Friday, July 7, 2017

Prayer Request

A friend asked me if there was anything specific he should be praying for me. I gave it some thought for several days before responding, and I decided to send him the top three things I pray for. After thinking about it, I decided I'd share the list here as well.

I want the type of life that people around will see as proof of God's work. I want people to look at me and say, "there must be a God." I want it obvious that it's the Lord's work in me and not my own efforts. I want people to see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal body.

I want true repentance. I want to judge myself, and not be judged of God. I want the Lord to reveal to me things I need to judge and put away, and I want the Lord's grace to actually judge them and put them away.

I want revelation from the Father. I want, like Peter, to have the Father in Heaven reveal truth to me. I find a disconnect between what I believe and what I expect. I believe Christ died for me, I believe that He is coming back for me: but I don't find myself expecting to see Him. I want that truth to be something the Father shows me and makes real to me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Under the footstool

Psalm 110 is a remarkable prophecy. It's quoted frequently in the New Testament, and arguably forms the basis of the doctrine of the epistles. Peter quotes Psalm 110 in Acts 2:34–35 to show that the ascended Christ has sat down at God's right hand. Hebrews takes up that same thought, quoting Psalm 110 to show that Christ's Priesthood is linked to Melchizedek's (Hebrews 5:6). Hebrews 9:24–28 goes on to point out that Christ is going to come back for us: His seat at God's right hand is not a permanent arrangement. He is there "until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Hebrews 1:13).

God has promised to put Christ's enemies under His feet (Psalm 110:1). But not all His enemies. We were His enemies too (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:1–3), but instead of the footstool, God has chosen the throne (Ephesians 2:6; Revelation 3:21).

This is the grace of God: He takes us from under the footstool to put us on the throne.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Earthen Vessels

There are several passages of Scripture that give a succinct summary of the Christian life. Philippians 3:3 is one, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 is another, Galatians 2:20 too. I find myself thinking about a lot about another, 2 Corinthians 4:6–7.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7–18, Christ is contrasted to Moses. We remember the story of Moses speaking with God – when he came back down from the mountain, his face shone and he didn't realize it (Exodus 34:29–35). The children of Israel had Moses cover his face with a veil so that they could look at him. Now the glory of God is shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Unlike Moses, we are to look on Him without a veil. And when we do, His glory transforms us.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6–12, we have something Exodus didn't talk about: when we've been gazing at the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, then God shines that same glory out of our hearts. It's the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness – the God who needs nothing to work with – who does this. He shines the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" out of our hearts.

Paul does that a lot, he talks about "the God who..." I've learned to pay attention to those small phrases, because they reveal an awful lot about the point the passage is making. Here it's the God who doesn't need any raw materials: He brought light out of darkness.

It's not mentioned in these verses, but we might pause a moment and consider that the first time God commanded light to shine out of darkness it didn't cost Him anything. He is God, He spoke and it was done. But in shining the light out of darkness in our hearts, the cost to Him was tremendous. It cost His Son.

2 Corinthians 4:7 goes on to say that God has deliberately put this treasure – the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – in earthen vessels. He has chosen an entirely inappropriate vessel for His treasure. Why? Because He wants to be sure that we realize it's of God and not of us.

The passage doesn't actually mention the story of Gideon (Judges 7:16–21), but there are some striking parallels. First, we find that God carefully reduced the number of Gideon's men until they were down to 300 (Judges 7:1–7). We find, too, that God explicitly told Gideon why: He wanted there to be no question that it was He who brought victory, not strength of arms (Judges 7:2). Second, the weapons in the hands of Gideon's men were trumpets and torches (lights) hidden in earthen vessels (Judges 7:16).

We realize Gideon's plan was to reveal the torches not by lifting the vessels off the torches, but by breaking the earthen vessels. This is precisely what 2 Corinthians 4:10–12 goes on to talk about. As death works in us, the life of Jesus (notice here it's not "Christ Jesus" nor "Jesus Christ", but "Jesus") is revealed in our mortal bodies.

Susan has pointed out (quite correctly) that we don't cease to exist. Christianity is not Buddhism: we are not striving to become nothing. I'm afraid sometimes it sounds like that's what I'm saying – it's not. 2 Corinthians 4:16 makes it clear: there is an outward man that is broken down as death works in us, but there is an inward man that is renewed by this same process.

