Posts Tagged ‘World

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
Mar
12

philosophy and christian faith

It was the Church Father Tertullian who famously asked, ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’  He meant that human philosophy has nothing in common with the revealed faith of Christianity.  In this he merely echoed the sentiments of the apostle Paul some 150 years previously.

The Colossian church was plagued by a heresy that was a hydran mixture of philosophy (human wisdom) mysticism (human spirituality) and Judaism (human religiosity).  Paul writes to the church to attack this hydra’s three malevolent heads.  The first of these is philosophy.  Paul is adamant that human philosophy has no place in Christian faith.

Col 2:8-10 (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.

This is the only direct reference to philosophy in Scripture and it is hardly positive.  Elsewhere Paul speaks pejoratively of the ‘wisdom of this world’ which presumably includes philosophy, especially as the wisdom he refers to is specifically Greek.

I find it strange that some commentators (by no means all) claim that Paul’s disparaging of ‘philosophy’ has no reference to Greek philosophy or philosophy generally, but merely to ideas current in C1 cults and mystery religions.   It may well be to these cults that Paul refers (though this is by no means certain), however, even if this is so, the ideas current in these cults were simply drawn from the wider philosophical milieu.  The theosophic (gnostic) speculation Paul denounces, that matter was intrinsically evil and therefore the body should be denied in aspiring to spiritual enlightenment,  has a clear straight line to the major Greek platonic philosophies that denigrated the material world associating it with lesser gods or demiurge.  Paul pulls the feet from this Hellenistic dualism when he says of Christ, ‘in him dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily‘; incarnation makes a mockery of platonic wisdom.

We should not doubt that Scripture does not look on human philosophies benignly.  They are part of the world that crucified Christ.  Pilate’s plaque above the cross was in Greek, as well as Latin and Aramaic; the cross is the moral measure of human wisdom.  Had the rulers of this world  true wisdom they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8).   God, in the cross, destroyed the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor 1:19).  He exposed it for the empty vain thing it is.  The Lord knows that the wisdom of the wise is futile (1 Cor 3:20). He revealed too its intrinsic animosity to himself since it indicts God’s wisdom in the cross as foolishness (1 Cor 1:22,23).  Human learning (in itself a good thing) is corrupt because it is the product of  a world hostile to God and blinded by the god of this world; can a bad tree produce good fruit?  Human wisdom springs from death and can only produce death; it arises from darkness and can only result in darkness.  It is little different from false religion.  It has no route to God and sheds no light on God.

Nowhere is the mind independent of God more obvious than in philosophical pursuit.  Philosophy is the pursuit of understanding (wisdom) apart from divine revelation.  The venture is from the outset rebellious folly destined to fail.  It assumes the capability of autonomous reason to arrive at truth and does not submit to God’s truth.   It is intellectual hubris.  Little wonder Paul associates philosophy with ‘vain deceit’.

And it is vain in both senses of the word (futile and self-regarding).  Ancient Greece with its extolling of human reason is considered the cradle of civilization.   The humanism that tells us ‘man is the centre of all things’  finds its philosophical roots there.  In human reason the ascent of man was believed to lie.  Philosophy and learning was and is considered refining and elevating.  Philosophy, it was claimed, enabled one to rise above the moral degeneracy of the age.  The trouble is the philosophers themselves all too often gave the lie to this.  They judged the morality of others yet did the same things themselves (Roms 2:1).  Moreover the philosophical assumption that matter was evil produced all kinds of lascivious behaviour.  Education makes clever people, not good people, and certainly not holy people.

Paul is clear, the only wisdom that elevates the human spirit above itself and empowers for godliness is the risen reigning Christ.  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (not in philosophy).  We are elevated and enriched when we set our minds on things above where Christ is (Col 3:1,2).  Neither Pythagoras,  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Hume, Voltaire, Camus, nor whoever, is the wisdom of God: Christ alone is the wisdom of God.  None of these add a whit to him nor to what believers have in him: we are complete in Christ.  Philosophy does not commend, compliment or complete Christ; it corrupts Christ.  It flows from a different stream altogether.

