Saturday, November 24, 2018

Christ my only righteousness

I mentioned a while ago that there are two general categories of "ministry" I run across. When I read folks like J. N. Darby, I'm struck by how his entire perspective is that God no longer deals with man in the flesh. By contrast, as I listen to "ministry" given over the last several years, I'm struck by how it is mainly (not exclusively) a speaker urging people to try harder. There are, thankfully, some remarkable exceptions.

It seems like there are certain topics (or as C. A. Coates would say, "lines of truth") where this is more clearly seen. Discussions of baptism come to mind, or discussions on the whole topic of election. Talks about baptism – very appropriately – bring up Romans 6, and it seems like talks on Romans 6 fall naturally into one of two categories: there are those who see our death with Christ as fact, and those who see it as a metaphor for our responsibility to live a new kind of life.

There are some recordings on Voices for Christ that I've heard well over a dozen times. To be fair, recordings of talks given to an assembly (or in a conference) are given at a specific time and place. And a spoken word – unlike a written word – can't be edited or touched up after it's spoken. It's entirely true that it's easier to be careful in writing than in speaking.

That being said, in all my listening to some of the messages, I've come to the conclusion that there are many preachers and teachers who really don't believe that new life in Christ is a real thing. And (I think this is closely related), those same speakers don't seem to believe that man is really lost.

I was struck by R. A. Huebner's statement in God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men that there are those who effectively teach "man is lost – but not that lost" (pp. 7, 184). Huebner's writing can be a little caustic at times, but his characterization seems to be accurate. The more I listen to some speakers, the more convinced I become that they really haven't given up on fallen men and women.

By contrast, the central message I see in J. N. Darby's ministry is that Christ has died as the Last Adam, and God is no longer interested in what Adam's race can or cannot do. In Christ's death, the whole world has been condemned, along with the entire human race:

Flesh has its religion as well as its lusts and pleasures.

As to Salvation; it is important we should know ourselves lost; but I think you will find many that have not got the simple plain consciousness that they are lost - not really got it, I mean.

But if they are alive in this world, they are lost to God. I do not say "guilty" now, that is true, of course; but, lost. If I am lost, now I am; and there is nothing to judge.

I do not mean, shall be lost finally, but that now am lost, as to my state.

People don't believe it. They believe that they have sinned, and that Christ has died for their sins; but that does not touch this question of being lost.

But if I get the consciousness of being lost now already, and that Christ dealt with that on the cross also; I then get saved, and that now, and that is just what people have not got thoroughly. They know neither what it is to be lost, nor what it is to be saved.

It is not the first thing we get hold of, my conscience takes knowledge of my sins, and that must be settled, but there is this other thing.

(J. N. Darby, "Salvation and Separation", Notes and Jottings, p. 46)

In his excellent letter on free will, Darby claims the idea of human free will is a denial of Christianity. I used to think there was a logical leap there, but I have begun to understand better what he's saying. The Christian gospel is not that man is guilty and must be forgiven – that is Old Testament truth. Christianity introduces not guilt but lostness. And, as Darby points out, free will is effectively a denial that man is lost. A man who is guilty might have free will, a man who is lost does not.

Let's slow down a little bit to make sure we're clear on this. Romans presents the all-important doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone: the argument reaches its peak in Romans 4:5 – the one who doesn't work, but believes is counted righteous. The really fascinating thing about Romans 4 is that the doctrine is argued entirely from the Old Testament, where it's shown that Abraham (Romans 4:3) and David (Romans 4:7) were both justified in exactly the same way that we are.

Guilt and justification are Old Testament truths.

Romans 1–3 demonstrates the guilt of men – and women, of course! But Romans 5 goes further, showing that men and women are not only guilty, but lost. Lost goes deeper than guilty. Guilty means I have done something wrong. Lost means I am something wrong.

And here's where these preachers tend to go off track. They don't seem to believe that men and women aren't capable of pleasing God. They seem to think that God forgives our guilt, and then expects us to live for Him with a clean slate. The problem, of course, is that there's no clean slate, not even a blank one. God forgiving our sins means we're justified in His sight, but it doesn't change the fact that we're lost.

