Posts Tagged ‘New Creation

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.”
02
Jan
13

new year… new creation

The new year has arrived.  I hope you will find it a year when you prosper in body and soul.  I hope it will be a year when the righteous flourish and the wicked fall.  I hope it will be a year when nations experience God’s goodness as a faithful Creator and his saving grace in Christ. I hope most of all it will be the year when the Lord Jesus returns in power and great glory, with the voice of the archangel and trump of God, overthrows all evil and establishes his everlasting Kingdom in a new heavens and new earth.   I fervently hope it will be the year when new creation (already initiated in the hearts of those in Christ 2 Co2 5:17) is fully and finally realized.

I hope for this ‘blessed hope’ because it is in it that our destiny as ‘God’s sons’ will be consummately realized and revealed (Roms 8).  It is only in the return of Christ that wars will cease, wickedness will be overthrown, and God’s people will truly prosper in body and soul.  It is by his Coming that suffering, sorrows, tears and death will be no more; former things forgotten.  No Green utopianism will accomplish this, nor an economic formula (whether fiscal or monetary), nor social engineering, nor a political agenda, nor any other human enterprise.  Only God’s intervention in history in a final and apocalyptic salvific sense will bring renewal and new creation.

The arrival of new creation in its fulness is the arrival of final and ineffable glory, the light that dispels all darkness.  Some speak as if the coming regeneration is simply Eden restored.  This is a great mistake for the first and former is always only a shadow, a type of the fulfilment.   The fulfilment always eclipses the promise and the new always exceeds the old.  We see this in the progress between the old covenant and the new covenant.  At every point the new covenant is ‘better’.  It is based on ‘better promises’ (Hebs 8:6), has a ‘better hope’ (Hebs 7:19), has in Christ ‘better sacrifices’ (Hebs 9:23), introduces a ‘better life’ (Hebs 11:35) in ‘a better country, that is a heavenly one’ (Hebs 11:16).  Christ is the messianic prophet priest and king who surpasses Moses, Aaron and David.  At every point the realization transcends the OT expectation and promise.  This is how our God is.  He is a lavish generous God who gives in ways that ultimately ‘eyes have not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart imagined.

What is true in the progress from old covenant to new covenant is equally true in the movement from old creation to new creation.  Adam was the acme, the zenith, of the first creation, yet he is ‘of the earth'; he was ‘a man of dust’, the second man, by contrast, is ‘of heaven’ (1Cor 15:47).  The first man, Adam, became a living soul, the second a life-giving spirit; Adam received life but Christ gives life (1 Cor 15:45).  In the old creation corruption and mortality were possible (and actual) in the new creation we have only incorruptibility and immortality (1 Cor 15:54).  Paul designates the first creation ‘natural’ and the new creation ‘spiritual’ (1 Cor 15:44).  Now we should be clear that for Paul natural/spiritual is not a Greek dualism of physical/non-physical.  Christ, in resurrection, had a physical body, but no longer a ‘natural’ body, rather it was ‘spiritual’.  This seems to mean that the resurrection life which infused and energised it was ‘of the Spirit’ and not merely biologically earth-bound.  This would seem to articulate with Paul’s distinction between ‘heavenly bodies’ and ‘earthly bodies’ (1 Cor 15:40).  Just as God has fitted sun, moon, stars for their heavenly function (and glory ) so the resurrection body is fitted for a ‘heavenly’ existence; clearly Christ’s resurrection body is fitted for the sphere in which he now lives (indeed it is fitted for heaven and earth) and so too will be all who are raised to resurrection life.

Contrast is clearly as significant as continuity between the two creations, if not more significant.  In the original creation marriage was instituted because it was not good for man to be alone; however, in the new creation there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, all are as the angels in heaven, for the eschatologically new creation finds man in Christ crowned with glory and honour never attained (or attainable) in the first (Hebs 2:5-9).  Note too that in the first creation Adam is given stewardship of the earth but in new creation ‘all things in heaven and earth’ (a merism for the entire universe) are subject to Christ and the new humanity of which he is head (Ephs 1); all things are subject to him, that is, save God (Hebs 2:9; 1 Cor 15:27,28).  Paul insists that we should not be surprised at the radical disjunction and transformation new creation will bring.  He reminds us we see this principle in the present creation; a mere kernel of seed transforms through death into something that transcends its promise (1 Cor 15:37,38).  Thus the human body of the believer that belongs to the old order and old creation is sown in corruption, dishonour and weakness but is raised to immortality, glory and power (1 Cor 15:42,43).  That new creation means something incomparably more wonderful than merely Eden restored should be beyond dispute.

