Tuesday, November 27, 2007


For many years, I heard the "brethren" say, "God is done with man in the flesh." I think I'm starting to see just a little bit of what they meant.

It seems when we try to approach God as "man in the flesh," we fall into one of two opposite errors. Either we are so aware of our own unworthiness to come into God's presence that we come in hesitatingly, groveling and bemoaning our worthlessness (like many or most traditional Protestant churches); or we come in self-confident and swaggering, sure that we're good enough to be there (like more modern "seeker-friendly" groups). Those who fall in the first group seem to be constantly looking for improvement in themselves, those in the second are characterized by an irreverent familiarity with God.

It's so very hard to learn the lesson that God has no intention of improving the flesh. God's purpose in Christ is to bring sinners to Himself: but it's not to leave them sinners. We are stuck in sinful bodies, it is true; but we are new creations trapped in an old creation's body. Eventually the body will be changed into incorruptibility, but that's still future. But until we get there, we carry around this thing called "the flesh."

The change from being an old creation to being a new one is significant, because it means we're starting something very new. God isn't looking to improve sinners, He's starting in a new place. It's true we all sin, it's true we all fall short of the glory of God, it's true we all carry the flesh around with us. But it's just as true that God's not looking on His children as sinners and setting out to make them better. And so we ought not to consider ourselves in that light either.

We who approach God are "purged worshippers," who, "once cleansed, have no more conscience of sins." We are to go confidently (not self-confidently!) into God's presence, because we are confident in our Great High Priest, who invites us in. We don't hang around the door nervously, waiting for God to make us worthy before we approach. I get the impression that a lot of pious Christians are hesitant to go in: maybe next Sunday they'll be worthy, but this Sunday they'd better hang back a bit. This behaviour is nothing else than trying to get to God on my own, rather than on the basis of His Son's blood: it's exactly the same thing as trying to swagger into God's presence, sure He couldn't possibly turn me back. While I'm sure the one who hesitates has a more Scriptural concept of God's holiness and man's worthlessness than the lout who presumes on his own worth; neither one of them is trying to approach God in the only way we have: the blood of Christ.

God is gracious, and will tolerate a lot from His children. I don't want to in any way cast aspersion on God's goodness. On the other hand, we need to take God at His word.


Chuck Hicks said...

Darby wrote an excellent tract on God's winnowing of our lives. I have forgotten the title and the specific Psalm (?) reference, but the point is simple and profound: God has already winnowed out our lives and has seen everything. What do we think we can hide or, for that matter, reform from His view? The key, according to the writer to the Hebrews, is faith, bold faith, which you correctly note is not presumptuous but confident in His Presence inside the holiest for us.

We are all spies, and we can be like Joshua & Caleb, no better than the others but aware that He delights in us, or be like the other 10 and shrink back. His soul has no pleasure in the latter.

clumsy ox said...

Chuck, thanks for bringing that up. I hadn't put that thought together, but you're 110% right.

I think the paper is "Omniscience: God's Searchings" based on Psalm 139. Is that the right one?

Anonymous said...

I think that most kinds of Christians experience the tension between what is vouchsafed to us in our baptism (the remission of sins/cleansing/new birth) and the actual state of our lives subsequent to baptism (or subsequent to a conversion experience).

I think I look at it a little differently than you do. As you say, it is God's purpose that the "body will be changed into incorruptibility." I believe that that process has already begun. And it will continue until it is complete.

I think that we have no more consciousness of sins in the sense that we now belong to Christ through faith and baptism. We are not on the outside looking in. We have access to the throne of grace, not as slaves, but as children.

However, in another sense, we are still conscious of sins, and we ought to be. Thus, we are told to confess our sins (and not to pretend that we haven't committed any), to make restitution for our sins, and to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith and before coming to Holy Communion.

It looks like my point of departure from your line of thinking is the notion that "God has no intention of improving the flesh . . . [he] isn't looking to improve sinners, He's starting in a new place."

It seems to me that if this is true, then there is no sense to be made of the biblical language of "cleansing" in relation to salvation. You don't "clean" a dirty shirt by putting on a jacket. My idea of a bath is not to put a clean person in the tub with a dirty one.

The tension we all feel is best resolved, I believe, by thinking about our relation to Christ in terms of already justified by faith, as in Romans 3, and not yet justified by works, as in Romans 2. Which brings us to the heart of the matter, and all the hubbub.

Chuck Hicks said...

...and I would say the 10 who shrink back demonstrate their lack of works -- works that flow from real faith. Abraham went up on Moriah; they ran away when they saw the sons of Anak.

Ox, that is the title. Thanks for pulling up the link!

clumsy ox said...

andrew, you get +10 Best Commenter points for your use of "vouchsafe" in a comment. But don't get too cocky: chuck is stiff competition, even for people who use "vouchsafe" or "crepescular" in a comment.

Please don't take my post to imply we ought to have a cavalier attitude towards sin. That was not my intention at all. But I insist that access into the Holiest is on the basis of Christ's blood, the "new and living way," not on how well I measure up to the calling.

It is certainly taught in 1 Corinthians that there are very real consequences of sin: in fact, the tendency of sin to spread is exactly the motive Paul gives for excommunicating the one who persists in known, deliberate sin. Further, there is very chastening of the believer that takes the Lord's Supper lightly. Hebrews is more general, suggesting all believers will be chastened.

So I'm not suggesting that sin isn't real, or that we can just ignore it, or that we can take a very casual attitude toward it. What I am saying is, Christianity is fundamentally different from what came before, because we have the "new and living way." We don't live by the old rules, but by what God has established in the Son.

You and I certainly diverge on several points: I think you articulated those very well.

I'm still chewing on the rest of your comments. But I would like to point out that's why I called this post "Glimmer," rather than "Blinding Divine Revelation from Heaven."

Anonymous said...

I too would emphasize a necessary thing which you, and much of the evangelical tradition, seem to have apprehended so well: we are sinners saved by grace. Now, I dont think that this proposition implies everything that Luther and his Protestant children have deduced from it; but a sincere belief in the grace and mercy of God towards sinners surely yields, as one of its most precious fruits, assurance of salvation (which has been the lodestar of evangelical theology from its inception in Luther's stormy bosom).

A question for the curious is: can full-fledged Catholic theology, with its soteriological realism (i.e., made righteous), doctrines of penance and satisfaction, etc., accomodate a doctrine of assurance?

Ok, I'll show my cards:

The answer is yes. The proof is in St Thomas Aquinas. The argument is made by Stephen Pfurtner in a little book called Luther and Aquinas on Salvation.

Ive been wondering: does the teaching of Miles Stanford (I think thats right) author of the Green Letters (I think thats right), owe much to Darby?

clumsy ox said...

Just a quick note: Miles Stanford, who wrote The Green Letters, openly acknowledges an enormous debt to Darby, Stoney, and Kelly.

My personal opinion of Stanford's work is that it's good as far as it goes: his extreme tunnel vision makes it impossible to recommend his books without some serious qualifiers.

By contrast, Darby is a delightful read precisely because of his enormous breadth of Scripture knowledge and his ability to think in more than a single focus. I find it a constant surprise just how wide a field of vision Darby had.

I need to find and read Luther and Aquinas on Salvation.

Chuck Hicks said...

As a lowly undergraduate I learned to discern the difference between Keynes and "Keynesians" (or neo-Keynesians).

The same holds true for Darby and Darbyites.