Archive for the 'Christian Living' Category

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.

20
Nov
12

episcopal vestments… a servant’s apron

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with the apron of humility 1 Peter 5:5

On the 21st of March 2013 the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England will take place.  It will be an occasion of pomp and ceremony.  The design of his enthronement robes is no doubt already underway.  The contrast between these august lavish vestments of glory and those worn by Jesus on the one occasion when he deliberately chose his clothing is salutary;  in John 13, Jesus lays aside his clothes and wraps a servant’s towel, or apron, around his waist… he was among them as a servant and setting them an example of humble service that they may emulate.  The contrast is embarrassing, excruciatingly so, even shameful.

If there is to be an investiture of glory then God will do it and will do it in another world; Jesus will not enact it in this world.  Christ’s only coronation here was a donkey ride into Jerusalem, a crown of thorns, and the enthronement of a cross. His Church shares the same distinction.  In this world, until the King’s return, we bear a cross and not a crown – in that shame we may glory.

14
Nov
12

john 13… footwashing… cleansing

jesus, the son of god

In John’s gospel there is no Bethlehem story.  There are no shepherds, no wise men, and no swaddling clothes or manger.  There is simply John’s terse expression, ‘the Word became flesh’.  John reveals an origin far more profound than Mary or the City of David.  Jesus was ‘in the beginning with God… he was with God and was God’ (Jn 1:1).  He was the ‘I am’ who existed before Abraham (Jn 8:58).  All that the ‘I AM’ of the OT (Ex 3:14) was to the world and his people finds expression in Jesus; he is the light and life of mankind and the Shepherd of his people (Jn 10).  For John, Jesus is not simply the Son of David or Son of Man, he is the ‘Son of God’.  Pilate, on being informed that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, asks him where he is from (Jn 19:9).  John, or rather Jesus, has answered this question repeatedly; he comes not merely from Bethlehem or Nazareth but ‘from above’ (Jn 3:31), ‘from heaven’ (6:38), ‘from God’ (Jn 6:46).  And he is ‘from God’ in the fullest possible sense of the phrase just as he is in the fullest possible sense of the phrase, ‘God’s Son’ (Jn 3:16); he has come ‘from the Father’ (Jn 16:28), is stamped by the unique glory of ‘the only Son of the Father’ (Jn 1:14), and through this Father-Son intimacy fully reveals the Father’s glory (Jn 1:18, 14:7,9). John leaves us in no doubt that Jesus is the divine Son who shared eternally the essential glory of the Father (Jn 17:5).  He is ‘sent’ by the Father (Jn 3:34, 7:33) and in the glory of submissive divine-son-obedience humbles himself to become a man that the light and life of God may be seen and may save those who believe.

By John 13, the Son’s’ mission in the world is almost over.  He has nothing further to say to it.  He has been in the world, the world that was made by him, and it has not known him (Jn 1:10); the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness has not apprehended (grasped) who he is (Jn 1:5).  The incomprehension, as always, is moral not intellectual, and provokes the judgment: ‘the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (Jn 3:19).  The world hated him because he testified to it that its deeds were evil (Jn 7:7, 8:43).  As long as he is in the world he is the light of the world (Jn 9:5) but he warns that the light will be among them only ‘a little longer’ and they must trust before the darkness overtakes them (12:35, Cf. 7:33,34).  The next and last time the world will see the Son in self-humbling is at the cross.

The cross in John, has a unique perspective. There is no Gethsemane sweat in John, no ‘let this cup pass from me’.  Though his soul is troubled, he will not say, ‘Father save me from this hour’ for to this purpose and hour he came into the world (Jn 12: 27).  Neither is there stumbling on the via dolorosa, no substitute carries his cross, and there is no agonizing cry of dereliction. The cross, in John, although a place of suffering, is less a spectacle of weakness than of power; it is where the Prince of the world is cast out and the world, not the Son, is judged (Jn 12:31).  Crucified, paradoxically, Jesus will be less shamed than glorified (Jn 12:23). He will be ‘lifted up’ with all the rich ambiguity of this phrase fully intended by John for it will be where his glory is revealed through which all men will be drawn to him (Jn 12:32, 3:14, 8:28); at the cross, the Son will be glorified and God glorified in him (Jn 13:31).

But the cross in John is also intricately and inextricably connected to ‘going to the Father’.  For if at the cross God is glorified in Christ then God will glorify Christ in himself (that is, along with him) and will do so immediately (Jn 13:32).  Indeed, in John 13-17, it is sometimes difficult to discern if glorification refers to the cross or to the exaltation to the Father, both, for John, are so intimately connected. He had come from the Father and was about to return to the Father (Jn 16:28).  He came from God and is about to return to God (Jn 13:3).  He had descended from heaven and will now ascend to heaven that he might fill all things (Jn 3:13; Eph 4:10). For John, he is a divine person on earth, the Son, who fully knows where he came from and where he is going to, all is under his control, including his death where he personally dismisses his spirit (Jn 8:14, 19:30); no-one takes his life from him, he has authority to lay it down and to take it again (Jn 10:18).

But going to the Father means leaving the disciples and the disciples are his own whom he loves (13:1). They will be left ‘in the world’ (Jn 17:15), and ‘sent into the world’ (Jn 17:18) to live as their Lord, ‘not of the world’ (Jn 17: 14), indeed as those united with him ‘out of the world’ (Jn 17:6-19).  He, of course, will be ‘out of the world’ literally when he returns to the Father (Jn 13:1) but his own are to be ‘out of the world’ morally for they will be united to him through the Spirit, who will focus their hearts on him where he is (Jn 16:14).

This dangerous future without the immediate presence of Jesus comes as a total shock to his disciples. Thus, in 13-17 we have the heart of Jesus poured out in love for these he loves preparing them through word and action for this dismaying and completely unexpected turn of events.  They expected him imminently to set up the kingdom in Jerusalem and reign.  They envisaged a rosy future.  They did not grasp that his kingdom was not of this world and did not require Peter’s sword (Jn 18:10, 36).  Thus, although they will not immediately grasp the enormity of what is about to happen, he teaches these uncomprehending disciples he loves knowing they will understand afterwards and so be confirmed and consolidated  in faith (Jn 13:7, 12:16).  It is not his own Passion but his passionate concern for his own whom he loves that concentrates his mind; having loved his own which were in the world he loves them to the end (Jn 13:1; Cf. 18:8).  His heart is keen to prepare them for his ‘going to the Father’ that they may not be so inordinately dismayed and dislocated when events overtake them that they fall away (Jn 14:1,27; 16:1-4; Cf. Jn 6:52-66; Lk 7:23)

The feet-washing by Jesus in Ch 13 is a an integral part of this loving preparation for future-shock.

footwashing

Foot-washing, as we can imagine, was no pleasant task.  It was usually undertaken by a servant or slave in a house and the most menial one at that.  Little wonder the dismay when Jesus takes a towel and prepares himself to wash his disciples feet.  No wonder Peter protests so vigorously.  For Jesus, their Lord and Master, to wash their feet was inappropriate, and massively so.  John underlines the incongruity when he writes,

John 13:3-5 (ESV2011)
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Yet, it is the very sense of his identity (the one who has come from God and is going to God) and his destiny (the Father had given all things into his hands) that apparently prompts Jesus to wash his disciples feet.  What is he teaching?

literal or metaphoric

Some take it that he is teaching that his followers they must serve each other in self-humbling love by literally wash one another’s feet as he has literally washed theirs.  Undoubtedly, he is teaching his followers the need when he is gone to serve each other in self-humbling love.  However, while there is no reason to exclude literal feet-washing as on occasion an appropriate application, it would be a mistake to understand Jesus call for his followers to emulate him literally and insist on it legalistically, not least since we have no record of feet-washing practised by his disciples in Scripture (though godly widows washed the feet of believers 1 Tim 5:10).

More cogently still, the text itself leads us to believe Jesus had something other in mind than literal feet-washing or even a general call to self-humbling service.    Peter who initially resists the washing is told by Jesus, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ (Jn 13:8)  He then goes on to distinguish between an initial bathing they have already received and on-going washings (13:10,11). It is clear he sees both as symbols of spiritual realities.

cleansing

The disciples (Judas apart) had experienced complete initial bathing, the washing of regeneration (Jn 13:10, 15:3, 3:5; Tit 3:4) but as those bathed and clean they live and walk in a polluted world and the pollution so easily sticks.  Thus, just as bathed people found the dirty roads of Palestine meant they needed to regularly rewash their feet to remain clean so Jesus followers while already spiritually bathed need regular spiritual feet-washing by Jesus to remain clean.  And so by this act of feet-washing Jesus instructs his own to the role he would perform on their behalf when he returned to the Father as the one controlling all things.  He was about to leave them but he would not cease to serve them.  He would give himself when glorified to this self-humbling task of spiritual foot-washing; his love would make him a servant forever (Ex 21:5,6  Cf. Lk 12:37).

Of course, the disciples did not really grasp this at the time, only later (after the Spirit is given) is the Advocacy (1 John) and High-Priestly activity of the reigning King-Priest-Son understood (Hebrews).  Thus Jesus says, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ (Jn 13:7).   Tragically, the church in the West has often been dim in its understanding too.  Jesus teaches here initial complete cleansing and ongoing cleansing.  The Roman Catholic Church grasp the need for ongoing cleansing but seriously downplay initial complete cleansing: the Protestant Church has sometimes so stressed the initial cleansing that it has left little room for ongoing cleansing.  All too often, ongoing cleansing is decried as pietistic and an insufficient grasp of justification.  This is a serious mistake. We must maintain Jesus’ teaching in the balance he does.  There is initial cleansing that is absolute and complete.  Complete bathing is the moral expression of being a partaker of the divine nature; it is the new birth (Jn 3:5; Tit 3:4).  But there is also a necessary ongoing cleansing from the contaminating of sin in this world.  There is an ongoing need to come to our Lord in heaven confessing our sins and receiving his spiritual foot-washing (1 Jn 1:9).  Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to say that unless this takes place we have no share in him (13:8).  He is not saying that the first initial washing is insufficient but perhaps he is saying that those who feel no need for regular ongoing washing have never been washed in a complete way (bathed) in the first place.  At any rate, he insists both cleansings or washings are integral to of the life of faith and having a part in him.