In describing the new creation, Revelation draws some of its imagery from Eden, but Eden does not exhaust it – imagery from the New Jerusalem, the eschatological city of God  is also employed.  And indeed, the Eden and the New Jerusalem images while suggesting correspondence also suggest a fulfilment that eclipses the original; the images are morphed and exploded to create a kaleidoscopic picture of a reality that defies description.  If there is a river in the eschatological Eden then it is in Revelation ‘as bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and the lamb’ (Rev 22).  It runs not through Eden but down the middle of the street of the New Jerusalem.  The tree of life is not merely a tree in Eden but has become a great tree that straddles the river and has fruit that heals (in Eden the tree could sustain life but could not heal).  There is no sun in this eschatological Eden for the light is the glory of God himself.  Nor is there darkness or night; the potential for evil is no more.  The ‘new Eden’ meta-morphs the original.  Of course, it is all imagery, but it is imagery intended to convey a reality more glorious than all that has preceded, more glorious than we can at present grasp in literal language.  However, we understand it, the overture (old creation) only hints at the symphony of new creation that is to follow.

Our hope is a new creation inconceivably blessed and irradiated with a glory that is indescribable. We wait patiently in 2013 for this ‘hope of righteousness’ that is, life lived in the glory of God.  While we wait, we may suffer all kinds of hardships.  Christians will be mocked and treated unjustly.  We will be hated, misunderstood and misrepresented.  We will suffer for righteousness sake, and for Christ’s sake, and we will have to stand steady in faith through the various trials of life that all men face, but all these afflictions will work for us an eternal weight of glory.  It is this glory for which we long and look and in which we hope.

My prayer in this coming year is this:

Rom 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

16
Nov
11

what is the mission of the church?

Kevin De Young and Greg Gilbert have written a book called ‘What is the Mission of the Church?’.  It has touched a raw nerve in the younger American evangelical scene.   Some have written fairly critical reviews of it (see here for an inventory of these).  De Young and Gilbert have responded here.

The debate is important for it affects what we understand to be our responsibility to society as Christians.  It is well worth taking the time to read the online discussion at the very least.  I have not read De Young’s book but I know my overall position is nearer to De Young and Gilbert than to those in the ‘missional’ camp (followers more of Christopher Wright and N T Wright).  The problem with the more ‘missional’ or ‘transformational’ paradigm, to my mind, is the biblical meta-narrative assumed.   Its advocates believe the story of the Bible starts with creation and see God’s mission as restoring creation.   They are, in my view, wrong in both counts.

  • While the biblical narrative begins with creation, creation is not the beginning of the story.  The ‘true’ beginning is only revealed as the plot unfolds.  The real beginning is God’s plan in eternity.   God’s plan is Christ and all who find their election in him, information not available in the story’s first chapter (Eph 1).  In other words, God’s goal was never Adam and the first creation but Christ and the new creation.  The End does not complete the Beginning; the Beginning is simply a prologue for the End.  Adam was only the type, Christ is the antitype.  Or, if you like, the Second Man was always the First.
  • If ‘transformationalists’ get the beginning of the story wrong, they also get the end wrong too.  The dénouement is not a return to the beginning but a new beginning that eclipses all that has gone before.  New creation is not creation restored or regained, it is creation radically reconfigured.   The missional perspective builds too much on continuity and does not give nearly enough credit to discontinuity.  They do not credit new creation with being just that, ‘new’.

The result of a misread plot is a skewed understanding of the act in the drama where we find ourselves now.  The task of the church is not to transform society but to bear witness to society of God’s new creation by proclaiming the gospel in word and life.  Of course, with the life of Christ in our hearts we will seek to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith’ (for that is what Christ did) but that is somewhat different from seeing our mission as ‘the flourishing of creation’.  We will of course respect creation as good stewards of it but what we wish primarily to see flourishing is not creation, but new creation, which in my view is a very different thing.

04
Oct
11

in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing…

I am no longer in the first flush of youth.  In fact, if truth be told, I have passed the hump (or am passing, depending on your perspective) of middle age; I won’t see my fiftieth birthday again nor some following it.  And you know what dismays me?  I find that the flesh is just as devious and disgraceful and debasing  and demanding as it ever was.  Sinful desires, ugly and vile, readily suggest themselves.  Passions that are viciously self-regarding all too readily raise their pernicious heads.

In some ways the passions change.  They are no longer the passions of youth.  The desire to be heard (though I rarely was) , to be cool (which I never achieved), to impress (so shameful I am reluctant to admit it), to be liked (how pathetically weak)  and other drives common to youth are not so strong.  Or more accurately, they have morphed into other shapes and different forms have gained ascendency.  The desire for reputation takes on a different hue, now I want to be a sage not a spearhead.   I no longer inordinately lust after the buzz of windsurfing but the tranquility of sea kayaking.   Where once I may have held my counsel to protect myself and facilitate wider acceptance now I am inclined to curmudgeonly behaviour impatient at being ignored.  I confess, the flesh is just the same as it always was in John Thomson; it is ever self-important, self-regarding, self-promoting, and hostile to every competing authority – especially God.   I have given you the barest glimpse of the stinking cesspool that is my flesh for I am ashamed of all it contains.  Indeed, I am horrified to look too closely myself.

