Archive for the 'Creation' Category

06
Apr
15

jesus, the logos, the word of god

Christianity is Christ.  A Christian is someone who has faith in Christ.  He has come to see the glory of Christ and to be enthralled.  The glory of Christ is all he is and all he has accomplished.  There are many facets to this glory and Scripture uses many images or better, concepts, to describe it but perhaps none is richer than that employed by John in the prologue to his gospel; for John, Jesus is ‘the Word’,  the logos, the Word of God.

Many have commented on John’s genius in employing this image. It was a word familiar to the Greek world of that time, particularly the world of philosophy and religious concepts.  The use of logos gives John a point of contact with this world, a concept bridge to more easily convey the gospel into another culture.  That being said, John’s source for logos is not Greek but Hebrew; like the other NT writers his conceptual and semantic source, as far as truth is concerned is the OT Scripture.  Revelation not human reason is his authority.

To understand the gospel meaning of logos we must begin with OT revelation for that is where John begins.  Or rather, where the Spirit begins, for the genius in revelation does not lie with John but with the Spirit who inspired both John and the OT writers before him, the same Spirit who providentially ensured that logos was a concept in the cultures surrounding, corrupted of course, and awaiting the light of the gospel to imbue it with its true meaning and glory.

John, in unpacking what he means by ‘the Word’,  begins as far back as revelation reaches; he begins in Genesis One.  There we learn the Word is…

a divine word

Speech is the expression of who we are.  Our speech, even in deceitful folks like us, reveals our hearts.  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34; 15:18).  What we say is profoundly who we are.  In God, who cannot lie, his speech is the perfect expression of who he is. God’s heart and his word are one; what he says, he is.  It is this indivisible union between God and his word that John employs to express the deity of Jesus.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.

We should be in no doubt what John is saying in this climax building statement: he is saying as plainly as he possibly can what he goes on to confirm in a variety of ways  throughout his gospel that Jesus is a divine person (though actually John avoids the normal Greek word for divine, theios, because apparently it may be used for something  less than God and uses only the definite word for God, theos), he is God: the word was, the word was with God, the word was God.  Some of the building blocks of a full-blown doctrine of the trinity are being laid here and John traces the revelation to the opening words of Scripture, to Genesis.

In Genesis one, when all things were created, we read, ‘and God said…’.  Here, in this ‘said‘, John finds ‘the Word who will become flesh’.  

Greek ideas apparently suggested that a word, a principle of reason, or created knowledge  was involved in the basis of the universe.  But whatever vague ideas concerning origins may have been permitted by God to develop John is clear that the creative word is divine.  From Genesis onward nothing is more closely associated with God than his Word.  It is who he is.  In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as he which was with God in the beginning (Proverbs 8).  No doubt OT references to God’s word and wisdom inform this first primary assertion of John, that Jesus is the divine word.  He can fully reveal God for he is God.

In various ways this will find echoes throughout the gospel.  He is the unique Son displaying the glory of an only Son of a Father (1:14).  No one has seen God at any time but the Son who dwells in the Father’s side has made him known (1:17).  He is the Son who does what he sees his Father do (Jn 5:19), the Father whose divine glory he shared before the world began (Jn 17:5).

Again, John’s sentence at the beginning of the gospel makes it clear and cannot be improved on: in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.

the creative word

In creation ‘God said… and it was so‘ (Gen 1:3,6,9).  God creates, of this there is no doubt.  Yet, to be precise, it is God’s word that creates.  But this is not contradiction for God and his Word though distinct are clearly one.  Everything God does he does by speaking, by a word, by his Word.  Autocratic kings of the East spoke and their word carried absolute authority.  Here is kingly authority and power on another scale altogether.  God is the autocratic King of all things.  His word is fiat in all of creation.  It does exactly what he intends.  His word is never empty but always energetic and effective (Isa 55:11).  God’s word is limitlessly powerful.  It is powerfully active (Ps 29:3-8).  It is completely authoritative.  By his word the worlds were framed and that which had no existence came into being (Hebs 11:1; Roms 4:17).  He spoke and it was done.  He commanded and it stood fast (Psalm 33:9). God’s word always succeeds because God himself watches over it to perform it (Jer 1:12).  He is jealous for the honour and glory of his word.  Indeed, such is the value and esteem God places on his Word that he magnifies it above all his name (Psalm 138:2).   There is about God’s word, an authority and majesty that makes it sure and settled; it is invincibly established (Psalm 119:89).  The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of the Lord stands, endures, forever (Isaiah 40:8).  Why?  Because God himself endures forever.

