present itself and do so powerfully but you are free and must tell yourself this.  You must grasp and insist on your new identity in Christ.  This is the fight of faith. Turn away from sin.  Refuse to listen to its lusts and desires.  These are not yours.  They come from the old life to which you have died.  Refuse to listen and refuse to do what the temptation demands.  It may call powerfully, insistently, like a past lover, but you have died to that relationship.  That life has passed.  You may say you do not ‘feel’ you are dead to sin.  This is understandable for indwelling sin (the flesh, or the old person you once were while living in this world) is crying out to be obeyed.  But it is not a matter of how you feel but of living by faith.  Faith lives by what God says not how we feel. Faith believes what God says is true and acts on that basis; it takes God at his word.  Faith inhabits the gospel realities.  Faith is a gospel-shaped life.  Thus Paul writes,

Rom 6:12-14 (ESV)
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

And yet,

I keep trying to die to sin, but I can’t.  All the old desires just keep coming into my mind.  All the old weakness and temptations keep raising their ugly heads.  It seems as if my soul is still full of sin.  But who asked you to try to die to sin?  Certainly not me.  Not the Bible.  Paul doesn’t say we must die to sin he says we have died to sin.  It is a matter of affirming this in faith.  He does not say sin has died.  Sin is still as powerful as ever.  It is still within as insistent as ever.  The flesh (indwelling sin) is always clambering for attention.  Look within and you’ll still see all kinds of volcanic sin ready to erupt.

It is not sin that has died, it is you who died.

This means, in practice, at least two things.

Firstly, it means you must not feel depressed and guilty about the sinful tendencies of your heart.  When you see all kinds of evil smouldering in your heart you must not despair, rather you must refuse ownership.  This is not the real you.  This is the old you who God has declared dead and you must reckon this to be so. The new you (of resurrection faith) is the real and true you.  The old is sin dwelling within.  It is the flesh seeking place and power.  But it is not ‘you’.  You have died and passed through death into a new life.  Therefore you must not feel guilty about these old lusts and desires.  You must not think they are yours, they are not.  You are not responsible for them.  You must disown them.  They belong to a world and personal identity that died at the cross.  Never accept any accusations about these tendencies.  Never take responsibility for them.  Never feel depressed and despairing about them.  God does not view them as you and neither must you.  You are a new person.  You are risen with Christ.  You are the new life created and sustained by God’s indwelling Spirit whom God already sees seated with Christ in heaven, holy and blameless and beyond sin and accusation.  What a glorious freedom the gospel brings from guilt and the terrible crushing sense of failed responsibility and a corrupt heart.

Secondly, we should realise we are not called to try die to these thoughts and inclinations, that is, we are not called to find some way of stopping them arising in your souls.  We can’t stop sinful thoughts and inclinations arising.  What you are called to do is by faith recognise that these are not the real you.  The ‘you’ to whom these belong has been pronounced dead.  This ‘you’ was crucified at the cross.  Judgement has been carried out on this ‘you’.  These are the inclinations of a life which is gone and all you need to do is accept this judgement (concur with it) and live in the light of it.

In other words, refuse to listen to their clambering and cries.  Give them no credence.  No foothold.  When they arise simply dismiss them from your mind.  Remind yourself these all belong to a past you, a former self and you have died to that self and will neither be condemned by it nor conned, cowed, or coerced into obeying it.  Whatever it urges refuse.  This is what Paul means when he says we are, by dependence on God’s Spirit, to put to death ‘the deeds of the body’ (Roms 8).  There may be pain in this, and cost, for the flesh desperately wishes to be pampered, but we must crucify it, or rather recognise it is crucified and treat it as such.

Unconverted folks have great difficulty in looking with equilibrium at the corruption that is in their own hearts for they (rightly) think of what lies in their heart as ‘them’; they are identified by their ‘flesh’ and thus find the truth about themselves hard to face at but Christians should not be like this.  We should be able with a steady eye to look at inner corruption and condemn and disown it for that is precisely what God did with it at the cross and what we accepted in conversion. We realised then that the flesh had no profit and was evil and we have gladly done with it that we may live in a new life of grace, beyond responsibility and its corollary condemnation where all is ‘of God’.