Christ didn't die to remedy our flesh, He died to end it. That's the only way I know to interpret John 1:29 – the Lamb of God takes away the sin (not sins) of the world.

Here's the thing: this is the most practical doctrinal difference imaginable. Rob Leatham says shooting is simple, it's just not easy. Christian living is almost exactly the same thing: it's simple, but it's not easy.

The simple truth is that there are many people who have been forgiven of all their sins, who nevertheless aren't really living the Christian life. They are born again, they are regenerated, they are justified in God's sight; but they aren't saved. And sadly, many of the preachers I hear are actually calling people to exactly this less-than-Christian life. This is why I've come to see Darby's "On Sealing with the Holy Ghost" (Collected Writings, Volume 31, p. 254) as so important.

Scripture first mentions Salvation in Exodus 14:13, where Moses tells the people to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah." That chapter goes on to tell us what salvation looks like: Jehovah saved Israel, and they saw the Egyptians dead on the shore (Exodus 14:30). Notice this is significantly after the Passover: this is at least several days after they had been sheltered by the blood on the door, and even after they had left Egypt. Salvation comes after redemption.

The Christian life starts with baptism. Baptism is connected with salvation in Scripture: it's not connected with justification, or regeneration, or forgiveness, or reconciliation. It's connected with salvation. Sadly, many want to put baptism back at the Passover, not at the Red Sea.

The hardest thing for us to do is to accept we are lost. It's easy for us to judge our sins, it's hard for us to judge ourselves. It's simple, it's just not easy.

Philippians 3:9–10 tells us what it means to be "in Christ": it means to have no righteousness of our own. It's so incredibly difficult to give up our own righteousness. Ask me how I know! It's much easier to confess our sins than it is to give up our own righteousness. But this is precisely what it is to be "in Christ." We are "in Christ" when we give up having anything to offer God. We see Christ not only as taking our sins, but also as being our only righteousness.

It is a fact that God only sees us in Christ. The problem is when we don't see things that way. When God sees things one way, and we see things another way, then we're in trouble. And to live the Christian life, we need to see ourselves in Christ – no righteousness of our own, depending solely on the grace of God.

Christ my forgiveness, Christ my only righteousness. That's Christianity. It's not easy, but it's simple.


Robert said...

This is a very insightful post and one that we should all ponder over. I agree entirely with your thoughts on hat we regularly hear: ‘The more I listen to some speakers, the more convinced I become that they really haven't given up on fallen men and women’. The very way that preachers address the audience is more akin to a car salesman than an ‘able minister of the new covenant’. The salesman starts from the point of viewing in his mind the car being driven out the dealership by a new owner and works his sales pitch backwards to make it happen. We hear shiny, smiley preachers doing the same thing - ‘all you have to do is believe and you will be saved. I am just a guy like you who went to college, fell in love and got married, I’m struggling to pay my bills each month and bring up children in this bad world. But if I can believe the gospel, so can you - let’s work it out together, let’s overcome all those objections you have and get you into God’s salvation’.

Yet Luke 15 brings out man’s lostness in a four fold way. There is a sheep lost in the wildnerness, a coin lost in the darkness, a son lost in the far country and a son lost at home. The seriousness of the position moves the Son, the Spirit and The Father to seek after them and the angels of heaven wait to hear the news of the lost being recovered. It is altogether a Divine work. The most serious case is that of the eldest son, who lived so near to the place of relationship with the father and yet he refused to come into the house. He would not accept his brother’s lostness and death in the sight of his father and so could not rejoice when he was found and was alive again. And because he never saw himself as lost, he stayed outside working with the servants in the field.

It seems to me that Saul of Tarsus was the classic elder brother in Philippians 3:4-6. But Paul came into the good of the fathers house - he was happy to be ‘found in Him’ and wear the best robe of ‘the righteousness which is of God by faith’ v.9

How we start off on the Christian pathway will have a major bearing on how we continue. I have been spending a lot of time looking at the 7 churches in Revelation 2&3. Their story is more or less, one of decline and failure introduced by man. The Father wants all His children to enjoy the status and blessings of the house but men still continue to use the language of the far country ‘make me as one of thy hired servants’! Man wants a place in the churches, he wants his opinion to be valued, his voice to be heard’. Because so many did not see their lostness, they do not enjoy ‘the manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us’, so they are insecure, unsettled, always chasing the next new thing in Christian service.