I say, I am dismayed, but I oughtn’t really be.  Dismay shows just how poorly I ‘hear’ what God clearly says.  Scripture leaves no doubt that the flesh never improves. Flesh’ is always ‘flesh’ and can only produce ‘flesh’ (Jn 3:3).  It is ever and only wicked.  In ‘flesh’ dwells no good thing (Roms 7:18) and  ‘profits nothing’ (Jn 6:63).  You can educate flesh, civilize and manner it, make it sophisticated and even make it religious but you can’t change it.  ‘Flesh’ remains the same: rough or refined, crude or cultured, in casuals or cassock, flesh is always viciously self-regarding and opposed to God.  It does not submit to God nor can it (Roms 8:7).  Flesh is invincibly evil.

Flesh, of course, in the sense I am referring to it and Scripture often speaks of it is simply humanity in a fallen Adam.  Sometimes, in Scripture, ‘flesh’ simply means being human without reference to whether humanity is fallen or not, but most often it refers to fallen humanity, sinful humanity.  It is the heart of which Jesus speaks when he says,

Matt 15:19 (ESV)
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

Its works, Paul reminds us are obvious to all.

Gal 5:19-21 (ESV)
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are the murky passions that rage in the human heart.  These are the nature of flesh.  It is human nature controlled and corrupted by sin.  In this humanity, in this nature, says Paul, ‘dwells no good thing’.  And there is nothing more vital than learning this if we are to live  in the full liberty and power of the gospel.  We must first grasp the bankruptcy of self if we are to learn to live by grace in the power of the Spirit.  We must come to an end of self-trust in every shape and form.  There is no good in self.  All good lies in Christ.

And so I say, don’t be surprised at the loathsome eruptions of flesh that swell in your breast yelling to be noticed.  Never look within for a power to live for God and to please him.  If you look within you will only find lusts and sin vying for expression.  Salvation has not improved your old nature and never will.   The flesh cannot be renovated or rehabilitated.  It cannot be remediated.  Flesh is always flesh.  It is a rotten tree and remains a rotten tree until the day you die or Christ returns (Matt 5:17,18).  Flesh is beyond redemption.  All that God can do with flesh is what he warned Adam would happen if he ate of the forbidden fruit.  ‘The day you eat of it you will surely die’.  God was not issuing an idle threat.  He was not exaggerating for effect.  God can do only one thing with recalcitrant flesh – put it to death.  Adam must die.  Flesh is condemned; it is beyond salvage.

And put it to death is precisely what God has done.  In the death of Jesus not only did he punish our sins as sons  of Adam, but he brought to an end Adamic humanity itself.  He finished once and for all the life of ‘flesh’.  Adamic humanity met its terminus at the cross.  Romans 8 puts it like this:

Rom 8:3 (ESV)
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…

The verdict of condemnation and death passed on ‘sin in the flesh’ was executed at the cross.  The execution of Christ was the execution of humanity in Adam.  It was the end of ‘flesh’, of humanity as we know it.  At the cross, he who knew no sin became sin for us, made in the likeness of sinful flesh, he was treated as sinful flesh.  The death that he died he died to sin once and for all (Roms 6).  In his resurrection, Jesus entered into a new life, a life of a different kind and order.  The man Christ Jesus, lived now by the power of a life that could never end, a life that was indestructible (Hebs 7:6), a life that would never again have to do with sin or death.   In this resurrection life he ascended to heaven as the firstborn of a new creation, no longer like sinful flesh he now had a body of glory.  Christ has become the source,  the archetype, and the heir of this new creation; it is a new creation from him, for him, and like him (Col 1:15-20).

And in this resurrection life of Christ we share.  As he was raised by the Spirit of holiness so we live too in the Spirit in holiness and righteousness.  We are born by the Spirit (Jn 3) and have a life that cannot sin.  Our life is Christ’s resurrection life, through the Spirit.  The Spirit of Christ, of God, now lives within us (Roms 8:9).  As far as God is concerned, our life in Adam, our flesh and all it is, came to an end at the cross.  It is finished.  It is gone.  We are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit (Roms 8:9).   What does this mean?  It means that when I see the passions of the flesh seething within me I need not be dismayed.  I need not be condemned or despair.  Why?  Because, by faith I recognise  this cauldron of corruption is not the true me.  It once was me but is so no longer.  I will not hate myself because of it.  I will hate it but not myself for it is no longer the true me. A Christian is not ‘in the flesh’.  A Christian’s identity is in the Spirit.  He lives in the realm of the Spirit.  In Paul’s gloriously liberating words:

Rom 8:1-17 (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. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

The cross has condemned flesh and finished our relationship to it.  We are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit and by walking in the Spirit we fulfil all righteousness.  What do I do when I observe within me the tug of sin and the surging of the flesh?  I remind myself this is not the true me.  These passions belong to an ‘I’ that died on the cross.  God does not see me in terms of ‘flesh’ and nor will I.  I have begun a new life in the Spirit.  I will not listen to these siren voices of flesh, I will not give them my allegiance or heed them (I will not set my mind on them).  I will treat them as they ought to be treated – as something dead.  I will mortify all inclinations flesh advances.  Flesh is that which is all about ‘self’.  It loves self, believes in self, trusts in self, and exalts self.  I will have nothing to do with it.  I will not look to self for strength or for approval.  I will not feed self or feed from self. For to look to it for one moment is to stumble and fall and lose the joy and power of salvation.   Instead, I will steadfastly, by the Spirit, put self in the place of death and so find life.  I will live in the Spirit, listening to and following his leading as he guides and empowers the inclinations of my new life into righteousness and holiness.

When Satan accuses and points to sinful lusts within I will not be depressed and defeated.  I will agree with all he says but point out that this ‘me’ has ended.  I no longer accept it as the person I am.  I am a new creature in Christ.  As long as I am in this body I know that sin still has a foothold because of indwelling sin.  Thus I must always be vigilant.  But, in confident faith that one day I will have a body like Christ’s  body of glory which will be entirely free of sin, I will presently put to death the temptations that arise from within, and, if in weakness and foolishness, I heed flesh (trust it) and sin, I will repent.  I will humbly confess my sins knowing that forgiveness is mine for Christ died.  I will feel the sorrow of sinning and hate it for all it is.  But  I will not be defeated by it.  I will remind myself that sin has no rights over me.  I am no debtor to it.   In the Spirit I have a new heart that longs for righteousness and not for sin and it is my true centre and being.  I will look to self for nothing and find everything in grace.   I stand in the grace of God.  Grace is the realm of my existence.  It is the power by which I live, my only resource and the only resource I need and it is mine in abundance.  I live in grace.  I live in the Spirit.  I live in Christ.

In Christ, I am free from sin’s condemnation and sin’s control.  Therein, and only therein, is my peace and my victory.  And so daily I will put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts (Roms 13:14).

05
Jul
11

holidays and a hunger for god

Hi folks.

Apologies to those who have been dropping in and finding nothing new.  Posts are likely to be sparse over the next couple of months – breaks and building maintenance are likely to distract.  We (my wife and I) are just back from two weeks holiday on the Isle of Skye.  Skye is a beautiful Scottish island we love to visit.  A little walking, some sea kayaking, and lots of relaxing were the order of the day.  The West coast of Scotland from the Mull of Kintyre until Cape Wrath has scenery that must rival the best in the world.  One is stunned by the grandeur of creation.  Truly our God has a wonderful imagination.

It is our privilege to enjoy this creation.  It is a feast for our senses and all speaks of the glory of the Creator.  Believers hearts, especially those whose lines have fallen in ‘pleasant places, respond in worship and thankfulness.  Yet, glorious though God is in creation, it is not this glory that primarily fills the heart of the believer.  What our hearts pant after is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   I know God most deeply and intimately when I know him not only as Creator but Redeemer.  Indeed, in a fallen world if I do not know him as Redeemer I will never know him as Creator.  My knowledge of God is not found in my oneness with nature but my union with Christ.  In creation, I know his goodness: in redemption, I know his grace.

I find my heart needs and longs for the intimacy and glory of the God of all grace.  It is not in creation that I find the Father but in Christ.   Adam (even in innocence) could not reveal the Father, only the Son who dwells eternally in the bosom of the Father, could do this.  Only the ‘only-begotten’ can reveal the Father. I know God in Christ far better than Adam ever did in the garden.  In Christ, the grace of God and the truth about God are fully revealed.

As a sinner, I need the God of all grace.  My heart finds peace and contentment and joy in God, my Redeemer.  I find personal meaning, purpose and place in the story of redemption.  I find satisfaction not in creation but the prospect of new creation.  My heart find worships not simply when I consider, ‘all the works his hands have made’  but supremely ‘when I think that God his son not sparing sent him to die… to bear away my sin'; and with this the glad hope that Christ shall come ‘with shout of acclamation and take me home’. In the gospel I find food not simply for my senses but also my soul.  In Christ, I have come to know the Father and I am filled.  I shall be satisfied too when I awake in his likeness.

