Thursday, November 24, 2016

He who comes out of heaven

I changed the title of this post after the discussion in the comment thread. The new title is from John 3:31. I thought it would be better to change the title in place and keep the comment thread intact than re-publishing the post and potentially losing the comments.

We don't want to lose sight of the most astonishing fact in Scripture: the Son of God came from Heaven to die for ruined sinners. John 1:1–12 brings us face-to-face with the wonder of that when it tells who He is from the beginning. He is the Word who is God, and who was with God (John 1:1). It's important we remember both of those truths together: if we remember He was with God but we forget He is God, then we fall into Arianism. If we remember He is God, but forget He was with God, then we fall into Sabellianism.

In point of fact, I have many times sat in a meeting where someone thanked the Father for dying for us. It's not right to make a man a transgressor for a word, but at the same time we should be very careful that our words reflect what Scripture actually says.

It is the fact of who Christ is that gives value to what He has done. The Son of God came here and died for lost sinners. Is there anything more astonishing than that? John 1 keeps coming back to this central point: He was the Creator (John 1:3), having come into the world He created (John 1:10). The more we contemplate that fact, the more we find ourselves asking, "What kind of Person is this?"

I once heard a man quote Luke 15:1–2 like this: "'This Man receives sinners and eats with them', thank God He does!"

In fact, the Pharisees didn't know the half of it. He came not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to be their food and His blood to be their drink (John 6:47–58).

Isaiah 64:1–3 tells us when God comes down, He does terrible things no one looked for (Isaiah 64:3) – He does things no one could have expected. Certainly when the Son of God came, He did what no one could have expected: He gave Himself to save lost sinners (Galatians 2:19–20).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twelve titles

A few weeks ago I was talking about John 1 in the assembly. I mentioned I'd counted seven titles of Christ there, but realized I'd missed at least two. So I enlisted the assembly to help me count them, and people started calling out titles they saw. We got up to twelve that day, but there's at least one more an older brother mentioned to me later.

Here's the working list I have so far:

  1. the Word (John 1:1)
  2. Light (John 1:8–10 )
  3. Only-begotten of the Father (John 1:14)
  4. Christ (John 1:17)
  5. Only-begotten Son (John 1:18)
  6. The Prophet (John 1:21)
  7. Lord (John 1:23)
  8. Lamb of God (John 1:29)
  9. Son of God (John 1:34)
  10. Rabbi (Teacher, Master) (John 1:38)
  11. King of Israel (John 1:49)
  12. Son of Man (John 1:51)

There's a lot to be said about John 1, it reaches back to before there was anything except God. It pulls the curtain back just a bit and lets us see what "before time" looked like. John 5 goes even further, but that's for another day.

I've been chewing over John 1 for several weeks now, and there's a whole lot in that chapter. It's been a good investment of my time.

Friday, October 28, 2016

So what?

I have a friend who speaks at Bible conferences a lot. I don't know how many times I've heard him say we need reality in our lives. Not only for our own benefit, but as a testimony to those around us.

We started out talking about how my co-workers and my neighbors and my friends and my family and the people in the little gathering here don't need to see me – not even the best version of me. They need to see the life of Jesus in my mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). Let's give some thought to that in practical terms.

2 Corinthians 4:10–11 tells us two things about this manifestation:

  1. it's self-evident that it has to be Christ Himself they see, not my imitation
  2. the cost is death working in me
May I suggest that the very first step is to go to the Lord Jesus in prayer, asking Him to manifest His life in my mortal body? May I also suggest that we ask for His patience and His grace as we contemplate the cost of death working in us? It is His work to do, but there will be very real pain associated with it, and we'll need His grace in the face of it.

The principle we keep coming back to is "abiding in Christ" (John 15:4). How do we abide in Christ? Robert commented

I was asked at the weekend, 'what does it mean in practice to abide in Christ'? I think John's answer may well have been, it means to be at the table and lean on His bosom John 13:23.
Paul's answer to the same question would have been, '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

Colossians 3:1 takes up this thread and talks about setting our affections on things above because that's where Christ is. We understand that if I continue to look for fulfillment and meaning down here, I'm not looking for it up there. This, too, has to be the work of God in my heart. Can I suggest we ask the Father to show us His Son? Can I suggest we ask Him to put Christ between my eyes and this world, to keep me from being distracted by the bright and shiny things here?

Exodus 24:9–14 tells us the story of Moses and the elders of Israel seeing God on Sinai, "they saw God, and ate and drank" (Exodus 24:11). Verse 14 is particularly interesting, because Moses specifically told them to wait there for him to return. But they didn't wait for him: they got impatient and turned to idols (Exodus 32:1–2). We do exactly the same thing when we decide The Man who brought us up out of bondage (Exodus 32:1) has been "up there" too long (Colossians 3:1–4). We soon start looking around for something down here we can turn into a god. So the New Testament tells us again and again, "He's coming back!" "Don't give up waiting!"

Let's not get tired of waiting for Him to come back down from up there (Philippians 3:20–21).

We come back to this theme of eating in God's presence in Joshua 5:8–12, where four things are associated with Gilgal:

  1. circumcision, a rolling away of the reproach of Egypt (Joshua 5:8–9)
  2. the Passover (Joshua 5:10)
  3. eating the old corn of the land, a type of Christ in resurrection (Joshua 5:11, Leviticus 23:10–13, 1 Corinthians 15:20)
  4. eating manna, a type of Christ in humility (Joshua 5:12, John 6:32–33)
For us too, there are these four things. We've discussed Romans 6:11 and Colossians 3:1–4 at length. We have died with Christ. But Gilgal reminds us more of Colossians 3:5–7. Here there is a mortifying, a putting to death. There is a real pain associated with Gilgal that's not associated with the Red Sea. And there is a real pain in Colossians 3:5 that's not in Romans 6:11. It's relatively pain-free to reckon myself to have died with Christ; it's not at all pain-free to put to death my members on the earth.

Here again, we need to go to the Father and ask Him for grace and courage.

But of course it's not all pain in Gilgal: there's eating too. There are three meals mentioned: the Passover, the manna, and the old corn of the land. If you look closely at the timetable in Joshua 5, there was just one day when they ate both the old corn of the land and the manna. We, too, have a very narrow window of opportunity to eat both. We'll never get beyond feeding on Christ in resurrection, but we can only feed on Christ in humility while we're here. The supply of manna ends when we're out of the wilderness.

When we eat with Christ, we can expect to get what my buddy Caleb calls "Luke 24 heartburn" (Luke 24:29–32). We all need that kind of heartburn, and we should all ask the Father to give us a really "bad" case of it. That kind of heartburn comes from lingering over the table with Him and contemplating Him "starting with Moses and the prophets" (Luke 24:27).

I've heard this time and time again, but I still fail really to practice it... Can I start to see time spent with the Savior as an investment? The very best use of time is to spend it with Christ.

Those are some simple suggestions for "where to go from here". They're simple, but hopefully practical.

Links worth sharing

Several people have emailed me with links and quotations over the last few weeks that seem appropriate to share.

S. sent several links related to Election. The first is a letter by J. N. Darby:

This fresh breaking out of the doctrine of free-will helps on the doctrine of the natural man's pretension not to be entirely lost, for that is really what it amounts to. All men who have never been deeply convinced of sin, all persons with whom this conviction is based upon gross and outward sins, believe more or less in free-will. You know that it is the dogma of the Wesleyans, of all reasoners, of all philosophers. But this idea completely changes all the idea of Christianity and entirely perverts it.
The entire letter is on the STEM website.

