Saturday, December 12, 2015

Horse, Robe, and Crown

As far as I can tell, there are only two times Christ is shown to be riding in Scripture. He is almost always seen as walking – a couple times He is in a boat – but twice He rides: when He is presented as the King of Israel (Matthew 21:1–11), and when He comes as King of Kings (Revelation 19:11–16).

We tend to miss that God Himself established the time of the Gentiles (Jeremiah 27:1–11; Daniel 2:37–44; Luke 21:24) starting with Nebuchadnezzar – the king of kings (Daniel 2:37) – and leading until finally the Son of Man will descend from Heaven to be given an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:9–14).

(We notice this kingdom isn't established until after the fourth beast is slain and its body destroyed with fire (vv. 11–12). This echoes Daniel 2:34–35, where the stone destroys the image and then grows into a great mountain. Isaiah 63 fills in some of the gap here: the Redeemer comes to Israel, His garments stained with blood from a tremendous battle.)

God only has one purpose, to "head up all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:9–10). God gave the kingdom of Israel to David, with the ultimate goal that Christ would reign as King in Zion (Psalm 2). God gave the Gentile kingdoms to Nebuchadnezzar with the ultimate goal that the Son of Man would be established as King of Kings (Daniel 2:44, 7:13–14). Christ is David's Successor as King of Israel. He is Nebuchadnezzar's as King of Kings.

Scripture doesn't tell us a whole lot about the customs of the Gentile kings. Certainly the empires of Babylon, of Persia, of Greece, and of Rome had very different cultures and customs. But Scripture does tell us about the man the king delights to honor (Esther 6:6–10). There we read the the king's pleasure was shown with a horse, a crown, and a robe. Of course there are some clear differences between Esther 6 and Revelation 19, but those same elements are highlighted when Christ is revealed as the King of Kings, coming to destroy the beast and establish His own kingdom.

I think we can look at Esther 6 and Revelation 19 and say, "Aha! This is the Man whom the King Immortal delights to honor."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I found this article in Bible Treasury, and thought it worth sharing: "Salvation and Sealing".

The moment I see myself all sin, I may see all this grace shown me, just as much accepted now as when before Him in the glory. This I have not yet got; I am only waiting for the glory, but I am now accepted in the beloved. One must be either in sin before God, or in Christ accepted. There is no middle state. If looking at myself, I must be condemned; but if I rest on His sovereign goodness, the riches of His grace are mine in the gift of His Son, not dying only for sinners, but risen and in heaven, and myself accepted in Him. In Him I have redemption through His blood. In this there is nothing vague.
I have no idea who wrote it, but it's really quite good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Don't be a galley slave

Unbroken communion is precisely what the Lord Jesus, in the days of His flesh, always possessed; as He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." Now we dwell in that peace made by His blood, as it is brought out to us in the power of His resurrection. But then it is when we have left behind the exercises under law of Rom. 7. What I complain of is, that quickened souls, who really look to Christ, take up the law, and erroneously think it a duty to toil like a galley-slave at that oar of bitter bondage, when God calls them into the liberty of Christ. They have not died to law in their own souls. The death of Christ brings completely outside that condition; just as really as a man in prison for debt remains no longer under the power of the law when he dies. No doubt, as long as the man lives, the law applies to him; but death makes it impossible for the law to hold him fast; he is irrevocably gone beyond its reach. It is exactly so in the case of the Christian.
William Kelly, "In the Spirit and the Spirit in you"

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Arming Slaves

I was at a Bible conference last weekend. I spoke to one older brother who said something like this: "We keep preaching Ephesians 6 to people who need Romans 6. There is no conflict without deliverance." Of course he's right.

God never commanded the Israelites to fight the Egyptians: they were to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:13). Conflict didn't start until after they had looked back on the dead bodies of their enemies on the shore of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:30). A person who hasn't looked back on the broken enemy who had him enslaved isn't called to fight.

People are looking for victory who need deliverance.

I grew up in a lot of places, ecclesiastically speaking. One was a mainstream evangelical church. I remember hearing a lot of talk about Romans 12 in that church, but I can't recall hearing about Romans 6-8. Why do we think we can live out Romans 12 if we're not living out Romans 6-8?

I've talked before about hearing a lot of ministry on Colossians 3 that starts in v. 5. Again, why do we think we can live Colossians 3:5 ff. if we're not paying attention to vv. 1-4?

I'm not saying we're not supposed to obey Romans 12, but that we can't live out Romans 12 unless we're living out Romans 6-8. Why else would Romans 12 start with "therefore" (Romans 12:1)?

