Saturday, December 29, 2012

Library Tips

There was an interesting article on Digital Sojourner on maintaining your library: "5 Tips – Library Maintenance". It's well worth a couple minutes to read.

Not to repeat the comment I made there, but I was struck by the advice no giving (and throwing!) away books.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: John Nelson Darby, by Marion Field

This year a friend gave me a book for my birthday: John Nelson Darby by Marion Field. I read it excitedly, and I thought it might be helpful to write a short review.

Marion Field published this book in 2008, it's 236 pages, including four appendices and a timeline. I found the book well-written and interesting.

A quick search for "John Nelson Darby biography" on Amazon yields an interesting diversity of results. While the market might not actually be saturated, it's not exactly virgin territory either. Probably the best-known is Max Weremchuk's John Nelson Darby, but I've heard excellent things about Unknown and Well-Known: A Biography of John Nelson Darby by Turner and Cross. I've not personally read Turner & Cross' book, but I've read Weremchuk's a couple times. So I'm not exactly approaching Fields' book with an unformed opinion.

I found Field's book to be a good complement to Weremchuk's. Weremchuk is certainly more analytical than Field: he spends a good deal of time and effort explaining what Darby taught, why he taught it, and what the outcomes are. Field, by contrast, writes more about Darby as a man: she spends more time discussing his family, explains his travels in greater detail, and chronicles several events which are less monumental in the development of Darby's thoughts and teachings. I greatly value Weremchuk's book for its big-picture perspective; but I found Field's book gave me a much clearer picture of who Darby was. She goes so far as to reproduce his will, commenting on the people mentioned in it. I can't remember running across that information anywhere else, although (to be fair) I haven't read Weremchuk's book in more than a decade.

I've read about Darby's time in Ireland in several places, but Field managed to bring out a number of details I'd never heard before. It was in this book I learned Darby habitually preached in Gaelic when he was in Calary (p. 32). Apparently this was one of the attractions the Roman Catholic Irish felt to him: the Roman Catholic Church made it a practice to suppress Gaelic, but Darby was speaking to them in their native tongue. And of course this appealed to the poorer most.

Field also spends a good deal of time on Darby's adventures in Switzerland. I've read Darby, and I've noticed how frequently he alludes to Switzerland, and how he frequently addresses various articles to the people there. Field filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of what was happening in Switzerland: she talks about "brethren" suffering physical violence and persecution there (pp. 123--125).

She also describes his journeys to North America in some detail: I found his comments on Americans interesting (p. 155 ff.), as well as the details of his trips to Canada, and to San Francisco by rail.

I would definitely recommend Field's book: it's well worth a read. Compared to Weremchuk's book, I found Field's a little light on doctrine. But Weremchuk doesn't give nearly as much personal detail as Field does. I would highly recommend them both: perhaps Field's book first, followed by Weremchuk's.

I greatly appreciate my friend giving me this book. It was very enjoyable and will be read several times.


I gave a talk in meeting yesterday, on Solomon's going up to Gibeon to sacrifice (2 Kings 1:1--4). I've already written about this. I didn't go into as much detail in the talk as I did on this blog: I try to keep a talk to 35 minutes or less, and on my blog I can go as long as I like. But the main point I was trying to make was, if we mingle true faith with man's religion, we'll end up leaving the Lord's presence out. This is precisely what Solomon did. The ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem, the Lord had chosen Jerusalem to put His Name there (Psalm 78:60--69): He Himself had promised to meet the people between the cherubim on the mercy seat (Exodus 25:22). But Solomon left Jerusalem to worship at the altar in Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:3--6).

I started out by giving a brief history of the ark's location from Kadesh-Barnea to Jerusalem. The first camp of the children of Israel in Canaan was at Gilgal (Joshua 5). It was at Gilgal that the Lord commanded Joshua to make stone knives and circumcise the Israelites, because they hadn't been practicing circumcision the whole time they were in the wilderness (Joshua 5:1--7).

2 At that time Jehovah said to Joshua, Make thee stone-knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. 8 And it came to pass when the whole nation had finished being circumcised, that they abode in their place in the camp, till they were whole. 9 And Jehovah said to Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. And the name of the place was called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:2, 8--9, JND)

Now, I realize I probably sound really "brethren" here, but we notice when the children of Israel went out to conquer the land, Gilgal was their base camp. When they finished a campaign, they'd return to Gilgal before their next campaign. Well, they didn't always return to Gilgal. When they'd taken Jericho, they went straight from Jericho to Ai (Joshua 7:2--4). The battle at Ai didn't go so well. When Joshua asked the Lord about it, the Lord answered,

11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them, and they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it among their stuff. 12 And the children of Israel shall not be able to stand before their enemies: they shall turn their backs before their enemies, for they have made themselves accursed. I will no more be with you, except ye destroy the accursed thing from your midst. (Joshua 7:11--12, JND)
This passage was a real hot topic for a while among some of the "brethren" I was in fellowship with. A lot of the discussion about it seemed to me to have missed the most salient point: Joshua sent spies from Jericho to Ai without ever consulting the Lord. It wasn't until they were pummelled at Ai that Joshua asked the Lord about it.

There was another time Joshua acted without consulting the Lord, when the Gibeonites came to Gilgal to sue for peace (Joshua 9:1--15). The Scripture specifically tells us that Joshua didn't ask the Lord before acting (v. 14). Again, the decision made regarding Gibeon turned into a permanent problem for the Israelites. Adonai-Zedek attacked Gibeon, drawing the Israelites into a fight on his terms (Joshua 10:1--6).

When the Angel of the Lord came from Gigal to Bochim, He referenced the failure at Gibeon:

1 And the Angel of Jehovah came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you to the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you; and as for you, 2 ye shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not hearkened unto my voice. Why have ye done this? 3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be scourges in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. 4 And it came to pass, when the Angel of Jehovah spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to Jehovah. 6 And Joshua dismissed the people, and the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance to possess the land. (Joshua 2:1--6, JND)
They'd made a covenant with the people of the land, and the people of the land were scourges in their sides.

We might notice a principle here in passing: they weren't to make a covenant with the people of the land, but when they did, the Lord didn't tell them to break the covenant. Sometimes we might find that we've made a covenant (as it were) with the "people in the land". We sometimes think the solution is to break our covenant and declare war on them anyway, but that's not what the Scripture teaches. Joshua and his people had sworn to the Gibeonites they wouldn't attack them, and the Lord held them to their oath. He chides them for making the oath, but He never tells them to break it. In fact, when Saul broke the covenant with the Gibeonites, the Lord punished Israel (2 Samuel 21:1--14).

Joshua's failure at Jericho was that he didn't inquire of the Lord before going up against Ai. This is illustrated geographically in his going straight from Jericho to Ai, without coming back to Gilgal. Now, coming to Gilgal wasn't enough: the story of the Gibeonites tells us that even at Gilgal, he still failed to consult the Lord before acting. But the point remains that there is a lesson for us in Joshua's failure.

Gilgal was where the Lord rolled away the reproach of Egypt. Colossians 2:9--12 connects circumcision with the "putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ" (v. 11, JND). So we might see in the story of Gilgal an application to us. And I have to admit I see a lot of my own failure here.

There are times when things seem to be going well. I don't mean that my bills are getting paid and I've got plenty to eat: I mean there are times when it seems like maybe I'm getting the hang of this whole Christian life thing. It's been something like 35 years, I ought to be figuring it out! But there are times when we get the smell of victory: the smell of smoke and destruction and blood. There are times when it seems like we're doing the right things and walking with the Lord. And it's at those times that we need to return to Gilgal. But in my personal experience, those are the times I say, "I've got this, Lord. Don't worry about me. I'll just go ahead and send some spies up to Ai...".

What's the result? It's not good.

I noticed a couple years ago that there is a sort of progression through Romans 6--8:

  1. Romans 6 is "Know... reckon... yield". It's about deliberate sin.
  2. Romans 7 is "Who shall deliver me?". The point here is not that we ought not to continue in sin, but that we have this thing in us called "the flesh" and we're powerless over it.
  3. Romans 8 is "put to death the deeds of the body"
Romans 8 is different from 6 & 7: they have the sense of a crisis. The man in Romans 7 is anything but calm: the flesh is beating him down and he knows it. But when we got to Romans 8 things are calmer. And yet, even in the calm, there is the responsibility to be on the offensive. See, there's a sense where it's not too hard to rely on the Lord in the thick of the battle. When the flesh is dominating, when temptation seems just insurmountable, when we find in ourselves no good thing and we find ourselves doing what we don't want to do... those times it's relatively easy to look for the Deliverer (notice I said relatively). But when there's a respite, when we're celebrating on a field of victory, it can be really, really hard to go on the offensive. It can be really hard to remember what Romans 8 says, we need to "mortify".

Once again, Scripture doesn't teach asceticism, it doesn't teach works as the answer. That's the whole point of Romans 7, right? But it doesn't teach abandon either, that's the whole point of Romans 6. So what's "mortifying"?

There is an answer in the story of Gilgal, and it's answered in 2 Corinthians 3. When the children of Israel were in Gigal, they didn't only circumcise with stone knives: they also ate the old corn of the land (Joshua 5:11). What's the old corn of the land? It's Christ in resurrection (cf. Leviticus 2:12--16; 1 Corinthians 15:20--28). So it's not only that we put off the flesh, we also feed on Christ. Now, 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us the same thing, maybe in less mystical terms:

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. (JND)
Want to be Christ-like? The scriptural path to Christ-likeness is to look at Him in glory.

