Saturday, November 24, 2018

Christ my only righteousness

I mentioned a while ago that there are two general categories of "ministry" I run across. When I read folks like J. N. Darby, I'm struck by how his entire perspective is that God no longer deals with man in the flesh. By contrast, as I listen to "ministry" given over the last several years, I'm struck by how it is mainly (not exclusively) a speaker urging people to try harder. There are, thankfully, some remarkable exceptions.

It seems like there are certain topics (or as C. A. Coates would say, "lines of truth") where this is more clearly seen. Discussions of baptism come to mind, or discussions on the whole topic of election. Talks about baptism – very appropriately – bring up Romans 6, and it seems like talks on Romans 6 fall naturally into one of two categories: there are those who see our death with Christ as fact, and those who see it as a metaphor for our responsibility to live a new kind of life.

There are some recordings on Voices for Christ that I've heard well over a dozen times. To be fair, recordings of talks given to an assembly (or in a conference) are given at a specific time and place. And a spoken word – unlike a written word – can't be edited or touched up after it's spoken. It's entirely true that it's easier to be careful in writing than in speaking.

That being said, in all my listening to some of the messages, I've come to the conclusion that there are many preachers and teachers who really don't believe that new life in Christ is a real thing. And (I think this is closely related), those same speakers don't seem to believe that man is really lost.

I was struck by R. A. Huebner's statement in God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men that there are those who effectively teach "man is lost – but not that lost" (pp. 7, 184). Huebner's writing can be a little caustic at times, but his characterization seems to be accurate. The more I listen to some speakers, the more convinced I become that they really haven't given up on fallen men and women.

By contrast, the central message I see in J. N. Darby's ministry is that Christ has died as the Last Adam, and God is no longer interested in what Adam's race can or cannot do. In Christ's death, the whole world has been condemned, along with the entire human race:

Flesh has its religion as well as its lusts and pleasures.

As to Salvation; it is important we should know ourselves lost; but I think you will find many that have not got the simple plain consciousness that they are lost - not really got it, I mean.

But if they are alive in this world, they are lost to God. I do not say "guilty" now, that is true, of course; but, lost. If I am lost, now I am; and there is nothing to judge.

I do not mean, shall be lost finally, but that now am lost, as to my state.

People don't believe it. They believe that they have sinned, and that Christ has died for their sins; but that does not touch this question of being lost.

But if I get the consciousness of being lost now already, and that Christ dealt with that on the cross also; I then get saved, and that now, and that is just what people have not got thoroughly. They know neither what it is to be lost, nor what it is to be saved.

It is not the first thing we get hold of, my conscience takes knowledge of my sins, and that must be settled, but there is this other thing.

(J. N. Darby, "Salvation and Separation", Notes and Jottings, p. 46)

In his excellent letter on free will, Darby claims the idea of human free will is a denial of Christianity. I used to think there was a logical leap there, but I have begun to understand better what he's saying. The Christian gospel is not that man is guilty and must be forgiven – that is Old Testament truth. Christianity introduces not guilt but lostness. And, as Darby points out, free will is effectively a denial that man is lost. A man who is guilty might have free will, a man who is lost does not.

Let's slow down a little bit to make sure we're clear on this. Romans presents the all-important doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone: the argument reaches its peak in Romans 4:5 – the one who doesn't work, but believes is counted righteous. The really fascinating thing about Romans 4 is that the doctrine is argued entirely from the Old Testament, where it's shown that Abraham (Romans 4:3) and David (Romans 4:7) were both justified in exactly the same way that we are.

Guilt and justification are Old Testament truths.

Romans 1–3 demonstrates the guilt of men – and women, of course! But Romans 5 goes further, showing that men and women are not only guilty, but lost. Lost goes deeper than guilty. Guilty means I have done something wrong. Lost means I am something wrong.

And here's where these preachers tend to go off track. They don't seem to believe that men and women aren't capable of pleasing God. They seem to think that God forgives our guilt, and then expects us to live for Him with a clean slate. The problem, of course, is that there's no clean slate, not even a blank one. God forgiving our sins means we're justified in His sight, but it doesn't change the fact that we're lost.

