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.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Grace, Faith, and Glory, Part 3

This is the third part of our guest posts from Robert on "Grace, Faith, and Glory". We are thankful again for Robert's sharing these with us!

2 Corinthians 3:18 ‘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’.

Paul reveals to the Corinthians his two-fold ministry — the ministry of the new covenant (3:6) and the ministry of reconciliation (5:18). Transformation and reconciliation! No wonder he felt his need of mercy in order not to faint.

This is a chapter of contrasts:

Ministration of death with Ministration of the Spirit

The law demanded death as the ultimate penalty for failure. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath day is a sad example of this. But although the law made demands, it could not empower people to meet them. The ministry of the Spirit however brings the believer into a sphere of life and liberty. The law said, ‘thou shalt not steal’. The gospel says, ‘Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth’ Ephesians 4:28

Ministration of condemnation with Ministration of righteousness
The law also demanded righteousness from men. Many people started have their day with good intentions to do all that the law required, only to discover that they had failed again and were condemned in the sight of God. No wonder the Hebrew writer describes the system of law as ‘weak and unprofitable’. The ministry of righteousness however provides men with the righteousness of God obtained at Calvary and points them to the Lord in glory as their guarantee that He and His work are accepted. In Christ I am not condemned: I am accepted!

Vanishing glory with Abiding glory
In the original account of Moses veiling his face, the reason is given that, ‘they were afraid to come nigh him’ Exodus 34: 30. Sinful men could not even bear to look on the glory of God reflected in Moses’ face. Paul gives a further insight: the purpose of the veil was to conceal from the people the fact that the glory was fading from Moses’ face (v.13). In contrast, the new covenant subsists in glory (v.8), surpasses in glory (v.10), abounds in glory (v.10) and abides in glory (v.11). And the great reason for this is that the glory of God is now seen in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6).

Veiled glory with Unveiled glory
This is not an easy verse to understand but it helped me greatly when I discovered that we do not need the mirror! 

κατοπτριζόμενοι means neither "reflecting," nor "seeing in a mirror." though this last be etymologically the source, but "beholding," without reference to the mirror, as in so many words which thus cast their primitive shell.  
(William Kelly, Notes and Translation of Second Corinthians).

We now look to the Lord in glory and as we behold him, and become more settled as to our position in Christ, we move from the glory of the old covenant to the glory of the new. A life that is settled in the righteousness of God can enjoy the life and liberty of the Spirit and be free from the death and condemnation of the law. But unknown to us, yet seen by others, the more we look at the Lord in glory, the more we will reflect Him. We will reflect what we look upon.

Psalm 63:1, 2 ‘My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh languisheth for thee, in a dry and weary land without water: To see thy power and thy glory, as I have beheld thee in the sanctuary.’

Friday, March 3, 2017

Grace, Faith and Glory, Part 2

And here's Part 2 of Robert's article "Grace, Faith and Glory."  I personally found this article very convicting: it's all too easy to allow "grace" to mean "don't worry about it." These articles have brought to my own conscience that we are to walk worthy of the calling. Thank you, Robert, for your contributions here and in various comment sections!

Romans 1:17 ‘for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, but the just shall live by faith’.

As we read Romans chapter one, we are looking over the shoulder of Paul and viewing his notes on what he intended to preach when he arrived at Rome. This is the standard for all gospel preaching:
  • The Son of God
  • The power of God
  • The righteousness of God
  • The wrath of God
The gospel reveals that God is no longer demanding righteousness from men: God provides His righteousness through the death of His Son. The law said, ‘do’: God says, ‘it is done’. And should someone say, I could not maintain such a life, I would always make mistakes and let God down, there is also given to us the power of God. The gospel brings the power of resurrection (v.4) and the power of creation (v.20) into a believer’s life. God gives us a new life and a new world in which to enjoy it!

