(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
- 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.”