Monday, December 29, 2014

Submission

[L]et us remember that the human mind enters a labyrinth whenever it indulges its curiosity, and thus submit to be guided by the divine oracles, how much soever the mystery may be beyond our reach. – John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 13, Section 21

Friday, December 19, 2014

Seeking

I've heard a couple people say, "a seeking Savior and a seeking sinner will always find each other." That's a nice thought, but scripture seems to teach the opposite. Scripture says the Savior sought for seeking sinners, and He couldn't find a single one (Romans 3:11).
 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Root cause

I was interested to read through 1 Corinthians 8–10 a few months ago in the Bible Readings and see that Scripture differentiates between idols and idolatry. Idols are "nothing" in this world (1 Corinthians 8:4), but idolatry is very real (1 Corinthians 10:6–10, 14).

It's sort of cliche to say it, but really almost anything can become an idol. A lot of Christians have idols. It's probably safe to say that all Christians have idols. But 1 Corinthians 8–10 makes the point that really, the issue isn't the idol, the issue is idolatry. Consider the connection with Colossians 3:1–7. In Colossians, believers have died with Christ, we have been buried with Him, and we have been raised with Him (Colossians 2:9–12). But when we get to Colossians 3, we find to our surprise that we have "members on the earth" (Colossians 3:5). And notice, the final of those members that Colossians lists, is "unbridled desire, which is idolatry".

Let's think about idols for a moment. One of the hot-button topics today is pornography. There seems to be a lot of concern among Christians about it, so let's talk about it for a few minutes. No doubt pornography is a real idol for a lot of believers. Their bondage to it is real and the pain is real . But there is an obvious fact that doesn't seem to occur to a lot of people: pornography has basically no power over people who don't look at it.

I know people are going to object that there are secondary effects on all of us, and I'm sure there are. But that's not really the point I'm trying to make. The point I'm making is that when a person is looking at pornography, the problem isn't the image on the page (or the computer screen); the problem is in the heart.

Many believers find themselves with some sort of besetting sin: some sin or vice or habit over which they have no apparent victory. And as much as they abhor that sin or vice or habit, they find themselves entangled in it again and again. What's the real problem here? It's not that they don't despise the sin, but they are missing the point. The key to victory over sin isn't to despise the sin, but to despise the self.

It has taken me many years (and a considerable amount of pain) to see this. It's not enough to despise some particular sin. It's not enough even to recognize the presence of sin in my own flesh (Romans 7:17–18, 23). It's not even enough to recognize my own powerlessness over sin, although that's absolutely necessary. There is a deeper truth even than that,the truth of Colossians 3: we all have members on the earth, and there is no remedy for them except death (Colossians 3:5). When I find myself tempted to sin, it's proof that there is some unmortified and unjudged flesh in me.

(I've mentioned before that I have come around to Darby's view that Romans 7 actually discusses a man who is born again, but not sealed with the Holy Spirit. But Romans 8:12–14 shows there is a practical sense where a believer who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit may find him or herself in a very similar experience.)

We have a tendency to think that temptation is not sin. It's all right to be tempted, as long as we don't give in to that temptation and actually sin. But that's not really what Scripture teaches (James 1:13–15). Johnny D. says,

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... Does it come from the life and Spirit of Christ in us? – 'Review of R. Pearsall Smith on "Holiness through Faith."', Collected Writings, Volume 23, p. 190
Temptation might not be the same as sinning, but it is proof that there is sin in me. And this is really the point, isn't it? I couldn't be tempted if I hadn't lusts.

Ultimately, fornication, lust, and uncleanness aren't produced by temptation. They were there all along. It's that we haven't obeyed Colossians 3:5 – we haven't mortified our members on the earth. The real problem is that we have not been willing to judge the flesh in God's presence. It's proof that we haven't judged ourselves.

Perhaps Job illustrates this best. At the start of the story of Job, we're told, "this man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God and abstained from evil" (Job 1:1). Would that the same could be said of me! But the end of the story, we have a somewhat different Job, "I abhor [myself], and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). At the start of the book, we have a man who doesn't sin. But at the end of the book, we have a repentant man. Why is he repentant? Because he started sinning? Not at all, because he learned that he was lost. It's one thing to recognize I am guilty, it's quite another to recognize I am lost.

So what should we do when we are tempted? Temptation is proof that there is a need for self-judgment. It's proof that one of those "members on the earth" has gone unjudged. It's proof that I have not accepted what God has said of me.

For years I have known Colossians 3. I memorized that chapter back when I [foolishly] thought that memorizing Scripture would somehow earn me favor with God. I memorized it again later, with much better motives, when I was part of a Bible study working through the epistle. But I have been freshly convicted by this passage in the last months. Probably at some point in my life, I thought Colossians 3:5 was a command to self-denial and spiritual discipline. Now I'm convinced it's teaching something quite different: it's self-judgment in God's presence. It's what Scripture calls "repentance".

Thursday, November 27, 2014

No true theologian

I was reading a blog post a few weeks ago, I can't remember whose blog. But I do remember the author was defending "dispensationalism". Among the comments were several by people of the Reformed persuasion, who were quite adamant that there are really no "dispensationalist" theologians. By which I suppose they mean "no true theologian is a dispensationalist".

There are indeed formal theologians who hold to "dispensationalism". But the accusation that "dispensationalism" is a populist movement has a great deal of merit. I suppose the real question is, is that bad?

I'm not a theologian by any stretch, but I have read the Scriptures many times. And what I find when I read the Scriptures is that they were written to some pretty ordinary people. It's true that there were remarkable people like Paul (who was a theologian). But there were a lot more people like Peter, whom the religious leaders dismissed as uneducated (Acts 4:13–16).

It's interesting that Paul didn't seem to consider his formal training to be an asset in the Christian life (Philippians 3:3–11). In fact, it was Paul who said that the path to Christ-likeness is the path of abnegation. Paul wrote, "we ourselves had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). The more I read Paul's epistles, the more I learn that God is not interested in what I have to offer: talent, intelligence, education, training – God is not interested in any of these things, He is interested in new creation (Galatians 6:15).

Of course, when someone points out one's lack of formal theological training, what they're really saying is that one is not in any position to understand the Scriptures. This is really nothing more than poisoning the well. If the person without the formal theological training appeals to Scripture, then he or she can be dismissed: after all, without formal theological training, how can one actually understand what the Scripture says?

When Peter was questioned by the high priest, the audience noted that he was "unlettered" (Acts 4:13). But they also recognized that a miracle had occurred, and they couldn't deny that a man who was widely known to have been incurably lame could now walk (Acts 4:14).

Ultimately, this is the only true test of our faith: what is the result? Is there evidence that the power of God is working in me? Do my neighbors and co-workers and friends see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11)? If they don't, formal theological training (or lack thereof) is irrelevant. If they do, formal theological training (or lack thereof) adds nothing.

If we believe that the Scriptures are God's own words, then we believe that God has spoken. Call it populist, but a child of God doing his or her best to hear and understand what God has said is nothing more than the inevitable conclusion of the sincere belief that God has spoken.

I think about this frequently. I work in a very competitive company, surrounded by smart people. They don't need to see my intelligence (or lack of it). They don't need to see my mad skillz. They sure don't need to see I have a grasp of the intricacies of Hebrew grammar or the subtleties of Augustine's arguments. They need to see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). They need to see the power of resurrection, and I ought to be showing it (Philippians 3:9–10).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sealing with the Holy Spirit

John 14:1; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 1:12–13

I mentioned this is passing in a Bible reading, and I'm not sure people really understood what I was talking about. So I thought I'd clarify it here.

It is a well-known fact that J. N. Darby believed someone could be born again without being sealed by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the falling-out between Darby and F. W. Grant was over this very issue: FWG taught that a believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit at the moment of new birth.

I don't know how many times I've read his "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 31, pp. 254–280). The first time I read it, I was struck with this statement:

That a person may be born again, and not have received the Holy Ghost, is perfectly certain according to Scripture, for "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," and this the disciples did while Christ was on earth, but could not have the Holy Ghost, which did not come until the day of Pentecost; though they had life, and were clean through the word. (p. 262)
The logic here is pretty much irrefutable; but there is some question as to whether we can apply that to believers today: of course the disciples weren't sealed with the Holy Spirit before He descended! But now that the Holy Spirit has come, is it still possible to be born again without being sealed?

I think the answer to that lies in John 14:1, "ye believe on God, believe also on me".

There is no question that God justifies the one who believes Him (Romans 4:5). We've covered this ground many times before, so we needn't go into great detail now. But Romans is clear that all God is looking for is for sinners to believe Him. Abraham, scripture tells us, was counted righteous when he believed what God told him about his having a son (Genesis 15:3–6). God has set the lowest possible bar: believe Him, and He counts you righteous. In fact, Romans goes farther even than that, and assures us that when someone believes God, God counts that person as one to whom He will not account sin (Romans 4:6–9). So if we believe God, He counts us righteous; and when He counts us righteous, He also counts us as people whose sins He will not count. In other words, it's not possible for God to think of sin in connection with someone who believes Him.

I've said before that this is Old Testament truth, and it certainly is. Romans 4 makes that argument very clearly: the whole point of Romans 4 is to demonstrate that righteousness without works is the teaching of the Old Testament. God has never counted anyone righteous on any other basis than faith.