Another from S. was this gem: an article entitled "Early Brethren Leaders and the Question of Calvinism" by Mark R. Stevenson. It's very interesting. The article considers current teaching among "open brethren" in comparison with "early brethren" when it comes to the question of Calvinism. It's more academic than I'd normally read, but it definitely grabbed my attention.

Rodger sent a link to an article on "New" and "Old" in Scripture:

It may be helpful to point out that there are four new things in Christianity — the new covenant, the new man, the new birth and new creation. In contrast to the new covenant we read of the old covenant, and in contrast to the new man we read of the old man. Yet we do not read of old birth in contrast to new birth, nor old creation in contrast to new creation. The reason being that when God styles a thing old He has done with it. In the cross of Christ both the old covenant and the old man were brought to an end judicially in view of the bringing in of the new covenant and the new man, but God has not yet done with the first birth or the first creation. We sometimes use the expression "old creation," but this term is not found in Scripture. The nearest approach to it is in Hebrews 1:11, "they shall wax old," but the actual term "old creation" is not used. We are thus still connected with the first birth and can glorify God in it; and He will yet fill the first creation with His glory as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14.
Again, the whole article is on the STEM website. This one caught my attention because I frequently use terms like "old creation".

I've been meaning to post this quote about J. N. Darby by William R. Newell from Romans Verse-by-Verse:

We know what debt under God all those who have the truth today owe to Darby, through whom God recovered more truth belonging to the Church of God, than through any other man since Paul, and whose writings are today the greatest treasure of truth and safeguard against error known to instructed believers.
Romans Verse-by-Verse, Chapter 12 (last checked 2016-10-28).

I wrote a blog post for my friend Scott's Digital Sojourner about reading Collected Writings of J. N. Darby. I should have included that quote, although it's likely I hadn't found it yet. Romans Verse-by-Verse is an incredible book, but it took me several years to read it through. In fact, I was given the book in 1996 and didn't finish reading it until 2015 or so...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Among my struggles has been catching glimpses of what Scripture says about the Christian life and seeing the contrast with what so many of us (including me) seem to think the Christian life is. As I've mulled this over, one recurring them has been the whole issue of Acceptance.

I mentioned to Alan in an email that I'm pretty sure I don't believe in the "Final Perseverance" in the Calvinistic sense, and I'm slowly realizing I don't even believe in "Eternal Security" in the more evangelical sense. Of course I don't mean to say that a child of God can perish, but I think both of those concepts falls far short of what Scripture actually teaches.

Romans 4:6–8 quotes Psalm 32:1–2 to establish the doctrine of justification by faith alone (what my buddy Steve calls Solifidianism). What is "the blessedness" of the man whom God justifies? It's that God will not at all count his sins against him (Romans 4:7). For the man whom God has justified (the ungodly man, v. 5), there is no sin that God will remember (see Acts 13:39). No matter what terrible sin I commit, God won't count it against me.

Think about that! It's not that God will one day forgive his sins, nor even that he's the kind of person whom God repeatedly forgives. It's that he is the kind of person whose sins God doesn't count.

Leviticus 1–7 outline the laws of the offerings. There are five offerings mentioned: the burnt offering (chap. 1), the grain offering (chap. 2), the peace offering (chap. 3), the sin offering (chap. 4), and the trespass offering (chap. 5). The next two chapters (Leviticus 6–7) then run through those offerings again, detailing the laws associated with them.

We tend to think first about the trespass offering, which was offered for deliberate offenses (Leviticus 6:1–5). This is the offering you were to make if you defrauded your neighbor. If we think about it a little more, we might think about the sin offering, which was offered for sins of inadvertence (Leviticus 4:1–3). In those two offerings we might see a picture of our sins and our sin. But God doesn't start with either of those two offerings: He starts with the burnt offering. What is the burnt offering, it's the offering of acceptance (Leviticus 1:3).

God accepts us before He deals with our sin (what we are), or our sins (what we have done).

The order is preserved in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1 the order is:

  1. God chose us in Christ (v. 4)
  2. God has accepted us "in the Beloved" (v. 6)
  3. we have redemption and forgiveness (v. 7)
So first we were chosen, then we were accepted, then we were forgiven.

That's not to say that God doesn't forgive our sins. It's not even to say that there is a time gap between acceptance and forgiveness. But from God's perspective, our being accepted is foundational truth. It's not that we have some sort eternal security safety net: rather, we have been accepted right at the start. Before we take the first step in that new creation, we have been accepted by God.

Ephesians 1:6 brings in a truth we don't see in Leviticus: we are accepted in Christ. We aren't called to an autonomous life, we're called to a dependent life. We're not called to be good, but to bask in His goodness.

And now we're back once more to the fundamental truth of the Christian life. Regardless of how we actually live, the entire Christian experience flows from our being in Christ. If our experience differs from the high calling of the epistles, it's because we have not been content to "abide" in Him (John 15:4). If we find our lives lacking in fruit, the solution is to abide (John 15:5).

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A form of Godliness

It would be a terrible mistake to think I'm sitting at the end of the path, telling people how to arrive like I have arrived. Let's be clear that I write about things I've glimpsed, not things I've mastered.

Scripture warns about "a form of piety" without its power (2 Timothy 3:1–5). The more godly the path we attempt to walk, the more we need to be careful of this warning. We might remember Peter stepping out of the boat (Matthew 14:26–32). Had he stayed in the boat, he would have had no trouble staying above the water. But once he stepped out the boat, he was in a place where only Divine power could keep him up.

There is a path the vulture's eye hasn't seen (Job 28:7). We can't find it on our own. God doesn't really command us to do things we can do: He only really commands us to do what we can't. That's precisely why Jeremiah 17:5–9 warns against confidence in man. God's not interested in what man can do, but in what one Man has done. The more closely we try to walk with that Man, the more dangerous it will be to attempt it in anything but His power.

Here's an example: I've heard many, many talks about church order among "brethren". With very few exceptions, what I've actually seen are attempts by sincere believers to maintain proper church order in the power and energy of the flesh.

Of course church order is important, or Scripture wouldn't bring it up. Reading 1 Corinthians 14:26 was a real pivot point in my life, because I realized I'd never actually seen it practiced. Church order is absolutely part of the Whole Counsel of God, and learning about it should be life-changing.

But 2 Timothy 3:5 specifically warns about getting the form right while not having the power. It's warning about people who try to do the right thing from the wrong source. That's the error of the Galatians: thinking it's possible to start out in the power of the Spirit and finish in the power of flesh (Galatians 3:3).

J. N. Darby wrote:

[O]ur worship falls back into the flesh; our prayers (or praying well) form what is sometimes called a gift of prayer, than which nothing often is more sorrowful (a fluent rehearsal of known truths and principles, instead of communion and the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the joy of communion, and even of our wants and desires in the unction of the Spirit); our singing, pleasure of the ear, taste in music, and expressions in which we sympathise – all a form in the flesh, and not communion in the Spirit. All this is evil; the Spirit of God owns it not; it is not in spirit and in truth; it is really iniquity. ("Worship in the Flesh", Synopsis, Leviticus 3)

It's a very serious danger, but it's subtle. You can only fall into it when you're trying to do the right thing.