Given language like this it is not hard to see the profound biblicity of John’s statement:  the word was with God and the word was God.  God and his speech are distinct but indivisible.  And Christ is this limitlessly powerful creative Word.  He is God’s agent in creation.  God created the world of this there is no doubt.  Yet it is Christ, the Word, that creates.  All things are made by him (Col 1:16; Hebs 1:3).  God plans, his word performs.

But does this not mean he is a created being who made everything after he himself was previously made by God?  The Genesis ‘and God said’ should sufficiently guard against this.  God’s breath (the Spirit) and his creative word (the Son) are not created things separate from God but part of who God is, integral to him.  Yet, John further guards against the misconception that the word is created, by adding, ‘without him was not anything made that was made’.  He is not created, rather he creates all things with no exceptions. Thus in Christ, the Word of God, is all the fullness of God.  He dwells in the bosom of the Father (God’s word is precious to him) and has told him out.  It is the Father’s intention that the Son (the word) be honoured and glorified and in this God is himself glorified (Jn 17:1).  He is the one who does all that the Father does and is all that the Father is (Jn 5, 14).  Father and Son are one.  God and his Word are one.

God’s word in the beginning is manifestly good; it creates the fecundity of life.  In the creation week life burgeoned in every realm of the earth by the Word: God said and it was so.  It  seems that the first expressed word of God in Genesis  is, ‘ light, let there be’.  Life and light those great and good gifts of the Creator come through his Word.  Of that same Word, now revealed in Jesus,  John says, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of men‘.  Now, however, the emphasis will be on spiritual life and spiritual light.  Jesus comes as the light of the world through whom, though a man walk in darkness he shall receive the light of life.  The Word who has life in himself will give life to whomsoever he will.  He comes full of grace and truth and of his grace we have received grace upon grace.  He is the one who will not fail (it is folly, as we have seen, to speak of God’s Word failing).  He is the divine Word who is established and watched over by God himself, who will endure forever.  Biblical images or better, realities, intersect, morph and mould as they seek to do justice to the one whose glory is the glory of the only son of the Father.  Jesus is the unified, true, perfect and complete expression of the Father.

the incarnate word

All the above discussion presupposes the Word, though God, is distinct within God and has distinct personality.  In fact, since John’s Word is a man on earth, Jesus, we know it goes much further.  Thus we confront John’s brave, bold and unambiguous language, ‘the word became flesh and lived (tabernacled) among us‘.  The Word who was God and was with God in the beginning became human.

Here is a concept utterly repugnant to fashionable sophisticated thinking.  Greek thinking saw matter, the material universe,  as something essentially base.  God could have nothing to do with it.  He is pure spirit and could not contaminate himself with grubby matter.  If he created he must have done so through secondary intermediary created forces (demi-urges).  But John will have none of this.  The Word was God and the Word became flesh.  By using the word ‘flesh’ John was deliberately choosing a word that conveyed the stark uncompromising reality of the incarnation.  God became the very thing all tasteful cultured educated people found inferior and gross and hoped one day to escape, unpalatable flesh; the spiritual became material.  The logos was not some impersonal creative force but a divine person who became a human person.  Even the Jewish theologians do not seem to have anticipated this.  Whenever, I hear folks say we must adapt the gospel to make it palatable to our current generation or it will die out I think of just how essentially counter cultural so many aspects of the gospel was at its inception: God manifest in flesh is one huge example.  The ‘truth’, was not tied up in philosophy and clever human reasoning; it was found in a man who was the perfect expression of all wisdom and knowledge, of God himself, for he was God.

