Agonizomai: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Calvinism and Arminianism - Part 2
The Dangers of Dry-bones Calvinism

Yesterday I made enemies of the Arminians. Today it is the turn of the Calvinists. Calvinism itself has its traps.

Wesleyan Methodism, a major spawning ground of the Arminian heresy in Anglo/American religion, was itself a reaction to the dry, dead theological orthodoxy of Anglicanism. Barely 100 years after the Reformation had transformed Christianity and rejuvenated the true faith, the churches were full of cardboard believers going through the motions, and legalistic pedants making Christianity into a set of constrictive rules. Ministers who were unregenerate and who were in the ministry solely in order to make a living or as a career move were all too common. All of this happened under a Calvinistic system.

I have personally experienced the frustration of trying to gain acceptance in a closed-ranks, keep-the-strangers-out, gotta-grow-up-in-our-church-community sort of Calvinistic congregation. It was a place where all the right theology was taught from the pulpit; and it was dutifully “believed” by the non-arm-raising, non-Amen-speaking, Sunday-best-suited, pew-reserved-with-brass-name-plate people that faithfully showed up each Lord’s day. It was an isolationist and spiritually proud community – just like Israel had been throughout its history. The dutifully “warm” welcome given by deacons was accompanied by either wide-eyed panic or slit-eyed suspicion whenever someone new somehow managed to find their meeting place and worked up the gumption walk through the doors.

I can remember one time when I found out that a certain old man was suffering from a terminal case of lung cancer. Not knowing any better, I picked up something (chocolates, I think) and went and knocked on his door. On reflection, I can see that my own actions were a bit on the precipitate side – presumptuous even – but it was out of a genuine sense of compassion. Of course, what I did was a cardinal sin, causing consternation in the old couple and more looks of suspicion from the congregation as word got around. Anyway, I endured the whole scenario for 6 months before realizing that this was not at all what the Lord had in mind for a fellowship.

I may have used some selective memory and a dash of dramatic licence in this story, but the overall flavour is true. I was a person in great need of fellowship, discipling, loving acceptance and encouragement. You’d think you would find that at a Biblically sound church. I also craved sound Biblical expository preaching and teaching. This I did find – at least as far as accuracy was concerned. But the Spirit was thoroughly quenched.

So I can understand some of the criticisms from Arminians (especially those with Pentecostal/Charismatic leanings) when they slam the door shut at the very sound of the dread name “Calvinism”. I can see how some people have a deadly fear of dry, doctrinal doldrums – with dismal dirges dropped onto demure but deadened descendants of the Dordtrechters. I get it.

I get it, but I can’t stop there. Just as one swallow does not make a summer, so one closed and chilly Christian congregation doesn’t put the lie to the Biblical truths for which the Reformers languished in prison, or shed their blood. Neither would two such congregations. Nor three, nor ten, nor yet a hundred. Truth is truth. It stands or falls on its own. If a thing is true and all the adherents of it hold that truth falsely, then that does not make the original thing untrue. And that body of truth which was taught by Jesus Christ the Lord Himself, carried on by the Apostles, and laid down in the New Testament scriptures is timeless truth. We have come to label it “Calvinism”, but it is nothing other than the gospel.

Finding a local church that strikes a balance between the need for accurate exposition of the scriptures from balanced hermeneutical principles, with a sound exegesis of the texts - and the practice of a living faith that metabolizes scripture into daily life with grateful enthusiasm, a warm heart and a sincere love is not easy. I bounced from the Reformed Church to a hopelessly Charismatic, Biblically challenged, directionally remedial congregation in which I was befriended immediately by a caring man who walked beside me for months and months, and who is still, to this day, a dear friend. I received in the midst of a scripturally weak church the personal application of scripture that I could not buy for love nor money at a church steeped in sound doctrine and historical accuracy.

But I need both things. I need sound, meaty Biblical teaching, and preaching that reminds me of what I am apart from God’s grace, along with warnings for me not to stray. And I also need to be in a community of believers that actually practices the faith. This was a dilemma for me until I read a piece by Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled "William Williams and Welsh Calvinistic Methodism". It was the first time I had any inkling that Calvinism and experiential religion could co-exist.

This fascinating piece by Lloyd-Jones was ostensibly about great hymns written in the Welsh language. But it captured for me the essence of the times, and of the dynamic that revitalized the church in England through the direct experience of God in the desire for "heart and holiness" in religion. Methodism was originally a movement within the Church of England. It was characterized by a genuine desire for a direct experiential knowledge of God, with emphasis on the second birth. Indeed people often had blissful experiences which were sometimes called a “second blessing”.

They were no different in this respect from myself in the examples given. The dry and dead religion of the day, which had often ossified into officious observance under weak or legalistic leadership was a far cry from New Testament religion. People, moved by the Spirit of God, cried out for genuineness of teaching and experience. They wanted the doctrine to match the life – or was it the life to match the doctrine? Whichever it was, this was a time heralding the first Great Awakening that came eventually to America, and when multitudes were turned from sin to the Saviour by a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Men like Whitefield and Wesley (both Methodists) were in the thick of it all.

But it is a just this point that Wesley departed from some of the sound doctrines of the Westminster Confession, and impressed by the piety and faith of the Moravians (Arminian believers, who had been instrumental in the deepening of Wesley’s own faith) embraced the heresy of Arminianism himself, thus sowing the seeds of a new imbalance of increasingly experiential and decreasingly doctrinal practice for those who were to follow.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Calvinism and Arminianism - Part 1
The Trojan Horse of Arminianism

Arminianism is a canker on the gospel. Some readers might think this statement divisive, extreme, intolerant or even arrogant. It is none of those things. It is truth. Permit me to quote Ferrel Griswold from his work "The Arminian Controversy":
Whereas older Arminianism was more God-centred, modern day Arminianism is totally man, emotional, experimental entertainment centred, rather than Bible, God-centred.
In other words, Whitefield (a Calvinist) could truthfully say of John Wesley (an Arminian) that he didn't think he would see Wesley in heaven because Wesley would be so close to the throne of God and he so far away that he would not be able to see him. But Whitefield would not make the same statement about many of today's Arminians. He might opine that he doubted he would see them in heaven at all.

It is common for Calvinists today to state quite charitably that to hold Arminian views of the gospel is not damnable heresy. They believe, like Whitefield, that Arminians will be found in heaven – even today's Arminians. So do I – but with qualification. If what Griswold asserted is true (and I believe it is) then there are many modern Arminians who do not believe in the sovereignty of God at all; they don't preach/believe/think of Him as the sovereign God of all things, material and immaterial, and of all events, past present and future. In other words, they deny the Godness of God.

I have already made the point in an earlier post that every natural man is an Arminian and that we are almost all Arminians when we are first saved. We think we did something when we responded to the gospel and received Christ. It is only at some later time that we discover that it was God all along who regenerated us, opened our eyes and moved our wills to receive Christ. We do not remain Arminians forever if we are properly taught, and if we read the Bible with a sound hermeneutic and give proper exegesis. If there are brothers who do that and are still Arminians, then may God give them light! I regard such people as brothers in the Lord and, at opportune moments, I oppose their heretical views with every ounce of strength I have. Nothing different from many of my Calvinist brethren here.

But I am not finished. I have seen the fruit of Arminianism in the modern church and it doesn't get off so lightly as to merely be considered an interesting but obscure question of theological nuance that has no real impact on the gospel. It has enormous impact. The acceptance and propagation of Arminianism by Wesley and one (ultimately dominant) division of the early Methodists is what has contributed to the trickle-down dilution of sound doctrine and, as a result, sound practice in the church. Though Whitefield both knew and respected Wesley as a brother in the Lord he nevertheless saw enough danger in the fledgling Arminian movement within Methodism to severely clip Wesley’s wings in this article in response to Wesley’s scandalously erroneous sermon "Free Grace, which misrepresented the gospel truth and flew in the face of the wisdom of the Westminster divines.