But the sealing with the Holy Spirit is explicitly not Old Testament truth. John 7:39 clearly names the coming of the Holy Spirit as a result of the exaltation of Christ. Peter takes up this theme in Acts 2, and says that the [very visible] signs of the Holy Spirit's presence in and among the disciples was proof that Christ has been glorified in heaven (Acts 2:32–33). In other words, he claims that the Holy Spirit's presence on earth was a direct result of Christ's sitting on God's right hand in Heaven.

So Romans says that a sinner is justified when he believes God (Romans 4:5). But John and Ephesians say that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we believe on Christ (John 7:39; Ephesians 1:12–14). Is there a difference between believing God and believing on Christ? Apparently there is, because the Lord Jesus said, "ye believe on God, believe also on me" (John 14:1).

Let's consider the story of Paul meeting John's disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1–7). There's no doubt they had believed God (v. 2); they were on their way to Heaven, their sins all forgiven. But they hadn't received the Holy Spirit (v. 2). So Paul told them they needed to believe on the Lord Jesus (v. 4), and he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 5). Then, after he laid his hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit (v. 6).

Were they justified before Paul met them? Of course they were! They had believed God (v. 2), and Romans assures us that God justifies the one who doesn't work but believes (Romans 4:5). So they certainly were justified. But they hadn't received the Holy Spirit, because they hadn't believed on Jesus Christ (Acts 19:4–5).

And this is exactly what Ephesians 1:13 affirms, isn't it? It is having believed on Christ that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (note the "in whom" in v. 13 refers back to "the Christ" in v. 12).

Can the same thing happen today? Certainly! It is the revelation of Christ ascended to God's right hand that is followed by the sealing with the Holy Spirit. God has set that bar as low as possible for justification and new birth: all He wants is for someone to believe Him. But the bar for the sealing with the Holy Spirit is much higher: it's believing on a risen, ascended, and glorified Christ. Does that mean someone can't be born again and sealed with the Holy Spirit at the same time? Of course it doesn't! But it certainly means that in many (most?) cases, there is some finite period of time between those two events.

So what is the sealing with the Holy Spirit? Galatians 4 says it's the difference between being children and being sons (Galatians 4:1–7). Make no mistake: children of God clearly are part of the family, but they're still treated like little more than the domestic staff (v. 1). Sons, on the other hand, are heirs, on intimate terms with the Father, and fully involved in the family's business and interests (v. 7). And what is the effect of the Spirit's presence in our hearts? It is confidence in God as Father (v. 6). Romans 8:15–18 echoes this same idea, perhaps in more detail.

Johnny D. says it this way:

I add here what Scripture plainly states. If a soul can in truth before God say, Abba, Father, that soul is sealed. If a person really knows that he is in Christ, and Christ in him, he is sealed. If the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the man is sealed. (Rom. 8; Gal. 4; Rom. 13; John 14; Rom. 10.) Other proofs may be given of if, for the whole life of a man is, save particular failures, the evidence of the Spirit of God dwelling in him; but I take the simplest and most immediate evidence in a man's soul purposely and such as are in terms stated in Scripture. Now what hinders the simple acceptance of this truth is, that the full doctrine of redemption is not believed. (p. 274)

The testimony of Scripture is that Christ has ascended to God's right hand, and I am accepted in Him there. God sees me as complete in Christ. Our place is to honour Him here, while we gaze on Him there (Colossians 3:1–4; 2 Corinthians 3:18). This is the central truth of Christianity: God isn't improving flesh, He accepts me only in Christ. It is as we accept and are content with that place that we begin to walk as Christians.

So yes, I am quite convinced that a man or woman can believe God (thus having eternal life) and not be content to rest in Christ (thus not having the seal of the Holy Spirit). I'm glad to have that off my chest, so to speak.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Johnny D. on Free Will

I've read this little article many times over the last twenty years or so. I think it's well worth sharing: "Letter on Free-will". I think his first paragraph is striking:

This fresh breaking out of the doctrine of free-will helps on the doctrine of the natural man's pretension not to be entirely lost, for that is really what it amounts to. All men who have never been deeply convinced of sin, all persons with whom this conviction is based upon gross and outward sins, believe more or less in free-will. You know that it is the dogma of the Wesleyans, of all reasoners, of all philosophers. But this idea completely changes all the idea of Christianity and entirely perverts it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I am crucified with Christ

Once again, William Kelly cuts to the heart of the matter. I am ashamed how accurately this describes me:

It is not merely that we shall die and rise, but that we are dead and risen. Even many Christians who use the words constantly, do not really enter into the meaning of this language, and for the obvious and sufficient reason: they are not living in the truth of it practically. They are too habitually mixed up with the world to understand such absolute separation from it. It is not that they are dull of understanding in the things and interests of nature. But their speech and their ways betray them, proving how far they are from intelligence of the Scripture itself. They substitute mysticism for the truth. – William Kelly, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, Lecture 3 (last checked 2014-11-22).

A few paragraphs later he adds:

Moreover, there is added a remarkable statement of the reason why we should have our mind upon things above — "for ye have died." It is not moralizing, like men, even heathen that we have to die, but the fundamental Christian truth that we are dead. All mystics, old or new, have, as their object, to die. Hence it is a dwelling upon inward experience and human effort — the endeavour to crucify themselves — not "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." What was suitable for a Jew, so far from being necessarily for a Christian, is on this side of the cross; our foundation is Christ who is dead and risen. The fact that a thing is in the Bible does not warrant the conclusion that it is God's will for the Christian. We must seek rightly to divide the word of truth. What was formerly right for the Jews is for us nothing but the elements of the world. These forms pointed to a reality that is now come; the body is of Christ. The blessed portion of a Christian is, that he is dead even to the best things in the world, and alive to the highest things in the presence of God; for Christ is his life. – William Kelly, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, Lecture 3 (last checked 2014-11-22).

Friday, October 10, 2014

In the flesh

What is it to be in the flesh? It is to be in relationship with God on the ground of our natural responsibility as men, as children of fallen Adam. It is, as to our moral state — which in itself is true — making the disposition of God towards us to depend on what we are towards Him. Of this the law is the perfect rule. It says, if conscience is awakened, I am such and such: God will be so and so towards me. Grace is on the opposite ground: God has been, and is, through Christ such and such, and I shall be so and so, as the fruit of it. But this changes everything.
"On Sealing with the Holy Ghost", Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 31, p. 260

The key to the transition from Romans 7 to Romans 8 is "in the flesh" vs. "in the spirit" (Romans 8:5–8). This is probably the most succinct description of what it means to be "in the flesh" I have ever found.

And of course, virtually all "christian" teaching I come across is nothing more than treating believers as "in the flesh". It's like trying to build a house without a foundation (as the Evanescent Free Man has pointed out). Biblical Christianity is entirely based on the idea that Christ has taken our place so that we could take His. When we think like we're just men and women "in the flesh", when we think of ourselves as on probation before God, then we've completely abdicated the place that Christ has prepared for us.

Is that the whole story? Of course it isn't! There are all sorts of things God is doing in us, but it's all based on this one fact: we don't stand before God as responsible creatures. We stand before God "in Christ".

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Olives

Zechariah tells us that the Lord will come back and stand in the Mount of Olives. When He does, the mountain will split down the middle (Zechariah 14:3-5). Then He'll travel up from the mountain into the east gate of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 44:1–4).

My friend Caleb says that all through the Gospels, whenever Christ is on the mount of olives, He is sitting, not standing. As Caleb says, if He were to stand there it would split in two, and it wasn't time for that yet.

I haven't actually fact-checked him on that, but I thought I'd share it.

New creation

Isaiah 66:2; Galatians 6:15

Sometimes we'll find something in scripture that just leaps out and gets in our face. When it happens, it's hard not to think about it all the time; and we see it everywhere we look. One of those things had happened to me this year. Like happens so often to me (not only to me, I'm sure), it's a truth I've known for years, but it's taken on a new depth and I feel almost like I never new it before.

I've been struck by the thought that God is no longer dealing with man in the flesh. That's the "brethrenese" version. The English version is this: God started something with Adam. He created Adam to have a relationship with him, but Adam choose something else. From Adam to Christ, God has demonstrated that there is nothing for Him in Adam or in his descendants. So the crucifixion marks the point where God wrote off the human race. It wasn't just that one Man died there: as far as God is concerned, the whole human race is done. God is finished with us. The death of Christ was the summing-up and finishing of the entire human race, so far as God is concerned. That's why Scripture refers to Christ as the "last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Of course God knew all along that Adam's race is hopelessly lost, but it wasn't until the cross that He gave the verdict (Romans 8:3). So when God justified Abraham (Genesis 15:3; Romans 4:1-5), He knew very well that Abraham had nothing to offer. But that didn't stop God from justifying him. That's one reason Romans calls God the One "who justifies the ungodly" (Romans 4:5).

God justifies us on exactly the same basis that he justified Abraham, and exactly the same way. We are justified by faith without works (Romans 4:5, 5:1), just like Abraham. But there is a difference between how God dealt with Abraham and how God deals with us.

