Agonizomai: September 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Love and Forgiveness
It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the Cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied.

Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for His Highest" - November 19th

Monday, September 29, 2008

1Cor 15:56-58 - Where Law and Grace Kiss
1Cor 15:56-58 - Where Law and Grace Kiss

56-58 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

By "the sting of death," Paul implies the means by which death comes to us. Sin is what brings us under judgment and judgment is unto death, according to God’s Own decree in the garden.

By "the power of sin is the law," Paul probably harks back to a number of his earlier thoughts in other epistles. He said that he would not have known sin if it had not been for the law {Rom 7:7}. In the same verse he takes the most universal root of all sin, covetousness, and explains that he would not have been aware that there even was such a thing unless the law had forbidden it. The whole passage {Rom 7:7-12} is very instructive in this matter. The law brings us to a consciousness of our willful and rebellious natures. When we know the law and we transgress it anyway (as we all do) then we see the power of sin by the law. It is, in a curious way, light for our condition because it tells us what we truly are.

The law is powerless to make us into anything. It cannot bring about obedience. Its usefulness is ultimately only to convict us of our need for a Way other than ourselves by which we may be justified with God. Paul called the law "a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" {Ga 3:24} This does not mean just a teacher, but a guardian - a pedagogue - to discipline and to point us in the right direction.

It is important to understand the difference here between law and grace, which Paul introduces in Christ in the next verse - though he does not actually use the word. Law is not a bad thing, but it is an inanimate thing. The law is good, but it is not living. On the other hand, grace comes through Jesus Christ, Who is life itself. And Paul is once more ringing the bells at the gracious provision that God has made for we law breakers; this He did by giving His Son to His wrath in our stead, so that we may be raised on account of His grace in keeping the law perfectly on our behalf. This is a very lopsided exchange. We provide the lack and God supplies the sufficiency. We provide our sin, and God provides regeneration, sanctification and glorification.

Our victory is through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not apart from Him. It is in Him. His finished work provides all that we need - regeneration, faith, repentance, adoption - so that we may walk in our salvation and persevere until the end. Do you see the "therefore" in verse 58? It is on account of what He has done (finished, completed) that we can be steadfast, immovable and abounding in the work of the Lord. It is by faith that we walk in these things, all the while acknowledging and believing that these deeds were appointed for us to walk in, {Eph 2:10} and they were given to us in Christ by His work. He wrought them for us - for us to walk in.

And, in the resurrection context, the Corinthians can now see that the grace of Jesus Christ which is extended to all who believe is the end of the law
(as a means of justification) for them because their life is in Jesus Christ - the resurrected Christ - who we shall be like when we see Him face to face.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

1Cor 15:51-55 - O Glory! Final Victory Comes

51-55 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory."
“O death, where is your victory? (verse55)
O death, where is your sting?”

Having dealt the doctrinal death blow to the heresy that denies resurrection, so that the true sheep will hear and be admonished unto repentance for entertaining such error - then it is that Paul produces a tremendous vision of encouragement for them. There is both rod and staff in Paul’s hand as he wields them faithfully as God’s instrument.

Paul reveals to them something that they need for a right view, for hope and for a prophylactic against further misrepresentations. He unveils something that had previously been hidden - something that was made manifest in Christ but which is expounded upon, clarified and applied to the church - to their very own selves - to every one for whom Christ died - who is found persevering to the end.

Not all the saints will go through physical death. Those who are alive at the moment that God rings down the curtain of history will be instantly changed, and given a glorified body in less time than it takes to blink. And, not knowing when this will take place, every generation of believers has this hope - that the Lord will return in their lifetime. They are both encouraged and commanded to watch and to hope for it.

But in any case, all the dead will eventually be bodily raised imperishable (both saints and reprobates). Paul’s focus here is upon the blessed hope of the saints, for whoever dies bodily in Christ will be raised in a spiritual body like His, and to be thus evermore with the Lord.

This is the final manifestation of Christ’s victory over death for His people. This is why we must die - so that the death of death itself can be manifested in us, to the glory of God through Jesus Christ, by our resurrection in eternal spiritual bodies. When we put on immortality the victory of Jesus is declared on our behalf for all creation to see. God’s love, His faithfulness, His power and His grace are manifested in the eyes of His whole creation (holy angels, demons, reprobates and saints) to the fullest, then and for eternity.