Even as I absorb the beauty of the old creation, like creation itself, I long for the day of renewal, the birthing of the new.  I cannot do other, for I belong to the new, I am a firstfruit of it. Thus, for me, the beauty of the Lord  lies not in creation but in Christ.  Like the Psalmist, it is not to nature I turn to see God in his beauty, but to his temple.  Jim Reeves (now I show my age) sang of nature as ‘God’s Cathedral’ but he was wrong.   God’s temple is not creation but his people.  He is revealed and known among his people.  Christ is found there.  Thus my heart is truly filled when I meet with his people in communal worship and expectation. When on the Lord’s Day we meet to ‘remember him’ and ‘proclaim his death’ being fed by his presence in his people through Word and Sacrament, there and only there, my pilgrim heart is sustained and satisfied.

Holidays are good but ‘holy-days’ are better.

04
Feb
11

the second man… the last adam

1Cor 15:45-47 (ESV)
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

God’s purposes never lay in the first man, Adam, but in the second man, Christ.  What came first was not God’s final intention.  When God the Father planned history as we know it, it was always all about Christ.  It was always Christ who was appointed ‘heir of all things’ and to whom God intended to subject the world (Hebs 2).  God’s ‘firstborn’ is Christ, not Adam.

Col 1:15-20 (ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The OT regularly indicated God’s preference for the second.  Cain was rejected and Abel was accepted.  God’s son of promise was not Ishmael  but Isaac.  Jacob the second twin not Esau would receive the birthright.   David, the second King, not Saul was God’s choice and the man after God’s own heart.  Not Adonijah but Solomon would be David’ successor. ‘  The principle from the ‘types’ was clear, Christ, not Adam, was God’s choice and heir.  Indeed we may use the language that is used for the old and new covenant to describe the Adam – Christ parallel: ‘he sets aside the first that he may establish the second’ (Hebs 10:9).

We should note too that there will be no ‘third man’ for the ‘second man’ is the ‘last Adam’.  No further humanity head will appear, no other is required.  Christ is not simply one prophet in a stream of prophets, he is a humanity head, a humanity source, and there will be none to follow.  There can be no advance on Christ, no improvement. To see and know him is to see and know the Father.

Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father’s only Son;
God manifestly seen and heard,
And Heav’n’s belovèd one:

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

In Thee most perfectly expressed
The Father’s glories shine;
Of the full deity possessed,
Eternally divine:

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

True image of the Infinite,
Whose essence is concealed;
Brightness of uncreated light;
The heart of God revealed:

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

But the high mysteries of Thy Name
An angel’s grasp transcend;
The Father only—glorious claim!—
The Son can comprehend:

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

Throughout the universe of bliss,
The center Thou, and sun;
Th’eternal theme of praise of this,
To Heav’n’s belovèd one:

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

Worship Jesus.

23
Jan
11

Christ is new creation

Our thoughts about Christ leave a lot to be desired.  All too often they are inadequate and demeaning.  Two notions I have been disputing over the past few months illustrate this well.   I have been inveighing against a rising tide that seems to suggest that new creation is simply Eden restored.  Christ takes us back to a pre-fall Adam.   At the same time I have been decrying the notion that Adam was created with the promise that if he obeyed he would gain eternal life for himself and his posterity; he failed, however, where the first Adam failed, Jesus, the second Adam, succeeded and by his law-obedience gained eternal life for himself and his posterity.

Both notions reveal a disturbingly low view of Christ.  They place far too small a gap between the humanity of Adam and Christ.  All agree that Adam and Christ are heads of two humanities, indeed of two creations.  All agree there is real continuity between Adam and Christ.  In a real sense Christ is the son of Adam (Lk 3:38).  ‘Since… the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil and deliver all those who l through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery… it is not angels that he helps, but… the offspring of Abraham’ (Hebs 2:14-16).  For the purposes of salvation, ‘… he had to be made like his brothers in every respect’ (Hebs 2:17).  Thus he is truly ‘the seed of the woman’.  His humanity is neither false nor phantom.  There is real continuity, real organic union with the race.  However, there is also real  discontinuity, or, perhaps better, distinction, and all too often this discontinuity or distinction is downplayed.

We must understand that  Adam and Christ are contrasted as much as they are compared, perhaps more so (Cf. Roms 5:12-20).  At the very least we must say Adam (before sin) was humanity in a state of infancy while Christ (even before resurrection) is humanity in maturity.   We may put it another way.  Adam (pre and post fall) was humanity as ‘flesh’ while Christ (pre and post resurrection) is humanity ‘in Spirit’.  Or, in the language of 1 Cor 15

1Cor 15:45-49 (ESV)
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Let me express this difference in a specific example: Adam was morally vulnerable, Christ was not.   We must never think that there was any possibility that Christ would fail to realise a new creation beyond sin.  He was not Adam trying to achieve new creation; he was in himself new creation.  The OT itself had asserted the certain triumph of his mission.  Hear the ringing confidence God has in Christ in Isaiah,

Isa 42:1-13 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  ​​​​​​​​He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;  ​​​​​​​​a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  ​​​​​​​​He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.  ​​​​​​​​Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:  ​​​​​​​​“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  ​​​​​​​​to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  ​​​​​​​​I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.  ​​​​​​​​Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”  ​​​​​​​​Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants.  ​​​​​​​​Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the habitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains.  ​​​​​​​​Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.  ​​​​​​​​The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.