Men and women aren't only guilty sinners before God, they're lost, guilty sinners before God. Justification deals with the guilt, but it doesn't deal with the lost-ness. It's not enough for God to deal with a sinner's guilt: a sinner will sin again – that is, after all what sinners do. God deals not merely with the guilt of actual sins committed, but with the source of the sins: the sinner himself. This is what Romans 5:9–10 teach: having been justified, we shall be saved. And so there is the discussion in Romans 6 about our having died with Christ. When He was crucified, I was crucified. And I have every right – in fact, I have the duty – to "reckon" myself to have died with Him there (Romans 6:11).

Romans 7 takes the discussion a little further than Romans 6, and introduces a new concept in v. 5: "when we were in the flesh". This isn't the language of Romans 6: it's a new concept. It's what old "brethren" referred to as "standing" contrasted with "state". These two words aren't actually in Scripture, but they do capture a Scriptural concept: "standing" refers to my relationship with God, "state" refers to how I practically live my life. My standing is that I am accepted in Christ before God. My state is that I am down here, walking in a wicked world.

So Romans 7 introduces our standing when it says "when we were in the flesh" (Romans 7:5–6). Romans 8 discusses this in more detail when it says we are "not in the flesh, but in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). So there is a contrast between Romans 7 and Romans 8. Romans 7 is the experience of a man whose standing is "in the flesh". Romans 8 is the experience of a man who is "in the Spirit".

Let's go back to the old "brethrenese" expression: "God is done with man in the flesh". Man is God's creature, and God has every right to demand certain things from man. But Scripture is explicit: God has found that man has produced nothing of value for Him (Isaiah 5:1–7; Luke 13:1–9; Romans 3:9–19). So Scripture concludes that man as a creature responsible to God is a failure.

But God has done something wonderful and terrible: He has provided His own Man, a Man who is not lost, a Man who actually has produced every fruit that God has looked for in man. The Son from eternity has become a Man, and He has done everything that God wanted from man. So Scripture calls Him the "last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45). He is, in a way, the accomplishment of what God wanted in man. And here's the important part: since God has found in His Man what he couldn't find in any other man from the Fall to the Crucifixion, He has stopped looking. This is the point that seems so hard for us to accept: God isn't looking for anything in me, because He has found everything He wants in Christ.

Does that mean that God isn't saving men and women anymore? Not at all! But it does mean that He is dealing with them in an entirely different way, and on an entirely different principle. Up until the Cross, man was on trial: "Not only was man lawless without law, and a transgressor under law, but when grace came in the Person of the blessed Son of God, they would none of it" ("Union in Incarnation, the root error of modern theology", Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 29, p.193). The trial has ended and the verdict is in. God is not looking for anything from me – He knew all along there was nothing there, and the whole history of the human race corroborates that. It was men and women who had the Law – who had the holy scriptures in their own native language – who turned the Son of God over to the Gentiles and demanded He be put to death. And it was the lawless Gentiles who actually nailed the Son of God to a cross and left Him to die. So God has already proven that no matter what He has done to work with man, man – Gentile and Jewish alike (Romans 3:9) – just proves his own worthlessness.

So Romans 7 looks back to the times before and says "when we were in the flesh" (Romans 7:5–6). It's taking about relationship. God used to deal with man as a responsible moral creature: that's what it means when it says "in the flesh". Now God deals with us "in the Spirit" (Romans 8:3), and He accepts us "in the Beloved [Christ]" (Ephesians 1:6). So God isn't treating me as a responsible moral creature: if He treated me like that, I would be totally lost (Psalm 143:2). When the relationship is Creator and creature, I am totally lost. So God has put me into a new relationship: I am now "in Christ". What does it mean to be "in Christ?" it means that I am accepted (Ephesians 1:6), it means that I am dead to sin (Romans 6:11), it means that I have no righteousness (Philippians 3:9). And this last point is probably the hardest to grasp: God is not interested in my goodness. Neither my sins nor my righteousnesses have the slightest effect on the relationship between God and me.

Now, this is all a question of standing, not of my practical state in this wicked world. So even though God doesn't seem my sins, I might actually sin. And make no mistake: He will chasten me as a son. He has not called us to live in sins just because He has forgiven us. He hasn't called us to claim a heavenly standing while enjoying sin and debauchery as our earthly state.

But the inescapable truth is that the Christian life flows from standing to state. God doesn't start with how we live and reason from that to how He deals with us: that is exactly what He did in the Old Testament, and He Himself has said that didn't work. What He's doing now is the exact opposite: He says, "I have given you a perfect standing before Me, now I want your earthly state to reflect it".

And here's where human responsibility comes in. We are called to accept our standing. What does it mean to be in Christ? It means, among other things, that we are content to have no righteousness of our own (Philippians 3:9). As long as I am clinging to the idea that I produce, can produce, or have produced righteousness, then I am in exactly the state of the man in Romans 7, "when we were in the flesh".

J. N. Darby, William Kelly, et al. were adamant that Romans 7 is actually the experience of a man who has been born of God, but hasn't yet been sealed with the Holy Spirit. I actually agree with them. But the fact is that there is an experimental truth in Romans 7: if you want to relate to God as a responsible creature, you'll end up experiencing all the defeat and heartache of the last half of Romans 7. If you want to experience Romans 8, then you need to give up on yourself. God has already given up on you, you need to join Him and be content to be in Christ, with no righteousness of your own.

Galatians 6:15 makes this point strikingly: "neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision; but new creation". We're not called to live as Jews (circumcised), nor as Gentiles (uncircumcised). Both law and lawlessness have been shown to be incapable of producing fruit in lost man. God doesn't want a Christian life of circumcision or of uncircumcision: God wants to see an entirely new creation. The Christian life isn't the life of a forgiven sinner: it's the life of men and women who no longer have lives of their own. It's the life of someone who has died with Christ, and now He is their life (Colossians 3:1–4). In practical terms, our responsibility is to accept what God has said. It's our responsibility to accept that God sees me "in Christ", where I have no righteousness of my own.

What does it mean that "God is done with man in the flesh?" It means that God has demonstrated that man as a responsible moral creature is incapable of pleasing God. And so He no longer deals with us as responsible moral creatures. God has found what He was looking for in Christ, and He's not looking anymore. What He wants is for me to join Him and look at "this Man" (Isaiah 66:2), at Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why hast Thou made me thus?

I've heard an awful lot of "ministry" recently attempting to refute "calvinism". I'm afraid for the most part what the speakers are offering is actually worse than "calvinism", but that might be a post for another time.

But I can't help but notice that [almost] without exception, the attacks on "calvinism" prominently feature an argument that goes something like this: God would be a monster if He demanded that all men everywhere repent, when He knows very well they can't.

This sort of emotional rhetoric tends to get traction with people; I guess it catches the attention of the audience pretty effectively.

Setting aside the question of whether men really can repent, this is a very serious accusation. Regardless of all the merits of anyone's views on "calvinism"– regardless of the correctness of a person's reasoning about election or freewill or predestination– anyone making a claim that God would be wrong to do something is on very shaky ground.

The thing is, scripture specifically condemns that argument. Consider Romans 9:19–20 for a moment. Romans 9:19 poses the question: why does God find fault with men if God's will cannot be overcome? Doesn't God always get what He wants? How can He find fault with someone if the outcome is what God chose? The answer is in the very next verse: "who art *thou* that answerest again to God?" (v. 20).

We can argue about what Scripture teaches about election. Some see corporate election in Romans 9. Some find a doctrine of Reprobation in Romans 9. But regardless of what you think about all those issues, there is one indisputable fact: Romans 9:20 teaches that man has no right to judge God.

But here's the thing, when you say "God would be a monster if He…" then you're doing exactly what Scripture says you've no right to do. There is no other way to interpret Romans 9:19–20.

In the end, there is nothing in the whole question of God's sovereignty or man's responsibility that is more important than our personal submission to God. This is exactly what the book of Job teaches (Job 32:1–3). Elihu was angry at Job's friends because they kept condemning Job even though they couldn't answer him. But he was angry with Job because he justified himself rather than God. Job was right in what he said, but he was wrong because he did not justify God. And that's exactly the position these speakers are putting themselves into.

Sometime within the last couple years I was listening to William McRae's excellent series on Romans (available at Voices for Christ). One of the messages is called "Scriptures Greatest Theodicy" (on Romans 9:1–13). Right around the 30 minute mark, he says something to the effect that "nothing provokes the flesh like the doctrine of election". That's something to bear in mind when we're thinking about this whole subject.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two kingdoms

At a bible conference this last weekend,  someone read Ephesians 5:5 and said,  "We are in the kingdom of heaven. There are people in the kingdom of heaven who do all these things, but they won't be in the kingdom of God. "

With that one sentence, he explained the difference between those two kingdoms better than everything I've read on the subject.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Deliverance: the cost

I have been cut to the quick by this letter by JND:

above all, we must be in earnest to have it. Who is willing to be dead to what nature and flesh would desire? Yet that is the only way of deliverance. People will tell you it is our standing in Christ. I admit it as Colossians 3, and as faith owns in Romans 6 and Galatians 2; but who is willing to be in the standing? It is standing, or else we are in the hopeless effort of Romans 7, or an honest monks' labour, which I have tried; and even if we have experimentally learned, as it must be learned, who is carrying out 2 Corinthians 4, so as to have the conscience living in it by an ungrieved spirit? Letters of J. N. Darby, Volume 3 p 90

I have to confess this describes me pretty well. I am quite content to be dead to the parts of the world that seem (in my judgment) to be a problem. But there are bits I like, and I tend to cling to those pretty desperately.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mortifying

My friend Caleb made a comment to me the other day that I thought I'd pass on:

Romans 8:13 says we're to put to death the deeds of the body. Colossians 3:5 says we're to put to death our "members which are upon the earth". There's one sure way to put to death what comes from the first Adam: looking at the face of God (Exodus 33:20). If we want to put to death our members on the earth, we need to look at Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, death works in us.