Notice once more the imperative language. The transition - the transformation must take place. There is a new order of existence laid up for the saints which absolutely requires new, spiritual, eternal, imperishable bodies. We shall not be disembodied spirits floating in the ether; we were made bodily creatures and that we shall be also in eternity. This is what happened to Christ and it is what must happen to us so that we may be like Him and be with Him where He is.

This is an existence that reaches its fullest with the resurrection of the body. But it has pleased God, for whatever reason, to regenerate our spirits in this life, by joining us to Christ in the Person of the Holy Spirit - making us alive unto God, and God alive to us in the here and now. Our bodies are still dying, even as we grow spiritually. It is a transitional state. It is a state which provides the medium in which faith does its work. We do not see what we shall be (and are more blessed than the Apostles because of it), but by faith we live in the sure and certain hope that God will finish the good work that He started in us. He will manifest the redemption/regeneration of our entire being in the fullness of time and we are privileged to trust Him for it, though we cannot yet see it.

For us right now, death has been vanquished and we take this on faith. We believe that we have been reborn spiritually and we perceive this through the fruit of growth that God produces in us. By faith in Him we change. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds because our hearts (fundamental natures) have been renewed. From our renewed hearts where the gift of faith comes in, we exercise that gift in the obedience of faith and so, are made partakers in what the Lord is doing in us.

But the day is coming for us all as believers when such hope will no longer be needed, for we shall walk by sight, knowing and being known, seeing Him as He is - and this will be when we have been resurrected bodily with attributes suited to fellowship in the presence of our glorified Saviour. This is the final blow to the enemy. It is the death of death for the redeemed, found in the death of Christ. And it is the time of the fullness of the living of life, found in the resurrection of Christ.

Though death itself is vanquished, we would do well to note that this only refers to the first death. The first death is that death which arose by decree of God upon the sin of Adam (in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die - or idiomatically, "dying you shall die") and upon us in Adam. It is death as we presently know and experience it. Separation from God (who is the light that is the life of all men), from each other, from ourselves and eventually - in a usually long slow process - separation from our bodies.

But this is not the end of all death, for there is a second death - the eternal death that is stored up for the devil and his angels, and for all who do not know Christ. This follows the judgement and is consummated in the lake of fire, where even hell itself is cast. This is a fire that is not quenched and where there is a worm that does not die. And we do well to realize that, though the human race was sentenced to death the very day that Adam rebelled, even our lives in these mortal bodies lasted many years individually and thousands of years as a race. How much more should we see that the eternal death in the lake of fire, from which the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever {Re 14:11} will be for everlasting. The first death knew an end because there was a Saviour to overcome death. The second death is one from which there is no Saviour - and so it can have no end. This is a sombre thought indeed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

1Cor 15:50 - Shameful Death Made Joyful

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

This line of thought all started because seeds of doubt were being sown about the resurrection of the saints by false teachers. Having made his case from nature, scripture and history that resurrection is not only possible, and has already happened in our forerunner, the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul reemphasises the point that it is far more than possible - it is necessary.

The body we now inhabit is part of the old order. It is corruptible and corrupted. It must pass away or the new body cannot be received. We cannot be both earthly and heavenly, both mortal and eternal - neither in spirit, nor in body. God has so designed and appointed all things that all men must die bodily and all men must be raised from the grave. But the children of God will be raised in glorified bodies suited to their eternal life with their Saviour. The reprobate will be raised with eternal bodies perfectly suited to experience the torments of hell forever.

The bodies we now inhabit are destined to be put off because they are ravaged by the curse upon the race in Adam. They are, in a sense, betrayers of our delight in God. They war against the regenerate spirit because of their fallenness. They are a Trojan Horse within the kingdom of our hearts. They must be pummelled and subdued, controlled and denied due to their myriad sensations and lusts and feelings and impulses. Our bodies are not of themselves evil, but due to their weakened condition they are often made allies of the enemy. They are the means by which our inward lusts are expressed outwardly, and they are defiled by our sin.

