Friday, January 29, 2021

Try the Spirits

There are some verses that can be tempting to consider out-dated. For example, verses about eating food sacrificed to idols seemed to me to be sort of a "not for today" thing. But then one day, I was a guest in a home with bona fide idols, and I suddenly found myself in desperate need of guidance.

So the problem was me, not the verse. That shouldn't surprise anyone.

1 John 4:1–3 is one of those passages. I never really seemed to need those verses, until all of a sudden I did. It seems to me like when I was growing up, there was a whole lot of distance between the sorts of churches where people would claim to have a new revelation from God and the sorts of churches that I would attend or visit. But (at least here in America) those lines are getting more and more blurry. There are certainly still some pretty hard-line "not for today" churches, but those are getting thinner and thinner on the ground. And I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing... it seems to me some of those churches weren't so much faithful to scripture as they were faithful to their own preferences. But that's a discussion for another day.

Now, let me start out by saying that someone who claims to be hearing from God – either audibly or inaudibly – is making a very serious claim, with some very serious implications. Are they claiming that the Scripture is incomplete? Are they claiming some sort of new revelation? Are they saying they are speaking as an Apostolic authority? Are they claiming equal authority with the writers of the New Testament?

In some cases, that's exactly what they are claiming, and we can condemn that sort of thing very quickly, very easily. The written word of God is complete and authoritative. We don't need to spend a lot of time and effort analyzing that sort of thing.

But there is another case that is much more of a "grey area," the "God gave me this verse" area. I have no doubt that the Lord speaks to us individually: I have no idea what being led of the Spirit is if not that. And neither I nor my friends would claim such a thing is a new revelation. The Spirit of God speaks to us subjectively, sometimes it's just a matter of us seeing a verse for the first time, or in a new light. Sometimes it's realizing that the verse we've read thousands of times is saying something different than we'd always thought. This is legitimately the work of the Spirit of God, and we definitely don't want to condemn that!

When someone claims to have "a word from the Lord," we should listen carefully. But we don't listen na├»vely, we test what is said against the Scripture. Does it line up with Scripture? 

1 John 4:1–3 gives us a test, and it's brilliant in both its simplicity and it's breadth. The question is, does the spirit speaking to us confess Jesus Christ come in flesh? It seems to me there are several claims – "confessions" if you will – packed into this sentence, and we are to test "the spirits" by them.

First, the Spirit of God confesses Jesus Christ. I've met many who claim to be Christians, who are much more interested in angels than they are in Jesus Christ. At best, this is a dangerous place to be, at worst, it's a denial of the faith. Colossians 2:18–19 warns against this very thing: it's possible to get distracted by spiritual things and "not hold fast the Head." Angels are real, but we are expressly forbidden from worshiping them (Revelation 22:8–9). We are to worship God, and God alone. Hebrews 1–2 picks up this theme: the Son is over the angels, because He is by nature their superior – He is eternal God – (Hebrews 1:4) and He has earned what they cannot (Hebrews 1:3). 

Notice this contrast: the Son sits at God's right hand (Hebrews 1:3, 13), angels don't sit in God's presence, they stand (cf. Luke 1:19).

Perhaps more subtly, there are those who are content to worship the Father, but seem to forget the Son. John 5:21–23 shows us that it is God's purpose for us to honor the Son just as we honor the Father. If we're not honoring the Son, we're not honoring the Father either. So when I hear someone talk a whole lot about the Father, but never mention the Son, I take careful note. The test in 1 John 4:1–3 isn't what they say about God, but what they say about Jesus Christ. Someone who has a whole lot to say about God but very little to say about Jesus Christ fails that test.

Second, the Spirit of God confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh. A confession of Jesus Christ that's limited to His earthly ministry isn't really enough. You and I didn't come in flesh, we've never been anything except flesh. We began as flesh, and will be eternally flesh – to be sure, it'll be redeemed flesh, but it's still flesh. We are physical beings with a definite beginning.