As Whitefield undoubtedly knew, Arminianism, being a heresy, contains the seeds of corruption and the dilution of the pillar of sovereign grace upon which gospel stands. It is and always was like a man setting out to sea in a leaky boat – sure to take its occupants deeper and deeper into trouble until at last they drown. Only 6 or 8 generations after Wesley – and a mere 10 after Arminius – the boat is so leaky and there are so many in it, that it has lost almost all utility as a life preserver. Modern Arminianism is the end of the line that was sealed the moment its seminal error was propagated by leadership in the church so many years ago.

Arminianism has given birth to something worse than itself. It has spawned semi-Pelagianism and is in the process of grandfathering outright a new Pelagianism. Already there are undisguised Pelagian concepts accepted by huge numbers of professors of the faith. To reverse the order of an A. A. Hodge quote:
Augustinians say man is dead; semipelagians say man is sick; Pelagians say man is healthy
The true gospel reinstated by the Reformers is Paulinian/Augustinian; the old Arminians were believers at least in prevenient grace, but the modern Arminianism has, in many places, flowered into semi-Pelagianism - and the new breed of Arminians (like Robert Schuller, for example) is outright Pelagian. It does no good for more "traditional" Arminians to distance themselves from the likes of Schuller. He is child of the same heresy. As is semi-Pelagian Rick Warren and the like. As are the charismatics, by and large. As was (and still is) the Roman church – which explains why all of these are quite comfortable with the idea of getting together in this present age.

Arminianism, condemned as a heresy by the church almost as soon as it appeared, was the thin end of the wedge of humanism, and was rampant by the time of Spurgeon's "Downgrade Controversy". Seemingly harmless at the first, it led by degrees to greater and greater exaltation of the human capacity for choosing the good in spiritual matters, unaided by God. Charles G. Finney gave great impetus to the downgrade in the early 1800's by introducing humanistic concepts into evangelism - believing that any person could (inevitably) be saved if only men would present the gospel in just the right way. Ends began to justify means. Men began to "replace" the Holy Spirit as the primary agent of regeneration. Asa Mahan carried on his teachings and passed them on extensively to others.

So, when the so-called "natural" sciences provided the bullets for humanism to be let loose in full force upon the church in an explosion of rationalism in the mid-1800's the jig was up. Caving in for the most part, much of the church adopted liberal views that denied the Holy Scripture. From the late 1800's until the present day there has been a profusion of progressively less and less theologically sound sects and divisions – most recently resulting in the fragmentation of Christianity into such nihilistic shards as the Emerging Church and postmodern "Christianity" in general. And it can only get worse. Somebody left the gate open and the horse has bolted. More aptly, the Trojan Horse of human ability entered with the innocuous Wesleys and proceeded to kill the guards and open the gates to the invading hordes. And, just like the people in the pictures above and below it is we, the professing church, who have dragged this menace into the citadel and been hoisted on our own petard.

I'm not saying that all Arminians are outright Pelagians - nor that they are the devil incarnate. Some are Arminian in the relatively noble Wesleyan sense. Many today are in the Finneyesque mold, and are teetering on the brink. Others are Schullerian and are utterly lost. I am just pointing out that, once you open the dyke to the exaltation of the human will above and beyond what the scripture allows, there is no way to plug it again, absent a gracious intervention of God. The hole just keeps on getting bigger and bigger until the whole ocean comes in. And it has.

To weakly refer to the Arminian/Calvinist conflict as merely two sides of the same coin, or as two different emphases on the same truth is itself an error spawned in the Hegelian dialectic. There is only one truth. Is God sovereign or is He not? If sovereign, is He sovereign over the human will and over human salvation? To reply with anything short of a resounding "Yes!" creates a God who is less than the God of the gospels – less than the God of the entire Bible; a God who is not able to save those whom He wills; a God Who cannot make decrees because He cannot bring them to pass.

But almost equally wrongly, it removes man from the dust of death where he has delivered himself - to which he has consciously consigned himself - and exalts him into a partnership with the most holy and sovereign God in the matter of salvation. It glorifies and empowers the human will and human worth. It raise man up into a cooperator with the divine instead of keeping man as a dependent upon Him. It undermines the pure objective of the gospel as the means of God alone saving some men from a spiritual death in which they lay powerless to help themselves; and it provides the means of undermining the whole intent of the demonstration of the glories of God’s righteousness in Christ, imparted freely to His utterly undeserving creatures.

The one and only true gospel of grace once for all convinces those saved by it that they are now, and ever shall be, creatures living at the pleasure of God, utterly dependent upon Him – by His grace and favour, and in His everlasting and trustworthy love. As Spurgeon stated years ago in this essay, "Calvinism is the gospel." And if Calvinism is the gospel then, by definition, whatever does not conform to its tenets is not the gospel; it must be, to some degree, "another gospel". “By their fruits shall you know them,” Christ said of the false teachers. Look at the fruit of the Arminian heresy and ask why evangelism must start in most churches today, before it can begin in the pagan community that surrounds them. Arminian thought, and its children, have brought the pagan world into the community of believers by making salvation at least partly a human endeavour. The Bible, however clearly states that salvation is of the Lord, even though He uses people to testify to what God has done. May God raise up preachers who are not afraid to rightly give God all the glory.

Monday, April 28, 2008

1Cor 6:15-20 - Push-ups for Professors

15-20 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The word "members" is used here in the same sense as our own arms and legs are called our "members". They are there in order to carry out the thoughts and commands of our minds - our will. They are the means by which the inclinations and desires of our inner being are effected in the world. In a similar way, our bodies are the instruments of the mind of Christ - the means by which His will is done in the world through our abiding faith and obedience. And this is also true of the whole body of Christ's church on earth, both local and universal.

Remembering that nothing that is on the outside can pollute a man, we look at this exhortation as a reminder to check our behaviour in order to know if our hearts are right before God. Sin springs from the heart. It springs even from the Christian’s heart, even though he has a new heart within him. Some people speak of two natures - the old and the new. But there are really two principles at work in every believer; one is the principle of life in Jesus Christ through faith, and the other is the principle of unbelief and disobedience which we call "sin".

All Christians sin and they make God a liar if they say they do not. Perfection is not possible on this side of the grave, or until Jesus returns. He is the perfect one. The Christian life is a constant warfare, waged with spiritual means forged and provided in and by Christ. The closest enemy is the one within the gates. True to the saying of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, the Christian has, in his very being, the most duplicitous and deceptive enemy of all - himself.

But the heartroot desire of the Christian, however self-sabotaged, however weak, however polluted, however blocked, stymied, frustrated, obfuscated, sapped, eroded and enervated, is to do the will of God. He wants to do it completely and perfectly even though he simply cannot. His best efforts fall far short. His most pious thoughts and deeds are tainted with a sin that cannot do anything but damn him. And this is where grace is remembered, and where it is most manifest and effective. We do not live by keeping the law in the letter, but in the spirit, by the grace of Jesus Christ who justified us before God once and for all and Who graced us with the faith that enables us to receive it.

So, the Christian is to remember that his body is an instrument of the Lord Christ, to do His will in the world. Now, Christ is holy and His purposes, thoughts and actions are all holy. He has called us to yield to holiness, which is to do His will. But if we regard iniquity in our hearts we cannot do His will. We cannot have two masters. We may fail our true Master a thousand times a day, but He must still be our Master and our heart’s desire must be towards Him.