But we can't come to Gilgal (as it were) in any sort of pride. We might come back flushed with victory, but Gilgal isn't only the place to feed, it's the place of circumcision. There's a cutting that happened at Gilgal, and 2 Corinthians 4 tells us about that too:

6 Because it is the God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine who has shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassingness of the power may be of God, and not from us: 8 every way afflicted, but not straitened; seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body; 11 for we who live are always delivered unto death on account of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh; 12 so that death works in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:6--12, JND)
The life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal bodies as death works in us. That's not to say that we work death in ourselves: it should be obvious that's impossible. But the Lord uses death to work in us so that His life is manifested in us. But the point is, the whole idea of coming to Gilgal with any sort of pride is the very opposite to the working of death in us that happens there.

So that's what I've been thinking about for the last couple days: I didn't set out to talk about Gilgal yesterday; but as I was speaking about Gibeon, I was struck that there's been a real failure on my part to appreciate (and practice) the lesson of Gilgal. And I thought it might be worthwhile to share that.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ritual and Faith

I was in the mall with my kids. A man approached me and asked if he could share the gospel with me. I agreed. He clearly explained that we are all sinners, that Christ Jesus came into the world, died for us, was raised again, and we can be forgiven because of His sacrifice for us. In short, he did a good job of sharing the gospel with me.

But then he wanted me to repeat a prayer with him. I declined, saying, "It would be in appropriate for someone who is already a believer."

He countered, "It can't hurt."

"But that's not faith!" I said.

He argued with me, and finally left. I felt bad, I really wasn't trying to ruin this guy's day. In fact, I admire that he's in a shopping mall sharing the Gospel with random strangers. I really do.

But God isn't looking for a ritual: He's not looking for someone to repeat a prayer. He's looking for people to believe (John 5:24, Romans 4:5). And if I believe God, there's no room for "it can't hurt." "It can't hurt" isn't the language of faith: it's the language of hedging my bets. It's the language of not being sure what I believe, and clutching at anything that looks like it might float.

God is looking for faith. Faith is believing what God says, because God said it. That is what pleases God. That is what God has said He counts as righteousness.

I didn't want to stumble the guy. I sure didn't want to discourage him from sharing Christ with strangers in the mall. I quoted John 5:24 to him: there's no "it can't hurt" in the Gospel. Those who believe are passed from death into life, and they won't come into judgment.

In the end, he was offering a ritual--- not a very fancy ritual, but a ritual nonetheless--- as a means to salvation. This isn't what the Scripture teaches: it teaches justification by faith (Acts 13:38 & 39; Romans 5:1), not justification by ritual.

I can't remember his name: I'm not sure he even offered it. But we need to pray for the guy that was sharing the Gospel in the mall. I'd like to think he was just having trouble coping with something that wasn't in the script. I hope he doesn't really believe the difference between heaven and hell is reciting the prayer in his tracts. I don't know; God knows, and God loves him.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Eternal Occupation

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk in meeting. I made the statement that our eternal occupation will be to learn about the Father and the Son. A brother in the meeting called me on that: he wanted a chapter and verse to support my claim.

Let's point out that this is exactly how the assembly is supposed to function. When someone makes a statement, it is imperative that the other people in the gathering should be willing to challenge it. Now, this brother didn't come out swinging, he didn't tell me I was an heretic, he cast no aspersion on my family. He simply challenged me on my statement and asked me to prove it from Scripture. This is what 1 Corinthians 14 specifically commands: the prophets are to speak, and the rest are to judge. That's not to say I consider myself a prophet, but the idea is that the assembly is a place where we judge what's said.

So this brother brought up a legitimate point, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't have an immediate answer. So I told him I'd get back to him. It's taken me longer than it ought to have, but I've been trying to piece together a reply. I thought this would be a good place to do that; so you get to read my rough draft, so to speak.

Probably the best place to start is with the Lord Jesus' statement at the start of John 17:3, "this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent". So according to the Lord Jesus, eternal life is knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ. This, I suppose, almost completely answers the question. Knowing Him is eternal life.

It's no stretch to say that if knowing Him is eternal life, then it will be at least a huge part of what we're living for in eternity.

Scripture doesn't tell us a whole lot about what eternity will be like. Scripture isn't, after all, written to satisfy our curiosity. But there are some positive statements made that touch on our question. One is in Ephesians 2:

but God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, (we too being dead in offences,) has quickened us with the Christ, (ye are saved by grace,) and has raised [us] up together, and has made [us] sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that he might display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4--7, JND)
I find this statement interesting, it says one of God's purposes is to use the Church as a display of His grace in the coming ages. It doesn't say who's looking at the display, it merely says the Church will be on display.

This seems to support the notion that eternity will be all about getting to know God better. Not in the sense of a classroom, but in the sense of getting to know Him. As we look at the Church in Heaven, we'll see His grace on display. And the more we look at it, the more we'll see of His grace.

Ephesians makes another statement about eternity:

To me, less than the least of all saints, has this grace been given, to announce among the nations the glad tidings of the unsearchable riches of the Christ, and to enlighten all [with the knowledge of] what is the administration of the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God, who has created all things, in order that now to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the assembly the all-various wisdom of God, according to [the] purpose of the ages, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence by the faith of him. (Ephesians 3:8--12, JND)
This one is a little different, it says God will use the assembly to demonstrate His wisdom to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies. Here we have an audience named for the display, but once again the whole point of the display isn't the Church itself, it's the character of God that will be seen as they look on the Church.

So the two eternal purposes of God in the Church in Ephesians are certainly centered on getting to know God better. In the Church we'll see His grace and His wisdom. And that means we'll have an eternal job to do (if I can say it that way): we'll be on display to show Him off.

1 Thessalonians 4 says the whole point of His coming to get us is for us to "ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). That was the apostle's encouragement to the Thessalonians, it should encourage us too. He's coming to get us so that we can always be with Him. Notice the Lord said almost exactly the same thing to Peter, "if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be" (John 14:3, JND). So this is, in a sense, the promise of eternity: there'll come a time when we'll be with the Lord Jesus forever. It's the thought of Scripture that we would be excited by this prospect, that it would be something to keep us moving forward.

Paul said something similar in Philippians 3: "that I may know Him" (Philippians 3:10). This is a striking passage, because Philippians was written late in his life. He'd already learned more than I'll ever know about the Lord, but his goal was to know Him. This suggests to me that we'll never come to know the Lord Jesus completely. I'm not saying He is completely unknowable, but He's definitely not completely knowable. We'll still be knowing Him better for all eternity: even with all eternity, the infinite God will be a mystery to our finite minds.

Having said that, I think I dropped the ball when I was giving that talk. I think I probably talked about knowing about Christ, as opposed to knowing Him. There is a huge difference between the two, although they're not entirely unrelated. I wouldn't say I know a person if I know absolutely nothing about him; on the other hand, knowing all about someone isn't the same as knowing him. It's possible to know a great deal about the Lord Jesus without actually knowing Him. That's not eternal life.

So no, our eternal occupation's not going to be classes in theology. But we will spend eternity getting to know God better. We'll spend it getting to know Christ better.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Law and Grace (again?)

I've gone on about Law and Grace many, many times. But at the risk of beating a dead horse; I was reading the other day and came across this:

It is to be noted that, while the people are distinctly put under law, the principle of the second tables was law after present forgiveness and mercy. This is exactly the ground Christians want to be upon now -- to bring in law after grace and mercy. But this it is Paul calls the ministration of death and condemnation. (J. N. Darby, Synopsis, Exodus, Chapters 35 to 40)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grace and Government

I've gotten several comments over the years about not losing sight of the whole principle of human responsibility when I talk about Divine sovereignty. That's a fair criticism in one sense, we are absolutely responsible in our behaviour down here, and we all will be manifest at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

On the other hand, I've been very aware that the Gospel is a message of pure grace. God, who justifies the ungodly, freely justifies all who believe from all things (Acts 13:38--39, Romans 4:5). Our Christian life begins and ends with God's sovereign grace. He acts toward us the way He wants to, with no consideration for what we earn. This is, after all, pretty much the definition of grace.

In my experience, there is a real fear of grace among Christians. It's almost like they're afraid that if we give the Gospel as Scripture gives it, people will see that as a license to sin. And I suppose that's true in some sense: Romans 6 begins with the question, if we really believe that grace over-abounds where sin abounds, why not just live in sin and get more grace? (Romans 6:1).

But if we don't teach the Gospel as Scripture teaches it, we're not doing anyone any favours. The danger that someone might see the Gospel as license to sin (and it's not really hypothetical: there are plenty of people who do just that) doesn't give us the right to fall short on giving God the glory for who He is. We're really casting aspersion on the Person and Work of Christ if we don't teach a complete, full, free, and abounding forgiveness of all our sins.