Frankly, I need to be reminded of that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Living power

My friend Berlin commented:
If there is one thing needful in the so-called brethren assemblies, in particular, and the household of faith in general it is a fresh recovery of these recovered truths. Not just a recovery of doctrine, but a recovery of their living power over the soul.

I think that really gets to the heart of the matter.

The lack of truth in the household of faith is astonishing. We all (and I really mean that, no group is exempt) treat the word of God like it's not.  I've ranted about this before, but when we treat man's opinion like it's scripture, then we soon treat scripture like it's man's opinion.

I'm reminded of this frequently when I hear pithy sayings of "brethren" that really aren't biblical at all. But they're treated like received wisdom, and the Word of God gets filtered through them.

I could give examples, but I'm just not feeling it right now.

But truth alone isn't enough. The fact is, There are any number of people who have [some] truth and remain entirely unaffected by it. Possessing truth is no guarantee that the flesh won't try and use it as an "occasion" to fill some lust. Religious flesh is just as fallen as licentious flesh, and loves to substitute intellectual for spiritual. "Living power" is precisely what we are in such want of.

One reason I've been on such a kick about man's fallenness recently is that I recognize my own tendency to try and live the Christian life in fleshly power.

See, it's me I'm preaching at, not you.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sovereignty (Reprise)

I finished reading God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men by R. A. Huebner (from Present Truth Publishers and available as a free PDF download). It is a good book, but not a perfect book. I thought I'd write down some of my impressions here.

There are very few topics so divisive as the question of God's sovereignty in salvation. People throw around terms like 'calvinist' and 'arminian', which I'd prefer to avoid. But the first question everyone is going to ask is, 'Calvinist or Arminian?' So let's briefly answer that question and get it out of the way: RAH's view definitely tends to the 'calvinist' side of things. He thoroughly condemns the notion that man has freewill, insists that men are entirely lost, defends the notion of 'unconditional election', and clearly teaches that it is only through God's effectual (i.e. compelling) call to the elect that any are saved. Interestingly, he doesn't really address the question of 'Limited Atonement', although he does spend just a small amount of time discussing 'Eternal Security'. The book does address the question of the 'Doctrine of Reprobation' and condemns it as non-scriptural. In other words, RAH presents a view we might describe as 'single predestination', or perhaps 'moderate Calvinism'.

So now that's out of the way, let's look at some of my impressions.

The Good

To start, RAH has a necessary ministry in reminding us of man lost-ness. This is one of the most important teachings of Scripture, because it touches every single facet of the Christian life. As RAH points out– as JND and WK pointed out before him– Christianity starts with man entirely lost. "[T]he mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7–8). The Christian life isn't the life of the forgiven sinner, it's the life of someone who has realized he cannot please God, and so he accepts Christ as his life (1 Corinthians 1:30–31; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:8–11). The Christian is "in Christ" where he has no righteousness of his own.

Of course the majority of Christendom doesn't accept that man is totally lost. So they spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve what God has already condemned (Romans 8:1–4). Ask me how I know… I've spent an awful lot of time down that path.

The single best thing about this book, in my opinion, is showing that man is completely lost.

Again, I don't want to use sectarian language, but many of the self-described 'calvinists' I have known seem to have a pretty mild view of man's lost-ness that doesn't quite seem to measure up to Scripture. Ephesians presents men as 'dead in trespasses and sins', from which some of my Calvinist friends conclude that unregenerate men and women are somehow in a passive state. They are not: consider Romans 1–3, where fallen men and women are very much alive in sins. The problem with fallen man isn't that he hasn't a will, it's that he is self-willed. And so some have concluded that God actively prevents the non-elect from repentance, as though a fallen man might actually be in danger of repenting without God's active intervention! But now I rant.

God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men is valuable solely on the basis that it sums up so well the teaching of Scripture that fallen man has absolutely nothing to offer God: neither before nor after God forgives us of our sins. And it points out some subtleties, including that Scripture doesn't view man as lost until Christ is rejected. God has put man on trial (not because God didn't know what fallen man is, but because He wanted to demonstrate it), and the trial wasn't over until the Son of God came here to be rejected. RAH points out that if Christ had come and hadn't been rejected, that would have proven that man wasn't entirely lost: that there is still something there God can work with.

The Bad

All of RAH's books suffer from two characteristic faults: they are repetitive and hyper-focused. Honestly, this is nothing that couldn't be fixed with a good editor. I think if RAH's books were cut down in length, they'd be better books. Don't get me wrong: I appreciate that he is zealous for the truth, but at some point it gets hard to keep my attention. Doubtless he repeats himself to make a point, but there comes a point where the constant repetition actually gets in the way.

Hyper-focus isn't quite as big a problem in this book as in some of his others, but RAH has a strong tendency to tunnel-vision. That is, he tends to see everything as somehow a symptom of whatever he's addressing. This can make it easy to dismiss his writing at times. Again, this could easily be fixed by an editor. Simply reducing the length of these books would have the effect of removing some of the words and clarifying his message.

The Ugly

Roy Huebner's books tend to be more like scrapbooks than actual books. That is, he has a tendency to cut and paste huge quotations from J. N. Darby, William Kelly, F. G. Patterson, W. T. Turpin, A. P. Cecil, and H. H. Snell into his books. Some of those quotations occupy more than a single page! He's not trying to plagiarize, he's not trying to be dishonest, he's just recognizing that someone else has already said something so well there's no point in trying to restate it. The problem with this is that the books are choppy and long. It would have been better in, in my opinion, to try and reduce the quotes to a sentence or two and cite liberally. There comes a point where the extensive quotations actually make it hard to read.

That brings up another 'ugly' aspect of this book: the language isn't the most consistent. Huebner sometimes writes like a 19th Century writer, probably because he invested so much of his time reading them. I think it might have been a good investment of effort to rework his language and try to bring it up to the 20th or 21st Century.

In the end, there's nothing here that a decent editor couldn't fix. It would require some deep surgery of the text, perhaps; but I'm afraid there is some very valuable truth in this book that will be lost on people who might've read it, but for the awkward wording and [far too] extensive quotations.

Should I read it?

I found this a helpful book. Of course, with a title like God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men, some of my more 'freewill' friends won't even bother picking it up. More's the pity: there is a lot of truth in here that's been lost or forgotten. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend (and, in fact, I have), but I would caution them to read it slowly and try not to miss the forest for the trees.

Honestly, I think RAH has put together a good outline of what Scripture teaches when it comes to election. He addresses common objections from the 'freewill' point of view, while at the same time standing firm against ideas like a 'decree of reprobation' that Scripture simply doesn't teach.

One more thing I'd notice: I can't recall any discussion of the whole question of 'Limited Atonement' in this book. RAH is now asleep in Christ, so he can't comment on it. But I suspect I know what he'd say: Darby has answered that question quite ably in his little paper "Propitiation and Substitution". I'd definitely encourage reading this short article: well worth the time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sovereignty

I've been reading another book by R. A. Huebner recently: God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men. What an amazing book! I highly recommend downloading it and giving it a look.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Salvation (reprise)

I've posted about this before (probably more than once). I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but this needs to be said. More, it needs to be heard. When scripture used the words "saved" and "salvation", it is not using them as synonyms for words like "born again" or "justified" or "regenerated". "Saved" includes those ideas:  anyone saved is justified, anyone saved is regenerate; but scripture uses the word "saved" to indicate that someone has arrived at the end of the path.

For some reason, Christians (especially here in America) have adopted the expression "so-and-so got saved" to mean someone has been born again. I don't know where this came from: it's not in scripture. The closest I can come up with its in Acts 16:30–31, and it's not very close.

Romans 5:10–11 makes it very clear what it means to be saved. Having been justified, we shall be saved. Having been reconciled, we shall be saved. Titus 3:5 says that there are two parts to salvation: there is a "washing of regeneration" and a "renewal of the Holy Spirit."

If we consider what the Scripture says about salvation in the context of the whole counsel of God, the idea that someone went to a gospel meeting and "got saved" is an unscriptural idea. I have no doubt that man has been forgiven and has peace with God: but Scripture doesn't ever use the word "saved" to mean that. Scripture uses the word "saved" to mean that a man has been brought all the way from sinner-ness to being in God's presence. That's why Paul says, "now [is] our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Romans 13:11). Peter says we are "kept guarded by [the] power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in [the] last time" (1 Peter 1:3–9).

William Kelly put it this way:

[Christ] is the power of God not merely to justification, but to salvation; and salvation, while it includes justification, goes far beyond it, because it takes in all the course of a christian man till he is actually in the resurrection state along with Christ. This is the meaning of the verse, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" — not your own forgiveness, but your own salvation. It is said to those who were already forgiven. Thus, salvation, in the sense spoken of there, implies the whole conflict with the power of evil we are passing through.
Lectures on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, p. 153

Why do I make a big deal about this? Because if we use Scriptural terms in non-Scriptural ways, we get ourselves into trouble. We end up having to fudge what Scripture says in one place because we adjusted what it says somewhere else. Indeed, many "trouble passages" are trouble passages only because we misquote them.