It is possible, I suppose, for a person to be a new Christian and not understand the full implications of immoral behaviour. There may be vestiges of old living patterns and habits, as there are in all of us. But the Holy Spirit will shed His light upon these, convicting the saint and rooting them out - and the means by which He will do this is through the Word of God, both written and preached. Conscience alone is not enough, as we learned in Romans. It may be enough to condemn us, but it is not enough to save and to sanctify us. For this we need the finished work of Christ, received through faith in what the Word and the Spirit testify about Him.

And the Word here is testifying to Jesus Christ by pointing out what the fruit of His work must be, and also what it cannot be. The word is the means by which the desired behaviour is brought to the attention of the believer. It is rod and staff in the hand of the Shepherd Himself, by means of the indwelling Spirit. This word spoken (preached, read, prayed, taught) is the ordained means by which the true sheep are made into the image of Christ through sanctification of the Spirit. The command or the exhortation or the rebuke enlightens and enlivens the believer. It is light. It is life.

In our age and culture, the overt use of prostitutes has not been a prevalent thing. It is becoming more so - and prostitution has always been with us because the demand is always there due to the nature of fallen sexuality. In our age, we have the overlay of Christianity upon societal values. Even rank unbelievers in our society still have the restraint of Christian morality laid upon them. The heritage of our truly Christian forefathers still reverberates through the culture. But, like the vibrations of a once-struck bell, they are abating and will soon fall below the level of hearing.

Immorality is a judgement of God up society. It is not necessarily the cause of judgement - but it is clearly the result of God "giving them over" on account of unbelief and disobedience. God does not cause or command immorality but, when His restraining grace is removed, men simply do what comes naturally to their sinful hearts.

Corinthian society did not have the benefit of centuries of Christian teaching and example. It was almost unashamedly immoral. In fact, the name of this city of 1,000 temple prostitutes was used to coin a unique word; in the world of the time; to "Corinthianize" was a synonym for "to corrupt". The vestiges of conscience were largely suppressed, and those pagans who looked down upon Corinthian society were unwittingly illustrations of Romans 2:1 - blind hypocrites who rebelled against God in other, more inventive ways that were only outwardly moral.

None of these comments either excuses or vindicates anybody. As the text points out, justification is to be had only through union with Jesus Christ by faith. The immoral and the so-called "moral" are all equally sinners in need a saviour. And Jesus Christ is the only Name under heaven given among men whereby they must be saved. But union with Christ is first and foremost a spiritual union. Our hearts have been renewed. Our desire is, for the first time in our lives, towards God and doing His will and seeking His approval.

But this change is seminal, not mature. We must grow. We will make mistakes. Sometimes we will struggle inwardly against our own flesh because our bodies themselves, with their remembered surrenders to sin and their inherent fallen weaknesses, are to be subdued through the spirit in order to be presented as a living sacrifice - which is our spiritual (or reasonable) service.

This subduing by the Spirit is the active side, and submission to the word of God is the passive side of the same coin. Without the Spirit we cannot subdue and without the Word we cannot know what to submit to or how. One educates and the other effectuates. And we are the vessels in which this is all taking place. Our wills are being conformed to the will of God. But only the grace of Jesus Christ makes this possible. We all fall short all the time and are in need of grace. It is precisely when we forget that our best efforts are still tainted with a sin that must be bathed in the blood of Christ that we are in the greatest danger. At such a point we stand upon the down slope of the precipice of self-righteousness and self-justification, and the pit lurks near to hand.

If we truly believe, then, can we take Jesus Christ with us into the things we do with our body? Can we give ourselves to lust, contrary to God’s word, and take the Living Word along with us? This is a complex question. Jesus is always with us if we belong to Him. So no matter where we go and no matter what we are found doing, He is there. He is in the brothel, in front of the TV and present with us as we let our minds dwell upon unholy things. The point is that we are commanded and exhorted not to be found in unholy thoughts and practices.

But when we do (and we all do) then Jesus is no less there with us than when we are performing the most holy acts of worship and obedience. But there will be abject misery for the believer in this situation. He will find himself doing what he does not want to do and not doing what he does want to do. The principle of life in the Spirit strains within him and bridles against the sin. He feels guilt and shame and disloyalty and helplessness and even hopelessness. He may even lose the assurance of his salvation altogether. And this prospect surely is a horror that, when placed before us, ought to galvanize us to run from such things into the arms of Christ.

In the case of physical acts of sexual immorality it must be borne in mind that the acts themselves are outward manifestations of an inward spiritual adultery. All outward acts are first formed in the will, through the affections of the heart. But the Christian is not the same as the pagan in this respect - he has been bought with a price. He is not his own. His body is not his own. The whole kit and caboodle was purchased from its natural condition of perdition by the blood of Christ and according to the will of God. It is precisely this fact which is known to the reborn life within each believer. He knows that Someone has taken up residence in him and that the Someone has a just claim upon his whole life.

God cannot fail to bring each and every true child of His to completion in Christ. God is, after all, sovereign over all things, including the wills of His creatures. But He accomplishes this through the obedience of the faith He wrought for them and in the power of the Spirit He has placed within them. He makes known His character and will through the word and His children strive to be found following Him. They learn obedience. They grow in grace and in favour with God and men. They come to understand their position as repositories of the very nature of God to do His will in the world. They begin to see themselves not just theologically, but experientially as sons, heirs, adoptees and beneficiaries of the covenant. As such they are led to walk in their integrity, and not to defile the body in which God dwells.

The full redemption of the body is not yet manifest, though it is certain for all believers. Until then, our bodies are weakened through indwelling sin. They will be this way until Christ comes or until we die. But our bodies are also redeemed, dead as they are, by the resurrection power of Christ. They are maintained and animated and persuaded and induced, even as weak and creaky wrecks - shadows of what they once were in Adam - not so that we may glory in what we do for Christ while in them, but so that we may glorify God for what Christ did for us. Our very faith, our life, our preservation and perseverance in these treacherous forms testifies to the miraculous power and grace of God for as long as He pleases to uphold and keep us here. As Charles Wesley wrote:

See a stone hang in air,
See a spark in ocean live,
Kept alive with death so near,
I to God the glory give.

Friday, April 25, 2008

1Cor 6:12-14 - Happily Dying to Get There

12 "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything. 13 "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food - and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.

Ah, the errors of "free grace" theology have already reared their ugly little seminal heads, even in the time of the Apostle. There are some in Corinth who take Christian liberty as licence. It is unclear as to whether Paul is harking back here to those who sue each other, or is referring to some who still indulge in the old immoral sexual practices, such as availing oneself of a prostitute, which he is just about to raise.

But let’s not lose sight of the principle. The principle is that of Christian liberty and Christian responsibility in matters "indifferent", as opposed to matters that are, in and of themselves, profane. It would be an easy thing to jump from the utterly true assertion of Paul that those belonging to Christ have been "washed, sanctified and justified" to the idea that they could then carry on as usual because they were home free. What! Shall we sin the more that grace may abound? - May it never be! That was Paul’s retort in Romans. Here the error is more subtle. It is grasping the idea that since God has done all this for us and has assured our eventual glorification with Christ we don’t need to bother ourselves with the details. Thanks for the salvation - see you in heaven!

It is possible, apparently, to be enslaved by something that we would not ordinarily define as sin. Things that are, of themselves, perfectly innocuous can be made sin by the attitude of our hearts. If a neutral thing becomes an idol of itself, or an excuse for self-indulgence - especially the kind that makes another believer to stumble - then that thing has become an object of sin, though it is not sinful of itself. If I can’t do thing in faith, in the light, as unto the Lord, walking in the Spirit - then, regardless of the harmlessness of the action, I am actually in the flesh and am, by definition, found in sin. Walking in the Spirit I cannot commit sin. Obviously! If I am walking in the Spirit I am controlled by the Spirit of God and doing His will. His will is good and perfect and acceptable and cannot, by definition, be sinful.

