Monday, August 29, 2016

Galatians is not 1 Corinthians

Several months ago I was sitting in a Bible reading on Galatians 5 when I was struck by the realization that we were discussing Galatians 5:19–21 as though it were in 1 Corinthians. There were serious moral issues in Corinth, including incest (1 Corinthians 5:1), and the Corinthians were actually proud of it (v. 2).

But that wasn't the problem in Galatia. In Galatia, the problem was that the Christians had adopted the Mosaic Law as necessary for the Christian life. There wasn't any outright moral evil in the Galatian assemblies. So why does Galatians warn about the works of the flesh?

I think it's because Paul is warning about the end of the path the Galatians were on. They were trying to live out the Christian life in the energy and the power of the flesh, and the epistle is warning them where that would end. Certainly their motives were good, but they were walking after the flesh, and it would end up badly.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Yielding

There are many sermons I've listened to several times. That sometimes means I've found one that's helpful, sometimes it means I've found one that's appalling.

There's one that was recorded about ten years ago, where the speaker said the first command in Romans is in Romans 12:1. When I first heard that, I was surprised. By my count, there are five commands in Romans 6. That means Romans 12:1 is at best the sixth command in Romans.

Ten years ago, I was amused by the speaker's statement, and assumed it was just oversight that led him to make it. But thinking back on it now, it seems more likely it's a result of really missing the point.

People like to read Paul's epistles starting in the middle. How many sermons have we heard on Ephesians 4–6, compared to the number we've heard on Ephesians 1–3? Or how many times have we heard people talking about Colossians 3:5 ff., compared to Colossians 1:1–3:4? The fact is that these epistles are written as a single argument: Colossians 3:5 depends on Colossians 1:1–3:4. Ephesians 4 depends on chapters 1–3. Similarly, Romans 12 builds on chapters 1–11. It assumes we've learned the lessons of the first eleven chapters before we start on the twelfth.

So let's consider the five commands in Romans 6:

  1. So also *ye*, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)
  2. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts. (Romans 6:12)
  3. Neither yield your members instruments of unrighteousness to sin (Romans 6:13)
  4. yield yourselves to God as alive from among [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13)
  5. yield your members in bondage to righteousness unto holiness (Romans 6:19)

So also *ye*, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11) This is probably the most import step in the Christian life: to think of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. It's interesting how people react to this verse. I remember talking to people about being dead with Christ (Galatians 2:19) who would respond, "Well that's true positionally", as though that meant it's not actually true. Regardless of whether it's true "positionally" or "judicially" (or by any other "-ally"), we have the plain and explicit command to consider it to be true. If we add caveats to it, we're not obeying the first command of Romans.

When Scripture tells us to "reckon" something as true, it's not saying we should explain it away. It's not saying we should try to convince ourselves it's true, or spend hours trying to make ourselves believe it's true. It means this is God's assessment, and we should accept what He has said.

Scripture commands us to think of ourselves this way: we are dead to sin and alive to God. We don't always feel like it's true, we often don't really think it's true. But Scripture tells us we are to think of ourselves in those terms. That's supposed to be my self-image: I am dead to sin and alive to God.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts. (Romans 6:12) The second command in Romans follows closely on the first, with our favorite word "therefore". So we understand we can't actually obey the second until we obey the first. It's because we consider ourselves to be dead to sin that we can not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. We can't experience Romans 6:12 until we obey Romans 6:11.

Notice the battle ground here is our mortal bodies. We haven't risen up to the level of Ephesians 6:12 yet. This isn't a struggle with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. We're to deny sin the place of rule because we realize we are dead to it. I used to be a man under sin, now I am a man dead to sin and alive to God. That sort of man doesn't need to have sin reigning in his mortal body (see Romans 8:11–13).

Neither yield your members instruments of unrighteousness to sin (Romans 6:13) This one's subtly different from the previous. It's not now talking about sin reigning, but about allowing it to use our "members". I take this to be referring to our physical bodies (see Romans 7:23). This is less about our being ruled by sin, and more about our dabbling in various sins. We aren't to use our mortal bodies to do what sin wants (see Ephesians 2:3).

We understand that there is this thing we call "indwelling sin": a principle of sin living in my mortal body (Romans 7:17, 23; Romans 8:3, 10). Someday Christ will come to change my mortal body to be like His, and I'll be free from its presence (Romans 8:23, Philippians 3:20–21). Until then, there is sin living in this body. But Romans 6:12 tells me it's not my ruler, and Romans 6:13 says I shouldn't use this mortal body on its behalf.

Yield yourselves to God as alive from among [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13) What's the solution? it's to yield ourselves and our members (physical bodies) to God. Notice the phrase "as alive from among the dead". Once again, the entire argument is based on the first command.

Sometimes we hear a preacher say that we need to yield ourselves to God, which is really only half the truth. We need to yield ourselves to God as those alive from the dead. If we haven't come to the place where we recognize we have died with Christ, then we can't yield ourselves to God. At least, not in the way He wants.

