Friday, October 20, 2017

Seeing and Eating

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; and they saw the God of Israel... they saw God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9–11)

The elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. The story doesn't tell us what He looked like, which seems to be the common theme. As far as I can tell, only Daniel (Daniel 7:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26–28) describe what God looks like. Isaiah saw God in the temple (Isaiah 6:1–13), but he only describes the angels. Even the description in Revelation 4:1–7 only describes the One on the throne in vague terms, while it describes the creatures around the throne in detail.

But scripture tells us twice that the elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. I tell my Sunday school class, when Scripture repeats something, it's for a reason. The Spirit of God doesn't ramble on like I do, every word has a purpose. So Exodus 24 is emphasizing the point, that they saw God.

John 1:18 tells us, no one has seen God at any time. I take that to mean, not that no one has actually seen God, but no one has seen God completely. The story in Exodus 33:18–23, corroborates this: when Moses asks to see God's glory, he is denied. But he is allowed to see God's goodness.

(John 1:18 goes on to tell us that Christ has declared God. Perhaps that's why the two prophets called "son of man" (Ezekiel 2:1, Daniel 8:17) are allowed to describe God, while the rest are not. Certainly the Son of Man has declared Him (John 3:13).)

I think about Exodus 24 frequently when we're gathered to remember the Lord. We see that the elders of Israel are called to go apart from the camp (v. 1). They saw God (v. 9), they ate and drank (v. 11). We, too, are called to leave, to come into the Lord's presence, to see God, and to eat and drink (1 Corinthians 11:20–34). Of course it's our place to gaze on the glory of the Lord all through the week (2 Corinthians 3:18). We're not called to contemplate Him only once a week... but we are definitely called to gather together to eat and drink and remember Him.

I ask myself, do I really do that? When I gather in the little meeting hall here, I definitely eat and drink... but do I see God? Do I get a really good look at Christ?

Rodger reminded me that our eating and drinking is an announcement of the death of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:26), and that the death of the Lord is connected in Scripture with the end of everything here (Galatians 6:14). Do I allow myself to casually announce that, week after week, without really entering into what it means?

1 Corinthians 11:29 warns about eating and drinking without discerning. I'm not sure that's entirely the same thing, but it is all to easy to eat and drink without seeing first.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Worship and Remembrance

Worship and remembrance are closely connected in my mind. It might be worthwhile to spend a few moments thinking about them.

1 Corinthians 11:23–24 come to mind when we talk about remembrance. The Lord's supper was a matter of special revelation to Paul (v. 23), suggesting some importance in the mind of God. He quotes the Lord as saying, "this do in remembrance of me" (v. 24).

The sign on the outside of the meeting hall advertises that "The Remembrance" is at 11:00 AM Sundays. That's an appropriate name.

We sometimes talk about worship in connection with the Lord's supper, but I don't think Scripture does.

We worship the Lord Jesus because He is eternal God, "God over all, blessed forever" (Romans 9:5). We worship Him because all things were made by Him (John 1:3). It was the Son who laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands (Psalm 102:25).

But when He calls us to remember, we see what might be a deeper truth. The Son who created us, came here to die for us. It's not simply the Creator-creature relationship, it's the Redeemer-redeemed relationship.

We remember that He poured out His soul unto death for us (Isaiah 53:12). We remember that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). We remember that He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), that His soul was made an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).

These things ought to touch our hearts.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Son of Man lifted up

John 3:12–15

Some people throw around the word "type" pretty carelessly. If scripture doesn't actually say something is a type, I prefer not to call it one. Here in John 3 we have a case where scripture specifically calls something a type: just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).

We tend to worship what has been lifted up. The children of Israe eventually began to worship that serpent, until Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah understood that the serpent was only brass, it wasn't actually what had delivered Israel.

Well, we're in a slightly different position. The Father wants us to honor the Son exactly the same way we honor the Father (John 5:23). So where Israel was wrong the worship the serpent, we are right to worship the One who was lifted up for us.

We understand that the Son of God became the Son of Man, at least in part so the He could be lifted up for us.

We worship Him because He is God (John 1:1). Hebrews 1:10–12 tells us (quoting Psalm 102) that He laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands. We worship Christ Jesus because He is the creator of all things: not one thing came into being without Him (John 1:3).

We remember Him because He gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). Of course we don't minimize who He is as God from eternity, but we understand that it was in a sense a much greater thing for Him to give Himself for us than it was to create us. Being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) cost Him much more than creating the heavens and the earth.

We remember that the Son became the Son of Man so that He could be lifted up for us. He gave His flesh to be food and His blood to be drink (John 6:53) so that lost sinners could have eternal life. He poured out His soul into death, and was made an offering for sin for us (Isaiah 53:10–12).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Eternal Sonship

I should have been a lot more careful with me wording on this post. To be honest, my wording was largely because I wasn't very careful in my thinking. Let me just make this disclaimer: Jesus Christ did not become the Son of God. I've kept the post as-is (excepting this paragraph) so the comments make sense.