So, God made food for the body and it is no sin to eat. He also designed the body to be fueled by food. So there is no sin in eating to live. But there can be great sin in living to eat. But whether we are looking at food or at the body - both provided by God in His goodness - both of these items are destined to pass away in their present form. So we ought neither to put ourselves into subservience to food nor to the body, but simply use them in the approved way and to the glory of God, so long as it pleases God to keep us on earth.

Similarly, sex is a good thing. It is at least partly a function of having a body. But this, too will pass and it ought not to be indulged in such a way as to bring a person into subservience to it. Certainly not outside of marriage - and not inside marriage either. It is a gift to be used properly for the purposes intended. Sex is for intimacy, procreation and as an ongoing fruit, a spiritual awareness of the principle of the oneness of distinct persons.

Note the reference to the resurrection past (Christ’s and ours in Him) - and to the resurrection future, which is the inevitable outworking - the result, the fruit, the end, the destiny of all believers. We were raised with Christ (in God’s eyes) and we will be raised at the last. Meanwhile, we are in some sense in the process of being raised, also. We are, through faith in God’s statements about us and our position in Christ due to His finished work alone, being changed from glory to glory as the Day approaches. It does not yet appear what we shall be (though there are foreshadowings and hints and first fruits) but in that Day we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

When Christ was raised from the dead it was indeed finished. He raised us with Him to newness of life; He assured that our bodies themselves will be raised up; He fashioned our entire salvation by His own active and passive obedience unto a penal death suffered in our stead. He took God’s just wrath upon our sin in our place so that we do not have to suffer it. But this salvation is not completely manifested in us as long as we live in the flesh. That final part of God’s decree must be seen to be carried out. We must all die. The principle of death is ordained by God not just for us, but for His Christ. The breaking of His perfect and holy law must always result in death - bodily and spiritual death. But if we believe in Christ, though we die, yet shall we live and whoever lives and believes in Him will never die. How can this be?

It can be because we who believe are now and forever spiritually alive - reborn - because of Christ. We live in bodies that suffer the ravages of sin and for which death is ordained. But the death of the body is but a light thing compared to the everlasting death of not being in Him. Body and soul will be torn asunder, but the life of God in the believer goes on forever from glory to glory. We are saved on account of our union with Him. But the unbeliever will be torn body from soul and cast into hell, from whence he will be summoned to receive a new eternal body that is able to receive everlasting torments.

So the body as it is must go. For us it is a joy to pass into the fullness of God’s loving presence; for the infidel it is the terror that is only the beginning of unspeakable terrors beyond. Knowing, therefore, the transient nature of the body of sin, and anticipating the glorious new body that awaits us, we who believe ought to hold our physical forms and all of their functions lightly and reverently. Like Paul we should be straining eagerly to get to the end, but ready to stay as long as God wills it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

1Cor 6:9-11 - Getting the Right Perspective

9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Why would Paul bring up all of these sins in the context of what has gone before in the last few verses? How is the willingness of the Corinthians to sue each other connected to this list of perniciousness? Well, it is only connected by the word "unrighteous". When the Corinthians sue each other in a blind and carnal determination to have their own rights exonerated at the expense of another they are displaying unrighteousness. And one manifestation of unrighteousness is not materially different from any other. Jesus Himself made this clear in the sermon on the mount when speaking about lust and adultery, amongst other things. Sin is a heart matter and sins are merely the fruit of the state of the heart.

But Paul goes on to make an incredible statement that completely changes the complexion of his admonishment. Make no mistake, this is a stinging rebuke; he is lumping their behaviour together with the worst of sins, and underlining the fact that the (habitual) practitioners of these things will not (not might not, but will not) inherit the kingdom. Ouch! But watch what happens in verse 11...

Despite their evident behaviour Paul says, "And such were some of you..." The clear implication is that those who are in Christ and have been justified through his blood are no longer under the reigning power of sin. They still commit sin, but a new principle is at work in their hearts freeing them from the reigning power of sin and unto obedience to God. They still have the influence of the flesh which is an enemy, a mortal wound in their being that drags and claws at their resolve - and to which they sometimes surrender - but they also have a new heart, born in them by the Spirit of God and quickened by the very life of Christ. It is a heart that knows the Father and cries out to Him; a heart that is truly brother to the Lord Jesus Christ; the heart of a betrothed bride longing for her husband. It is, nevertheless, a heart which was "born," and which like all newborns must be loved and cherished and disciplined and grown and matured over time.

Bottom line - those who are truly in Christ do not (habitually) sin. Though they stumble and fall and wallow in the mire; though they wander and chafe and balk and even rebel - yet there is a power at work in them that is the Power behind all powers. God Himself is at work in His people and they will bear fruit if they are indeed His Own, for God cannot fail. But He will succeed to the glory of His Name and on account of His wisdom and power, though we believe and though we obey, be it ever so poorly. Paul had this confidence in addressing the Philippians; {Php 1:6} Jonah had it as he languished in the belly of the great fish at the bottom of the ocean. {Jon 2:9} This confidence the Bible calls faith, and it is the gift of God to His people to bring about their sanctification and their endurance to the end.

The means used by God to effect the inevitable preservation of His elect are many and varied. In this case it is the severe rebuke and warning that all sin is deadly and that habitual sin with no indication of the overcoming power of God ought to cause us great fear when we examine ourselves for fruit. But Christ’s true sheep actually do hear His voice and they do come to Him. Those He has justified and in whom the Spirit of God resides also come to Him when He rebukes and corrects. They bow the head and the knee and they ask for the forgiveness that is so readily given to them because they are children and heirs. To the children of God repentance is not simply the one-time price for a ticket to heaven, but an condition of heart that characterizes the life and the attitude towards personal sin.

A word here about words, their meanings and their applications. And the word I want to zero in on is "sanctified". Normally we think of sanctification as a process and justification as a one-time forensic act, even though both are inseparable parts of the same salvation. But even the word "sanctified" must be taken according to its context because sanctification can refer the simple act of setting apart for holy purposes. Objects could be sanctified for use in the temple; they were dedicated, separated from the common, set apart for holy use. And this is the sense in which "sanctified" is being used here.

The saints have been set apart by God for holy use. In fact, the word "saint" (hagios) carries the sense of an awe-ful thing set apart - holy. We know that we are not experientially holy and yet we are called holy. Our holiness in this context is not on account of our manifest behaviour, but on account of God’s covenantal and decretive purpose for us in Christ. What makes us holy, what sanctifies us from the git-go is not we ourselves, but God’s intended purpose for us.

So the monergistic work of God brought to fruition in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ does these three things without any help from us whatsoever - they were all decreed while we were yet dead in trespasses and sins:
1) We are assigned to be washed clean. All of our sin is to be put away from before the face of God with such certainty that He remembers them no more. We are to be acquitted and cleansed. No more guilt from original Adamic sin. No more guilt from our own iniquities. It’s a done deal from the start and forever.

2) We are sanctified; not experientially, but as to purpose or use. We have been removed from the common and the ordinary and have been dedicated for holy use. We are God’s chosen vessels for the separated functions of worship and service. Vessels neither choose nor dedicate themselves. This is God’s work and God’s choice. It is necessarily discriminatory. One vessel is chosen and fitted for honourable use and another is left for menial use. So it is with the children of Adam, who are all of the same lump until and unless God does the separating.