If you spend any time at all among "brethren", you'll hear guilt trips about silence in the meetings. For some reason, the very same people who most loudly condemn denominational churches for having clergymen ("they're not being led of the Spirit") hesitate least to pressure younger men to speak up. I'll be honest, the majority of times I've seen a younger man cave to the pressure and speak up in the meetings, I wished he'd kept silent.

We still haven't learned this lesson: it's not enough to do the right thing, we have to do it the right way. At the slightest provocation, we rest on the power of flesh. We still haven't learned Jeremiah 17:5–9. We allow our embarrassment goad us into trying to act when we should be sitting quietly, waiting on the Lord. I've heard Robert talk about Isaiah 40:30–31, pointing out that it's a promise. Think about that for a few moments. And then think about this: waiting on the Lord isn't easy. We're all willing to wait for about as long as it takes for the guy at the drive-through to make us a burger. But the Lord isn't on the drive-through schedule: He might make us wait a lot longer. Are we willing to wait for His timing?

Here I am putting the "assembly" back into "Assembly Quest".

Again, I am talking about something I have rarely seen, and even more rarely experienced. I'm not telling you to live like me, I'm telling you we both need to learn to wait on the Lord. And once the Lord has shown us something from His word, once we have seen a truth we need to live out, then we step into the truly dangerous realm: the place where we're tempted to have a form of godliness without its power.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The one you feed

Alan gave me permission to quote one of his emails:

This mode of "the one we feed grows" teaching sometimes goes further and states that, when we feed one exclusively, the other grows weaker and weaker. This is, in my opinion, very dangerous doctrine because, while the nature that is "starved" may grow less prominent in our daily consciousness, the flesh nature undergoes no change whatsoever – it is utterly and irreversibly corrupt. I can tell you from sad experience that, if I assume that my flesh nature has become significantly "weakened", and I indulge it in any way (letting my thoughts run in an improper direction, for example), I very soon find that it is not only not weakened, but that it re-asserts itself with full ferocity! This is truly the fruit of not believing what the Word says, and is literally walking in death (because the "old man" IS dead!).

Thursday, October 20, 2016


So we've discussed how the New Testament, especially the Epistles, has two underlying assumptions when it discusses the Christian life:

  1. we have experienced new birth
  2. we are abiding in Christ
That is, the commands in the New Testament were never intended for those who haven't been born again; and they really can't be obeyed by our own efforts.

So really the Christian life is the work of God in me, as opposed to my efforts. But we've already discussed how Christianity is really a sort of active passivity: I can't do it myself, but God expects me to be onboard.

There really is human responsibility in the New Testament: I'm not going to experience what God has for me in Christ if I just decide to sit on my sofa with football and beer and wait for Christ to work in me. That might be a better approach than what most Christians are trying, but it's not really what we're called to.

I've tried the "football and beer" approach to Christianity. It doesn't work, because it denies my identification with Christ. Scripture says I have died with Christ (Galatians 2:19–20, Colossians 3:3). It says I've died to sin (Romans 6:11), to the Law (Romans 7:4), and to the world (Galatians 6:14). If I just sink into the world, then I'm really denying that I've died to it. How do I expect my life to look, if I deny in practice what Scripture asserts is the starting point? I've put myself into a position God will not bless.

No, I'm not speaking out against football or baseball or even hockey. But I am saying that if we live like we're alive in the world, then find ourselves in Romans 8:12–13. We find ourselves returning to what we've supposedly left behind. I can say from personal experience that it's possible to go from Romans 8:3 to Romans 8:13 shockingly quickly.

Colossians 3:1–4 is a powerful description of the Christian life. It starts out with the command to "seek those things above, where Christ is." Why? Because my life here has ended. My life is up there now, and I ought to be paying attention to that.

Several years ago I was talking with my daughter about baptism. She was probably six or seven at the time, and I was telling her that baptism really means "I'm done with this world". She said to me, "So what you're saying is that we're here on a business trip, not a vacation."

Think about that: we're here on business, not on a holiday. Yes, we live here. Yes, we have certain responsibilities here. Yes, there is even a sense of godly worldliness (1 Corinthians 7:32–34). But we're not called to make this our home, nor our source of joy, nor our source of meaning. We're here on business, not pleasure.

Robert pointed out 2 Corinthians 3:18. As far as I know, that's the only verse in Scripture that actually tells us how to be like Christ. What does it say? If you want to be like Christ, you need to look at Him. (And someday we'll get a really good look, 1 John 3:2.) Isn't that just what Colossians 3:1 is saying?

There's a lot more to be said, but this seems like the place to stop for now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A new place, new rules

We established that new heart is necessary for a Christian walk. That's the underlying assumption of the Epistles, we are new creations.

Now, as we read the New Testament with the assumption of new birth, we find a surprising feature: a new heart is necessary, but it's not sufficient. It's not just that God has given us new hearts and set us back to live better. No, God has placed us into an entirely new position: He's put us in a new place where the old rules just don't work.

When Moses brought the people to the Jordan river, he warned them that the rules for Canaan aren't the rules for Egypt (Deuteronomy 11:10–15). In Egypt they got crops by carrying water from the river out to the fields to water them. That won't work in Canaan, he warned. You can't force crops to grow in Canaan like you can in Egypt. In Canaan you depend on God for the crops: you rely on Him to bring the rains.

To use that language, we've come into a new land too: a land where human effort doesn't work. We've come to a place where we depend on God to send us the rains in season. So when we survey our lives and we don't see a lot of fruit there, we shouldn't decide we need better irrigation equipment. We need to heed Moses' warning: the rules are different here. What worked in Egypt won't work in Canaan.

Adam's creation is all about human effort: it's a lot like Moses described Egypt. If there's no water you just need to go out there and get some. The new creation's not like that. In fact, that sort of thing is counter-productive in the new creation.

So how do we get fruit in this new creation? The Lord Jesus said it very simply, "He that abides in me and I in him, *he* bears much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:4–5). In this new place where we've been brought, fruit is solely the result of abiding in Christ.

And so we're back to Philippians 3:9. What does it mean to be "in Christ?" It means to have nothing of our own to offer to God. It means we stand before God and say, "Christ is my righteousness". That's where fruit comes from in the new creation.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A new heart

Scripture insists that fallen man needs an entirely new start to walk with God. It's not enough to have forgiveness of sins, nor justification, nor redemption, nor even atonement. Israel under Law had all these, but it wasn't enough. Isaiah 5 describes God as the owner of a vineyard, looking for fruit in it. Finding none, He asks, "What more could I have done?" (Isaiah 5:4). The fruit God was looking for from Israel needed something more. It needed a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26).