A few months ago I was speaking on John 1 in the assembly, and spent a few minutes discussing Eternal Sonship. I've heard several comments on the Lord's Sonship in the meetings, many of which are nonsense. I thought it might be helpful for some of the younger folks in the assembly to lay out what Scripture actually says.

This is one of those topics where we have to be very cautious. When we talk about the Person of the Son, we need to understand from the outset that our very best understanding falls short. There's a hymn in the Little Flock that says:

The Father only Thy blest name
Of Son can comprehend.
There's a lot of truth in that statement, and we do well to approach this sort of thing fearfully. Better men than I have run aground here...

The Lord Jesus has several titles that infer sonship:

  • Son (John 5:19–23)
  • Son of God (John 5:25)
  • Son of Man (John 5:27)
  • Son of David (Matthew 1:1)
  • Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1)
  • Son of His love (Colossians 1:13)
There are others, but this list serves for our purposes.

We understand that an eternal Person can have a non-eternal title. We'd look askance at someone who called Christ "the eternal Son of David." The Person is eternal, the relationship is not. Christ was Son when there was no David. He was Son when there was no Abraham, and He was Son when there was no man.

The question of Eternal Sonship revolves around exactly this question: we agree that Christ is eternal and uncreated: He is God blessed forever (Romans 9:5). But the question remains, is the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead eternal?

Let's pause to be sure we're very clear about this. I've heard preachers talk about Eternal Sonship who seemed to think the question is whether Christ is eternal. Nothing could be farther from the truth! C. A. Coates denied Eternal Sonship, but did not question Christ's essential and eternal Deity:

In reply to your letter I may say, in the first place, that the question raised in regard to the expression "the eternal Son", as applied to our Lord, is not at all a question as to His Deity, or His eternal personality. The dear brethren are all, thank God, perfectly clear as to these great and vital matters of revelation and of faith. The Son was eternally God (John 1:1), and subsisted in the form of God (Philippians 2:6); before Abraham was He was "I am", John 8:58. Whatever inscrutable blessedness and glory and power belongs to the Godhead belongs in the fullest and most absolute way to Christ; He is "over all, God blessed for ever", Romans 9:5.

(Letters of C. A. Coates, pp. 191–195)

Having made that clear, let's consider the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead: There are at least three times where Scripture takes us back into past eternity and names the Father and the Son: John 5, John 17, and Hebrews 1. There may well be others. These three passages convince me of Christ's eternal Sonship. The Lord clearly speaks of His relationship with the Father as Father before the world began.

That being said, C. A. Coates is correct that scripture doesn't use the title "Eternal Son." We try to be very careful to use the words of Scripture, especially with regard to Christ – we should be careful about using a title Scripture doesn't use. We don't want to make a person an offender for a word, but we realize it's extremely easy to fall into error when we touch the Person of Christ.

If we examine what Scripture says about the Father-Son relationship in eternity, we find it consistently uses the title "Son" to refer to Christ. I know a lot of "brethren" who believe that the title "Son of God" is eternal, but I can find no evidence of that in Scripture.

I admit when I hear someone talk about "the Eternal Son of God" I wince a little. As far as I have been able to find, scripture talks about "the Son" in eternity past, it doesn't talk about "the Son of God" in that context. And yes, I have said "the Eternal Son of God" many times.

Scripture connects the title "Son of God" with national Israel (John 1:49), while it connects "Son of Man" with the Gentiles (Daniel 7:13–14). I don't see in Scripture that either title is eternal.

Yes, I do believe in eternal Sonship. No, I don't believe the eternal title is "Son of God".

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Self-Improvement a Snare

A buddy of mine told me to read "Self-Improvement a Snare" by J. B. Stoney (New Ministry, Vol. 8, pp. 397–402). I did, and I'm passing it on.

Thus the question is, not as to whether you are improved or not, but whether you are in Adam or in Christ; if in Christ you can say, I have "crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts", (Galatians 5:24) and you not only know that He lives in you, and that thus you are governed by a new Person, but as you behold His glory - the very beginning of the gospel - you are transformed into His image, and you are the expression of Him here, whether in your individual circumstances, or in the circle of His interests. (p. 401)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Image of God

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Complete Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Prayer Request

A friend asked me if there was anything specific he should be praying for me. I gave it some thought for several days before responding, and I decided to send him the top three things I pray for. After thinking about it, I decided I'd share the list here as well.

I want the type of life that people around will see as proof of God's work. I want people to look at me and say, "there must be a God." I want it obvious that it's the Lord's work in me and not my own efforts. I want people to see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal body.

I want true repentance. I want to judge myself, and not be judged of God. I want the Lord to reveal to me things I need to judge and put away, and I want the Lord's grace to actually judge them and put them away.

