Friday, October 12, 2018

Yet without sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Embracing our identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Counterfeit Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we end up with counterfeit spirituality.

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

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

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"In the flesh"

Contrasting "in Christ" with "in the flesh":

Amazing and total change from the whole condition and standing of the first Adam, responsible for his own sins, into that of Christ, who, having borne the whole consequence of that responsibility in his place, has given him (in the power of that, to us, new life, in which He rose from the dead) a place in and with Himself, as He now is as man before God! It is to this position the apostle refers; only that he was given in a very extraordinary manner to enjoy the full fruit and glory of it during the period of his existence here below. His language as to this truth is remarkably plain, and therefore powerful. "When we were in the flesh," he says. Thus it is we speak, when we refer to a clearly bygone state of things, in which we are no longer — "when we were in the flesh" (that is, we are no longer in that position at all). "But," he says, "ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you." We are now alive in Christ. "If ye be dead," says he elsewhere, "to the rudiments of the world, why as though living (i.e. alive) in the world are ye subject to ordinances?" "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."

The reader will forgive me, if I have dwelt so long upon the first expression of our chapter. I have done so because of its vast importance. It is the very heart of all Paul's doctrine, the true and holy way of full divine liberty, and the power of holiness. And because many Christians have not seized the force of this truth, nor of the expressions of the apostle, they use Christ's death as a remedy for the old man, or at least only learn forgiveness of past sins by it, instead of learning that they have by it passed out of the old man as to their place before God, and into the new in the power of that life which is in Christ. Ask many a true-hearted saint what is the meaning of "When we were in the flesh," and he could give no clear answer — he has no definite idea of what it can mean. Ask him what it is to be in Christ — all is equally vague.

A regenerate man may be in the flesh, as to the condition and standing of his own soul, though he be not so in God's sight; nay, this is the very case supposed in Romans 7, because he looks at himself as standing before God on the ground of his own responsibility, on which ground he never can (in virtue of being regenerate) meet the requirements of God, attain to His righteousness. Perhaps, finding this out, he has recourse to the blood of Christ to quiet his uneasy conscience, and repeated recurrence to it, as a Jew would to a sacrifice, a superstitious man to absolution. But he has no idea that he has been cleansed and perfected once for all, and that he is taken clean out of that standing to be placed in Christ before God. But if in Christ, the title and privilege of Christ is our title and privilege.

From "A Man in Christ", Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 7, p. 224

Monday, June 25, 2018

I shall see God

I've been emailing with a friend about resurrection, so I've been thinking a lot about Job 19:25–27.

It's striking that Job says he will one day see God (Job 19:26), and evidently he expects God to stand on the earth. Now, it's try that Job's Redeemer is come, and has stood on the earth. But Job had been dead at least a thousand years at that point; so this can't have been the time that Job was expecting. So Job was looking forward to an event that still hasn't happened.

Job says that even if his flesh and his skin rot away, he will still see God with his own eyes. And he repeats it as though to emphasize it: it will be with his own eyes, and not another.

This is a problematic verse for me, because I have trouble with his insistence that it will be with his own eyes that he will see God. The thing is, Job 19:27 insists that resurrection isn't hypothetical. It's intensely earthy, because it means that resurrection is about the body I have now. Indeed, Job says it will my own two eyes that see God. I'm sure they won't be using bifocals then, but they won't be new eyes: they'll be my own two eyes.

I realized a few years ago that we're not looking for new bodies, but changed ones. I'm embarrassed by how big a realization that was.

So what about us? Are we looking forward to seeing our Redeemer stand on the earth? I know dispensationalists like to say our hope is the Lord returning for us, and of course that's correct. But that's really only the first step. There's more: we look for the Lord to be manifested (Colossians 3:4). And ultimately, we're looking for a new Heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). So we shouldn't get too myopic about our hope. We do hope for Christ to come and get us, that doesn't lessen at all our desire to look out of our changed (not new – 1 Corinthians 15:51) eyes and see the Last standing upon the earth.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bread of God

Leviticus 21 gives several laws for the priests, and we're told why: because "they present Jehovah's offerings by fire, the bread of their God" (Leviticus 21:6, 8, 17). That's an interesting phrase, "the bread of their God." It really means to food that God eats.