We need to grasp this.  Purity is necessary for the presence of God.  It is ours once-for-all in the cleansing at the cross through the blood of Christ (2 Pet 1:9; Cf. Acts 15:9).  It is this that enables us to enter his presence and live.  Indeed this cleansing gives us confidence to enter the holiness (Hebs 9:18-21).  Our bodies have been washed with pure water (Hebs 10:28). Thus, our conscience is robust and we can be in God’s presence with sins forgiven, a purified people (Hebs 9:14).  We have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus once-for-all (Hebs 10:10) and as such are assured we are God’s children, God’s sons.

Heb 2:10-11 
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.For he who sanctifies [Christ] and those who are sanctified all are one [believers]. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers

Incidentally, the Hebrew writer does not mean that we become one with him in this incarnation but in his exaltation.  In incarnation, Christ becomes one of us that he may die for our sins but it is in exaltation that we become one with him and share in the results of his death.  Jesus, Son by nature and declared to be so in power by the Spirit of holiness in his resurrection (Roms 1:4) unites us to him by the same Spirit, who makes us alive with Christ constituting us God’s sons by adoption and so Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers.  Similarly, Jesus’ foot-washing is not, as some suggest, a symbol of his self-humbling service on earth but his self-humbling service exalted in heaven.  Thus, to repeat, believers have a bathing, a cleansing, a purifying that is once-for-all (Cf. 1 Cor 6:11).

But as soon as bathed believers step into the light of God’s presence they become aware of the contaminating sin they have picked up in daily life.  They are aware they have dirty feet.  They know this is unbecoming in God’s presence. They are embarrassed by it and shamed by it.  Indeed, to be indifferent to known sin would be offensive to God.  If dirty feet are offensive in our houses how much more so God’s house, his heavenly temple.  Our defilement prevents fellowship and cleansing is needed.  This awareness of sins defilement may come through the word (Eph 5:26) or through the Spirit for both are used by the risen Lord as he seeks to daily wash away our defilement.  The Word and Spirit alert us to our sins and impress upon us the need for ongoing cleansing fostering within our hearts the desire for such cleansing (2 Cor 7:1; Jas 4:8;1 Jn 3:3).  And so, as sons aware of our defilement, we confess our sins and immediately there is nothing between us and God.  We walk in the light as he is in the light and enjoy fellowship with him and each other.  All this seems to be the meaning of the foot-washing by Jesus in John 13.

We should note too that Jesus involves us all in the task of foot-washing (Jn 13:14,15).  No longer were the disciples to leave all to Christ, they should each look to the needs of the other.  They are not rivals for a place in the kingdom but runners in the marathon of faith who strengthen and support each other in the race (Hebs 12:13,14). We do this when we bring God’s Word to each other.  When I bring the truth of God’s Word to my fellow believer whether in encouragement, rebuke, training in righteousness, promise etc (2 Tim 3:16) I am foot-washing.  Don’t leave foot-washing to the Sunday sermon; we are all called to minister the Word into each other’s life.

And so, in John 13, Jesus, the divine Son, teaches his own visually what he will develop verbally through the following chapters, namely why he is going away and how he will serve them when he goes to fit them for where he is.  These chapters (13-17) assumes his ascension.  If he has in love served them before in self-humbling love then when glorified he will do so more than ever. For love delights to serve (Lk 12:37). Having loved his own who are in the world he will love them utterly (which is, I believe, the meaning of the expression in the ESV, ‘to the end’).

31
Oct
12

only those who love, hate

Hate is scarcely considered a virtue in our Western world.  Christians too have little appetite for advocating hatred.  Now, of course, there are understandable reasons for this.  All too often human hatred is for all the wrong reasons and leads to just as wrong actions.  However, hatred itself is not wrong and indeed may well be godly.  God hates.

God hates all evildoers (Ps 5:5). He hates: all robbery and wrongdoing (Isa 61:8); the wicked and any who love violence (Ps 11:5); those who oppose him while claiming to be his people (Jer 12:8; Hos 9:15); every form of idolatry (Jer 44:4; Deut 16:22); and hypocritical religion (Amos 5:21).

Proverbs instructs us

Prov 6:16 -19
There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

Now while this list is pretty comprehensive we must not think it is exhaustive.  Many other examples of things that God hates are recorded in Scripture.  The biblical God, who is love, hates.  Nor is this hatred to be found only in the God of the OT, someone we are (wrongly) told is inferior to the God of the NT (a claim that is arrant unbelief and wickedness).  The God who reveals himself in Jesus hates too.  It is the risen reigning Christ who says to the church at Ephesus,

Rev 2:6
Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

In fact, in a fallen world, it is impossible to truly love without hating.  If we love truth then we must hate lies.  If we love righteousness then we will (like Messiah) hate lawlessness (Ps 45:7) for what fellowship has light with darkness or lawlessness with righteousness (2 Cor 6:14)   Genuine love abhors what is evil and clings to what is good (Roms 12:9).

In Rachel Ray, a delightful love story, Anthony Trollope observes, ‘strong love for the thing loved necessitates strong hatred for the thing hated.’  He was right and simply echoing Scripture.  We may be sure today that one of the reasons we do not hate evil and wickedness as we ought is because we do not love God as we ought.  Our hatred of what is sinful is weak because our love for God and all that is right is insipid.  If we truly love the light we will hate the darkness.  If we really love the life of the Spirit then we will hate the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude v23).

All too often it is not our lack of knowledge that is the cause of disobedience and indifference to sin but our lack of love.  We do not have the jealous love we ought for God’s glory.  We have not the holy love and fear of God that makes us hate evil for the fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil (Prov 1:22).

As Christians we should love what God loves and hate what he hates.  Hate, properly directed, is indeed a godly emotion.  We should hate all unrighteousness, all evil and perversity (Ps 97:10, 101:3).  We should hate false teachers or prophets.  We should hate every form of bribery (Ex 18:21).  We should hate company that is intent on mischief and ungodliness (Ps 26:5).  We should hate all idolatry and idolaters (Ps 31:6).  We should hate and abhor all guile, all deceit, and every false word and way (Ps 119:104, 163; Prov 8:13, 13:5), all double-mindedness (Ps 119:113) dishonest gain (Prov 28:16) for God hates all abominable things (Deut 12:31).

We should hate all who hate the Lord (Ps 139:21).  Our heartbeat should be that of the Psalmist when he wrote,

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!   They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain.  ​Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?   I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

But are we not told to love our enemies?  Are we not to do good to those who abuse us?  Did not Christ say, ‘Father forgive them’?  ‘Indeed’ is the answer to all three questions.  The reality is, like God, we are called to love and hate at the same time.  We are to love for God is love and extends his love to the unworthy and sinners.  We love because he first loved us.  Yet from another perspective we are to hate.  We are to hate the wicked because God hates the wicked (Ps 11:5).

Many have tried to reconcile these opposites by the maxim ‘God loves the sinner but hates the sin’.  I have some sympathy with this observation and feel it does go a little way in explaining the apparent paradox, however, the stubborn fact remains that Scripture does not say this; it does not simply say God hates wickedness or evil, it says he hates the wicked and evildoers.  He not only hates lies, he hates liars (Prov 6:19).  He hates not merely discord but ‘he who sows discord’ (Ps 16:19).  He will destroy not simply wickedness but the wicked (Ps 145:20); it is not merely principles but also people who are cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).

The truth is that who we are cannot be so easily separated from what we are; actions reveal identity.  Our identity is defined by what we are in our heart and human hearts are invincibly opposed to God and full of evil.  Our actions are simply the overflow of what is in our heart, our corrupt nature.  Wickedness is not a part of us, it is us.  Thus God loves us  for no other reason than that he chooses to love us, for his heart delights in love.  So too we ought to love one another, not because we are loveable but because God has placed his heart of unconditional love with us – he has in grace made us partakers of the divine nature.  Conversely, God’s hate is deserved and morally virtuous, even vital.  Light must hate darkness else it is not light.  Truth must abominate the lie.  Good must be repelled by evil else it is not good.

And so, God both loves and hates sinners and so do we.  I long for sinners to repent and embrace the gospel because God has placed his unconditional love within my heart  yet I also long for all who resist God and defy his glory to be destroyed, love for God and right can do no less.  Even the world hates in this way to some extent.  Have you noticed that the world does not simply hate paedophilia, it hates paedophiles?  It does not separate the person from the sin.

But to return to our subject…

As noted above, a great deal of our myopia as believers flows more from weak spiritual affections than our understanding.  Faint love accounts for a great deal we get wrong.  That is what Augustine was getting at when he said,  ‘love God and do what you will’.  Love opens our hearts to the mind of our lover and commits us to his pleasure.  We love what he loves and hate what he hates.  Love gives a clear eye; this is why many a simple believer has a much deeper grasp of God and his ways than the degree-laden biblical scholar for love not learning opens the spiritual eye. Spiritual blindness is a moral problem not an intellectual one.

And so to end where we began… we do not hate because we do not love.  If I am not revulsed by ungodliness and vexed in my soul by unrighteous behaviour and filthy speech then it is because I do not love as I ought.  If sexual perversion and promiscuity is not to me abhorrent and violence is not loathsome then my love is weak and insipid.  If I do not abominate the inter-faith pluralism so vaunted today then I have no jealous love for the singular glory of God, a glory he will not share with another.  If the lies of false teachers are a small thing to me then I do not value Christ who is the truth.  If I do not hate, then I do not love.

Is there enough hate in your heart to identify you as a lover?

16
Aug
12

christian obedience and pseudo-christian obedience

Firstly, a word of apology to those who have dipped into this blog over the summer looking for something fresh to read.   For reasons of holidays, responsibilities and the need for a rest I have posted nothing in the last couple of months.  Today, I hope to dip my toe in the blogosphere once again with a short post reflecting on Christian obedience and its imposter, pseudo-Christian obedience.  I fear many of us are given more to the latter than the former.

What is Christian obedience?

Christian obedience is that attitude of faith that begins and continues each day determined to live by faith.  It is a daily conscious allegiance to God (through the Spirit) that daily asks, ‘Lord what will you have me to do?’  It is the obedient ear of the one whose ear is opened morning by morning ready to be instructed in the divine will.  It says at every point, including the difficult ones, not my will but yours be done.  It is not merely concerned with avoiding sin but eagerly pursues righteousness.  More, it seeks to live the resurrection life by taking up the cross and following Christ, by living as one crucified.