“Thus man in innocence was set up perfect in that innocence, and Adam fell. The priesthood of Aaron was perfect in its kind, but there was failure in Nadab and Abihu. Whatever God has planted, He has planted wholly a right seed according to His mind. Whatever comes from God must be perfect, and cannot be made more perfect by any other operation whatever. This is a very simple truth; but it is one which cuts up by the roots and overturns a whole system of thoughts and feelings which would put something between our souls and Christ. It is not that God cannot reveal in the creature more than He has yet revealed, and accomplish what is better than what went before. He does so: the Second Adam is clearly infinitely more excellent than the first. But the thing that He sets up is absolutely perfect, as the expression of His mind in that thing. Man cannot improve or add to it. The thing set up for us is the perfect manifestation of God in Christ; hence the notion of development is rejection of the true object, or blasphemy. So John says, “ that which was from the beginning,” when he would keep the saints secure.” JND The Prophetical Addresses to the Seven Churches

Anonymous said...

Brother you have written "The Christian life starts with baptism. Baptism is connected with salvation in Scripture: it's not connected with justification, or regeneration, or forgiveness, or reconciliation. It's connected with salvation."

Can you kindly explain it more?. I have always believed that while New Birth , Redemption, Justification different, Salvation is an all compassing term that includes New Birth, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Redemption,Justification , Sanctification and Glorification. So can you Kindly explain what is the difference between Salvation and other terms ( Redemption, Justification

Also What are your views on Household Baptism. How does the Statement "Christian Life starts at Baptism" relates to Household Baptism?

clumsy ox said...

I could have said that a lot better...

It seems to me that salvation does encompass justification, reconciliation, etc. Nevertheless, Romans 5:9–10 says, "having been reconciled, we shall be saved". So there is the idea that it is possible to have the one, and not [yet] have the other.

When I wrote that the Christian life starts with baptism, I was trying to point out that Christianity as such – distinct from what came before – is characterized by baptism.

In baptism, we see our union with Christ. Romans 6–8 makes it clear that baptism is all about my dying with Christ and my burial with Him.

Abram was justified, but I can't see from Scripture that he died with Christ. David was justified, but I can't see from Scripture that he was buried with Christ. Union with Christ is a uniquely Christian thing: there is no such truth in the Old Testament.

So my statement that Christianity begins with baptism was meant not to say that we are justified in baptism, nor born again in baptism, nor reconciled in baptism. My point was that Romans 5:1 describes something that the Old Testament saints had: they were justified by faith and had peace with God. So far, there is no difference between the Old Testament saints and us. The point of departure is in the introduction of our union with Christ, which is linked with baptism in Romans 6. And in that sense, Christianity starts with baptism.

So I really wasn't commenting on household baptism vs. believers' baptism vs. infant baptism.

My larger point is that so much "Christian" ministry isn't Christian at all. It ignores our union with Christ. Romans 5:1–8 shows us real blessing: justification by faith and peace with God, glorying in Christ Jesus. To be honest, very few of us really live in the good of that. But even that falls short of Christianity as taught in Romans 6–8.

I have very carefully avoided discussing the how of baptism. It seems to me the what of baptism is much more important.

Anonymous said...

This has been helpful to me. I do hope you keep writing as you feel moved. This is good stuff and you write in a way that those young in the faith (and mediocre in the brain!) can understand.

I'm posting as anonymous because I don't have a Google account hooked up and this is just easier. But if you care, my name is Jonathan Van Ryn.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation.

Being born & brought up in the OBs and still with them, I was baptised as a believer and used to strongly hold believers baptism. However after reading the arguments from other side and the scriptures for myself , I now lean towards Household Baptism.
Sadly, OBs have made baptism a test of fellowship.
As a brother in Christ, whose writings I value much and especially as someone who moved from OBs to EBs , I wanted to know your view on Household Baptism.

You could write a completely new post on this or can ignore if don't want to .