Let's take an example: 1 Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16 both say we are saved by baptism. These are difficult passages for several reasons, let's consider just a couple: First, Scripture very plainly says that we are justified not through baptism, but through faith (Acts 13:38–39; Romans 4:5). Second, Scripture gives a clear example of a man who believed, was not baptized, and was given a personal guarantee that he would be with Christ in Paradise (Luke 23:39–43). So what gives? Does baptism save or not?

The problem here is confusing "salvation" with "justification", "new birth", "regeneration", etc. Scripture doesn't teach baptism justifies, regenerates, gives new life, gives eternal life, but it does teach baptism saves. These are not the same thing.

Of course baptism saves! Scripture teaches clearly salvation by baptism (Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21). It doesn't teach justification by baptism, it doesn't teach regeneration by baptism; but it teaches salvation by baptism. If we start to confuse these things, we start to deny the gospel.

Of course, many who use the word "saved" incorrectly will insist that scripture doesn't teach salvation by baptism. They're wrong: it does. What it doesn't teach is an equivalence between salvation and justification. Their attempts not to teach baptismal regeneration are actually amusing, if you can laugh at that sort of thing.

Here's another example: what does Romans 10 teach?

8 But what says it? The word is near thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: 9 that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from among [the] dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with [the] heart is believed to righteousness; and with [the] mouth confession made to salvation.
Romans 10:8–10
I had trouble with those verses for a long time, because they sure sound like justification by works. I couldn't get over the "with the mouth confession is made to salvation" clause. Does that mean we have to do something to earn forgiveness? That doesn't seem to jive too well with Romans 4, does it? In fact, it doesn't jive with itself.

The two clauses in verse 10 are read as equivalent, but they're not. There are two blessings taught in verse 10: righteousness and salvation. We are righteous by believing "with the heart", we have salvation by confession "with the mouth". In one verse we have justification and salvation both. They're not the same thing, and the idea that they are equivalent is carefully guarded against when we consider one is in the heart and the other in the mouth.

Does scripture ever use the word "saved" as the present possession of the believer? It does, particularly in Ephesians, where God's eternal counsels are the subject. In God's eternal counsels we are already saved. And this might give us a hint as to the distinctions between Romans and Ephesians. Romans, the most careful exposition of the gospel in scripture, only uses "salvation" as a future thing.

I should probably mention 2 Thessalonians 2:13–14 here. The subject is salvation, and it's certainly eternal salvation: the Thessalonians were chosen by God "from the beginning" to salvation. But there are two parts to salvation here, just like in Titus 3:5. The two parts in 2 Thessalonians are "sanctification of the Spirit" and "belief of the truth". The second is what we call justification: God freely forgives all who believe. The first is the present work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, sanctification. Again, "salvation" doesn't mean new birth or regeneration, it means the whole package: it means God's taking a sinner, forgiving him, giving him eternal life, and bringing him eventually to full maturity in Christ.

Here's the thing: we don't want to make a man a transgressor for a word. At the same time, I hear teachers among God's people going around with careless language and sloppy exposition. When the apostles we asked,  "what must I do to be saved?" they didn't launch into a  dissertation of soteriology. But when they taught the people of God, they were extremely careful of their language. Nothing makes this more evident than the epistles.

Free PDFs!

My good friend Rodger posted this to Facebook, and I thought I should repost it here. Present Truth Publishers has posted many of their books online as PDF for free download: Free PDF Downloads.

I definitely recommend From New Birth to New Creation, and I've been interested in reading God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men for quite some time.

Time to get reading! I've loaded several of them into the Kindle app on my phone for the commute.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Impossibility

I found this while reading on the train this morning:

It is important to know that the effect of the new birth, and of the grace of God, is not to bring about some change in us on which we could rest, but to convince us of the impossibility of finding righteousness, or suitability to the favour of God, in ourselves.
C. A. Coates, Spiritual Blessings (p. 31)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Futility

A couple weeks ago I put this post up… well, a version of it. There were some definite problems with the original post, so I've done some editing. And some more editing.

Luke 13:6–9; Ezekiel 11:16–21; Colossians 3:1–5

When I was around 20 I could quote Romans 6. Eventually I started believing it. Many years later I realized it's not only true, but also inevitable.

Scripture presents man's heart as incurable (Jeremiah 17:9). Of course God knew this from the very start: God tells the end from the beginning. God has known from the Fall in the Garden that man's was incurably wicked. But the Old Testament is largely the story of God convincing us of what He already knew. I suppose that's really an act of grace on His part.

Johnny D. put it this way:

What then was God doing with men before? Quickening souls assuredly from Adam on; but in His dispensations with men testing their state for their own instruction; in the former world setting them in innocence in the garden of Eden, where they fell, and then on to the flood without any special institution, though not without testimony. That world became so bad, that it was destroyed by the flood. Then in the new world came government in Noah; promise to Abraham called out from the midst of universal idolatry; the law, testing men and bringing in transgression; the prophets, to recall to the law and testify of Christ. Then God said, I have yet one Son: it may be they will reverence my Son. And when they saw Him they said, Come let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours. Not only was man lawless without law, and a transgressor under law, but when grace came in the Person of the blessed Son of God, they would none of it. The presence of a divine Person drew out the enmity of the heart of man against God: "Now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father." So far from their being a link with humanity, or man as a race, it was the final test of their state: God come in grace, as a man in their midst. The result was: Now is the judgment of this world.
(Union in Incarnation, the root error of modern theology, Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 29, p.193)

So God spent many, many years demonstrating that man is thoroughly evil. The Old Testament prophets give us the conclusion: Isaiah says it this way, "What was there yet to do to my vineyard that I have not done in it?" (Isaiah 5:4). Jeremiah says our hearts are incurably evil (Jeremiah 17:9). But I find Ezekiel's presentation the most striking.

Ezekiel presents God's findings in chapter 11. When things have gotten so bad that the glory of God is leaving the temple in Jerusalem, the Lord tells Ezekiel that He will still bless Israel, but it will require a drastic measure: "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19). When Jeremiah says man's heart is "incurable", he really means it. God looks on our hearts and He doesn't see a project for renovation. When God considers our hearts, He says the solution is a total replacement.

Human nature is like the fig tree that the Lord Jesus talked about (Luke 13:6–9). When a fig tree doesn't bear any fruit, there's no point having it. You might as well cut it down. Not only is it fruitless, but it makes the ground useless, because it's using up space, water, and sunlight that could be producing something else.

In the parable, the vine-dresser asks the vineyard owner to give the tree one last chance. We don't really know how the story ends, the Lord Jesus didn't tell that far. But we do know how the vineyard in Isaiah 6 ended: eventually the Owner said, "I will send my Son, perhaps they will respect Him" (Luke 20:13). But we didn't respect Him, did we? The Son of God came here and walked with men and women, and told them heavenly truth. And almost from the beginning, they tried to kill Him. They finally took the Son of God, nailed Him to a tree, and left Him to die.

This is the point that is so easy to miss: God Himself has tried to work with human nature. He has given them His Word, He gave them His Law, and He sent them His Son. The end result is that His Son was killed. And notice that it wasn't just the lawless Gentiles who killed the Son of God: it was God's own chosen people who handed Him over to be killed (Acts 2:23). God Himself has been unable to make human nature good. It's simply not possible.

Again I'll point out that this wasn't a surprise to God. He didn't set out to try and fix human nature and then give up when He found it was too hard. That's not what happened. He knew from the start how this would end. The point of the whole history of God's dealing with man was to convince us what He already knew.

So what does God do? Does He give up? In a way He does. He is not trying to reform human nature. He says, "you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). God has only one solution for sinful flesh. God forgives sinners, but He doesn't fix them. So He looks at me and He says, "as far as I am concerned, you are dead". And this is the key to the Christian life. I have died, and now Christ is my life (Galatians 2:20). I can't ever be good: God Himself hasn't been able to make me good. But He has offered me something else: He won't make me good, but He will kill me off.

In a way, God has actually gotten what He wanted from Man, but only exactly one Man. The Lord Jesus came here as a Man and did everything God wanted. And really, this was God's plan all along, wasn't it? God has placed no demands on us that He didn't intend actually to fulfill in Christ.

God has found what He was looking for in man, and He has stopped looking. So the real question is, since God is content with Christ, are we? Are we still looking for good in fallen man? Or have we agreed with God that all our goodness is in that one Man who has completely pleased the heart of God?

I know I keep harping on about this: really, I do. But that's because it needs to be harped on about. The fact is that this is foundational truth. The Christian life begins with God giving up on Adam's race. Fools that we are, we generally keep trying the very things that God has demonstrated don't work.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Worthy reads

From time to time I get email from someone who's read my blog. A surprising percentage seems to come from people who've read Miles Stanford's books. Perhaps that shouldn't surprise: Stanford liked to quote J. N. Darby, and I'd imagine searches for J. N. Darby online would eventually include this blog.

I was once a much bigger fan of Stanford's than I am now: I think someone could do a lot worse than reading Stanford's books, but someone could do a lot better too. So without picking too much on Stanford, there are some resources that I think are very worthwhile for the believer.