Paul earths this faith-perspective in Ephesians and Colossians.

Eph 4:17-32 (ESV)

 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, [your having put off] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and [having put on] to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

 

This is how we live in the reality that we have died to sin and are alive to God (Roms 6:10).   In Colossians, Paul expresses it slightly differently but it is essentially the same point.

Col 3:1-17 (ESV2011)

 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Sin is a moral contradiction for those who participate in the cross.  It is a denial of all we have become in Christ.   How can we who have died to sin live any longer therein?

Let me consider one further point.

What if as a Christian I do sin?  And both experience and Scripture tell us we will and do.  Surely I must take ownership for this sin.  Surely this sin condemns me and defines me.  Surely for this sin I am responsible.  Surely I must hate myself because of this sin?  Well, this is a point where it would be easy to get our thinking skewed.  On the one hand, there is a sense in which of course we do take responsibility for our failure.  We recognise that we have failed to live by faith.  We have not lived as close to Christ and as dependent on the Spirit as we ought and so we have sinned.  Our response should be to feel the shame of our action and hatred for our sin and to confess it with the intent of forsaking it knowing God will be faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

However, and it is a very important ‘however’ we will do this never wavering in our consciousness that we are sons, seated with Christ in heaven, holy and without blame in God’s sight.  We will insist the sin does not define us.  We will insist it is inconsistent with who we are and not a reflection of our proper identity.  We are saints, not sinners.

In this sense we can rightly say, that this sin is not of me but of sin dwelling within me (Roms 7:17).  Its source is not so much in me (the new me) as in the principle of sin that still resides within, namely, ‘the flesh’ (7:18,22).  Thus I will hate the flesh and hate the sin but refuse to hate myself for ‘self’ or my true identity is that of a new person in Christ.  I may as well hate Christ for my life and identity is in him.

Responsibility for sin in any ultimate sense I will reject for responsibility (of the kind that brings judgement) can only be laid at a living person in the world and I am not alive in the world; I am dead, crucified with Christ.  The source from which this sin originated has already been condemned in the flesh of Christ and is no more.  Thus I refuse to wretchedly self-condemn, though, by faith, I do condemn and disown (and hate) the sin and the nature from which it erupted.  By faith I concur with God’s verdict upon this nature and all that flows from it. Through the cross I have now what the writer to the Hebrews calls, ‘no more conscience of sins’.  He does not mean I do not care about sin but that I do not stand condemned by sin.  In Pauline language, I have died to sin and my life is hid with Christ in God.  Or, as in Roms 8

Rom 8:1-4 (ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Praise God for such a salvation.  With Horatius Bonar we exclaim,

I bless the Christ of God, I rest on love divine,
And with unfaltering lip and heart, I call the Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear,
Each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of peace, I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my Joy, my Light.
In Him is only good, in me is only ill;
My ill but draws His goodness forth,
And me He loveth still.

’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me; I live because He lives;
My life with Him is hid, my death has passed away,
My clouds have melted into light,
My midnight into day.

 

Some further implications of participation in Christ’s death I will consider in the next couple of posts.

31
Jan
13

the glory of the cross

Est 6:6 (ESV) … the king said… , “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honour?” 

The story is set in Susa, the Persian capital, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known by his Greek name, Xerxes I (486–464 b.c.). Some Jews had returned to Jerusalem, where they enjoyed a reasonable amount of control over their own affairs as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Others, like Esther and Mordecai, were still in exile. As a minority group, the Jews were viewed with suspicion and sometimes faced threats to their existence from people in a position to harm them. In this respect Esther and Mordecai’s situation was similar to that of Daniel and his friends a century or so earlier. (ESV Study Bible Intro to Esther).