But Jesus Christ is eternal God. When there was no such thing as flesh, there was the Son. When there was nothing but God, He was there. He is eternal. The Spirit of God confesses not merely Jesus Christ as a real Man, but as truly God.

Third, the Spirit of God confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh. The Spirit of God confesses Jesus Christ as truly Man. There is a danger that we don't believe Jesus Christ is God. There is an equal and opposite danger that we don't treat Him as Man. The Apostles wrote against both errors, but we might not truly appreciate their warnings.

The gospel that Paul preached makes this very clear – He was buried (1 Corinthians 15:4). Notice the language: it's not that "His body was buried,"  but "He was buried." John's gospel makes the same point (John 19:42): "There therefore, on account of the preparation of the Jews, because the tomb was near, they laid Jesus." The Lord is so completely Man that the Scripture talks about His dead body as Him. He wasn't merely eternal God who took a body, He is eternal God who became Man.

So that's the test from 1 John 4:1–3. I don't think it's the only test, but it's a test, maybe the most important one.

I'm pretty open about the fact that I'm not a cessationist. I can't remember ever taking that position, even as a young person. But I believe it's extremely important for us to test so-called spiritual manifestations against Scripture. 1 Corinthians 14 gives us a series of tests that relate to order, 1 John gives us a series of tests that relate to content.  In all honesty, I can't remember ever being in a meeting where the "spiritual manifestations" passed either set of tests. 

I don't bring that up to be contentious, but because it's of the first importance to me that we don't condemn what Scripture doesn't explicitly condemn. Condemning "spiritual manifestations" that fail to meet the tests of Scripture is nothing but obedience. Condemning those very same things because they don't fit my personal theology is something I just can't conscience.

Anyway for better or for worse, a whole lot of things that were once "fringe" are now "mainline." As we wait for the Son of God to come for us, let's be sure we're testing what we see an hear against Scripture. If we're hearing from a spirit that doesn't confess Jesus Christ come in flesh, let's be clear that's not the Spirit of God.





Friday, January 22, 2021

Waiting

1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 might suggest to us that a Christian is one who has turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead. It's striking that the Thessalonian description of Christianity puts waiting for the Son of God from Heaven on par with serving God. I don't mean that those two things are equivalent, but that they are of equal importance.

Philippians 3:17–21 says something similar: we are to model ourselves after those who walk like the Apostles, who are waiting for the Son of God to come from Heaven, to change our bodies to be like His. I'm not sure I've ever really obeyed that exhortation: I'm not sure I've chosen role models based on whether they're waiting for the Son of God from Heaven. But that seems to be what the passage is telling us to do.

 I'm old enough to remember a time when the imminent return of Christ was a common belief among evangelicals. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, it wasn't a very controversial idea. Somewhere along the way, that seems to have fallen out of favor. 

There are many godly believers who hold different views to mine about the Lord's return. I'm not very dogmatic about eschatology, because I've lived long enough to have been proven wrong about a great many things. But I do insist that the epistles present the Lord's return as something that can happen at any moment, and that the Apostles expected Him to return in their own time. 1 Thessalonians 4:15–18 make it very clear: Paul includes himself in "we who are alive and remain."  1 Corinthians 15:51–52 make it clear that Paul didn't consider himself one who must necessarily die.

I recall reading J. N. Darby, where he pointed out that it's when the servant says "my lord delays" (Luke 12:45–46) that he begins to abuse his position. The servant doesn't say the lord isn't returning at all, merely that he's not returning soon.

I confess that I have fallen into that trap. I haven't ever denied that the Lord is returning, but I have certainly acted like He isn't returning soon. And I am more and more realizing that with this subtle shift in thinking, I have fallen into all sorts of traps.

So I've been reminding myself that the Apostles expected the Lord to return in their own lifetimes, and I am by no means wiser than they. I've been reminding myself that this life is real and significant and what I do here matters, but I have been called to wait for the Son of God from Heaven. 