3) We are slated to stand justified before God. Justification is that act by which we are justly regarded by God as righteous because Jesus took the penalty for our sin, exchanging it for His righteousness. We have moved from being under God’s righteous wrath and have been adopted into the family of His dear Son. This change in status occurs the moment we believe, but is decreed for each of His elect from before the foundation of the world. As such, it is plain that all that is necessary to bring about the decree is also ordained. God decrees the means as well as the ends. And part of the means are repentance for sin and faith towards God. Our faith and repentance themselves are gifts of God and are not our contribution to our salvation.
See that these things are all accomplished in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. What did we do that ensured and effected this great transformation in status? Nothing whatsoever - it is the gift of God. But how ought we to respond in the light of this gift? Aha! And therein lies the nub. All that we do as Christians comes through faith in Christ which responds to what Christ has already done for us. In this way, we actually can do nothing for Him and He rightly gets all the glory. As creatures we react to God; as clay we are molded and shaped by Him; as branches we carry His sap and bear His fruit. Yes, we do so with willingness and increasing obedience - and in doing so we are blessed with joy and peace - but these blessings are the superabundant overflow of the gifts themselves. They are grace upon grace. They are the infinite riches of Christ brimming over our finite rims and cascading out into the world.

So we are set apart in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. All that is represented by the Name of Christ is the authority and the reason - the appropriative means - of our sanctification. His work is recapitulated in His Name(s) - especially the Names used here...
1) Lord - He must be the Lord of our lives; indeed He will be the Lord of our lives to us if we are true believers. This means that He has actual authority over our thoughts, words and deeds. We defer to Him. We obey Him. Whenever our desires and wants are at variance with His revealed purposes and will then we bow the knee and put to death what is not of Him in us. Jesus cannot be Saviour unless He is also Lord. We do not make Him Lord, but we acknowledge Him to be Lord through our lives.

2) Jesus - He is named Jesus because he will save His people from their sins. {Mt 1:20-21} Not might save, but will save. Not make it possible for them to be saved, but to actually and effectually save them. The Name of Jesus incorporates the salvation He worked out for those He came to redeem.

3) Christ - This Saviour Jesus is also Messiah of the Jews and Christ of the Gentiles - the true and legitimate King of God’s people by right of descendancy according to the flesh (therefore truly a man) and according to the definite plan of God He is also Emmnu-el - God with us - recognizing that He is, at one and the same time, also the God of all creation.
And all of the rights encompassed and incorporated by the finished work of this "Lord Jesus Christ" are communicated to His people by the Spirit of God. Not by the cleverness of man, nor by any power vested in natural men, nor even by those men who may be the servants and vessels of God - but by the Spirit of God alone. So it is Christ’s finished work and His very Being that forms the basis and provides the means of our cleansing, allowing us to be set apart (sanctified) for God and it is the Holy Spirit Who applies these things in the lives of His elect people.

And Paul’s argument to the Corinthians here is through using the strong implication that, if indeed they were once corrupt and immoral people living according to the flesh and its passions and desires, but they have now been delivered and set apart by God Himself (and not by their own power), then they will behave differently. Obviously, if they do not behave differently then they have a legitimate reason to question whether they were really set apart by God in the first place. They may have been. But where is the fruit? This is not an assertion by Paul of something that has undeniably occurred to these particular people, for only God knows those that are His for sure. This is a rhetorical device that starts with the presupposition that they are indeed reborn children of God. It’s not an assertion, but a premise ... "But such were some of you..." Not all of them were grossly immoral. Some may have been saved from the far greater dangers of self righteousness, or religious disinterest, or cynicism.

No matter what particular manifestation of the reigning power of sin they were saved from, they were all born sinners and by nature enemies of God. But what has God done? He has saved even the worst of them from gross immorality, washed away the guilt of that corruption, and set them apart for holy use. That being the case – having, by grace, been forgiven much greater offenses against God than they could possibly perpetrate against each other - they ought to get some perspective and start taking the eternal view.

Monday, April 21, 2008

1Cor 6:1-8 - Brethren Butting Heads

1-8 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Ah, yes! The eternal view! The whole of the Christian life is supposed to be lived in the light of the eternal view that God so loved us that our eternal future bliss with Him is assured - and that it is thus assured because He graciously and willingly chose us in Christ to be forgiven for sins against Him that would otherwise have kept us justly in torment forever. Sounds simple does it not?

So why do we not do it? Why do those professing Jesus Christ as Saviour (from all that is mentioned above) and as Lord (on account of His rightful Godhood and His eternally effectual sacrifice) still fight and bicker and hate and slander and sue and resent each other? How can these things possibly be? Well, even though we are all saints, we are not Saints. We still have within us a residue of evil known as the flesh.

So we have a built in excuse, don’t we? After all, if God had wanted us to be perfect He could have done that couldn’t He? Isn’t the life, sacrifice (active and passive obedience) of Christ enough to bring us to perfection? Are we not now regarded by God as perfect in Christ? So why couldn’t God have made us actually perfect in Him in an instant? Why leave us with this abiding penchant for evil that wars against the spirit. Why must the flesh war against the spirit?

Well - I don’t know exhaustively what God’s reasons are. But it has something to do with faith and the glory of God. If we were all changed instantaneously into perfect little angels (so to speak) then we should not need faith, nor to live by faith - for we should be walking by sight. But God has decreed that we who are accounted righteous through faith shall also live by faith, and display the righteousness of Christ in the world. It is through the church (and ergo the saints) that the manifold wisdom of God is made known to both realms - the seen and the unseen. {Eph 3:8-12} And, furthermore, it can be demonstrated and will be seen and acknowledged that all of this righteousness was actually the treasure of God in earthen pots {2Co 4:7} - just as it was seen to be in the Apostles.

But we easily take our eyes off the eternal and let them fall upon the temporal. We lose sight of what was done for us and Who is upholding us and we look upon what serves our appetites and fears and fail to believe that Christ is in us to will and to do of His good pleasure - and not that of our old carnal nature. This is why church members sue each other. This is why litigation is threatened between members and elders over things that are paltry compared to the unsurpassed glories of what God had done for us in Christ.

If we bicker and argue over every slight, perceived or real - if we have bitter schisms over things indifferent - if we squabble because of pride or greed or jealousy - then we have lost our way. Would you let a disobedient and spoiled child adjudicate a matter of life and death? That was tried in Pohl Pot’s Cambodian regime under the Khmer Rouge, with devastating results. But Christians who argue over petty and perishable things - or who allow pride and envy to corrode their relationships are hardly displaying a fitness to judge those who are unregenerately living by those same passions. That makes us hypocrites.

Yet we are hypocrites. And the longer we have within our hearts the covert thought that we are not hypocrites - that we have escaped the corruption that is in the world without submitting to Christ, and when we are still experientially ensnared by sin - we shall lack power and authenticity in our lives. 2Pe 1:3-4 does indeed tell us that we have escaped this corruption of the world in Christ - but shows that it is through faith in the promise(s) that this escape is demonstrated or manifested or witnessed to. This is a faith that leans upon those promises through the process of living - faith translated, evidenced, manifested in a life lived out in the light of them, bearing the fruit promised by them.

The saints will do more than judge the world; they will judge angels. This cannot mean the holy angels who kept their first estate and are confirmed eternally as holy. It must mean the fallen angels who have sought the ruination of mankind and the destruction of Christ and His church throughout the ages. All judgement is given to the Son, it is true, but inasmuch as we are in Him, we shall also partake in the judgement. Christ is both God and man. How fitting, then, that He should judge His creatures as God and as perfect man. For the Evil One and his minions have troubled all those who are Christ’s brethren by race and also those who are His brethren by adoption in the Spirit. And so, as a brother, Christ’s indignation at all the wickedness perpetrated upon humanity on account of the evil principalities and powers is in some sense shared by we who share both His humanity and His Spirit.