The servant is invincible.  It is an invincibility borne of the fact that he is anointed by the Spirit of the Lord (I have put my Spirit upon him) and upheld by the Lord himself (I will take you by the hand and keep you); the Lord who is ‘mighty against his foes’ is with his servant.

When we turn to the NT we see that Christ is the one to whom the Spirit is given without measure (Jn 3:34).  He is not old creation in the flesh but new creation in the Spirit.  He is sustained by the Spirit in all he does.  He is born (conceived) of the Spirit (Lk 1:35, Matt 1:18)  He is led and filled by the Spirit (Matt 4:1; Lk 4:1).  The Spirit of the Lord anoints him and remains on him in his baptism (Jn 1:32,33) appointing him as the Spirit-empowered Messianic Redeemer who would bring salvation  (Lk 4; Isa 49, 61).  His Kingdom revealing miracles are miracles of the Spirit (Matt 12;28) and his words are words of the Spirit (Jn 6:53).   He is the Messianic Son who not only was himself baptised in the Spirit but would baptize others into this new covenant, new creation, life in the Spirit (Jn 1:33).   The Spirit who indwelt him he would sent to indwell his own new creation people (Jn 15:26).   As flesh can only give birth to flesh so only One who is ‘Spirit’ can give birth to ‘Spirit’ (Jn 3:6).  It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all, and the words of Christ are Spirit and life (Jn 6:63).   ‘Flesh’ never produces ‘Spirit’, old creation never produces new creation, only that which is already Spirit can produce Spirit, only new creation can produce new creation.  Again, in the words of  1 Cor 15, Christ is no mere Adam, of the earth and mere dust, he is ‘a life-giving Spirit’ (1 Cor 15).

Isaiah’s Servant had the promise that the Lord himself would take him by the hand and lead him.  When we come to the NT this translates into the Father and Son relationship that John’s gospel particularly develops.  Christ cannot fail because he can do nothing of his own accord, he can do only the things he sees his Father doing (Jn 5:19).  He and his Father are One (Jn 10:30).  He lives in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1:18), he is in the father and the Father in him (Jn 10:3, 14:10).  He dwells in the Father and the Father dwells in him (Jn 14:10).   All that the Father has he gives to Christ (Jn 16:15).   He lives by the Father, is consecrated and sent by the Father (Jn 10:36), does the works of his Father (Jn 10:37), speaks the words of the Father (Jn 12:49, 50), and follows the commands of his Father (Jn 14:31).   He and the Father work side by side (Jn 5:17).   To see and know Christ is to see and know the Father (Jn 14:9).  He had come from the Father and would return to the Father (Jn 16: 28, 13:1).  He had come from God and would return to God (Jn 13:3).  His origin is heaven not earth.  The first Man is of the dust of the earth, the second Man is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor 15).   In fact, he is a divine person.

Christ, the man,  is no mere Adam, he is no mere ‘Son of Adam’ trying to find the reward of eternal life through obedience and trying to rise from the humanity of flesh (old creation) to the humanity of Spirit (new creation).  Such ideas are woefully inadequate.  Christ has life ‘in himself’ (Jn 5:26).  In him was life (Jn 1:4).  He gives life to whomsoever he will (Jn 5;21).  His words are life ( Jn 6:63).  He is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25)  No-one takes his life from him.  He has authority to lay it down and to take it up again  (Jn 10:17,18).   He is the bread of Life (Jn 6:35).  He is the light of life (Jn 8:12).  He not only brings light, he is ‘the light’ (Jn 8:12). the ‘true light’ that lightens every man (Jn 1:9).  Language like this cannot be used of Adam.  This can only describe someone substantially different from Adam (pre or post-fall).  This is not simply a description of a new sinless Adam seeking to gain eternal life.  This language can only describe someone who is and brings others into a new order of humanity; Christ is not Adam restored, he is Adam reconfigured.

Adam was innocent, innocence implies an absence of sin: Christ was holy, holiness implies an abhorrence of sin.  Adam did not hate sin, he chose sin.  Christ loved righteousness and hated lawlessness (Hebs 1:9).  We are not encouraged to praise Christ because in moral vulnerability he faced sin and triumphed.  Rather we praise him because in the integrity of a humanity opposed to sin root and branch he bore all the opposition and grief that such a humanity would experience in a fallen and foul world to the extent of being made on the cross by God his Father what his holy humanity shrank from above all else , namely, sin.