Israel's history under the Law was an experiment demonstrating that fallen man can't please God (Romans 3:20). God gave the nation His Law with the promise that if they kept it they would be blessed (Exodus 19:1–6). By the time they got from Sinai to the Jordan, they had proven they could not. Darby comments on the beginning of Deuteronomy:

That which strikes one in the first chapters is, the pains that Jehovah takes to present all possible motives to that poor people to lead them to obedience, in order that they may be blessed. These things, which ought at least to have touched the heart, served, alas! only to prove its hardness, and to shew that, if man is to be blessed, God must give him a new heart, as it is written in the chapter which closes the second part of His exhortations to obedience: "Yet Jehovah hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (chap. 29: 4). (Synopsis, Volume 1)

When we come to the time of the Babylonian Captivity, the prophets are declaring that God will give a New Covenant. Jeremiah describes the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31–40. He says it will be "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day of my taking them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke" (Jeremiah 31:32). Ezekiel's description of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:24–38; Ezekiel 37:15–28) hinges on God giving the people "a new heart" (Ezekiel 36:26), Jeremiah talks about God writing His laws on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

(Interestingly, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 37, and Hosea 14 all say the New Covenant will be made when God brings back Ephraim and the ten tribes, restoring all twelve tribes of Israel back into a single nation.)

So by the end of the Old Testament, it's plain from Israel's history under Law that we need a new heart to obey God. Fallen man – even justified, forgiven, delivered, instructed, and rebuked fallen man – can't do it. There needs to be a new creation.

When the Lord Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, He insists a man can't see God's kingdom unless he's been born again (John 3:3). When Nicodemus cavils on this point, the Lord Jesus tells him a ruler of Israel ought to know that a new birth is needed (John 3:10). Why does the Lord Jesus say a ruler of Israel ought to know this already? Because the Old Testament explicitly teaches the need of a new birth: that's the whole point of Deuteronomy 29:4 and Ezekiel 36:26.

Every single command in the New Testament must be understood in light of this: God is not interested in the "good works" done from an unregenerate heart. God's not impressed by unregenerate men and women, even if they're good. Every single command in the New Testament assumes new creation as the starting point.

There's more to it, of course; but this is the starting point. Have you been born again?

(Since I mentioned Isaiah 5, let me recommend a message by H. E. Hayhoe, "Key to the Old Testament". He says Isaiah 5 is the key to understanding the whole Old Testament. That message is worth your time.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The best of me

A couple years ago I was struck with the thought that my family, friends, and co-workers don't need to see me. They don't need to see the very best version of me that exists, or even the best version that could exist. They need to see the life of Jesus in my mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:11).

There's no shortage of "ministry" out there telling Christians how they can live better. But for the most part, it leads to attempting to improve what we were in Adam. What the New Testament – especially the Pauline epistles – teaches is not that Christ has come to improve Adam's race, but that Christ has come to replace it (2 Corinthians 15:45–49).

Of course we're still in Adam's world, and we're still in Adamic bodies. A day is coming when the Lord Jesus will come to take us out of this world (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) and change these bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:20–21). But right now we have a distinct and unique place in God's purpose: God has been pleased to put something of immense value into "earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:6–7). Scripture tells us exactly why: because He wants it to be obvious that it's His power and not ours that's on display (2 Corinthians 4:7).

There is an underlying assumption to all this: "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). What God knows – what He demonstrated in sending His Son – is that Adam's race is not merely guilty, but also lost. It's not just that Adam's race is sinful, but they are hostile to God (Romans 8:7). When we try as Adam's children to please God, we find we cannot. We need to take our place with Christ – dead and risen with Him – before we can "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).

For many years I thought those statements were figurative – perhaps even romantic. Now I accept them as very literally true. God sees me as having died with Christ: my life as a child of Adam has come to an end. If I want to live the life that pleases God, I need to understand that it's got to be life from an entirely new source, on an entirely new principle. The life that pleases God is the life of His Son. It's not that I imitate Christ, it's that He Himself is to be my life (Colossians 3:4). The Lord Jesus said there's no pleasing God unless we "abide in Him" (John 15:4). This isn't a metaphorical description of the Christian life: it's an all-too-real summary of what we were as children of Adam. Without an entirely new life from an entirely new source, we can't please God.

Christ and Adam are divided by death. Christ has died (Romans 6:1–4), and death is now between Him and Adam. So if we want to please God, we need to be with Christ, not with Adam. This isn't some metaphorical exhortation to "die to self". This the plain statement that as far as God's concerned, I have died with Christ. As far as God's concerned, I was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:11). The question for me isn't whether I have to die, but whether I'm willing to accept God's estimation that I have already died.

The prevalent concept of Christianity among evangelical Christians is that God has forgiven us all our sins, and now we live to please Him. We fail often, of course, but when we confess our sins, He forgives us our sins (1 John 1:9).

That's not what the Scripture teaches.

Scripture teaches an entirely new life, the life of Jesus manifested in fallen bodies of men and women who have given up trying to find something in themselves that pleases God (Philippians 3:9). Being in Christ – having no righteousness of our own – we look to Him to be everything for us (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). We accept that our life has ended, and we are now in an entirely new realm (Colossians 3:1–4). We are content to "abide in Him."

If you scratch below the surface, there's a little Pelagius in all of us. We all believe at some level that we can please God. But Scripture insists we can't. And even when we know better, we find ourselves having once more having looked for good in ourselves.

What we need is the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). There is a cost to that: "death works in us" (2 Corinthians 4:9 – 12). God's not interested in my life and Christ's life: He's interested in Christ's life instead of mine.

There are some practical concerns coming out of this: we'll save those for another post.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

I found this today and thought it worth sharing after some of the recent comment threads:

The love of Christ to saints is explained by this, they are individually dear to Christ because they are the Father's gift to Him, and He makes known to them the Father's name.
("Jesus Glorified and the Spirit Given", New Ministry by F. E. Raven, Volume 1, p. 12)

Saturday, September 17, 2016


A discussion developed on the comments on "Setting Aside" this week about the doctrine of election. I'd like to make some comments that apply to that thread, but I think they'll fit better in this format than on a comment thread.

I listened to a message on "Divine Sovereign Individual Election", and I'm going to steal the phrase. Let's quote the first sentence: "Scripture teaches divine sovereign individual election." It has taken me many years to accept, but I am convinced it's true. Let me give you the short summary of what changed my mind:

A few years ago I was sitting in a Bible Reading discussing Romans 9. It was a terribly uncomfortable meeting, because I was trying my best to ignore the central thrust of the passage: God sovereignly chooses. That was the beginning of a long road for me: I realized what I wanted it to say wasn't at all what it actually said.

Another step came when I was listening to a message where the author quoted Matthew 11:21–26. The speaker wasn't talking about election at all, but I suddenly realized the implication of vv. 21 and 23 – God knew exactly what it would take to make Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon repent, and He chose not to do it. There are some other stunning implications of this passage, but that was what I noticed at the time.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is the story of everyone who perishes. If we believe God is omnipotent, then we have to conclude that God could save everyone, but chooses not to. That's not to say I came to believe in the doctrine of Reprobation, but I reluctantly concluded that God frequently chooses not to save.

The final step came when I was listening to a message by William McCrae on "Scripture's Greatest Theodicy" on Romans 9:1–13. I was driving to work when I got to the 30 minute mark and he quoted Donald Grey Barnhouse as saying, "Nothing provokes the flesh like the doctrine of election." In a rare moment of honesty, I asked whether my problems with Romans 9 were not really that I didn't understand what it was saying. Perhaps I understood perfectly what it was saying and just didn't want to believe it.

So let's consider what Scripture says. "Calvinism" is no better than "Arminianism" in the sense that they're both "-isms". The challenge isn't to choose the right "-ism", but to hear what Scripture actually says.

The most succinct statement is probably Romans 8:29–30. What do these verses say?