When it comes to the Christian life, Scripture presents both positive and negative truth. Very little "ministry" addresses both the negative and positive aspects of the truth: on the negative side, I am crucified with Christ. I am thus free from sin (in the sense that I am no longer under its power, Romans 6:7). I am no longer under its dominion (Romans 6:14). There is a human responsibility: I must reckon on the truth of my death with Him (Romans 6:10–11). Note that I don't become dead to sin by reckoning: I am dead to sin, the reckoning is merely bringing my thoughts into line with God's.

The positive truth is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It's necessary because the believer who has been freed from sin (by his death with Christ) is not empowered to live the Christian life by that same death. My having died with Christ doesn't give me power to walk godly in this world. Dying doesn't imply life. The positive truth is that I have been indwellt by the Spirit of God. I am free from sin because I have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6–11), but I am only able to walk the Christian life because I have the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).

Romans doesn't stop in chapter 6. The believer who has learned that he has died with Christ still needs to learn the truth of Romans 7 & 8. Even a man who has died with Christ has the flesh in him. There is still the "law of sin in my members" (Romans 7:21–23). There is only one answer to the "law of sin" in our members, the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1–2).

What Scripture teaches is a two-part solution to the problem. First, the believer has died with Christ. This is absolutely necessary to accept. It is not that the believer must die with Christ, but that the believer has died with Him. The Scripture does not even hint that we must die with Christ: it teaches very clearly that we have died with Him. Our responsibility is not to die, but to reckon on the truth that we have died.

But there is a second part: the man who has died with Christ still needs to active and constant intervention of the Spirit of God. Galatians 2:20 connects both these truths in a single verse, Romans spends three chapters explaining them in detail.

If you're wanting some books that cover more or less the same material in a little more depth (and accuracy), I'll recommend a few titles here:

  1. From New Birth to New Creation by R. A. Huebner. This is probably the most complete book on the subject I've ever read. It's not perfect by any means, but it's really an excellent book. I've written a little about it before.
  2. The Gospel of Our Salvation by H. F. Witherby. This isn't nearly so meaty as Huebner's book, but it's still very good. I wrote about this one too. I ended up giving away my copy before I finished it. Yes, it's that good.
  3. The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. People start to tune you out when you bring this one up, but it really is an amazing book. It's not without fault, but it's an absolutely excellent book. If you haven't read this one, you need to read it right away.
  4. Finally, there are a few papers by J. N. Darby that must be mentioned in this category. I've listed them last, because they're Darby – they're not the easiest reading:
    1. Forgiveness and liberty
    2. Deliverance
    3. On sealing with the Holy Ghost
    4. Deliverance from the Law of Sin
    5. Cleansing and Deliverance
    6. Cleansing by Water: and what it is to walk in the light.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Deliverance from the Law

I've been reading everything I can find by J. N. Darby on deliverance. I've been reading, re-reading, highlighting, and taking notes. There's a story there, but I haven't time to tell it tonight.

But I wanted to take a break and share something that I feel really must be shared: "Deliverance from under the Law, as stated in the Holy Scriptures" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 7, pp. 127–138), of course available from STEM Publishing. This is a really excellent article, and you should read it.

Here are some quotes to tantalize you:

All hope of deliverance is shewn, in chapter 5, to flow out of justification. But this is not man's thought. He would wish to deliver himself actually from the law of sin by his own effort, and thus be without fault before God; but God will not have it so, and it never could be according to His truth, because that, on the one hand, the work of Christ would have been in vain, and, on the other, man would not have known what is the true nature and sinfulness of sin. If by efforts in the conscience we could find deliverance before God, the work of justification, though it might not be by strength of man, would at least be by the work of the Holy Spirit, and not by the work of Christ. But God will not; and for man it is impossible to have it so; because the work of the Spirit of God is to shew him how intolerable sin is to God, and that the nature of man is not changed. Now his very nature is sin. Man must submit himself to the righteousness of God. Convinced of sin, condemned by the law, he must find his righteousness in another — in Christ, who died for him, and is now risen and in the presence of God. This is the reason why chapters 3 and 5 come before chapters 6 and 7, and verse 1 of chapter 8 before verses 2 and 3. (p. 133)

And another paragraph on the next page:

[I]t ought to be remarked, before going farther, that there are some who make a law of Christ Himself. They acknowledge His love; they see in His work on the cross, how great is His love. They find in it a reason why they should love Christ perfectly, with their whole hearts; but they cannot find this love in themselves. They ought to love Christ with their whole heart, but they do not love Him thus. Now it is precisely the law which commands that we should love God with all our heart. We have found in Christ a new motive, we have perhaps given a new form to the law, but we find ourselves still under the law, though we have clothed it with the name of Christ. (p. 134)

All of J. N. Darby's teaching on practical Christian living can be summed up with one verse:

"I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live, *I*, but Christ lives in me; but [in] that I now live in flesh, I live by faith, the [faith] of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, Darby Translation)
The more I read Scripture, the more I recognize Darby is right. The striking character of the Christian life (as taught in the Epistles) is that I have died with Christ. God is not dealing with me as such: my place is in Christ (Philippians 3:9).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From "Lectures on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit" (by William Kelly), chapter 2 (http://stempublishing.com/authors/kelly/6h_s/hs2_well.html):

Now, if the heart is not satisfied with Christ, how is it? It is because the Holy Ghost is not given to us; it is because I have Him not filling my heart to overflowing with the grace of Jesus; it is because, though divinely attracted to Christ, I have no rest in Him — am still occupied with myself, grovelling in the mud of my nature, instead of being taken up by the power of the Spirit with that Christ who is my life. Thus I am not satisfied with Him only; I am also hankering after what is trash, what is worldly, what is carnal. What is the consequence? It may be, and indeed is, most sorrowful that it should and must be so; for God in Christ in the fulness of grace is not enough! The possession and knowledge of a privilege constitutes an added responsibility, but the first thing is for faith to enter in and possess. Nor will He permit that our hearts should be occupied with these things merely as a matter of testimony, but of our own soul's delight in the object by the power that He has given to us.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Poison of Works

One drop of the poison of man's works let fall into a vessel full of God's grace, deprives grace of its character. God will not allow that man shall spoil His gracious act of forgiveness by any mixture of works, for “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” (Rom. 11:6.)
H. F. Witherby, The Gospel of our Salvation, p. 9 (available online at http://stempublishing.com/authors/HF_Witherby/HFW_Gospel01.html)

Monday, March 24, 2014

and Further Reading

A friend sent me some books via drop-shipment from Bible Truth Publishers, including:

I've read the first two titles, I plan to start the third tomorrow morning.

My friend sent these books after a brief talk or two we had on deliverance. I wrote a lot about this already this year ("Walking" and "in Christ), but there's a lot more to talk about. Still, I don't want to discuss the topic itself so much as I want to discuss the specific books my friend sent me.

From New Birth to New Creation by R. A. Huebner is a book I'd highly recommend to anyone, with a caveat or two. If you've never read RAH, I'll warn first that his work isn't terribly original: his books are almost more like scrap-books of recommended ministry others have written. This book is no exception: it's largely quotations and summaries of writings by J. N. Darby, A. P. Cecil, W. Kelly, F. G. Patterson, and H. H. Snell. But don't let that put you off! It's a worthwhile read. In fact, it's extremely helpful.

There are two caveats I'll make while recommending this [really very good] book. The first is that RAH is susceptible to tunnel vision. There's an old saying that "when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail". Similarly, Huebner's books can become somewhat repetitive, and literally everything becomes evidence of whatever point he's trying to make.

In this book in particular, the main point is that the sealing with the Holy Spirit is a distinct event and experience from the new birth. Of course this was what J. N. Darby taught, and it was the question that eventually led to F. W. Grant being put out of fellowship. But because that is a central doctrine of the book, Huebner brings it into every discussion, sometimes (in my opinion) when it's not really the point.

The book is divided into four parts:

  1. "New Birth, Forgiveness of Sins, and Sealing with the Spirit"
  2. "Eternal Life in the Son"
  3. "Deliverance from the Law of Sin and Death"
  4. "New Creation"
It follows the general pattern that each section establishes doctrine, and then explores how that applies to the Christian life. I found the first section particularly excellent, with its careful distinction of language. Huebner takes great care to differentiate between redemption, salvation, quickening, new birth, and so forth.

Now, I have read Darby extensively: there is very little this book says that I haven't already read from Darby. But I have to say that this book does an excellent job of laying it out in a very understandable and organized manner. And Huebner answers some of the questions Darby doesn't seem even to notice. There's not much Huebner says that Darby doesn't say, but Huebner has a real knack of putting the pieces together clearly.

But Huebner does have a tendency to hyper-focus, and I noticed this especially in the context of the sealing with the Holy Spirit. He is so careful to point out that new birth and sealing are distinct that he seems to say that every problem in a Christian's life is evidence that he (or she) has not [yet] been sealed. I found myself growing somewhat introspective when reading this book, wondering "have I been sealed?"

J. N. Darby wrote, "Faith never looks at itself or at its effect in us, but at Christ in Himself." ('Review of R. Pearsall Smith on "Holiness through Faith."', Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 23, p. 193). It's worth remembering this when we consider the Christian life: it's tempting for our focus to turn inward, especially when there is some question of the Lord's work in us. But we do well to remember that we're called to look up to Christ, not in to self.