Christ didn't die to remedy our flesh, He died to end it. That's the only way I know to interpret John 1:29 – the Lamb of God takes away the sin (not sins) of the world.

Here's the thing: this is the most practical doctrinal difference imaginable. Rob Leatham says shooting is simple, it's just not easy. Christian living is almost exactly the same thing: it's simple, but it's not easy.

The simple truth is that there are many people who have been forgiven of all their sins, who nevertheless aren't really living the Christian life. They are born again, they are regenerated, they are justified in God's sight; but they aren't saved. And sadly, many of the preachers I hear are actually calling people to exactly this less-than-Christian life. This is why I've come to see Darby's "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost" (Collected Writings, Volume 31, p. 254) as so important.

Scripture first mentions Salvation in Exodus 14:13, where Moses tells the people to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah." That chapter goes on to tell us what salvation looks like: Jehovah saved Israel, and they saw the Egyptians dead on the shore (Exodus 14:30). Notice this is significantly after the Passover: this is at least several days after they had been sheltered by the blood on the door, and even after they had left Egypt. Salvation comes after redemption.

The Christian life starts with baptism. Baptism is connected with salvation in Scripture: it's not connected with justification, or regeneration, or forgiveness, or reconciliation. It's connected with salvation. Sadly, many want to put baptism back at the Passover, not at the Red Sea.

The hardest thing for us to do is to accept we are lost. It's easy for us to judge our sins, it's hard for us to judge ourselves. It's simple, it's just not easy.

Philippians 3:9–10 tells us what it means to be "in Christ": it means to have no righteousness of our own. It's so incredibly difficult to give up our own righteousness. Ask me how I know! It's much easier to confess our sins than it is to give up our own righteousness. But this is precisely what it is to be "in Christ." We are "in Christ" when we give up having anything to offer God. We see Christ not only as taking our sins, but also as being our only righteousness.

It is a fact that God only sees us in Christ. The problem is when we don't see things that way. When God sees things one way, and we see things another way, then we're in trouble. And to live the Christian life, we need to see ourselves in Christ – no righteousness of our own, depending solely on the grace of God.

Christ my forgiveness, Christ my only righteousness. That's Christianity. It's not easy, but it's simple.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Yet without sin

Several years ago, I read "Review of R. Pearsall Smith on 'Holiness through Faith'" by J. N. Darby (Collected Writings, Volume 23, pp. 184–211). Odd as it sounds to say, it was a major turning point for me.

I was struck by Darby's insistence that temptation is sin:

Temptation is used in two senses in scripture. We are tempted when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed, and we are tempted from without by the enemy. The latter the Lord underwent, the former of course never. All this is confounded by Mr. S. He says temptation is not sin. In the sense used by James, it is sin. In the other sense of testing or trying, it is not. (p. 190)
I had grown up believing the old evangelical idea that "it's not sin to be tempted, it's only sin if you give in." After examining James 1:13–14, I had to admit Darby was correct. It is sin to be tempted. We are tempted when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed.

Of course it's not transgression when we're tempted: there is a difference between being enticed to sin and actually sinning. But it's still sin. If we hadn't lusts to draw us away, we'd never be enticed. The very fact that evil things entice us indicates there is something wrong.

The problem is that we are so careless and fail to distinguish between sins and sin. The former are specific transgressions: they are acts of sin. The latter is the principle that lives in us (Romans 7:17). Having the former means we're guilty, having the latter means we're lost.

"By law is knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Not "sins", but "sin." Law does reveal specific sins, but the point of law is not to make us understand that certain things are sins, it's to make us understand that there is a principle of sin within us. It's to reveal that we are lost. The heathen understood their guilt (Romans 2:15), it doesn't take law to prove that. Law was brought in to show we're not merely guilty, but lost as well.

Temptation addresses not merely guilt, but also lostness. If we find ourselves tempted to sin, then James tells us we've already been drawn away of our own lusts. The believer who is tempted is the believer who has allowed his own lusts to draw him away (James 1:13–15).