  1. whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son (v. 29)
  2. whom he has predestinated, these also he has called (v. 30)
  3. whom he has called, these also he has justified (v. 30)
  4. whom he has justified, these also he has glorified (v. 30)

whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son. We notice first that the end result isn't salvation per se, but conformity to Christ. Justification is a necessary step in the process, but it's not the end goal. The end goal is to make us like Christ. And that rests on predestination, on God sovereignly choosing to make it so.

There are many who teach predestination rests on God's knowing who would eventually believe – God looked to see who would choose Him, and chose them first. I believed that for many years, but it doesn't really stand up to the test of Scripture. First, we notice the verse says whom He foreknew, not what He foreknew. The idea here isn't that God foreknew something about us, but that He foreknew us personally.

Scripture uses the word "know" to indicate relationship in both the Old and New Testaments. This is how we understand Matthew 7:23 ("I never knew you"), Galatians 4:9 ("but now, knowing God, but rather being known by God"), Amos 3:2 ("You only have I known of all the families of the earth"), and Hosea 13:4–5 ("I knew thee in the wilderness"). We don't think Amos 3:2 indicates God was ignorant of the nations around Israel, or that the Lord Jesus will claim to be ignorant of the workers of iniquity in Matthew 7:23. We don't think God became aware of the Galatians when they believed. We understand God's knowing to indicate relationship.

whom he has predestinated, these also he has called. This is ties in closely with the next statement: we certainly see a "general call" in Scripture, but this is talking about something different. This is the call to the predestinated.

whom he has called, these also he has justified. The people God called are exactly the same people He justified. They are equivalent sets. There is not one person He called but didn't justify, there is not on person He justified and didn't call.

whom he has justified, these also he has glorified. This obviously hasn't actually happened yet (Romans 8:23). It will, though, and Scripture states it in the past tense because it's that certain.

Why do people who sincerely love God and respect His word not believe in election? It's a reasonable question; it might not have a clear answer.

One reason is that we just don't want to accept it. I once heard someone say this in message on the dangers of "Calvinism":

I'm going to have to change my whole preaching style if I accept Calvinism, and I don't want to do that. Now maybe I'm wrong but I don't want to do that...
This isn't the language of someone bowing to Scripture. I've met this preacher, there's no question in my mind that he loves God. But at least in this one area, he's dead wrong. He's wrong even if his statements on "Calvinism" are correct, because he's openly admitted it all comes from his own self will, his own unwillingness to change.

I've talked about this before ("Why hast Thou made me thus?"), Romans 9:19–20 deals with the objection of a man who sees election as unjust, and it condemns the objector on the ground that we have no right to judge God.

And this takes us back to "Setting Aside". We don't want to admit that God has tried Adam's race and found it wanting. If we accept what Scripture says about election, we've taken a huge step towards the acknowledgment that there's nothing in me for God. That's something the flesh will never admit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Active passivity

I'm re-reading Francis Schaeffer's excellent True Spirituality. I love this book for several reasons, one is that it's not written by "brethren". Not that I'm a hater on "brethren" or anything, but it demonstrates that what we talk about as far as the Christian life isn't some fanatical "brethren" view.

One of the best things in this book is Schaeffer's dealing with the issue of trying to serve God in our own strength. His illustration is excellent. He talks about how the angel told Mary she would be the virgin mother of Christ. She had three options, according to Schaeffer (p. 52):

  1. She could have said, "no way, leave my body alone"
  2. She could have said, "I'll get right on that!" and attempted to become a virgin mother
  3. She could have said, "I'm on board! I trust God to do it."
Of course the first option would mean having no part in the blessing she was promised. The second would end in failure (it was entirely out of her power to become a virgin mother). What she actually said was, “Be it unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She expressed at once her inability to do it and her desire to be used of God. This is what Schaeffer calls "active passivity".

Sometimes I sound like I'm urging passivity when it comes to Christian living: you can't please God, only Christ can please God in you. I need to be careful about that: like Schaeffer says, it's an active passivity. We do have a part to play in the Christian life, and it's not purely passive. Certainly there is a godly desire involved, to be used of God to glorify Christ.

There are some other excellent things in this book, but I think this is the most helpful.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Setting aside

R. A. Huebner says

There is a fact to be observed with attention in the book of Genesis the special blessing is not given to the firstborn son. This setting begins with Cain and is seen in every case where there is sufficient information given so that this phenomenon in Genesis may be observed. We should see in this a foreshadow that God’s purpose is to set aside the firstborn. (God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men, p. 31, downloaded 2016-09-05)
Galatians 4:21–24 supports his view that there is an allegorical truth here.

1 Corinthians 15:42–49 give two descriptions of Christ in contrast to Adam: there is the "last Adam" (v. 45) and the "second man" (v. 47). The "last Adam" carries the idea that Christ is the end of Adam's race, the "second man" carries the idea that Christ is the start of something new.

We see the same pattern in Matthew 27:15–23. Pilate presents Barabbas and Jesus in that order. Of course the crowd chose the first man over the second Man.

Their choice of the first over the second carries on the pattern from Genesis. When Joseph saw that Israel's right hand was on Ephraim's head, it was "evil in his eyes" (Genesis 48:17). Joseph wanted his older son to get the older son's blessing (quite naturally!). Jacob chose the second over the first (v. 20)

When God told Abraham that He would give him a second son (Genesis 17:15–21), Abraham's response was "Oh that Ishmael would live before You" (v. 18). This is remarkable: God is telling Abraham that He would provide the "son of promise" (Galatians 4:28), but Abraham wants the "son according to flesh" (Galatians 4:23) to please God. God certainly promised to bless Ishmael, but He insisted it was Isaac with whom He would establish a permanent covenant (vv. 20–21).

Let's pause and say that it was good and right for Abraham to long for Ishmael to please God. And we don't want to downplay the blessing of God on Ishmael. But we want to see the truth of Galatians 4 here: these things have an allegorical sense, and the Spirit of God is teaching us something in this story.

By the time we come to Genesis 22:2, we have God referring to Isaac as Abraham's "only son". God is no longer acknowledging the first man, only the second.

I fall into the trap of Abraham again and again, as I suspect most of us do. I long to see the "first man" walk with God. What I fail to see is that God is no longer acknowledging that man: He only acknowledges the "second Man." I, like Abraham, have to see that God is now dealing with the son of promise, not the son of flesh.

If you look at Facebook, or listen to so much so-called Christian ministry, you'll see people say things like, "we have two natures within us, the one we feed is the one that grows." I suppose there's a grain of truth there, but it's not at all what Scripture actually teaches. Scripture teaches that in God's sight, there is only the second Man. When we start down the path of thinking we have a choice between "two natures", we leave the teaching of Scripture behind. We aren't to choose between two natures, we are to consider ourselves to have died (Romans 6:11), and to be entirely new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Of course I'm not denying that we have "the flesh" in us, but we are to consider that as a dead thing (Galatians 5:24). To think of ourselves as some sort of umpire between two warring sides is to give a place to "the flesh" that Scripture doesn't give it. J. N. Darby wrote,

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 2016-09-05)

So this is a challenge to me: don't fall into the trap of Genesis 17:18. Don't think the "first man" will walk before God. He won't. Don't think God will acknowledge anyone except the "second Man". God has found in Christ what He was looking for, and He's stopped looking. My only place before God is "in Christ", which means I've given up on myself (Philippians 3:9), and – by extension – on Adam's race.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Galatians is not 1 Corinthians

Several months ago I was sitting in a Bible reading on Galatians 5 when I was struck by the realization that we were discussing Galatians 5:19–21 as though it were in 1 Corinthians. There were serious moral issues in Corinth, including incest (1 Corinthians 5:1), and the Corinthians were actually proud of it (v. 2).

