Sunday, April 15, 2018

No Plan B

Scripture teaches that worshipers, once purged, have no more conscience of sins (Hebrews 10:2). Of course, that's not something we see a lot in our experience.

One problem (perhaps even the main problem), is that we treat Christ as a sort of a safety net. As long as we're doing well – as long as we're walking more or less uprightly – we think that we're accepted in God's sight by virtue of our own uprightness. We only really think of ourselves as accepted in Christ when we realize we've failed to walk uprightly.

Of course we'd never say that, but our actions and our prayers reveal what's really going on in our hearts.

But God doesn't ever have a "Plan B." God has given Christ to us to be our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30–31). It has never been a part of God's plan for us to be acceptable before Him other than in Christ. We are accepted in Christ (Ephesians 1:6) and only in Christ.

It's hard to remember that I am no more accepted before God when I'm walking well than when I'm walking badly: regardless of how I am actually doing, I am accepted in Christ. That's a comfort when I see myself fail, but it's humbling when I think I'm doing all right.

that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith (Philippians 3:8–10)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

We don't have to die

We are to reckon ourselves dead, instead of having to die. You may ask the flesh to die, but it never will. We talk of having to die to the flesh, because we have not got the consciousness of the positive distinctness of the two natures. The old man will take good care not to die. But being alive in Christ, I have the privilege and title to treat the other nature, the old one, as dead, because He died. It is never said that we have to die, but that as Christians we are entitled to, and do, hold ourselves for dead; because we have this new life. The person who talks of dying to sin, actually holds himself to be alive to sin.
J. N. Darby, "Dead and Risen with Christ" (emphasis added)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

And now for something completely different...

Over the last few months, we've become convinced of the need for focused teaching in the assembly about some of the foundational truths "we all know." The fact is, there are a lot of things we all assume everyone knows. We don't always recognize that not everyone in the room recognizes the allusions we're making.

In the midst of this, a younger woman in the assembly sent an email to a few of the older brothers (not me) asking about Romans 6–8, Colossians 3, and Galatians 5. It seemed like a good place to start...

Our first response was to fill a Saturday with meetings. I mentioned it to my wife, who pointed out several issues with having a day of meetings. We went back to the drawing board, so to speak, and came up with a different plan.

So here's our current plan:

First, we're going to meet this Friday night. Most folks don't have to work or go to school Saturday morning, so Friday night relieves some of that pressure. A lot of families have commitments on weekends, so if we avoid Saturdays, we can get more attendance.

Second, we're having one meeting per night, rather than filling a day with meetings. People my age and older seem to enjoy spending a day or a whole weekend sitting in meetings, especially when there are a lot of interactive meetings (like Bible readings) and opportunities for discussion. Perhaps it's an age thing, perhaps it's just a faster-paced culture, but it seems like most people would prefer to sit for fewer meetings. Interestingly, people seem to prefer to have one meeting a day across several days, than to have several meetings on a single day.

Third, we're going to provide food. We think it will simplify things for everyone if we just order some pizzas and spend the first forty-five minutes eating. We think it'll make it easier for people to come out if they don't have to squeeze a meal in between work and meeting.

Fourth, we've sent out a link to a Google Doc by email that outlines the answers to the original questions. I'll be honest, I wrote the document, and it's pretty much just a digest of AQ posts on the topic. We've invited people to comment on the document to try and encourage as many questions as possible before the meetings.

Fifth, we've invited people to bring electronics to access the Google Doc, take notes, and even make comments during the meeting itself.

Sixth, we're planning to try for one Friday night per month. We figure once a month is a cadence that should allow us to maintain forward momentum while at the same time not making it too difficult for people to make it out.

Seventh, we're budgeting about half the time for socializing. Since we're deliberately attempting to help out younger people, we want to ensure we don't just make them lose out on Friday night.

I have no idea how this will work out. It seems the perpetual challenge is to convey the message in a way people can hear it, without changing the message. That's a whole lot harder than it sounds.

I'll keep you posted.

Know your enemies

Scripture records several enemies encountered by the children of Israel as they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. To name only a few:

  1. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:4–9; 14:30–31)
  2. the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8–16)
  3. the Canaanites of Arad (Numbers 21:1–3)
  4. the Amorites (Numbers 21:21–31)

We rightly recognize that these enemies parallel the enemies of the Christian today. Of course we don't fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) – our enemies are no less real, but they aren't visible to the human eye. I'm old enough to remember preachers who used to talk about "the world, the flesh, and the devil": I'm not entirely sure that's a complete list either, it seems to me Ephesians 6:12 goes a little further than that. Nevertheless, we are in conflict just like Israel was in conflict.