Mordecai, by God’s providence, discovered and defused a plot to murder the king (Ahasuerus).  His loyalty provoked the king to bestow public honour on him.  The honour was gracious for the king was not legally obliged to honour Mordecai (no law said he must, nor was the reason for Mordecai’s devotion any law promising good to those who were loyal, for there was none, loyalty was their duty), however, he felt a moral obligation to honour someone who had honoured him in such an outstanding way; such honouring was an appropriate reward.  In this even a pagan king revealed the moral imprint of the divine image for God himself says, ‘he who honours me, I will honour’(1 Sam 2:20).  It is with this background informing us we read and reflect on the words of Jesus in John 13,

John 13:31-32 (ESV2011) When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

now is the son of man glorified…

This text follows immediately from Judas leaving to initiate the betrayal.  The betrayal signals the beginning of humanity’s darkest hour, as John’s reference to ‘night’ suggests (13:30), which finds its culmination in the rejection of the cross.  Morally this is the world’s worst deed and its ultimate exposure.  The atrocities of the centuries (C20 holocaust included) are as nothing compared to the conspired murder of the Creator. The contrast could not be more vivid; the most depraved inglorious actions of men in counterpoint with the most devoted and glorious action of Jesus ‘the son of man’, for it is ‘the son of man’ who is glorified. Humanity may utterly shame itself in its defiance of God and indifference to his glory (Adam did, and his heirs are here merely demonstrating the same depravity, though more culpably so, for now defiance and rejection is not simply of a good Creator and Provider but of  the God of grace and truth revealed in Christ) but this backcloth of human depravity serves only to make more radiant the moral glory of the obedient ‘man’ on the cross.

It is the true glory of ‘man’ because human glory is ever founded upon obedience to God and here is obedience of the most exacting kind.  Man is a moral being, made in God’s image, created to obey God’s will and seek his glory.  He is glorious only when so doing.  The more demanding that will and the more obedience to it costs then the more man is glorified therein.  Just as a son is never more admirably son-like than when obeying a demanding instruction of his father, and a soldier is never more essentially soldier-like than when he obeys his commanding officer at the cost of losing everything, reputation and life itself, so too man, in Christ, is most glorious in the obedience extremity of the cross.  

The glory of man is perfectly displayed in Christ’s voluntary, God-honouring, self-sacrificing obedience to death; here is humanity at its most human. This is ‘man’ as he ought to be; surrounded by every conceivable reason to sidestep obedience and aware obedience will cost everything – the reputation of men to whom he is a worm and no man (Ps 22:6-8; Isa 53:3), the companionship of his own who forsake and flee (Ps 88:18; 38:11; 41:9), the sustaining of angelic beings who normally guard those who fear God yet here are absent (Matt 26:53,54), the fellowship and face of God in judicial abandonment (Ps 22), intolerable suffering in body and mind, so crushing he is unrecognisable as human (Isa 52:14; 53:10), the cruel feral hatred of his fellows seeking his blood like wild ravenous baying beasts (Ps 22), the unmasked fury of Satan whose hour has come (Lk 22:53),  and ultimately the ignominy and injustice of cross-death itself (Ps 69:4,19; 44:15)- yet he never wavers from the path of submission to the divine will, his food and delight remaining as ever, the will of him that sent him.

His supreme and unwavering desire is to bring glory to God in life or death.  He who knew no sin will willingly be made sin if this is God’s will and bring’s God glory.  He who is creation’s crown and rightful heir of all will gladly be cut off and have nothing if in this his God is obeyed and glorified.  The cup of unbearable aloneness (so contrary to nature… it is not good for man to be alone) will be freely borne if it’s God’s cup for him to drink.  He will be the kernel of wheat that falls into the ground and dies if this will be the means of much fruit to the glory of God (Jn 12:23,24).  He will submit to Satan’s worst if this is the only way he can be overthrown and he and his powers destroyed to the praise and glory of God and the blessing of man; he will be the serpent-crushing seed even if it means for him the bruising of death (Lk 22:53, Hebs 2:14).  The fulfilling and realising of God’s purposes is his consuming desire and delight and the cost of so doing he will despise (Hebs 12).