Yield your members in bondage to righteousness unto holiness (Romans 6:19). Again, we have the command to yield. This time it's yielding our members to righteousness. We found earlier that we aren't to yield those members to sin, now we find we are to yield them to righteousness. I suppose it's unnecessary to point out this is based on our death with Christ: when we were alive to sin, we were its slaves. We were freed from that by death, and now we're alive to God. So now, just like we used to yield our members to sin, we yield them to righteousness.

So those are the first five commands in Romans. I suppose some might think I've lumped some together (for example, #4 might really be two commands), so maybe those are the first six commands in Romans. Either way, there are several commands in Romans before chapter 12.

In Romans, man is guilty and lost: man's guilt is the subject of the first four chapters, man's lostness is the subject of the next four. It's essential to address both those problems before it's possible to live the Christian life. Our guilt is addressed in Romans 4:5 – God justifies (acquits) the one who does not work but believes. Romans 6:4 deals with our lostness – we were slaves to sin, but now that we've died with Christ we're free.

Any attempt to live the Christian life (yes, even attempts to live obey Romans 12:1–2) without first accepting these two truths is futile.

And please believe me when I say it's a constant struggle for me to get my hands around this. I'm not writing as one who has arrived, but as one who's plodding very slowly along the path.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Newness of Life

When God brought the children of Israel out from Egypt, He had Moses lead them to Sinai where He established a covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31–32). That covenant was based on accomplished redemption (Exodus 20:1–2). God, having redeemed His people from slavery, told them exactly how to live to please Him. It was a dismal failure: the people of Israel weren't capable of keeping the Law any more than we are (Romans 8:3–7). Of course God knew that all along: He didn't give them the Law to see if they could keep it, but to demonstrate they couldn't. And so Romans sums up the entire history of the Law in this statement: "by law [is] knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

Today Christians find themselves in a similar position to the Israelites of that day. God has redeemed us from the house of bondage, and we naturally ask the question, "how can I walk to please God, since He has freely redeemed me?" Scripture answers that question very clearly: "they that are in flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8).

Sadly, there is a glut of so-called Christian ministry that ignores the answer Scripture gives, and tries to tell how Adam's children can walk to please God. But our experience eventually confirms what God has already said: Adam's children are incapable of pleasing God. If only we were content to pause there and ask what Scripture has to say about us, we might save ourselves a whole lot of trouble; but of course we don't – we decide what we really need is to try harder, so we redouble our efforts. And so we get ourselves into a vicious cycle, where we try harder to please God, but the harder we try the less we accomplish.

But if we were to listen to what Scripture actually says, we might get a glimpse of something surprising. The fact is that Adam's children cannot please God. It's not that they aren't trying hard enough, it's that there is no such thing as "hard enough". God isn't interested in what Adam's children can do: He's already put Adam's race to the test and found it's not good enough.

Why is it so hard to accept that? It's hard because we can't quite make ourselves believe what Scripture says, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell" (Romans 7:18). If only we could get our hands around this! There's nothing good in me, and I need to give up on the idea that there's something – anything – I can do for God! God doesn't want anything I can do: it's all worthless to Him. We need to be like Paul, content "to 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 3:9). The Christian life is entirely summed up in this one principle: God is not interested in anything from me, He only wants Christ to be everything to me.

Adam's nature is like the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. Not only fruitless, but actually making the ground useless. The very presence of that fruitless tree is taking up space that a fruitful tree could be using.

So the New Testament offers us a solution: if we want to be useful to God, we need to accept that we have died with Christ. We need to accept what God has said, that we're so devoid of good that He has put us to death. It's our death with Christ that makes it possible for God to use us (Romans 6:4, 7:4; Colossians 3:1–4). I know that I've said this many, many times: it's not that we have to "die to self", it's that we have to accept that we have died with Christ (Romans 6:11). It's accepting what God has said: there's nothing here for Him to work with. As long as we don't accept that, we're doomed to nurture a tree that's fruitless and cannot bear fruit. We're lavishing our care and attention on what God has already said is good for nothing.

Why do I keep talking about this? Because what I have seen over the last four decades with Christians is a stubborn unwillingness to accept what the New Testament teaches. What I have seen (and continue to see) is admonitions to please God in the energy of flesh. It cannot be done, but we simply don't accept that: we'd rather call God a liar than give up on ourselves. As Huebner pointed out, we're saying, "man is lost, but not that lost".