Along that vein, I'd caution anyone reading this book to read two chapters out of order. Section 3 ("Deliverance from the Law of Sin and Flesh") ends with chapters 3.6 and 3.7; read those before you read the rest of Section 3. Then read the whole section in order, re-reading those last two chapters in the order they're in the book. Here's why: Huebner points out [correctly] that Romans 7 isn't really about a man who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit; it's about a man who is regenerated and born again, but not yet sealed. That man has not been set free from the law of sin and death, and he finds himself wanting to please God, but being unable to do so. This is exactly J. N. Darby's and William Kelly's teaching on Romans 7, it's not some strange new doctrine. But every Christian – even those indwelt by the Spirit of God and sealed with the Holy Ghost – find themselves helpless in the face of sin in the flesh. The sealing of the Holy Spirit doesn't free us from the presence of sin, nor does it mean the flesh is somehow done away with. It doesn't mean we're confirmed into some state of sinless perfection! What it means is that we have been set free from the law of sin and death.

There is no question that the Corinthians were sealed with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), but there were still serious issues in Corinth, including such fornication that even the Gentiles found it shocking (1 Corinthians 5:1). And the Galatians certainly had the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2), but they had fallen into legalism, which is really a denial of the Gospel (Galatians 2:15–21). They had begun in the Spirit, but wanted to be perfected in the flesh (Galatians 3:3). So the epistles make it abundantly clear that an imperfect – or even immoral – walk is not proof that the Holy Spirit is not present.

Chapters 3.6 and 3.7 of this book really make this case very clearly. It's entirely possible for a true believer, who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit, to walk immorally, worldly, and even in a practical denial of the faith.

With that one caveat, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Read it carefully, but read the end of Section 3 before you start into it.

The William Kelly book was written by William Kelly. I don't really need to add much: anything by William Kelly is worth reading. And you can read it free online (Lectures on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit on STEM Publishing).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Old Testament Salvation

What is the difference between an Old Testament saint and a New Testament saint? How does the Gospel of the New Testament differ from the Gospel of the Old? These are worthwhile questions, and we wouldn't want to overlook them. Here are a few of my [incomplete] thoughts, based on Scripture:

Old Testament saints were justified by faith alone. This is the doctrine established in Romans 4, based on Genesis 15. This is essentially the main point of Romans 4:1–5, that justification by faith alone is not a new doctrine. And so the chapter begins with an appeal to the Old Testament record of Abraham, "What shall we say then that Abraham our father according to flesh has found?" (Romans 4:1). God has never justified anyone on the basis of anything other than faith.

Old Testament saints had forgiveness of sins. This, too, is the plain teaching of Romans 4, based on an appeal to Psalm 32. Romans 4:6–8 establish that David was a man "to whom God shall not at all reckon sin" (v. 8). This is an interesting statement, because in many ways Christendom has actually fallen lower than the Old Testament saints. Where David said that God would "not at all reckon sin" to him, Christians today seem to believe that sins they have have not confessed are reckoned to them. Of course this essentially means that God forgives based on works: confession becomes meritorious in this twisted theology.

This comes from confusing God as Father with God as Judge. We can (and do!) confess our sins to our Father (1 John 1:9), but we don't confuse that with our standing before God as Judge. Acting inconsistently with my place as a son of God might strain our relationship: it might make it difficult for me to enjoy Him and His company... but it doesn't in any way change the fact that God is my Father. A disobedient son is still a son. The Old Testament saints were children, but they weren't sons.

Old Testament saints were born again. I think a lot of people miss this, but it is what the Lord Jesus specifically taught. Consider His words to Nicodemus: "Except any one be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). No one can get into the Kingdom of God without being born again; but "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Matthew 8:11) will be in the Kingdom, along with "all the prophets" (Luke 13:28–29). So we can be sure they were born again, can't we?

To take it even further, the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus he ought to have known about new birth, because he was a "ruler of Israel" (John 3:10). So the need for new birth was a truth the Lord Jesus expected a "ruler of Israel" to know, presumably based on the Old Testament. Johnny D. suggests this is an allusion to Ezekiel 36:25–31. Perhaps this is the portion the Lord Jesus was thinking of, but regardless: it's clear He considered the new birth to be Old Testament truth.

So if the Old Testament saints were born again, if they were forgiven of their sins, if they were justified by faith alone; what is the difference between the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints?

The Holy Spirit wasn't given in the Old Testament. John 7:38–39 explicitly state that "the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified." Of course we don't understand that to mean the Holy Spirit did not yet exist! That is clearly untrue, because He was there at the creation (Genesis 1:2). Of course the Holy Spirit existed, but He was not yet given. The giving of the Spirit was dependent on the exaltation of Christ, and Peter used the manifestations of the Spirit on earth to prove the exaltation of Christ in Heaven (Acts 2:33–36).

The New Testament saints have "no more conscience of sins." Hebrews 10:1–5 contrasts believers in the New Testament with the Old Testament saints under the Law. The first point of contrast is that the Old Testament saints did not have a once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Instead, they had repeated sacrifices. Those sacrifices reminded the people over and over that they had sinned. But our High Priest has offered One Sacrifice forever for sins, and so we should have "no more conscience of sins" (v. 2). Of course, I don't think this is very clearly taught or very clearly believed in Christendom as a whole: but the truth of the New Testament is that we have "no more conscience of sins".

Old Testament saints were justified looking forward to a future work: we are justified looking back on a completed work. This is the teaching of Romans 3:21–26. In the Old Testament, God justified men and women who believed Him, looking forward to the payment He knew He'd receive from Christ. But now that Christ has actually died, been buried, been raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven; God justifies us based on historical fact. That doesn't mean we're any more justified, but it does mean that we are conscious of what the Old Testament saints couldn't know. And this is what Romans 3:21 says: what the Law and the prophets bore witness to, we now have manifested. There is, in a sense, an advantage to us, because we have the privilege of seeing what God foreknew. We have, in this sense, a more complete view into the heart of God than they did.

The Old Testament saints did not have the adoption of sons. This is the whole point of Galatians 4:1–7. The Old Testament saints were children of God (cf. John 11:52), but they weren't sons. Sonship is different from childhood. A child, Galatians tells us, differs not at all from a slave (v. 1), but the Lord Jesus came so that "we" could receive sonship (vv. 4–5). Sonship is characterized by a close relationship with the Father. It implies familial rights, it implies a claim on the Father. The Old Testament saints didn't cry "Abba, Father" that requires the "Spirit of His Son" (v. 6). Galatians 4:1–4 agrees with John 7:38–39, the Spirit of God couldn't have come here until the Lord Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (1 Corinthians 15:3–8).

I'm flagrantly ripping off Johnny D. here, but this is a huge point. The spirit of adoption is characterized by a confidence in God as Father. Servants don't have confidence in God as Father: they might love and respect God as Master, but they don't have the confidence in the Father's love. This is a new thing: this began in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit descended.

The Old Testament saints were not united to Christ. The New Testament saint has been united to Christ in His death (Romans 6:3; Colossians 3:3), His burial (Romans 6:4), and His resurrection (Colossians 3:1). The Old Testament saints we not. The Lord Jesus said that there could be no union with Him until He died (John 12:24). We feed on Christ as dead (John 6:53–57), we eat His flesh and drink His blood: you can't do that unless He has died.

Now, this isn't a complete list. But it's something I've been thinking about recently, and discussing with friends. I thought it would be worthwhile to post a few of those thoughts here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Salvation and Separation

A friend sent me this excellent article by Johnny D., entitled "Salvation and Separation". It's available on STEM Publishing: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/NOTESJOT/40010E.html.

Here's a small sample:

Before God, can you mend the first Adam? Will you educate him, and get any good out of him? You will not. God tried it, and it ended in the death of His Son. The very world we are living in is the world that had God in it, but it turned Him out. The flesh that I have got in me has had that Christ presented to it, and it rejected Him - morally, that is. We cannot now, of course, kill Him outwardly.

But people put this flesh under law, and they fancy they can school it. Do you think they would insist so upon law, if they were sure and certain that the only thing it can do is to damn them?

It's in Notes and Jottings, starting on page 46.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In Christ

Ephesians 1:6; Philippians 3:9–11

There is exactly one way for a person to be accepted by God, and that is in Christ. We are justified freely from all things when we believe (Acts 13:39), but being justified and being accepted aren't exactly the same thing.

Philippians 3:9 makes this clear: if we are found in Him, then we don't have our own righteousness. "[M]y own righteousness" necessarily brings in law (Philippians 3:9). Law is a statement of what I ought to be: there is no righteousness of my own, except by law. But Galatians 2:16 assures us, no one is justified by the works of law. There is no way I can achieve righteousness of my own.

We sometimes describe being "in Christ" like this: when God looks at me, He doesn't see me, He sees Christ. When God looks at me, He doesn't see my sins, He sees Christ. I think that's exactly what Ephesians 1 is talking about. But there is another side to that: when God looks at me, He doesn't see my righteousnesses, He sees Christ. See? This is a two-edged sword, and it cuts both ways. On the one hand, my sin is invisible to God, because He sees me in Christ. On the other hand, all of my righteousness is hidden from sight– just as hidden as my sin– because I am in Christ.

That's Philippians 3:9, isn't it? "that I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness". You can't be "in Christ" when it comes to sin, but on your own when it comes to righteousness. If I am "in Christ", then all that I am– the good as well as the bad– is gone from God's sight.