We saw this same contrast in Romans 7:22–23. There is an inward man delighting in the Law of God, but there is a law of sin in my members. What's the conclusion to the conflict in Romans 7? There the man cries out, "Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Romans 8 picks up this theme in v. 10, where we find that the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit life because of righteousness. Romans 8 goes on to resolve this conflict in v. 23: we groan now, awaiting the redemption of the body. The Son of God is coming to change our bodies to be like His body (Philippians 3:21).

If I may pause here a minute: our hope as Christians is the resurrection of our mortal bodies to immortality. Someone once quoted 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to me about a man who is now asleep in Christ, "he is ever with the Lord." Of course that's entirely wrong – that phrase is clearly talking about those who shall have been raised into immortality. The dead in Christ haven't been made perfect without us: they await the resurrection just like we do. Our hope is, in a sense, physical: we await the resurrection of our mortal bodies. We might actually make it to that resurrection without dying, but all who are in Christ will be raised in what the Lord Jesus called the "resurrection of life" (John 5:29).

But our bodies haven't been raised to immortality yet. In a sense, that's really what the Christian life is – it's the life of Jesus manifested in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). It's all about treasure in earthen vessels. It's about God's power seen in bodies that have yet to be redeemed.

It's true that the old man has died and the new man doesn't have to. At the same time, we recognize that death is the tool God has chosen to reveal Christ in us (2 Corinthians 4:10–12). We see the same truth in Colossians 3:1–5, because we have died with Christ, we are called to put to death our members on the earth. It's not that we are called to die, but we all carry about with us things that need to be put to death (Romans 8:12–14).

When the Son of God comes to change our mortal bodies, we won't have those things any more: there'll be no need to put to death the deeds of the body. But until then, death works in us.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

You gotta watch Benjamin

When we read Jacob's words to his sons on his deathbed (Genesis 49:1–33), we might notice his words to Benjamin are a little strange:

[as] a wolf will he tear to pieces; In the morning he will devour the prey, And in the evening he will divide the booty (Genesis 49:27)
Benjamin is a wolf, you don't want to turn your back on Benjamin.

I really think scripture has the flesh in mind when it talks about Benjamin. We've all got some of that Benjamin in us. And make no mistake, it's a ravening wolf.

Scripture tells us the stories of two different men from Benjamin named Saul. In the old Testament we have the story of the Saul the son of Kish, the first king of Israel. He was a great man. There came a day when God told Saul He was going to replace him with another man (1 Samuel 15:26), and Saul resisted and fought against that plan until the end, when he died on Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:4–8).

In the New Testament we have the story of another Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus. He, too, was a great man. There came a day when God told this Saul He would replace him with another Man, and Saul agreed with God that this was a good idea (Galatians 2:20). Rather than fighting God's will to have another Man in his place, Saul went along with the plan. Like the earlier Saul from Benjamin, he had a lot of boast about. Unlike the earlier Saul, he realized that what God really wants is only found in one Man (Philippians 3:3–11).

Like the two Sauls, we find out that it's God's plan to replace us with Christ. Christ has died in our place, and God's plan is that He should live in our place too. I can't see another way to understand Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live, *I*, but Christ lives in me." The real question is, how do we respond to that? The first Saul resisted, the second Saul capitulated. It's not at all a stretch to say that we have that same choice to make.

The essence of the gospel is Christ in my place. Christ in my place under God's judgment brought forgiveness – Christ in my place as alive in this world produces a walk worthy of our calling. I need to meditate on this more.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Who is on that cross?

I listened to a few messages on Romans 6 from Voices for Christ last week. One of them fueled my growing conviction that preachers hate to read Romans 6 before preaching on it.

At one point the speaker talked about how the believer was once a slave to sin, but now the old man has been crucified, we no longer have to obey him – he's hanging on the Cross, and has no power over us.

Here's my inexpert transcript:

And so he says, to the Christians, In the light of the fact that you need to reckon yourselves to death indeed to sin, uh, verse 11, alive to God through Jesus Christ... Then he says, OK if you've reckoned on that to be true, do not allow sin to reign as a king in your mortal body that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.

You don't have to obey it anymore.

So here's the picture: here's the... my old man and he's, he's crucified, he's hanging on a cross, right? There he is. And he's, he's saying to me, "Come on, you served me for all these years, serve me again today."