We can think of the enemies of Israel as three general groups. The first contains Pharaoh and his army. That was a terrifying enemy, and Israel was explicitly told not to fight them: the command was "Fear not: stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:13). Then there is the second group, enemies like the Amalekites. There was real battle with the Amalekites, but there was no utter destruction: Amalek's power was broken (Exodus 17:13), but there was the promise of perpetual war with them (Exodus 17:16). Finally, we might think of the third group as being like the Canaanites of Arad: the Lord gave Israel victory over them in a single decisive battle, they were utterly destroyed.

In broad terms, we have those same three types of enemy. It's striking that when Scripture talks about sin (as opposed to "sins", the principle, not the specific transgressions), it uses the language of deliverance. I'd guess that every believer has prayed for victory over sin, but I can't find a single place where Scripture uses the language of victory when it talks about sin. Scripture talks about deliverance in relation to sin, not victory. Israel wasn't victorious over Pharaoh, Israel was delivered from Pharaoh (Exodus 14:30).

The New Testament uses similar language when it discusses the flesh to the language used to discuss Amalek. Amalek's power is broken, but the conflict is still perpetual. The flesh is still there in us: it's power is broken, but there is ongoing conflict (Galatians 5:17).

I suspect our "members on the earth" (Colossians 3:5) fall into this second category. I suspect they aren't ever really gone, although their power over us may be broken. And while we are called to put them to death, I'm not sure they ever quite die. I'd be interested to hear people's comments on that...

It seems to me the specific habits of the flesh (Colossians 3:8–9) fall into the third category. There is very real conflict with those things, but we don't see war from generation to generation like with Amalek. The epistles differentiate between the flesh and its habits. We won't be rid of the flesh until the Lord Jesus changes our vile bodies (Philippians 3:21), but that's not to say its habits are here to stay. Indeed, Galatians 5:16 seems to indicate the opposite.

But the real point is, we need to know our enemy. We need to have the spiritual discernment to understand when we're called to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah", and when we're called to pick up a sword and charge at the foe.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Going through death

I don't think anyone holds any illusions about this... but in the spirit of confessing faults one to another, I should probably confess that I'm sadly content to be like Moses and see the land. It's a great deal harder to be like Joshua and go into it.

The leaven of evangelicalism seems to me to be the notion that man in the flesh can please God. As I listen to preachers and teachers who consider themselves "evangelical", I notice two themes. The first theme is a dangerously compromised Gospel. Scripture teaches that God justifies the one who does not work, but believes (Romans 4:5). I have many times heard a "gospel" message that places some sort of work between the sinner and justification. Scripture doesn't call on the sinner to repeat a prayer, or to "invite Jesus into his heart." Scripture merely calls the sinner to believe. And to be clear: it calls the sinner to believe not something, but Someone.

The second theme is the idea that the justified sinner is now capable of obeying God, as a justified sinner. By contrast, what Scripture teaches is that those who have died with Christ are to yield their members to God as those alive from the dead (Romans 6:13). There is no pleasing God without going through death.

Scripture presents baptism as standing at the gateway to the Christian life. What is the truth of baptism? It is the fact of the believer's identification in the death, burial, resurrection, and public testimony of Christ (Romans 6:3–6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3–5). Baptism means my life has ended. And notice, it's really the first step in the Christian life. We don't work our way up to baptism, we start there.

A friend of mine once told me, "everything, even spiritual gift, must go through death for God to use it." I've thought about that long and hard, and I think he was correct. Really, isn't that the message of 2 Corinthians 4:10–12? The end goal of the Christian life is to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). The tool that God uses to bring that about is death: death works in us (2 Corinthians 4:12). Sadly, this seems to be the opposite of the evangelical view.

The fact is that Christ Himself taught this to Nicodemus (John 3:3). The problem is, we have done a masterful job of not really hearing what the Lord said. The point is not that we need to have a "born again" experience to get into the Kingdom. The point is that we need an entirely new life. That doesn't leave room for the "old" life. We've managed to convince ourselves that the Lord was describing an addition, not a replacement.

No one gets into the Kingdom of God intact.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The place of death

Numbers 17:12–13

We've been reading through Numbers in our Wednesday night Bible readings. Numbers is a favourite book of mine, and I've read it through many times. But I admit that I am seeing Numbers in an entirely new light now that we're reading through it as a group.

When I've read Numbers previously, I saw it as a sort of a patchwork of stories about the journey from Sinai to Canaan, with commandments and laws interspersed. It wouldn't be fair to say that I never saw any uniting themes, but certainly Numbers has always seemed to me more of a series of anecdotes than a unified message. This time, I'm realizing that the laws given in Numbers are generally responses to the stories that come immediately before.

