Thursday, November 24, 2016

He who comes out of heaven

I changed the title of this post after the discussion in the comment thread. The new title is from John 3:31. I thought it would be better to change the title in place and keep the comment thread intact than re-publishing the post and potentially losing the comments.

We don't want to lose sight of the most astonishing fact in Scripture: the Son of God came from Heaven to die for ruined sinners. John 1:1–12 brings us face-to-face with the wonder of that when it tells who He is from the beginning. He is the Word who is God, and who was with God (John 1:1). It's important we remember both of those truths together: if we remember He was with God but we forget He is God, then we fall into Arianism. If we remember He is God, but forget He was with God, then we fall into Sabellianism.

In point of fact, I have many times sat in a meeting where someone thanked the Father for dying for us. It's not right to make a man a transgressor for a word, but at the same time we should be very careful that our words reflect what Scripture actually says.

It is the fact of who Christ is that gives value to what He has done. The Son of God came here and died for lost sinners. Is there anything more astonishing than that? John 1 keeps coming back to this central point: He was the Creator (John 1:3), having come into the world He created (John 1:10). The more we contemplate that fact, the more we find ourselves asking, "What kind of Person is this?"

I once heard a man quote Luke 15:1–2 like this: "'This Man receives sinners and eats with them', thank God He does!"

In fact, the Pharisees didn't know the half of it. He came not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to be their food and His blood to be their drink (John 6:47–58).

Isaiah 64:1–3 tells us when God comes down, He does terrible things no one looked for (Isaiah 64:3) – He does things no one could have expected. Certainly when the Son of God came, He did what no one could have expected: He gave Himself to save lost sinners (Galatians 2:19–20).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twelve titles

A few weeks ago I was talking about John 1 in the assembly. I mentioned I'd counted seven titles of Christ there, but realized I'd missed at least two. So I enlisted the assembly to help me count them, and people started calling out titles they saw. We got up to twelve that day, but there's at least one more an older brother mentioned to me later.

Here's the working list I have so far:

  1. the Word (John 1:1)
  2. Light (John 1:8–10 )
  3. Only-begotten of the Father (John 1:14)
  4. Christ (John 1:17)
  5. Only-begotten Son (John 1:18)
  6. The Prophet (John 1:21)
  7. Lord (John 1:23)
  8. Lamb of God (John 1:29)
  9. Son of God (John 1:34)
  10. Rabbi (Teacher, Master) (John 1:38)
  11. King of Israel (John 1:49)
  12. Son of Man (John 1:51)

There's a lot to be said about John 1, it reaches back to before there was anything except God. It pulls the curtain back just a bit and lets us see what "before time" looked like. John 5 goes even further, but that's for another day.

I've been chewing over John 1 for several weeks now, and there's a whole lot in that chapter. It's been a good investment of my time.

Friday, October 28, 2016

So what?

I have a friend who speaks at Bible conferences a lot. I don't know how many times I've heard him say we need reality in our lives. Not only for our own benefit, but as a testimony to those around us.

We started out talking about how my co-workers and my neighbors and my friends and my family and the people in the little gathering here don't need to see me – not even the best version of me. They need to see the life of Jesus in my mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). Let's give some thought to that in practical terms.

2 Corinthians 4:10–11 tells us two things about this manifestation:

  1. it's self-evident that it has to be Christ Himself they see, not my imitation
  2. the cost is death working in me
May I suggest that the very first step is to go to the Lord Jesus in prayer, asking Him to manifest His life in my mortal body? May I also suggest that we ask for His patience and His grace as we contemplate the cost of death working in us? It is His work to do, but there will be very real pain associated with it, and we'll need His grace in the face of it.

The principle we keep coming back to is "abiding in Christ" (John 15:4). How do we abide in Christ? Robert commented

I was asked at the weekend, 'what does it mean in practice to abide in Christ'? I think John's answer may well have been, it means to be at the table and lean on His bosom John 13:23.
Paul's answer to the same question would have been, 'But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit' 2 Corinthians 3:18

Colossians 3:1 takes up this thread and talks about setting our affections on things above because that's where Christ is. We understand that if I continue to look for fulfillment and meaning down here, I'm not looking for it up there. This, too, has to be the work of God in my heart. Can I suggest we ask the Father to show us His Son? Can I suggest we ask Him to put Christ between my eyes and this world, to keep me from being distracted by the bright and shiny things here?

