Friday, February 28, 2020

Losing Sight

I've been thinking a lot about Francis Schaeffer's admonitions that Christ should be Lord over all the areas of my life. I keep going back to Colossians 3:17, everything we do needs to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. There's nothing really exempt from that: the most trivial thing I do is included, as is the most complex thing. "Everything" includes it all.

It seems to me like this has been missing in my life: I've tended to separate the "mundane" from the "spiritual". The "spiritual" is examined in the light of Scripture, but the "mundane" is just sort of allowed to go its own way. And I know I'm not alone.

Francis Schaeffer warns that when we allow that to happen, the "mundane" will eventually overtake, overshadow, choke out, and consume the "spiritual" parts of our lives.

So it's of tremendous interest to me that Colossians 3 starts with the admonition to "seek the things which are above" (Colossians 3:1), and then moves on to say that everything we do – all things, whether word or deed – need to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. That seems almost like a contradiction: if I'm to seek the things that are above, then aren't the things "down here" really of no importance? Well... the Scripture doesn't actually say that. I agree that so many Christians I have met seem to think and act that way, but it's not what Scripture actually says.

And so I've spent the last six months or so grappling with this question: if Christ is to be Lord over all of my life, if I am to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus – then what does it mean to seek those things above?

I'll be the first to say that worldliness is rampant in the Church. It's all too easy to find examples of Christians living for this life, with no thought for the next. And I've done an awful lot of that myself. I'm not blind to that. But at the same time, it seems that many, many Christians I have known have fallen into what we might call the opposite error.

It seems to me that a lot of "brethren" have a puritanical streak buried not too deep below the surface. And that seems to produce an almost Gnostic tendency to see "this world" things as unimportant, or perhaps even evil. So we have this strangely detached view of the world where we're called to live. And, of course, it's impossible to do "all things" in the name of the Lord Jesus when we think (deep down) that many of those "all things" don't matter.

And, in fact, I have seen over and over again that this sort of detached pseudo-Gnosticism leads right back into worldliness. Because we end up in this place where we think Scripture has nothing to say to our everyday lives. And I've fallen into that: I've been so wrapped up in trying to be heavenly minded that I've just sort of let "this life" go on autopilot. And eventually, it's the "mundane" that pushes out the "spiritual".

Oddly, it was contemplating 1 Corinthians 15 that led me to question myself here. Resurrection must mean that God is concerned with my physical body. And when we realize that, we begin to see that the physical world must be important to Him.

So I've wrestled a lot with this, and I've come to very few conclusions. But I have come to two, and I want to share them.

First, I notice that Colossians 3:17 tells us the first step to doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus – giving thanks to the Father by Him. And so I've been thinking a lot about giving thanks. And I'm specifically talking about "this world" here. There is a sort of self-righteousness we can fall into: when we start talking about how God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ, we can take that and turn it into looking down on the other blessings God has given.

I don't mean that we shouldn't bless God and thank Him for all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. I mean the attitude that dismisses physical blessings in this life is wrong. There's no other word for it: it's sin. Colossians 3:17 tells us first that everything needs to be under the Lordship of Christ, then that we need to thank the Father.

I am tremendously blessed in this life. God has been open-handed with me, and for many years I was mired in a self-righteousness that led to me to dismiss those blessings as somehow "lesser", so that I could focus on the "greater" spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. Let me say again, that is sin. Gratitude for spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus cannot lead me to ingratitude for blessings from the Father in this life. That's merely using Scripture to mask our fleshly ungratefulness.

Second, I've come to understand that it's possible to enjoy blessings along the way, and thank God for them, without losing sight of the goal.

Don't get me wrong: it's very common for the flesh to turn a blessing into an idol. But it's not to turn us to idolatry that God blesses us. It's possible to thank God for the blessings along the way without losing sight of the end that He has promised.

So when He takes us to a place where there are twelve wells and seventy palm trees, that's not so we can settle down and forget the promised land. But... to insist on staying in the desert, to think that sitting under the palm trees or drinking from the wells is a sign of decline: that's not being spiritual, it's being ungrateful. It's sin.