But when God has completed His work of sanctification in our souls, using those very self-same tendencies and leanings to educate and to convict and to change us so that we trust in Him alone, then the fallen body’s usefulness to God’s work will be over, and it will be time for the glorified one. When God says it is time it is time. Not a moment before - and certainly not a moment longer. All things will be made new.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

1Cor 15:45-49 - Two Men, Two Destinies

45-49 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Now here is the kicker once more ... It is all in Christ that this resurrection takes place, that our death becomes life, that our sin ravaged and corrupted bodies become glorified and eternal. Apart from union with Him through faith there is no glorification - there is no spiritual body capable of dwelling in the consuming light of God, which fills heaven, and from the glory of which angels cover their faces with their wings.

Here we find both the similarities and the differences between Adam and Christ. Both are referred to as "Adam;" they are both federal representatives and members of the human race. Both were born and both died. Both had bodies that were mortal. Adam’s was mortal by decree of God, as God to creature - he was a fully dependent being. Christ’s body was mortal as voluntarily offered up through meekness (power under control) - also by decree, but by a decree that was entirely of Himself, without dependency and in completely sovereign control. {Joh 10:17-18} Put another way, Adam died against his will and Christ willed to die.

Note how this fits into Paul’s argument about necessity and order. There is progression in this contrast between the two Adams. The first Adam became a living being because God created his body and breathed life into Him. The second Adam became something more - He became a life-giving spirit. This deserves to be unpacked at length.

First, what does it mean by "became." Any concept of this other than the right one is fraught with danger. Cults love to misinterpret such language. They conceive of Jesus as merely a man who, due to His efforts as a man, was promoted by God to an office and a position He did not always have. This is not the sense of "became" here. Christ became a life-giving spirit to the objects of His grace. He always was a life-giving spirit as the Eternal Son {Joh 1:3-4} The problem was that man as a race was, in Adam, under the curse of God; he was under the curse of death; he had died spiritually in that there was no fellowship with God in his own spirit, and he was born dying. As the saying goes - nobody was going to get out of this life alive.

So Christ became, to the objects of His redemptive sacrifice, a life giving spirit, because life in Him was once more imparted to His creatures. They are re-born in Him. They are re-created in Him. Life is still in Him and it is still the light of men - and it is a light which is given and which forever sustains all those in whom He is, and are in Him.

Federal representation and the principle of imputation are axiomatic to this process. If we want redemptive, imputed life by dint of our union with Christ, we must accept our corruption by dint of our union with Adam. We cannot have imputed righteousness if we first reject the imputation of Adam’s sin to us. We cannot be raised unless we are fallen. We cannot be made alive unless we are first dead. We have no need of a physician if we are not sick.

Man’s problem is not first and foremost that he sins. Man’s problem is that he is a sinner by nature - a nature inherited from the father of the entire race. The solution to this problem is not to apply the band-aid of topical treatment for individual sins. The solution is to change the very nature of man through the re-creative process without erasing the personality. The solution is also to once forever put away all the sins committed by the redeemed and to assuage the righteous wrath of God for them. The answer to both these things is found in Christ - through union with Him - through adoption into the family of God.

Going back to the line of Paul’s thought with this right conception of Christ’s "becoming" we can now pick up the orderly flow in history of the revelation of God’s purposes in redemption. There is an order (remember, "order" is also one of the most important themes of this epistle) by which God’s purposes are revealed in history - and it involves the mortal becoming immortal, the fallen being made righteous, the corrupt being made holy. These salvific and redemptive themes are not adaptive - they do not emerge from a God who, on the fly as it were, comes up with answers to problems that He could not foresee. They are by deliberate design.

God purposed (but did not cause) the fall so that man might be saved to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. He purposed it so that a people could be redeemed who would forever understand, accept and appreciate the wonders of His grace towards them in Jesus Christ. Christ did not come as a plan "B" for the human race because the original idea had gone wrong. Christ is the original idea. He was all along. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. {Eph 1:4 1Pe 1:20 Re 13:8}

This plan, however in no way makes God the author of sin and evil. God makes use of the pre-ordained sin and evil in the universe in order to accomplish His plan and still holds his creatures accountable for the wickedness that they do. {Ac 2:22-23}

Now take a look at the two Adams. The first was mortal and mutable; he died and passed death on to all men because they sinned, having inherited his corrupt nature. The second, though eternal, took on mortality by becoming completely human, yet without sin. Born of a virgin and conceived of the Holy Spirit, so that he did not inherit from Adam the corruption that all other humans had. The first was made of the earth - he was nothing of himself - a creature made merely from dust and given life by God. The second was everything in and of Himself, yet laid this aside voluntarily and left the glory of heaven. He was a spirit (for He was God, and God is a spirit) yet he became a man in order to represent all those He came to save.