Christian obedience is by its very nature Christ-like obedience.  We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6).  It is an aspirational obedience modelled on that of Christ.  Christ had come not to do his own will but the will of he who sent him.  His delight was in that will.  He was the Son who would do the things that the Father had given him to do whatever the  personal cost.  It was the word of his Father that was his food and drink.  He did always the things that were pleasing to the Father.  He seeks to please the Father, copy his Father.  He does only the things that he sees his Father do.  He is caught up in the perspective and plans of his Father for he loves the Father and wishes to bring honour to him.  And so he will not love his own life but lose it and in that losing of it will know even more the love of the Father (Jn 10:17).  He knows that his obedience keeps him in his Father’s love and urges this same obedience on his disciples (Jn 15:10).  It is in this unqualified commitment to obedience, whatever it may cost, that they will demonstrate their love for him and know and enjoy the Father’s love and the security it brings (Jn 14:21).  Christ’s obedience is such that he is conscious the Father loved him before the foundation of the world (Jn 17:24).   Indeed this very love is what enables him to obey and experience the pain of rejection and the passion of Calvary.  For the sacrifice the Father demands flows from the Father’s love and must ultimately be for the Son’s blessing; if one is conscious of being loved one knows that what is asked of us must be good, acceptable and perfect (Roms 12).  One knows it will result in glory.

In a word Christian obedience is filial obedience; it is the obedience of a son who loves his father and is loved by him.  It is without conditions.  There is no bit in the mouth forcing the direction.  It is simply the whisper in the ear, ‘this is the way…walk in it’.  Such is Christian obedience and when embarked upon it brings  rich reward.  The heart is full of peace and rest.  Relationship with God in Christ is strong and assured.  We know God and are assured we are known of God.  Our hearts are full of love, joy and peace in the Spirit and we know a holy boldness and wisdom.

But our experience is not always like this, is it?

All too often our obedience flows from a different premise altogether.  It is a pale and pathetic devilish parody of Christian obedience.  If truth be told it is not really obedience at all.  I am speaking of that ‘obeying’ which is simply concerned with doing the minimum necessary to meet the demands of conscience and avoid a sense of impending judgement.  It is the ‘obeying’ which is content with merely avoiding of what is positively and evidently wrong and has little appetite for pursuing what is positively good.   It asks only what is objectively right and wrong but avoids discerning between what is good and best.   It does not have the spiritual interest in discerning and pursuing what is excellent (Phil 1:10) so that we may be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ (Phil 2:11).

It goes without saying that this kind of ‘obeying’ steers well away from cross-bearing righteousness.  Its righteousness is no more than that of the pharisee.  It seeks to be moral, even religiously moral, but has no notion of what it means to have died to self.  It cannot, for the one thing it seeks to avoid is dying to self.  It is keen to keep autonomy.  It is keen to protect self.  It is, isn’t it, mere fleshly ‘obeying.  Mere rule-keeping.  The rules are likely to be some Christianized version of the Ten Commandments with C21 accretions, subtractions, and adaptations.  They may differ a little in detail from the Ten Words but the spirit with which they are embraced is the same; if I can only live by these at some rudimentary level then I can satisfy conscience, feel good about myself, and keep myself on the right side of God.  How far we fall from grace.

For of course this is a morality that has little grasp of grace.  There is little concept of sonship here.  We have no delight in the will of a Father who loves us.  We are suspicious that his will is not so ‘good, acceptable and perfect’.  We are not secure in his love.  And, ironically, the more we pursue an obedience of minimum righteousness the less confirmed in that love we will be.  God will cease to be the Father who loves us and whose will we can trust to be in our best interests and will become the God who judges.  We, in turn will ‘obey’ through fear of judgement rather than out of love responding to love.  We will live not as sons but as slaves.  Our obedience will be law-obedience rather than grace-obedience for such ‘obedience’ is mere legalism.

And yet, how often it is our functional obedience.  Our decisions revolve around mere ethical abstractions.  Am I avoiding murder, stealing, and adultery and am I keeping the Sabbath?  What is the harm in this film or that novel?  How little prayer and Bible reading is acceptable?  What level of pre-marital petting is permissible?  Can I get away with this low-cut dress?  Is it okay to introduce some earthy vocabulary into my speech. Can I take part in sport on Sundays and miss church?    What’s wrong with gardening, holidaying,  shopping , advancing our careers?   Our obedience becomes all about boundaries and generally how far we can stretch them.

Now I am not saying we should never ask these questions.  Far from it.  Christian living means we have to do some hard thinking (and Bible-based thinking) about these and other questions.  But when these are the sum and substance of what we think Christian obedience is about and when we ask them with a view merely of allowing us greater wriggle room to do what we want to do and avoid doing what we don’t want to do we have lost the plot.  That all things should be done to edify we have long forgotten.   For me to live is Christ is not part of our frame of reference.  All is mere religious moralising and self-justification.

Little wonder we are dissatisfied in our faith.  Little wonder God seems distant.  There is no reciprocity of love here… no Father/Son  dynamic… no sense that we are loved of the Father.  There is no eager obedience because the Father loves us and so that he will have reason to love us even more.  No being caught up as a son in the business of the Father.  No asking what is my Father doing in this world and how does he want me to be involved in this with him….what is my Father’s will for me?  No shared agenda, shared desires, shared work, shared goals.  And where these are absent relationships die.  Where a son  does enough merely to avoid his father’s wrath or, worse still, from mercenary motives (to get something out of his father that he wants) there is little relationship.  The relationship is dying and will soon be dead.  Far less is there the spirit that suffers the loss of all things and counts them as dung to gain Christ…. the desire to know him and the power of his resurrection through sharing in his sufferings.

I could go on but I hope the point is clear.  As believers all too often we flit in and out of each of these forms of obedience.  At our best we live as sons who eagerly embrace the Father’s will.  But all too often faith fails and we fall from grace.  We slip back into a legalistic ‘obedience’ that is no obedience at all.  We  fall back on the flesh  and mere morality and do not live in the spirit.  But the obedience of the flesh is the way of death.  For fallen flesh is not subject to God nor can be.  Our attempts to create a minimum obedience reveal this only too clearly; God and his will is held at arm’s length as best we can.   We fool neither God nor ourselves.   It is an unhappy place for a Christian to be.  I know  because so often this is my functional obedience.

Allow me to give you my own experience.  Far too often I am determined to follow a certain path.  I find myself so determined that I avoid asking the Lord if this is his will.  I step away from honesty in my relationship with the Lord and fall back on specious casuistic reasoning.  I (secretly) believe that my will is better than the Lord’s.  The result is a loss of intimacy with the Lord and a loss of shalom.  On the other hand when I walk in step with the Spirit and have a heart yielded to the Lord then I find that some of these issues that I agonized over trying to justify suddenly become very clear. I no longer need to agonize over that film to determine whether it is acceptable or not, I simply know that it is not for me.  And, ironically, some of these things that I feared the Lord may withhold from me, I discover he graciously grants.  That rest that I needed, when I ask him about it his wisdom tells me I do indeed need and should take without guilt or having to justify.  I discover that his will is good, acceptable and perfect and my soul rejoices.  When my eye is single, I discover that my whole body is full of light.  I discover too what it truly is to live in the liberty of Christ.  In Augustine’s words, ‘Love God and do what you will (please)’.   O that my foolish heart trusted more consistently and fully.

Let us follow the way of gospel-driven, grace-saturated, Spirit-fueled, son-conscious obedience, the obedience of Christ and recognise our pseudo-legalistic-fleshly-slave- obedience for what it is – a parody of obedience invented by Satan that dishonours and displeases God and dissatisfies and dispossesses us.

31
May
12

preaching about suicide

First of all, a further apology for such a time between posts.  Productivity is likely to remain low over the next couple of months so apologies again in advance.

On a recent Sunday past, a group of students from a nearby Bible College were responsible for our Morning Bible Hour.  Their preacher was a young Dutchman who  spoke ably.  His topic was interesting, indeed arresting.  He spoke in a general and pastoral way on Psalm 23 and made a number of pertinent comments.  He related the Psalm to a very personal and moving account of his young, pregnant sister-in-law’s tragic suicide some three years previously.

The juxtaposing of Psalm 23 and the suicide of a confessing believer in Christ was startling and provocative.

Psalm 23 extols God’s providential care of his people.  David, a literal shepherd in his youth and in his adult life, as King of Israel, a shepherd of a different sort (for kings in Israel were regularly described as shepherds of God’s people), confesses rightly and humbly, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’.  The Psalm extols the shepherding care of God in David’s life.  Whether in pleasant times (when led by still waters) or difficult dark times (in the valley of the shadow of death) the Lord is his protector and keeper.  David need fear no evil.  Indeed in the very midst of his enemies, when threatened on every side, David’s faith depicts the Lord seating him at a banquet; the Lord’s provision makes a mockery of his enemies and every fearful situation.  David is safe in the epicentre of the storm because the Lord provides abundantly.

The question hangs begging in the air.  Why then did the young Dutchman’s sister-in-law commit suicide?  If God protects his people then why did he not prevent this young mother (and mother-to-be) from self harm?  Where is the God who gives banquets to his troubled and beleaguered people?

It would be a foolish person who did not see that here we are in deep waters.  Deep waters for faith that is.  This kind of topic is neither easy (or safe) to preach or post on for not only is suicide a subject that sends a chill down the spine of most but, more pertinently, who knows whether those who hear or read are themselves contemplating suicide or have a relative who has taken this tragic course. Discoursing on suicide means we must be particularly conscious of our audience.

So what points ought preachers to make when grappling with the subject of suicide of a believer?  Let me suggest a few.

1.  Preachers should stress the need for those who feel suicidal to see their doctor, and soon.  Many suicides arise from clinical depression.  Clinical depression is an illness that drastically skews our thinking.  It is not merely the normal experience of being down in the dumps.    People who are clinically depressed are unable to raise their mood however hard they try.   For whatever reason something has ceased functioning as it ought in their brain or nervous system that results in a mind flooded with dark thoughts and a mood that is deeply depressed and perhaps anxious.  They have a sustained disturbance of mood that is tangible, abnormal, and profoundly affecting their sense of well-being.  Medical attention can help dramatically.  The depression and symptoms can be treated (and significantly alleviated) and the underlying cause diagnosed and tackled.  Clinical depression is pathological; it is an illness and should be recognised as such.