But Scripture goes on from the Gospel to teach a human responsibility as well. Yes, we can just go out and sin, but we shouldn't. Why not? Well, there are a few reasons:

  • because we're dead to sin (Romans 6)
  • because the one who sins becomes a slave to sin (Romans 6:15--18)
  • because we weren't saved from sin just to dive back into it (Colossians 3:1--17, 1 Thessalonians 4:1--7)
  • because we're to walk worthy of our high calling (Ephesians 4:1--3)
  • because we're to represent Christ on earth (John 17:13--21)
  • because we're called to come into God's presence as worshipers, and sin can't come in there with us (Hebrews 10:19--22)
  • because we all must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account for the deeds done in our bodies (2 Corinthians 5:9--11)
  • because we are subject to the discipline of our Father (Hebrews 12:5--13), and the discipline of the assembly (1 Corinthians 5)

As much as we don't believe it, God's desire for us to walk free from sin is for our own good. Sin has a corrosive affect on us: it rots our souls. When we play fast and loose with sin, we're not escaping the consequence it has on us. When we sin, we become a slave to sin. Sin damages the one sinning as much as it damages the one(s) sinned against. But this is not always easy to believe: it seems pretty abstract.

But there's more than just the Father's desire for the best for His children: there is also the principle of God's government.

The whole issue of government is that God has created the heavens, the earth, and everything in them. He asserts His rights as Creator to be honoured in and by His creatures. And it's important to understand the God's government is quite a distinct thing from His saving sinners. I don't mean to say they're quite separate, but they're certainly not the same thing. God saves individual sinners, and has in all ages. He came and found Adam when he sinned, He saved Abel, and He is still saving sinners. And He's going to be saving sinners right up until the end.

And God only saves sinners on the principle of grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8--9). That's the plain teaching of Romans 4. Neither Abraham (without Law) nor David (under Law) were justified by works: they were both justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Sinners from Adam until the end are justified by faith on the principle of grace. This is the only saving principle: the principle of God's giving freely, looking for nothing to recommend us to Him. There is no other way a sinner could possibly be justified. If God were to act on any other principle, there would be no one justified, because we are all hopelessly lost. Only God acting in His own character and on the principle of what He is, with no regard to what we are, can possibly reach someone as lost as we all are.

But the other, parallel truth is that God will be vindicated in His creation. He will eventually have all creation bow to Him (Philippians 2:9--11; 1 Corinthians 15:20--28; Hebrews 2:5--9). So a day will come when there will be judgment, when God will judge the world through Christ Jesus (Acts 17:30--32).

When Paul preached judgment to the Athenians, he spoke in general terms of one day; but if we're to examine Scripture on the subject, we find that there are several judgments that are coming:

  • the judgment of the dead at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11--15)
  • the judgment of believers at Christ's seat (2 Corinthians 5:9--11)
  • the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31--46)
  • the judgment of the Church (Revelation 2--3)
  • the judgment of Babylon (Revelation 18)
There are others, but these demonstrate that there is not a single Judgment Day coming. In fact, Scripture teaches that judgment will happen in several stages, as God brings His Son to the head of the Kingdom, and the Son subdues all things, then hands them over to God (1 Corinthians 15:24).

So when the Lord Jesus said that the one who doesn't believe will not come into judgment (John 5:24), we understand that He was talking about a specific judgment; because Scripture teaches that even "we" (that is, believers) will appear before Christ on His judgment seat. In fact, the Lord Jesus was specifically talking about the judgment of condemnation. There is no condemnation to the one who believes (Romans 8:1). But there is a judgment not to condemnation: this is the judgment of His servants. This isn't a criminal judgment, it's the assessment of the Christian life. As I understand it, there is no possibility of our sins coming up at that judgment, because Christ has taken them away. They're gone forever from God's sight. The one who believes is one to whom God does not at all reckon sin (Romans 4:6--8). If God does not at all reckon sin to me, then they certainly won't be brought up at Christ's judgment seat. But He will judge the life I've lived: there will be a judgment of the deeds done in the body. As someone else has said, it's very possible to have a saved soul and a lost life. It's possible to be justified once-for-all, with no fear of condemnation, but then to squander our life, having nothing to show for it when we are manifested before Christ.

So there is a sense where all will meet Christ in judgment. Those who believe will meet Him at the judgment seat of Christ, those who don't will meet Him in the second resurrection (Revelation 20:11--15).

Now, God's purpose is to see all men honour the Son (John 5:21--23), and then the Son will subject all things to God. The subjection of all to the Son is inevitable: either you can bow now, or you can bow then. If we don't bow now, when we have a choice; then we'll be made to bow then, when we won't.

But aside even from every creature bowing, there is the whole purpose of God in human government over the earth. It is not the God deals with men only as individuals, He also deals with groups. This is really the whole point of Revelation 18: God is judging not the individuals, but the system they set up. Similarly, there is a judgment of the Church in Revelation 2--3. This isn't the judgment seat of Christ, this is the judgment of the Church in her responsibility as the habitation of God on earth. It's not individual, it's corporate.

Where God has put His creatures in a place of responsibility, He will judge them with respect to that responsibility. This isn't a matter of eternal salvation only, but a matter of God's character. God is Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25), and He must be seen to be just. So He will come and require an account of His creatures in the responsibilities He has given them.

Notice, this is all quite aside from the consequences of our sins. In addition to the governmental issues of God, there is the very real fact that our actions (and words and thoughts) matter: they produce effects. If a true believer were to go out and murder someone, he or she is justified freely from it: God won't hold that sin against him or her. But the murder victim is still dead. Similarly, if a true believer were to go out and fornicate, he or she might end up with some gnarly disease. This isn't God's punishment for that sin, it's just the way the world works. God has created this world to be an orderly machine: when you push something it generally moves; when you drop something it falls. Our actions have consequences: those aren't God's judgment, they're just the rules of this creation.

Sadly, a lot of Christians have used the term "consequence" as a euphemism for "punishment", and that has led to some heretical and even blasphemous teachings. Consequences aren't imposed by God, they're just what happen as a result of our actions.

Now, in addition to consequences, there is God's discipline (Hebrews 12:5--13). We notice the Scripture doesn't teach that there is discipline for our sins: Christ has born the punishment for our sins, and God doesn't at all reckon sin to those He has justified. Discipline is what God does because of what we are, not what we have done. Consider Job: the Scripture insists that Job didn't sin (Job 1:22), even when Satan attacked him. It wasn't that Job was sinning, it was that Job was a sinner. So when God came and spoke to Job, Job began to understand who God is, " I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5--6, JND). God's discipline on Job wasn't a result of Job sinning, it was a result of His desire to reveal Himself to Job, and a desire to reveal Job's own faults (not sins, faults) to himself.

It is a frequent misunderstanding that God disciplines us for a specific sin we've committed. That is really a denial of the Gospel. Discipline isn't about our sins but our sin. It's about God molding us, shaping us, and making us into what He wants us to be.

There's a whole lot more we could say about God's government in our lives, just like we could say more about His grace: I've already written a lot more than I'd intended. But when we consider God's ways with us, it's helpful not to conflate ideas that are really distinct. The principles on which God acts aren't always revealed the same way: there are different aspects to God's dealings. And the consequences of our confounding them can be much greater than we realize.

The Judge of all the earth does what's right. We ought not to lose sight of that as we bask in His grace. Indeed, it's because we recognize what He is, and what we are, that we understand something of His grace.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I've been meaning to share some updates, but I've been very, very busy--- too busy to post on my blog.

Weekend before last (November 10 & 11), we had a sort of mini-conference at the meeting hall. It was really the outgrowth of some conversations some of us had been having about perhaps having some sort of classes on foundational doctrine. The target audience was middle school children and older, but we didn't want to exclude anyone.

Well, with one thing and another, we ended up with a little more complicated deal than I (for one) had envisioned. But there were a lot of people who jumped in and made things work. If it weren't for Ames (and several others), it would have been a disaster. But it actually worked out rather well.

One thing I hadn't planned on was taking some of the sessions. We'd hoped to get others in to give the talks, but we couldn't get anyone on such short notice, and we ended up a giving the talks ourselves. It wasn't what I had in mind, but it seems to have worked.

I gave two talks, one on the Gospel, another on the Church. We also planned a couple Q&A sessions where the kids could ask questions, make comments, etc. on the talks we'd had. I ended up being more involved in that than I'd planned.

My buddy gave a talk on Christ as King, Priest, and Bridegroom. He gave another talk on an overview of dispensationalism. I enjoyed both of them. Another brother gave two talks, one was a sort of lexicon on doctrinal terms (What is the difference between "sin" and "sins"? What is "redemption"?) and the other was an overview of Romans. They, too, were excellent.

For the two sessions I took, I prepared handouts and gave them to the kids. I promised to share them online, so they're here: The Gospel and The Church.

We learned some lessons for next time. I suppose the main take-away lesson is that there ought to be a next time. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and everyone seems to think it was worth the weekend. But there were some challenges, and lessons for next time. We ordered lunch from Subway Catering, and it was great. We also ordered pizza from a delivery place a mile or so from the meeting hall, and they got our order wrong. Oops. We also realized we tend to be last-minute people, and most people require more advanced notice than we gave. So here are some logistical considerations we need to take next time:

  • We need to start praying about the next one now.
  • We need to plan further in advance: a month isn't long enough. Next time we'll try three.
  • People will show up to help, even if we don't ask and don't expect them to. Next time we need a list of things for helpers to do: they'll be there.
  • We need to publicize our plans better, and included more schedule details. We did send them 'round, but people still asked what the plans were. Next time we'll inundate people with email notices, on Facebook, etc.
  • People don't RSVP. We just need to accept that.
  • Catering is absolutely worth the cost. Subway Catering in particular is good food, reasonably priced. It's a life-saver.
  • Next time we'll choose a closer pizza place, and call an hour in advance to confirm the order before pickup. We called both Subway and the pizza place 24 hours in advance, but Subway called back to confirm order details, the pizza place didn't.
  • People were confused about who was invited: we'd mentioned the idea that we were targeting middle schoolers and up, and people thought we only wanted kids there. Next time we'll not say anything about a target audience.