Adam, in his fallen nature, along with all who descended from him because they were in him latently by nature) is constitutionally corrupt. Those who are of the Adamic order alone - the natural order - are already under condemnation {Joh 3:18}. Those joined to Christ through faith in His righteousness and His penal substitutionary atonement on their behalf are partakers in His (eternal) life. Heaven is in Christ. Life is in Christ. Men must be joined to Christ or there is no salvation for them. From the heavenly perspective (a perspective we have a duty to accept) men are in Christ by divine election unto salvation. From the perspective of history we are in Christ through faith and apart from faith even the elect would be lost. But what makes sense of this last statement is that God ordains with election all that is necessary for the elect to be effectually called, including their faith and repentance. Men exercise these things, but God ordains them.

So then, nothing salvific can or does come from Adam's heritage. He is dust. He is a dead man awaiting the funeral. He is corrupt and unable either to please God (because he lacks faith) or to receive the things of the spirit of God (because he is spiritually dead). We must accept this truth and preach it in order to be transmitting the true gospel. Man is absolutely helpless and utterly powerless. Someone must reach into man from outside his existence and perform a sovereign work of grace on his behalf - a work entirely apart from man’s own efforts.

This is, in fact, what God has done. He has come down from heaven in the person of His Son and has been found in fashion as a man. This rendered Him no less heavenly, just because he veiled His glory and held His God-ness in submission to the Father as a man - as representative man. But the major significance of this act of incarnation, death and resurrection is found in His representation of all the children of God. All the once-born, who sprang from Adam’s carnal, earthly, fallen, corrupt loins are destined for everlasting destruction. All the twice-born, who spring from Christ’s heavenly life, who are products of His spiritual generation, due to His work on their behalf, belong to heaven eternally. It is union with a God Who hates divorce. And because it is His doing and not ours - because it depends entirely upon the work of Christ - it is something that no mere man, including we ourselves who are the saved, can ever undo.

And our union with Him guarantees that we shall be like Him. We shall follow our representative in character and, to one degree or another, in experience - including the experience of the resurrection of the body. In Adam we shall die bodily because we bear his image (marred and fallen, corrupt and sinful). In Christ we shall be raised in a glorified spiritual body because we bear the image of the One to Whom we are joined - pure, righteous, holy. We shall have bodies suited to our conversation with Christ and for bearing us in the presence of God. But just as the death of our bodies originally sprang from the act of one man, so our resurrected bodily life springs from the act of the One man, Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 22, 2008

1Cor 15:42-44 - Smothering the Hiss

42-44 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Here, then, is the denouement. Paul makes the comparison between the spiritual body of the resurrected saints and all the examples of God’s handiwork that he used in preceding verses. "So it is with the resurrection of the dead! " This is no mere opinion. Here is authority, conviction and inspiration poured out for the sake of Christ’s flock. Here is truth broadcast for the encouragement of the saints and to destroy the lies of the false teachers, and the whispering hiss of doubt planted through them by the father of lies, that murderer, the devil.

Just like seeds which perish in the earth but give rise to wonderful plants, so the fallen and perishing body of the believer is buried in the earth only to rise glorified and eternal. God is able. God has creatively and redemptively purposed it in Christ - and He is the Author of all things. The glories and the variety of His power are plainly visible in the animal kingdom and in the heavens, just as Paul reminds us in Romans Chapter 1 - and by faith the saints apprehend these things, giving glory to God.