It's amazing how many people quote John 15:14 to urge obedience, apparently oblivious to John 15:1-4, "without me you can do nothing". Why does the chapter start with a discussion on abiding in Christ? Because unless we're abiding in Christ, we're accomplishing nothing. That is, after all, what He promised.

I am ranting now, but it needs to be said. I listen to a lot of sermons, and I read a lot of articles. The vast majority of "ministry" I hear is nothing more than urging Christians to be made perfect by human will and fleshly power. It's calling slaves to fight when scripture calls them to be still and see the salvation of the Lord. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Reading List

A discussion grew in the comment section of my last post, ending in a request for a couple reading suggestions about giving up on the flesh. Here it is.

Let's start with The Gospel of Our Salvation by H. F. Witherby. You can find order it from Bible Truth Publishers, or read it online at STEM Publishing. It's an excellent book: easy to read and laid out very clearly. I gave away all my copies, so apparently I need to order more.

Probably the most concise book on the Christian life is The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. I used to caution people about this book because of the chapter on the sealing with the Holy Spirit, but now I recommend it with joyous abandon. You can order it on Amazon, or read it online.

I certainly don't recommend all of Watchman Nee's books, but The Normal Christian Life is excellent.

The most complete single volume on the Christian life that I have read is From New Birth to New Creation by R. A. Huebner. This one went out of print in the last couple years, but word is they're planning to reprint it. You used to be able to order it from Bible Truth Publishers and Present Truth Publishers. If it ever comes back in print, I intend to order at least five copies. It is available for free download as a PDF. If you're OK with reading PDF, here's an excellent resource.

I reviewed From New Birth to New Creation last year. It's an excellent read. I like it more this year than I did last year... give it a little more time and it'll be my favourite book.

OK, I've listed three books, I was asked for "2 or 3". Here are some bonus offerings...

Let's start with Francis Schaeffer's True Spirituality. Definitely worth reading, although it doesn't attain to the first three (which is a very 2 Samuel thing to say, isn't it?). One thing I really like about this book is the constant focus on the "real world". Schaeffer was really burdened about the danger of putting faith into another realm from the real world of time and space where we actually live. I wouldn't make this the only book in my library, but it's definitely an important one.

There are two essential papers written by J. N. Darby on the whole subject of Deliverance, and they should really be read together:

  1. "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 31, pp. 254 – 280)
  2. "Deliverance from the Law of Sin" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 32, pp. 323 – 332)
I will freely confess I read both of these papers many times before actually understanding what they were saying. It was frustrating to see there was something there I couldn't quite grasp. So don't give up! These two papers really address the entire issue of Deliverance in a very complete sense. But be warned: nothing Darby writes is easy to read.

Another helpful article is "Deliverance" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 31, pp. 153 – 160).

Frankly, you could do worse than going to Google and searching for: deliverance

Finally I have several audio recordings of messages on the topic of Deliverance by several brethren. One brother named Robert Thomson has given some really excellent talks. Not all of his audio recordings are easily available online, but there are a few on Voices for Christ. One worth listening to is "A New Dispensation". I confess I have several MP3 files of Mr. Thomson's messages that are probably "contraband". Since I've no right to share them, I'll just say he gave a talk at a conference in Winnipeg called "Nothing", and it is worth listening to that MP3. I've listened to it at least a dozen times, and it has been very helpful. If I can find a source for that recording, I'll share it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Giving up

This week we got rid of our old couch. It was too big for this house, sagging horribly, and really, really heavy. We had to disassemble it before we could get it outside: we removed the fold-out bed from the couch and carried the couch and the bed outside separately.

Once outside,  I tried to put it back together. After maybe 15 minutes of struggling to get the metal frame back into the sagging wooden frame of the couch, I realized I was wasting my time. My wife had already called and arranged a garbage pick-up for the couch;  it would be gone in 12 hours. So here I was, trying to repair a couch that we had already decided to throw away.  More than that, we knew it would be picked up and left in the dump in less than 24 hours.

I remembered reading something by C. A. Coates about a man who keeps digging through the trash,  revealing he doesn't really believe it's trash (Spiritual Blessings, pp. 34 - 35). And here I was, doing the same thing.

Really that's a good metaphor for our dealings with the flesh, isn't it?  God's already given up on it,  but we spend so much time and effort trying to make it better.