Christ is invincible life, invincible new creation.  This is his great glory.  But this invincibility was at great cost.  He suffered being tempted.  Christ would not fail but the cost in not failing for him was enormous.  As new creation living in the hostile world of old creation he knew what it was to experience the opposition of sinners against himself (Hebs 12:3). He would not turn away from the Father’s will, he would drink the cup his Father gave him to drink, although that cup involved immeasurable suffering (Jn 18:11).  It was the cup drunk when through the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God (Hebs  9;14), the cup of being the flesh in which sin was condemned (Roms 8:3).  His faith as a true man was tested to the utmost.  He made faith chart new territory (Hebs 12:3) for he never faltered or deviated from the divine will however demanding  or distasteful (Matt 26:39).  He may face great odds but he will do so with confidence and boldness; he is certain he will triumph and not be shamed for the Lord is with him.

Isa 50:4-11 (ESV)
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.  ​​​​​​​​The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.  ​​​​​​​​I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.  ​​​​​​​​But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.  ​​​​​​​​He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.  ​​​​​​​​Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

This is the Christ of Scripture.  This is the Christ I know, worship and serve.  Not a weak uncertain Christ but an invincible Christ.  A Spirit-empowered Christ.  A Christ filled with all the fulness of the Godhead.  A Christ who is the man from heaven. Man in perfect and holy communion with God.  The Christ of new creation, a new creation whose fulness he enters finally and forever upon resurrection.  We, united to him in his resurrection, share in this new creation which before and without his death and resurrection we could not, for, ‘unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone but if it dies it brings much fruit’.

Let’s have great thoughts, biblical thoughts, of Christ.  He is God the Son who in incarnation not only introduced us to the Father but in becoming human introduced eschatological humanity, eternal life humanity, humanity in the Spirit, the humanity of new creation.

19
Jan
11

living as new creation… in old creation (1)

How do people who are new creation live in an old creation?  Or to put it more popularly, how should Christians relate the world?

What a huge question?  In a sense the whole of the NT is an answer to it.  In a few posts I want to tease out some of the implications of the fundamental point the Bible makes concerning the Christian and the world.  What, you might ask, is that?

The main point the gospel burns into Christian minds regarding the world is – we have died to it.

Let me say it again – we have died to it.

And again – we have died to it.

What is that you just said?

I said – we have died to it.

And just in case the point has slipped your attention, let me repeat it again – we have died to it.

There is nothing that is more significant for us as we think of our relationship to the world than to recognize that we have died to it.  We have died to the whole order of the old creation.  We are no longer ‘alive’ in this world (Col 2:20).  Christians are a new creation.   In the death of Christ we died to the old order or creation and in his resurrection we find ourselves with him raised to live in a new order a new creation.  We no longer belong to (we have died to) the old creation of which Adam was the head but belong to (now live as) the new creation of which Christ is the head.  We live in the present world but are not really part of it.  We are like expats, or, resident aliens (Phil 3:20).  We live and function on foreign soil; in a country but not of a country.

What does this mean?  What are the implications of this for life?

The Bible spells out a number.  We discover that the various destructive forces that control the people of the present world, no longer control us.  The old fallen creation is controlled by various powers:  the world itself (Eph 1:1);  Satan (1 Jn 5:19; Eph 1:1); sin (Roms 6:6); rebellious flesh (Eph 2:3; Gals 2:24); God’s Law (Roms 7:1-6) and so on.  As people dead to this world we are free from them.  They have no rights or authority over us.  We need not listen to them or be intimidated by them.  The world’s allure is broken, Satan’s vice-like grip is unprised, sin is no longer a tyrant to be obeyed, the flesh is no longer the power on the throne of our hearts, the law (Mosaic)  is no longer an authority that accuses and to which we answer, death no longer has holding rights,  and God’s wrath is no longer a reality we need fear.  All are gone.   They are forces that have rights and threaten only in a world to which we are dead.  If we allow any to gain control it is because we choose to not because we must.  To be intimidated by any is a lack of faith.  It means we do not really believe we have died to this world.  As Paul says to the Colossians,

Col 2:16-23 (ESV)
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.

Mere pseudo-spiritual taboos and legalistic ascetic practices for their own sake (such as belong to many man-made religions and even the God-given faith of Judaism) are of no value in promoting spiritual life.  They are all examples of ‘flesh-religion’.  They have not grappled with the one radical truth that truly liberates, the truth that believers have died with Christ and are no longer ‘alive in the world’.  Once we grasp this and see that the source of our life, our joy, our satisfaction our holiness and all else is in heaven the superficiality and futility of these ‘recommended’ routes to holiness are seen for what they are.