Back to the false teachers - how foolish indeed to think that God cannot, or wills not, to do all these things when the evidence is before our very faces every day. But this is the nature of the "natural man" - the unredeemed mind, for he does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he. How foolish to believe that He will not do these things when Christ, Who is the gospel, expressly promised them to His Apostles and disciples. This was the Christ that was originally preached at Corinth. This was the Christ in whom they believed. This was the Christ whom they received, who gifted them by and with His Spirit. Foolish indeed for the false teachers to disbelieve, but more foolish still for the saints to slumber their way into heresy.

Paul will next move on to remind the Corinthians of the basis upon which all these things are accomplished, for he never loses sight of the Saviour and of the grace that has been given in Him.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

1Cor 15:38-41 - God's Glory in Creation

38-41 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

Paul now begins to make a transition between what we regard as natural or earthly things and those which are higher and heavenly. The resurrected bodies of the saints are, like all the bodies of dependent beings, the creative work and design and prerogative of God, Who lacks nothing in variety and wonder and inventiveness.

Paul and all his contemporaries fully understood that all living things came from "seed." But the seed produced different creatures after being sown - different from the seed in appearance and different from the fruit of other kinds of seed. God does all this. He established reproduction and "kinds" - he delineated boundaries and limits but within those parameters He ordained change and metamorphosis, growth and its various stages. He laid down the order of the sperm and the egg, the foetus, the baby, the infant, the youngster, and the adult. And He did this in endless variety for a staggering range of His creatures.

Some reproduce asexually, some are capable of parthenogenesis, some bi-sexually. In some the adult is radically different in appearance from the infant - the mosquito and its larva, or the frog and the tadpole, for example. If we stand back and try to take it all in we are speechless. There is too much and it is too wonderful for us.

But then Paul moves on to other forms of creation - the heavenly bodies, which are more remote and, in some senses, more magisterial - more mysterious and untouchable than the things of earth. Yet to even these things, inanimate as they may be, God has given infinite variety and a diversity of beauty. Paul seems to be regarding the heavenly bodies as somehow more glorious in general that earthly things. Yet even there God retains His creative sovereignty by making each one different in its radiance.

Note the progression of Paul’s argument. He started by taking the premise of the non-resurrectionists and calling them foolish, while his real aim was to be heard by the faithful who were being led astray. In explaining why the false teachers who deny bodily (or any) resurrection were foolish, Paul sets about describing the what and the how of the resurrected body by pointing to the things that we can readily observe - first upon the earth in our everyday experience. Seed falls to the ground and dies - producing something that looks different and quite a bit more impressive - a plant. This shows the general principle that God can bring something vastly more glorious out of something seemingly quite simple.

Next, he makes the point that God is capable of producing an infinite variety of types of bodies in living things - namely humans, birds, fish, etc. So producing something more glorious for resurrected saints than this broken down body we live and die in is no challenge to God. Finally Paul points the cosmic stage where untouchable and powerful and glorious things exist - just outside of our direct personal experience - yet we see great variety in even these wonders. The fierce and blinding glory of the sun and the infinite variety of the twinkling stars. For even these wonders, God has created and appointed variety. If He can make the moon to shine pale and silvery and the sun to blaze fierce and blinding - can anything be beyond His ability - can glorified bodies for His saints for whom Christ died be impossible for Him? Paul does not think so, and neither should we, if we truly believe in he Who does it all.

So now, having laid the groundwork, Paul moves on to completing the simile in the next verses.

Friday, September 19, 2008

1Cor 15:36-37 - Mother Nature, Father God

36-37 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.

Continuing Paul’s line of thought in his answer to the person looking to reject bodily resurrection, we see that he appeals to nature. Not to Mother Nature because Paul has no such thinking in his gospel; he appeals to the nature created and sustained by God. Nature is, in fact, a continuous miracle that simply unfolds at such a slow pace that we have time to get used to it - thus calling it "natural," when it is actually "slow" supernatural revelation.

God writes in history and in nature the precise story that He wants to tell. He gives clues to us, the clueless. Thus we get themes from Genesis recurring throughout the 66 books of the Bible, including light, darkness, order, chaos, wind/spirit, and - relevant here, we also get "seed" - all right in Genesis Chapter 1. And, this is no accident, for Paul’s developing argument draws heavily on the language of the creation account in Genesis, of which more later.