So it wasn't perfect, but it went well. Everyone I've talked with was pleased with the results, and we're looking to have another go in the Spring. All in all, I'm very pleased.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

More Reading

We're having some "special meetings" this weekend to cover some foundational doctrines. It wasn't my intention to do any actual speaking in them, merely to organize, facilitate, cook, etc. But I've ended up having two lectures, so I'm preparing for those. If you think of it, I'd really appreciate prayer for this weekend.

But I've got writer's block (speaker's block?) right at the moment, so I thought I'd blog a minute or two.

I've a friend who's read Darby's Synopsis cover-to-cover. Another friend has commented that Synopsis is one of his go-to resources for Bible study. Well, I've never been able to get into the Synopsis: every time I've opened it, I've found it doesn't really say anything that's not completely obvious. It's not much of a commentary. It's not that I'm not a fan of Johnny D., it's just that Synopsis hasn't ever really grabbed me.

But still, when two friends highly recommend a book, there might be something there.

So this last week I decided to give Synopsis another try, but this time I decided to start reading at the beginning rather than flipping it open to a given passage. I was wrong and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I completely missed the point of the book(s). Synopsis really is worthwhile reading, but I had to start at the beginning to get it.

I'm not going to try and review the book here, I've only read through the commentary on Genesis and the first ten or so chapters of Exodus: it's too early for a review. But I have to say I'm a convert.

Here's why: Synopsis isn't really a verse-by-verse commentary on the Bible, and if you think of it that way, you'll wonder why anyone actually published it. I did exactly that for years, and I always wondered why anyone bothered to read it. I was thinking of it as a commentary; it's not. It's an "Old and New Testament Survey" written into a set of books. It's like sitting in a Sunday School class taught by JND.

I told my dyed-in-the-wool Synopsis friend I had finally started reading it from the beginning. He was very polite and didn't point out I had been an idiot. But he concurred with my description of the set, and explained it this way: "If you want to know what Darby thought about John 4, you can't just read the chapter on John 4. You need to read the whole section on John." That's exactly what I'm realizing. Synopsis develops themes over whole books, and indeed over the whole Bible. You need to read it all to really get what Johnny's saying in context.

So I have several weeks of reading before me, but I have to say it's been really good reading so far. So all those times I referred to Synopsis as "Darby Lite", I was wrong. It's certainly the most approachable of Darby's writing, but it's not a lightweight read. I was just missing the point.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Not living; dying

I am not living in this world, I am dying here
(J. N. Darby, "The Path and Character of the Christian")

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eternal Life

It has been observed that John's Gospel doesn't really present Christ as dying for sins. In John's Gospel, Christ comes to give life to the world. This is different (not contradictory, different) from Paul's Gospel in Romans, where Christ has died so that we can be justified. Paul talks about justification, John talks about new birth.

John 5 presents the Son as the Son of Man who will judge all men and as the Son of God who raises the dead. He is the one who gives life to the dead. John 6 takes this farther and discusses how exactly He is going to give them life. In John 5, the Son of God will call the dead out of their graves; but in John 6 the Son of Man is the One who offers His flesh as food and His blood as drink: the one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.

We understand "eternal life" is not physical life: it's not that our bodies will never die. We understand that because the Lord Jesus specifically says so, "He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54, JND). The one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, but he still needs to be raised up at the last day. So having eternal life doesn't mean his body won't die. It does mean he will be raised up. Notice this is the truth taught in Romans 8, "if Christ be in you, the body is dead on account of sin, but the Spirit life on account of righteousness" (Romans 8:10, JND). So our bodies are still subject to death, even though we may have eternal life. Of course that will change when He comes to get us: He'll change our bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:21). But until then, we live in mortal bodies.

But the Lord Jesus offers eternal life to dying (and dead) sinners. We are born dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1--3), but He came to give us life. John 6 gives us further insight into how He accomplishes this: He will give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. This is an offensive statement, and it offended the people who were listening to Him. And we understand from the passage that He wasn't meaning a literal eating of His flesh and blood. The Lord Jesus told the people, "the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life" (v. 63, JND). It was a spiritual, not physical truth He was relaying to them.

In fact, the passage begins with an important statement, "Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom *he* has sent" (v. 29, JND). It's not literal eating and drinking that the Lord Jesus is discussing. It's not even sacramental observance. He specifically says the only work God has for us is to believe. The entire discussion begins on this ground: that the work God has for us to do is to believe.

But it is a striking image nonetheless, and it's an image we'd rather not dwell on. But it conveys a very important truth: it was not merely that He in His deity would call the dead from the grave, but that He would give them life at great personal cost. It would cost Him His flesh and His blood to give us life. This is not the Son of God commanding, this is the Son of Man dying. And it puts a responsibility on His hearers. In John 5, the Son quickens whom He will (v. 21). There's no part for us to play in this, the Son quickens the ones He wants to quicken. But here in John 6, there is a responsibility on the recipients: if you want eternal life, you need to eat. So John 5 is all about God's sovereignty, but John 6 brings in human responsibility.

There's another truth that comes out in this chapter: eternal life needs to be fed. We get eternal life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood (v. 53), and this is a one-time eating. But there's another eating, an ongoing feeding in vv. 54--56. It's one thing to get eternal life, it's another to sustain it. I don't mean to say we lose our eternal life if we don't feed it--- if we can lose it, it's not eternal. I mean to say that it's possible for us to have eternal life, but to let it wither and fade. We can have eternal life and not really live it: have it, but be content to keep it on the shelf (so to speak), never really experiencing it.

Notice this truth, too, is brought out in Romans 8: "if ye live according to flesh, ye are about to die; but if, by the Spirit, ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13, JND). All believers have eternal life as a present possession (cf. 1 John 5:11-13), but it's possible to have it so weakly that it doesn't affect us. The challenge of Romans 8 is, walk it out. Live it. Don't live after the flesh so that your life is a waste! Walk in the Spirit, so that our eternal life is obvious. Live now like it's eternity already.

Let's remember that the whole basis of John 6 is in v. 29. The work of God is believing. So it's a continual believing on Christ that feeds us. It's contemplating and meditating on Him that feeds the eternal life we have.

The Lord Jesus specifically talks about Himself as the "bread of life" (vv. 48--51) and contrasts Himself with the manna the "fathers" ate in the wilderness. That, He said, only gave them temporary life. He, on the other hand, gives eternal life. So we can consider the manna in the Pentatuech as a type of Christ. And we notice that the "fathers" only ate manna in the wilderness. Once they came to Canaan, the manna stopped (Exodus 16:35, Joshua 5:12). This suggests that Christ as our manna is only available while we are in the wilderness. Once our time here is done, we won't be able to feed on Him in this way. I'm not saying we won't feed on Him throughout eternity: He is our life (Colossians 3:1--4) and we'll never not need Him. But there is a sense where we have a limited opportunity to feed on Him in this way. The day will come when we'll be out of the wilderness, and the manna will stop.

Now, the manna stopped after the people had eaten the "old corn of the land" (Joshua 5:12). If we consider Christ as manna, we realize it is Him here to give His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drunk. But now He's not here in humiliation: He's ascended back to Heaven, and He can't die again (Romans 6:9). And this is what He specifically says at the end of our passage in John 6:

But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmur concerning this, said to them, Does this offend you? If then ye see the Son of man ascending up where he was before? It is the Spirit which quickens, the flesh profits nothing: the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life. (John 6:61--63, JND)
But there is a sense where we are to feed on Christ, not as the Man who died for us, but as the Man now at God's right hand. Consider 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. (2 Corinthians 3:18, JND)
I'll suggest that this is the "old corn of the land." We can't feed on manna forever, eventually we make it out the wilderness and the manna stops. But when the children of Israel came into the land, the manna stopped after they ate the old corn of the land. In other words, they were feeding on both.

There are analogies to the Christian life in the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, there are analogies to the Christian life in the land too. We should really be living the truth of both. So we feed on Christ as the True Manna, but we feed on Him as the Old Corn of the Land too. The one is Christ in humiliation, the other is Christ in glory.

John 6 teaches us we need to feed on Christ as the Bread from Heaven to have eternal life. 2 Corinthians 3 teaches us we need to gaze on Christ to be like Him. I don't think they are the same thing, but the principle is the same. If we want to live now in the power of eternal life, we need to have hearts and eyes full of Him.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Father and the Son

John 5 is to me one of the highest and most mysterious passages in Scripture. It takes us back into eternity before there was anything except God, and it takes us to the last day when Christ will judge all men. It pulls back the curtain a bit and gives us a rare and touching glimpse into the Godhead so we can see a bit of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son.