Preachers should stress that just as a heart condition or blood pressure or a broken leg requires medical treatment (and perhaps lifestyle change) so too does clinical depression.  The depressed person is as clinically ill as is the person with say angina.  And while there may be spiritual issues that the illness reveals or creates (as there may be in any illness) the whole story is not likely to be spiritual.  The advice to see their GP soon and speak openly must be clear and unambiguous.  Where symptoms of depression or anxiety are persisting and are moderate to severe in intensity a visit to the doctor is a must and preachers must avoid suggesting the whole matter is spiritual and must be handled at that level.

Let me say it once again, preachers who preach about suicide and depression and other depression related topics must impress, as part of their message, the value of visiting the doctor, to fail to do so is irresponsible.  Medical attention can help dramatically.

2.  Preachers should not pronounce whether the person who has committed suicide is presently in heaven or hell.  They should avoid this for reasons both theological and pastoral.  They should avoid pronouncements for the simple reason that they do not know.  Preachers simply do not have the authority to pontificate for the Bible gives no sure word on this. Preachers have no theological mandate.

At one time the almost uniform view was that no suicide has eternal life.  Nowadays the opposite view prevails.  Preachers tend to fall over themselves to assure those who grieve that their loved one is in heaven. Such diametrically opposing views exist because pastors go beyond what Scripture reveals. On the one hand those in Scripture who commit suicide (like Saul and Judas Iscariot) are hardly comforting company.  It is those faithful unto death who are promised the crown of life (Rev 2:10).  Scripture affirms that it is those who stand firm to the end who are saved (Matt 24:13).  Endurance in faith is a hallmark of the redeemed (Hebs 6:11; Cf Rev 13:10). At the same time, God is not unrighteous and will not forget their work and love (Hebs 6:10).  More could be said here but for brevity’s sake I shall say no more.

Save this…

Pastorally it is disastrous to affirm those who commit suicide will be in heaven.  For the believer in the audience with suicidal thoughts such cavalier assurances act like green lights.  For some, the only brake on suicide is the worry that they may end up somewhere worse.  This is a healthy fear and is no bad deterrent and preachers should not undermine it by pronouncing where they have no word from the Lord.

Where the Bible remains silent we should remain silent.  In this way we avoid encouraging possible suicides or devastating grieving relatives and we stay within the bounds of ‘it is written’.

3.  Preachers should make clear that suicide is always an expression of a collapse of faith.  I imagine I hear shocked protest.  However, we must be blunt and unambiguous.  It is never faith that leads to suicide.  Faith trusts God.  It never gives up.  It never despairs.  It never loses hope.  Faith endures.  Suicide results from a loss of hope.  It flows from despair.  It happens when the pain (emotional or physical) is so great that the person no longer believes the resources are available to cope with it. When pain exceeds pain-coping resources, suicidal feelings are the result.  To believe we have no resources is the essence of unbelief.

Now it may be that the mind which commits suicide is so overwhelmed and distorted that all personal responsibility is gone.  None of us knows – only God knows.

I speak about this subject with some personal insight.  I have known deep depression that created suicidal thoughts.  I know others who have similarly suffered from depression and experienced suicidal thoughts.  In my case, profound and deep though the depression was, insistently mind-altering though it was, I did not lose completely the sense of personal responsibility and accountability. Indeed it was faith asserted when I did not understand and when my mind was screaming otherwise that preserved me.   To have succumbed to suicidal thoughts would only have been possible had I finally (however briefly) abandoned faith.

Perhaps there are depths of depression where such abandonment is inevitable and leave the person without any responsibility for their actions.  I do not know… and neither do you.  What we can say, is whether faith is abandoned knowingly (and so culpably) or otherwise, it is nevertheless abandoned and it is this that frees the person to commit suicide.  Where there is clinging faith there is hope and no suicide.

Of course, the person who commits suicide may have such distorted thinking that he believes he is doing the best/right/believing thing.  He is convinced he is a burden on others etc.  We should be clear (and preachers should make clear)that such ‘convictions’ are not true faith but a deception of Satan.  Again, true faith clings to God and what Scripture has revealed even when the mind and spirit are being swamped by all kinds of deceptive lies.

Again, I ask, is there a point at which the lies become so overwhelming, so compelling, that all personal responsibility is gone?  Only God knows.  But one way or another, either culpably or otherwise, faith has collapsed and the preacher, let me repeat, should make clear that this is the case.  We do none any favours by shielding them from this harsh reality.

This collapse of personal faith by the suicide is what helps us make sense – at least to some extent – of the tension that seems to exist between the announcement of Psalm 23 that God is the shepherd who protects his people and the suicide of a believer.  Why does David feel secure when threatened on every side?  Is it because he is super-brave?  No.  It is because of his faith.  It is because David believes that the Lord is his Shepherd that he is strong in spirit and stands firm.  It his resolve to believe and trust that gives him strength and resilience.  If his faith were to collapse then David would be overwhelmed and crushed.

Yes the Lord keeps his people but he keeps them through faith (Roms 11:30).  It is faith that gives us victory (1 Jn 5:4).  It is the shield of faith that defends us against the fiery destructive darts of Satan (Eph 6).  It is faith that enables us to endure (Hebs 11:27, 12:3; Rev 13:10).  Where there is faith there is endurance and divine keeping and protection.  It is those who trust the Lord promises to keep.  Not those who trusted in the past but those who trust now.  While we trust we are invincible.  When we trust we shall never be put to shame.  It is when we cease to trust we fall and sometimes catastrophically.

Of course, this does not answer all questions.  We are still left asking why the Lord allows faith to collapse.  Why did he allow the Dutch preachers sister-in-law to commit suicide or for that matter the preacher who married my wife and I?  But that question is but one of a whole parcel of such questions.  Why did he allow the young child prayed for and loved to die?  Why did he allow the cancer that took away a loving and needed father?  Why did he allow the pastor to commit adultery?  Why the genocide in Rwanda, the killing fields of Cambodia, the WW2 concentration camps?  Why did he permit Job to lose all that he had?  Indeed the most basic question of all – why did he permit Adam to sin?

To these questions no answer is given.  Such questions are too wonderful for us.  We are but creatures and God alone is the Creator.   In him alone are found the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Like Job we may in our confusion and pain question God and even, fools that we are, impugn his righteousness.  But like Job we will finally need to learn that God is God and we are but men.  We will need to hear the Lord say to us tenderly but firmly,

Job 40:1-8 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Job:  “Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” … “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Like Job we will need to humble ourselves and discover that what faith really requires is not answers but a fresh vision of God himself, a fresh realization that God is trustworthy even when we are in the dark, that God is righteous and every man a liar and unrighteous.  Then like Job we will confess,

Job 42:3-6 (ESV)
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

In Christ, we have a far greater grasp of the ‘godness’ of God than Job had.  We have far more reason to trust unconditionally. And faith does this; it trusts Christ because of all he is and is content to forego understanding in a host of other areas.

The preacher who discusses suicide will want to make this point, and the previous ones, and perhaps others that I have not considered.  Are there any you feel ought to be included?

16
Apr
12

celebrating the son-rise

(A guest blog by Jim Gamble.)

It was good to celebrate and proclaim the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday. Some argue that it doesn`t really matter whether Jesus was physically resurrected or not and others deny the resurrection altogether, they see it as mere myth or legend. This sort of scepticism is not new of course, even in the early church some Christians had fallen for this error. They had been deceived by the philosophies of the age which said there was no physical resurrection of the dead.

We can read the Apostle Paul`s response to this heresy in 1Cor 15 .

1Cor 15:3-11 (ESV)
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

From v 3 – 4 we see that the reality of the physical death and resurrection of Jesus is so important that God foretold these events hundreds of years before they took place. Twice Paul repeats that phrase – according to the scriptures. The OT prophesied that God would send his Son to die for our sins. But Jesus didn’t just die. He was also raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures.

V 5 – 8 provides some of the historical evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead. God doesn’t expect us to have blind faith or to believe in fairytales and myths. We have already referred to the witness of the OT to the death and resurrection of Jesus and here we also have reference to the eye witnesses who saw Jesus after the resurrection. V5 says that Jesus appeared to Peter, and then the twelve , then to 500 of the brothers and so on … and last of all to Paul himself or Saul of Tarsus as he then was.

Not only did all these people see the risen Jesus, they were changed as a result. This is additional dramatic evidence because on seeing Jesus after his resurrection they were transformed from cowering wrecks into courageous witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. The reality of the resurrection of Jesus gave them the confidence they required to face persecution. The resurrection has this kind of  transforming power.

The main thought then in this short late-Easter blog is this :

The Resurrection has Transforming Power.

The resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives. Just by dwelling on the resurrected Jesus we will be transformed and will find that Jesus himself is at work in us, changing our appetites and desires. All of us are not changed to the same degree. Often we lose the wonder of Jesus and forget to concentrate upon him. But as we dwell on him and in him, Jesus is at work changing every believer to be more like himself.

The courage, the moral strength and resilience, the peace and joy that belong to Christ, he gives to us. His life dwells in those who trust in him. His resurrection gives us the certainty of coming resurrection. This certainty completely changes our present outlook in life.

If there is no resurrection then what have we to live for?. All we have to live for is the pleasure of the moment.  Notice what Paul says in v30 – 32.  ‘And as for us why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day` he says in v31, then he adds, ‘what have I gained by this if Jesus has not actually been raised? If there is no resurrection he says in effect in v32 we may as well just eat drink and be merry for sooner or later we will die.’

You see the point Paul is making?  He is not interested in being a masochist. It is because he is convinced of the reality of the resurrection that he is ready to subject himself to a life of danger. He is willing to face all kinds of hazards including shipwreck, beatings, imprisonment and execution. In fact, it seems almost all of the initial disciples were executed because of their refusal to deny that Jesus rose again.

Paul even describes his sufferings in 2 Cor. 4:17 as ‘light and momentary troubles’ and as ‘achieving an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all’. He is so convinced about the glory of heaven that he can let the things of earth go.