For now, some might be initially offended by the concept of the deliberate necessity of death as prelude to rebirth - yet this is the force of what Paul is saying. He points to the clues in nature with the same simple, commonly understood imagery that the Lord Himself so often used. Nature teaches us, he implies, that the death of a kernel of corn or a seed of wheat by throwing it upon the ground gives rise to a completely different-looking thing called a plant. Yet the plant cannot be until and unless the seed first dies. They are the same essence, but have differing appearance. They are related, but different.

Death is merely the process through which the seed goes, metaphorically speaking, because it doesn’t actually die, though it is buried. It dies to what it was and it rises as something new. It dies a seed, but it rises a plant with roots and stems and leaves and, ultimately fruit. There is a change that only comes about through the process. Put another way, the process of death is necessary in order for the transformation to take place. In short, because of Christ, death and resurrection is a metamorphosis for the saint.

True life for the saint is found in death. This is what Christ has wrought for us. Right now, we live in His death in our dying bodies; yet we live in His resurrection in our spirit. And one day, on a day that God has appointed for each of us, our body will die, though our spirit will live on. Finally, we shall rise bodily and our life will be complete in Him, body and spirit forever. This is the hope of the Christian. His hope is not here, but in heaven - in that place where Christ is most fully present, body and spirit. We await that day; we long for it; we look forward to it; we strain to be there now but are content to tarry as long as He wants - and not a moment longer.

The fullness of our redemption, our salvation and our glorification awaits us - and it is in the presence of the bodily resurrected Christ - Christ the God/man, Who is the chief member of the human race forever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

1Cor 15:35-36 - Other Ears May Be Listening

35-36 But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.

By Paul’s reaction to this rhetorical question it seems obvious that he is not addressing a serious enquirer. He is addressing a person who is seeking to raise objections in order to quash the idea of resurrection altogether. A person honestly seeking information about the nature of the resurrection body would hardly be called foolish by Paul. Such legitimate inquiry is perfectly within the bounds of godliness when done with humility and with a teachable spirit.

But that’s not what is going on in Corinth. Some have crept in who deny the resurrection altogether and they are hurting the faith of others with their teaching. It is these destroyers who Paul is calling foolish, for their question is not an honest one, but a sceptical, disbelieving one that seeks to disprove what Paul asserts, and what the true gospel actually says. These he calls "foolish," and goes on to say that the concept of resurrection can be confirmed from the creation itself.

Yet, by addressing his rebuke to those in error in this way, Paul is re-teaching the true believers (those who have ears to hear) as if they were third-party listeners. There is a great lesson in this, for we often think that our arguments and our admonishments are given for effect upon the one we are addressing; a person in error being corrected, we think, is the one who will benefit from our "wise" teaching. But God is much wiser than we, and He often uses remarks made to one person to great effect upon another within hearing range, but to whom the remarks are not directly addressed. We should learn from this to be careful about our public remarks, but also to trust God that when we sow good seed, He will give the increase when and where and however and in whomsoever He pleases.

Monday, September 15, 2008

1Cor 15:29-34 - Your Best Life Now - Denied

29-34 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why am I in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

This harkens back to verse 12 and is another quiver in Paul’s bow arguing against those who question the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. In verse 12 Paul says, "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" He goes on here in another direction implying, "If there is no resurrection, then what do people mean by being baptized for the dead?"

And here we fall upon an obscure and difficult passage that the greatest of commentators have trouble explaining. One thing we know for sure - any practice involving baptism for people who have already died in order to secure their salvation is heresy; it adds to the gospel by implying that salvation is not by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It may be that such a superstition had arisen in Corinth as it did later among the Cerinthians and the Marcionites (2nd century) and that Paul refers to this error not to give approval to it, but merely to use it for his own argument.

Goodness knows, there was enough error going around in Corinth that Paul had already commented upon that a heresy such as this might also be present. It does not necessarily imply that because Paul may have disapproved of the practice he would automatically refute it doctrinally before making his point. His point is centred on the truth and necessity of the resurrection - not upon right or wrong practices related to baptism. He may be sticking with the topic and refusing to be side-tracked - but using one of their own erroneous practices to make his point. We don’t actually know. But there is such a preponderance of teaching elsewhere that we dare not take this one obscure passage and imply that a sacerdotal and superstitious practice like vicarious baptism for the dead has any place in the gospel of the church.

