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)).