Those two principles are in a bit of opposition to one another, and we've seen what happens when either one is ignored. On the one hand, those who forget this life is real and significant have a tendency to Gnosticism. On the other hand, those who forget that we're called to wait like the Son of God is just around the corner have a tendency to live like they don't think He's ever coming. 

So let's don't fall into either error. Let's not live like this life doesn't matter, but let's not live like it'll matter tomorrow. It might not.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Remembered

 Psalm 45 ends with a promise to the Son "I will make thy name to be remembered throughout all generations" (Psalm 45:17). I take this promise very seriously, because it ties in very closely with our role as Asenath.

Here we are, where the Man of God has been rejected, and we're waiting for Him to come for us (Philippians 3:20–21, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10).  The Lord has told us we are to remember Him "until He come" (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). So here we are, waiting for Him to come back for us. And while we wait, we're to be remembering Him.

And we might not think that's very important: we might find any number of things that seem to be more important. But the Lord has asked us to remember Him until He comes.

When I think about the woman at Sychar, I remember the Lord told her that the Father is seeking worshipers (John 4:23). I find that striking: how many times do we read that the Father is seeking for something? As far as I can tell, this is the only time. And I notice the Father isn't seeking for servants, or champions, or talented people to advance the kingdom. He's seeking worshipers. And apparently He's content if they're just like the woman at the well, who've thrown away their lives already, and are wondering what they've gotten for it.

The Father is seeking worshipers, and the Son has told us to remember Him until He comes for us: those two things should align our hearts and – more importantly – our eyes while we're here. But if we go back to Psalm 45, we'll see there's one more thing. The Father has promised the Son that He'd be remembered throughout all generations. The Father has made a promise to the Son, and He's invited us to be part of its fulfillment.

Think about that for a while!

How many times do we get to be involved in the relationship between the Father and the Son? But that's exactly what remembering Him is.

So as hard as it is for me to do – much harder than it is for me to say – I need to get it into my head, and into my heart, that I am in this wicked world for a purpose. It's not to make a fortune here, it's not to enjoy what this world has to offer, it's not even to make this world a better place. The point of my being here is so that His name will be remembered until He comes back. And while I believe we are to make every part of our lives an act of worship – doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father by Him (Colossians 3:17) – at the same time I realize that the most important thing is to be waiting for the Son of God from Heaven, remembering Him until we actually see His face.


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Asenath

The story of Joseph introduces a new theme in Scripture: God's man rejected by God's people. That theme will repeat many times in many familiar stories: Joseph in Egypt, Moses in Midian, David in Hebron, virtually all the prophets, and of course Christ Himself. We might even see that theme carried into Paul's life (2 Timothy 1:15).

Very closely related to God's man rejected by God's people is the gentile bride. Asenath is the first of the gentile brides, but hardly the last. She's only mentioned three times in Scripture that I can find: Genesis 41:45, Genesis 41:50, and Genesis 46:20. She's a remarkable character. We don't have any record of a word she says, and we only know two things she does: she marries Joseph, and she has two children (ok, maybe that's three things). The rest of Asenath's life is none of our business: she has a life with Joseph that no one else gets to see.

Christ, of course, has a gentile bride (Ephesians 5:28–32). Many of the Christians I know have a view of the future glory of the bride of Christ that's quite public; but I think it'll be more like Asenath's.  Right now, God's Man is rejected, and we get to be a blessing to Him in the world that rejected Him. We're here for Him. When He is accepted by God's people, the story will go on with them from there, and we might fade out of it. Not because we aren't important to Him, but because we've been called to a relationship of such intimacy with Him, that it's no one else's business. I think we'll be like Asenath and Zipporah, disappearing from the story, but not from His life.

We might notice that Asenath is never mentioned without a reminder that her father was an Egyptian priest. All three times Scripture mentions her, it adds on the note about her father. We're reminded every single time that she had been an idolater. Asenath didn't come from some godly family: she had no spiritual heritage. 

What a reminder that God loves idolaters!