But that wasn't the problem in Galatia. In Galatia, the problem was that the Christians had adopted the Mosaic Law as necessary for the Christian life. There wasn't any outright moral evil in the Galatian assemblies. So why does Galatians warn about the works of the flesh?

I think it's because Paul is warning about the end of the path the Galatians were on. They were trying to live out the Christian life in the energy and the power of the flesh, and the epistle is warning them where that would end. Certainly their motives were good, but they were walking after the flesh, and it would end up badly.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


There are many sermons I've listened to several times. That sometimes means I've found one that's helpful, sometimes it means I've found one that's appalling.

There's one that was recorded about ten years ago, where the speaker said the first command in Romans is in Romans 12:1. When I first heard that, I was surprised. By my count, there are five commands in Romans 6. That means Romans 12:1 is at best the sixth command in Romans.

Ten years ago, I was amused by the speaker's statement, and assumed it was just oversight that led him to make it. But thinking back on it now, it seems more likely it's a result of really missing the point.

People like to read Paul's epistles starting in the middle. How many sermons have we heard on Ephesians 4–6, compared to the number we've heard on Ephesians 1–3? Or how many times have we heard people talking about Colossians 3:5 ff., compared to Colossians 1:1–3:4? The fact is that these epistles are written as a single argument: Colossians 3:5 depends on Colossians 1:1–3:4. Ephesians 4 depends on chapters 1–3. Similarly, Romans 12 builds on chapters 1–11. It assumes we've learned the lessons of the first eleven chapters before we start on the twelfth.

So let's consider the five commands in Romans 6:

  1. So also *ye*, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)
  2. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts. (Romans 6:12)
  3. Neither yield your members instruments of unrighteousness to sin (Romans 6:13)
  4. yield yourselves to God as alive from among [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13)
  5. yield your members in bondage to righteousness unto holiness (Romans 6:19)

So also *ye*, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11) This is probably the most import step in the Christian life: to think of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. It's interesting how people react to this verse. I remember talking to people about being dead with Christ (Galatians 2:19) who would respond, "Well that's true positionally", as though that meant it's not actually true. Regardless of whether it's true "positionally" or "judicially" (or by any other "-ally"), we have the plain and explicit command to consider it to be true. If we add caveats to it, we're not obeying the first command of Romans.

When Scripture tells us to "reckon" something as true, it's not saying we should explain it away. It's not saying we should try to convince ourselves it's true, or spend hours trying to make ourselves believe it's true. It means this is God's assessment, and we should accept what He has said.

Scripture commands us to think of ourselves this way: we are dead to sin and alive to God. We don't always feel like it's true, we often don't really think it's true. But Scripture tells us we are to think of ourselves in those terms. That's supposed to be my self-image: I am dead to sin and alive to God.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts. (Romans 6:12) The second command in Romans follows closely on the first, with our favorite word "therefore". So we understand we can't actually obey the second until we obey the first. It's because we consider ourselves to be dead to sin that we can not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. We can't experience Romans 6:12 until we obey Romans 6:11.

Notice the battle ground here is our mortal bodies. We haven't risen up to the level of Ephesians 6:12 yet. This isn't a struggle with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. We're to deny sin the place of rule because we realize we are dead to it. I used to be a man under sin, now I am a man dead to sin and alive to God. That sort of man doesn't need to have sin reigning in his mortal body (see Romans 8:11–13).

Neither yield your members instruments of unrighteousness to sin (Romans 6:13) This one's subtly different from the previous. It's not now talking about sin reigning, but about allowing it to use our "members". I take this to be referring to our physical bodies (see Romans 7:23). This is less about our being ruled by sin, and more about our dabbling in various sins. We aren't to use our mortal bodies to do what sin wants (see Ephesians 2:3).

We understand that there is this thing we call "indwelling sin": a principle of sin living in my mortal body (Romans 7:17, 23; Romans 8:3, 10). Someday Christ will come to change my mortal body to be like His, and I'll be free from its presence (Romans 8:23, Philippians 3:20–21). Until then, there is sin living in this body. But Romans 6:12 tells me it's not my ruler, and Romans 6:13 says I shouldn't use this mortal body on its behalf.

Yield yourselves to God as alive from among [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13) What's the solution? it's to yield ourselves and our members (physical bodies) to God. Notice the phrase "as alive from among the dead". Once again, the entire argument is based on the first command.

Sometimes we hear a preacher say that we need to yield ourselves to God, which is really only half the truth. We need to yield ourselves to God as those alive from the dead. If we haven't come to the place where we recognize we have died with Christ, then we can't yield ourselves to God. At least, not in the way He wants.

Yield your members in bondage to righteousness unto holiness (Romans 6:19). Again, we have the command to yield. This time it's yielding our members to righteousness. We found earlier that we aren't to yield those members to sin, now we find we are to yield them to righteousness. I suppose it's unnecessary to point out this is based on our death with Christ: when we were alive to sin, we were its slaves. We were freed from that by death, and now we're alive to God. So now, just like we used to yield our members to sin, we yield them to righteousness.

So those are the first five commands in Romans. I suppose some might think I've lumped some together (for example, #4 might really be two commands), so maybe those are the first six commands in Romans. Either way, there are several commands in Romans before chapter 12.

In Romans, man is guilty and lost: man's guilt is the subject of the first four chapters, man's lostness is the subject of the next four. It's essential to address both those problems before it's possible to live the Christian life. Our guilt is addressed in Romans 4:5 – God justifies (acquits) the one who does not work but believes. Romans 6:4 deals with our lostness – we were slaves to sin, but now that we've died with Christ we're free.

Any attempt to live the Christian life (yes, even attempts to live obey Romans 12:1–2) without first accepting these two truths is futile.

And please believe me when I say it's a constant struggle for me to get my hands around this. I'm not writing as one who has arrived, but as one who's plodding very slowly along the path.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Newness of Life

When God brought the children of Israel out from Egypt, He had Moses lead them to Sinai where He established a covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31–32). That covenant was based on accomplished redemption (Exodus 20:1–2). God, having redeemed His people from slavery, told them exactly how to live to please Him. It was a dismal failure: the people of Israel weren't capable of keeping the Law any more than we are (Romans 8:3–7). Of course God knew that all along: He didn't give them the Law to see if they could keep it, but to demonstrate they couldn't. And so Romans sums up the entire history of the Law in this statement: "by law [is] knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

Today Christians find themselves in a similar position to the Israelites of that day. God has redeemed us from the house of bondage, and we naturally ask the question, "how can I walk to please God, since He has freely redeemed me?" Scripture answers that question very clearly: "they that are in flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8).