We shall judge angels. And if we are destined to such a lofty and noble duty how can we let our eyes and our desires and hopes and affections be ensnared by the comparatively menial and fleeting call of the flesh? What shameful beings we are! How easily we give ourselves to the earth-bound view! How grace must abound upon grace towards us for us to persevere to the end, and to be actually lifted out of the miry clay that our flesh loves so much. Nothing but the very power that raised Christ from the dead can do it. And this is our hope and our prayer - that God will move our hearts to meditate and to look upon the eternal things to which we have been raised with Christ, and to regard all those earthly and carnal pursuits as something to which we died with and in Him.

It is true that, in the church body, there are many at various stages of Christian maturity. Nevertheless, what they all have in common is surely the concept of submission to Christ. God provides in congregations those who are mature and those who are given wisdom. Indeed, if any one lack wisdom he is but to ask and the Father will give it to him. God will withhold nothing that we need. So, in submission to Christ, we are to ask for and to look for the wisdom from God among us - a wisdom that He provides. Will we look for it? Are we ready to hear it? Whenever our carnal lusts and passions are aroused we can be sure that our spiritual ears will be dulled by the roar of our emotions and our senses. This is the test. Is Christ in us or not? Will we submit in the midst of the maelstrom or only when the zephyr whispers? Will we be still and know God by hearing Him? Or will we give way to the flesh and drown out the still small voice of God in the cacophony of the immediate?

We are exhorted to be or to hear the wisdom of God in our midst. To do this we must deny ourselves and submit. Until and unless we do it is impossible for us to know, let alone to do righteously. We will look like the world as long as we act like the world and we will act like the world as long as we fail to practice the belief that we belong to Christ by falling into His arms regardless of our circumstances, feelings and inflamed passions. We have been given the right to become children of God, if indeed we are born of God. We must be trained up in the way we should go. But it is we who must obey, we who must submit, we who must bend the knee, mortify the flesh and give ourselves to the righteousness of Christ at work in us.

If we truly believed how could we believers sue each other? How could we demand our rights and take retribution if they are denied? Is this the Spirit of Christ? Is this what He is like? Is this manifesting His righteousness? Is this the same Nature that "did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and being found in human form humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross?"

For Christians to sue each other in secular courts is doubly evil. Firstly, the parties are refusing that nature of Christ that would rather be wronged than wrong another; would rather suffer evil than do evil; that would prefer to see a brother kept from further sin by receiving an injustice from his hand with a forgiving spirit. Immediately some will call this "doormat theology," but most of those who rush in with such a condemnation have not taken the time to reflect upon the nature of their Redeemer. The loudest protesters are often the ones whose cries drown out their own ears in the interests of their own flesh. The very last thing that the flesh desires to do is to die. When we think we have it licked is the very moment it rises up in all of its deceptive and malevolent ferocity to cut us off at the knees.

To be sure there is a time for everything. There is a season for all things. There is a time to make peace and a time to make war. There is a time to rebuke and correct a brother and a time to bear silently with his faults. There is a time to stand upon a principle even though the whole world decries it. And there is a time to suffer the injustice of the world silently and without protest. Look to Christ and see that all these things are in Him. At various times He behaved in all these ways. He was the perfect man, perfectly walking in the Spirit, perfectly submitted to the will of the Father. He is our model. He is our power and source. He is our life. He is our (manifest) righteousness. He is the Light shining in the darkness, perfectly dividing truth from error and discerning good from evil. We, on the other hand, are none of these things apart from Him.

True Christians can be defeated temporarily. This means that we can’t go around declaring the ultimate condition of another professor’s soul based simply upon their spiritual misery. We all have many faults and we all fail in many ways every day. Some of us fail grievously and often - and for inordinately long periods of time, such that you would have to hold a spiritual mirror to their mouths in order to detect whether or not there is still life in them. At any one time some are "up" and some are "down". Some hover near death and some are filled with the glory or life. But what stays the same - what never changes - is the God who is at work in us all. His commands and standards remain the same whether we succeed or fail. When we are defeated we are no less the children of God than those who walk more steadily, and when we ourselves find our feet we are no more children of God than those around us in the faith who have tripped and fallen.

This is why Paul to the Corinthians is gentle and stern and longsuffering and rebuking and exhorting. He is employing, he is being - the means by which God chastens and encourages His true children towards maturity. This is why he doesn’t just throw his hands up and go found another congregation in another place. It’s not that the Corinthians are a great model of Christianity for they are surely one of the worst, but that Paul believes that Christ died to bring them to Himself and he labours in the Lord to see Christ formed in them - inch by inch, battle by battle. Yet he does it trusting in Christ, judging no one and nothing (not even himself) before the appointed time. He does not crush a bruised reed nor quench a smoking flax - yet neither does he compromise one iota on the gospel or upon the unchanging standards and principles of our eternal God. This is what a fallen and redeemed man striving to have the life of Christ manifested in Him looks like. He looks, to some degree like Christ.

The insistence upon the observance of our own personal "rights" is not the same as having a loving concern for the "rights" of others. One dislikes using the word "rights" in any Christian connection, but I use it here to show that no matter how much of a door mat a Christian may seem to be in personal matters, he can be ferocious in his concern for the good of others. Abraham - a normally peaceable man - went right postal when his Nephew Lot and his household was carried off by the five kings. David went to great lengths not to exert "rights" over then King Saul, despite great persecutions - but desired with great tenderness to provide for Mephibosheth as the last and most vulnerable of Saul’s family - a grandson through his son, Jonathan. (2Sam 9:1)

Finally, I have never understood those modern perverters of the gospel who bring in spurious and hissing ideas purporting to teach that there is a difference between Paul’s gospel and Christ’s. Such thoughts are from the pit. It is clear to the eye of faith that Christ is being manifested in Paul through the obedience of his faith; the same Christ that walked the earth and sits in heaven is plainly evidenced in Paul’s walk. True, Christ is the perfect and Paul the imperfect. Christ never misspoke, wondered (though he marveled) doubted, did wrong. None of these is true of Paul even after his conversion, yet the radiance is still there from the light that burns within. Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. To whatever degree, people looking at Paul are looking at Christ. Not at the Person of Christ, but at the nature of Christ, the life of Christ, the righteousness of Christ in Paul as he struggles along in his own journey to his heavenly home. Is this radiance of Christ that we see in Paul even so much as a faint smudge in me?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jesus and the Rabid Dog

A whole gaggle of spies were sent into Canaan very early on in Israel’s wilderness wanderings – to spy out the land and to bring a report back to Moses. Of those, only two believed that, despite the giants and the walled towns, the nation should go in and possess the land which the Lord their God had given to them for a possession for themselves and their heirs forever. Those two spies were named Joshua and Caleb.

Because the pessimistic, unbelieving majority of spies influenced the decision of the whole nation to unbelief, God turned them all aside and they wandered in the wilderness of Sin for 40 years. Furthermore, God swore that none of those perverse, unbelieving, wayward, stiff-necked rebels who would not go in to possess the land earlier should ever set so much as one foot there. Only two would make the trip.

What arouses my interest so much is the meaning of their names. Joshua means “Yahweh saves” or “Saviour”, and Caleb translates “raging with canine madness.” What an absolutely wonderful picture of how Christ Himself goes with us to sanctify us from our rabid delirium, our spiritual insanity, and to make our every report pleasing to God. For we are the sweet savour of Christ to God amongst those who are being saved, and amongst those who are perishing. It is not we who smell sweetly to God, but Jesus Christ in us, Jesus as part of us, Jesus joined to us, as Joshua was to Caleb.