And, and he, he can't force me to do anything, right? Because he can't punish me, he's nailed to a cross, he ain't going anywhere, right? He, he has no authority over me anymore. And so I don't have to respond to him.

Of course it's all nonsense.

The root problem is sloppy exposition: Romans 6–8 carefully distinguishes between "the old man", "sin," and "the flesh." Scripture doesn't use those words interchangeably, but many preachers do.

So what does Romans 6 actually say? Romans 6:6 tells us about five "actors". I've marked them in bold:

knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin
There's a story in this verse: our old man was a servant of sin, and he obeyed with his body, "the body of sin". God has intervened by removing the middle man in this chain. By removing the old man via crucifixion, He broke the connection between sin and the body it used. The result is that the body of sin is annulled, and as a result we no longer serve sin.

Scripture doesn't talk about obeying the old man, and it doesn't contemplate sin being crucified.

Scripture doesn't say sin has died, it says I have died. Romans 8:3 says sin in the flesh has been condemned, but there's not a hint that sin has died. On the contrary, Romans 6–8 consistently speaks of sin as an active, ruling principle. In Romans 6:12 talks about sin reigning in our mortal bodies; Romans 7:23 talks about "the law of sin... in my members."

We're not just spitting hairs here: there are huge consequences to carelessness when it comes to these chapters. Confusing something Scripture claims has been put to death with something that absolutely has not been put to death is a recipe for disbelief.

Once we head down that path, we end up adding caveats to Scripture – "that's true positionally". Eventually we get to the stage where we start telling people they should reckon themselves to have died while insisting to them that they have not.

The remedy is simple: just carefully use the language Scripture uses. The old man has been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), sin in the flesh has been condemned (Romans 8:3), the body is dead because of sin, (Romans 8:10) but we are awaiting its redemption (Romans 8:23). I have died with Christ (Romans 6:11), but I still have the law of sin in my members (Romans 7:23). These are the plain statements of Scripture.

Romans 6 talks about the old man, Romans 7 talks about the flesh. Romans 8 talks about the practical effects of the Spirit of God in us as we're living in fallen bodies. These are distinct things, and we have no trouble if we just pay attention to what the Scripture actually says.

There is a great deal more to be said, but we'll save it for another time.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Paradigm un-Shift

Something has bothered me for a very long time, and I've struggled to put it into words. It seems to me we have a tendency when we've seen a truth to step back away from it, but still use the language of that truth. I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense, so let me give three examples:

I once worked for someone who liked to talk about the Theory of Constraints, but he didn't seem actually to understand it. He liked to throw around the term "Theory of Constraints," but when actually pressed to explain himself, it became obvious he had no idea what it is. He used the terminology of ToC, but he really didn't mean what those words mean: he was using new terminology to describe his old ideas.

I spent many years studying internal martial arts. I began to recognize a pattern: there were some very skilled internal martial artists who would basically become kick boxers when it was time to spar. They were very good at the internal forms, but when it came time to put on the pads, they acted like they'd forgotten everything we practiced. It was weird: almost like they didn't really believe it would work in real life.

When I was a good deal younger, I got a glimpse of Romans 6:1–11. I saw for the first time that I had died with Christ, and God wasn't interested in my life per se. He is interested in the life of Christ. This was terribly exciting to me, and I would tell people about it. Almost invariably, the people I talked to would say, "Well, that's true positionally." I began to understand by "that's true positionally," they really meant "that's not true at all."

The Christian who sees Romans 6 as a sort of a morality tale is like the manager who talks about the Theory of Constraints but has no interest in understanding it, or the student who studies internal martial arts but has no intention of actually using them in a fight. He or she may use the language of the New Testament, but can't experience it.

It's interesting to listen to people speak about Romans 6. It seems like there are basically two approaches people take:

  1. some believe that Romans 6 is describing a reality: I have died with Christ
  2. some believe it's a metaphor: Romans 6 is effectively a call to live a "new life," living differently than before
It seems obvious to me people in the latter group like to use the language of the paradigm shift, but they don't really believe it. They've stepped back from that truth, if you like.

It seems obvious to me that Romans 6 is not a call to live a new kind of life: it's a statement that as far as God is concerned, my life has ended (Romans 6:2). Even if I don't believe that I actually died with Christ, it's impossible to avoid that plain command to think of myself that way (Romans 6:11). The fact is that Scripture commands us to "reckon" we've died with Christ. Regardless how you understand Romans 6:1–10, if you're not thinking of yourself as having died with Christ, then you're not obeying v. 11.