This truth, however, is not  universally recognised.  Over the centuries Christians have argued whether philosophy and the Christian faith were friends or enemies.  Some like Tertullian rightly saw it as an enemy, others, like Augustine of Hippo, as a friend.  Where philosophy was treated as a friend syncretism and confusion  soon followed (Augustine tried to synthesize Greek and Hebrew thought). Why not make the scandal of the cross more agreeable to  the wise and great?  Why not engraft to the Galilean faith the common sense of Aristotle or the wisdom of Plato?  The Middle Ages show what a disaster such a venture was. Soon philosophy buried the gospel; human reasoning and biblical faith have nothing in common around which to unite so one must occlude the other.  Philosophy caters to human pride while the message of the cross crushes it.  Faith repudiates philosophy, not only as a rival but as an ally; it rests only on God’s Word; it accepts that Word as absolute and exclusive.  Yet today, our universities again side with Augustine and indeed go further.  Theology and philosophy are often the same faculty.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes in 2002,

In the last forty years, however, philosophers of religion have returned to the business of theorizing about many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity and have begun to apply the tools of contemporary philosophy in ways that are somewhat more eclectic than what was envisioned under the Augustinian or Thomistic models. In keeping with the recent academic trend, contemporary philosophers of religion have been unwilling to maintain hard and fast distinctions between the two disciplines. As a result, it is often difficult in reading recent work to distinguish what the philosophers are doing from what the theologians (and philosophers) of past centuries regarded as strictly within the theological domain. Indeed, philosophers and theologians alike are now coming to use the term “analytic theology” to refer to theological work that aims to explore and unpack theological doctrines in a way that draws on the resources, methods, and relevant literature of contemporary analytic philosophy. The use of this term reflects the heretofore largely unacknowledged reality that the sort of work now being done under the label “philosophical theology” is as much theology as it is philosophical.

This is profoundly worrying for the future.  It means all Christian theology is approached from a humanistic perspective and not as divine revelation; Athens has captured Jerusalem.  What kind of theological training will our best evangelical minds receive in our universities?  How far will evangelical colleges and seminaries eager for academic recognition and accreditation capitulate to this paradigm?  Does Evangelical theology (a theology submissive to revelation) have a future? I fear the collapse of faith will be profound. (See comment by John Frame here.)

Alongside this marriage, aiding and abetting, is the popular evangelical slogan that ‘all truth is God’s truth’.  Its roots are Augustinian though it was popularised in a book of the same title by Christian philosopher Arthur F Holmes.  As someone wrote of Holmes,

Throughout his writings and career, Holmes emphasized that, indeed, “all truth is God’s truth.” His desire was for Christians to not shy away from the difficult questions that may arise from whatever subject of academic study they choose. With a firm belief that any truth they find can be reconciled with their faith, Holmes challenged educators and Christians in academia to grapple with what they are interested in, noting that a strong faith can handle some turbulence while coming to a better understanding of God’s creation.’

However, Holmes’ statement, while from a philosophical perspective true is from a biblical perspective untrue.  It is untrue for its definition of truth is not biblical.  We should be clear that Scripture views truth as EXCLUSIVELY special revelation. God’s Word alone is truth.  Indeed, Christ alone is the truth.  He is not part of the truth but the whole.  There is no truth missing in Christ that needs supplemented by philosophy.

Further, truth, biblically considered, is unitary.  It is a whole.  Truth is either ‘truth’ or ‘the truth’, it is never ‘a truth’.  It is a revelation of things as they really are and as they are in relation to each other.  Thus Christ reveals God as he really is.  He reveals humanity as it really is (humanity’s true state is exposed at the cross).   But Scripture never calls the wisdom of the world ‘truth’, far less ‘the truth’.  Rather the wisdom of the world (whatever it may be) and the wisdom of God always stand in opposition.    In fact, the world is opposed to truth in its biblical sense.  In hatred, it crucified the one who spoke truth and was the embodiment of truth.  Jesus said,

John 8:42-47 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

The whole world lies in the evil one who is the father of lies; it loves lies and hates the truth.  It will not come to the light because its deeds are evil (Jn 3:19).  It cannot receive the Spirit because he is the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17).  Truth in Scripture is ever a spiritual reality, revealed to spiritual people by the Spirit.

1Cor 2:2-14 (ESV)
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.  Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

It is blasphemy to suggest that those who hate the truth can complete the truth that God himself declares He has already revealed in its completion in Christ through his Spirit.   The natural man receives not the things of God.  Only he that is of God hears God’s words (John 8:47). Philosophy and human learning give no spiritual insight, they cannot, they are ‘of the world not the Father’.  Mere factual knowledge that is true is not truth in any biblical sense of the word.  Holmes, in his bid to marry philosophy and faith deferred to a philosophical definition of truth rather than a biblical one.  This is a parable in itself; when united, philosophy will always trump revelation.

I understand why Holmes argued as he did.  He wished to make it easier for Christians to engage positively in the various disciplines of learning.  However, by adopting this ‘philosophical’ definition of truth (opposed to the revelatory definition) he fostered (unwittingly) an engagement with learning which is not nearly critical and suspicious enough.  I am by no means suggesting that Christians must not engage in the learning process or that they ought not study philosophy (see here for helpful advice for those who do).  Daniel was skilled in all the learning of Babylon. Paul was clearly well-educated.  Providentially, God in his goodness has allowed knowledge to flourish.  Developing human knowledge was always part of his creational intent (Prov 25:2). Thankfully, conscience prevents human reasoning and thinking degenerating as far as it may otherwise do (although fallen reason is always trying to neutralise conscience).     Human learning is valuable in many ways but only when we know its limits and its nature.  I am not suggesting that we despise knowledge.