Like Paul then, let’s fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. We can be so focused on our job, our families or on sport or entertainment. Some of us may have been more excited about the Masters at Augusta on Easter Sunday than about the Master! Some of us get more excited by the latest iPad which will be quickly superseded and become obsolete than by eternal realities. Paul reminds us that what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal and imperishable.

Jesus is enthroned in heaven for ever. All power and all authority is given to him. He reigns and he is reigning inside every believer. To meditate on the risen, reigning Lord Jesus brings motivation to be like him, it brings hope, optimism, enthusiasm and certainty.

Only by setting our minds on the one who has been raised victorious over sin and death will we be able to live with victory over sin. His triumph over sin and death opens up for us a life of freedom from fear of death and slavery to sin. The Resurrection of Jesus has that kind of transforming power in our lives.

The Resurrection also has Justifying Power.

Justification is simply “the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him”.

God raised Jesus on the third day as the guarantee that all who put their faith in him are forgiven. They are free from the guilt and penalty of sin. The price has been paid by the death of Jesus. If the cross was Jesus` payment for our sins, then the resurrection marked God`s acceptance of that payment.

Paul is very clear in v 17 of our chapter regarding the implications of denying the resurrection.

17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. And of all men we are most to be pitied.

That’s how vital the resurrection is. The resurrection of Jesus is verification that his death has paid the full price for sin. Because he has been raised justification is certain.

Rom 4: 25 `He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification`.

So then, in the resurrection of Jesus, God is declaring us to be just, to be righteous. This is only possible because in the resurrection the Father declares his Son to be righteous, he vindicates his Son, he vindicates his claims to be the Son of God in power and he shows his absolute delight in his Son .

So too in the resurrection of Jesus we can be justified and the delight of the Father and the vindication of the Father rests upon us. With that justification comes peace. Being justified by faith we have peace with God and assurance of heaven.

Heaven is guaranteed because of the resurrection.

V30 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead , the first fruits (the guarantee) of those who have fallen asleep.

We are freed from the fear of death. Some of us will have witnessed fellow believers and loved ones (some elderly and some not so old) calmly facing death without fear. With the confidence which comes through believing that Jesus has been raised from the dead. In the sure and certain knowledge that the day of resurrection is coming soon for all those who have been transformed and justified by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

`This is of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures`.

Let`s continue to focus our minds on our risen, reigning Lord Jesus not simply in the period of Easter but throughout the year.  Easter is the reality that shapes the whole of our lives.

04
Apr
12

christ and true spirituality

What do visualization (Ignatian Examen or kataphatic prayer), silence, solitude, lectio divina, labyrinth prayers, Stations of the Cross, chanting, induced visions, centering prayer, centering down, and astral projection all have in common?  The answer is they are all forms of mysticism (spirituality) that has been flooding the evangelical world over recent years.  I can pretty well guarantee that if  you have not yet encountered these you soon will.

Now let me say up front that spirituality, or Christian experience of God, is very much part of what it means to be a Christian.  I am appalled by some today (such as Old Life Presbyterians) who have little or no time for Christian experience and dismiss it as mere emotionalism or pietism.  In fact, the pietistic movement in Germany in the C17 began as a healthy biblical reaction to the rigid dogma-driven orthodoxy of the Lutheran church married to a high ecclesiology that, not unlike modern old-lifers, discouraged devotional fervour in the faith of believers.

We must not dismiss Christian experience.  We are converted that we may know God, not merely know about him.  Salvation brings us not only into union with Christ but into communion with him.  We enjoy his presence.  We know what is to ‘dwell in God’.    We are called into the fellowship of the Father and Son, for all who love Christ and keep his word know what it is for the Father and Son to come and make their home in them (Jn 14:22).  Christian experience is abiding in God and God abiding in us (1 Jn 4:15,16).  This is much more than a proper standing, or a theological system, it is relationship and intimacy that brings us into all that God is.  Where the affections are not engaged Christianity is not realized.

However, while communion with God in Christ is what we are called to as Christians, like every other aspect of Christianity Satan is only too ready to corrupt and distort it.  C17 Pietism began well but in time was enticed into various spiritual experiences that had no roots in the gospel and belonged more  to mere mysticism with its emphasis on ecstatic visions of the soul and altered states of consciousness created by ‘spiritual techniques’ rather than beholding the glory of God in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3).

Such mysticism did not originate in the C17.  It plagued the church from its inception.  We have been focussing in recent posts on various aspects of the heresy that harried the Colossian church.  We noted that this heresy was a hydran mixture of philosophy (human wisdom trumping revealed truth), Judaism (human religiosity and laws for holiness becoming a substitute for grasping what it means to have died with Christ to this world), and finally mysticism.  This mysticism was false and dangerous because it offered spiritual experience detached from a singular focus on the revealed Christ.

This danger Paul addresses in the Colossian church when he writes:

Col 2:18-19 (ESV)
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.

Some, it appears, were advocating religious experience through intermediaries (angels) and visionary states of consciousness, perhaps induced through bodily deprivation, that had nothing to do with looking at Christ.  However, these are man-made spiritualities.  They appear wise  but are really self-made religion (Col 2:23) for they are not about the simplicity of holding on by faith to the risen and reigning Christ.

The simple reality is, not all spiritualities are authentically spiritual.   Nowadays the desire for a Christian spirituality is leading some into rather strange places.  Modern mystics like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster promote forms of spirituality that have a lot more to do with Roman Catholic mysticism than genuine biblical faith.  Classic medieval mysticism was virtually unknown in Evangelicalism until popularised by Foster in his ‘Celebration of Discipline, the Path of Spiritual Growth‘.  Voted by Christianity Today as one of the ten best books of the C20, Foster introduced all kinds of dubious mystical techniques into the evangelical consciousness.

How do we stop genuine pursuit of God being corrupted by a false kind of mysticism?  Let me try to answer this question in terms of a few propositions.

true spirituality never divorces itself from objective truth

The Christian gospel is objective truth we are called to believe (Jn 20:31).  Indeed, we grow in the knowledge of God only as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ (Jn 17:3).  There is a tendency in Christian mysticism to pay only lip-service to revealed truth.  As one writer observes,

The essence of mysticism lies in this, that the seat of authority is transferred in the mind of the mystic from the external Word of God to the spiritual consciousness — the “spiritual man” — internal to themselves. Homage of quite an orthodox kind may be verbally rendered to the Scriptures, and yet they may be largely displaced.  It has little or no restraining effect upon the flights of his imagination. He quotes it of course, but only as supporting or illustrating or adorning his own conceptions of truth. His conceptions become the primary thing on which the main emphasis must be laid. Scripture must be interpreted in the light of those conceptions, and its words become of secondary importance.

Evelyn Underhill, a leading Anglo-Catholic mystic of the early C20  confirms the truth of this criticism in saying,

“Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience — one whose religion and life are centered, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which the person regards as first hand personal knowledge.”

Where quests to know God are not founded on what the God who has made himself known has objectively revealed for faith to grasp they soon wind-up as merely fanciful experiences. The subjective trumps the objective and the mystic becomes ‘puffed up with their sensuous mind‘ (Col 2).  The Quakers (or Society of Friends) are a classic example of where for many ‘inner light’ has replaced revealed truth; connection with the head is lost.

true spirituality focusses on an exalted Christ outside of self and not on Christ within

It is true, and wonderfully so, that Christ dwells in the heart of every believer by faith.  Yet it is equally true that we are told to focus on the exalted Christ outside of ourselves and not the Christ within.   The gospel does not encourage pre-occupation with what is happening inside of us.  Instead Paul exhorts,

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.

It is the risen and exalted Christ in glory who is the object of faith and adoration.  We look to Jesus who has triumphantly completed the life of faith and is now seated at the right hand of God. (Hebs 12:2).  Looking within merely leads to self-absorption the very opposite to the self-forgetfulness that the gospel creates.  The kind of mysticism that calls for navel-gazing is not biblical spirituality.

true spirituality has Christ as its object and not spiritual experience itself

The inclination of fallen humanity is to be self-absorbed.  Our human tendency is to make much of ourselves.  We like to be the centre of everything.  If we give in to this everything becomes false.  The flesh loves its own reasoning, its religious observance, and its own religious consciousness. The gospel, however, always takes the focus away from us and on places it on Christ.

False mysticism is interested in religious experience rather than Christ.  It deals largely with ourselves, and our own state and apprehension of the truth. It is occupied not with divine realities themselves, but with how we become conscious of those realities, and of the way they work out certain results in us.

Lectio Divina, meaning “sacred reading,” is a technique that moves beyond the normal reading the Bible. It aims at going beyond the objective meaning of the words  to that which transcends normal awareness.  One writer instructs,

‘As you attend to those deeper meanings, begin to meditate on the feelings and emotions conjured up in your inner self.’

Notice how the technique subtly turns us in on ourselves and our consciousness. It is not about God, it is about us.

Mysticism has about it an apparent profundity of thought and utterance. It promises a far greater depth of understanding, which is alluring, and especially to minds of a certain contemplative type, fundamentally disposed towards introspection and self-occupation.  We can be sure such self-occupation is not biblical spirituality.  As even the Roman Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton writes

‘If I were to say that Christianity came into the world specially to destroy the doctrine of the Inner Light, that would be an exaggeration. But it would be very much nearer to the truth… Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; anyone who knows anyone from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones… Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners’.

true spirituality is not merely aspirations after God in Christ but present enjoyment of him

A feature of much false mysticism is that it is about un-realised desire.  It pants for God but never seems to find him. It longs to know love but never experiences it.  Now we must be careful here for there is always that which is aspirational in faith.  Paul wishes to ‘know Christ’ and reaches out to what he has not yet attained, HOWEVER,  this is within the context of already knowing and enjoying Christ.  The love of God is already shed abroad in his heart (Roms 5).  He already ‘knows the love of Christ which is beyond knowing’ (Eph 3:19).  Yes we wish to be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3:20) but we are already ‘filled’ in Christ, the one in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells (Col 2:9).

We not only desire Christ, we have Christ.  He is the present satisfying object of our love and adoration.  We delight in him, enjoy him, and are complete in him.  In the Spirit he is already for us a spring of water springing up to eternal life, eternally satisfying.