And of course this touches on the person of Christ. There is an idea out there that Christ was tempted exactly like we are, by every sin that tempts us. The idea is based on Hebrews 4:15, but it's completely wrong. Christ was never tempted to sin in the sense that we are tempted to sin: He had no lusts to draw Him away. God cannot be tempted by evil things (James 1:13), and it makes Christ less than God to say He could be tempted by them.

What Hebrews 4:15 actually says is, Christ was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (NASB). The error here is in thinking "yet without sin" means "yet without sinning." It does not. It means there was no sin in Him to respond. "The ruler of the world comes, and in me he has nothing" (John 14:30). In tempting Christ, Satan proved that there were no lusts there to draw Him away. The temptation of Christ proved not that He didn't succumb to temptation, but that He was not capable of being tempted by evil things.

This is really the point of Colossians 3:5–7, isn't it? We're not to walk through this wicked world constantly struggling not to succumb to temptation. We're to walk through this wicked world like Christ did, unaffected by the sin around us. That's why we're told to put to death our members on the earth. If we find ourselves tempted by evil things, it proves that there is un-mortified flesh acting in us. It proves we have failed of the calling of Colossians 3:5–7. If we find ourselves drawn away of our own lusts and enticed, it means we haven't been putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:12–13).

So let's not fall into those subtle errors. Christ was tempted in all things like we are, but not by all things like we are. He was (and is) without sin, there were no lusts to draw Him away and entice Him. Let's not lower Him to the level of a sinner, saying He was tempted by evil things. And don't let's give ourselves a pass when we are tempted and think, "it's OK to be tempted, as long as I don't actually give in to that temptation." It's not: we are tempted when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed. When we find ourselves tempted by evil things, let's treat that like what it is – our flesh acting in its own lusts – and judge that before God.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Embracing our identity

About six weeks ago I became a citizen of the United States of America. I was one of 73 people from 35 different countries who turned in Green Cards and took an oath to their new country.

It was clear throughout the ceremony that the United States considers a change in citizenship not merely to be a change in legal status, but a change in identity. They were quick to tell us, "you are now Americans!" Not, "you are are now a citizen," but, "you are now an American." One of the statements that was made was, "this is our home, we have no other."

Part of becoming an American is renouncing all loyalties to any other country. A friend congratulated me on no longer being "under the thumb of the queen" (I was born and raised in Canada). I admit my first inclination was to point out that I am technically still a citizen of Canada, but I caught myself. Canada may not (and does not) consider my becoming American to have changed anything, but I do, and so does the United States.

Romans 6:2 makes it clear that we have a new identity in Christ. Baptism into Christ Jesus is baptism into His death – we have died with Him. We now consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God (Romans 6:11).

Now, it's a fact that Canada still considers me Canadian. Canadian citizenship law is quite different than its American counterpart. Canadian law doesn't recognize my American naturalization ceremony: it's not that Canada doesn't believe it happened, it's just that Canada doesn't care.

In the same way, the world doesn't really care that I have been baptized into Christ Jesus' death. The world doesn't really deny that I've been baptized into Christ Jesus, but it doesn't acknowledge that it really means anything. At most, the world considers baptism to be an antiquated religious ritual.

It isn't my place to convince the world that baptism into Christ Jesus has given me an entirely new identity. Part of being a man in Christ Jesus is not caring what the world thinks about it. My responsibility is in considering myself to be dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11).

One interesting thing about becoming an American is the number of people who have

  1. asked me if I am still a Canadian citizen
  2. said, "well, it's true you're an American now, but you'll always be Canadian..."
I'll be quick to say some of those people aren't malicious at all. They aren't trying to undercut my identity as an American. But regardless of motive, that's what they're doing.

In the same way, there are many folks who'll try to undercut our identity in Christ. They say things like, "well... that's true positionally." They don't deny that we have died with Christ, but they undermine it subtly as they try to put boundaries on what that means. Even if some of what they say is true, Romans 6:11 commands us to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. It isn't obedience to undercut our new identity.

Were I to take my Canadian passport and move to Canada, I'd be welcomed back (after the customs officers dug through all my belongings). All would be forgiven: life could go on as a Canadian. But that's not an option if I took seriously the oath I took when I became an American. I still have the legal right to consider myself a Canadian, but that's not embracing my new identity. Like I was told at the naturalization ceremony: "this is our home, we have no other."