(We might find that strange. We eat because we need food to survive. If we don't eat, we die. God is eternal; He is self-sufficient – He doesn't need to eat. But Scripture says the offerings made by fire are God's food.)

The Lord Jesus takes up the idea of "the bread of God" in John 6:32. He talks about the bread of God being the One who came down from Heaven. And here it's not God who eats, but men and women who have no life in themselves (John 6:53).

There are two different ideas here: in Leviticus 21 we have "bread of God" meaning the food for God. In John 6 we have "bread of God" meaning the food from God. It shouldn't surprise us that those two ideas converge in Christ Jesus.

Christ offered Himself up to God (Hebrews 9:14). He says that God didn't really want sacrifices and offerings, He wanted to be glorified in the obedience – and eventual offering of the body – of Christ (Hebrews 10:5–10, quoting Psalm 40:6–8). Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament commands concerning offerings: it is Christ who is the true sweet savor (Ephesians 5:2).

At the same time, it was the Lord Jesus who came from Heaven to give His own body to be our food and His own blood to be our drink (John 6:49–57). He is the bread of God that came down to give life to the world (John 6:33). In fact, we find His body is the only food that can sustain eternal life, and His blood is the only drink for it (John 6:53). We not only get eternal life by eating His flesh, we sustain it the same way.

One thing John 6 brings to the forefront is the need for feeding as opposed merely to eating. There is certainly a one-time eating that gives us eternal life (John 6:53), but we find as well that there is a need to continue to feed on Him (John 6:56). It's easy to miss that.

I don't mean to be flippant, but it seems to me one of the lessons we can learn from Levitical law is that God doesn't like to eat alone. Numbers 18:8–14 tells us the priests were to eat from the sacrifices brought to God. There are some exceptions, but in general, the sacrifices included a portion for the priests.

Notice there are two categories in Numbers 18:8–13: vv. 8–10 detail the sacrifices that were to be eaten by the priests themselves, while vv. 11–13 tell us about the things that were to be eaten by the whole household of the priests. The sin offerings and the trespass offerings are limited to the priests, while the rest of the sacrifices were to be eaten by "every one that is clean in thy house."

We might think of those two categories applying to our feeding on Christ. There is an individual feeding [for just the priests], but there is a corporate feeding too [for everyone clean in the house]. We ought to be feeding on Christ in the assembly, and we ought to be feeding on Him in our individual lives as well.

I've heard many admonitions in various assemblies about not missing out on the meetings. We hear Hebrews 10:23–25 referenced a lot, but I'm not sure I've heard John 6 referenced in the same way. One of the reasons we gather is to feed on Christ as the assembly. This is the second eating in Numbers 18: it's the eating by everyone clean in the house.

But don't let's get into the idea that our only feeding is in the assembly. There is the need for the individual to feed as well. We do feed as the assembly, but we also feed as individuals. Notice John 6:53–58 doesn't reference a corporate setting, but a purely individual one.

Both the feedings is marked by the presence of God. Christ is the Bread of God. Do we think God isn't joining with us in feeding on Christ?

I was at a Bible Conference in Texas a few years ago, and in one of the Reading meetings, an older brother spoke up and said something like, "this is worship: sitting down at table with the Father, eating the food He eats." The more I examine passages like Numbers 18 and John 6, the more convinced I become that he put his finger exactly on what the Scripture teaches. God shares His Bread with us, and desires us to come and feed on it with Him.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

No Plan B

Scripture teaches that worshipers, once purged, have no more conscience of sins (Hebrews 10:2). Of course, that's not something we see a lot in our experience.

One problem (perhaps even the main problem), is that we treat Christ as a sort of a safety net. As long as we're doing well – as long as we're walking more or less uprightly – we think that we're accepted in God's sight by virtue of our own uprightness. We only really think of ourselves as accepted in Christ when we realize we've failed to walk uprightly.