The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that it would take a whole new life for a man to see God's Kingdom (John 3:1–8). The life of Adam isn't enough to get us into the kingdom, it takes life from the Spirit of God. And He pointed out Nicodemus should have known this from the Old Testament scriptures (John 3:10). He told the disciples that there is only one way to be fruitful: to abide in Him (John 15:4–5). Paul tells us what that means: to be "in Christ" is to have no righteousness of our own (Philippians 3:9). Until we have entirely given up on ourselves – on our abilities and our talents and our gifts and our potential – we cannot please God.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cessationism

Just when I thought JND couldn't get any cooler, it turns out he wasn't a cessationist. From Notes and Jottings, pp 28 - 29:

People have forgotten that the Holy Ghost is come. All recognition of Him is so utterly gone. To my mind, the very principle of "the clergy" involves that; and if you look at 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, you will find you have now to watch that you do not mistake a demon for the Holy Ghost. (p 28)

The doctrine of Irvingism was that the Holy Ghost had come back again. But the Lord said, "that he may abide with you for ever." None of their apostles ever got the gifts. Gifts of healing I think nothing of, because if we had the faith, they would be seen now. I have seen them at Plymouth. (p 29)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Empty Tomb

I recently realized I've missed out on a very significant statement in Scripture regarding the burial of Christ. John 19:40–42 tells us that Christ was buried in "a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid" (v. 41).

This is a daring claim to make. The Gospel centers on the proposition that Christ was raised from the dead. The Apostles insisted not only that Christ was not dead, but that He had been dead, and that He had been raised bodily from the dead. In other words, they claimed that His body was not in the tomb, because He had gotten up and left the tomb under His own power.

John's claim that there had not been anyone previously buried in that tomb meant that he actually raised the ante on the claim of the Resurrection. Not only was Christ's body not in that tomb: no one's body could be in that tomb. If people were to go to that tomb and there was any body in it, then John's claim would be shown to be false.

This makes the Resurrection claim easily falsifiable. It's like John said, "Look, if you can produce the body of Christ, we have to admit that this whole thing is a big hoax. Not only that, if you go to that tomb and there's any body in it, we'll have to admit that it's Christ's body; no one else was buried in that tomb."

I saw a meme on Facebook (I can't find it now) that pointed out the Apostles made a daring claim when they spoke of the Resurrection. By claiming that Christ had risen bodily, they made a claim that was easy to disprove. They could just have claimed Christ had risen spiritually, and their claim could never have been disproven; but claiming a physical resurrection meant they had moved into the realm of the verifiable. I think that's a very important point. John goes even further: by claiming that Jesus Christ's body was alone in that tomb, he is claiming that the tomb must be completely empty, or the claims of the Apostles must be false.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Abiding alone

The Lord Jesus made an amazing statement in John 20:24 "Except the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit."

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this verse. It's certainly true that the Son of God gave a great deal in His life down here: He healed people, fed people, and taught people. But everything He gave that's eternal depended on Him dying. The people He fed got hungry again, the people He healed eventually died, these were temporal blessings. The eternal blessings all come from His death, and are only really ours in resurrection.

We get into a lot of trouble trying to escape death while still having eternal life. It doesn't work that way: we can have life in Christ or life in Adam, but not both. Either death comes between us and Christ, or it comes between us and Adam. Death has come between them, and we can't have both.

Of course scripture doesn't teach we have to die, but that we have died. Our problem is not so much that we need to die as it is that we just don't quite accept that it's already been done.

It's important to understand that not everything in Adam's world is evil, but it's all under judgment. This has taken me a long time to see, and I think it's an important distinction. We're not Gnostics... Creation is a testimony to God's eternal power and glory (Romans 1:19–20). God has created man (Adam) in His own image and given him dominion over this creation (see Psalm 8). There is a dignity and a worth in man because he is created in God's image. But that doesn't change the fact that this world – the world of Adam's children – is under judgment because it has murdered the Son of God. And it doesn't change the fact that all – all – have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

(As an aside, I find it annoying when people say the world is getting worse. The world is not getting worse: the worst thing people have ever done – or ever will do – is murdering the Son of God. The world might be more flagrant in its sin, it might flaunt sin openly in ways that shock us; but the murder of the Son of God is the moral low point of human history.)

In the end, death will come between us and Adam, or it will come between us and Christ. He has died, death has come between Christ and Adam. Adam's race has murdered the Son of God, it's their own fault that death separates them. God invites us to take our place with Christ as those who have died with Him, and recognize that in His eyes, death comes between us and Adam's world.

Again, not everything in Adam's world is bad, but it's all under judgment, and it's all separated from us by death – the death of Christ (Galatians 6:14). We like to tell Sunday School children that the Cross of Christ has bridged the gap between God and men; Scripture teaches that it has created a much more permanent gap between me and the world.

If I am to take what God has offered me in Christ, I must take it on the ground of resurrection. And resurrection ground is on the basis that I, too, have died. Christ has died, so have I (Galatians 2:20). It's only as I accept this that I can enjoy what God has given in Christ.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A New State

Rodger sent me a link to a fantastic article by J. N. Darby. "A new State":

It is clearer and clearer to me every day that the whole gist of the Apostle's teaching, especially in Romans, is that as the law was correlative with flesh, and so, we being sinful, a ministration not of deliverance but of death, we are brought in Christ into a new condition by the Spirit of life in Him, and that, this being by death, we are free in the new man according to the law of the Spirit of life.
http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/NOTESCOM/44008E.html

It's well worth a read, in not the easiest reading.