And doesn't that bring to mind the Lord's encounter with the woman at Sychar? Here's a woman who's spiritually and morally bankrupt, and the Son of God meets her at the well, and gives her the most detailed discourse on worship in Scripture. I was in a Bible reading on John 4, and someone said, "God looks for worshipers in Satan's trash heap."  That's a clumsy but profound description of John 4. A woman who is  enough of a pariah to have to go to the well when no one else does, is met by the Son of God and told how to be a worshiper of the Father (John 4:21–24). Notice the Lord talks about "the Father". That's not a title He throws around lightly. And He uses it when He talks to this woman at the well.

I think it's natural for us to want to be a sort of a Miriam: very vocal, taking a clear role in leadership. But I am sure our calling is to be more like Zipporah, more like Asenath. We've been called out of idolatry to an intimate relationship with the Man of God. We've been called to turn to God from idols, to wait for His Son from Heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10). We've been called to be His.

 



 



Friday, January 1, 2021

Kelly on Romans 6

A friend of mine gave me several books recently, one was William Kelly's Notes on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Romans. I've been excited to read this one for a while, and it has not disappointed.

I thought some of his comments on Romans 6 worth sharing at length:

Evangelicalism (whether in national or dissenting bodies) takes its stand (at least it used to do so) on the truth of Christ dying for our sins. This is most true, and a capital truth; without which there is no bringing of the soul to God, no divine judgment of our iniquities, no possible sense of pardon. But it is very far from being the truth even of the Saviour's death, to speak of no more now. Hence evangelicalism, as such, having no real apprehension of our death in Christ, never understands the force and place of baptism, is habitually infirm as to christian walk, and is apt to take the comfort of forgiveness by the blood of Christ so as to mix with the world and enjoy the life that now is, often helping on the delusion of ameliorating man and improving Christendom.

Mysticism on the other hand, whether Catholic or Protestant, dissatisfied with the worldly case and self-complacency of the evangelicals, is ever pining after a deeper reality, but seeks it within. Hence the continual effort of the pietist school is to die to self and so to enjoy God, unless perhaps with the few who flatter themselves that they have arrived at such a state of perfection as they can rest in. But for the mass, and I suppose indeed all whose conscience retains its activity, they never go beyond godly desires and inward strainings after holiness. They cannot dwell consciously in God's love to them as a settled fact known in Christ, producing self-forgetfulness in presence of His own perfect grace which made Christ to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. The system tends even in its fairest samples to turn the eye inwardly in a search after a love which may aspire to resemble as closely as possible the love of God, and so satisfy itself with the hope of a life ever higher and higher. Hence pious sentimentalism, which is little more than imagination at work in religion, reigns in the heart, not grace through righteousness.

Thus the ground the apostle here insists on is ignored by evangelicals and mystics; and indeed in Christendom at large it is excluded by its legalism and ordinances as decidedly as by rationalism. They are all, in every part, judged by the simple elementary truth couched under and expressed in baptism, that the Christian is dead to sin. To teach that we ought to die to sin is well meant, but it is not the truth, and therefore can but deeply injure the soul in its real wants. The true view is, no doubt, the reverse of death in sin; it is death to sin. Grace gives us this blessed portion — gives it now in this world from the commencement of our career — gives it once for all as the one baptism recognizes. Hence the Christian is false to the primary truth he confesses who should live still in sin. In his baptism he owns he died in Christ. He is bound to walk accordingly — as one already and always dead to sin.

Kelly, of course, says it much better than I could. But the two errors we see most often when it comes to our identification with Christ are: on the one hand, not recognizing the need for death of the old man; and on the other, the idea that it's something the believer has to do, rather than something God has already done. The one error seems to characterize evangelicalism, the other seems to characterize asceticism. But neither one is the truth of Scripture. We do not need to die: we have already died (Romans 6:11). But the old man and his world are not capable of entering the kingdom of God: there needs to be an entire transformation (1 Corinthians 15:50).