I've come to the conclusion that the hardest part of abiding in Christ is being content to abide in Christ. I have such a tendency to try and please God myself,  rather than accepting my place "in Christ" with no righteousness of my own (Philippians 3:9).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Making a law of Christ

A timely caution from J.N. Darby:
Whilst we are upon this subject of the law, it ought to be remarked, before going farther, that there are some who make a law of Christ Himself. They acknowledge His love; they see in His work on the cross, how great is His love. They find in it a reason why they should love Christ perfectly, with their whole hearts; but they cannot find this love in themselves. They ought to love Christ with their whole heart, but they do not love Him thus. Now it is precisely the law which commands that we should love God with all our heart. We have found in Christ a new motive, we have perhaps given a new form to the law, but we find ourselves still under the law, though we have clothed it with the name of Christ.
("Deliverance from under the Law, as stated in the Holy Scriptures", Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 7, p. 134)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Gospel

The New Testament epistles talk a lot about the importance of "the Gospel". It used to frustrate me as a young teen that there's not a lot in Scripture that really defines what "the Gospel" actually is. Imagine my delight to find 1 Corinthians 15:1–8, where "the Gospel" is actually defined.

According to 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, there are four essential propositions in the Gospel:

  1. Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures (v. 3)
  2. he was buried (v. 4)
  3. he was raised the third day, according to the scriptures (v. 4)
  4. he appeared to several witnesses:
    1. Cephas (v. 5)
    2. the twelve (v. 5)
    3. above five hundred brethren at once (v. 6)
    4. James (v. 7)
    5. all the apostles (v. 7)
    6. Paul (v. 8)
What I've listed as #4 in the list is actually six propositions, but they seem to collect nicely into just one.

As surprising as it might seem, each of these points is necessary for "the Gospel". Equally surprising, people who claim to be "Christian" are quite willing to deny each one of them.

1 Corinthians 15:1 & 2 say some interesting things about the Gospel defined in vv. 3–8:

  1. it was what Paul preached (v. 1)
  2. the Corinthians received this gospel (v. 1)
  3. the Corinthians stood in this gospel (v. 1)
  4. the Corinthians were saved by this gospel (v. 2)
These are all very important points; but if we can consider #3 in particular, Scripture says each of the four points of the Gospel is non-negotiable. These four points are a hill we need to be willing to die on.

I have sat in "Gospel meetings" that omitted three of the four points Scripture says form the Gospel. (Let's be honest, I've preached "Gospel messages" that omitted three of the four points of the Gospel.) I can't recall any of those meetings ending after only a quarter of the scheduled meeting time...

Perhaps the most surprising fundamental truth of the Gospel is that Christ was buried. I've heard one or two talks about the burial of Christ, and I've given one myself; but it doesn't seem to be in the top ten. I suspect there have been many, many more talks given on the cleansing of the leper than on the burial of Christ; but the burial of Christ is listed as a fundamental, non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15:4.

As an aside, C. A. Coates wrote a short paper called "The Son of Man lifted up and buried". Well worth a read if you can find it. I think it was published in The Food of Life.

The fourth of the fundamental points of the Gospel is that Christ was seen by several witnesses after the Resurrection. There are several implications to this, I'll only mention one in any detail. After the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead, several people spoke to Him. They talked with Him, ate with Him, and touched Him. What Paul is pointing out here, is that the Resurrection wasn't some sort of spiritual or transcendent reality. The Resurrection was physical: it happened in the real world. A Man was dead, then He got up and walked. We don't believe in some sort of mystical resurrection; we believe that it was a real event in the real world. As Francis Schaeffer might say, it was an historical event in space and time.

So that's it: that's what defines a Christian according to 1 Corinthians. A Christian is one who has received and stands in those four points. If you don't believe that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He rose again according to the Scriptures, and that it was a real event in the physical world with verifiable witnesses... then 1 Corinthians 15 says you're no Christian.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The only acknowledgement

Before Christianity, which is the full revelation of God, there were indeed, as need not be said, souls born anew; but their rule, when a rule was definitely given, was man's responsibility (whatever piety and grace might inspire), and the law, which was the perfect measure of that which man, as a being responsible to God, ought to be. Saints then did not distinguish between a new and an old man, although of necessity they had the conscience of the old man and the tastes of the new in measure in many respects. The sense, for instance, of the evil of falsehood had not at all the same place as with the Christian. Now the new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him. God Himself in His nature is the standard of good and evil, because the new man has the knowledge of what that nature is: he is made a partaker of it, and he has the light of God. It is an intelligent participation by grace in the nature of God, which is the marvelous and precious privilege of the Christian. God works in this nature; but by communicating it He has placed man in this position. Christ is the perfect model of this image, the type of the new man. 
Other differences have disappeared: there remains but the old man, which we only acknowledge as dead, and the new man.  [emphasis added] 
(J. N. Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, Volume 5, last checked 2015-09-11)

Friday, September 4, 2015


As far as I can tell from scripture, the Christian life starts with the assumption that fallen man is irreparably corrupt. Christianity means viewing Adam's race as incapable of producing anything for God.

