Saturday, June 30, 2018

"In the flesh"

Contrasting "in Christ" with "in the flesh":

Amazing and total change from the whole condition and standing of the first Adam, responsible for his own sins, into that of Christ, who, having borne the whole consequence of that responsibility in his place, has given him (in the power of that, to us, new life, in which He rose from the dead) a place in and with Himself, as He now is as man before God! It is to this position the apostle refers; only that he was given in a very extraordinary manner to enjoy the full fruit and glory of it during the period of his existence here below. His language as to this truth is remarkably plain, and therefore powerful. "When we were in the flesh," he says. Thus it is we speak, when we refer to a clearly bygone state of things, in which we are no longer — "when we were in the flesh" (that is, we are no longer in that position at all). "But," he says, "ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you." We are now alive in Christ. "If ye be dead," says he elsewhere, "to the rudiments of the world, why as though living (i.e. alive) in the world are ye subject to ordinances?" "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."

The reader will forgive me, if I have dwelt so long upon the first expression of our chapter. I have done so because of its vast importance. It is the very heart of all Paul's doctrine, the true and holy way of full divine liberty, and the power of holiness. And because many Christians have not seized the force of this truth, nor of the expressions of the apostle, they use Christ's death as a remedy for the old man, or at least only learn forgiveness of past sins by it, instead of learning that they have by it passed out of the old man as to their place before God, and into the new in the power of that life which is in Christ. Ask many a true-hearted saint what is the meaning of "When we were in the flesh," and he could give no clear answer — he has no definite idea of what it can mean. Ask him what it is to be in Christ — all is equally vague.

A regenerate man may be in the flesh, as to the condition and standing of his own soul, though he be not so in God's sight; nay, this is the very case supposed in Romans 7, because he looks at himself as standing before God on the ground of his own responsibility, on which ground he never can (in virtue of being regenerate) meet the requirements of God, attain to His righteousness. Perhaps, finding this out, he has recourse to the blood of Christ to quiet his uneasy conscience, and repeated recurrence to it, as a Jew would to a sacrifice, a superstitious man to absolution. But he has no idea that he has been cleansed and perfected once for all, and that he is taken clean out of that standing to be placed in Christ before God. But if in Christ, the title and privilege of Christ is our title and privilege.

From "A Man in Christ", Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 7, p. 224

Monday, June 25, 2018

I shall see God

I've been emailing with a friend about resurrection, so I've been thinking a lot about Job 19:25–27.

It's striking that Job says he will one day see God (Job 19:26), and evidently he expects God to stand on the earth. Now, it's try that Job's Redeemer is come, and has stood on the earth. But Job had been dead at least a thousand years at that point; so this can't have been the time that Job was expecting. So Job was looking forward to an event that still hasn't happened.

Job says that even if his flesh and his skin rot away, he will still see God with his own eyes. And he repeats it as though to emphasize it: it will be with his own eyes, and not another.

This is a problematic verse for me, because I have trouble with his insistence that it will be with his own eyes that he will see God. The thing is, Job 19:27 insists that resurrection isn't hypothetical. It's intensely earthy, because it means that resurrection is about the body I have now. Indeed, Job says it will my own two eyes that see God. I'm sure they won't be using bifocals then, but they won't be new eyes: they'll be my own two eyes.

I realized a few years ago that we're not looking for new bodies, but changed ones. I'm embarrassed by how big a realization that was.

So what about us? Are we looking forward to seeing our Redeemer stand on the earth? I know dispensationalists like to say our hope is the Lord returning for us, and of course that's correct. But that's really only the first step. There's more: we look for the Lord to be manifested (Colossians 3:4). And ultimately, we're looking for a new Heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). So we shouldn't get too myopic about our hope. We do hope for Christ to come and get us, that doesn't lessen at all our desire to look out of our changed (not new – 1 Corinthians 15:51) eyes and see the Last standing upon the earth.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bread of God

Leviticus 21 gives several laws for the priests, and we're told why: because "they present Jehovah's offerings by fire, the bread of their God" (Leviticus 21:6, 8, 17). That's an interesting phrase, "the bread of their God." It really means to food that God eats.

(We might find that strange. We eat because we need food to survive. If we don't eat, we die. God is eternal; He is self-sufficient – He doesn't need to eat. But Scripture says the offerings made by fire are God's food.)

The Lord Jesus takes up the idea of "the bread of God" in John 6:32. He talks about the bread of God being the One who came down from Heaven. And here it's not God who eats, but men and women who have no life in themselves (John 6:53).

There are two different ideas here: in Leviticus 21 we have "bread of God" meaning the food for God. In John 6 we have "bread of God" meaning the food from God. It shouldn't surprise us that those two ideas converge in Christ Jesus.

Christ offered Himself up to God (Hebrews 9:14). He says that God didn't really want sacrifices and offerings, He wanted to be glorified in the obedience – and eventual offering of the body – of Christ (Hebrews 10:5–10, quoting Psalm 40:6–8). Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament commands concerning offerings: it is Christ who is the true sweet savor (Ephesians 5:2).

At the same time, it was the Lord Jesus who came from Heaven to give His own body to be our food and His own blood to be our drink (John 6:49–57). He is the bread of God that came down to give life to the world (John 6:33). In fact, we find His body is the only food that can sustain eternal life, and His blood is the only drink for it (John 6:53). We not only get eternal life by eating His flesh, we sustain it the same way.

One thing John 6 brings to the forefront is the need for feeding as opposed merely to eating. There is certainly a one-time eating that gives us eternal life (John 6:53), but we find as well that there is a need to continue to feed on Him (John 6:56). It's easy to miss that.

I don't mean to be flippant, but it seems to me one of the lessons we can learn from Levitical law is that God doesn't like to eat alone. Numbers 18:8–14 tells us the priests were to eat from the sacrifices brought to God. There are some exceptions, but in general, the sacrifices included a portion for the priests.

Notice there are two categories in Numbers 18:8–13: vv. 8–10 detail the sacrifices that were to be eaten by the priests themselves, while vv. 11–13 tell us about the things that were to be eaten by the whole household of the priests. The sin offerings and the trespass offerings are limited to the priests, while the rest of the sacrifices were to be eaten by "every one that is clean in thy house."

We might think of those two categories applying to our feeding on Christ. There is an individual feeding [for just the priests], but there is a corporate feeding too [for everyone clean in the house]. We ought to be feeding on Christ in the assembly, and we ought to be feeding on Him in our individual lives as well.

I've heard many admonitions in various assemblies about not missing out on the meetings. We hear Hebrews 10:23–25 referenced a lot, but I'm not sure I've heard John 6 referenced in the same way. One of the reasons we gather is to feed on Christ as the assembly. This is the second eating in Numbers 18: it's the eating by everyone clean in the house.

But don't let's get into the idea that our only feeding is in the assembly. There is the need for the individual to feed as well. We do feed as the assembly, but we also feed as individuals. Notice John 6:53–58 doesn't reference a corporate setting, but a purely individual one.

Both the feedings is marked by the presence of God. Christ is the Bread of God. Do we think God isn't joining with us in feeding on Christ?

I was at a Bible Conference in Texas a few years ago, and in one of the Reading meetings, an older brother spoke up and said something like, "this is worship: sitting down at table with the Father, eating the food He eats." The more I examine passages like Numbers 18 and John 6, the more convinced I become that he put his finger exactly on what the Scripture teaches. God shares His Bread with us, and desires us to come and feed on it with Him.

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.