I want revelation from the Father. I want, like Peter, to have the Father in Heaven reveal truth to me. I find a disconnect between what I believe and what I expect. I believe Christ died for me, I believe that He is coming back for me: but I don't find myself expecting to see Him. I want that truth to be something the Father shows me and makes real to me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Under the footstool

Psalm 110 is a remarkable prophecy. It's quoted frequently in the New Testament, and arguably forms the basis of the doctrine of the epistles. Peter quotes Psalm 110 in Acts 2:34–35 to show that the ascended Christ has sat down at God's right hand. Hebrews takes up that same thought, quoting Psalm 110 to show that Christ's Priesthood is linked to Melchizedek's (Hebrews 5:6). Hebrews 9:24–28 goes on to point out that Christ is going to come back for us: His seat at God's right hand is not a permanent arrangement. He is there "until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Hebrews 1:13).

God has promised to put Christ's enemies under His feet (Psalm 110:1). But not all His enemies. We were His enemies too (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:1–3), but instead of the footstool, God has chosen the throne (Ephesians 2:6; Revelation 3:21).

This is the grace of God: He takes us from under the footstool to put us on the throne.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Earthen Vessels

There are several passages of Scripture that give a succinct summary of the Christian life. Philippians 3:3 is one, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 is another, Galatians 2:20 too. I find myself thinking about a lot about another, 2 Corinthians 4:6–7.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7–18, Christ is contrasted to Moses. We remember the story of Moses speaking with God – when he came back down from the mountain, his face shone and he didn't realize it (Exodus 34:29–35). The children of Israel had Moses cover his face with a veil so that they could look at him. Now the glory of God is shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Unlike Moses, we are to look on Him without a veil. And when we do, His glory transforms us.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6–12, we have something Exodus didn't talk about: when we've been gazing at the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, then God shines that same glory out of our hearts. It's the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness – the God who needs nothing to work with – who does this. He shines the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" out of our hearts.

Paul does that a lot, he talks about "the God who..." I've learned to pay attention to those small phrases, because they reveal an awful lot about the point the passage is making. Here it's the God who doesn't need any raw materials: He brought light out of darkness.

It's not mentioned in these verses, but we might pause a moment and consider that the first time God commanded light to shine out of darkness it didn't cost Him anything. He is God, He spoke and it was done. But in shining the light out of darkness in our hearts, the cost to Him was tremendous. It cost His Son.

2 Corinthians 4:7 goes on to say that God has deliberately put this treasure – the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – in earthen vessels. He has chosen an entirely inappropriate vessel for His treasure. Why? Because He wants to be sure that we realize it's of God and not of us.

The passage doesn't actually mention the story of Gideon (Judges 7:16–21), but there are some striking parallels. First, we find that God carefully reduced the number of Gideon's men until they were down to 300 (Judges 7:1–7). We find, too, that God explicitly told Gideon why: He wanted there to be no question that it was He who brought victory, not strength of arms (Judges 7:2). Second, the weapons in the hands of Gideon's men were trumpets and torches (lights) hidden in earthen vessels (Judges 7:16).

We realize Gideon's plan was to reveal the torches not by lifting the vessels off the torches, but by breaking the earthen vessels. This is precisely what 2 Corinthians 4:10–12 goes on to talk about. As death works in us, the life of Jesus (notice here it's not "Christ Jesus" nor "Jesus Christ", but "Jesus") is revealed in our mortal bodies.

Susan has pointed out (quite correctly) that we don't cease to exist. Christianity is not Buddhism: we are not striving to become nothing. I'm afraid sometimes it sounds like that's what I'm saying – it's not. 2 Corinthians 4:16 makes it clear: there is an outward man that is broken down as death works in us, but there is an inward man that is renewed by this same process.

We saw this same contrast in Romans 7:22–23. There is an inward man delighting in the Law of God, but there is a law of sin in my members. What's the conclusion to the conflict in Romans 7? There the man cries out, "Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Romans 8 picks up this theme in v. 10, where we find that the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit life because of righteousness. Romans 8 goes on to resolve this conflict in v. 23: we groan now, awaiting the redemption of the body. The Son of God is coming to change our bodies to be like His body (Philippians 3:21).

If I may pause here a minute: our hope as Christians is the resurrection of our mortal bodies to immortality. Someone once quoted 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to me about a man who is now asleep in Christ, "he is ever with the Lord." Of course that's entirely wrong – that phrase is clearly talking about those who shall have been raised into immortality. The dead in Christ haven't been made perfect without us: they await the resurrection just like we do. Our hope is, in a sense, physical: we await the resurrection of our mortal bodies. We might actually make it to that resurrection without dying, but all who are in Christ will be raised in what the Lord Jesus called the "resurrection of life" (John 5:29).

But our bodies haven't been raised to immortality yet. In a sense, that's really what the Christian life is – it's the life of Jesus manifested in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). It's all about treasure in earthen vessels. It's about God's power seen in bodies that have yet to be redeemed.

It's true that the old man has died and the new man doesn't have to. At the same time, we recognize that death is the tool God has chosen to reveal Christ in us (2 Corinthians 4:10–12). We see the same truth in Colossians 3:1–5, because we have died with Christ, we are called to put to death our members on the earth. It's not that we are called to die, but we all carry about with us things that need to be put to death (Romans 8:12–14).