Of course we'd never say that, but our actions and our prayers reveal what's really going on in our hearts.

But God doesn't ever have a "Plan B." God has given Christ to us to be our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30–31). It has never been a part of God's plan for us to be acceptable before Him other than in Christ. We are accepted in Christ (Ephesians 1:6) and only in Christ.

It's hard to remember that I am no more accepted before God when I'm walking well than when I'm walking badly: regardless of how I am actually doing, I am accepted in Christ. That's a comfort when I see myself fail, but it's humbling when I think I'm doing all right.

that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith (Philippians 3:8–10)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

We don't have to die

We are to reckon ourselves dead, instead of having to die. You may ask the flesh to die, but it never will. We talk of having to die to the flesh, because we have not got the consciousness of the positive distinctness of the two natures. The old man will take good care not to die. But being alive in Christ, I have the privilege and title to treat the other nature, the old one, as dead, because He died. It is never said that we have to die, but that as Christians we are entitled to, and do, hold ourselves for dead; because we have this new life. The person who talks of dying to sin, actually holds himself to be alive to sin.
J. N. Darby, "Dead and Risen with Christ" (emphasis added)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

And now for something completely different...

Over the last few months, we've become convinced of the need for focused teaching in the assembly about some of the foundational truths "we all know." The fact is, there are a lot of things we all assume everyone knows. We don't always recognize that not everyone in the room recognizes the allusions we're making.

In the midst of this, a younger woman in the assembly sent an email to a few of the older brothers (not me) asking about Romans 6–8, Colossians 3, and Galatians 5. It seemed like a good place to start...

Our first response was to fill a Saturday with meetings. I mentioned it to my wife, who pointed out several issues with having a day of meetings. We went back to the drawing board, so to speak, and came up with a different plan.

So here's our current plan:

First, we're going to meet this Friday night. Most folks don't have to work or go to school Saturday morning, so Friday night relieves some of that pressure. A lot of families have commitments on weekends, so if we avoid Saturdays, we can get more attendance.

Second, we're having one meeting per night, rather than filling a day with meetings. People my age and older seem to enjoy spending a day or a whole weekend sitting in meetings, especially when there are a lot of interactive meetings (like Bible readings) and opportunities for discussion. Perhaps it's an age thing, perhaps it's just a faster-paced culture, but it seems like most people would prefer to sit for fewer meetings. Interestingly, people seem to prefer to have one meeting a day across several days, than to have several meetings on a single day.

Third, we're going to provide food. We think it will simplify things for everyone if we just order some pizzas and spend the first forty-five minutes eating. We think it'll make it easier for people to come out if they don't have to squeeze a meal in between work and meeting.

Fourth, we've sent out a link to a Google Doc by email that outlines the answers to the original questions. I'll be honest, I wrote the document, and it's pretty much just a digest of AQ posts on the topic. We've invited people to comment on the document to try and encourage as many questions as possible before the meetings.

Fifth, we've invited people to bring electronics to access the Google Doc, take notes, and even make comments during the meeting itself.

Sixth, we're planning to try for one Friday night per month. We figure once a month is a cadence that should allow us to maintain forward momentum while at the same time not making it too difficult for people to make it out.

Seventh, we're budgeting about half the time for socializing. Since we're deliberately attempting to help out younger people, we want to ensure we don't just make them lose out on Friday night.

I have no idea how this will work out. It seems the perpetual challenge is to convey the message in a way people can hear it, without changing the message. That's a whole lot harder than it sounds.

I'll keep you posted.

Know your enemies

Scripture records several enemies encountered by the children of Israel as they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. To name only a few:

  1. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:4–9; 14:30–31)
  2. the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8–16)
  3. the Canaanites of Arad (Numbers 21:1–3)
  4. the Amorites (Numbers 21:21–31)

We rightly recognize that these enemies parallel the enemies of the Christian today. Of course we don't fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) – our enemies are no less real, but they aren't visible to the human eye. I'm old enough to remember preachers who used to talk about "the world, the flesh, and the devil": I'm not entirely sure that's a complete list either, it seems to me Ephesians 6:12 goes a little further than that. Nevertheless, we are in conflict just like Israel was in conflict.