God allowed those two self-same spies who had brought encouragement, exhortation and faith in God with their report years earlier - these He allowed to enter the Promised Land. Joshua, the “Saviour”, and Caleb, the “rabid dog” with whom he travelled.

How the name of Caleb reminds me of the “old nature” tagging along in me as Jesus works His sanctifying miracle in my own heart. This body of death still contains that insane, sin-loving, irrational, venal being who I was – it is tied to Christ in me, dragged around like a carcass chained to His leg, putrid, rotting, smelly. Yet Christ has undertaken and worked upon His cross to suffer that putrefaction in me, to redeem me altogether from that psychopathic living death by walking in me and fashioning there a new man. It is a man after God’s own heart; a man with the mind of Christ, because that man is Christ in me.

Early in my salvation Christ went with me into the Promised Land and showed me the giants and the great cities, the armies and the chariots of the enemy. I would have fled, but He brought me back and gave a good report with me. He showed me the fruits and grains, the honey and the milk flowing abundantly, and bid me see those things, too. Then He committed me to this. “You will trust God for victory”, said the Saviour, “Because I went with you and I am with you still; my thoughts shall be your thoughts and my ways shall be your ways, for we have seen the Promised Land together and together we shall enter it.”

Since that time, I have wandered in that wretched wilderness of Sin on account of my own disobedience. It has been necessary to suffer the death of those reluctances and rebellions, those mistrusts and disbeliefs that would not depend upon God. But as the time approaches to enter my inheritance rest in Him, to close upon that spiritual warfare within and without which will claim for Christ that land of promise – then He goes forth with me again.

Onward to victory through trust in the promises of God. No matter how things look, no matter circumstance, no matter giants, great walled citadels, and fierce armies - come what may - I have reported favourably to and with my Master, and we are committed. Joshua the “Saviour” and Caleb the “raging canine madness” which was me, and still would be me - apart from His grace and love.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Flies in the Ointment
Here are 5 of the top 10 reasons people get turned off reading a blog, according to Problogger.
1) Too many posts (the post levels are too overwhelming)
2) Infrequent Posting (or the blog is effectively dead)
3) Partial Excerpts Feeds
4) Blog Changes Focus (too much off topic posting)
5) Too many posts that I see elsewhere (Redundant, Repeated or Recycled News)
It seems I am guilty of number 1. Apparently, people also like the comments option to be available (even if they never use it).

In order to correct these potential flies in the ointment I have reinstated the "comments" option on all posts, and I am changing my blogging frequency to every other weekday (more or less) so as not to overwhelm my gentle readers/listeners.

1Cor 5:9-13 - Scrubbing the Mission

9-13 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."

Here’s a very interesting nuance. The first epistle to the Corinthians is not really the first. Paul had written to them before in a letter that the Holy Spirit has not preserved for us. Perhaps it was not preserved because it was ambivalent or unclear. It seems that Paul had decried immorality to them in earlier correspondence. Hardly surprising, since they lived in perhaps the most immoral city in the entire empire. Many of these people had participated in the pagan temple worship involving temple prostitutes.

But how easy it is for the focus of our feeble minds to get into the wrong place. They hear the earlier commandment to be separated from immoral persons but not to separate themselves from immorality. They are seeing externals and missing the objective of the commands. It’s easy to slip into that frame of mind that sees the world as corrupt, to view "them" as immoral and to raise ourselves up as if we did not come from the same lump.

Worse still, some went even further by abusing grace; they believed that the saved could live as they pleased because once they were "in" it was a fait accompli and they could indulge themselves because all their sins had been forgiven already.

See how narrow the way is? See why the bread must be unleavened? See how wickedly our hearts deceive us? But don’t we have new hearts? Indeed, if we show the fruit of our regeneration we can believe that. But if we persist in wickedness we shall find there is no spark of true life within us, and never was. But by then we may not care.

The narrow way (note that not only the gate but also the way is narrow) - the narrow way steers between the shoals of pride and the rocks of asceticism - between self glory and carnal self abasement. The true Christian will not glory in his accomplishments, for he knows he has none. Neither does he need to keep putting himself down, for he already knows he is nothing and can do nothing apart from Christ.

It is by abiding in these things - this death - that Christians can be in the world but not of it. Some walk so close with the world that they indulge in its corruptions. Some are so removed that they are of no use in the world. We are constantly in danger of shifting to one side or the other of this divide. Christ is the balance.

The fact that the Corinthians are tolerating a person in their very midst who is living in gross immorality shows that they have not grasped the teaching on immorality at all. Whether they are Pharisees or free grace abusers they have apparently missed the concept of the purity of the church - meaning of the whole body - through the purity of each person making up the body. In other words, the purity of the church is a both community responsibility and an individual duty. Individual impurity affects the whole body.

The church must be pure in a world that is not. The light must shine in the darkness. The difference must be apparent. If the church looks, for all intents and purposes, just like the world then it has lost its witness. The salt has lost its savour and is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot. But the church must be in the world for this difference to be apparent at all - and it must be in the world both corporately and individually. Sinners cannot be saved except the means is brought to them where they are.

But it is of little value to take the world to worldlings. If we take our identical divorce rate as a professing church to the world and profess the sanctity of marriage we are fools. It is the blind leading the blind. We shall be rightly called hypocrites. But you say that you have never divorced. You have loved your spouse through thick and thin. Then you shall have your reward. But have you tolerated divorce in the church? Have you winked at it for reasons of incompatibility, trumped up mental abuse or other things, trivial or not? Have you encouraged or ignored the marriage of believers to unbelievers? All these things are not causes, but symptoms of the loss of the doctrine of the purity of the church, and they bear their own fruit (thorns instead of figs) in the world.

So we don’t avoid people who are sinners - even those who are outwardly gross sinners. We don’t get drawn into their corruption, but we must witness to them and to do so we must associate with them. Just so long as it is light in us shining in darkness in them.

But when it comes to the church there cannot be dark shining in the lightness, so to speak. Inside the church of professing believers the objective is that light alone be seen. Darkness has not overcome the Light of the World, nor can it - but we can allow that light in and among us to be dimmed and thereby to bring darkness where light once shone. A wet log will quench the fire rather than stoke it.

Church discipline is largely a forgotten commandment. The doors of the church are thrown open so widely in the name of false love that the world floods in through the opening, and the church becomes the world. In the name of false love we make salvation a wide gate and, because in doing so we mistakenly make worldlings our “brothers” in Christ, we are then compelled to teach a broad way in order to maintain the associations we ourselves have created. The world loves us when it ought to hate us for Christ’s sake. Don’t misunderstand me - we do not desire nor do we invite the hatred of the world, but when we are loved by the world you can be absolutely certain that we ourselves are worldly without even knowing it.

How interestingly Paul puts it. We have nothing to do with judging outsiders - meaning unbelievers. But we most emphatically are to judge insiders - meaning those who make a profession of faith. We must be careful with the word "judge" here. It is not the final judgment that is spoken of. It is not the weighing of the heart and the condemnation or justification of the person. God alone can do that.

Outsiders make no profession of relying upon God for justification or for righteousness (imputed and experiential), so we can have nothing to do with their relationship to the body of Christ of which we are a part. They have no part and they claim none. They are outside of Christ and under the condemnation of God, where His wrath is already being revealed from heaven upon their unrighteousness, by which they suppress what truth can be known about God from nature and conscience.