The chapter opens with the Lord Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, a man who'd been bed-ridden for 38 years. The Pharisees accuse Him of working on the Sabbath (which He had, in fact, done). The response of the Lord Jesus to the accusation of the Pharisees opens into an astonishing treatise on relationships in the Godhead.

The Lord Jesus' answer to the charge of working on the Sabbath is actually fairly subtle, and I have to admit I didn't really understand it until fairly recently. The argument basically boils down to this: the Son can't do anything on His own, He only does what He sees the Father do (v. 19). And the Father works on the Sabbath (v. 17), so the Son must work on the Sabbath. It's what the Father has taught Him to do.

I find it interesting that the Scripture doesn't tell us that Christ didn't really break the Sabbath. That's not the point. The Son had been told to do something by the Father, and that meant He wasn't going to keep the Sabbath. Interestingly, there is an Old Testament precedent for this in Joshua. It was a few years ago that an older brother pointed out that Joshua and the people were told to encircle Jericho once every day for six days, and seven times on the seventh. No matter how you figure it, those people broke the Sabbath. But they did it because God told them to. Similarly, Christ broke the Sabbath because He was obeying the Father.

But He goes beyond explaining His actions in vv. 19--30. He starts with an explanation of the relationship between the Father and the Son: "the Father loves the Son and shews him all things which he himself does" (v. 20). There is an interesting image here: the Father is bringing the Son into the family business. The Son doesn't do what He wants, He does what He sees His Father do. The Father deliberately shows the Son what it is He's doing.

Notice the titles Christ uses for Himself here: He mainly refers to Himself in John 5 as "the Son", but in v. 25 He's the "Son of God" and in v. 27 He's the "Son of man." Each of these titles holds a distinctive meaning. When the Lord Jesus refers to Himself in relationship with the Father, He calls Himself "Son." When He talks about raising the dead, He's "Son of God"; and when He talks about eternal judgment, He's "Son of man". In fact, it's because He's Son of man that all judgment is given to Him (v. 27).

(We should be very careful when we discuss Christ, because none of us can really understand Him: "no one knows the Son but the Father" (Matthew 11:27, JND). But I think it's worth emphasizing that when the Scripture talks about eternal relationships in the Godhead, it uses the title "Son", not "Son of God". Certainly Christ is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, but the title that conveys that isn't "Son of God," it's "Son". I say that carefully, because I've heard a lot of people insist that Christ is the "eternal Son of God". I don't think that's what Scripture teaches: He's the "eternal Son"; the title "Son of God" is different. This certainly isn't a hill I'm willing to die on--- I appreciate they're only trying to highlight Eternal Sonship--- but I think a careful reading of Scripture indicates the eternal title is "Son", rather than "Son of God". cf. Hebrews 1 & 2.)

There are several passages in Scripture that specifically outline God's purpose. For example, in John 4 the Father is seeking worshipers. Exodus 29 tells us Jehovah saved the children of Israel "out of the land of Egypt, to dwell in their midst: I am Jehovah their God" (Exodus 29:46, JND). Here in John 5 we have another purpose of God verse, v. 23. It is the Father's goal that all men should honour the Son just like they honour the Father. This verse has been very important to me over the last 15 or 20 years. It's like God's grand plan is really just for all men to honour His Son.

Now, the Lord Jesus gives us three specific similarities between the Son and the Father:

  1. He raises the dead (v. 21)
  2. He is the judge of all men (v. 22)
  3. He has life in Himself (v. 26)
Raising the dead is God's exclusive right. It's not simply that only God has the right to raise the dead, but only God has the power to do so. We can't raise the dead, no matter how much we'd like to. Sure, we might witness a "medical miracle" where someone who's as good as dead recovers. Or we might even see someone "clinically dead" recover after a brief time. But the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead four days later. He'd been wrapped and buried: he wasn't in a coma, he was dead. But death is no barrier to the Son of God, He raises the dead. And He quickens "whom He will" (v. 21). It's not that He's under any obligation: He raises whomever He wants to raise. No one else gets a say in the matter.

Now, He applies this to two cases. The first is what we might call a spiritual resurrection in v. 25. The Scripture often refers to man's fallen state as a spiritual death. Christ's solution to that is to raise and quicken us. Notice Ephesians and Colossians follow this same thread, but Romans takes the opposite view. In Romans it's the lost who are alive (Romans 1--3), and the saved are dead (Romans 6).

The second application is two physical resurrections in vv. 29 & 30. One is a resurrection to life, the other a resurrection to judgment. You can't be in both groups: if you're in the resurrection to judgment, you're not in the resurrection to life. Notice this is what He insists on in v. 24. If we hear His word and believe on Him who sent Him, we have life and don't come into judgment. It's not just that we're judged and acquitted, but we're never even summoned.

This brings up an important point: judgment is always related to our physical bodies. When the dead are judged, they're raised first. And how are they judged? They're judged for what they did in their bodies.

There is no escaping the judgment of God. If you die first, He'll raise you from the dead to judge you. There's no statute of limitations, there's no way to avoid the bailiff. The only escape is to believe and pass from death into life: Christ has already been judged for those who believe. He has taken their punishment, so there's no judgment left for them.

I should think to the Pharisees at the time, certainly the next claim would be been shocking. They would have known that Abraham called God "the Judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:25, JND), and here Christ is claiming that He is the exclusive Judge (v. 22). The Father has given all judgment to the Son. The Father won't judge anyone, the Son will judge everyone. Now certainly the Lord Jesus is God. I'm not denying that. But within the Godhead it's the Son who will judge.

I find it interesting that He is Judge because He is Son of man. This is closely echoed by Paul on Mars Hill: it's by this Man God will judge the world (Acts 17:31). Paul goes further than John 5 and tells us God has announced this publicly through the Resurrection. The message of the Resurrection, Paul says, is that God has publicly named His Judge by raising Him from the dead. But again, it's the "Man Christ Jesus" that will be Judge. Christ won't judge all men as God (although He is God), but as Man. He will judge as One who knows exactly what it's like to be a Man in a fallen world.

William Kelly says God created this world for Christ to have dominion over it:

Man is called to rule, to have dominion. God was looking on to His Son, the Son of man. For Him the habitable earth is destined. God has not made it in vain. (William Kelly, Hebrews, Chapter 2)
God created the world and gave it to man to have dominion over it. But it wasn't really Adam God intended to rule; it was the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. It is as Man that He will take dominion, and it is as Man that He will judge.

The last similarity Christ reveals is "as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself" (v. 26, JND). I find this one of the most mysterious and difficult verses in Scripture. Here's a time when the Son pulls back the curtain and lets us see into the light unapproachable where God dwells, and we can't really understand what we see there.

I have no idea what it means that the Father has "given to the Son also to have life in himself." No clue.

But little as I understand it, this verse forms the basis of Christianity in a sense. Colossians 3 says, "When the Christ is manifested who [is] our life, then shall *ye* also be manifested with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4, JND). It's not just that Christ has life in Himself, but that He shares it with us. And it's not that He gives us a little piece of it and sends us on our way: but He Himself actually is our Life. John says it a little differently: "God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11, JND).

God has no blessing for me that's not in Christ, and He has no intention of ever taking it out of Christ to give it to me. God doesn't give me blessings per se. He gives me Christ, and in Him are all the blessings God has.

Christianity is not just that Christ has died for me. That's important, but it's not really Christianity. That's not much more than Abraham, Moses, and the prophets expected. The really amazing thing about Christianity is that the Son of God has died for us and has given us an eternal claim on Him. Christianity is not so much justification: it's the ongoing, eternal, and uninterrupted relationship we have with the Son of God. He's died for us, He also lives for us. And He is personally our Life.

We're going to spend eternity getting a better idea who Christ is. And when we get to the end of eternity (you know what I mean), we won't be done. Of course, the real goal is not to wait until we're there to get to know Him. I'm not sure I'll ever understand this chapter: I'm just a creature after all. But it's in looking at Christ that we become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). So maybe the point isn't understanding, but just in looking and enjoying.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Short Talk (Reprise)

A friend emailed me a comment on my last post, "Short Talk". I wanted to post it here.

Regarding your first point, God has spoken

I have recently had these ponderings concerning what I would tell a believer about approaching the Word:

I would urge in the strongest terms that the Word be allowed to simply say what it actually says -- nothing more, nothing less.

This occurs in practice less often than we might imagine.

Consider the implications -- if what the Word actually says is actually true…

Consider the implications -- if it is actually believed that what the Word actually says is actually true…

What the Word actually says is actually true…

Isaiah 55

10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Not much to add here. I have to ask my self, do I read the Word as though what it says is actually true?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Short Talk

I'm to give a short talk to "young people" this weekend. I'm surprised they'd ask me for a "short talk," as they all know I just never shut up. But I've been thinking about a short talk, and it's led to some interesting thoughts.

I've been thinking about what three things I'd like to tell "young people" if I've only got a few minutes. Perhaps it's just self-centeredness, but I've found three things I need to remind myself repeatedly... like several times a day. So in no particular order, here are the three points I think I'm going to bring up in this "short talk":

God has spoken We believe the Bible is the Word of God: God wrote a Book of what He wanted to say through inspired men. They wrote down His actual words. Given how much time I spend listening to everyone else's words, it shames me how little I spend listening (or reading) God's.