Now, sometimes we're not content with that. And so we try and establish a righteousness of our own. But we really can't claim righteousness without (as it were) stepping out of Christ. As long as we're "in Christ", God doesn't see my righteousness. Now we can't really step out of Christ, but it's what we're effectively trying to do when we try and establish ourselves as righteous before God. And when we do that, we end up right back in Romans 7.

Accepting that I am in Christ means accepting that I am past trying to establish a righteousness before God. In fact, it means accepting that God's really done with me. He's not trying to improve me, He's not trying to salvage anything of me. That's really the teaching of Galatians 2:20, "yet not I".

I think this is the real difference between Romans 7, "when we were in the flesh" (Romans 7:5 & 6), and Romans 8, "ye are... in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). In Romans 7, a man is trying to establish righteousness. He's not content with the righteousness of Christ, but wants his own. That must lead him to law (Philippians 3:9). But in Romans 8, we have a man for whom there is "no condemnation" (Romans 8:1), a man who is content with the righteousness of Christ.

This is so simple, but it's hard for us to get a handle on it. We refuse to believe that God is not trying to salvage the flesh. We must– we must– accept what God says about us. We need to be like Paul in Philippians 3, content to be "found in Him, not having my own righteousness".

This obviously doesn't mean Paul is content to continue to live as a sinner, hiding (as it were) in Christ. No, there is a human responsibility there. I am in Christ, this is God's sovereignty. Human responsibility comes in the next verse: "to know Him" (Philippians 3:10).

God's giving up on the flesh is not an excuse simply to indulge its passions and its lusts. We are to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). There is to be a reality in our lives, and an integrity that's visible to people around us.

But the power to live the Christian life is really only for those "in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9), who "by the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body" (Romans 8:13). The Christian life (practically speaking) rests on accepting our place "in Christ", not attempting to add anything to that, and not accepting anything less.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Re-reading

We recently moved, and I've started riding the bus to work again. Notwithstanding a woman who brings her small and friendly kids on the bus every morning, I get quite a bit of time to read. So this last fall, I re-read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. It's online too: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/nee/normal

I read it about twenty years ago, and I thought it would be worthwhile to read it again.

I used to recommend that book, with the caveat that the last couple chapters are suspect. But I was wrong. Now I'll recommend it without reservation. It's an excellent book: far, far better than I realized the first time I read it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Walking

I want to talk about something close to my heart. I've talked (ranted?) about this before (Try harder! and Try harder (Reprise)). The fact is, the majority of "ministry" I have heard and read on "Christian living" really isn't "Christian" at all.

Let's talk about that for a minute. Christianity differs from Judaism in only a few points. Or more accurately, what the New Testament teaches differs only slightly from what the Old Testament teaches. Justification by faith alone isn't really New Testament truth: it's Old Testament truth. That's a strong claim, but it's the explicit teaching of Romans 4. Romans 4 specifically teaches the doctrine of justification by faith alone from the Old Testament: Genesis 15 and Psalm 32 are the basis of the doctrine. Genesis 15 teaches God counts a man (or woman) as righteous when he (or she) believes God. Psalm 32 teaches that a forgiven man is one to whom God "will not at all reckon sin" (v. 8). So justification by faith alone is Old Testament truth.

The birth of Christ, His death, and Resurrection are all taught in the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus Himself taught these doctrines from the Old Testament (Luke 24:22–27). So we really can't consider that to be New Testament truth.

The New Testament starts (doctrinally speaking) with the Ascension. The Lord Jesus–– having been crucified, buried, and raised (1 Corinthians 15:1–8)–– has ascended into Heaven, where He has been given the highest place (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 1:1–3; 1 Peter 3:21–22). Before the Lord Jesus went to the Cross, He promised to send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–15). John's Gospel explicitly states that the Holy Spirit couldn't come unless the Lord Jesus was glorified (John 7:38–39), and Peter's sermon in Acts 2 pointed to the coming of the Holy Spirit as proof that Christ had been exalted in Heaven (Acts 2:32–33). So New Testament truth starts out with Christ ascended, and the Holy Spirit coming down as a result.

So the Christian life is defined as the life of women and men who are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, and indwellt by the Holy Spirit as a result of Christ's exaltation at the right hand of God in Heaven. The Christian life has a goal: it's the life of those who are waiting for the Son of God to come from Heaven and redeem our bodies (Romans 8:23; Philippians 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10). And it has a standard, it's the life of those who are to "walk even as He walked" (1 John 2:6).

But Scripture makes it clear that the Christian life is not just characterized by a goal and a standard: it's also characterized by a power. And this is where the vast majority of "ministry" I have heard falls miserably short of Christianity as taught in Scripture. Christianity as taught in Scripture is characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Scripture says we should walk sinlessly (1 John 2:1); how does one do that?

See, this is the problem with almost all the "ministry" I have found on Christian living. It consists largely of someone pressing on the audience the necessity of a sinless life. There is plenty of exhortation to a holy life, but there's no real teaching on how exactly a person can live that holy life. I've pointed it out before, reminding a bankrupt of his debts doesn't give him the money to pay them. Reminding a Christian of his or her need to walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1) without providing him or her with the power to do it is nothing more than legalism.

The epistle to the Galatians talks about this in some detail. The Galatians understood that the Christian life started "in the Spirit", but they were trying to finish it "in the flesh" (Galatians 3:3). They thought that human effort could enable someone to live the Christian life. But it can't. Fallen, unredeemed flesh is powerless to live out the life of Christ. And yet, that's exactly what Romans 8:23 says we have. We might be born of God, we might be justified in His sight, we might have eternal forgiveness of sins, but until the Lord Jesus comes from Heaven to change our bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:21), we live in unredeemed bodies (Romans 7:24). God does not see my sins, but there is sin in me nevertheless (Romans 7:23). And that sin makes me powerless to live the Christian life.

So the question is, if I'm powerless to live up to the calling, how can I do it? Does God call me to a life I have no hope of living? In a way He does. God calls me to a life that is lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember the Galatians were trying to finish "in the flesh" what they had started "in the Spirit". What does Scripture present as the solution to their problem? "I say, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust" (Galatians 5:16).

When "ministry" presses on the believer the need for walking a godly life, but doesn't offer the power to do so, it leaves the believer right where the Galatians were. It leaves him or her with a desire to walk a godly path, but with no resources actually to do it, except for the efforts of the flesh. And the person who tries it finds exactly what the Scripture warns he or she will find: the harder we try to do good, the more we find we cannot (Romans 7:18–23).

I once heard a message from a brother I respected, interestingly on "The Flesh". The brother actually suggested that setting an alarm clock to get up early and read the Bible would be an effective measure in combatting the lusts of the flesh. Um, no. That's the sort of thing Galatians 5 and Romans 7 warn against. Trying to live a Christian life doesn't work. It's not possible to walk out a Christian life in the power of the will, nor the power of the alarm clock. It requires the power of the Spirit.

As soon as I say "the power of the Spirit", it's obvious that's entirely opposite to "the power of me". I should point out that I have an awful lot to learn about "walking in the Spirit". I am not at all speaking as someone who's arrived. But I can tell you two things: I can tell you what doesn't work, and I can tell you what Scripture says.

Trying harder doesn't work. It's actually impossible to try hard enough, it's actually impossible for a person to walk the Christian life in and of himself. The Christian life is exclusively for those who are "walking in the Spirit" (Romans 8:4). If you want to live the Christian life, says Galatians, you must walk in the Spirit. This is the only path that can keep us from fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Set out to live the Christian life, and you will find yourself fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. You'll find, like the man in Romans 7, that trying harder means failing worse. But if you walk in the Spirit, says Galatians 5:16, then you'll find you're not fulfilling those lusts.

A brother pointed out to me that the real lesson of Romans 7 is that even with all the blessings in Christ, we need the Holy Spirit's intervention. Even a justified man who's been crucified with Christ is incapable of taking on the flesh. Even a man who's rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God will find that "in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing" (Romans 7:18). Even a man in the good of all the truths of Romans 1–6 will find that he is a "wretched me" (Romans 7:24). So we still find ourselves in a place of dependence.

And that's the first lesson Scripture would teach us about "walking in the Spirit." We can't walk the Christian life on our own. We can't will ourselves into it. We can't guilt ourselves (or someone else) into it. The Christian life starts with depending on Christ. We can't trust ourselves, we must trust in the God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). Will power isn't enough, it takes the power of the Spirit of God.

Now, it's no secret I'm a big fan of J. N. Darby. I've been accused of being a "Darbyist", and that's probably more accurate than I want to admit. I'll freely admit that I'm hugely influenced by Johnny D. on this one, but this is really important. It's not some esoteric doctrine, it's the most fundamental issue of all. If I really am to live the Christian life, if I really am to walk "even as He walked", just how can I do that? The fact is, if anyone actually pays attention to this "ministry" I'm hearing, then they're buying into a life of misery. They're heading out there trying to walk out the Christian life with advice like "set your alarm clock", or "make a solemn commitment before God". They're going to find out, just like Paul did, just like everyone does, that "in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing."

I don't doubt the people who write and speak about this sort of thing are doing so out of good intentions, but the fact is, what they're teaching isn't Christianity at all.