Here is man, under the severest test, the most adverse of circumstances, proving to be man as he essentially ought to be, as he was created to be – utterly devoted, utterly obedient, utterly submissive, utterly committed to God’s glory. The moral glory of man being what he ought to be to God is revealed fully in the cross.  This was indeed man’s glory, that God should be (as he was) glorified in Him.  Little wonder such a man will, when lifted up, draw all men (of faith) to himself. Here is a man for men to follow and revere, here is humanity at its most glorious and worthy, most intended, bringing perfect glory to God.

and god is glorified in him…

God is glorified in the first instance simply in the ‘son of man’s’ faith-obedience, obedience to death and that the death of the cross (Phil 2).  Man was not created for death but for privilege as the crown of creation.  The ‘son of man’, eschatologically expected to be crowned with glory and honour with all things subject to him (Ps 8; Dan 7:13)). Thus when Jesus submits to the cross and death and all that seems to contradict this destiny he does so believing he is the sin-bearer and will be saved out of death (Acts 2:24-28; Hebs 5:7)/  Such is the faith-affirmation of this very text. ‘If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once’.   Here is man trusting in God’s faithfulness and righteousness when trusting costs everything and everything conspires to defy such trust; he trusts even as his agonized uncomprehending ‘why’ of loss echoes in the silent heavens (Ps 22).  How can God be other than glorified ‘in him’?

Yet God is further glorified ‘in him’.  Glory is the outshining of an essential worth.  The greater the essential worth of an object (or person) the greater its glory.  The obedience of Christ in the cross provides the context, the only context, whereby God can reveal fully who he is.  God acts in various ways throughout history and in so doing always reveals something of who he is and therefore an aspect of his glory.  In the life of Christ, he reveals himself as never before (he that has seen me…) but even in Christ, full revelation is only complete at the cross.  At the cross, all that God is, is revealed, and revealed according to that which He is consciously to Himself.  His nature is seen as it really is with each attribute revealed in relation to the other as it truly is without any one attribute hiding, or obscuring, or contradicting another.   Thus God’s heart of grace and love shines fully but in such a way that his wisdom, truth, holiness, power, righteousness and majesty are seen too acting in perfect harmony with it.  God’s heart, a heart of love, is displayed as it really is and his attributes unite in expression of it. Of his heart of love we read,

1 John 4:9-10 (ESV2011) In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Yet it is not a love that acts in conflict with his righteousness but in conjunction with it.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV2011) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Likewise his holiness is harnessed to a saving purpose,

Isa 52:10 (ESV2011) ​The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Likewise his wisdom and power.

1Cor 1:23-24 (ESV2011) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

All work in symphonic unison revealing the glory of his grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011) For the grace of God has appeared… Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

At the cross the ‘grace of God in truth‘ is revealed (Col 1:6).  Indeed, at the cross the truth of God is revealed as nowhere else. Not only God but all else is revealed as it really is: man’s rebellious heart is exposed as the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”and Satan’s naked hatred of God is seen in his dragon-like desire to devour the man-child.

That God is glorified in Christ at the cross is beyond dispute.

In summary, God is glorified in ‘the son of man’ for the cross occasions the greatest conceivable demonstration of human devotion to God and God is glorified in this.  Furthermore, ‘the son of man’s cross-devotion uniquely enables God to display fully all the attributes of his being integrated in the one great purpose of his heart, that is, to accomplish in Christ the reconciliation of all things to the praise of his glorious grace.  Eternity will never unveil a way that reveals and thus glorifies God more fully than the cross.  This is why at the centre of heaven’s throne John sees a freshly slain lamb; the cross will never diminish or dim, it will always be as yesterday for it is the glory of God par excellence.

the son of man glorified in god

What is the outcome of God glorified in man?  Man is glorified in God.  If God is glorified in him then he will glorify him in himself, and glorify him immediately…  If unrighteous pagan kings such as Ahasuerus recognise a moral imperative to reward those who serve them in outstanding ways how much more the King Eternal.  What will God do for the man who in honouring the divine will accepted the brutality and hatred of all, entered the dragon’s den, accepted the cup of divine wrath, undertook responsibility  for sin, agreed to be the atoning sacrifice killed on the altar and the scapegoat banished to the wilderness that God’s honour may be vindicated, his purposes of grace realized, and his righteousness upheld in so doing?  