When we look at the Cross, we see the end of Adam's race (Romans 6:11),  the world it created (Galatians 6:14), and our connections with that whole order of things (Colossians 3:1).  When we contemplate the resurrection, we see there is a new creation,  and it's there - and only there - God is pleased (Galatians 6:15).

We recognize that God accepts us solely "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:6). Because God sees us in Christ, He sees neither our sins nor our righteousnesses (Philippians 3:9).

We are here waiting for God's Son from heaven: we expect Him to come and change our vile bodies - bodies tied to Adam's race and world - to be like His: bodies fit and designed for the new creation (Philippians 3:20).

Meanwhile,  we live here in this fallen world. We count ourselves to have died with Christ, because that's what God says happened (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3).  We see in ourselves remnants of the life that ended at the cross,  but we count that life as over (Romans 6:11; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5). We put to death the remnants of the lives that ended at the cross while we wait for Christ (Colossians 3:5; Romans 8:13).

We walk in this wicked world as men and women who have died (Romans 6:13). Our hearts and eyes are to be on our Life, Christ in heaven (Colossians 3:1-2).  As we look at Him by faith,  we find to our surprise that we become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18).

And some day we'll get a really good look at His face and we'll be transformed in an instant to be like Him forever (1 John 3:2).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Joe's Bones

When I was living in Grand Rapids about 15 years ago, I was reading through Hebrews 11 and I stumbled across Hebrews 11:22

By faith Joseph [when] dying called to mind the going forth of the sons of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones.
I found that verse terribly interesting, because it's the only mention of Joseph in Hebrews 11. It seemed odd to me that someone of whom Scripture speaks so highly would only get this slight mention. And it seemed even odder that it would be about the commandment concerning his bones: there's no mention of him saving Egypt, no mention of his testimony to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, no mention of his saving Israel – the only thing Hebrews 11 talks about is his calling to mind the "going forth of the sons of Israel."

This story is mentioned three times in the Old Testament that I can find: Genesis 50:24–26; Exodus 13:19; and Joshua 24:32. It's only mentioned in the New Testament in Hebrews 11:22. In fact, the story of Joseph is only referenced three times in the New Testament: John 4:5; Acts 7:9–15; and Hebrews 11:22. He is named a few more times, but only as one of the patriarchs: it's not really Joseph they are referring to, but his descendants.

I have heard time and again that Joseph is a type of Christ in the Old Testament; but there really isn't a lot of evidence this is true. Christ never mentions him, the Epistles only mention him once, and Stephen gives him a view verses in his overview of the history of the nation of Israel in Acts 7. There are a lot of very clear parallels between the life of Joseph and the Son of God. But when it comes down to it, the New Testament never compares Jesus Christ to Joseph, notwithstanding some very interesting features in John 4. Perhaps we'll talk about those another time.

Having said that, Hebrews 11:22 commends Joseph.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about Joe's bones over the years, and I eventually found some audio messages by John Phillips ("The Bones of Joseph" and "The Bones of Joseph"). Both those messages are worth the time and effort to listen to them. Still… I find myself wanting something a little less whimsical.

John Phillips says it was the bones of Joseph that kept Moses going – it was Moses who carried them out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19). He says the bones were a reminder that there was a destination: God had promised them a land, and they were to carry Joseph's bones to it. I think he's right.

But there's more: the bones of Joseph were a reminder of death in Egypt. Genesis ends with this verse:

And Joseph died, a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him; and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. Genesis 50:26
Someone said that Genesis starts with a tree in Eden and ends with a coffin in Egypt. It's the story of how death came into the world, and all the consequences of that. The final consequence is that a very good man died away from his home and was put into a coffin in a foreign land.

When Jacob died in Egypt, they carried his body back to Canaan and buried it there (Genesis 50:4–13). Certainly they could have carried Joseph's body back the same way. But Joseph asked them not to: he asked them to leave his body in Egypt until God visited them to take them back to Canaan (Genesis 50:24 & 25), and then they were to carry his bones with them.

I don't know how much Joseph understood of what God would do, but he certainly understood at least part of it. And he wanted to have a part in the deliverance too. Perhaps this would remind us of the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18), where those who have died in Christ won't be left out.

So Joseph's bones accompanied Moses out of Egypt, and they were a reminder that there was nothing in Egypt for him but death.