When the Son of God comes to change our mortal bodies, we won't have those things any more: there'll be no need to put to death the deeds of the body. But until then, death works in us.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

You gotta watch Benjamin

When we read Jacob's words to his sons on his deathbed (Genesis 49:1–33), we might notice his words to Benjamin are a little strange:

[as] a wolf will he tear to pieces; In the morning he will devour the prey, And in the evening he will divide the booty (Genesis 49:27)
Benjamin is a wolf, you don't want to turn your back on Benjamin.

I really think scripture has the flesh in mind when it talks about Benjamin. We've all got some of that Benjamin in us. And make no mistake, it's a ravening wolf.

Scripture tells us the stories of two different men from Benjamin named Saul. In the old Testament we have the story of the Saul the son of Kish, the first king of Israel. He was a great man. There came a day when God told Saul He was going to replace him with another man (1 Samuel 15:26), and Saul resisted and fought against that plan until the end, when he died on Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:4–8).

In the New Testament we have the story of another Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus. He, too, was a great man. There came a day when God told this Saul He would replace him with another Man, and Saul agreed with God that this was a good idea (Galatians 2:20). Rather than fighting God's will to have another Man in his place, Saul went along with the plan. Like the earlier Saul from Benjamin, he had a lot of boast about. Unlike the earlier Saul, he realized that what God really wants is only found in one Man (Philippians 3:3–11).

Like the two Sauls, we find out that it's God's plan to replace us with Christ. Christ has died in our place, and God's plan is that He should live in our place too. I can't see another way to understand Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live, *I*, but Christ lives in me." The real question is, how do we respond to that? The first Saul resisted, the second Saul capitulated. It's not at all a stretch to say that we have that same choice to make.

The essence of the gospel is Christ in my place. Christ in my place under God's judgment brought forgiveness – Christ in my place as alive in this world produces a walk worthy of our calling. I need to meditate on this more.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Who is on that cross?

I listened to a few messages on Romans 6 from Voices for Christ last week. One of them fueled my growing conviction that preachers hate to read Romans 6 before preaching on it.

At one point the speaker talked about how the believer was once a slave to sin, but now the old man has been crucified, we no longer have to obey him – he's hanging on the Cross, and has no power over us.

Here's my inexpert transcript:

And so he says, to the Christians, In the light of the fact that you need to reckon yourselves to death indeed to sin, uh, verse 11, alive to God through Jesus Christ... Then he says, OK if you've reckoned on that to be true, do not allow sin to reign as a king in your mortal body that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.

You don't have to obey it anymore.

So here's the picture: here's the... my old man and he's, he's crucified, he's hanging on a cross, right? There he is. And he's, he's saying to me, "Come on, you served me for all these years, serve me again today."

And, and he, he can't force me to do anything, right? Because he can't punish me, he's nailed to a cross, he ain't going anywhere, right? He, he has no authority over me anymore. And so I don't have to respond to him.

Of course it's all nonsense.

The root problem is sloppy exposition: Romans 6–8 carefully distinguishes between "the old man", "sin," and "the flesh." Scripture doesn't use those words interchangeably, but many preachers do.

So what does Romans 6 actually say? Romans 6:6 tells us about five "actors". I've marked them in bold:

knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin
There's a story in this verse: our old man was a servant of sin, and he obeyed with his body, "the body of sin". God has intervened by removing the middle man in this chain. By removing the old man via crucifixion, He broke the connection between sin and the body it used. The result is that the body of sin is annulled, and as a result we no longer serve sin.

Scripture doesn't talk about obeying the old man, and it doesn't contemplate sin being crucified.

Scripture doesn't say sin has died, it says I have died. Romans 8:3 says sin in the flesh has been condemned, but there's not a hint that sin has died. On the contrary, Romans 6–8 consistently speaks of sin as an active, ruling principle. In Romans 6:12 talks about sin reigning in our mortal bodies; Romans 7:23 talks about "the law of sin... in my members."

We're not just spitting hairs here: there are huge consequences to carelessness when it comes to these chapters. Confusing something Scripture claims has been put to death with something that absolutely has not been put to death is a recipe for disbelief.

Once we head down that path, we end up adding caveats to Scripture – "that's true positionally". Eventually we get to the stage where we start telling people they should reckon themselves to have died while insisting to them that they have not.

The remedy is simple: just carefully use the language Scripture uses. The old man has been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), sin in the flesh has been condemned (Romans 8:3), the body is dead because of sin, (Romans 8:10) but we are awaiting its redemption (Romans 8:23). I have died with Christ (Romans 6:11), but I still have the law of sin in my members (Romans 7:23). These are the plain statements of Scripture.

Romans 6 talks about the old man, Romans 7 talks about the flesh. Romans 8 talks about the practical effects of the Spirit of God in us as we're living in fallen bodies. These are distinct things, and we have no trouble if we just pay attention to what the Scripture actually says.