But insiders profess to know Christ. They profess to having received Him Who is the justifier of those that believe, and the transformer of their lives. Is there evidence of those facts? Is there progress in experiential holiness? That is the sign of the transforming presence and work of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit. Sometimes the signs are faint, but the Lord sanctifies those whom He justifies. And those who belong to him strive for holiness, without which no one will see Him. {Heb 12:14} His presence in them moves their will to run after Him.

Holiness is the forgotten attribute of God. It has been subsumed in a sentimental love. But Paul commands believers to purge not just evil itself, but evil people from among the flock. The Greek word poneron used here is precisely the same word used in the Lord’s prayer to describe evil, or the evil one. It is the word commonly used for a wicked or evil person. Yet how are we to know who is evil or wicked unless we make a judgment? Again, we do not judge the heart itself, but the fruit of the heart, according to the profession made by the person himself, who is claiming to have fellowship in Christ.

James has something of the same flavour when he says, "Show me your faith apart from works and I will show you my faith by my works." {Jas 2:18} Or John the Baptist telling the Pharisees to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." {Mt 3:8} Jesus Himself speaks of various fruits and trees producing only after their kind, and how "grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles." {Mt 7:16} All of these make obvious comparisons between profession and actual fruit - implying that where no fruit (or wrong fruit) is found the underlying problem is serious indeed.

Paul commands the Corinthians to act upon the evil fruit in their midst, and he reproves them for not having already done so. We who shall one day judge angels must discern and discipline within the body of Christ.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

1 Cor 5: 6-8 - Part 2 - The Great Escape

6-8 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul brings up the teaching of Christ, the Passover Lamb, as foreshadowed in the meal before the last plague of Egypt (the killing of the firstborn) when they were freed from the Pharaoh’s tyranny and released to worship God in the wilderness. If only this was a study in Exodus then all the rich prefigurations and types of the exodus period could be visited and savoured here. But Paul does not go into it because his purpose here is pastoral in the strictly corrective sense.

Nevertheless it’s worth surmising in passing that Paul’s hearers are expected to know not only that the exodus took place, but the meaning of the symbols and figures contained in actual history, as they apply in the present gospel age. We often forget that the only scriptures that Paul and the very early church had, and that they used as their source of authority to explain the gospel in all its fullness, were the Hebrew canon that we now call "The Old Testament".

The Hebrew scriptures point to Christ everywhere, from the proto-gospel of Genesis 3:15 to the prophesies of Malachi 3:1. Not only this, but they contain pictures and types and prefigures of spiritual realities - though they were written by the sovereign finger of God in the affairs of men by means of actual historical events. Not only this, but the recording of them was inspired by God the Holy Spirit, through the writings of Moses and the prophets. They wrote freely exactly what God purposed that they should write. God moved their will to record the treasures of Christ in the history, poetry and preaching of the scriptures.

It doesn’t seem likely to me, therefore, that Paul would mention the Passover lamb unless he expected them to make the association of the prefigurement of Christ in it. The bread baked without leaven is precisely on topic for the points that Paul is making. The bread itself does nothing to deliver them from Egypt; it is the Passover lamb that is slain and the blood of that lamb applied to the entrance(s) of the house that delivers from the angel of death.

But the Israelites were instructed to eat unleavened bread when they served the Passover lamb. Part of the reason seems to have been the need for haste. Dough takes time to rise. Yet we must not make too much of the spiritual lesson by making the figure say more than it actually does. Paul’s point utterly ignores the rising time of dough and cuts to the chase by speaking the spiritual truth behind the concept of the leaven. It represented human self-deceit, pride and self-justification - from which spring manifest hypocrisy and error.

All leaven was to be eschewed. None was to be found in the matzo bread. There can be no room for any human boasting in association with the deliverance that is the gift of God. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and it is of the Lord alone. It is a gift not to be mixed with any human work. Faith itself must not be made into a work, but must be regarded, along with repentance, as a part of the gift itself. God grants and gifts these things - as the gospel makes clear in numerous places in Acts, Ephesians and Timothy.

There is nothing clearer in Paul’s illustration then that any leaven whatsoever comes from evil. Because he calls it "old" leaven we might be tempted to think that there is a corresponding "new" leaven that we are to take up. No. The counterpart in gospel theology for old leaven is no leaven at all.

This perfectly illuminates the state of the nature of the natural man, and the way all of his thoughts, deeds and actions are tainted by what he is, due to the fall. He sins because he is a sinner. Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart are only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Nothing good, holy or acceptable according to God’s perfect standard can arise from a fallen heart. The only answer is a new heart - a heart inclined to good through the doing of God’s will; a heart made willing to believe God.

We can even go beyond this and see that Adam’s leaven - the fallen nature that arose from his sin - has leavened the whole lump of mankind. All of his descendants are sinners. The whole race is fallen. No one is righteous, no not one - there is none that seeks after God - they are all together gone out of the way. We were born in sin, and in sin did our mothers conceive us. We were sinners in the womb from the moment our existence began.

It can be no surprise then that all of our thoughts and attitudes are corrupt. We think in circles. Like arrows shot at the sun even our best intentions fall back to earth. We are dust. We are already on the scrap heap of eternity until God reaches down to us. We are refuse. In one sense, God simply hates what we are. He hates the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11 etc) and we are all wicked but...

...if we are in Jesus Christ we have reason to celebrate the Passover. We have escaped the corruption that is in the world and have been regenerated by the Spirit of God because Christ our Saviour left the glory of heaven, and humbled Himself unto death on a cross to take the penalty for all of our sins. We are no longer under condemnation because we have been freed from the penalty of sin. And we are now being freed from the power of sin in our lives through mortification of the flesh - until we are finally freed from even the presence of sin in that moment when we are called into His presence for our final glorification.

The Passover was shared by many who never saw the promised land. All Israel was freed from Egypt, but not all Israel reached the promised kingdom rest. Paul tells us in another place that they are not all Israel who are descendants of Israel, but only those who are children of the promise. Though the blood of the lamb was sufficient to deliver all the firstborn from the angel of death it was ultimately only efficient in delivering into the promised those who truly believed and persevered; these were, in type, Joshua and Caleb, for they saw the promised land and believed God would give it into their hand. In the same way, the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient for the whole world, would they but repent and believe. Yet they will not, apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit upon their heart, making them willing, and keeping them unto the end.

And we who believe in this gospel age are both saved and kept by the power of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is power in the blood! It is Wonder working power in the precious blood of the Lamb! But do you see how God does it? Though God alone saves and keeps us, we are made participants in the "keeping" through the means God has ordained. Prayer, fellowship, the preaching of the word, the operations of law and grace upon the heart. We hear commands (even in the new testament) and these convict us of our sin and our powerlessness over it but, because we belong to Christ and the Spirit is in us working, we come to God for the grace in Christ to overcome and to persevere. Yet neither is our coming or our perseverance something in which to boast because it is a work of God from start to finish.

And this is the means used to create experiential holiness in us. Note I say "create" and not "discover". God always creates in the same way - He speaks and the Spirit applies power to bring order out of chaos. He spoke the world into existence. He spoke mankind into existence. He speaks His new creation in Christ into existence. He speaks and it is so, and all that he creates is good. Yet we are never absolved of the responsibility before God to be holy. As believers, our guilt is gone, but our responsibility to obey remains. We now learn to find power for our obedience in God, and not in ourselves.

God uses purity to bring us to purity - truth to bring us to truth. It is these things in Christ that are the Divine spark of the new creature in us whereby is added more to what we have. Our hearts are renewed in righteousness and we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We must strive to grow by abiding in Christ and resting in Him. We must strive. But only God gives the increase, and God alone put that desire in our hearts.