There might be an application here for us. The Lord Jesus asked us to remember Him by eating bread and drinking wine (1 Corinthians 11:23–26): the bread is to remind us of His body, the wine of His blood (1 Corinthians 10:16). And we're told that whenever we do this, we are announcing His death. The question is, are we listening to the announcement? I have to admit that I frequently find myself thinking and acting like I have a life here in this wicked world. The bread and the wine that the Lord Jesus has asked me to eat and drink should be a reminder to me that there's nothing but death here for me. A good Man has come into this world, and all He found here was death, much like Joseph.

And like Joseph, the Lord Jesus' request for us to eat bread and drink wine centers on the sure promise that God will visit us and take us away. Joseph foresaw Moses, the Epistles promise that Christ Himself will come to get us (1 Corinthians 11:26; Philippians 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). So it's not a stretch to say that we, too, have something like Moses had: a reminder that there is a destination ahead, and a reminder that there's nothing but death behind us.

Exodus 13 is the second mention of the bones of Joseph. The third is in Joshua 24, where we're told that the children of Israel did eventually bury Joseph's bones in Shechem, in the field that Jacob had marked out for him (Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32). As near as I can tell, that was where Sychar was eventually built, where the Lord Jesus met the woman of Samaria (John 4:5). So the Lord Jesus comes to Samaria, and it seems like He stops right where the bones of Joseph were buried.

Shechem holds an interesting place in the Old Testament: it's where Jacob buried the idols his family brought back to Canaan (Genesis 35:2–4), it's where Joshua told the people they had to choose which idols they'd worship if they wouldn't worship the Lord (Joshua 24:1, 14–15), and it's where they buried Joseph's bones (Joshua 24:32). So we might think of Joseph's bones as signifying decision: it takes us to that place where idols are given up.

I can't help but think of 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 whenever Scripture mentions giving up idols. The Thessalonians turned to God from idols, and they were waiting for the Son of God from Heaven. They had nothing here, their expectation and their hope was with the Son of God up there.

Shechem is the place of decision, and the story of Joseph's bones reminds us that the wilderness journey is to be undertaken decisively. We don't get to sort of half-heartedly step out of Egypt and then kind of stumble into Canaan. It is an eleven-day journey from Horeb to Kadesh-Barnea (Deuteronomy 1:2), but it took the Israelites 38 years. And the question is, why did it take them 38 years? Hebrews 3 answers that question: their carcasses fell in the wilderness because they did not believe (Hebrews 3:7–19). And so Hebrews gives us an exhortation (Hebrews 4:1–3): we ought to fear seeming to come short of the promised rest of God.

And I should point out that it's entirely possible for a true believer to die in the wilderness, never coming into that rest down here. It's possible to have what John Phillips called "a saved soul, but a lost life". There is a sin unto death (1 John 5:16; 1 Corinthians 11:30), and it's possible for us to fall into that. Let's not make the mistake of thinking that those who fell in the wilderness weren't born again, or that those who fell asleep in 1 Corinthians 11 weren't true believers.

There is a path through the wilderness, which the vulture's eye has not seen (Job 28:8). The bones of Joseph remind us we need to walk decisively as we follow the Lord along that path. There is nothing but death behind us, there is a sure destination ahead; let's walk decisively.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dead and Dying

Scripturally speaking, Christianity is intimately connected with death. It starts with the assertion that we have eternal life because Jesus Christ has died for us; His death is our life. Really, it's an astonishing thing for us to believe, because scripture refers to Him as "the eternal life that was with the Father" (1 John 1:2), He called Himself "the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25), and asserted that He could give life even to the dead (John 5:1–40). So we believe that the Son, who can give life to whomever He wills (John 5:21), died to give us eternal life. Scripture takes the principle further, and applies the death of Christ to our life in this world. So scripture teaches not only He died for us, but we died with Him (Galatians 2:20).

Scripture gives at least three aspects to our death with Christ:
  1. we have died with Christ (Romans 6:1–11)
  2. we are to mortify (put to death) the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Romans 8:13)
  3. death works in us (2 Corinthians 4:10–12)

Let's consider those three deaths in that order.

First, Scripture teaches that the believer has died with Christ (Romans 6:1–10; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:1–4). This isn't something the believer can do or must do: it is something that has already been done. There is a human responsibility attached to it: the responsibility to "reckon" it to be true (Romans 6:11). What does "reckon" mean? It means to accept it as true. God declares that I have died with Christ, and it is my place to believe it because God has said it.

I am not responsible to die with Christ, but I am responsible to believe God and accept that I have already died with Him.