It is wonderfully liberating to understand that death broke all debilitating relationships  and new creation means I may live free from them.  If I live for a time in another country they may have all sorts of habits, customs, histories, philosophies and cultural trappings that shape them.  I am shaped by none of these.  I come from another country.  I have been shaped by a different history and a different culture.  I am not a prisoner of the culture of my temporarily adopted country.  I am here only as a short-stay resident. I exist on a visa.   I am  passing through on my way home.  I am a pilgrim. To all that fashions and controls the world in which I live, I am as one dead.

06
Jan
11

does god care more for people or plants?

The malevolent ingenuity of Satan and the muggable incredulity of Christians never ceases to amaze.  If there is a cockeyed way of thinking then Satan will suggest it and we will embrace it.  One that  deserves a place in Satan’s Hall of Fame for C21 delusions is the idea that somehow God cares more about plants than people.  Or to dress the barmy belief up in more respectable clothes (and let’s face it to be credible it demands all the theological help it can get) the trendy teaching that God’s big concern is the salvation of the Cosmos rather than the Church.

Now if we were simply hearing that God intends to renew creation that would be fine.  It would be eminently biblical and have an honourable tradition.  Evangelicals have always believed this despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise.  But we are not simply being told that God cares for creation and intends to renew it.  We are being told this is God’s main concern.  We are being told the gospel that focuses on the salvation of individual sinners is a gross distortion of the gospel.  The salvation of individual sinners from sin is a selfish concern, a ‘redemptive myth’, or at best ‘bit part’ in God’s great Cosmic drama of salvation.

Kevin De Young, obviously aware of this trend, has a helpful blog about it here.  He well says,

Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners.

Precisely. It is hard to believe that any could read their Bible and think anything else.  Read the story of creation.  The great drama of creation in Gen 1 does not reach a crescendo in v1 when God creates the heavens and the earth.  Nor is it in the creation of light (day one), nor the separating of waters below and above the firmament (day two), nor the separating of land and seas (day three)… the climax and crescendo of creation is day six when God makes man in his own image and likeness and personally breathes into him the breath of life.  Man is the focus and prime purpose of creation.  He it is, who bearing the divine image, God intended (and intends) to ‘crown with glory and honour’ and give ‘dominion over all the works of his hands’ (Ps 8).

It is not the plants in the garden that God comes to savour in the cool of the day, he comes to have fellowship with Adam.  The heavens and the earth, an arena of divine glory, were nonetheless designed for man’s blessing (Gen 1:26-30; 9:1-3).

When sin enters the world and brings destruction, God’s first concern is man.  It is man he clothes.  Indeed, it is in Man that a serpent-slaying deliverer will be found.  God will himself become man (in the final analysis this nutty notion is an assault on the value of Christ himself).  God’s love ultimately is not creation, nor even angels, but the seed of Abraham (Hebs 2).

Throughout the OT, while God is concerned about his creation, his chief desire is a relationship with humanity.  The rich images of OT relationship underline this.  He is a Father to Israel.  He is a Husband to his People.  He is a Lover to those he has set his love upon.  He does not ‘know’ creation, he ‘knows’ his people (Amos 3:2).  It is his people he loves ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jer 31).

The NT is exactly the same.   Joseph was told in Matthew’s gospel to call the child ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’.   The gospels, we are told, are concerned with a bigger picture, yet here, right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover that Jesus has come to ‘save his people from their sins’.  Yes Matthew will speak later of the renewal of all things (Matt 19) but his concern even then, as he speaks of the ‘new world’ are those who will share with him in the life of that new world, the sons of the kingdom (Matt 19:23-30).

In new creation, as in old creation, God’s primary concern is not with property and plants but with people.  Like any good Father his primary love and chief absorption is not with his capital or chattels  but his children, not his real estate but his sons and daughters.  They are his heirs, a new heavens and earth is but part of their inheritance. In marvellous, staggering, dumbfounding grace God has made us his kin and bequeathed to us all he has (1 Cor 3:21).

Jesus argues from the self-evidently greater value of people over plants to convince his people not to worry.

Matt 6:25-30 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

De Young points out that in Roms 8 creation’s future is contingent upon Christians and not vice versa.

Rom 8:18-22 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We could glance too at the picture of new creation in Rev 21.  What is interesting in this chapter is that only the first verse of the chapter mentions the new heavens and earth.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with describing, not the glory of the new heavens and earth but of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ and it is in her that the glory of God resides.  The high point of redemption is not a new heavens and new earth wonderful though that is but as the loud voice from the throne cries in joy and triumph,

Rev 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Just in case the point has evaded us, God’s joy and glory and fulfilment is in his people not plants.  That evangelical theologians are prepared to argue otherwise is simply a proof of how wily Satan is and how wacky (though wise in their own conceits) some theologians can be.




the cavekeeper

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

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