The Word became flesh.  The Son became human.  The glory seen to the eye of faith was the glory of an only Son of a Father.  But that, perhaps, is a topic for a future post.

16
Jan
13

chalke turns the grace of God into licence

Steve Chalke recently, ‘conducted a dedication and blessing service following the Civil Partnership of two wonderful gay Christians.’  Why?  He wanted,

‘to extend to these people what I would do to others: the love and support of our local church. Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ.’  

That a Civil Partnership is not a marriage does not appear to concern him, to say nothing of the plain condemnation of homosexual practice in Scripture.  The overriding concern for him is simply: ‘the Church has a God-given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded.

Inclusion is all, repentance and conversion (changes of belief and behaviour) and the plain commands of Scripture don’t seem to matter.   Chalke has decided homosexual relationships within a Civil Partnership are acceptable to God and should be celebrated –  everything must bow to this absolute.   Further, he wants to convince us this is so.  How does he go about it?  Read his article for yourself.  It will help you to see first-hand the manipulative sleight-of-hand to which people like Chalke resort.

He attempts to undermine our confidence in two thousand years of uniform interpretation (as, of course, he must).

‘Traditionally, it is argued that the injunctions of both the Old and New Testaments against homosexual activity are irrefutable, and therefore any attempt to interpret them in new ways betrays the Bible. Things, however, may not be as we thought.’ 

Genesis does not after all, it appears, provide a universal creational model, homosexuals for one are excluded. We have misinterpreted some passages that appear to condemn homosexuality and others are the subject of scholarly debate and so we cannot be certain (is any text that says something unwelcome free of scholarly debate).  Readings which understand texts to condemn homosexuality are minority views (though they are not so historically, nor among most Conservative Evangelicals, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics are they so presently).  The church has got it badly wrong in the past (solar system and slavery trotted out as usual examples) and minority views triumphed (his previous argument suggested accepting homosexuality was not a minority view while this one assumes it is). And his trump card, the Bible plainly and uncompromisingly forbids women teaching and in leadership yet we ignore what it says so why do we insist on obeying its commands on homosexuality?

This last argument seems to me to be particularly disingenuous.  I wonder if Chalke has always argued the texts teaching patriarchy are so uncompromisingly plain? Somehow, I doubt it.  However, it suits him now to concede the patency and cogency of these texts for he can charge with inconsistency those who ‘reinterpret’ these yet don’t treat the homosexuality texts with the same favour.  Better, he can insist that the hermeneutic (a ‘wider hermeneutic’ and presumably more sophisticated one than ‘simple exegesis’) that guided the acceptance of women in leadership despite prima facie evidence to the contrary ought to be employed in the texts that forbid homosexuality.  As he says, Here is my question: shouldn’t we take the same principle that we readily apply to the role of women, slavery, and numerous other issues, and apply it to our understanding of permanent, faithful, homosexual relationships? Wouldn’t it be inconsistent not to?

For Chalke, this ‘principle’ or ‘wider hermeneutic’ is a ‘trajectory hermeneutic’.  The Bible, it appears does not speak with ‘one voice’.  Although God’s self-revelation is fully revealed in Jesus, apparently what is revealed is not necessarily complete or accurate for a ‘trajectory’ hermeneutic will help us to arrive at the truth that is appropriate to this point in history.   Paul, a Christ-appointed messenger, was clearly mistaken to see homosexual behaviour as ‘against nature’ and place those who lived an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle outside of the kingdom.  He was clearly not inclusive enough.  Presumably, the problem was that his heart was not as compassionate as that of Chalke.  Though, perhaps he can be excused for his misguided and cruel exclusions since he did not have Chalke’s light; he did not live as far along the trajectory of evolving truth.   Jude was clearly mistaken when he spoke of ‘the faith once and for all delivered to the saints’.

The hubris is breathtaking.  The evil is palpable; it is insinuating, coiling, and serpentine.