What I am suggesting is that we must engage in education convinced of a clear divide between human learning and biblical truth.  We ought not to attempt to marry the two or blur distinctions. Nor should we consider human learning innocuous and value-free.  Its source insists otherwise.  We should approach it with our antennae well-attuned.  We should never be enthralled by it, beguiled by it, or in love with it; a critical mind and vigilance is vital. Christ, not human learning, is the object of the Christian’s love and captivation.  Christ, who is foolishness to the world, for the believer is the truth that elevates, frees, feeds, matures and thralls.

If our faith is philosophically-focussed rather than Christ-focussed we are losing touch with the head.  I have known a number of people who love Christian philosophy and apologetics  They enjoy debate, reflection, reasoning, and speculation.  They love Augustine or Thomas or Kierkegaard or Tillich or Lewis or Ellul or Schaeffer but sometimes it’s not clear they love Christ and what Paul calls ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ (Eph 4:21).  Philosophy is not Christ and to love abstractions is not to love Christ; Christ is a person seated in heaven on whom the eyes of faith are fixed.

In conclusion, philosophically (wisdom-perspective-wise) our world aind its learnng is opposed to God and cannot be otherwise.  If anyone  thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  Our faith is at every point an affront to human wisdom, is spiritually independent of it, and complete in Christ without it.   Philosophy belongs to the world not Christ.  Let Paul’s words, quoted at the commencement of this post, be the final word.

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

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.

16
Jul
10

flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (6) ‘dead to the world’

In previous blogs on this thread we have seen that key to understanding the Christian life is grasping that God, through the death of Christ, has translated us from this world of ‘flesh’ into the world of ‘the Spirit’.  This translation lies at the heart of the gospel.  Christians are not ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’.  We are not ‘old creation’ but ‘new creation’.

We must be clear that the flesh/Spirit divide of which Scripture is not a platonic dichotomy.  It is not material versus the immaterial.  No, both worlds in the Bible, whether of flesh or spirit, are physical and material.  Matter is not evil.  Yet at the same time we must remember that ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ do represent two different worlds; the world/age that now is and the world/age to come.  We belong, as Christians, not to this world (old creation, this passing age, earthly, Adamic, weak, and of the flesh) but to the new world (new creation, the age to come, heavenly, Christic, powerful, and of the Spirit).  This works itself out in all sorts of ways.

To be no longer ‘of the flesh’ is to be no longer ‘of the world’.  Speaking to the Father concerning his disciples (and himself) Jesus says:

John 17:14 … they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. ESV

Paul says to the Colossians

Col 2:19-20 (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…

In this blog I want to explore more fully what it means to be ‘not of this world’ (Jn 17:14) or in Paul’s language to be no longer ‘alive in the world’.

not of this world…

A fundamental reality the Christian must grasp is that as far as this world is concerned he is to consider himself ‘dead’..  We have ‘died with Christ’.  That is the declaration of our baptism (Roms 6).   Our death with Christ underlies and informs all the NT teaching of what it means to be a Christian, especially that of Paul.  Indeed, we can really only make sense of Paul and of the Christian life when we grasp this critical truth.  It is in grasping the implications of our death with Christ that we begin to grasp the shape our life as a Christian ought to take.

Previously we explored two conclusions Paul draws in Romans from no longer being ‘in the flesh’ or being ‘dead’; to have ‘died with Christ’ means we are no longer under the control of sin  (Roms 6) and no longer under the authority of the Mosaic Law (Roms 7).  However, the implications are much more wide-reaching.

Sin and Law are just two ‘powers’ in the world that have no rights over us.  The world is a ‘power’ that has no rights over us either. Clearly we must define a little more closely what we mean by ‘the world’.  The Bible defines the world in three senses: the world as physical creation; the world as a human culture since the fall opposed to God (corporate flesh); and the world simply of people, of humanity.  It is not always easy to decide to which of these a biblical writer is referring and there are probably overlaps.  Paul, speaking of the present age and its human culture opposed to God writes this in Ephesians 2.

Eph 2:1-3 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Unconverted people, all part of a culture opposed to God are enslaved various to values, attitudes, idolatries, and  evil forces that are opposed to God.  That is what ‘flesh’ is in a fallen world.  The Christian has died to this world.  He is no longer part of this humanity, this culture opposed to God, this present age.  He lives in this world as part of a new humanity in Christ not Adam, in the Spirit and not the flesh, an ambassador of  the age or world to come rather than the world and age that now is.