We can think of the enemies of Israel as three general groups. The first contains Pharaoh and his army. That was a terrifying enemy, and Israel was explicitly told not to fight them: the command was "Fear not: stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:13). Then there is the second group, enemies like the Amalekites. There was real battle with the Amalekites, but there was no utter destruction: Amalek's power was broken (Exodus 17:13), but there was the promise of perpetual war with them (Exodus 17:16). Finally, we might think of the third group as being like the Canaanites of Arad: the Lord gave Israel victory over them in a single decisive battle, they were utterly destroyed.

In broad terms, we have those same three types of enemy. It's striking that when Scripture talks about sin (as opposed to "sins", the principle, not the specific transgressions), it uses the language of deliverance. I'd guess that every believer has prayed for victory over sin, but I can't find a single place where Scripture uses the language of victory when it talks about sin. Scripture talks about deliverance in relation to sin, not victory. Israel wasn't victorious over Pharaoh, Israel was delivered from Pharaoh (Exodus 14:30).

The New Testament uses similar language when it discusses the flesh to the language used to discuss Amalek. Amalek's power is broken, but the conflict is still perpetual. The flesh is still there in us: it's power is broken, but there is ongoing conflict (Galatians 5:17).

I suspect our "members on the earth" (Colossians 3:5) fall into this second category. I suspect they aren't ever really gone, although their power over us may be broken. And while we are called to put them to death, I'm not sure they ever quite die. I'd be interested to hear people's comments on that...

It seems to me the specific habits of the flesh (Colossians 3:8–9) fall into the third category. There is very real conflict with those things, but we don't see war from generation to generation like with Amalek. The epistles differentiate between the flesh and its habits. We won't be rid of the flesh until the Lord Jesus changes our vile bodies (Philippians 3:21), but that's not to say its habits are here to stay. Indeed, Galatians 5:16 seems to indicate the opposite.

But the real point is, we need to know our enemy. We need to have the spiritual discernment to understand when we're called to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah", and when we're called to pick up a sword and charge at the foe.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Going through death

I don't think anyone holds any illusions about this... but in the spirit of confessing faults one to another, I should probably confess that I'm sadly content to be like Moses and see the land. It's a great deal harder to be like Joshua and go into it.

The leaven of evangelicalism seems to me to be the notion that man in the flesh can please God. As I listen to preachers and teachers who consider themselves "evangelical", I notice two themes. The first theme is a dangerously compromised Gospel. Scripture teaches that God justifies the one who does not work, but believes (Romans 4:5). I have many times heard a "gospel" message that places some sort of work between the sinner and justification. Scripture doesn't call on the sinner to repeat a prayer, or to "invite Jesus into his heart." Scripture merely calls the sinner to believe. And to be clear: it calls the sinner to believe not something, but Someone.

The second theme is the idea that the justified sinner is now capable of obeying God, as a justified sinner. By contrast, what Scripture teaches is that those who have died with Christ are to yield their members to God as those alive from the dead (Romans 6:13). There is no pleasing God without going through death.

Scripture presents baptism as standing at the gateway to the Christian life. What is the truth of baptism? It is the fact of the believer's identification in the death, burial, resurrection, and public testimony of Christ (Romans 6:3–6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3–5). Baptism means my life has ended. And notice, it's really the first step in the Christian life. We don't work our way up to baptism, we start there.

A friend of mine once told me, "everything, even spiritual gift, must go through death for God to use it." I've thought about that long and hard, and I think he was correct. Really, isn't that the message of 2 Corinthians 4:10–12? The end goal of the Christian life is to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). The tool that God uses to bring that about is death: death works in us (2 Corinthians 4:12). Sadly, this seems to be the opposite of the evangelical view.