One danger I've brought up again and again is that of putting our understanding of God's words in place of His words. Over and over again, I've realized that someone (I or someone else) has subtly and quite unintentionally misquoted Scripture. It's not that we set out to corrupt God's words, it's that we confuse our understanding of what He said with what He actually said. The best remedy for this is to immerse ourselves in His words. So all the commentaries on my bookshelf may be excellent books, but they're not God's words. The hymns in the hymnbook may be helpful, but they're not God's words. We need to put His words first, our understanding of them second.

Christ has risen Christianity essentially reduces to belief in the Resurrection. Almost everything we believe is a result of it; and the Scripture repeatedly takes us back there for doctrine, practice, and encouragement. Steve Brown said something along the lines of, "If a dead man really got up and walked, that changes everything." He's right. We believe a dead man got up and walked around, and that is the central and defining point of our faith.

There are two results of this truth that I need to be reminded of every day: first I am to walk in newness of life, second He is coming back to raise me like He was raised. So some day my body will be changed into incorruptible immortality, but in the meantime I am to live in the power of His resurrection.

Finally, God will judge the world through Christ The world isn't a permanent fixture: it is on a collision course with God in judgment. The day is coming when every man, woman, and child will stand before Christ in judgment. I need to remind myself about this several times a day. The world feels like a permanent place, but it's not. God created the heavens and earth with a purpose: there's a point to all this. Reminding myself of the Goal helps to keep me on track.

There are many other things that would be worthwhile giving a "short talk" about, but these three seem to hang together for me. They're things I remind myself every day, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs it daily.

Friday, August 10, 2012


I've mentioned ashes before. A friend of mine pointed out several years ago, ashes are evidence of a completed sacrifice. So the ashes in the Tabernacle are on the east side of the altar, proof of a completed (and accepted) sacrifice before the one who approaches gets to the altar.

In connection with that, Numbers 19 details the offering of the Red Heifer. A red heifer was to be sacrificed (vv. 3 & 4) and completely burned (v. 5), then the ashes were to be taken outside the camp (v. 9). A man or woman who was defiled with a dead body was to apply the ashes of the red heifer with water (v. 9, 13) to remove the defilement (vv. 11--13).

The law of the Red Heifer was an interesting law, as it was a sacrifice made before the sin was committed. Watchman Nee talks about that in his excellent Not I, but Christ.

A whole load of books has been written on the Red Heifer. I'm not at all trying to explicate that passage here. But I want to draw attention to two points.

First, it is the ashes of the Red Heifer that cleanse. It's not that the unclean man (or woman) needed to see the blood of the heifer. He (or she) needed to the ashes. This suggests there is a unique and cleansing value to the certainty of the completed sacrifice.

It is our natural tendency to want a new sacrifice whenever we sin. But the testimony of Scripture is, there is no more sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:10, 26). Christ has died once for all, and He cannot die for us again. This doesn't suggest we are without hope, needing another sacrifice; on the contrary, it is God's assertion that no other sacrifice is needed (Hebrews 9:14, 10:14, 18).

Be there is a value to our remembering and recognizing how completely that one sacrifice (never to be repeated) still cleanses us. The worshippers have a conscience once purged (Hebrews 10:2), but as we walk through the wicked world, we are defiled by it. And more to the point, as we live in these yet-unredeemed bodies (Romans 8:23), we find ourselves defiled by the sins the of the flesh. And so the Red Heifer reminds us that there is a cleansing effect as we remember that Christ has by one offering perfected forever the sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). And it reminds us that when we are defiled by the world around us and the flesh within us, it is the once-for-all completed sacrifice that is our peace with God.

Second, we recognize that the ashes of the Red Heifer are applied with water. Water in Scripture reminds us of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26). Perhaps the Red Heifer might remind us that the ashes--- the proof of an already-completed sacrifice--- are really only brought to our conscience by the Word of God.

This is an important point. J. N. Darby said

faith puts into immediate connection with God; a connection founded on His own testimony, which is received by the operation of divine power in the soul; and hence also has its practical existence in real confidence of God Himself ("Superstition is not Faith")
That is, faith is believing God because He is God. One brother I know likes to say, "God said it, that settles it, I better believe it." We don't claim that God has forgiven all our sins because it makes sense, we say it because that's what God said.

The certainty that our sins are covered must come from the Word of God. If it doesn't, it isn't certainty any more.

One problem we get into is, we try and act as appraisers of Christ on God's behalf. So we think to ourselves, "Surely Christ's death has atoned for that sin!" But when we set ourselves up as judge of what Christ has done, we take a position we have no right to. God has already passed judgment on Christ, and He's declared Himself completely satisfied. How dare I, how dare you, give our opinion on the matter? When I find I have defiled myself with the world around me and the flesh inside, it's not my place to assess whether God has forgiven me that sin. It is my place to believe what God has said and that's all.

So the Red Heifer reminds us that the completed sacrifice was enough to remove our defilement. It reminds us too that it's the Word of God that makes that good to our conscience.

I made a comment last week in meeting about praising in the place of the ashes. Really that's a comment a close friend made once, and I just passed it on. When Solomon dedicated his temple, the singers sang "on the east end of the altar" (2 Chronicles 5:12). It's on the east side of the altar where the priest was to put the ashes of the offerings (Leviticus 1:16). So the singers were in the place of the ashes. It's because we stand on the ashes (as it were) that we can praise. Ashes prove the sacrifice is done: God's wrath has burned, and there's none left. So we stand where the sacrifice is over, we stand on the proof there's no more sacrifice for sins, and we praise there.

This is worth remembering.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

STEM eBooks!

I was poking around on the STEM Publishing website and I made a great discovery: they're putting out eBooks now!

This is fantastic news. I hate reading "online". I like my wife's Kindle, and I can tolerate the Kindle app on my Mac, but webpages are just hard to read. I prefer paper. But with STEM putting out eBooks, we can have the best of both worlds: convenience of electronic media, with a significantly improved reading experience.

STEM has been a classy site since the get-go. They've got some really, really good stuff available there for free. And as much as I prefer to read paper, I frequently use STEM as a convenient way to search for something I vaguely remember from a book, or a quick citation on this blog. I'm really, really happy to see eBooks on that site. Thanks a bunch, Les and all!

eBooks are here:

I'm off to read Trotter's Plain Papers on Prophetic and Other Subjects.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Law and Grace

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the distinction between law and grace. The question of law vs. grace lies at the heart of Scripture, and is foundational to the Christian life:

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14, NASB)
John's Gospel begins with the amazing statement that
the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (John 1:17, NASB)
So we have two foundational principles: first, Christ's coming is characterized by grace and truth in contrast to the Law; and second, that we are not under the mastery of sin because we're not under law, but under grace.

Now, Scripture differentiates between "law" and "the law". The first is a principle, the second is specifically the Law that Moses received from God. I've written about the Mosaic Law before, so there's perhaps nothing to be gained from going into great detail about it here. To a certain degree we can use the two interchangeably, because the Law of Moses is the most perfect law (Romans 7:9--12). This is really the only Law God gave, and so we might think of it as the ultimate example of the principle of law. Certainly if the Law of Moses was limited through the sinfulness in our flesh (Romans 8:1--4), then any other law must be just as futile.

But today I'm more interested in the question of "law" than "the law." That is, law as a principle as opposed to a specific Law.

Let's start by making it clear that God has never justified a sinner on the principle of law. Sinners have only ever been justified on the basis of faith (see Romans 4). From Abel to today, God justifies the one who does not work but believes. There has never been one sinner justified, but by faith.

But God did give the Law to Moses, and the people agreed to it (Exodus 24:7). And so they were tried (as it were) under law. The principle of law is, God deals with us based on what we do. We work to be accepted by Him.

Grace, of course, is the opposite principle. Grace is the principle that God treats us as He wants to, with no regard to what we deserve. Grace is the principle that we work because He has already accepted us. So where law says you get what you work for; grace says you get what God wants to give you, regardless of your work. Law is the principle of what man does, grace is the principle of what God has done.

Where law said, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," grace says, "forgive one another as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." Law says, obey and God will bless; grace says, God has already blessed, now obey.

We need to be jealous of grace. We need to be very careful that we don't give up the grace of God. It's easy to fall into legal thinking, and thus abandon grace. We're not justified by law, we're not to walk by law. We can't begin in the spirit and finish in the flesh: the principle of our justification is the principle of our sanctification.

There is no place we see the distinction between law and grace like in the whole notion of our approach to God. Believers under the Law couldn't approach God: the high priest alone, and only once a year, was allowed into God's presence (cf. Leviticus 16; Hebrews 9:6--10). And there was danger in approaching God: the high priest is warned in Leviticus that he might actually die if he approaches God unworthily. This is approaching God on the principle of law.

But Hebrews teaches that we are to approach on the principle of grace. We have an High Priest who has already been accepted into God's presence for us. And because He is there for us, we are to approach with full assurance (Hebrews 10:19--25). Our consciences are purged once, and now we have no more conscience of sins. We come into God's presence freely, with no thought of any judgment at all, because God has already declared us clean and fit for His presence. This is exactly the principle of grace: God has already done all the work, we are only called to reap the rewards.