There is a great deal more to be said, but we'll save it for another time.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Paradigm un-Shift

Something has bothered me for a very long time, and I've struggled to put it into words. It seems to me we have a tendency when we've seen a truth to step back away from it, but still use the language of that truth. I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense, so let me give three examples:

I once worked for someone who liked to talk about the Theory of Constraints, but he didn't seem actually to understand it. He liked to throw around the term "Theory of Constraints," but when actually pressed to explain himself, it became obvious he had no idea what it is. He used the terminology of ToC, but he really didn't mean what those words mean: he was using new terminology to describe his old ideas.

I spent many years studying internal martial arts. I began to recognize a pattern: there were some very skilled internal martial artists who would basically become kick boxers when it was time to spar. They were very good at the internal forms, but when it came time to put on the pads, they acted like they'd forgotten everything we practiced. It was weird: almost like they didn't really believe it would work in real life.

When I was a good deal younger, I got a glimpse of Romans 6:1–11. I saw for the first time that I had died with Christ, and God wasn't interested in my life per se. He is interested in the life of Christ. This was terribly exciting to me, and I would tell people about it. Almost invariably, the people I talked to would say, "Well, that's true positionally." I began to understand by "that's true positionally," they really meant "that's not true at all."

The Christian who sees Romans 6 as a sort of a morality tale is like the manager who talks about the Theory of Constraints but has no interest in understanding it, or the student who studies internal martial arts but has no intention of actually using them in a fight. He or she may use the language of the New Testament, but can't experience it.

It's interesting to listen to people speak about Romans 6. It seems like there are basically two approaches people take:

  1. some believe that Romans 6 is describing a reality: I have died with Christ
  2. some believe it's a metaphor: Romans 6 is effectively a call to live a "new life," living differently than before
It seems obvious to me people in the latter group like to use the language of the paradigm shift, but they don't really believe it. They've stepped back from that truth, if you like.

It seems obvious to me that Romans 6 is not a call to live a new kind of life: it's a statement that as far as God is concerned, my life has ended (Romans 6:2). Even if I don't believe that I actually died with Christ, it's impossible to avoid that plain command to think of myself that way (Romans 6:11). The fact is that Scripture commands us to "reckon" we've died with Christ. Regardless how you understand Romans 6:1–10, if you're not thinking of yourself as having died with Christ, then you're not obeying v. 11.

I was in a Bible reading where someone talked about how the raven and the dove that Noah sent out were really types of the "two natures," and how we need to feed the dove, not the raven. Of course that's nonsense.

Scripture doesn't talk about "two natures": it doesn't talk about an "old nature" or a "new nature". Scripture talks about new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and indwelling sin (Romans 7:17). The believer is a new creation in Christ, who is living in an unredeemed body. The day is coming when our bodies will be redeemed (Romans 8:23), Christ will come from Heaven and transform our bodies of humiliation to be like His (Philippians 3:21). Then we'll actually be free of the body of death (Romans 7:24).

This is fundamentally liberating: it's not that I have to choose between two natures, it's that I have been freed of who and what I was by the death of Christ so that I could walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4; Romans 8:1–3).

It's very easy to see truth in Scripture and sort of dull the edge a bit. It's easy to keep using the language of new creation but slowly fall back to the notion that we can improve the flesh. It's easy to forget that Romans 6 or Colossians 3 or Galatians 2 teach that our lives have ended at the cross of Christ. It's easy to forget we are new creations in Christ and start thinking it's God's purpose to improve us. It's easy to pay lip service to the truth while slowly stepping back from it.

There are plenty of teachers and preachers who urge us to walk in newness of life, but don't seem to grasp our death with Christ. It's not a metaphor or a romantic notion, it's a fact. Scripture bases the "newness of life" on the fact that I have died with Christ (Romans 6:4). We can't really experience new life while we try and cling to the old. We have to accept that we have died with Christ before we can expect to see the power of resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Christian Life

Rodger has suggested it would be interesting to put together a sort of a "J. N. Darby Reading List" that would lead through some papers by J. N. Darby in a logical sequence. I've been thinking about it, and I think this might be a good first whack at "The Christian Life", by J. N. Darby.

We should start at the beginning. As Rogers and Hammerstein wrote, that's a very good place to start. The first paper is, "Connection of the cross with the entire development of God's ways with man." It's a big title, and a big topic, but well worth the read.

The gist of the paper is that God's purpose has always been to replace the first man with the Second. In Genesis 3:15, God begins the story of redemption with the statement that Someone Else is coming, and it would be He who crushes the serpent's head.

I was most struck by the discussion of the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 with the promises in Genesis 22:15–18. In the former, there is no mention of "thy seed", only of Abraham himself. Following the offering of Isaac, the promise is to Abraham and to his seed. Hebrews 11:17–19 tell us about the transition, Isaac had ("in figure", Hebrews 11:19) been raised from the dead. And so we see that Resurrection is the key to the promises of God.

This is not the easiest paper to read, but it is well worth the effort.