The fact is that Christ Himself taught this to Nicodemus (John 3:3). The problem is, we have done a masterful job of not really hearing what the Lord said. The point is not that we need to have a "born again" experience to get into the Kingdom. The point is that we need an entirely new life. That doesn't leave room for the "old" life. We've managed to convince ourselves that the Lord was describing an addition, not a replacement.

No one gets into the Kingdom of God intact.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The place of death

Numbers 17:12–13

We've been reading through Numbers in our Wednesday night Bible readings. Numbers is a favourite book of mine, and I've read it through many times. But I admit that I am seeing Numbers in an entirely new light now that we're reading through it as a group.

When I've read Numbers previously, I saw it as a sort of a patchwork of stories about the journey from Sinai to Canaan, with commandments and laws interspersed. It wouldn't be fair to say that I never saw any uniting themes, but certainly Numbers has always seemed to me more of a series of anecdotes than a unified message. This time, I'm realizing that the laws given in Numbers are generally responses to the stories that come immediately before.

Numbers 18 is a fascinating chapter, it details the priest's duty (not merely privilege) to eat the offerings brought to the Lord. There are some offerings that only Aaron and his sons are to eat (Numbers 18:9–10), others are for Aaron, his sons, and his daughters (Numbers 18:11–13). There are some offerings that the Levites are to have (Numbers 18:21–24).

What I hadn't ever understood before is, the commands in Numbers 18 are a response to the events in Numbers 16–17. Numbers 17 ends with the people declaring that the Tabernacle was a place of death (Numbers 17:12–13). Numbers 18 is the instructions for the priest, detailing how to live in the place of death. How does the priest live in the place of death? he feeds on the sacrifices.

It's worthy of note that Numbers 17:8–10 introduces resurrection: God confirms Aaron's priesthood by making his [dead] staff bloom, producing blossoms and ripe almonds. God marks His priest by resurrection.

So Numbers 18 builds on these two ideas: first, the priesthood is characterized by resurrection; second, the Tabernacle is the place of death. So the question is, how can Aaron and his sons serve God in the place of death? How does one live in the place of death?

First, the priesthood must be in the power of resurrection. It's no use trying to serve God in the power of natural life. God's presence really is death to fallen men and women (Exodus 33:20). The fact is, the overwhelming majority of "Christian" ministry I have seen ignores this. If we want to serve God, if we want to come into His presence, it can only be in the power of resurrection. It's only as risen with Christ we can yield our members to righteousness (Romans 6:13). It's only as risen with Christ we can seek those things above (Colossians 3:1–3).

Second, the service of God is sustained by feeding on the Sacrifice. There is a great deal more involved in eating the offerings, but we must at least start with this: it is feeding on Christ as dead for us – His flesh our food, His blood our drink (John 6:53–58) – that we have any life in ourselves. God never intended us to be plants, He never designed us to produce our own food. We are designed to feed: the first man fed on plants in the Garden, the new Man feeds on Christ.

This is a challenge to me: it's incredibly difficult for me to admit that I can't produce for God. He hasn't called me to fill a need He has, but to have my needs filled by Him in His Son. God doesn't need us.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Eating from the altar

The Pharisees were offended that Christ would eat with sinners (Luke 15:1). They didn't know the half of it: He came not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to be their food and His blood to be their drink (John 6:48–58).

It can be amusing to hear people speak about the latter part of John 6. I agree that sacramentalism has done its best to ruin this amazing chapter, but we oughtn't let fear of sacramentalism keep us from entering into what the Holy Spirit teaches here. It's obvious that Christ isn't literally speaking about eating His flesh, for the simple fact that He also taught His own resurrection. You have a bookkeeping problem if you try to believe in both Resurrection and literal eating of the flesh of Christ.

That being said, the Lord chose deliberately provocative language to describe His giving us life. We've noticed before that the Son of God can give life merely by calling the dead from the tomb (John 5:25). But when the Son of Man gives life, it costs His flesh and His blood. But I don't think that's all there is to John 6. There is not only His giving, but our eating and drinking. It's not just that we believe on Him (we do), but we must feed on Him as well.