Numbers 18 is a fascinating chapter, it details the priest's duty (not merely privilege) to eat the offerings brought to the Lord. There are some offerings that only Aaron and his sons are to eat (Numbers 18:9–10), others are for Aaron, his sons, and his daughters (Numbers 18:11–13). There are some offerings that the Levites are to have (Numbers 18:21–24).

What I hadn't ever understood before is, the commands in Numbers 18 are a response to the events in Numbers 16–17. Numbers 17 ends with the people declaring that the Tabernacle was a place of death (Numbers 17:12–13). Numbers 18 is the instructions for the priest, detailing how to live in the place of death. How does the priest live in the place of death? he feeds on the sacrifices.

It's worthy of note that Numbers 17:8–10 introduces resurrection: God confirms Aaron's priesthood by making his [dead] staff bloom, producing blossoms and ripe almonds. God marks His priest by resurrection.

So Numbers 18 builds on these two ideas: first, the priesthood is characterized by resurrection; second, the Tabernacle is the place of death. So the question is, how can Aaron and his sons serve God in the place of death? How does one live in the place of death?

First, the priesthood must be in the power of resurrection. It's no use trying to serve God in the power of natural life. God's presence really is death to fallen men and women (Exodus 33:20). The fact is, the overwhelming majority of "Christian" ministry I have seen ignores this. If we want to serve God, if we want to come into His presence, it can only be in the power of resurrection. It's only as risen with Christ we can yield our members to righteousness (Romans 6:13). It's only as risen with Christ we can seek those things above (Colossians 3:1–3).

Second, the service of God is sustained by feeding on the Sacrifice. There is a great deal more involved in eating the offerings, but we must at least start with this: it is feeding on Christ as dead for us – His flesh our food, His blood our drink (John 6:53–58) – that we have any life in ourselves. God never intended us to be plants, He never designed us to produce our own food. We are designed to feed: the first man fed on plants in the Garden, the new Man feeds on Christ.

This is a challenge to me: it's incredibly difficult for me to admit that I can't produce for God. He hasn't called me to fill a need He has, but to have my needs filled by Him in His Son. God doesn't need us.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Eating from the altar

The Pharisees were offended that Christ would eat with sinners (Luke 15:1). They 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 6:48–58).

It can be amusing to hear people speak about the latter part of John 6. I agree that sacramentalism has done its best to ruin this amazing chapter, but we oughtn't let fear of sacramentalism keep us from entering into what the Holy Spirit teaches here. It's obvious that Christ isn't literally speaking about eating His flesh, for the simple fact that He also taught His own resurrection. You have a bookkeeping problem if you try to believe in both Resurrection and literal eating of the flesh of Christ.

That being said, the Lord chose deliberately provocative language to describe His giving us life. We've noticed before that the Son of God can give life merely by calling the dead from the tomb (John 5:25). But when the Son of Man gives life, it costs His flesh and His blood. But I don't think that's all there is to John 6. There is not only His giving, but our eating and drinking. It's not just that we believe on Him (we do), but we must feed on Him as well.

1 Corinthians 10:15–23 brings this into the context of the Lord's table. 1 Corinthians 10:15–18 makes the association between our eating the loaf and drinking the cup and the altar. It takes us back to the Numbers 18:8–19, there the priests were to eat all the heave-offerings the people presented. 1 Corinthians 10:16 tells us this means they had communion with the altar.

There is an association between the Lord's table and the altar. We are making a statement about that association every time we break the one loaf and drink from the cup. We are claiming our communion with the death of Christ. By eating the one loaf and drinking from the cup, we are saying we are in fellowship with the sacrifice.

I don't question that we are to feed on Christ individually, but the feeding in 1 Corinthians 10 is corporate: we being many, are one Body (1 Corinthians 10:17).

The Old Testament sacrifices were all assumed to be more than enough: with a couple exceptions (Leviticus 6:23; Leviticus 6:30), there was something for the priest in every sacrifice. Even the burnt offering, which was wholly consumed, had a part for the priest – the priest gets the skin (Leviticus 7:8).

Of course they weren't really more than enough, but the principle was established. Really, the blood of bulls and of goats is incapable of taking away sins (Hebrews 10:4). But the sacrifice they pointed to – Christ offering Himself for us by the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) – that sacrifice was far more than enough.

Christ was both our sacrifice and priest. We, as family of the priest (Numbers 18:19), are to eat of the sacrifice. By feeding on the sacrifice, we express communion with the altar (1 Corinthians 10:16). What does it mean to have communion with the altar? At the very least, it means we recognize and agree with the need for the sacrifice. At the very least, when we contemplate feeding on Christ, we contemplate our deep need of Him.

I don't doubt there is the feeding on Christ in Resurrection as well as feeding on Him in humility. It seems to me John 6 is talking about the former: it is the One who has come down from Heaven.