John 4:13-14 (ESV)
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Desire and love are not exactly the same.  Desire is never satisfied.  It does not possess the object of desire, but love does.  Love supposes that we have full possession of the object of our desires.  Love does not so much desire as delight in the one loved.  Mysticism, absorbed as it is with self and feelings, never gets beyond desire; while simple Christianity, giving the knowledge of salvation, puts us into full possession of the love of God.  I know that I am loved and I know the one I love.  Indeed, my very love is self-forgetful, for that is what true love is. Desire turns one in on oneself while love takes one out of oneself and rests on the object loved.

In Christianity, I dwell in love, divine love.  In peace, I contemplate this love, and I adore it in Christ. I dwell in Him and He in me.  In God, and contemplation of him, I am deeply and completely filled and satisfied.  He satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry with good things (Ps 107:9).  Love, peace, joy and unspeakable glory are not elusive but enjoyed realities in Christ.  Yes, I long for more, but I do so from one who is satisfied.  He has already filled the hungry with good things (Lk 1:53).  This biblical tension is important to maintain.

true spirituality is not technique-driven but simply adores God in the risen Christ

A criticism that can be rightly levelled at many spiritualities ancient and modern (for the modern are only the ancient resuscitated) is the degree to which they are technique-driven.  All involve processes to create transcendence.  Now this immediately rings alarm bells, firstly because there is something contrived and manipulated about such techniques, and, secondly, because these ‘techniques’ are hard to find in Scripture.  Sometimes verses are cited in support but often these are asked to deliver much more than they are able.  We have to ask of many of these ‘techniques’ why they are not plainly exhorted in Scripture.

On so-called ‘centering prayer’ (focussing on a single word like ‘love’ or ‘God’ to clear the mind of other thoughts) Tony Campolo comments,

‘In my case intimacy with Christ has developed gradually over the years, primarily through what Catholic mystics call ‘centering prayer.’ Each morning, as soon as I wake up, I take time-sometimes as much as a half hour-to center myself on Jesus. I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter up my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say.’

Letters to a Young Evangelical Pg 20

Henri Nouwen the late Roman Catholic mystic popular in Evangelical circles explains,

“The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart … This way of simple prayer … opens us to God’s active presence” (The Way of the Heart, p. 81)

Yet we are obliged to ask where such a technique is commended in Scripture?  Notice too, Nouwen, is taking us into ourselves rather than outside ourselves.  This is deadly, for immediately we ‘lose connection with the head’ (Col 2).

True spirituality or Christian mysticism is that which contemplates the truth of God revealed in the gospel of Christ.  It is firmly anchored in objective truth and arises from it.  It recognises that in holding fast to the head is the way of spiritual experience and reality.  Faith and love look without and not within.

More observations could be made.  We could consider the suspect role of spiritual directors in mysticism.  However, I hope what has been said so far gives cause for caution and reflection before buying into the ‘spiritualities’ on offer in the evangelical world at the moment.  Never fail to ask what is the central concern and focus – religious consciousness or the revealed and reigning Christ?

I suggest for further reading an article by D A Carson written some years ago.  Below are his opening paragraphs.

The current interest in spirituality is both salutary and frightening.
It is salutary because in its best forms it is infinitely to be preferred over the assumed philosophical materialism that governs many people, not only in the western world but in many other parts as well. It is salutary wherever it represents a self-conscious rebellion against the profound sense of unreality that afflicts many churches. We speak of “knowing” and “meeting with” and “worshiping” the living God, but many feel that the corporate exercises are perfunctory and inauthentic, and in their quietest moments they wonder what has gone wrong.

 
It is frightening because “spirituality” has become such an ill-defined, amorphous entity that it covers all kinds of phenomena an earlier generation of Christians, more given to robust thought than is the present generation, would have dismissed as error, or even as “paganism” or “heathenism.” Today “spirituality” is an applause-word—that is, the kind of word that is no sooner uttered than everyone breaks out in applause. In many circles it functions in the spiritual realm the way “apple pie” functions in the culinary realm: Who is bold enough to offer a caution, let alone a critique?

Carson is just the man to do so.

03
Mar
12

lent…or the ashes of judaism that deface christianity

intro

Lent is the forty days before Easter in the Christian liturgical Calendar.  It starts with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday.  It is traditionally celebrated in the West by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.  Until fairly recently, for most evangelicals, the very hint of liturgical calendars and days like ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Holy Thursday’ would have been enough for them to run a million miles.  No longer.  Liturgical calendars are de rigueur.  Evangelicals are outing as ‘liturgy-men’ and proud of it.  Celebrating Lent is where it is at in modern spirituality.  A cursory glance at many evangelical websites will make this plain.   Goodness, even Michael Horton has jumped on the bandwagon.  Everyone’s loving lent.

Have conservative evangelicals got it wrong all these years?  Have they been too strict, too stuffy, and too legalistic (an ironic claim in this context if ever there was one)?  Do we need to invest in the ‘Big Tradition’ and rediscover these disciplines?  I guess, my tone in writing so far will reveal where I stand on this issue.  I am appalled at how casually evangelicals are buying into traditions that are essentially Judaistic and sub-Christian.  At best these are a pointless distraction but the reality is much worse; they are actually an indulgence of ‘fleshly’ religion which draws away from Christ.  Strong words, I know.  Not likely to please many.  Such sentiments will be castigated as intolerant and narrow-minded for sure.

Let me say, at the outset, I don’t mean to be unkind or harsh.  As Brian McLaren would protest, how can a mild-mannered guy like me ever be misunderstood in this kind of way?  In fact, if Lenten-men were simply those who have observed it for centuries then I probably would have said nothing.  However, when those who were traditionally free from this kind of childishness (a word I shall later justify), even slavery (another word I shall endeavour to defend), begin to lapse into religious shadows that in Christ are fulfilled and abandoned, I feel compelled to protest.  I am jealous that Christ is being lost in the paraphernalia of human religiosity.  Indeed, all who grasp what it is to be a believer who has died and risen with Christ ought to be jealous for Christ’s glory and care deeply when they see believers submitting to what Scripture calls ‘weak and worthless elements‘  and being enslaved by them (Gals 4:8).

Paul writes, in a context closely allied to the matter in question (rites, rituals and regulations),

Gal 3:1-5 (ESV)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.

The Galatian Judaizers were advocating Christ plus the Mosaic Law, and especially its emphasis on rites (Gals 5:2, 6:12), purity laws (Gal 2: 11), and liturgical calendars (Gal 4:10).  For Paul, the whole methodology and minutiae of the Law, symbolised in circumcision, was addressed to man in the flesh and not the Spirit; it is a methodology (a religion) for flesh (Gals 3:3, 4:21-31; 6:12) that is fulfilled and finished in Christ.  It is my conviction that adopting liturgical calendars, special festivals, dietary laws, symbols of penance and self-humiliation, and bodily self-denial rites as an end in themselves or as part of a religious calendar is to embrace the old covenant of law as a means of relationship with God and is seriously regressive in our walk with God (whatever protests are made to the contrary).  When the Christians of Galatia are tempted to do this, Paul says, ‘I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain‘ (Gals 4:11).  In accepting these principles of law ‘Christ will be no advantage to them‘ (Gals 5:2).  Thus the Galatians are urged,

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

Of course, those evangelicals who advocate Christian Calendars are at pains to point out that liturgical observances do not save.  They do not affect our justification or standing before God.  Nor are they to be imposed as a rule upon the church, but are a matter of Christian freedom.  Indeed, the legalist, it seems, is someone like me who opposes rites and rituals, certainly any promotion of them. I am apparently denying freedom in Christ to those who wish to worship and serve as they wish.  The irony is rich.  For, of course, it is precisely those who promote such practices that Paul regards as legalists.  Indeed it must be so, for they are promoting OT law not NT gospel; if you promote law you are ipso facto a legalist.

no nt mandate

Show me one text from the NT epistles teaching that Christians should live by religious calendars, or dietary laws, or observe special feasts, or abstain from foods, and so on.  It cannot be done.  Such rules and regulations in the NT are conspicuous by their absence, which is singularly odd because one would expect that if such disciplines are so helpful  the NT would be replete with exhortations to pursue them.  But it is not, for they are not (helpful).  The silence of Scripture here is deafening.

They do not ‘save’, their evangelical protagonists agree.  Yet, if this is so, and it is, why commend them?  If I can grow in my Christian life fully without religious rules and rituals, and I clearly can since the NT never advocates them, then what is their purpose?  Moreover, we should not be so confident that these ‘disciplines’ will remain a matter of ‘freedom’ in the consciences of those who embrace them.  The witness of history and Scripture is against this.  What begins as voluntary soon becomes established tradition and finally binding truth.  Whatever we give ourselves to we become slaves to (Roms 6:16).

It is little wonder Paul is so opposed.  He has great patience and sympathy with people who have been converted from legalistic religion.  He bears with weak consciences in Jewish converts who cannot feel free to eat certain meats etc.  He knows it can take time for these consciences to find their full freedom in the gospel (Roms 14,15).  Yet he is in no doubt that these consciences are ‘weak’.  They are not gospel-trained consciences fully aware of their freedom (from religious legalistic observances) in Christ.  However, while he bears with weak consciences, he has no patience for those who promote and teach the value of ritualism to others.  He is opposed to this root and branch and challenges any teaching that suggests or imposes such practices.  There is simply no freedom given in the NT to promote and champion Judaistic practices however ‘Christianized’.  The reality is, that there is no such thing as ‘Christianized’ Judaism (or at least the only version is its fulfilment and finish in Christ) only ‘Judaized’ Christianity.

Some of the above is contention I have not yet proved.  Let me regroup before engaging.

I am opposing religious calendars, man-made rules, and religious rites for holiness for two reasons:

  • because the NT nowhere recommends or suggests them for the life of godliness.
  • because the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect us from Christ.