Next we turn to 1 John, with Darby's excellent paper, "Cleansing by Water: and what it is to walk in the light." I find this among the most compelling articles Darby wrote. What I find particularly interesting is his claim that the standard evangelical interpretation of 1 John 1:7–10 is a denial of Christianity. Frankly, my experience among so-called brethren indicates we have been thoroughly leavened with the same low view of the high calling.

The main difference between the Old Testament and the New is the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. This is clearly developed in "Christ in Heaven, and the Holy Spirit sent down". I can't recommend this paper highly enough.

Among Darby's more controversial papers is, "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost." I consider this the most important paper he wrote. Although it took me many years, I've come around to his point of view on the whole issue of sealing. That being said, I'm not sure the biggest pay-off in this paper is the discussion of sealing. This paper might be the most complete description of practical Christianity that I have read outside of the Bible.

I have read this paper at least two dozen times, and I don't feel like I've really even scratched the surface yet.

Finally, there are three papers on Deliverance that I would consider "must read":

If you only have time to read one, read the first; but all three are excellent and extremely important. Most of what we discuss on this blog centers on Deliverance. I really believe it's the one thing most lacking among Christians today.

To me the saddest thing about the "brethren movement" was that it began with insistence on practical Christian living as a Divine manifestation of the life of Jesus in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:7–12), and descended into a series of checklists about church order. Of course church order matters, but if the individual walk is not scriptural, then even the most correct church order is godliness without power.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Grace, Faith, and Glory, Part 3

This is the third part of our guest posts from Robert on "Grace, Faith, and Glory". We are thankful again for Robert's sharing these with us!

2 Corinthians 3:18 ‘But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit’.

Paul reveals to the Corinthians his two-fold ministry — the ministry of the new covenant (3:6) and the ministry of reconciliation (5:18). Transformation and reconciliation! No wonder he felt his need of mercy in order not to faint.

This is a chapter of contrasts:

Ministration of death with Ministration of the Spirit

The law demanded death as the ultimate penalty for failure. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath day is a sad example of this. But although the law made demands, it could not empower people to meet them. The ministry of the Spirit however brings the believer into a sphere of life and liberty. The law said, ‘thou shalt not steal’. The gospel says, ‘Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth’ Ephesians 4:28

Ministration of condemnation with Ministration of righteousness
The law also demanded righteousness from men. Many people started have their day with good intentions to do all that the law required, only to discover that they had failed again and were condemned in the sight of God. No wonder the Hebrew writer describes the system of law as ‘weak and unprofitable’. The ministry of righteousness however provides men with the righteousness of God obtained at Calvary and points them to the Lord in glory as their guarantee that He and His work are accepted. In Christ I am not condemned: I am accepted!

Vanishing glory with Abiding glory
In the original account of Moses veiling his face, the reason is given that, ‘they were afraid to come nigh him’ Exodus 34: 30. Sinful men could not even bear to look on the glory of God reflected in Moses’ face. Paul gives a further insight: the purpose of the veil was to conceal from the people the fact that the glory was fading from Moses’ face (v.13). In contrast, the new covenant subsists in glory (v.8), surpasses in glory (v.10), abounds in glory (v.10) and abides in glory (v.11). And the great reason for this is that the glory of God is now seen in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6).

Veiled glory with Unveiled glory
This is not an easy verse to understand but it helped me greatly when I discovered that we do not need the mirror! 

κατοπτριζόμενοι means neither "reflecting," nor "seeing in a mirror." though this last be etymologically the source, but "beholding," without reference to the mirror, as in so many words which thus cast their primitive shell.  
(William Kelly, Notes and Translation of Second Corinthians).

We now look to the Lord in glory and as we behold him, and become more settled as to our position in Christ, we move from the glory of the old covenant to the glory of the new. A life that is settled in the righteousness of God can enjoy the life and liberty of the Spirit and be free from the death and condemnation of the law. But unknown to us, yet seen by others, the more we look at the Lord in glory, the more we will reflect Him. We will reflect what we look upon.

Psalm 63:1, 2 ‘My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh languisheth for thee, in a dry and weary land without water: To see thy power and thy glory, as I have beheld thee in the sanctuary.’

Friday, March 3, 2017

Grace, Faith and Glory, Part 2

And here's Part 2 of Robert's article "Grace, Faith and Glory."  I personally found this article very convicting: it's all too easy to allow "grace" to mean "don't worry about it." These articles have brought to my own conscience that we are to walk worthy of the calling. Thank you, Robert, for your contributions here and in various comment sections!

Romans 1:17 ‘for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, but the just shall live by faith’.

As we read Romans chapter one, we are looking over the shoulder of Paul and viewing his notes on what he intended to preach when he arrived at Rome. This is the standard for all gospel preaching:
  • The Son of God
  • The power of God
  • The righteousness of God
  • The wrath of God
The gospel reveals that God is no longer demanding righteousness from men: God provides His righteousness through the death of His Son. The law said, ‘do’: God says, ‘it is done’. And should someone say, I could not maintain such a life, I would always make mistakes and let God down, there is also given to us the power of God. The gospel brings the power of resurrection (v.4) and the power of creation (v.20) into a believer’s life. God gives us a new life and a new world in which to enjoy it!

