I mentioned a while ago that there are two general categories of "ministry" I run across. When I read folks like J. N. Darby, I'm struck by how his entire perspective is that God no longer deals with man in the flesh. By contrast, as I listen to "ministry" given over the last several years, I'm struck by how it is mainly (not exclusively) a speaker urging people to try harder. There are, thankfully, some remarkable exceptions.
It seems like there are certain topics (or as C. A. Coates would say, "lines of truth") where this is more clearly seen. Discussions of baptism come to mind, or discussions on the whole topic of election. Talks about baptism – very appropriately – bring up Romans 6, and it seems like talks on Romans 6 fall naturally into one of two categories: there are those who see our death with Christ as fact, and those who see it as a metaphor for our responsibility to live a new kind of life.
There are some recordings on Voices for Christ that I've heard well over a dozen times. To be fair, recordings of talks given to an assembly (or in a conference) are given at a specific time and place. And a spoken word – unlike a written word – can't be edited or touched up after it's spoken. It's entirely true that it's easier to be careful in writing than in speaking.
That being said, in all my listening to some of the messages, I've come to the conclusion that there are many preachers and teachers who really don't believe that new life in Christ is a real thing. And (I think this is closely related), those same speakers don't seem to believe that man is really lost.
I was struck by R. A. Huebner's statement in God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men that there are those who effectively teach "man is lost – but not that lost" (pp. 7, 184). Huebner's writing can be a little caustic at times, but his characterization seems to be accurate. The more I listen to some speakers, the more convinced I become that they really haven't given up on fallen men and women.
By contrast, the central message I see in J. N. Darby's ministry is that Christ has died as the Last Adam, and God is no longer interested in what Adam's race can or cannot do. In Christ's death, the whole world has been condemned, along with the entire human race:
Flesh has its religion as well as its lusts and pleasures.
As to Salvation; it is important we should know ourselves lost; but I think you will find many that have not got the simple plain consciousness that they are lost - not really got it, I mean.
But if they are alive in this world, they are lost to God. I do not say "guilty" now, that is true, of course; but, lost. If I am lost, now I am; and there is nothing to judge.
I do not mean, shall be lost finally, but that now am lost, as to my state.
People don't believe it. They believe that they have sinned, and that Christ has died for their sins; but that does not touch this question of being lost.
But if I get the consciousness of being lost now already, and that Christ dealt with that on the cross also; I then get saved, and that now, and that is just what people have not got thoroughly. They know neither what it is to be lost, nor what it is to be saved.
It is not the first thing we get hold of, my conscience takes knowledge of my sins, and that must be settled, but there is this other thing.
(J. N. Darby, "Salvation and Separation", Notes and Jottings, p. 46)
In his excellent letter on free will, Darby claims the idea of human free will is a denial of Christianity. I used to think there was a logical leap there, but I have begun to understand better what he's saying. The Christian gospel is not that man is guilty and must be forgiven – that is Old Testament truth. Christianity introduces not guilt but lostness. And, as Darby points out, free will is effectively a denial that man is lost. A man who is guilty might have free will, a man who is lost does not.
Let's slow down a little bit to make sure we're clear on this. Romans presents the all-important doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone: the argument reaches its peak in Romans 4:5 – the one who doesn't work, but believes is counted righteous. The really fascinating thing about Romans 4 is that the doctrine is argued entirely from the Old Testament, where it's shown that Abraham (Romans 4:3) and David (Romans 4:7) were both justified in exactly the same way that we are.
Guilt and justification are Old Testament truths.
Romans 1–3 demonstrates the guilt of men – and women, of course! But Romans 5 goes further, showing that men and women are not only guilty, but lost. Lost goes deeper than guilty. Guilty means I have done something wrong. Lost means I am something wrong.
And here's where these preachers tend to go off track. They don't seem to believe that men and women aren't capable of pleasing God. They seem to think that God forgives our guilt, and then expects us to live for Him with a clean slate. The problem, of course, is that there's no clean slate, not even a blank one. God forgiving our sins means we're justified in His sight, but it doesn't change the fact that we're lost.
Christ didn't die to remedy our flesh, He died to end it. That's the only way I know to interpret John 1:29 – the Lamb of God takes away the sin (not sins) of the world.
Here's the thing: this is the most practical doctrinal difference imaginable. Rob Leatham says shooting is simple, it's just not easy. Christian living is almost exactly the same thing: it's simple, but it's not easy.
The simple truth is that there are many people who have been forgiven of all their sins, who nevertheless aren't really living the Christian life. They are born again, they are regenerated, they are justified in God's sight; but they aren't saved. And sadly, many of the preachers I hear are actually calling people to exactly this less-than-Christian life. This is why I've come to see Darby's "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost" (Collected Writings, Volume 31, p. 254) as so important.
Scripture first mentions Salvation in Exodus 14:13, where Moses tells the people to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah." That chapter goes on to tell us what salvation looks like: Jehovah saved Israel, and they saw the Egyptians dead on the shore (Exodus 14:30). Notice this is significantly after the Passover: this is at least several days after they had been sheltered by the blood on the door, and even after they had left Egypt. Salvation comes after redemption.
The Christian life starts with baptism. Baptism is connected with salvation in Scripture: it's not connected with justification, or regeneration, or forgiveness, or reconciliation. It's connected with salvation. Sadly, many want to put baptism back at the Passover, not at the Red Sea.
The hardest thing for us to do is to accept we are lost. It's easy for us to judge our sins, it's hard for us to judge ourselves. It's simple, it's just not easy.
Philippians 3:9–10 tells us what it means to be "in Christ": it means to have no righteousness of our own. It's so incredibly difficult to give up our own righteousness. Ask me how I know! It's much easier to confess our sins than it is to give up our own righteousness. But this is precisely what it is to be "in Christ." We are "in Christ" when we give up having anything to offer God. We see Christ not only as taking our sins, but also as being our only righteousness.
It is a fact that God only sees us in Christ. The problem is when we don't see things that way. When God sees things one way, and we see things another way, then we're in trouble. And to live the Christian life, we need to see ourselves in Christ – no righteousness of our own, depending solely on the grace of God.
Christ my forgiveness, Christ my only righteousness. That's Christianity. It's not easy, but it's simple.