What will God do for one who has so glorified him?  He will in turn glorify this man.  Indeed so great has been the debasement to which the son of man has submitted that God may be glorified that God will glorify him ‘in himself’.  That is, he will not simply glorify him but will share with him his own glory, that glory that he does not give to another*.  He who humbled himself to death for the glory of God will be raised from the dead and exalted for God will not allow this Holy One to see corruption (it would be unjust) but will raise him and will seat him at his own right hand in heaven.  He will share God’s throne and God’s glory.  He who went to the deepest depths of shame to bring to God the highest glory shall be himself rewarded with the highest glory.  God is no man’s debtor.  Such will be the reward, the just reward, of the man whom the King delights to honour.

In this way the eschatological promise of Ps 8 will be fulfilled.

Heb 2:5-9 (ESV2011) For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Notice, he is crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death.   We have a similar conclusion in Isaiah 53,

Isa 53:10-12 (ESV2011) Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. ​Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Philippians 2 makes the same point; God glorifies Christ ‘in himself’.

Phil 2:5-11 (ESV2011) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He has been seated on God’s own throne and all things once subject to God have been made subject to him (Ps 2).  He has inherited a name (and so a dignity) above every name including all angelic beings (Hebs 1:4).  He reigns not only over earth but over all things.   Thomas Kelly’s hymn expresses it well,

Behold the Lamb with glory crowned!
To Him all power is given;
No place too high for Him is found,
No place too high in heaven..

He fills the throne—the throne above,
He fills it without wrong;
The object of His Father’s love,
The theme of angels’ song.

Though high, yet He accepts the praise
His people offer here;
The faintest, feeblest lay they raise
Will reach the Saviour’s ear.

This song be ours, and this alone,
That celebrates the Name
Of Him that sits upon the throne,
And that exalts the Lamb.

To Him whom men despise and slight,
To Him be glory given;
The crown is His, and His by right
The highest place in heaven. 

But is this glory and position his alone?  The hymn speaks of ‘his people’.  Isa 53 speaks of ‘his offspring’ and ‘the righteous making many righteous’ and  of him ‘dividing the spoil with the strong’.  The express purpose of his death was that it would multiply others like him.

John 12:23-24 (ESV2011) And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Thus in resurrection he says to God, ‘Behold I and the children you have given me‘ (Cf. Hebs 2:10:16).  He promises his disciples that if he goes away he will come again to receive them to himself so that where he is (the Father’s house) there they may be also (Jn 14:1-6).  He prays that his own (given to him by the Father) will with him where he is that they may see his glory (Jn 17:24).  Amazingly, while there is a glory that is entirely his own (his intrinsic glory as a divine person to which he is restored, and the glory that is uniquely his due as the sin-bearer for which he will be ever worshipped) and while he is always pre-eminent in glory, yet the glorious position that he has at the right hand of God’s majesty is one that we by grace, as his bride and his body, are called to share.  If God raised and exalted Jesus as an act of righteousness then he must also raise and exalt with him all those united to him – the offspring of Abraham, his brothers, for whom he died.  To do less than reward Christ’s obedience to death with the end it was undertaken to accomplish (the redeeming of his own) would be unjust such is the moral value and imperative of the cross. Thus we become ‘the righteousness of God in him‘. Christ’s exaltation and our exaltation with him (seated with him in heavenly places) is a demonstration that God is righteous.  In him has been won so much more than Adam lost**. We are accepted by God in the son he loves.  We are joint heirs along with Christ.   We with him are blessed with ever spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.  We, like him, are not simply justified but glorified.  We are the fulness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1:23).

By nature and by practice far, How very far from God!                                                                                  Yet now by grace brought nigh to Him Through faith in Jesus’ blood.

So nigh, so very nigh to God, I cannot nearer be;                                                                                          For in the person of His Son, I am as near as He.