Now, the whole question of law and grace centers on the paradox of God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility. Law says, "Man is responsible," while grace says, "God is sovereign." And Man's responsibility and God's Sovereignty meet in exactly one Person; the Lord Jesus Christ is both Sovereign God and Responsible Man. In fact, Man's responsibility is completely fulfilled and completed in Christ. God has looked for a righteous Man, and it was when Christ came that He found that Man. Christ is the Man that God was looking for, and He has stopped looking. This is the real point of Hebrews 1:1--3. God has found what He wanted: one Man has pleased God, and God's no longer looking for anything from Man. When I approach God, I have nothing to offer Him except Christ. And God is looking for nothing from me, except Christ. Christ is my righteousness, my holiness, my wisdom, and my redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30 & 31).

It's important for us to understand this principle: that God is no longer looking for anything from Man. What God wanted in Man He found in Christ. This bears repeating: God has found what He was looking for, and He's not looking any more. God is delighted in His Son, and He's called us to be delighted in His Son too.

So when I go to approach God, He's not looking at me to see whether I'm worthy to be there. He's already said I am (Colossians 1:11 & 12), and He's invited me to come in (Hebrews 10:19--25). So I approach God. But when I get into God's presence, I find that being in God's presence is a very cleansing thing. This is what 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, we become like Christ as we look at His glory. Notice the order: we don't see Him as a result of getting better; we get better as a result of seeing Him. The former is law, the latter is grace.

Someday we're going to see Christ physically, and that's a cleansing thing too (1 John 3:2 & 3). Notice, it's the hope of seeing Him that leads to purity. It's not that we purify ourselves so we can see Him, it's that we're guaranteed to see Him, and this makes us purify ourselves.

Law reasons from man to God; grace reasons from God to man. Law says, "I'm no good, so God can't possibly love me" but grace says, "God is unimaginably good, and therefore He loves me." Grace is sovereign. If I am reckoning on my own goodness, I find myself very quickly despairing, because I've basically none. But if I reckon on God's goodness, I can rest because I know that will never change.

Now it is true that God disciplines His children; but notice, He does it because they are His children. In fact, Hebrews makes God's discipline proof of sonship (Hebrews 12:7--11). We don't become God's sons through discipline, but we are disciplined because we are His sons. Notice that even God's discipline on us flows from grace. Again, grace is the principle that we are to live up to what God has already given. But He has already given it, regardless of whether we live up to it or not.

William R. Newell said it this way:

To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret. ("A Few Words about Grace," Romans Verse-by-Verse)
This is what Scripture presents as the Christian life. God has abundantly blessed me with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. This is where it all begins: there's nothing for me to earn, because Christ has already earned it. This is grace: not what I am for God (law), but what God is for me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reading List

From time to time I've been asked for a book recommendation. A while back I wrote down a list of recommended reading for a friend, and I thought it might not be a bad idea to post something like that here. This isn't exactly the same list I gave him, but it's very similar.

Please note, just because I recommend a book, that doesn't mean I recommend the book's author, nor the other books that author wrote. I hate to make that disclaimer, but I'm afraid I have to.

So here are some books I highly recommend:

Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 12 This is a collection of Darby's Gospel messages, and it centers on God's grace. This volume contains "God's Grace and Man's Need," "The Prodigal with the Father," and "Two Warnings and an Example." This is undoubtedly Darby's best work, and probably the best Christian book I've ever read. I recommend this book unconditionally to anyone.

Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee. This book is very close to my heart, reading this book was a life-changing moment for me. It was also the time I had to learn that just because something spoke to me, it doesn't mean it'll speak to everyone. At any rate, this book is short and easy to read, but very powerful. It's a brief overview of the principles of the Christian life based on Ephesians. I can't recommend this book highly enough. You can find it on Amazon.

Discipline in the School of God by J. B. Stoney. This is Volume 13 of Ministry by J. B. Stoney, New Series. Not the easiest book to find (I recommend trying the Dover Bible Fund), but well worth the effort to find it. This is probably Stoney's most famous work, originally published as a series of articles in Bible Treasury. Stoney examines the lives of Biblical characters from Adam to Abel, to Noah, to Paul. He looks at God's dealings with each of them. This book is wonderful, but it's humbling and cuts straight to the conscience. I've bought this one several times, it's one of those books you buy just to give away.

Romans Verse by Verse by William R. Newell. I've talked about this one before. Buy it now. You can find it on Amazon.

Lectures on the Church of God by William Kelly. This is hands-down the best thing I've ever read on the Church. William Kelly is a stellar expositor. I prefer Darby's writings to Kelly's, but I don't think there's any question that Kelly was the more careful expositor. This books is very easy to read, and not terribly long; but it's thorough and careful. I need to read it again.

The Church and it's Order According to Scripture by Samuel Ridout. If it weren't for Kelly's book, this would be the best I've read on the Church. If you only have one book on the Church, it should be Kelly's; but this should be the second.

Law and Grace by Alva J. McClain. This is another I've talked about before. I am convinced the whole topic of Law and Grace is of the first importance in the Christian life. This book is not the most complete, but it's dead-on. Short, readable, and straight to the point, this is a great book, and worth running out to get. You can find it on Amazon.

The Coming Prince by Sir Robert Anderson. I have to admit I'm not done this one yet, but I'll go out on a limb and recommend it anyway. This book is stunning for it's careful and painstakingly thorough exposition of Scripture. It's a study of Daniel's 70 weeks. You can find it on Amazon.

The Believer Established by C. A. Coates. This is an introduction to the Christian life for new believers. It's really worth a read, although the last chapter is a little legalistic. This is another one you'll be able to find at the Dover Bible Fund.

Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 10. This volume is all about the Law, and it's incredible. Well worth reading. You can read this one online at STEM Publishing. It's Darby, so it's not the easiest read in the world, but it's really worth the time and effort it takes.

I've a lot more books that are worth reading, but this is a solid core. Maybe we'll get more recommendations in the comments.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finally, brethren

Well, I'm done. I just finished the final volume of Collected Writings of J. N. Darby.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dead with Christ

This is loosely based on some talks I gave over the last few weeks. I thought it would be worthwhile to share online.

11 Wherefore did I not die from the womb, --come forth from the belly and expire? 12 Why did the knees meet me? and wherefore the breasts, that I should suck? 13 For now should I have lain down and been quiet; I should have slept: then had I been at rest, 14 With kings and counsellors of the earth, who build desolate places for themselves, 15 Or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver; 16 Or as a hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants that have not seen the light. 17 There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the wearied are at rest. 18 The prisoners together are at ease; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. 19 The small and great are there, and the bondman freed from his master. (Job 3:11--19, JND)

In Job 3, Job laments his life by saying he'd have been better off dead. He makes several statements about death that catch our attention, especially in verses 17 through 19. Job says death is where the bondman is free from his master. This has a direct application when we turn to the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit uses the principle of ``freedom in death'' for three relationships:

  1. we are dead to sin (Romans 6)
  2. we are dead to the Law (Romans 7, Galatians 2)
  3. we are dead to the world (Galatians 6, Colossians 2 & 3)
Let's look at each of these in more detail.

Romans 5 ends with the statement that where sin abounds, grace more-than-abounds. And so Romans 6 starts with the obvious question: if more sin means more grace, should we just live in sin to get more grace?

Alan Gamble said that this question is the inevitable result of the Gospel, and I think he's correct. Paul's Gospel says,

Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this man remission of sins is preached to you, and from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses, in him every one that believes is justified (Acts 13:38 & 39)
If we're going to preach a Gospel of absolute remission, a Gospel where any sinner who doesn't work but believes is justified and will never be judged for his sins--- in other words, the same Gospel Paul preached, the same Gospel Romans teaches--- then we're going to have to answer the question, ``So should we just keep sinning?''. In fact, Gamble says if you don't get that question, you're probably not preaching the Gospel at all.

So Romans 6 opens with the inevitable question: should we just keep sinning? Please note the question is not, ``Can we just keep sinning?'' That question is easy to answer, if you understand the Gospel. Of course you can! If you really understand the Gospel the Scripture teaches, there's no question whether you can keep sinning. God justifies the ungodly. God justifies the one who doesn't work but believes. God will not impute iniquity to the one who believes. One who believes is justified while he is still ungodly, and God declares him righteous regardless of what he does. But that's not the question of Romans 6. Romans 6 answers the question, ``Shall we continue in sin?'' And the answer is ``Absolutely not!''.

Why shouldn't we continue in sin? Is it because God will punish us? Is it because He will un-justify us? No, it's because we have died to sin (Romans 6:2). We were baptized into Christ, and thus have been baptized into His death.

Are you ignorant that we, as many as have been baptised unto Christ Jesus, have been baptised unto his death? We have been buried therefore with him by baptism unto death, in order that, even as Christ has been raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father, so *we* also should walk in newness of life. For if we are become identified with him in the likeness of his death, so also we shall be of his resurrection; 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. (Romans 6:3--6, JND)
Our old man was crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin is annulled, and thus we no longer have to serve sin.