And let's just mention: I hear a lot about "dying to self" in various Christian circles, but I don't see it in scripture. Scripture simply doesn't talk about "dying to self." From scripture I see that I have died with Christ (Galatians 2:20), I see that I am dead to sin (Romans 6:11), that I am dead to the world (Galatians 6:14), and that I am dead to the Law (Romans 7:4). But I don't see anything in Scripture that says I must "die to self". The teaching of Scripture is not that I must die, but that I have died.

Second, Scripture teaches that I am responsible to put to death "the deeds of the body", my "members that are on the earth" (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5–6). We notice right away that Colossians 3 connects vv. 5 & 6 with vv. 1–4 with a "therefore". What does that mean? It means that vv. 5–6 are the consequence of vv. 1–4. This is very important! Scripture teaches it's only those who have died can put to death their members on the earth.

So much of "Christian" ministry I hear and read skips over Colossians 3:1–4 and dives into Colossians 3:5–6, exhorting believers to put something or other to death. But the passage doesn't really bear that reading: it is only those who have accepted that they have died with Christ who are in a position to "mortify". We do not die with Christ by mortifying our members. The Scriptural order is the opposite: because we have died with Him, we can mortify our members.

In fact, so-called Christian teaching that skips over our death with Christ isn't really "Christian" at all. But that's another rant.

Romans 8:13 also talks about our responsibility to put something to death, but in Romans it's not our "members on the earth"; it's the "deeds of the body". Romans 8 is remarkable on many, many counts. But one thing that stands out even in this astonishing chapter is that there is a stark contrast between our [fallen] bodies and our [redeemed] souls: the body is "dead", the spirit is "life" (v. 10). There is coming a day when those two things will be reconciled (Romans 8:11, 23), but that day hasn't come yet. Someday the Son of God will come to redeem our mortal bodies (Philippians 3:21), but Romans 8 is all about the life we are to live while we wait for that day to come.

There is a third aspect of our death with Christ, and I confess I only saw it in the last couple years. This isn't our having died with Christ, nor even our responsibility to [by the Spirit] put to death the deeds of our fallen bodies. This is something deeper, more profound, and more painful: "death works in us" (2 Corinthians 4:10–12). Philippians 3:10 refers to this as "being made conformable to His death".

It is God's work to reveal the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies, but there is a cost. The cost of the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh is that death must work in me.

I used to pray, "Lord, I'm ready for you to work in me". Then one day I realized that's almost the opposite of death working in me: by definition, death isn't going to work in me on my own terms. It's not death if it respects my schedule.

Death is a tool in the hands of God to reveal His Son in me. And really, that's what the world around me needs. They don't need to see me, they need to see Him. And God will do it, too: He will reveal Christ in me; but the cost is death working in me. Notice this isn't the "I have died" of Galatians 2:20, it's a different thing. I reckon that I have died: I accept it as true because God says so; but I didn't experience it. 2 Corinthians 4 isn't talking about reckoning: it's talking about the experience of death working in me, with all the pain that implies. It's like the difference between Israel crossing the Jordan (Joshua 3:6–17) and Israel circumcised at Gilgal (Joshua 5:2–9). In the former case they didn't even get wet: in the latter there was very real pain involved.

In the end, God isn't content to let us understand death with Christ, He isn't even content for us to reckon it. He is going to make it true in our experience as well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I've been reading Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. A couple friends have asked me why.  To make a long story short: I've met a lot of people with strong views on Calvin, but few or none of them actually read his book.

That's why I read Collected Writings of J. N. Darby too: lots of people were willing to share their opinions of his writing, but very few of them seemed actually to have read it. (I wrote a little article about that for a friend's blog.)

So I'm reading the Institutes. I'm about a fifth of the way through, and I'm hoping that wasn't the best of the book: I've a long way to go yet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Man over the assembly

A couple months ago, the question arose in the Bible Reading whether Moses is a type of Christ. I don't believe he is, because the Scripture generally speaks about Moses in contrast with Christ. That being said, Scripture holds up Moses as the example of a man in communion with God (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3:7–16). I find it interesting to read the prayers of Moses in light of the New Testament: he truly understood what God was intending to do.

One of my favourite prayers of Moses is in Numbers 27:16–23. Every time I read Numbers, it jumps out at me:

16 Let Jehovah, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the assembly, 17 who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in, that the assembly of Jehovah be not as sheep that have no shepherd. (Numbers 27:16–17, JND)
In the immediate context of Numbers 27, God chooses Joshua to be that man; but we can see that this wasn't a lasting solution to the problem, because when the Lord Jesus came, He found the people exactly as Moses as feared: like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

This brings us back to a central theme of the scriptures: God places men and women in various responsibilities, but His ultimate thought is always that those responsibilities will be fulfilled in Christ. So when Paul refers to Christ as the Man (1 Timothy 2:5), he means it more profoundly than we might first realize. It's not merely a statement that Christ Jesus is truly a Man (although it is that), but it goes to the eternal thoughts of God about His Son. It has been God's intention since before the world began that "all things" would be headed up in Christ.