So dear, so very dear to God, More dear I cannot be;                                                                               The love wherewith He loves the Son, Such is His love to me.

And so the complete mystery of God’s purposes  - suffering and glory – are revealed in these two pregnant verses from John’s gospel verses that we may wonder and worship.

GAZING on Thee, Lord, in glory,
While our hearts in worship bow,
There we read the wondrous story
Of the cross — its shame and woe.

Every mark of dark dishonour
Heaped upon Thy thorn-crowned brow,
All the depths of Thy heart’s sorrow
Told in answering glory now.

On that cross alone — forsaken — 
Where no pitying eye was found;
Now to God’s right hand exalted,
With Thy praise the heavens resound.

Did Thy God e’en then forsake Thee,
Hide His face from Thy deep need?
In Thy face, once marred and smitten,
All His glory now we read.

Gazing on it we adore Thee,
Blessed, precious, holy Lord;
Thou, the Lamb, alone art worthy,
This be earth’s and heaven’s accord.

Rise our hearts, and bless the Father,
Ceaseless song e’en here begun,
Endless praise and adoration
To the Father and the Son.

*  He can do so for the man with whom he shares it is himself the Son of God, a divine person (Jn 17:1-4)

**  It is sometimes claimed that had Adam continued in obedience he would have been rewarded with glorification.  This is sheer conjecture, and mistaken conjecture at that.  God’s intention was never glorification in Adam but glorification in Christ.  Furthermore, glorification was predicated on God being perfectly glorified in the cross.  What could Adam have done that equalled the cross?

Further, we should not equate this rewarding of Christ with mere law-keeping (though he did of course keep the law).  This is much more than law-keeping.  No law demanded the cross.  In fact, according to the law, Jesus should have lived and not died.  This is obedience of a different order.  It was initiated in heaven (outside of law) and demanded of the son of man what no law did or could (that he take the curse of a broken law upon himself).  It was, in fact, this obedience beyond mere law-keeping (the death of the cross) that was the basis of glorification.

22
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (2)

Our previous post argued that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel’ (Roms 1:17) he means precisely that; in the gospel God reveals himself acting righteously, that is, acting consistently with all he is in himself (Roms 3:21-26).  Among the ways God reveals himself acting righteously is in declaring righteous those who are ungodly; he passes a verdict of righteous (justifies) on people who are unrighteous.  How he does so righteously remains to be explored, however, what ‘justifying the ungodly‘ (Roms 4:4) does underline is that the righteous standing of sinners is not one they deserve but one God gifts.  Thus Paul speaks of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Roms 5:17), in fact, lest there is any doubt he speaks of, ‘the free gift’ of righteousness (Roms 5:15,16,17), indeed ‘a free gift by grace’ (Roms 5:15,17; 3:24).  In this sense our righteousness is truly ‘of God’.  It finds its source, initiative, and quality or nature in God.  Paul writes,

Phil 3:9
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith.

But how can a righteous God declare righteous the unrighteous?  How can he render a righteous verdict on lives that are unrighteous?  On the face of it, such an apparently false verdict does not glorify God’s righteousness but shames and disgraces it.  Where is God’s righteousness in imputing (reckoning or counting) righteous those who are ungodly?

Scripture tells us faith is imputed or reckoned as righteousness (Roms 4:4).  Does this mean that faith itself is the righteousness that God requires to declare us righteous?  No, for this would make righteousness ‘of man’ and not ‘of God.  Understood in this way faith becomes a form of works and the righteousness procured ‘my own’ (a righteousness which Paul repudiates) and not a righteous standing sourced in God. Besides faith itself does not deal with the problem of human unrighteousness; faith cannot cancel existing guilt and is not said to so do.  No, while faith is reckoned for righteousness it is not because faith is itself righteous. The reason faith counts as righteousness must be found elsewhere?

