Friday, March 9, 2018

Going through death

I don't think anyone holds any illusions about this... but in the spirit of confessing faults one to another, I should probably confess that I'm sadly content to be like Moses and see the land. It's a great deal harder to be like Joshua and go into it.

The leaven of evangelicalism seems to me to be the notion that man in the flesh can please God. As I listen to preachers and teachers who consider themselves "evangelical", I notice two themes. The first theme is a dangerously compromised Gospel. Scripture teaches that God justifies the one who does not work, but believes (Romans 4:5). I have many times heard a "gospel" message that places some sort of work between the sinner and justification. Scripture doesn't call on the sinner to repeat a prayer, or to "invite Jesus into his heart." Scripture merely calls the sinner to believe. And to be clear: it calls the sinner to believe not something, but Someone.

The second theme is the idea that the justified sinner is now capable of obeying God, as a justified sinner. By contrast, what Scripture teaches is that those who have died with Christ are to yield their members to God as those alive from the dead (Romans 6:13). There is no pleasing God without going through death.

Scripture presents baptism as standing at the gateway to the Christian life. What is the truth of baptism? It is the fact of the believer's identification in the death, burial, resurrection, and public testimony of Christ (Romans 6:3–6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3–5). Baptism means my life has ended. And notice, it's really the first step in the Christian life. We don't work our way up to baptism, we start there.

A friend of mine once told me, "everything, even spiritual gift, must go through death for God to use it." I've thought about that long and hard, and I think he was correct. Really, isn't that the message of 2 Corinthians 4:10–12? The end goal of the Christian life is to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). The tool that God uses to bring that about is death: death works in us (2 Corinthians 4:12). Sadly, this seems to be the opposite of the evangelical view.

The fact is that Christ Himself taught this to Nicodemus (John 3:3). The problem is, we have done a masterful job of not really hearing what the Lord said. The point is not that we need to have a "born again" experience to get into the Kingdom. The point is that we need an entirely new life. That doesn't leave room for the "old" life. We've managed to convince ourselves that the Lord was describing an addition, not a replacement.

No one gets into the Kingdom of God intact.


Robert said...

If it had been possible for Nicodemus to enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again, the same man would have appeared and lived out his life in the flesh again. I agree fully with you that the true meaning of ‘born again’ is that the God removes the old man and introduces a new man in his place.

John the Baptist was the first preacher of the NT and he laid the foundation for all true preaching of the gospel that would follow. He announced that God was taking the axe to the root of the tree. Modern evangelism is mostly about trimming the tree and making it look better. God announced in Matthew 3 that only His beloved Son brings Him pleasure therefore all other men must accept the need to be cut down so that only Christ can be seen.

Susan said...

"The end goal of the Christian life is to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). The tool that God uses to bring that about is death: death works in us (2 Corinthians 4:12)."
For Christ to be manifested in us we must be reduced to nothingness. God uses difficult circumstances in our life to bring that about.

HandWrittenWord said...

Mark said -- "I don't think anyone holds any illusions about this... but in the spirit of confessing faults one to another, I should probably confess that I'm sadly content to be like Moses and see the land. It's a great deal harder to be like Joshua and go into it."

We should note (as of course you know) that Moses was not "content" to merely see the land: he was prohibited by God from entering. It is instructive to ponder WHY he was prohibited.

In the incident of the water of Meribah, (see Numbers 20:7-13) the LORD instructed Moses, with Aaron, to take the rod, gather the assembly together, and speak unto the rock before their eyes. Moses took the rod, he and Aaron gathered the congregation before the rock, spoke unto the people, and struck the rock twice.

And the result?

And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. (Numbers 20:12)

Notice that God did NOT say, "Because ye OBEYED Me not", but rather, "Because ye BELIEVED Me not". Obedience flows from BELIEVING God...

Mark said -- "The problem is, we have done a masterful job of not really hearing what the Lord said. The point is not that we need to have a "born again" experience to get into the Kingdom. The point is that we need an entirely new life."

So very, very true. And in the "entirely new life", believing, truly believing the Word of God, IS obedience. Everything proceeds from that.

Later in Numbers 20, Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar were instructed to go up to the top of Mount Hor, where Aaron would die. Why?

"...because ye rebelled against My Word at the water of Meribah". (Numbers 20:24)

If, as members of the Body of Christ", we find ourselves in disobedience, let us look to the source -- unbelief. "Unbelief", not believing the Word of God, is rebellion against the Word of God...

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ
were baptized into His death?
Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ
was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so
we also should walk in newness of life.
(Romans 6:1-4

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him:
but the just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
(Romans 10:17)

clumsy ox said...

I've ranted before about "dying to self" – Scripture simply doesn't use that language. Scripture talks about our dying with Christ as an accomplished fact. It is the work of God, not the work of the believer.

There is the responsibility to "put to death our members on the earth" (Colossians 3:5). But even that is predicated on our having died with Christ (Colossians 3:1–3). But notice it's not "self" we put to death, but "our members on the earth."

The danger of the "death to self" line of thought is that it takes our focus off Christ and puts it on self. It's not our place to put self to death: it's our place to rest in the certainty of what God has already done.