In a Saturday night meeting a couple weeks ago, one brother said the whole point of Romans 6 is to "embrace our identity in Christ." That gets right to the point. The world, the flesh, and the devil would all love for me to just go back to being a man in Adam. All would be forgiven, they'd love to have me back. And in a sense, I still have a legitimate claim to that. But a man in Christ Jesus is a man with a new identity, and it's our responsibility to embrace that identity (Philippians 3:20–21).

It can be hard for us to get our minds around our identity in Christ Jesus. There is plenty of evidence that we're just the same men and women we were before. We are reminded constantly that we carry around "the flesh". We think of this world as home much more often than we like to admit. And we find ourselves walking by sight, rather than by faith. But the command of Scripture is embrace our identity in Christ. It's not so much a repeated action as it is in ongoing one. It's not so much something we do as it is the way we think. We consider ourselves to have died to sin, and to be alive to God.

I shouldn't have to point out that I'm not trying to belittle Canada, nor Canadians. Of course it's just an analogy.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Counterfeit Spirituality

The four points of the gospel given in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 are:

  1. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
  2. he was buried
  3. he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
  4. he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve

These four propositions group themselves into two pairs: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" and "he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" seem to fit naturally together, while "he was buried" and "he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve" seem to fit together. Interestingly, these two pairs are pairs of opposites: dying and being raised are opposites, just as being buried and appearing are opposites.

We've also noted that these four points are an outline of the Christian life. Christ has died, and we have died with Him (Colossians 3:3). Christ was buried, and we have been buried with Him (Colossians 2:12). Christ has been raised from the dead, and we have been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). Christ was seen, and we shall be seen with Him (Colossians 3:4).

We can see how this gospel is not only the gospel we have received, it is also the gospel by which we are saved, and the gospel in which we stand (1 Corinthians 15:1–2).

When we consider the gospel as an outline of the Christian life, we realize there is something entirely other about that life. It's entirely outside our experience to see a man who has died and was buried come out of the grave. If we saw that happen, we would be astonished. In fact, we might not believe it really happened, even if we had seen it ourselves.

Similarly, our lives are to be characterized by resurrection (Philippians 3:10). We're not called to live a good life, we're called to live an impossible life. We're called not to be good men and women, but to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–12). People aren't supposed to see our life at all, they're supposed to see the life of Jesus when they look at us.

Our lives should look as strange to our friends and neighbors as the Lord's life looked to the people around Him. Our lives should be as impossible for the people around us to understand and explain as it is for us to explain resurrection.

But that comes with a tremendous cost: 2 Corinthians 4:10 tells us the cost is death works in us. It's not here reckoning ourselves to have died (that's Romans 6). It's something we experience. And experiencing death is unpleasant.

In fact, it's such an odd concept to us that we manage to convince ourselves that Scripture doesn't really mean what it says: we convince ourselves that really it means we should try to live like Christ did, rather than what it plainly says: He lives in and through us.

And once we've convinced ourselves that what we're really called to do is to imitate Him, then we set about to make reasonable facsimiles of His life. Or at least reasonable facsimiles of some of the qualities we perceive in His life.

And we end up with counterfeit spirituality.

Because God doesn't call us to check items off a list to make our lives look similar Christ's. God calls us to a life the begins with dying with Christ, a life that's lived under the control of God, and in the power of His Spirit. He calls us to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh.

God doesn't want my life. He doesn't want the best I can do, He doesn't even want the best I theoretically could do. He doesn't want even the very best version of me that could ever exist. He wants to see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh. And notice the contrast here: it's specifically in my mortal body that God wants to display the life of Jesus. Some day Christ will change my body to be like His – immortal and incorruptible (Philippians 3:20–21) – and then it'll be too late. God's not looking to display the life of Jesus in immortal bodies, but in mortal. He's looking for this amazing contrast: for the life of Jesus in unredeemed bodies.

So let's be careful not to become those who have a form of godliness without its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

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.