Is, as some say, the righteous life of Christ imputed to the believer as his righteousness?  Well, certainly Scripture does not say it is.  Scripture does not say that God takes the righteous life of Christ and reckons it to us as righteousness.  To be sure the righteous life of Christ gives value and worth to Christ’s death nevertheless the life of Christ it is not said to be imputed.  We must let Scripture speak and not our traditions. Again and again Scripture locates the basis of God’s justifying verdict in the death of Christ.  It is there and there only God finds a basis to declare the ungodly righteous.  The death of Jesus is God’s great initiative to establish a righteousness sourced in him and displaying his glory.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice, we are ‘justified by his grace as a gift‘.  Why?  How?  ‘Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood’.  Here, is God’s righteousness in the gospel.  Here is solved and unveiled the justifying verdict of the unrighteous. Here God finds an adequate moral motive to ‘justify the ungodly‘.  In sinners there is none, in the blood of Christ there is.

Redemption was necessary.  Sin had created a debt that must be paid. It is an offence that must be addressed.  Left unpunished sin impugns God’s righteousness.  God’s glory is at stake where sin is unjudged. The debt of sin must be met. The price must be paid.  It could of course have been paid by God simply wiping out humanity.  But such a way of displaying his righteousness is not where the heart of God truly lies.  He wishes to righteously bless not curse, save not destroy.  Thus the glorious wisdom of the cross. Here God’s heart of love and grace is displayed in all his righteousness in salvation.  Here the debt of man is paid in full and in such a way that God is perfectly glorified in who he essentially is.  

How is this redemptive debt paid?  By faith? No.  By Christ’s life imputed? No. It is paid by the value of the blood of Christ.  Christ’s blood is the ransom price (Rev 5:9).  In the words of Romans again, ‘ and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood, to be received by faith.’

This language is alien to us unless we are familiar with the ceremonies of the OT law (intended as models of what would  be realized in Christ). To these we must turn if we are to understand the basis of our justification.

the mercy-seat

When Israel left Egypt they travelled through the desert living in tents.  God resided among them in his own tent (the tabernacle); it was his travelling palace and sanctuary.  In the innermost tent of this travelling palace was the ark of the covenant.  The ark was a box containing (among other things) the two tablets of the covenant, the law. Covering the box was a slab of pure gold called ‘the mercy-seat’ above which were cherubim (symbols of rule and authority). Although God could not be contained by heaven and earth, the ark was God’s designated throne in the world. From it he ruled Israel and in fact the nations. He ruled righteously, the tablets of law below the throne expressing what he required of man.  If they were flouted then God’s righteous anger would necessarily be aroused for he hates all unrighteousness.  It defies him and destroys all that is good and right.  His throne is dishonoured  and everything defiled by it.  Where sin erupts  under his rule (a defiance of all that God is) his glory (all that he is) must be upheld thus judgement and cleansing/purging must take place.  

And the reality, of course, is that Israel did sin and did arouse God’s anger.  Their sin both defied and defiled yet in grace God provided for sin.  Mercy was available from the very seat of his throne.  It was called, as we noted, ‘the mercy-seat’ or ‘covering’.  Its title hints at its function; although the seat of God’s throne from which he ruled it suggested that God’s rule in a sinful world, although righteous, would be merciful and would provide a covering for broken law.  But it could not be merciful per se.  The slab did not cover sin just by existing.  It functioned in mercy and became a covering for a broken law only when sprinkled with blood.  The blood of an animal sacrificed as a sin offering must be splattered on the mercy-seat and it was the value that God placed on the blood of the sacrifice that enabled him to forgive sins and cleanse from unrighteousness.

The blood meant the High Priest and people (both sinful) did not die, instead the judgement was borne by the sacrifice and God’s holy justice satisfied*.  The blood provided purification.  It cleansed. It made a sinful people clean before God (Lev 16:16, 30).  The blood of a slain goat apparently satisfied God’s moral nature enabling him to accept as righteous an unrighteous people; it (along with the scapegoat) made atonement (Lev 16:16). Blood enabled a throne that must otherwise, because of sin, be a throne of righteous judgement, become a throne of righteous mercy; God could justly justify.