Defining faith is difficult. Paul speaks about the ‘obedience of faith’ (v.5). When revelation is given to man, there are objections made immediately by his sinful nature. John 6 is the greatest demonstration of this – note the expressions, ‘Jesus said to them’; ‘they said to Him’. The heart of man always opposes Divine revelation. All who received the righteousness of God came to a point in their experience where they obeyed the truth that was being revealed to them. Faith then is the end of all internal argument, all debate and discussion.

The starting point for us all was the process of God revealing His word, then for a time we argued against it, or could not understand it, until we were brought by His grace and His Spirit to see that it was the truth and we obeyed and believed. This is the principle of faith to faith. So, the pathway of the believer is really a repetition of that first experience with God. He continues to reveal His truth to us and we find ourselves making objections and excuses as to why we do not need to obey. Then, the grace of God empowers us to see that not only is this the truth but that we can accept this truth and live it out by His grace. Faith to faith remains the governing principle of our lives – ‘the just shall live by faith’ (v.17).

The quotation from Habakkuk is not exact. He wrote, ‘but the just shall live by his faith’, for faith in his day was a very lonely experience. It was not meant to be for us. Paul was looking forward to visiting Rome and meeting the saints ‘that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.’ (v.12) Satan has long understood that the mutual faith of saints needs to be attacked and he brings us into isolation wherever he can. Paul was given an ‘abundance of revelations’ but he recognised that the faith was far too vast for one individual to enjoy. We need each other in the pathway of faith.

Ephesians 3:17,18 ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height’.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grace, Faith and Glory, Part 1

Robert has graciously agreed to write an article to post on Assembly Quest: "Grace, Faith and Glory". This is Part 1.

John 1:16 ‘for of his fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace’.

Romans 1:17 ‘for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, but the just shall live by faith’.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ‘But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit’.

Each year Hannah visited her son Samuel at the time of sacrifice and she brought with her a new coat. She automatically assumed that as another year had run its course he would have outgrown last year’s coat. This leads us to the question; what spiritual coat are we wearing? Do we have on something from the 2017 collection or do people see us wearing the same old thing each year? In other words, have we made any progress from year to year?

The verses quoted above remind us that great progress is available to each of us — progress in grace, faith and glory.

When we read the statement, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, we feel encouraged. How different was the manifestation of grace and truth in a Person from that of the law given on tables of stone. However, in most Christian circles, that encouragement has been taken far beyond the original intention of the verse. For in the mind of many believers, grace modifies the truth; grace reduces the truth; grace blunts the edge of the truth. As an old friend of mine used to say, ‘the saints think a gracious man is one who knows the truth but will not hold them to it’.

As we read through John’s gospel we clearly see that the truth was never modified or reduced by Christ. He made demands upon men and women that were impossible for the sinful nature to meet. ‘Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again’; ‘rise take up thy bed and walk’; ‘he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him’.

When faced with such Divine demands, we might well be tempted to wish for the days of the law. ‘Thou shalt’: ‘thou shalt not’ presents a much simpler way of life. I believe that’s why there is so much desire for law keeping in our day. The question pages of a well-known Christian magazine is filled up every year with questions beginning with the phrase, what should the Christian do about...? It makes life so much easier when we are told what to do!

I suggest however that the true relationship between law and grace is that grace supports us to receive and practice the truth. So Nicodemus was born again; the man lame for 38 years stood up and walked; the disciples ate and drank of the blood of Christ and found themselves dwelling in Him!

But to receive grace we need to feel our need of it. Paul prayed the prayer that you and I would pray when confronted with a ‘thorn in the flesh’ — Lord take it away! He prayed three times and then discovered that the Lord had a better proposal — ‘my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’. So from time to time he would arrive to speak in a city and he must often have looked weak and pathetic. But when the weak man began to speak, the power of God became very evident.  So he settled into a way of life where he gloried in his weakness so that the power of God could be seen.

And should we feel overwhelmed by what the truth is currently demanding from us, John assures us that His grace is without limit. For each of us in 2017 there is ‘grace upon grace’.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Buried with Him

We've noted before that the Gospel as described in 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 consists of four statements:

  1. Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3)
  2. He was buried (1 Corinthians 15:4)
  3. He rose the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4)
  4. He was seen by many witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5–8)
1 Corinthians 15:1–2 tells us this is the Gospel which we have received, by which we are saved, and by which we stand.

We noted before that the burial of Christ is frequently overlooked in so-called Gospel preaching, but 1 Corinthians 15 makes it a fundamental part of the Gospel. We're not preaching the Gospel if we don't talk about the burial of Christ.

I mentioned C. A. Coates' excellent article "The Son of Man lifted up and buried." Coates points out that burial in Scripture carries the idea of hiding from sight.