I have made the case for my first contention, follow me as I now make the case more fully for my second contention: the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect from Christ.

colossians 2:1-3:4

The key NT text refuting calendars and man-made religious disciplines for holiness is Colossians 2/3.  I urge you to read this text carefully and prayerfully.  It is a clear and powerful criticism of all attempts to introduce religious ritualism into Christianity.  Below, I want to outline its main thrust and thesis.

christianity is christ

Paul’s central and vital point in this chapter  (and in Colossians as a whole) is that Christianity is essentially a relationship with Christ by faith.  Everything that matters is found in Christ alone.  Christ is supreme (Col 1:15-21).  God’s great revealed secret, hidden in the past (in OT events, figures etc) is Christ (2:2).  In Him, lie all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).  Further this revealed secret is that Christ lives in God’s people (1:27).  This union between Christ and his people is the sum of what the gospel and Christianity is all about.  As Paul writes,

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…

Living in our union with Christ is the be-all-and-end-all of Christianity.  We are ‘filled’  or ‘complete’ in Him, the one in whom God’s fullness dwells (2:9,10).  We have no more than Christ and need no more than Christ.  Indeed there is no more than Christ (Col 1:15-19).  Paul reminds us too that this union is a union of death and resurrection.  That is, to be united to Christ is to participate (by faith and through the Spirit) in the death and resurrection of Christ (2:8-11).  Like Christ we have died to this world (and so, as we shall see, to all its religious observances) and live in resurrection life to God.  Our ‘life is hid with Christ in God’ (Cols 3:3).  This means that Christ in heaven is the source, story and raison d’etre of our life.  We find and enjoy life as we set our affections on Christ in heaven.  As we put to death what is earthly (living for the things of this world as well as the sins of this world) and set our minds and hearts on the invisible world perceived only by faith we triumph in faith.  This, and this alone, enables us to grow in grace.  In this way alone ( looking to Christ in heaven and putting to death what is earthly) are we, ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.’ (Col 1:9,10).

This is what it means to be ‘connected to the head’ (Cf 2:19).  To live other than by the faith union that puts to death what is earthy and lives by a heart absorbed with Christ in heaven is to fail to ‘hold fast to the head’ (2:19) and results in being ‘disqualified’ (2:8); or, in Galatian language,in being ‘severed from Christ’ (Gals 5:4).  It should be obvious that if we look elsewhere other than to Christ as the source of our life and power we are cutting the link of faith.   Only by a conscious living in, looking at, and living for Christ can we become ‘mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28).

false routes

Paul does not urge that the Colossians live in Christ in a vacuüm.  He writes because some were teaching otherwise.

Col 2:4 (ESV)
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments...

syncretism

What precisely the Colossian heresy was need not concern us here.  Scholars delight in discussing such matters but rarely reach final conclusions.  In any case, the main components are clear and it is these that interest us.  It was a mixture of philosophy (2:8), mysticism (2:18) and Judaism (2:8, 11, 14, 16,17).  Singly, and as a whole Paul is opposed to these influences on Christian life and practice.  He says they ‘delude’ (2:4) for they are based on ‘plausible arguments’ (2:4).  They appear to promote sanctity (2:23) yet are merely ‘empty deceit… human tradition… elemental spirits of the world… having an appearance of wisdom… self-made religion… things on earth… not according to Christ’ and more  (Col 2:8, 20-23, 3:2).  Paul will have no syncretism of Christ and anything else.

Now, we should underline that what Paul is dismissing is not merely philosophy (what has Athens to do with Jerusalem) and mysticism (what has Eleusis to do with Jerusalem) but also Judaism or the Law (what has Sinai to do with Jerusalem, or better, the New Jerusalem ).  For many this dismissal of Law in Christianity is a bridge too far.  I confess, I do not really understand why.  Paul is consistent and clear in his proclamation that Christians are not ‘under law’ (Roms 6:15; 7:1-6; Gals 4:21; 5:18; 1 Cor 9:20).  While Christians can learn from the Old Covenant as we see how it points to Christ, we are in no way obligated to it.  It has no rights over us or claims upon us.  We are not called to obey it, nor to adopt it in any way.  In fact, we are told that there is a basic incompatibility between the forms of Judaistic Law and Gospel Christianity.  Jesus makes it clear that the gospel cannot be contained in the old forms of religion that belonged to law.

Mark 2:21-22 (ESV)
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins-and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” 

passé

This is vital to grasp.  Paul tells us the difference is profound; the law belongs to the old age and old world while the church belongs to the new age and new world.  It is those ‘alive in this world’ to whom the rules and regulations of law (moral, religious or otherwise) are of any relevance (Col 2:20). But Christians are not ‘alive’ in this world they have ‘died’ (2:11, 3:3) and they live in an age beyond this age and a world beyond this world.  They ought not to ‘submit’ (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) to regulations that belong to human religion (2:20) for they belong to an age which is passé.

earthly

This temporal distinction between the present and the future is tied into a spacial distinction between what is ‘earthly’ and what is ‘heavenly’ in Scripture.  This latter distinction is one that many modern evangelicals are reluctant to admit.  Yet it is clear and vital.  It is part of the distinction between the old and the new, the law and the gospel.  Jesus is ‘from above‘ and brings in a reality that is ‘from above’ (Jn 3:31; 8:23).  ‘Earthly’ things were revealed in the OT but as the one from heaven he reveals ‘heavenly things‘ (Jn 3:12).  Because he is from heaven he returns to heaven and on his return unites his people to him there.  We find our identity not in the earthly Adam but the heavenly Christ, not in the natural but the spiritual (1 Cor 15:45-49).  As a result we are a ‘heavenly people’ (Eph 1:20; 2:6) and our interests are to do with the realm where Christ our life is found (Gals 4:26; Col 3:1,2; Hebs 3:1; 11:6; 12:2).  The Law and its forms are ‘earthly’ and part of the elementary principles of ‘this world’.  They are merely an earthly copy or shadow of heavenly things (Hebs 8:5; 9:23). Thus they have nothing to do with the believer who is not ‘alive in this world’ but shares the resurrection life of Christ, a spiritual and heavenly life (Col 2:8-11).  This distinction is wrongly dismissed as dualistic and gnostic by some who should know better.  It is not.  It is the plain teaching of Scripture.  Ritual and rite are not merely passé but also unable to lift the soul above this world.  They cannot remove us from the realm of ‘flesh’.

fleshly, childish, enslaving, and inadequate

The law is Judaism. It belongs to the first creation, the earthly, the natural, this world.  It is called by Paul ‘the elemental spirits of the world’ (2:8).  Paul similarly describes the law in Galatians. He writes,

Gal 4:1-5 (ESV)

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

His point is that Law, as a religion, functions much like a ‘disciplinarian’ or ‘nanny’.  These are hired to oversee children and in the past were expected to do so with firm discipline; they did not so much teach as control.  Law as the above text points out treated those under it as infants, as childish.

Although God-given, it was given to man in the ‘flesh’ (Roms 7:1-6; Gals 3:3; Cf Hebs 7:16; 9:13,14).  It was a ‘religion’ that attempted to curtail and curb human behaviour by external rules and religious regulations but it could dig no deeper.  It could not change hearts.  It could not give life (though it promised it for obedience) and it could not produce holiness.  When Israel was exiled the failure of law to influence flesh was proved.  This is why Paul says of law and all religion that is about undertaking rules, regulations, ritualistic restrictions that it are ‘of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh‘.  Mark these words well for they are very important.  However, holy and virtuously self-denying many rites and rituals seem to be THEY ARE OF NO VALUE IN PREVENTING THE INDULGENCE OF THE FLESH.   They may deny the body but they could not curb ‘the flesh’, that Adamic nature we have so opposed to God.  This is true of the rites not only of the law or Judaism but of every other religion.  In fact, from this perspective, Paul puts the Law or Judaism on the same level playing field as all other religions.  They all are elementary or rudimentary.  Paul tells the gentile Galatian believers who are being encouraged by Judaizers to embrace the Jewish Law that they would be as well going back to their old pagan religions for the law was no more effectual than they.

Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. 

Let the force of this sink in.  In Galatians, Paul uses two plural pronoun groups, ‘we’ and ‘you’.  ‘We’ applies to Jewish believers and ‘you’ to gentile believers.  In Ch 4:1-5 he speaks of ‘we’.  We Jews, he observes, were enslaved to the law (the elemental principles of the world). In 4-8-11 the gentiles were enslaved to their false religions; however, if having being freed from these they now embrace the Law then this is tantamount to a return to their old religions; they are turning back to ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world’ and to slavery once again.  Paul’s comparison shocks and is intended so to do.

It is impossible to read Gals 3:21 – 4-11 and avoid the conclusion that those who submit (freely or otherwise) to the law and its ordinances are regressing to what is childish and enslaving.  They believe they are embracing something new and exciting, something progressive and fresh, something that may help them to be holy and godly, but actually they are embracing what is weak, worthless and inferior.  Satan’s sardonic irony as he deludes is keen.

Neither human philosophy nor religious mysticism, nor rites, nor ascetic practices enable us to grow in grace.  None enables us to know God.  It’s no good claiming that these regulations were Jewish rather than Christian rules and regulations.  Jewish regulations and rites were God-ordained religious observances (indeed the only God-ordained ones) and pointed to Christ but they were merely shadows not the substance (2:17).  The substance was Christ.  If we want shadows of the gospel rather than the substance then Jewish ceremonies is the way to go.  None we invent improves on those God gave.  But Paul’s criticism is not of this or that particular liturgical calendar.  It is not specific Jewish days, months and sabbaths to which he objects (though sabbaths clearly shows these were law-based since none but Jews had sabbaths).  It is not certain diets and ascetic techniques he objected to.  He objects to the whole methodology per se.  The methodology was passé, earth-bound, childish,enslaving and inadequate.  Methodologically these rituals were of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh.  Indeed, they did the very thing that was the problem – they focussed on the flesh.  Law in any shape or form does not deny flesh, it excites it and promotes it (Roms 7).

Law and all human religion focus on the flesh and have confidence in it (Phil 3:3,4)  This is Paul’s constant criticism of the Judaizers.  They focussed on flesh, whether its status (Phil 3:2-5) or its performance (Phil 3:6).  Circumcision (the symbol of the Judaizers) was all about the flesh (Phil 3:2; Gals 6:12).  For Paul, circumcision epitomised the flesh because it was circumcision of the body and not the heart.  It is what a man did to himself and for himself.  In this circumcision was an appropriate symbol of law which was essentially a covenant of works, of human achieving.  The gospel, by contrast, is ‘circumcision without hands‘ that is, it is by and of God not man (Col 2:11).  The circumcision of the gospel happens at the cross when we die with Christ to the law and its ordinances (Col 2:14).   It is an act of God that removes all human involvement and so all human boasting.