Moses' description of the "man over the assembly" is interesting: he asked for a man to "go out before them" and "come in before them". This description might remind us of John 13:3, He is the One who came from God and went back to God. More than that, He is the One who can lead us in (Hebrews 10:19–22) to God's presence. And some day He will lead us out from God's presence (Revelation 19:11–16).

The New Testament insists that the Lord Jesus died and rose again: He was dead and is alive (Revelation 1:17–18). So where is He? The Scriptures repeat over and over that He has gone into Heaven and sat down on God's right hand (Mark 16:19; Acts 2:32–36; Hebrews 1:3; 9:24–28). Hebrews 6:17–20 takes it a little further even than that: Jesus Christ has gone into Heaven for us, to represent us to God.

I find this an astonishing thought. The Son who is God eternally, who is with God eternally (John 1:1–5), has come to this earth and has gone back to Heaven (John 17:1–5). As the Son, He has returned to the glory He had with the Father. But the Lord Jesus is also the Son of Man: as the Son of Man He has gone into Heaven in order to represent His people here.

The Epistles represent Christ as both Priest and Advocate. They're not the same thing: the Advocate represents our interests to God, the Priest brings us into God's presence. So when a man sins, he needs the Advocate (1 John 2:1–2); but whether we sin or not, we need a Priest to bring us near to God (Hebrews 4:14–16). It is by our Priest that we approach God in worship and in prayer.

So we have right now what Moses saw the children of Israel needed: a Man over the assembly who has come out and gone in, to lead us out and bring us in.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Whaddaya know?

A few months ago someone shared a link on Facebook to an article about Watchman Nee, accusing him of Gnosticism. I seriously doubt Nee was a Gnostic, but I admit I haven't read all his stuff. So let's just acknowledge that it's an extreme accusation, but it's not impossible that there is a sliver of truth in it.

I sometimes suspect there are some troubling similarities between Gnosticism and some of the authors I read. It's quite true that Scripture speaks about "the flesh" in exclusively negative terms. As J. N. Darby said, "the flesh is always only bad". That's not some puritanical theology speaking: that's nothing more than what Scripture explicitly and repeatedly teaches.

But it's true that it's a pretty short road from the completely biblical truth that we are fallen creatures in a fallen creation, to the Gnostic notion that the material is bad and the spiritual is good. And the next step down that path is a sort of carnal lawlessness where the truth is abstract and spiritual, and not "real" at all.

And here's the painful part: I definitely see a lot of tendencies in myself and in others for all this stuff to get very abstract and not very practical. Scripture has an answer for that too, and it's a truth I don't think I understand very well: we are to "glorify God in our bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:20). So it's not that we have some sort of abstract faith, it's that our mortal, fallen bodies are the arena in which God desires to be glorified.

So here's the thing: there are two seeming opposite truths in Scripture. First, we are in "vile" bodies (Philippians 3:21). Our bodies are the home of sin that dwells in us (Romans 7:21–25), and our mortal bodies are "dead because of sin" (Romans 8:10). Second, the Holy Spirit will redeem those very same mortal bodies (Romans 8:11). We're looking forward to the Son of God coming from heaven to change our vile bodies (Philippians 3:21). In the meantime, it's in those same (unredeemed, vile) bodies that we're supposed to glorify God now (1 Corinthians 6:20).

I remember hearing a brother once mention that it's the will of God that we are stuck in mortal bodies with indwelling sin. I remember him saying it's a hard thing to accept, but it's true nonetheless. And the fact is that he is right: it's the plain teaching of Scripture that God is glorified by revealing Himself in fallen, sinful bodies (2 Corinthians 4:7–12).

So that brings me to the point: on the one hand, we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world, in fallen bodies. On the other hand, we're called to glorify God in them.

And here's the thing I keep thinking about… there's a cost to all this. 2 Corinthians 4 lays it out explicitly: the cost of the life of Christ revealed in our mortal bodies is "death works in us" (2 Corinthians 4:10). I've been meditating on this for the last six or seven months, and I'm wondering how it works in real life. I have some ideas, but I think we can save them for later.

I read a book recently, and it was helpful: True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. It was interesting on many levels. One of the best things about this book is that Schaeffer insists on everything taking place in the real world. In fact, his explanation of Colossians 3 was enlightening: it means we should live like someone who has died, gone to Heaven, and was then raised from the dead. Think about that one for a while.