Exodus 24:9–14 tells us the story of Moses and the elders of Israel seeing God on Sinai, "they saw God, and ate and drank" (Exodus 24:11). Verse 14 is particularly interesting, because Moses specifically told them to wait there for him to return. But they didn't wait for him: they got impatient and turned to idols (Exodus 32:1–2). We do exactly the same thing when we decide The Man who brought us up out of bondage (Exodus 32:1) has been "up there" too long (Colossians 3:1–4). We soon start looking around for something down here we can turn into a god. So the New Testament tells us again and again, "He's coming back!" "Don't give up waiting!"

Let's not get tired of waiting for Him to come back down from up there (Philippians 3:20–21).

We come back to this theme of eating in God's presence in Joshua 5:8–12, where four things are associated with Gilgal:

  1. circumcision, a rolling away of the reproach of Egypt (Joshua 5:8–9)
  2. the Passover (Joshua 5:10)
  3. eating the old corn of the land, a type of Christ in resurrection (Joshua 5:11, Leviticus 23:10–13, 1 Corinthians 15:20)
  4. eating manna, a type of Christ in humility (Joshua 5:12, John 6:32–33)
For us too, there are these four things. We've discussed Romans 6:11 and Colossians 3:1–4 at length. We have died with Christ. But Gilgal reminds us more of Colossians 3:5–7. Here there is a mortifying, a putting to death. There is a real pain associated with Gilgal that's not associated with the Red Sea. And there is a real pain in Colossians 3:5 that's not in Romans 6:11. It's relatively pain-free to reckon myself to have died with Christ; it's not at all pain-free to put to death my members on the earth.

Here again, we need to go to the Father and ask Him for grace and courage.

But of course it's not all pain in Gilgal: there's eating too. There are three meals mentioned: the Passover, the manna, and the old corn of the land. If you look closely at the timetable in Joshua 5, there was just one day when they ate both the old corn of the land and the manna. We, too, have a very narrow window of opportunity to eat both. We'll never get beyond feeding on Christ in resurrection, but we can only feed on Christ in humility while we're here. The supply of manna ends when we're out of the wilderness.

When we eat with Christ, we can expect to get what my buddy Caleb calls "Luke 24 heartburn" (Luke 24:29–32). We all need that kind of heartburn, and we should all ask the Father to give us a really "bad" case of it. That kind of heartburn comes from lingering over the table with Him and contemplating Him "starting with Moses and the prophets" (Luke 24:27).

I've heard this time and time again, but I still fail really to practice it... Can I start to see time spent with the Savior as an investment? The very best use of time is to spend it with Christ.

Those are some simple suggestions for "where to go from here". They're simple, but hopefully practical.

Links worth sharing

Several people have emailed me with links and quotations over the last few weeks that seem appropriate to share.

S. sent several links related to Election. The first is a letter by J. N. Darby:

This fresh breaking out of the doctrine of free-will helps on the doctrine of the natural man's pretension not to be entirely lost, for that is really what it amounts to. All men who have never been deeply convinced of sin, all persons with whom this conviction is based upon gross and outward sins, believe more or less in free-will. You know that it is the dogma of the Wesleyans, of all reasoners, of all philosophers. But this idea completely changes all the idea of Christianity and entirely perverts it.
The entire letter is on the STEM website.

Another from S. was this gem: an article entitled "Early Brethren Leaders and the Question of Calvinism" by Mark R. Stevenson. It's very interesting. The article considers current teaching among "open brethren" in comparison with "early brethren" when it comes to the question of Calvinism. It's more academic than I'd normally read, but it definitely grabbed my attention.

Rodger sent a link to an article on "New" and "Old" in Scripture:

It may be helpful to point out that there are four new things in Christianity — the new covenant, the new man, the new birth and new creation. In contrast to the new covenant we read of the old covenant, and in contrast to the new man we read of the old man. Yet we do not read of old birth in contrast to new birth, nor old creation in contrast to new creation. The reason being that when God styles a thing old He has done with it. In the cross of Christ both the old covenant and the old man were brought to an end judicially in view of the bringing in of the new covenant and the new man, but God has not yet done with the first birth or the first creation. We sometimes use the expression "old creation," but this term is not found in Scripture. The nearest approach to it is in Hebrews 1:11, "they shall wax old," but the actual term "old creation" is not used. We are thus still connected with the first birth and can glorify God in it; and He will yet fill the first creation with His glory as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14.
Again, the whole article is on the STEM website. This one caught my attention because I frequently use terms like "old creation".