I was in a Bible reading where someone talked about how the raven and the dove that Noah sent out were really types of the "two natures," and how we need to feed the dove, not the raven. Of course that's nonsense.

Scripture doesn't talk about "two natures": it doesn't talk about an "old nature" or a "new nature". Scripture talks about new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and indwelling sin (Romans 7:17). The believer is a new creation in Christ, who is living in an unredeemed body. The day is coming when our bodies will be redeemed (Romans 8:23), Christ will come from Heaven and transform our bodies of humiliation to be like His (Philippians 3:21). Then we'll actually be free of the body of death (Romans 7:24).

This is fundamentally liberating: it's not that I have to choose between two natures, it's that I have been freed of who and what I was by the death of Christ so that I could walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4; Romans 8:1–3).

It's very easy to see truth in Scripture and sort of dull the edge a bit. It's easy to keep using the language of new creation but slowly fall back to the notion that we can improve the flesh. It's easy to forget that Romans 6 or Colossians 3 or Galatians 2 teach that our lives have ended at the cross of Christ. It's easy to forget we are new creations in Christ and start thinking it's God's purpose to improve us. It's easy to pay lip service to the truth while slowly stepping back from it.

There are plenty of teachers and preachers who urge us to walk in newness of life, but don't seem to grasp our death with Christ. It's not a metaphor or a romantic notion, it's a fact. Scripture bases the "newness of life" on the fact that I have died with Christ (Romans 6:4). We can't really experience new life while we try and cling to the old. We have to accept that we have died with Christ before we can expect to see the power of resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Christian Life

Rodger has suggested it would be interesting to put together a sort of a "J. N. Darby Reading List" that would lead through some papers by J. N. Darby in a logical sequence. I've been thinking about it, and I think this might be a good first whack at "The Christian Life", by J. N. Darby.

We should start at the beginning. As Rogers and Hammerstein wrote, that's a very good place to start. The first paper is, "Connection of the cross with the entire development of God's ways with man." It's a big title, and a big topic, but well worth the read.

The gist of the paper is that God's purpose has always been to replace the first man with the Second. In Genesis 3:15, God begins the story of redemption with the statement that Someone Else is coming, and it would be He who crushes the serpent's head.

I was most struck by the discussion of the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 with the promises in Genesis 22:15–18. In the former, there is no mention of "thy seed", only of Abraham himself. Following the offering of Isaac, the promise is to Abraham and to his seed. Hebrews 11:17–19 tell us about the transition, Isaac had ("in figure", Hebrews 11:19) been raised from the dead. And so we see that Resurrection is the key to the promises of God.

This is not the easiest paper to read, but it is well worth the effort.

Next we turn to 1 John, with Darby's excellent paper, "Cleansing by Water: and what it is to walk in the light." I find this among the most compelling articles Darby wrote. What I find particularly interesting is his claim that the standard evangelical interpretation of 1 John 1:7–10 is a denial of Christianity. Frankly, my experience among so-called brethren indicates we have been thoroughly leavened with the same low view of the high calling.

The main difference between the Old Testament and the New is the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. This is clearly developed in "Christ in Heaven, and the Holy Spirit sent down". I can't recommend this paper highly enough.

Among Darby's more controversial papers is, "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost." I consider this the most important paper he wrote. Although it took me many years, I've come around to his point of view on the whole issue of sealing. That being said, I'm not sure the biggest pay-off in this paper is the discussion of sealing. This paper might be the most complete description of practical Christianity that I have read outside of the Bible.

I have read this paper at least two dozen times, and I don't feel like I've really even scratched the surface yet.

Finally, there are three papers on Deliverance that I would consider "must read":

If you only have time to read one, read the first; but all three are excellent and extremely important. Most of what we discuss on this blog centers on Deliverance. I really believe it's the one thing most lacking among Christians today.

To me the saddest thing about the "brethren movement" was that it began with insistence on practical Christian living as a Divine manifestation of the life of Jesus in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:7–12), and descended into a series of checklists about church order. Of course church order matters, but if the individual walk is not scriptural, then even the most correct church order is godliness without power.