The first time we read about burial in Scripture is Genesis 23, where Sarah has died, and Abraham buys the field of Ephron the Hittite to bury her there. Notice Abraham tells the sons of Heth, "give me a possession of a sepulchre with you, that I may bury my dead from before me" (Genesis 23:4, repeated in v. 8). Here's the idea of burial in Scripture: Abraham wants to "bury my dead out of my sight" (KJV, ESV, and NASB).

At the Crucifixion, the Pharisees were afraid to let the bodies of Christ and the two malefactors remain on the crosses for the Passover. They were applying Deuteronomy 21:22–23. If a man was put to death by hanging, his body wasn't to remain hanging overnight: it had to be buried the same day. Why? Because a hanged man is cursed by God. When we consider this in the light of Genesis 23, we realize that the man who is cursed of God needs to be removed from God's sight.

Notice Galatians 3:13 quotes Deuteronomy 21:23, applying it to Christ hanging on the Cross. We understand the how of Christ's death is important: Christ Himself pointed out He was to be "lifted up" (John 3:14). It's very important that Christ was "lifted up" to die: He was made a curse of God for us.

When we consider Christ buried, we remember that He bore our sins "in His body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). The same body that bore our sins was buried, taking our sins out of God's sight. They have been buried "from before [His] eyes" – God doesn't see them anymore.

So we recognize the finality of our forgiveness rests on the burial of Christ.

But of course there's more. Romans 6:4 tells us that we have been "buried with Him by baptism". Colossians 2:12 repeats the statement almost word for word. We have died with Christ, we have been buried with Christ.

We have been buried out of God's sight.

We don't bury a man who's not dead. Burial means we've given up on someone. Burial means we expect no more out of someone.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Psalm 84

At the start of this week I read the eighty-fourth Psalm during the Lord’s Supper. I don’t think my thoughts were very clear then, and I want to attempt to share them here.

The psalm starts out with the Chief Musician, which suggests it's at least partly Messianic.

As the Psalm opens, it tells us about an altar that's apparently abandoned: the sparrow and the swallow feel safe in building their nests and raising their young on it. We're told it's the altar of the Lord of Hosts, but it's apparently no longer in use (Psalm 84:3).

The unused altar suggests to us the need for sacrifice is over. It brings us to the state of affairs we see in Hebrews 10: one sacrifice has put away sins forever (Hebrews 10:11–13).

As we look further in the Psalm we come to two types of person: there are those who dwell in the Lord’s house (Psalm 84:4), and there is "the Man" whose strength is the Lord (Psalm 84:5). We understand it's because of this one Man that "they" can dwell in God’s house.

What is the prayer of those dwelling in God's house? It's "Look on the face of Your Annointed” (Psalm 84:9). That's our prayer too – "Don't look at me Lord, look at Him." This is our acceptance with God: He has looked in Christ and seen everything that He could look for in man. Christ is our "wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

J. N. Darby said, “The Christian is humble... because he has given up seeking good in himself to adore the One in whom there is nothing else” (J. N. Darby, "On Mysticism", Collected Writings, Vol. 32). That is really what it means to be “in Christ” – having no righteousness of my own (Philippians 3:9).

Finally the Psalm ends with a blessing: blessed is the Man who trusts in God (Psalm 84:12). The Pharisees accused Christ of trusting in God (Matthew 27:43). We bless that same Man.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Surety

Robert made the statement that there are two men in the Scripture who stand surety:

  1. Judah stands surety for Benjamin in Genesis 44:30–34
  2. Christ stands surety "for the New Covenant" in Hebrews 7:22

We often think of Christ standing surety for us, and we remember how the Old Testament warns against that. "It goes ill with him that is surety for another" (Proverbs 11:15). So far as I can tell, Scripture only tells us about one Man who stood as Surety for a stranger (Proverbs 6:1–2), and certainly He suffered for it.

Judah tells Joseph what it means to stand surety for another:

And now, let thy servant stay, I pray thee, instead of the lad a bondman to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brethren; for how should I go up to my father if the lad were not with me?—lest I see the evil that would come on my father (Genesis 44:33–44).
He effectively says, "I am surety for Benjamin, and how can I face my father without him?".

It's not a stretch to consider Judah as a pattern for Christ. Judah's words to Joseph echo Christ's heart for us: He was not willing to return to His Father without taking us along.

This is the point He was making in John 6:37–40. The Father has given some to the Son (John 6:37), with the explicit desire that the Son shouldn't lose any of them (John 6:39). Christ effectively says to the people, "I am unwilling to face my Father without those He gave me, and even if they die, I will raise them from the dead (John 6:40) rather than facing my Father without them."

Now, I'm not saying that Christ doesn't love us, but in John 6:37–40 He doesn't appeal to His love for us. Rather, He appeals to His duty to His Father. Just like Judah doesn't once mention any affection for Benjamin, but his duty to his father Jacob.

It's worth remembering at the start of a new year that Christ isn't willing to face His Father without us. It's not an issue of what we've done, nor even of His love for us. Christ losing even one of us would be His failing to keep up His end of the deal with His Father.