We said earlier that believers are no longer under the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses applied to people who were living in this world.  It had no power over people who died.  We could just as easily say that believers are not really under the law of the land.  What right has the law of the land have over dead people?  As believers, we subject ourselves to the law of the land as we do to every  God-appointed authority in this world, but we do so, not because of we are citizens and have a duty to do so (for we are dead).  Rather we submit ourselves ‘for the Lord’s sake’.

Peter writes,

1Pet 2:13-16 (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.

Note carefully the reason we are to ‘subject ourselves’.  It is ‘for the Lord’s sake‘.  Peter has just pointed out that here in this world believers are exiles and strangers (like modern day travelling people)  .  We don’t really really belong.  In a sense, we are ‘outside’ the culture.  We are ‘people who are free’.  We are not ‘alive in this world’ and subject to its rules.  It has no real claim on us (dead people are beyond the world’s claims and the claims of any in it).  Yet we subject ourselves to the various authorities that God has placed in this world (as did Christ, who even on earth subjected himself to authorities over which he rightly ruled) for this pleases God and glorifies him.

Paul urges us not to view ourselves in terms of our position in this age but in terms of the age to come.

1Cor 7:21-22 (ESV)
Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.

or again

1Cor 9:19 (ESV)
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

Whatever may appear to be our position in life, in the world, it is not the reality about us.  The reality is our new identity in Christ.  It is who we are in the world to come that really defines us.  It is our status in that world that is the real truth about us even now.  We live, for the moment, in paradox.  Paul grasps this when he writes:

2Cor 6:9-10
As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live…  as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

In this world we are unknown, in the one to come, well known.  In this world we may like Paul (and Abraham travelling through Canaan) possess little but as heirs of God all things are ours.  Just as the risen Christ is exalted and the possesor of all things, so we who are united to the risen Christ and our true life is in him there so Paul can say to the Corinthians

1Cor 3:21-23 (ESV)
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Thus, Paul and Scripture, invite us to judge everything as though we were no longer ‘alive’ in this world (someone part and parcel of this present culture, living in it, like it, and for it).  For, in truth, we are not.

Gal 6:14-16 (ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Now this is by no means a full discussion of this topic.  It is only a snippet.  Much more needs to be said to do it justice.  In fact it is a topic I feel I only understand a little.  I do want to add that being crucified to the world does not mean that we should not participate in everyday life.  Nor does it mean we should not enjoy many of the good gifts of life God has given us.  The created order is God-given and good.  Much that society creates is good and morally neutral.  Paul expressly says God has given us all things (non-sinful things) richly to enjoy.    Yet we will not live for these or be controlled by them.  We will use them gladly and thankfully, appropriately and wisely as gifts from God as we serve him as new creatures in Christ Jesus in a fallen world.  But we will not lose our hearts to them.  We will use them remembering that the things seen are temporary and the things unseen are eternal.  We will remember as Paul said

1Cor 7:29-31 (ESV)
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.

12
Jul
10

fed up with christ?

In the desert, Israel was fed by God.  She was fed by manna.  Moses describes it to the people as ‘the bread that the Lord has given you to eat’ (Ex 16:15).   Falling from heaven it tasted like ‘wafers with honey’ (Ex 16:31) and like ‘cakes baked with oil’ (Numbs 11:8).  Each day the manna came and each Israelite was free to gather as much as he could eat (Ex 16:16; Ps 78:24,25).  It was heavenly food from God  that he promised he would provide for Israel all through the desert until the nation reached the Promised Land (Ex 16:32).  It was sufficient to nourish and satisfy.

But what at first was a delight and a godsend, began to lose its appeal.  The people grew weary of manna and began to complain.

Num 11:4-6 (ESV)
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

A later summary of their journey in the desert we read

Num 21:4-5 (ESV)
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

Their rejection of the manna was no trivial thing.  They were rejecting what God had given to sustain them as they journeyed to Canaan.  The result was God came down in judgement among the people (Numbs 11:33; 21:6).

The NT makes clear that the manna pictured Christ.  Christ himself says he is the ‘bread of God that has come down from heaven’.

John 6:31-33 (ESV)
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

John 6:48-51 (ESV)
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

For a Christian the food he has to nourish and satisfy as he journey’s through this world to the Promised Land is Christ.  He is the ‘hidden manna’ (Rev 2:17). Our strength and energy to sustain the life of faith in this world (which is a spiritual desert) comes from daily feeding our souls on Christ.

John 6:55-58 (ESV)
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.’

The question is: do we find Christ sufficiently satisfying?  Or do we, like Israel, get fed up with God’s food.  Do we weary of Christ?  God has given us many good things in life to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17).  If they become so attractive they are more attractive and satisfying than Christ then they become a spiritual danger.  Christ alone is the food that will truly nourish our souls on our pilgrimage of faith.




the cavekeeper

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

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