This passage has caused some considerable trouble in people's minds. On the one hand, there are those who would tell us that since the old man was crucified with Christ, there is no longer sin in us; on the other hand, there are those who insist that since sin is clearly still in us, the old man might be crucified, but he's still there... just not quite dead (or something). Both of these views overlook what Romans actually teaches. Ultimately, it comes down to a misunderstanding of what the "old man" actually is, and a confusion of the "old man" with "the flesh". The "old man" isn't something I have he was something I was. I was an "old man", a man of Adam's nature and lineage. But that old man has died, and thus I'm not that man any more. So does that mean I'm without sin? Not at all, nor does Romans 6 actually teach that. Romans 6 tells us that the old man's death is what frees me from sin: sin is clearly still in the picture, but it's not in control because I'm dead to it. I'm not that old man any more, and thus I'm not a slave to sin. Now, Romans 7 will expand on that and introduce another character: the flesh. Even though I'm not the old man anymore, I'm still living in his body (the "body of sin"). That body will be redeemed one day, and I will be completely without sin. But until that day, I live in a sinful body, even though I am dead to sin. That's the teaching of Romans 7:17--24 as well as Romans 8:1--14.

So why shouldn't we live in sin? Because we're dead to sin. We've died with Christ, and the death has severed the ties with sin. Sin rules over Adam's descendants, but Christ has freed us from sin when we died with Him. A dead man is free from the rule of sin. I'm not Adam's descendant any more: that life ended at the Cross, so now I have a new life, which is under no obligation to sin.

Notice I still have this thing called "the flesh", which is introduced in Romans 7. Romans 6 doesn't deal with "the flesh", and Romans 7 doesn't deal with "the old man": they are distinct things in Romans. One is what I was, the other is something I have. I'm not the old man anymore, but I won't be free of the legacy of sin from Adam until Christ transforms my vile body into the likeness of His glorious body (Philippians 3:21). I'm not the old man anymore, but I still have to live in his body.

But the point is not that I am sin-free, but that I am free from sin. Sin has no obligation over me, I have a new life. I have died with Christ so that I can walk in "newness of life" (Romans 6:4). The life I live now isn't my own, it's Christ's (Galatians 2:20). Thus, I can walk in "newness of life."

And notice I'm not told to die to sin, I'm told I have died to sin. It's not something I have to do, it's something that's already been done. My obligation isn't to die, my obligation is to reckon that to be true (Romans 6:11). I have died with Christ, I am dead to sin. My responsibility is to think that way; to believe what God has said about me.

As a side note, there is an expression you'll hear about "dying to self". You won't find the expression "die to self" or "dying to self" in Scripture: it's just not there. Scripture doesn't confound the new creation with the old: the old man has been crucified with Christ, there's no more dying for him to do. The new man doesn't need to be crucified with Christ, it's been created for newness of life, not for death. So we're not called to die to self, we're told we have died with Christ.

There is a sense in Scripture where death works in us. That's the whole argument of 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. But notice that death works in us so that the life of Christ is manifested in our mortal bodies. Again, it's not that we die to self, nor that we need to die with Christ. We have died with Christ, but there is a practical working of death that works in our unredeemed bodies. I am in Christ, I am a new creature. But I am still waiting in the redemption of my sinful body. That day is coming: the Son of God is coming from Heaven to transform this mortal body (Romans 8:22 & 23; 1 Corinthians 15:49--58; Philippians 3:21), and then I'll have a body like His. Until that day, I am living in an old man's body, a body of death (Romans 7:24), a body with sin in it (Romans 8:10). Death works in that body, because it's as death works in me that the life of Jesus is manifested in my mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:7--12).

So because I've died with Christ, I'm dead to sin. Romans 7 takes it further and says that since I've died with Christ, I'm dead to the Law (Romans 7:4).

So that, my brethren, *ye* also have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ, to be to another, who has been raised up from among the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh the passions of sins, which were by the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit to death; but now we are clear from the law, having died in that in which we were held, so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter. (Romans 7:4--6, JND)
I've talked about the Law before, and I don't want to go on at great lengths about it again. But we recall that the Law was given through Moses in order to demonstrate man's sinfulness (Romans 3:20). This is the whole argument of Romans 2:12--3:20. Before Moses, men were sinners. The Law didn't create sin: murder and adultery and idolatry were wrong before the Law forbade them. But the Law was given to make men conscious of sin. Sin is lawlessness: it's a creature saying ``you're not the boss of me!'' (1 John 3:4). Transgression is violating a specific command. The Law specifically gave rules for men to obey. When men violated the rules, they trangressed. The Law doesn't make man a sinner, but it makes man a transgressor. Man was a sinner before the Law was given, but he became guilty of transgressing specific rules once those rules were given.

So Romans 7 describes what happens when a man tries to keep the Law. It begins with the specific statement that we've died to the Law so that we can bring forth fruit to God. We can't be fruitful and have the Law at the same time. If we want to bring forth fruit to God, we have to be free from the Law. The rest of Romans 7 describes the problems when a man tries to keep the Law: he can't. The Law was given to ferret out sin and make it obvious. When we (who have sin in our flesh) try to keep the Law, it does exactly what God designed it to do: it finds the sin in our flesh and makes it obvious to us.

Galatians 2 takes up this theme, but here we've died to the Law so that we can live unto God (Galatians 2:19). So here again, we need to die to Law so that we can live to God. We might say that living to God requires dying to Law. I've died with Christ, and thus I'm dead to [the] Law. Because I'm dead to the Law, I can live unto God. Because I'm dead to the Law, I can bring forth fruit to God.

Now we reach the conundrum: does dying to law mean I can just do whatever I want? In a sense it does; but that's kind of missing the point. Scripture doesn't say I've been made dead to the Law to live in lawlessness; it says I've been made dead to the Law so that I can bring forth fruit to God.

Does my dying to Law mean I'm not bound by the Ten Commandments? Yes. That's exactly what it means. It means I don't have a checklist for things I'm allowed to do and things I'm not allowed to do. My standard of conduct isn't a set of rules, it's Christ Himself.

Although I'm dead to the Law, I'm still called to obey. Not obey the Law, mind you, but obey Christ. I am not under Law (neither the Law of Moses nor any other law), but I am legitimately (i.e. legally) subject to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). I am dead to sin, so I am not to live lawlessly, but God doesn't deal with me on the principle of Law. We are saved by grace and are called to walk by grace. We are to walk as we have received the Christ (Colossians 2:6).

So I'm dead to sin and dead to the Law. Is that all? No, Galatians 6 gives us a third "dead to":

As many as desire to have a fair appearance in the flesh, these compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted because of the cross of Christ. For neither do they that are circumcised themselves keep the law; but they wish you to be circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:12--14, JND)
I have died with Christ, and therefore I am dead to the world.

I was in a meeting once where an older brother got up and spoke about the second shortest verse in the Bible: "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). I have to admit that address really touched my conscience. I'm a lot like Lot's wife.

If we consider Lot's wife, we realize that her sin wasn't that she insisted on staying in Sodom. Rather, having been delivered from Sodom, she turned and looked back. That sounds like me in a lot of ways. The Son of God came and died here for my sins to save me from the present evil world. I'm dead to the world by the Cross of Christ, and now I need to beware, because it's all too easy to look back over my shoulder at it.

Colossians 2:20--3:6 is all about our relationship to the world. Paul asks in Colossians 2, "If you've died with Christ from the elements of the world," then why do you practice a worldly religion? Worldly religion is all about ordinances: you can't touch this or taste that or handle something else. That religion has an appearance of wisdom, he says, but it's all done to the satisfaction of the flesh. It doesn't do your spirit a bit of good. And this sort of worldly religion is all around us. Whether it's the modern-day Galatians who forbid eating pork, or the stereotype evangelicals who believe you can't cuss, smoke, drink, or dance; in either case they're propping up a fleshly religion.

What Colossians teaches as the unworldly walk of a Christian is this: "have your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth; for ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2 & 3, JND). This isn't a religion about what you eat or drink or smoke: it's a walk that's characterized and empowered by the life of Christ. Christ is in Heaven, at God's right hand. He is my life, because I have died with Him. Christ, my life, empowers a life that's totally different from the world around me.

I confess I don't live up to this to any appreciable degree. But I can't help but wonder what my life would look like if I really practiced Colossians 3 Christianity. If my mind was in Heaven (where, after all, my Head is), and my affections were up there too... what would my life be like? The worldly religion of ordinances isn't what I've been called to live out. I might not cuss or drink or smoke or dance, but I can't help think that's not what people would notice.

It seems to me the key to avoiding the pitfall of the world is our affections. 1 John 2 says "love not the world". Colossians 3 says "set your affections on things above." It's a question of our hearts. Christ is in Heaven, and my heart ought to be full of Him there. Satan's goal is not really to make us terrible sinners, he just needs us to not be looking at Christ.

After all, I've been called to live in this world, but not be of it. Someone else observed we're really good at being of it, while managing not to be in it. We have Christian schools, Christian camps, and all manner of para-church organizations. We can quite feasibly make it through a week without ever actually stepping outside our little Christian bubbles. But ironically, what's going on in those bubbles is exactly the same thing that's going on in the world. We might not be brushing shoulders with sinners, but we're living just like them.

So I've died with Christ. My history ended at the Cross, so far as God is concerned. I now live a new life, a life of faith in the Son of God. And it's not really I who live it at all, but Christ who lives in me. That's normal Christianity according to Scripture. I don't live up to it very well, but it's my calling. Because I've died with Christ, I'm dead to sin, the Law, and the world. I need to remember that, and not go back to the very things God has freed me from.