After what seems like a very long time, I'm starting to see that it's possible to seek the things that are above and do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus at the same time. Colossians 3:1 isn't an excuse for neglecting Colossians 3:17, or vice-versa.

Monday, February 17, 2020


I heard someone say once, when we hear about "shepherds" in Scripture, our minds should go back to Genesis 31:38–42. That's a tough job! It's about sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter. It's about sleepless nights and bearing the lost of what is stolen. That's what it means to be a shepherd.

It seems to me there's another part of shepherding, in Genesis 33:13. Jacob tells Esau, if you overdrive a flock, it will die. That's the voice of experience. That's someone who had had to bear the loss of dead sheep.

I don't think I've truly appreciated how incongruous it is that God took Jacob and made him a shepherd. He's not a patient man, he's not a particularly honest man, he's not a particularly selfless man. But here he is after twenty years, and he insists on keeping a slow pace, lest he overdrive his flocks.

We've almost certainly seen shepherds trying to overdrive a flock. I take that to mean, not necessarily leading a flock astray, but trying to lead them at a pace they just can't keep up. There's an old saying about good intentions, and I think there are good intentions under a great deal of the wreckage we see among Christians.

I'm not a shepherd by gift, nor by calling, nor by office. But I have known some pretty amazing shepherds over the last forty years. I've seen it done right, and I've seen it done wrong. And there is no lack of shepherds who haven't really learned the lesson that Jacob learned. There are many who think of themselves as shepherds, but don't know what it is to bear loss themselves. They haven't frozen in the winter and sweated in the summer. They haven't learned that you can't overdrive sheep.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Eternal Life

I was telling a friend about visiting a Sunday School class in a pretty typical evangelical church a few months ago. The class was called "Thinking Rightly about God", and at one point, the teacher asked, "When does eternal life begin?"

I answered naïvely, "If it has a beginning, it's not eternal."

The look on his face told me all I needed to know about my lack of wisdom in answering that question.

I wasn't trying to be clever, I was just answering honestly. "Eternal" means without beginning or ending. Scripture doesn't confuse eternal life with everlasting life – they're not the same thing. Eternal life isn't just life that doesn't end.

(It's worth reading William Kelly's comments in The New Testament Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 1: "The New Birth and Eternal Life". There's a lot of meat in that chapter, and it's time well spent to read it.)

Colossians 3:4 starts out, "When Christ, who is our life, is revealed..." That's not a poetic statement. It's not hyperbole. It's telling us the nature of eternal life: Christ is eternal life. 1 John 5:11 makes the statement that we have eternal life, "and this life is in His Son" (NASB). Then we read that Jesus Christ is "the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).

So eternal life isn't the sort of thing where I have one and you have another. It's not like my eternal life began when I believed and yours began when you believed. It's true that when we believed, we became partakers in eternal life. It's true that when we believed, we became possessors of eternal life. But that's not the start of eternal life, it's just the start of our claim to it. That's the start of our participating in it.

In a similar way, I don't say the highway begins where I start driving on it. My trip on it starts at that definite point, but it stretches for miles and miles and miles up to that point.

The statement in John 5:11 is remarkable: we have eternal life, and it's in the Son of God. We're not the guardians of eternal life, it's kept safe in God's Son. If eternal life were something we had to protect, if it was something we had to guard, then we certainly would lose it. Only one Man has ever been able to live up to His responsibilities, we'd be able to guard our eternal life to exactly the same degree Adam was able to guard Eden. But the fact is that God gives us eternal life in His Son, where we can't do anything to jeopardize it. He is guarding it, and no failure of mine can ruin it.

But there is a responsibility: "lay hold on eternal life" (1 Timothy 6:12). Eternal life isn't only a hope for the future – it's supposed to be something we experience here and now. It's great that I have title to eternal life. It's wonderful that God has hidden it in the Son, so there's nothing I can do to endanger it. But Scripture calls me to go past merely knowing it's mine to experiencing it. And I have to say this burns my conscience. Do I know what it's like to have eternal life?