Defining faith is difficult. Paul speaks about the ‘obedience of faith’ (v.5). When revelation is given to man, there are objections made immediately by his sinful nature. John 6 is the greatest demonstration of this – note the expressions, ‘Jesus said to them’; ‘they said to Him’. The heart of man always opposes Divine revelation. All who received the righteousness of God came to a point in their experience where they obeyed the truth that was being revealed to them. Faith then is the end of all internal argument, all debate and discussion.

The starting point for us all was the process of God revealing His word, then for a time we argued against it, or could not understand it, until we were brought by His grace and His Spirit to see that it was the truth and we obeyed and believed. This is the principle of faith to faith. So, the pathway of the believer is really a repetition of that first experience with God. He continues to reveal His truth to us and we find ourselves making objections and excuses as to why we do not need to obey. Then, the grace of God empowers us to see that not only is this the truth but that we can accept this truth and live it out by His grace. Faith to faith remains the governing principle of our lives – ‘the just shall live by faith’ (v.17).

The quotation from Habakkuk is not exact. He wrote, ‘but the just shall live by his faith’, for faith in his day was a very lonely experience. It was not meant to be for us. Paul was looking forward to visiting Rome and meeting the saints ‘that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.’ (v.12) Satan has long understood that the mutual faith of saints needs to be attacked and he brings us into isolation wherever he can. Paul was given an ‘abundance of revelations’ but he recognised that the faith was far too vast for one individual to enjoy. We need each other in the pathway of faith.

Ephesians 3:17,18 ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height’.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grace, Faith and Glory, Part 1

Robert has graciously agreed to write an article to post on Assembly Quest: "Grace, Faith and Glory". This is Part 1.

John 1:16 ‘for of his fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace’.

Romans 1:17 ‘for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, but the just shall live by faith’.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ‘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’.

Each year Hannah visited her son Samuel at the time of sacrifice and she brought with her a new coat. She automatically assumed that as another year had run its course he would have outgrown last year’s coat. This leads us to the question; what spiritual coat are we wearing? Do we have on something from the 2017 collection or do people see us wearing the same old thing each year? In other words, have we made any progress from year to year?

The verses quoted above remind us that great progress is available to each of us — progress in grace, faith and glory.

When we read the statement, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, we feel encouraged. How different was the manifestation of grace and truth in a Person from that of the law given on tables of stone. However, in most Christian circles, that encouragement has been taken far beyond the original intention of the verse. For in the mind of many believers, grace modifies the truth; grace reduces the truth; grace blunts the edge of the truth. As an old friend of mine used to say, ‘the saints think a gracious man is one who knows the truth but will not hold them to it’.

As we read through John’s gospel we clearly see that the truth was never modified or reduced by Christ. He made demands upon men and women that were impossible for the sinful nature to meet. ‘Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again’; ‘rise take up thy bed and walk’; ‘he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him’.

When faced with such Divine demands, we might well be tempted to wish for the days of the law. ‘Thou shalt’: ‘thou shalt not’ presents a much simpler way of life. I believe that’s why there is so much desire for law keeping in our day. The question pages of a well-known Christian magazine is filled up every year with questions beginning with the phrase, what should the Christian do about...? It makes life so much easier when we are told what to do!

I suggest however that the true relationship between law and grace is that grace supports us to receive and practice the truth. So Nicodemus was born again; the man lame for 38 years stood up and walked; the disciples ate and drank of the blood of Christ and found themselves dwelling in Him!

But to receive grace we need to feel our need of it. Paul prayed the prayer that you and I would pray when confronted with a ‘thorn in the flesh’ — Lord take it away! He prayed three times and then discovered that the Lord had a better proposal — ‘my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’. So from time to time he would arrive to speak in a city and he must often have looked weak and pathetic. But when the weak man began to speak, the power of God became very evident.  So he settled into a way of life where he gloried in his weakness so that the power of God could be seen.

And should we feel overwhelmed by what the truth is currently demanding from us, John assures us that His grace is without limit. For each of us in 2017 there is ‘grace upon grace’.