Yeah, there are a lot of points where Schaeffer and I disagree. But in the end, what Schaeffer does is so important: he brings the truth of the Pauline epistles into the "real world". I hate to admit it (I really, really hate to admit it), but I find that perspective a little lacking in a lot of the books tend to read.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


We've been studying Exodus in the Bible readings. We've spent a while discussing the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. People have been saying the same things I've heard for years: some think God hardened Pharaoh's heart first, others think Pharaoh hardened his own heart first.

I'm starting to think the bigger point is that when God hardened Pharaoh's heart, He got exactly the same results as when Pharaoh hardened his own heart. That is, man of his own will puts himself into the same hardness of heart that God brought to Pharaoh.

Occasionally God offers a divine commentary on Scripture, where one passage is a commentary on another. The story of Pharaoh's heart is one of those stories: Romans 9:14–22 is a divine commentary on the story of Pharaoh's destruction, and it really doesn't help very much. If anything, Romans 9 makes it more difficult.

Exodus 4:21 and Romans 9:14–20 are difficult passages. But the problem isn't that they're difficult to understand, it's that they're difficult to accept. What God actually tells Moses in Exodus 4:21–23 is something like this: "I want you to command Pharaoh to let My people go; and I will harden his heart so that he won't let them go, and then I will punish him for not listening." That's not very hard to understand, but it's really, really hard to accept, because it seems so unfair.

Romans 9 addresses this specific objection:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Romans 9:19, NASB).
And what is the scriptural reply to this question? It's very simple: who are you to judge God? (v. 20). That's not a very satisfying answer, but it is a deeply searching answer. It doesn't help us at all to understand Exodus 4, or even Romans 9:19. But it reveals our own hearts. And I have come to the conclusion that until we accept Romans 9:20, we can't really go on to the verses following. It's only after we accept the answer in that verse – that we have no right to judge God – that we can understand the following verses. And what do they say? That God has every right to take one man and show him mercy, while refusing to show mercy to someone else.

So let's go back to Pharaoh. Exodus tells us that before Moses ever spoke to Pharaoh, God had declared His intention to harden Pharaoh's heart "so that he will not let the people go" (v. 21). So yes, it was according to God's "determinate counsel" that Pharaoh did not listen: God was determined to destroy Pharaoh. But before there is any record at all of the state of Pharaoh's heart, the Scripture records his condemnation from his own lips: "Who is Jehovah that I should obey him?" (Exodus 5:2).

And this, I think, is a point we so often overlook in the story of Pharaoh. People who tend towards a "freewill" viewpoint spend a lot of time pointing out that Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times before God hardened it. People who tend towards an "election" viewpoint point out that God had already declared His intention to harden Pharaoh's heart before Moses ever spoke to him. (And as a point of fact, they're both correct.) But this is the bigger point, I think: whether it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart, or Pharaoh himself (and Scripture teaches both), the result was the same. Fallen men and women may not be capable of coming to Christ on their own, but they are experts hardening their own hearts.

Which takes us back to this: Men and women – sons and daughters of Adam – are not only guilty sinners, they are lost, guilty sinners. I listened to a sermon several times over the last month or so on "The Dangers of Calvinism and Arminianism". It was really more of a long rant about "calvinists" than anything else. What I found interesting was that the speaker kept insisting the Scripture teaches a "whosoever will Gospel". This preacher would doubtless classify me as a "calvinist"; but I, too, believe Scripture teaches a "whosoever will Gospel". The problem isn't that the Gospel is limited, the problem is that men and women in and of themselves won't. The problem is that "whosoever will" is an empty set. No one wills. That's what Romans 3:10–18 teaches, right? None seeks after God. It's not so much that God prevents sinners from believing (although Matthew 13:13–16 seem to indicate He sometimes does), it's that there is no chance anyone would seek after God without His active interference. Which is, after all, what the Lord Jesus explicitly taught in John 6:37–44, but perhaps we'll save those verses for another time.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


I stumbled across William Kelly's article on wine. I wasn't really looking for it, but it was a fascinating read.

Near the end he discusses the whole issue of the inspiration if Scripture, including this gem:

The practical consequence also is clear. Man sits in judgment upon that word which shall judge him at the last day, and censures with various degrees of incredulity the Pentateuch of Moses, Canticles, Daniel, the Gospels, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse. He cannot find what he expects a priori, and at once stigmatizes such and such books as at issue with his ephemeral notions, and therefore not given by inspiration of God. That is, his poor, proud mind, constitutes itself the umpire of what God ought to be and to reveal, and condemns whatever is against or above itself!