Sadly, there is a glut of so-called Christian ministry that ignores the answer Scripture gives, and tries to tell how Adam's children can walk to please God. But our experience eventually confirms what God has already said: Adam's children are incapable of pleasing God. If only we were content to pause there and ask what Scripture has to say about us, we might save ourselves a whole lot of trouble; but of course we don't – we decide what we really need is to try harder, so we redouble our efforts. And so we get ourselves into a vicious cycle, where we try harder to please God, but the harder we try the less we accomplish.

But if we were to listen to what Scripture actually says, we might get a glimpse of something surprising. The fact is that Adam's children cannot please God. It's not that they aren't trying hard enough, it's that there is no such thing as "hard enough". God isn't interested in what Adam's children can do: He's already put Adam's race to the test and found it's not good enough.

Why is it so hard to accept that? It's hard because we can't quite make ourselves believe what Scripture says, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell" (Romans 7:18). If only we could get our hands around this! There's nothing good in me, and I need to give up on the idea that there's something – anything – I can do for God! God doesn't want anything I can do: it's all worthless to Him. We need to be like Paul, content "to be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith" (Philippians 3:9). The Christian life is entirely summed up in this one principle: God is not interested in anything from me, He only wants Christ to be everything to me.

Adam's nature is like the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. Not only fruitless, but actually making the ground useless. The very presence of that fruitless tree is taking up space that a fruitful tree could be using.

So the New Testament offers us a solution: if we want to be useful to God, we need to accept that we have died with Christ. We need to accept what God has said, that we're so devoid of good that He has put us to death. It's our death with Christ that makes it possible for God to use us (Romans 6:4, 7:4; Colossians 3:1–4). I know that I've said this many, many times: it's not that we have to "die to self", it's that we have to accept that we have died with Christ (Romans 6:11). It's accepting what God has said: there's nothing here for Him to work with. As long as we don't accept that, we're doomed to nurture a tree that's fruitless and cannot bear fruit. We're lavishing our care and attention on what God has already said is good for nothing.

Why do I keep talking about this? Because what I have seen over the last four decades with Christians is a stubborn unwillingness to accept what the New Testament teaches. What I have seen (and continue to see) is admonitions to please God in the energy of flesh. It cannot be done, but we simply don't accept that: we'd rather call God a liar than give up on ourselves. As Huebner pointed out, we're saying, "man is lost, but not that lost".

The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that it would take a whole new life for a man to see God's Kingdom (John 3:1–8). The life of Adam isn't enough to get us into the kingdom, it takes life from the Spirit of God. And He pointed out Nicodemus should have known this from the Old Testament scriptures (John 3:10). He told the disciples that there is only one way to be fruitful: to abide in Him (John 15:4–5). Paul tells us what that means: to be "in Christ" is to have no righteousness of our own (Philippians 3:9). Until we have entirely given up on ourselves – on our abilities and our talents and our gifts and our potential – we cannot please God.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Just when I thought JND couldn't get any cooler, it turns out he wasn't a cessationist. From Notes and Jottings, pp 28 - 29:

People have forgotten that the Holy Ghost is come. All recognition of Him is so utterly gone. To my mind, the very principle of "the clergy" involves that; and if you look at 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, you will find you have now to watch that you do not mistake a demon for the Holy Ghost. (p 28)

The doctrine of Irvingism was that the Holy Ghost had come back again. But the Lord said, "that he may abide with you for ever." None of their apostles ever got the gifts. Gifts of healing I think nothing of, because if we had the faith, they would be seen now. I have seen them at Plymouth. (p 29)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Empty Tomb

I recently realized I've missed out on a very significant statement in Scripture regarding the burial of Christ. John 19:40–42 tells us that Christ was buried in "a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid" (v. 41).

This is a daring claim to make. The Gospel centers on the proposition that Christ was raised from the dead. The Apostles insisted not only that Christ was not dead, but that He had been dead, and that He had been raised bodily from the dead. In other words, they claimed that His body was not in the tomb, because He had gotten up and left the tomb under His own power.

John's claim that there had not been anyone previously buried in that tomb meant that he actually raised the ante on the claim of the Resurrection. Not only was Christ's body not in that tomb: no one's body could be in that tomb. If people were to go to that tomb and there was any body in it, then John's claim would be shown to be false.

This makes the Resurrection claim easily falsifiable. It's like John said, "Look, if you can produce the body of Christ, we have to admit that this whole thing is a big hoax. Not only that, if you go to that tomb and there's any body in it, we'll have to admit that it's Christ's body; no one else was buried in that tomb."

I saw a meme on Facebook (I can't find it now) that pointed out the Apostles made a daring claim when they spoke of the Resurrection. By claiming that Christ had risen bodily, they made a claim that was easy to disprove. They could just have claimed Christ had risen spiritually, and their claim could never have been disproven; but claiming a physical resurrection meant they had moved into the realm of the verifiable. I think that's a very important point. John goes even further: by claiming that Jesus Christ's body was alone in that tomb, he is claiming that the tomb must be completely empty, or the claims of the Apostles must be false.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Abiding alone

The Lord Jesus made an amazing statement in John 20:24 "Except the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit."

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this verse. It's certainly true that the Son of God gave a great deal in His life down here: He healed people, fed people, and taught people. But everything He gave that's eternal depended on Him dying. The people He fed got hungry again, the people He healed eventually died, these were temporal blessings. The eternal blessings all come from His death, and are only really ours in resurrection.

We get into a lot of trouble trying to escape death while still having eternal life. It doesn't work that way: we can have life in Christ or life in Adam, but not both. Either death comes between us and Christ, or it comes between us and Adam. Death has come between them, and we can't have both.

Of course scripture doesn't teach we have to die, but that we have died. Our problem is not so much that we need to die as it is that we just don't quite accept that it's already been done.

It's important to understand that not everything in Adam's world is evil, but it's all under judgment. This has taken me a long time to see, and I think it's an important distinction. We're not Gnostics... Creation is a testimony to God's eternal power and glory (Romans 1:19–20). God has created man (Adam) in His own image and given him dominion over this creation (see Psalm 8). There is a dignity and a worth in man because he is created in God's image. But that doesn't change the fact that this world – the world of Adam's children – is under judgment because it has murdered the Son of God. And it doesn't change the fact that all – all – have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

(As an aside, I find it annoying when people say the world is getting worse. The world is not getting worse: the worst thing people have ever done – or ever will do – is murdering the Son of God. The world might be more flagrant in its sin, it might flaunt sin openly in ways that shock us; but the murder of the Son of God is the moral low point of human history.)

In the end, death will come between us and Adam, or it will come between us and Christ. He has died, death has come between Christ and Adam. Adam's race has murdered the Son of God, it's their own fault that death separates them. God invites us to take our place with Christ as those who have died with Him, and recognize that in His eyes, death comes between us and Adam's world.

Again, not everything in Adam's world is bad, but it's all under judgment, and it's all separated from us by death – the death of Christ (Galatians 6:14). We like to tell Sunday School children that the Cross of Christ has bridged the gap between God and men; Scripture teaches that it has created a much more permanent gap between me and the world.

If I am to take what God has offered me in Christ, I must take it on the ground of resurrection. And resurrection ground is on the basis that I, too, have died. Christ has died, so have I (Galatians 2:20). It's only as I accept this that I can enjoy what God has given in Christ.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A New State

Rodger sent me a link to a fantastic article by J. N. Darby. "A new State":

It is clearer and clearer to me every day that the whole gist of the Apostle's teaching, especially in Romans, is that as the law was correlative with flesh, and so, we being sinful, a ministration not of deliverance but of death, we are brought in Christ into a new condition by the Spirit of life in Him, and that, this being by death, we are free in the new man according to the law of the Spirit of life.