Let me be clear.  Chalke, in avowing this (considered) libertine position, is not a brother in Christ who is simply a little misguided who should be welcomed and not judged.  He should be judged.  He is fully aware what he promotes and its implications.  He is wolverine, a false teacher, a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ twisting the Scripture to his own destruction.  He ‘turns the grace of God into sexual licence and so deny’s our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ’ (Jude 4).   Chalke’s actions towards homosexual people are not loving and gracious they are anything but so. It is not loving to declare pure what God finds abominable and to bless what God curses. To say ‘peace’ when there is ‘no peace’ is the most cruel of all lies and the hallmark of a false prophet.  Such false prophets have rejected the word of the Lord and there is no wisdom in them (Jer 8:8,9).  From such we must ‘turn away’ (2 Tim 3:5).  

These are strong words, I know.  Some will find them hard to stomach.  I do not ask you to judge whether they are politically correct but whether they faithfully echo the voice of the Lord as found in Scripture.

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.

30
Nov
11

the story’s end is vital to rightly read the story

Douglas Green, in discussing Psalm 8 (here) makes this important and wise observation:

‘biblical texts should be read (by and large) in the context of the unfolding story of redemption. The meaning of a text varies depending on the way it is related to the larger story in which it is embedded. Each part of the unfolding story (including individual psalms) “make sense” on their own as the story unfolds; they have provisional meanings, which are discerned through grammatical-historical exegesis. But these earlier parts of the story will “make sense” in a different way once the climax of the story is known. The meaning of the parts is shaped by the whole, which, in an unfolding story, means that the parts only “make ultimate sense” in the light of the climax of the story. Now I admit that the Bible is not quite an unfolding story, but it is a book that takes its general shape from the history to which it bears witness. This connection to the metanarrative of redemption means there are (at least) two ways of reading Old Testament texts. The “first reading” can be variously named: reading towards an unknown conclusion, reading without the benefit of the conclusion, reading a text in the context of the story as far as it has unfolded. It is like the way we read a novel or watch a movie for the first time: we make sense of the individual parts in the context of what we have read or seen so far. But there is also is a second way of reading Old Testament texts, one that is distinctly Christian. It is fundamentally an act of rereading, or reinterpretation of earlier provisional meanings, in the light of the (sometimes surprising) Christ-ending to the story of redemption. Just as scenes from a movie watched or book read a second time can have quite different meanings once the ending is known, the same is true for Old Testament passages re-read in terms of the whole canonical story of redemption.’

 

Amen.

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.

12
Sep
11

a real adam and eve

Evangelicals are now being pressed by other evangelicals not only to jettison the literal historicity of the creation narrative but also the historicity of Adam and Eve.  The first is just conceivable but the second seriously strains any integrity in biblical interpretation and seriously compromises the biblical salvation narrative.  A few blogs consider some of these issues (here, here, here , here, here, here, here, and here) both biblically and scientifically and are well worth a read.

01
Feb
11

living as new creation… in old creation (2)

Col 3:3 (RSV)
For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

In a previous post I argued that the fundamental reality that shapes our attitude as believers in this world is that we have died to it.   Our new creation status teaches us that through death to the old creation (age, world) we are free from the enslaving forces that rule in it.

But what of the features of that old world that we may call ‘creational’?  We understand that belonging to new creation means I need not lie or cheat or embrace sensualism or drunkenness but am I therefore free to ignore God’s initial ordering of the original creation?  Am I free to ignore for example the old creation’s structures for marriage?  After all in the full realisation of new creation there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage.  Such questioning and reasoning is perhaps not as outlandish and improbable as it may first seem.  It was precisely this kind of reasoning that led to some of the bizarre behaviour of the C1 Corinthian Church.

Th Corinthian Church recognised they were new creation.  They knew that new creation was a creation profoundly different  from the old.  They rightly grasped new creation was based not on ‘flesh’ but ‘Spirit’.  They knew that in the ultimate new creation there would be no marriage and so they reasoned that they should not marry in the present, nor should they have sexual relations within marriage.  Indeed married couples, eager to live ‘spiritually’ in the full realization of new creation ,they argued, would be better divorcing.  Read 1 Cor 7 for a more complete grasp of their thinking.