1 Corinthians 10:15–23 brings this into the context of the Lord's table. 1 Corinthians 10:15–18 makes the association between our eating the loaf and drinking the cup and the altar. It takes us back to the Numbers 18:8–19, there the priests were to eat all the heave-offerings the people presented. 1 Corinthians 10:16 tells us this means they had communion with the altar.

There is an association between the Lord's table and the altar. We are making a statement about that association every time we break the one loaf and drink from the cup. We are claiming our communion with the death of Christ. By eating the one loaf and drinking from the cup, we are saying we are in fellowship with the sacrifice.

I don't question that we are to feed on Christ individually, but the feeding in 1 Corinthians 10 is corporate: we being many, are one Body (1 Corinthians 10:17).

The Old Testament sacrifices were all assumed to be more than enough: with a couple exceptions (Leviticus 6:23; Leviticus 6:30), there was something for the priest in every sacrifice. Even the burnt offering, which was wholly consumed, had a part for the priest – the priest gets the skin (Leviticus 7:8).

Of course they weren't really more than enough, but the principle was established. Really, the blood of bulls and of goats is incapable of taking away sins (Hebrews 10:4). But the sacrifice they pointed to – Christ offering Himself for us by the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) – that sacrifice was far more than enough.

Christ was both our sacrifice and priest. We, as family of the priest (Numbers 18:19), are to eat of the sacrifice. By feeding on the sacrifice, we express communion with the altar (1 Corinthians 10:16). What does it mean to have communion with the altar? At the very least, it means we recognize and agree with the need for the sacrifice. At the very least, when we contemplate feeding on Christ, we contemplate our deep need of Him.

I don't doubt there is the feeding on Christ in Resurrection as well as feeding on Him in humility. It seems to me John 6 is talking about the former: it is the One who has come down from Heaven.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

No man has seen God at any time

Someone in the assembly here sent out an email asking for answers to several questions his son had asked during family Bible readings. I thought I'd post my response here. I don't know what other responses he received.

We understand that Christ is God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5). John’s Gospel tells us that the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). So Christ is God, but He’s also a distinct Person, distinguishable from God. We can say that Christ is God, but we cannot say that God is Christ. The Athanasian Creed says the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, but the Father is God, the Son is God. And they’re one God, not two gods. Of course the same is true of the Holy Spirit. From the Athansian Creed:

[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

When we look into the Old Testament, we can find people who saw God:

  • Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9–11)
  • Moses (Exodus 33:17–23)
  • Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Numbers 9:5–8) – this one is a bit questionable
  • Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1)
  • Daniel (Daniel 7:9–10)
  • Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1)
That’s not a complete list.

When we look in the New Testament, we see the statement that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). So how do we understand those together? I think there are at least two correct answers: two principles that are true at the same time.

The first is emphasized in Exodus 33:17–23. Moses asks God to show him His glory, and God responds that He can show him His goodness, and He will proclaim His name, but man can’t see His face and live (vv. 18–20). We understand God to be saying, “you can’t see all there is to see of Me”. That is, God was willing to show Moses some of Himself, but Moses couldn’t see all.

I think this is really the point of John the Baptist’s words in John 1:18; it’s not that no one has ever gotten a look at God, but the only complete view of God is in the Son.

There is something else going on here, which is brought out in John 12:37–41. John quotes Isaiah 53:1 (v. 38) and Isaiah 6:9–10 (v. 40). John specifically says Isaiah “saw his glory and spoke of him” (v. 41). Whose glory did Isaiah see? In Isaiah 6 we read that he saw “the King, Jehovah of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). But if we look at John 6:41 in context, the “him” there is Christ. So Isaiah sees Jehovah, and John quotes the passage to say that he had seen Christ.