Sometimes I get so focused on having no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3), that I forget to have confidence in Christ. I focus so strongly on the negative, that I forget the positive. The Christian life is driven by both the negative and the positive. Yes, I have died with Christ, but now He is my life. If we forget either of those truths, we're going to wind up in trouble. If I focus on becoming nothing, then I've effectively become Buddhist, not Christian. If I focus on new life in Christ, then I end up attempting to please God in flesh. It's both: there must be death, but the object must be the Son of God, who is our life. We have not merely died, we have died with Him. And we don't stop there, no, we are also risen with Him.

Christianity is not annihilation, it's displacement. The goal is not that we become nothing, but that Christ becomes everything. Our nothingness is a side-effect. God's order is to "turn to God from idols" (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), it's "He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30). When we try to reverse that order, when we try to decrease first, or when we try to turn from idols first, we end up missing the path.

Susan's comment gets right to the point: "we must be reduced to nothingness." Notice, we don't reduce ourselves to nothingness; we place ourselves in the hands of the eternal, loving God, and allow Him to work in us. He uses both life and death (2 Corinthians 4:12). Seeking to be nothing is Buddhism, trusting the eternal God to bring us to nothing, while at the same time revealing Christ in us is Christianity. The end result is not that we are nothing, but that we are a revelation of the life of Jesus in mortal flesh.

And as Susan pointed out, it's a strangely passive activity. We can't reveal the life of Jesus in our own mortal bodies, only God can do that. But constant gazing on Him in glory (2 Corinthians 3:18) is a responsibility placed on us, and it pays huge dividends. We are transformed into His image as we behold His glory.

Susan said...

So true, Mark! 'Christianity is not annihilation, it's displacement.'

Exactly!!!! Not replacement but displacement!!!!!!!

HandWrittenWord said...

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy,
acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world:
but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable,
and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

Just imagine...

Susan said...

The word "transformation" occurs twice in Scripture with reference to Christians (Rom. 12:2, and 2 Cor. 3:18). Every believer tries to be reformed, but very few apprehend the great moral difference between reformation and transformation. As a rule believers rejoice that they are saved, and aim to be up to the language of Micah 6:8, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

There are increasing numbers who have accepted the truth that by the grace of God they have been transferred from Adam to Christ, and that they are clear of the old man in God's sight; yet they have no true understanding of what it is to be "transformed." Reformation is improvement, and refers to what already exists; but transformation means a change of being. This, it is feared, is little known.

In Romans 12:2, we are exhorted not to be "conformed to this world," but to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." This means a new mind, something altogether new; so that you are not to walk before men according to this world, but according to the mind of Christ, your life. Hence, at the end of this exhortation, the Apostle says, "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14).

It is not a question as to whether the order of this world is good or not, but you are not to be conformed to it any more: you are to be "transformed" according to a new mind, and thus be able to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." Everyone who knows anything of his own heart must know that he has tastes and desires connected with this earthly scene, and the more they are gratified the stronger they become. But as he walks in the Spirit he finds that what he likes most in the natural order of things is the very thing he must avoid: "No man . . . having drunk old wine straightway desireth new; for he saith, The old is better." Very slowly do we learn to be altogether non-conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our mind.

As to the transforming of 2 Corinthians 3:18, the blessedness of it is that it is by beholding the Lord Jesus' glory with unveiled face that we are transformed into the same image; that is, we are brought into moral correspondence with Himself. It is not merely a new course outside and apart from the world as in Romans, but here we are in conscious union with the risen Lord Jesus Christ in glory.

It is true that every convert does not enjoy the light of His glory, because many are dwelling more upon the work than upon the Person who did the work. The fact is, the nearer you are to Him in glory the more assured you are of being in the righteousness of God, and that you are there without a cloud; and it is as you behold the Lord Jesus there, you are gradually transformed into moral correspondence to Himself. Many have been misled by thinking that by reading the Bible you become like Christ—transformed; but you will find diligent students of the Word, who may never say anything incorrect in doctrine, yet who never seem to grow in grace and walk in spiritual reality.

When we learn that we are united to Him who is in glory, we can come forth in the new man to manifest His beauty and grace here on earth. This transformation is of the highest order. The Lord lead our hearts to apprehend the great contrast between the old man, however reformed by law, and the new man growing by grace into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
J. B. Stoney

HandWrittenWord said...

Susan -- Thank you so much for sharing the J.B. Stoney excerpt.

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law
by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another,
even to Him who is raised from the dead,
that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins,
which were by the law, did work in our members
to bring forth fruit unto death.
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead
wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit,
and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 4:4-6)

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace
in BELIEVING, that ye may abound in hope,
through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:13, emphasis mine)

Robert said...

No doubt in Christendom, and in its most evangelical circles there is the utmost feebleness as to a real spiritual life communicated now to the believer. Hence there is a dangerous tendency either to the amelioration of the old man, or to a miserable blank, as if we had but the flesh, and the Spirit of God only to guide and reprove according to need. It is a sad loss to overlook Christ in us, Christ as truly the life of the saint as the fallen Adamic life is shared by the race.

William Kelly: Exposition of 2 Peter

Susan said...