In fact, many of the other problems of Corinth stem from their new creation deductions; an over-confidence in how wise and spiritual they were (1-3); living as kings and not under the cross (4); as new creation people they believed the authorities of the old no longer applied and so all things were permissible – a view Paul does not so much contradict as qualify (6);  sexual immorality didn’t really matter because physical things like sexuality were part of the old order not the new creation which was spiritual (6-8); an obsession with spiritual gifts, especially those that seemed most ‘spiritual'(12-14); women discarding symbols of male authority and taking a leading role in churches (11,14); no need for a physical resurrection for they were already ‘spiritual’ and living in the eschaton (15).  In fact, they suffered from what some call ‘over-realized eschatology’, that is, they thought new creation had arrived in its fulness not simply in a first phase.  Furthermore, they seemed to have a Greek idea of ‘spiritual’ where spiritual means immaterial.whereas in the Hebrew biblical world spiritual is not opposed to the ‘material’ but to the ‘natural’.

It is of course not only the Corinthians that struggled with understanding the implications of new creation, so too do modern Christians.  Some point to Scriptures like Galatians 3

Gal 3:28 (ESV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

and ask why we uphold hierarchical creational distinctions within marriage and the church which belong to the old creation.  We, they say, are new creation and these no longer apply.

So how do we grapple with this issue?  If a controlling paradigm in Scripture is that we are new creation people living out the implications of new creation in the midst of the old creation how does this work?  If being dead to the world means no longer viewed as living in at and thus no longer bound by its authorities and codes then what about male and female roles, the place of marriage, attitudes to authority etc.   Am I free in some areas but not others?  Does the Bible teach that some aspects of the old creation may (must) be discarded but others upheld?

In fact that is exactly what it does.  It argues that as new creation people we uphold all that God intended for creation before the fall and are free from all that is added to creation after the fall.  Some say this is because new creation (grace) is simply Eden (nature) restored.  But that is clearly not so.  As egalitarians point out there is no hierarchy based on gender in the final new creation.  In fact, as we noted earlier,  there is no marriage in the new creation.  In the old creation Adam was given Eve as a wife – a valuable companion and help – but in the final form of the new creation there is neither marriage or giving in marriage.  New creation is not simply old creation restored.

Although there are continuities between the old creation prior to the fall and new creation in its final reality there are significant discontinuities above and beyond marriage.   In the first creation before the fall man was innocent; he had no knowledge of good and evil.  This is not so in new creation.  In new creation humanity there is no such naïve innocence, a knowledge of good and evil is intrinsic (think of Christ as the prototype of new creation).  New creation is holy (abhorred by sin) not innocent (ignorant of sin).    Mortality was possible in the first creation (and happened after sin entered) but new creation in its fulness is life and immortality (2 Tim 1:10).  So great are the differences that Paul (speaking of the body specifically but which we may probably regard as a metonymy for the whole)  could refer to the first creation as corruptible and the new creation as incorruptible, the first ‘natural’ the new ‘spiritual’, the first ‘weakness’ the  new ‘power’, the first ‘humiliation’ and the new ‘glory’ (though some of these may refer specifically to fallen creation).   In other words it simply won’t do to frame  new creation as little more than a return to Eden, however beguilingly simple a soundbite it is to describe grace as nature restored.

The relationship is more complex.

Let me suggest a way of thinking about the  relationship of new creational believers living in old creation that, although it doesn’t quite satisfy either, seems much nearer  the mark.

New creation  believers living in an old creation recognize and respect its God-given realities, regulations, and rationale while being free from them.

It is more complex, I know, and  we don’t like complexity but sometimes answers are not as simple as we would like.  Let me try to unpack it a little.