We need to see that self-denial programmes of ‘touch not, taste not and handle not’ are fusty and futile.  The Law and Judaism was full of such prohibitions at certain times in the religious calendar yet they did no good whatever; the nation that had the law crucified its Messiah.  Indeed, Messiah himself teaches that it is not what goes into a man (the food he chooses to eat or not to eat) that defiles but what comes out of his heart (Matt 15:1-20).

Artificially imposed times and programmes of repentance and ascetic self-denial and the like all focus on self.   If we succeed they puff us up with pride and if we fail we feel defeated.   Nowadays they tend to be about giving up chocolates or alcohol or some other luxury related to the body.  For those more serious about their faith they may mean self-imposed severe bodily deprivation.  But whether the dilettante denials of the modern evangelical or the more serious denials of the older ascetics the result is the same – no effect in restraining the indulgence of the flesh, merely a means of focus on it (Cols 2:23).  Flesh (fallen human nature) loves to act piously (and to be seen to do so either by others or self).  It loves to appear humble and focus on its achievements, religious or otherwise. So rather than subduing the flesh these ‘ordinances’ satisfy the flesh. Thus they are not merely passé, earth-bound, infantile and futile, but counter-productive.  In addition,and perhaps most damning of all, they utterly fail to come to terms with the position of a believer in Christ.   Those who promote them have not grasped that growth in holiness is not by looking at self and undertaking various ascetic disciplines but by looking away from self and focussing on an exalted reigning Christ.

christianity is christ

What draws me away from the world and focus on self is not my body on earth but Christ in heaven.  As I love him, look at him, live in him (and he in me) then I have the power to put to death what is earthly.  It is the expulsive power of a new affection.  Christ, and only Christ, is our wisdom, justification, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:29).  Holding fast to the head is the only means of grace (Col 2:19).  The moment I put something else between, whatever shape this may assume, I am not holding fast to the head.  The hallmark of the ‘true circumcision’ is simply this- ‘it rejoices in Jesus Christ and makes no provision for the flesh‘ (Phil 3:3).  The question for all of us is simply, is Christ all?.  If Christ is not all then there is no maturity, only flesh.  Fathers in the faith (the spiritually mature) are recognised by this – they ‘know him who is from the beginning’ (1 John 2:14).  Paul’s cry of spiritual maturity is for Christ and yet more of Christ (Phil 3:8-16).  He did not want types and shadows, rules and religious observances; he wanted Christ.  He recognised in Christ he had everything and without him he had nothing.  The heart of a believer is satisfied and enraptured only by Christ.  In him, we have, ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness‘ (2 Pet 1:3).  Toplady is one among many who has expressed this in hymn.

Compared with CHRIST, in all beside
No comeliness I see;
The one thing needful, dearest LORD,
Is to be one with Thee.
Whatever else Thy will withholds,
Here grant me to succeed!
O let Thyself my portion be,
And I am blest indeed!
 
Loved of my GOD, for Him again
With love intense I burn;
Chosen of Thee ere time began,
I choose Thee in return!
Less than Thyself will not suffice
My comfort to restore;
More than Thyself I cannot have;
And Thou canst give no more.

to summarise

Allow me to once again briefly regroup.

Liturgical calendars with their special seasons and ceremonies are not progress but regress.  They represent a spiritual nose-dive.  Far from maturing, they are a regression to the childish and enslaving.  They do not lead to Christ but detract from Christ.  They are for those in the flesh and not life in the Spirit.  They limit our horizon to earth and do not raise our gaze to heaven.  I have every sympathy for believers raised in churches where Judaistic rites and rituals are taught.  Their consciences should be sensitively considered.  However, I have little sympathy with those who should know better.  I have little patience for evangelicals who have been free of such bondage yet now in the conceit of what they fondly call Christian freedom wish to promote and encourage what is weak and enslaving.  Such teaching receives stiff opposition from Paul (Col 2) and ought to be opposed by all who love freedom in Christ.

Let me say again that freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to worship as we please. Freedom in Christ is freedom to worship in spirit and truth.  It is freedom to live in Christ not shadows. There are forms of worship that are neither helpful nor appropriate for they lead us away from Christ; they disconnect us with the head.  They do not lead us into freedom in Christ but into slavery.  Such forms are neither commanded, commended nor condoned by the NT (Col 2).  That some who profess to be teachers of God’s people do not see this is culpably irresponsible.  We may rightly ask them as Jesus did Nicodemus: are you a teacher in Israel and do not know this?

My heart-felt appeal to my brothers and sisters in Christ is – do not be ‘bewitched’ by them.

a final comment

What then are we to make of fasting?  Doesn’t the NT promote fasting?  And for that matter, what about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?  Are not these ordinances?  These are good questions and I hope to address them.  But not in this post.  This post is already far too long.  I will try to address these questions in the next post.  For the moment, let me say simply this: whatever our questions, don’t allow these to undermine or relativize the plain NT teaching we have explored so far.  To exhort in a specific context: do not choke the living flame of the gospel with the Lenten ashes of Judaism.

21
Feb
12

the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his suffering, conformed to his death

The whole of the gospel is intended to train our heart and life in grace.  Yet, if we must press for any particular aspect of the gospel that most frames and forms Christian living it is our participation by grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The gospel makes it plain that the death and resurrection of Jesus are not simply events that we believe and confess, but they are realities in which we share.  The Christian is someone who has died and risen with Christ.  The pattern of cross and resurrection is stamped on our lives.  It shapes our present identity.  Thus Paul’s words,

Phil 3:8-10 (ESV)
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

But what does this mean?  How for example, do we presently experience the power of his resurrection?  What enables us to ‘take up the cross’ and follow Christ?  Do we sometimes experience the power of his resurrection and at others the fellowship of his cross and sufferings?  Do we experience the power of his resurrection despite embracing the fellowship of his sufferings?

The answer to all the above is this: we know the power of his resurrection in embracing the fellowship of his sufferings by conforming to his death.  Our Christian life is not resurrection or cross.  Neither is it resurrection and cross.  It is resurrection for the cross and in the cross.  If we die to live, and we do, in another sense we live to die.

The only way I can take up the cross and follow Christ is through the enabling power of his  resurrection life in the Spirit.  It is the same Spirit who acted powerfully to raise Christ from the dead who enabled him to live, obedient to the extent of death, even cross-death; it was through the eternal Spirit he offered himself to God (Hebs 9:14).  And it is the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead in resurrection life who works in our hearts, we who were dead in trespasses and sins, have been made alive with Christ that we may be given over to death for him.  To put it as Paul does in 2 Cor 4,

2 Cor 4:10-11 (ESV)
we are… 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.

Again, we die to live and we live to die.  There is a reciprocity, a symbiosis, in death and resurrection.

What is the life of Christ that is revealed in us?  It is his life on earth, his life of cross-bearing, a cross-bearing that began long before he hung upon the cross.  Christ’s whole life was one of cross-bearing, in the sense that his whole life was lived with self-will always held in the place of death.  His personal will was always  determined to do only the will of his Father (although Christ was not attracted to sin, neither was he attracted to pain, suffering and rejection; he embraced these willingly because these were his Father’s will) .  Cross-bearing is death to self (not simply to sin).  It is to die to ‘self’ with all its siren calls for protection, pampering, prestige, power, pleasure and profit.

And so, resurrection life means living in death.   Resurrection power is power in weakness.

We so often hear that God will bless his people with possessions, health, good relationships.  Or that resurrection power is power to overcome or heal sickness and disease.   Sometimes God does bless his people with the good things of  this life, though he never promises this and these gifts if given are the very least of his gifts.  And sometimes he does give people abilities to do miracles revealing his power in visible ways but these are the exception.  Chiefly his power works in our lives by enabling us to put to death our selfish desires and equipping us to endure suffering and rejection for the sake of the gospel.  Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is revealing:

Col 1:11 (ESV)
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy

Notice it is power to endure.  Power to suffer.  Power to find joy not apart from suffering but in and through suffering.

Look at the Christians you know.  Who  reveal the life of Christ?  It is not those pursuing material comfort, career advancement, and every hobby and sport imaginable, rather it is those who are serving others.  It is those who look not on their own interests but the interests of others;  those who visit the sick, support the vulnerable and needy, have a word from the Lord suitable for the occasion, pray with mourning hearts for the lost, and who suffer deprivation and trial for the gospel.  People whose voices are not raised in the street.  People who do not press themselves, or vindicate themselves.  These are the people you see Christ in.  These are the people where his life is evident.  And these are the people who seem most content and who most know joy in life for it is he who loses his life who finds it.

Such people are rarely life’s celebrities.  We place far too much emphasis on performance.  We think that if we can only get a champion athlete, or a succesful businessman, or an intellectual with a string of letters after his name to front our outreach then people will respond.  We think the big name, the big personality, the big preacher, the big show, band or whatever is where it is at.  We admire these qualities.  We place store on what is superficially impressive – on outward appearances.  We admire the dynamic personality.  We want the clever orator, the one who can hold a crowd in his hand.  Yet big personalities are not what God values.  The way of the cross is not about big names, big personalities, big gifts, or big shows.  It is precisely the opposite.  The way of the cross is the way of weakness.  It is the way of refusing to draw attention to self, to promote self, to display self.  The messenger and the message must be the same.

Paul refused to preach to the Corinthians with impressive words and oratory.  They loved these things and for this very reason he refused to display them.  The power lay not in human giftedness and glory but in God, and was best demonstrated in human weakness and insignificance.

1Cor 2:1-5 (ESV)
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 

When are we going to learn that the weapons of our warfare are not ‘fleshly’ (impressive shows, impressive presentations, impressive preachers, impressive personalities, political muscle) but spiritual; it is in weakness, suffering, humility, endurance, self-giving, patient prayer,and ordinary preaching without glamour, that the power of God’s resurrection life is to be found.  How many people do you know who have been won for Christ through big shows, big concerts, big budget events?  God’s way is not in the impressive, but the humanly unimpressive.

1Cor 1:26-29 (ESV)
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

This is not a plea for laziness, or carelessness, or poor preparation.  There is no virtue in these.  Nor is it a plea for using people for a task who are not gifted for it.  It is a plea, however, for us to place great importance on prayer, on self-giving in the lives of others, and on the simple witness of an ordinary believer.  It is a plea to seek for God’s power in the places he says it will be found and nowhere else.  It is a plea to seek life through death and to seek God’s power through weakness and through things that are normally discounted by human measuring.




the cavekeeper

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

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