When John says “no one has seen God at any time”, he is speaking the absolute truth: none of us have seen God completely. Some, like Moses, have seen as much of God as He can show a fallen man, but none have ever gotten the complete view of God.

At the same time, we know at least one of those “God sightings” was God showing Isaiah Christ. In fact, I believe that all of the Old Testament sightings of God were actually Christ appearing to them before His incarnation. This is what theologians call Christophany (sometimes Theophany). What gets really interesting is the end of Hebrews 1, where Psalm 102:24–28 are quoted. Hebrews says those are the words of God to the Son, and God tells the Son that He (the Son) is eternal, the creator of all things. That essentially makes the entire creation story of Genesis 1 & 2 into one long Christophany. It was the Son who created all things (cf. John 1:3).

Christ is eternally God (although technically, “Christ” is a title that really only applies in incarnation, but that’s another topic…). God is spirit (John 4:24). When we consider Him before incarnation, we think of eternal Sonship (that is, the Father - Son relationship in the Godhead is eternal), and we think of Him as the Creator of all things. I don’t know that there’s much more we can say about that…

Incarnation is something none of us can understand. The Son, who is eternal God, became Man. Of course He is not Man from eternity: He took on a body (Hebrews 10:5). At the same time, we realize He is not merely a human body possessed by the spirit of Christ: that’s the heresy of Apollonarism. We understand the He is a real Man, and apparently this is a permanent change: He ascended back into Heaven as a Man with a physical body, and we look to see Him return the same way (Acts 1:11). He is so completely Man, that 1 Corinthians 15:1–5 tells us, “He was buried” (v. 4). It’s not that they buried His body, but they buried Him.

Paul’s epistles refer to Christ as a real Man, even now that He’s ascended into Heaven. Take, for example, 1 Timothy 2:5 – ”the Man, Christ Jesus.”

1 Timothy 6:13–16 are probably worth mentioning here. In context, I take “the blessed and only Ruler” (v. 15) to be Christ. We’re told He lives in unapproachable light, which no man has seen, nor can see. There is apparently a place which not even those in Heaven can see, where only God can be. And Christ is there. Even in eternity, we won’t see in there. This is really what John 1:18 is talking about, the only way for any creature to know about God in that complete way is for God Himself to come out of that unapproachable light and tell us what goes on in there. This is what Christ has done.

Finally, we should probably mention Colossians 2:9. We’re told that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’m certain it means that in Incarnation, Christ was never less than God. Our Protestant blood boils a bit when we hear Mary called “Mother of God”, but it is true in a very limited sense: when she gave birth to Christ, she gave birth to the fullness of the Godhead. No, that doesn’t mean that there is a Mother-Son relationship between Mary and God. No, I wouldn’t call Mary the Mother of God. But I fear our zeal to combat Mariolatry has led us to downplay the fullness of Christ’s nature as God. The fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in the Lord Jesus, even at His birth.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Remembrance

"Brethren" frequently talk about "remembering the Lord in His death". Scripture does not. Scripture says we remember the Lord, and in so doing, we announce His death (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

The Lord Jesus asks us to remember Him (1 Corinthians 11:24–25). That certainly includes remembering His death – the bread reminds us of His body given for us (Luke 22:19), the wine reminds us of His blood poured out for us (Luke 22:20) – but we don't remember an event, we remember a Person.

Psalm 102 is a remarkable passage, "the prayer of the afflicted". Hebrews 1:10–12 tells us that Psalm 102:24–28 (starting in the second part of v. 24) is God addressing the Son. He reminds the Son that He is eternal, He is the creator, and He won't end.

Similarly, Hebrews 1:8–9 quote Psalm 45:6–7 as addressed to the Son. So we understand that Psalm 45 is Messianic. Psalm 45 ends with the promise, "I will make thy name to be remembered throughout all generations" (Psalm 45:17).

And that brings us back to 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. As we remember the Lord, we are really fulfilling Psalm 45:17. In this generation, His name is being remembered. Think of that! God is using us to fulfill a promise He made to the Son: we are part of the remembrance of His name in all generations.