It is a mistake to think we have died only to the sinful and fallen.  We have died to the whole creation as a controlling paradigm.  Paul insists we see our true identity not in terms of our role in the old creation but our place in the new.   Our obligations flow now from our new position in Christ.  The springboard for our behaviour and our responsibilities is who we now are ‘in Christ’. Although we live in this world and respect and ratify its God-ordained structures, we do so out of honour to God who created it and not because we belong to it and so are obligated to it.  All that God created was good and we uphold and honour it while here out of honour to God.  Thus we obey authorities because they are appointed by God (Roms 13).  We submit, as Peter writes,  ‘for the Lord’s sake’ to every human institution (1 Pet 2:13).  In fact, this text in 1 Peter helps us understand our relationship (as new creation people) to the old creation to which we no longer belong but in which we still live.

1Pet 2:11-25 (ESV)
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

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.  Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly…

Peter establishes our true relationship to the world: we are sojourners and exiles (pilgrims and strangers) and live separate from the passions that belong the world we are passing through.    In reality, as new creation aliens, we are not properly subject to old creation authorities.   We are ‘free’.  However, we do not use our freedom to rebel, instead we subject ourselves to human institutions ‘for the Lord’s sake’ and because we are ‘servants of the Lord’ who recognise he has appointed them for good.  We recognise we are serving and submitting to the Lord and not to men (Col 3:23).   Thus Peter defines new creation identity and our dynamic for living in the world, in the old creation.

Paul does the same in 1 Cor 7.  There Christian slaves are reminded that they are  the Lord’s freemen and Christian masters that they are the Lord’s slaves (1 Cor 7:22)   Christians are to think and function in terms of their new creation identity and dignity not their identity in the old.  Elsewhere in Scripture Christians are said to be the judge of angels and so should be able to judge (1 Cor 6) and should be judged by no-one (1 Cor 2:15).  As new creation heirs together with Christ we are to remember that we are not subservient to anything or anyone for everything belongs to us (1 Cor 3:21).  We share in the reign of Christ.  We are sons of God.  This is our identity and destiny. Paul recognises even when he is destitute his true position in Christ – he is someone ‘having nothing yet possessing all things’ (2 Cor 6:10).

Yet Peter calls for submission to authorities.  Why? For the Lord’s sake.  It honours God when we subject ourselves to what God has ordained in creation.  Thus wives submit to their husbands (good or bad) not simply as obliged by creation or even convention but as ‘as unto the Lord’ (Eph 5) and, ‘children, obey [their] parents (good or bad) in everything, for this pleases the Lord’ (Col 3:20), and, ‘slaves, obey [their] earthly masters… as [they] would Christ…  as servants of Christ’ (Eph 6).  Old creation hierarchies are honoured while we live here as strangers and pilgrims (1 Cor 11:1-10; 1 Tim 2:12-14)

The true model of this tension is of course Jesus himself.  He was new creation living in old creation.  He was the heir living as a servant.  He came to be about his Father’s business yet returned to Nazareth and was subject to his parents (Lk 2:51).   As the Son he could have commanded stones to become bread to alleviate his hunger (as Satan suggests) but he chose rather to live as a man depending upon God.  He truly had nothing (birds of air have nests… son of man nowhere… show me a penny…) yet possessed all things (Peter sent to find coin in the fish’s mouth… multiplied loaves and fishes…).  Authority was rightly his but he submitted himself to the authority of others (Jn 5:26; Matt 26:53).  His submission to authorities was really a submission to God.

1Pet 2:18-25 (ESV)
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Christ was ‘the Son’.  He was ‘the Lord’.  All the powers of the universe were rightly his.   Yet knowing this he did not exploit this right rather he was content to remain unknown and unrecognised and suffer what ever indignities came his way as in faith he waited God’s time to ‘act justly’.  He had come to live out all the relationships of everyday life in this world as an act of devotion to God and was content to wait for God’s day of vindication when who he really was would be revealed and every knee would bow.

As Christians, we are like Christ, sons of God and new creation living incognito in the old .  We live with our true life and identity hidden (Col 3:3).  We are free from all things but subject ourselves to all.  We are poor but possess everything.   We await by faith the day when we will be vindicated and revealed for who we really are to the whole of creation (Roms 8).

The final blog in this series will consider the tension between living in the old creation while living for the new creation.




the cavekeeper

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

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