Monday, August 14, 2017

Image of God

There is a connection between Exodus 20:4–5 and Colossians 1:15. The children of Israel were commanded to have no images to worship. An image eventually becomes an idol. Indeed, when God specifically commanded Moses to make an image (Numbers 21:8–9), it became an idol to them (2 Kings 18:4).

But God has specifically given us one Image to worship: Christ, who is the image of the invisible God.

In fact, when we consider John 3:14, we learn that the brass serpent was actually a type of the Son of Man lifted up. The children of Israel were committing idolatry when they worshiped the serpent that was lifted up for them, but God Himself invites us to worship the Son of Man who was lifted up for us. It is explicitly the Father's will that we should honor the Son as we honor the Father (John 5:23).

Isn't that cool? God knows we have a tendency to worship images, and He has given us an image to worship.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Complete Man

And Joseph died, a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him; and he was put in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:26)
Jesus therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have ye put him? (John 11:33–34)

I was struck by the wording of Genesis 50, that when Joseph died they put him in a coffin. Were I to have written Genesis 50, I likely would have said they put his body in a coffin. But the Word of God doesn't say that.

In John 11, when the Lord Jesus came to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, He asked, "Where have ye put him?" Again, we might expect He would ask, "Where have you put his body?" but that's not at all what He asked. He asked, "Where have you put him?"

It is unfortunate, but it is nevertheless true that we frequently allow one truth to block our view of another. It is true that the Epistles (especially Paul's epistles) call us to walk in new creation. But it is no less true that God has created us body, soul, and spirit. We have belong to a world that none of us have actually seen: we wait for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). At the same time, we're not going to get there without physical bodies. We are groaning, waiting for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Philippians 3:21 says it best, we're waiting for the Son of God from heaven, who will change our mortal bodies to be like His.

2 Corinthians 5:1–8 bring this into sharp focus. We're groaning while we await "our house from heaven": we want to be free of these fallen bodies, but we're not really wanting to be incorporeal spirits – we don't want to be unclothed – what we want is to have our bodies redeemed.

God has created us to be both physical and spiritual beings. We're not complete without our bodies. The scripture testifies to this fact every time it talks about "him" being buried. Being absent from the body is being present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23–24), but that doesn't change the fact that our hope is to be made like Christ, and our bodies will be changed to be like His (Philippians 3:20–21).

It's a striking thought that those who are now with the Lord are still awaiting resurrection. I can't see any other way to understand 1 Thessalonians 4:15–18.

We notice 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 describes the Lord Himself the same way as Joseph and Lazarus – "He was buried" (1 Corinthians 15:4). John's Gospel uses language more like what we might expect: John 19:38–40 talks about "the body of Jesus". But notice the final verse in the chapter ends with "on account of the preparation of the Jews, because the tomb was near, they laid Jesus" (John 19:42).

The language of 1 Corinthians 15:4 and John 19:42 insists that the Son of God is a Man. There are a lot of heresies out there about the incarnation, but the truth is the Son of God became a Man. And He is still a Man. The Second Man is coming from Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47). I am sure this is what Exodus 21:2–6 is describing: the Son of God has become the Son of Man, and He isn't willing to go free. He will judge as the Son of Man (John 5:26–27) in the last day.

I find it easy to slip into a sort of Gnosticism, probably because I spend a lot of time thinking about our life here in fallen bodies. But the truth of Scripture is not that we are waiting to be free of our bodies, it's that we're waiting for the Son of God to come and change them. For some that will involve resurrection, others will be changed without dying (1 Corinthians 15:51). But in either case, we are called to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). We're not called to a non-physical spirituality, but an intensely physical one. I find it easy to lose sight of that.

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.