The basic principle of the OT is that it is blood that atones and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebs 9:18-22).   However, these OT sacrifices were of mere dumb animals, in reality they had no atoning worth.  It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebs 10:4). These sacrifices were not pleasing (of moral value) to God (Hebs 9:8).  Their fragrance was merely sensory and not spiritual. Their value was symbolic and not substantial.  They had no intrinsic moral virtue that could deal with the problem of sin.  They but pointed forward to blood of a different value; the blood of Christ.  When Scripture speaks of the blood of animals it simply speaks of ‘blood’ but when it speaks of the blood of Christ it is always identified distinctly with him; it is ‘his blood’ (Roms 3:25), ‘the blood of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16), ‘the blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:27); ‘his own blood’ (Acts 20:28), ‘Jesus blood’ (Hebs 10:19), for it is ‘precious (valuable) blood’ (1 Pet 1:19)

It is the value of this blood, his blood, that enables righteous mercy.  Here was not the blood of an uncomprehending animal but the blood of a Son who voluntarily came to do the will of he who sent him. Animal sacrifices though chosen carefully by men were worthless, Christ’s body, fashioned by God for the express purpose of sacrifice, would be the sacrifice to fulfil and finish all sacrifice (Hebs 10:5).  Every aspect of his full and selfless obedience in life prepared him to be the perfect flawless sacrifice for sin. Every step in life was one of intentional consecrated obedience in the direction of the cross where he would be the sin-bearer.  The cross with all its awful implications of sin-bearing and divine judgement was willingly embraced because it was the will of God.  Here was immeasurable obedience.  Here was a righteous act of surpassing moral worth – the Holy One willing to be made sin and become a curse, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree, the one who had life in himself entering death and dismissing from his body, his spirit.  Here in this conscious and deliberate act of self-immolation, intended that God may act in and through it and be perfectly glorified in all that he is - his truth, wisdom, power, holy wrath, grace, love and righteousness – a ransom was found that redeemed.  The debt of sin was cancelled and indeed so great was the glory that this bloody selfless sacrifice bought to God, God was in turn indebted.  If Christ in an intentionally sin-bearing death (ordained by God and undertaken by his Son) brought such glory to God then God was in righteousness obligated to honour this intent.  He must show mercy for mercy is that for which this righteous blood cries.  Mercy is God’s only righteous response.  And, of course, he does, for the mercy which this blood demands is the same mercy that the throne upon which it lies splattered delights.   Blood, the blood of Christ, is the great basis of justification (Roms 5:9). Hear once more the words of Romans 3

Rom 3:25-26 (HCSB)
God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Here then, is the basis of the justifying righteousness of God, apart from law-keeping, though both law and prophets bore witness to it. It is as simple and plain as it is sublime.  The infinite value of Christ’s atoning blood is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness by faith.   When God sees Christ in death he sees a mercy-seat covered in blood, the blood of sacrifice for sin, blood that pays debt and cleanses and thus he can be righteous and declare righteous those who have faith in Jesus.  This is the righteousness ‘of God’; he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Thus with Horatius Bonar we say

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God

’Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

And with Isaac Watts

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

 

 *  Controversy rages as to whether atonement simply expiates (removes sin) or also propitiates (removes wrath).  It appears to do both.  Wrath after all is simply the divine reaction to sin.  Thus, if the blood does not atone the High Priest and nation die. Death here, as always, is punishment, it is judicial wrath.  In fact, the institution of the Day of Atonement is a direct result of God’s wrath erupting in fiery judgement, a symbol of consuming wrath, because of disobedience (Lev 16:1).

Lev 10:1-7 (ESV)
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Fire consuming is a symbol of purifying judgement.

Exod 15:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, ​​​​​​​your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; ​​​​​​​you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. ​​​

Deut 4:23-24 (ESV2011)
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Lam 2:3 (ESV2011)
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.

Thus the fire that consumes the sacrifice implies righteous wrath and judgement, propitiation.

Lev 6:8-13 (ESV)
​The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

Lev 6:24-30 (ESV)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.

 




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The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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