It's well worth a read, in not the easiest reading.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


In God's ways, we often learn a truth objectively (i.e. "this is a fact") before we learn it subjectively (i.e. in our experience). It might take us a very long time to go from the one to the other, but it is God's way that we believe what He has said before we experience it. The key is to accept what God has said is true, whether we experience it or not. As we accept God's assessment, we experience it.

This is true of our standing in Christ. We are accepted "in Christ" and only in Christ. This is objectively true. As we walk through this wicked world, we learn what that means.

Ephesians 1 and John 15 illustrate this. Ephesians 1:6 tells us we are "accepted in the Beloved" (KJV). That's an objective statement: it's a statement about how God sees us. God doesn't accept me as such, He accepts me as a man in Christ.

The idea of being "in Christ" pervades the New Testament, especially Paul's epistles. It reminds us that God has really only been pleased with one Man, but He is content to bundle us up together in the one Man, so that what God thinks about that one Man He thinks about me. Ephesians 2 takes it further: we are quickened "with Him", raised together "with Him", and seated "with Him" (Ephesians 2:1–7). This is God's view of things, and I could never see them outside of revelation.

John 15 approaches this from the standpoint of human experience. There it isn't what God sees, but what we experience. So where Ephesians 1:6 talks about us "in Christ", John 15:4 tells us the necessity of "abiding in" Him. Christ Himself says it's impossible for us to "bear fruit" unless we abide in Him (John 14:4–5).

Ephesians 1 tells us that my being "in Christ" is God's work, and God's work alone. I cannot somehow get myself into that position. And Ephesians 1:3–6 makes it clear that God marked me out for this blessing before the world began (v. 4), and there's no hint that I can do anything to end it. So Ephesians 1 approaches this from the perspective of God's sovereignty.

John 15 approaches this from the standpoint of human responsibility: here it's not an issue of God's eternal purpose, it's an issue of my practical walk through the wicked world. I am living down here, Christ is living up there: if I am to produce fruit for God down here, I must abide in Christ. Now, I cannot do anything to stop being "in Christ" in the Ephesians 1 sense – that was determined before the world began. But I can definitely fail to "abide in Christ" in the John 15 sense.

So how do I do this?

In the practical sense, abiding in Christ really comes down to accepting what God has already said. Philippians 3:8–11 gives us an view of what it means to be "in Christ" in practice:

  1. it means having no righteousness of my own (v. 9)
  2. it means knowing Him (v. 10)
  3. it means knowing the power of His resurrection (v. 10)
  4. it means having fellowship in His sufferings (v. 10)
  5. it means being conformed to His death (v. 10)
The first item on this list is the key: being "in Christ" means having no righteousness of my own. It means I give up on myself: I don't try to do better, I am content to have Christ as my righteousness.

The key to abiding in Christ is being content to abide in Christ.

Romans 8 and Colossians 3 give us other views of the same truth. Romans 8:1–4 gives us an amazing summation of God's work in salvation: He has placed me "in Christ" where there is no condemnation (v. 1), He has set me free from the law of sin and death by His Spirit (v. 2), He has condemned the sin in my flesh (v. 3). This might remind us of Ephesians 1, where the work is entirely God's.

But there is human responsibility: we are no longer debtors to the flesh to live after it (v. 12), and if we choose to live according to the flesh, the end result is death (v. 13). This isn't an issue of God punishing us, it's the natural consequence of choosing a life according to what God has already condemned (compare v. 3 with v. 10).

But I stress again that the key here is not that I live right (remember Philippians 3:9!), the key is that I be content to have Christ as my only righteousness. And this is the single hardest thing we ever try to do. It's incredibly hard for us to accept God sees my "goodness" no more than He sees my "badness", when I am in Christ.

We need to learn this lesson: first we accept what God says is true (I am accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6)), then we can learn it in our experience (I can only please God "in Christ" (Romans 8:3–8)).

Monday, February 8, 2016

Two Tracks

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of ministry on Christian living. The first will take you as far as Romans 7, the other will take you into Romans 8.

Romans 7 ministry is light on Christ, light on the Holy Spirit, and heavy on "I". Romans 8 ministry is not terribly caught up with "I", but perhaps talks about "me". That is, it's not what I am for Christ, but what Christ is for me.

I was listening to a preacher on my commute this morning who said something like, "Christ died for you, the least you could do is live for Him." What an appalling statement! Obedience out of gratitude is law. It is exactly the principle of Exodus 20:

I am Jehovah thy God, who have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (Exodus 20:2)

Law after forgiveness is what 2 Corinthians 3:7–16 describes as "the ministry of death". Consider J. N. Darby's remarks on Exodus 34 in the light of 2 Corinthians 3:

[T]he people, though spared by grace, were put back under law; and this was the ministration of death and condemnation of which the apostle speaks. For, in fact, if atonement be not made, grace only makes transgression worse, at any rate in the revelation of God; even in partial glory, with law it must be condemnation to a sinner. Law after grace, in a word, is what the apostle teaches us is condemnation; law after atonement is worse than absurd. It is putting away the sin, and then putting under it, or making the law of no authority and no effect. But vague grace - sparing, and then law, is the state of multitudes of souls; and that is what the apostle tells us is death and condemnation in its nature, and indeed the veil is soon over the reflection of grace to the soul (that is, the perception that exists of grace is soon lost). ("Show me now thy way", Collected Writings, Volume 19, p. 181)

What the New Testament teaches is not obedience out of gratitude, but obedience out of new life. That's the teaching of John 15:1–5, Romans 6–8, and Colossians 3:1–5.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bible Translations

Every January I think about which Bible Translation I'm going to use this year.  I choose Darby's New Translation by default: it's been my go-to Bible translation since 1992. And to be honest, almost regardless of which translation I decide to use "this year", I generally end up using my Darby again by around August.

Over the last ten years I've tried a couple different translations, but I still haven't found something I like better than Darby's.  My first little Darby is ragged and the pages are falling out, so I generally carry my BTP parallel edition (KJV on the left-hand pages, JND on the right-hand pages). Nevertheless, I find I really miss the the blunt pseudo-English of Darby's translation when I'm reading something else.

Still, I wonder whether my insistence on reading Darby's translation in public isn't a problem.  1 Corinthians 14:19 tells us it's better to speak five words people understand than 10,000 they don't. Sometimes when I'm reading aloud from Darby's translation in the assembly, I wonder whether I'm using 10,000 words that people can't understand.

Of course the same thing applies to the KJV: I've cringed in more than one Bible reading where someone tried to make a point based on his inability to understand Elizabethan English.

So this year I've decided I'm going to switch to NASB. Not in the sense of an irreversible life choice, but I'm going to try and read from and carry my NASB for at least a few months and see how it turns out.  My NASB is a single-column edition, so it's pretty thick and heavy: I might need to find a more portable copy, but I'll start with the one I own, rather than buying a new one.  If I find it onerous, then I'll just switch back to Darby.

If I do end up back with a Darby, I think I might just buy one of those enormous editions.  The font size in my parallel is a little small for reading aloud in meetings.