I've been meaning to post this quote about J. N. Darby by William R. Newell from Romans Verse-by-Verse:

We know what debt under God all those who have the truth today owe to Darby, through whom God recovered more truth belonging to the Church of God, than through any other man since Paul, and whose writings are today the greatest treasure of truth and safeguard against error known to instructed believers.
Romans Verse-by-Verse, Chapter 12 (last checked 2016-10-28).

I wrote a blog post for my friend Scott's Digital Sojourner about reading Collected Writings of J. N. Darby. I should have included that quote, although it's likely I hadn't found it yet. Romans Verse-by-Verse is an incredible book, but it took me several years to read it through. In fact, I was given the book in 1996 and didn't finish reading it until 2015 or so...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Acceptance

Among my struggles has been catching glimpses of what Scripture says about the Christian life and seeing the contrast with what so many of us (including me) seem to think the Christian life is. As I've mulled this over, one recurring them has been the whole issue of Acceptance.

I mentioned to Alan in an email that I'm pretty sure I don't believe in the "Final Perseverance" in the Calvinistic sense, and I'm slowly realizing I don't even believe in "Eternal Security" in the more evangelical sense. Of course I don't mean to say that a child of God can perish, but I think both of those concepts falls far short of what Scripture actually teaches.

Romans 4:6–8 quotes Psalm 32:1–2 to establish the doctrine of justification by faith alone (what my buddy Steve calls Solifidianism). What is "the blessedness" of the man whom God justifies? It's that God will not at all count his sins against him (Romans 4:7). For the man whom God has justified (the ungodly man, v. 5), there is no sin that God will remember (see Acts 13:39). No matter what terrible sin I commit, God won't count it against me.

Think about that! It's not that God will one day forgive his sins, nor even that he's the kind of person whom God repeatedly forgives. It's that he is the kind of person whose sins God doesn't count.

Leviticus 1–7 outline the laws of the offerings. There are five offerings mentioned: the burnt offering (chap. 1), the grain offering (chap. 2), the peace offering (chap. 3), the sin offering (chap. 4), and the trespass offering (chap. 5). The next two chapters (Leviticus 6–7) then run through those offerings again, detailing the laws associated with them.

We tend to think first about the trespass offering, which was offered for deliberate offenses (Leviticus 6:1–5). This is the offering you were to make if you defrauded your neighbor. If we think about it a little more, we might think about the sin offering, which was offered for sins of inadvertence (Leviticus 4:1–3). In those two offerings we might see a picture of our sins and our sin. But God doesn't start with either of those two offerings: He starts with the burnt offering. What is the burnt offering, it's the offering of acceptance (Leviticus 1:3).

God accepts us before He deals with our sin (what we are), or our sins (what we have done).

The order is preserved in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1 the order is:

  1. God chose us in Christ (v. 4)
  2. God has accepted us "in the Beloved" (v. 6)
  3. we have redemption and forgiveness (v. 7)
So first we were chosen, then we were accepted, then we were forgiven.

That's not to say that God doesn't forgive our sins. It's not even to say that there is a time gap between acceptance and forgiveness. But from God's perspective, our being accepted is foundational truth. It's not that we have some sort eternal security safety net: rather, we have been accepted right at the start. Before we take the first step in that new creation, we have been accepted by God.

Ephesians 1:6 brings in a truth we don't see in Leviticus: we are accepted in Christ. We aren't called to an autonomous life, we're called to a dependent life. We're not called to be good, but to bask in His goodness.

And now we're back once more to the fundamental truth of the Christian life. Regardless of how we actually live, the entire Christian experience flows from our being in Christ. If our experience differs from the high calling of the epistles, it's because we have not been content to "abide" in Him (John 15:4). If we find our lives lacking in fruit, the solution is to abide (John 15:5).

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A form of Godliness

It would be a terrible mistake to think I'm sitting at the end of the path, telling people how to arrive like I have arrived. Let's be clear that I write about things I've glimpsed, not things I've mastered.

Scripture warns about "a form of piety" without its power (2 Timothy 3:1–5). The more godly the path we attempt to walk, the more we need to be careful of this warning. We might remember Peter stepping out of the boat (Matthew 14:26–32). Had he stayed in the boat, he would have had no trouble staying above the water. But once he stepped out the boat, he was in a place where only Divine power could keep him up.

There is a path the vulture's eye hasn't seen (Job 28:7). We can't find it on our own. God doesn't really command us to do things we can do: He only really commands us to do what we can't. That's precisely why Jeremiah 17:5–9 warns against confidence in man. God's not interested in what man can do, but in what one Man has done. The more closely we try to walk with that Man, the more dangerous it will be to attempt it in anything but His power.

Here's an example: I've heard many, many talks about church order among "brethren". With very few exceptions, what I've actually seen are attempts by sincere believers to maintain proper church order in the power and energy of the flesh.

Of course church order is important, or Scripture wouldn't bring it up. Reading 1 Corinthians 14:26 was a real pivot point in my life, because I realized I'd never actually seen it practiced. Church order is absolutely part of the Whole Counsel of God, and learning about it should be life-changing.

But 2 Timothy 3:5 specifically warns about getting the form right while not having the power. It's warning about people who try to do the right thing from the wrong source. That's the error of the Galatians: thinking it's possible to start out in the power of the Spirit and finish in the power of flesh (Galatians 3:3).

J. N. Darby wrote:

[O]ur worship falls back into the flesh; our prayers (or praying well) form what is sometimes called a gift of prayer, than which nothing often is more sorrowful (a fluent rehearsal of known truths and principles, instead of communion and the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the joy of communion, and even of our wants and desires in the unction of the Spirit); our singing, pleasure of the ear, taste in music, and expressions in which we sympathise – all a form in the flesh, and not communion in the Spirit. All this is evil; the Spirit of God owns it not; it is not in spirit and in truth; it is really iniquity. ("Worship in the Flesh", Synopsis, Leviticus 3)

It's a very serious danger, but it's subtle. You can only fall into it when you're trying to do the right thing.

If you spend any time at all among "brethren", you'll hear guilt trips about silence in the meetings. For some reason, the very same people who most loudly condemn denominational churches for having clergymen ("they're not being led of the Spirit") hesitate least to pressure younger men to speak up. I'll be honest, the majority of times I've seen a younger man cave to the pressure and speak up in the meetings, I wished he'd kept silent.

We still haven't learned this lesson: it's not enough to do the right thing, we have to do it the right way. At the slightest provocation, we rest on the power of flesh. We still haven't learned Jeremiah 17:5–9. We allow our embarrassment goad us into trying to act when we should be sitting quietly, waiting on the Lord. I've heard Robert talk about Isaiah 40:30–31, pointing out that it's a promise. Think about that for a few moments. And then think about this: waiting on the Lord isn't easy. We're all willing to wait for about as long as it takes for the guy at the drive-through to make us a burger. But the Lord isn't on the drive-through schedule: He might make us wait a lot longer. Are we willing to wait for His timing?

Here I am putting the "assembly" back into "Assembly Quest".

Again, I am talking about something I have rarely seen, and even more rarely experienced. I'm not telling you to live like me, I'm telling you we both need to learn to wait on the Lord. And once the Lord has shown us something from His word, once we have seen a truth we need to live out, then we step into the truly dangerous realm: the place where we're tempted to have a form of godliness without its power.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The one you feed

Alan gave me permission to quote one of his emails:

This mode of "the one we feed grows" teaching sometimes goes further and states that, when we feed one exclusively, the other grows weaker and weaker. This is, in my opinion, very dangerous doctrine because, while the nature that is "starved" may grow less prominent in our daily consciousness, the flesh nature undergoes no change whatsoever – it is utterly and irreversibly corrupt. I can tell you from sad experience that, if I assume that my flesh nature has become significantly "weakened", and I indulge it in any way (letting my thoughts run in an improper direction, for example), I very soon find that it is not only not weakened, but that it re-asserts itself with full ferocity! This is truly the fruit of not believing what the Word says, and is literally walking in death (because the "old man" IS dead!).