A different explanation might be that this is an oblique reference to the baptism of blood - meaning martyrdom. If there is no resurrection then why are brothers and sisters gladly going to their deaths for their faith? This would fit in with Paul’s reference to his own constant peril. Why would he traipse all over the middle east being stoned and beaten and scourged and assaulted and imprisoned and plotted against - in constant peril of imminent death - why would he bother if, after his life was snuffed out, that was the end?

And this is a salient point because it seems that those who were saying that there is no resurrection were not simply implying that there is only a spiritual life hereafter - O no! - they were implying that there is no life whatsoever hereafter. This life is all there is and - poof! Goodbye and thanks for the memories! You can see immediately how corrosive and dangerous such a belief is. It must deny not only eternal life but also eternal punishment. It denies not just our own resurrection but, as Paul has already said, the resurrection of Christ as preached in the original (and only true) gospel. The net result of such belief can only be to lead people into pious do-gooding based on personal performance in this life; in a word, "humanism." There can be no judgement by God hereafter for all men because all men cease forever when they die bodily. It is radical anti-supernaturalism. It is unbelief. It is Sadducee-ism, and it can never produce holiness because it is not truly based on faith.

How can I say this? I can say this because faith is not a magic potion. It is not even a virtue in its own right. To be virtuous and to be effectual or "real," faith must have an object and must apprehend that object correctly, or truthfully. I can’t just say "I believe" and leave it at that. The question is "In Whom do I believe and trust, and for what?" There must be content, doctrine, understanding. Belief must lay hold of the facts and the evidence(s) before it can move out into fruitful experience. But if a person does not believe that God raised Christ from the dead as the harbinger of our own resurrection - if a person does not believe that life is eternal because God is eternal - if the idea is not grasped and loved that eternal life is
in Christ, and because He was raised bodily so shall we all be - then one does not believe in the Christ of the gospel and is ultimately damned, unless he repents.

There was serious heresy in Corinth and Paul wanted to stamp it out. Hence, his rebuke. I tend to think his reference to being baptized for the dead is sarcasm. He may be looking at people who are willing to believe that there is no after life and then confronting them with how their own sacerdotalism even denies what they profess to believe. On the one hand they deny the resurrection and on the other hand they have this ritualistic practice of being baptized for the dead. Paul simply shows them the awful contradiction that, though obvious to a spiritual man, they are themselves blind to. Spiritual deception can indeed lead to this sort of stupidity - and it can do so in any of us, if we are not watchful.

As if to corroborate this interpretation, and to punctuate the thought, Paul ends this section by appealing to the true believers not to fall for the false teaching that some are propagating. Doubtless the gloves will be off and Paul will deal with the deceivers themselves when he arrives - but until then he provides the correct teaching that he knows the Holy Spirit will use to keep the true believers in the Way. He wants the saints to stay away from those teaching falsehoods that contradict the original gospel that they received. "Bad company ruins good morals" (from the heathen poet Menander or possibly from the Greek philosopher Euripides) is an aphorism which he offers to show that failing to shun deceivers will lead to wrong belief, and wrong belief will lead to unholy behaviour.

And I take time here to point out that much seemingly "holy" behaviour is from the pit of hell. {Mr 8:33} Some people who are good by worldly standards fail the test {Lu 18:18-23} False teachers are often very moral and very "nice" people. And sanctified people sometimes do not seem to carnal eyes to be holy {Lu 18:10-14}. But God looks on the inward man and seeks to see Christ there - and when He does, and only then, is He pleased, regardless of what the outward appearances might seem to imply.

Paul refers the willingness to be beguiled that he observes in Corinth as "a drunken stupour." That is, a condition where neither mind nor behaviour are working correctly. Paul calls being deceived "sin." Yes, it is sin to deceive, but it is also sin to be deceived, because it betrays a lack of love for the truth and a lack of diligence. They should know better, and they do, because they first believed the true gospel. They are not ignorant of the truth, though if they were they would still be under the condemnation of God - but they have added to their sins the fact that, knowing the truth, they have nevertheless allowed themselves to be beguiled. What grace upon grace is needed for a believer to be brought all the way to glory! How we would all add to our condemnation if grace did not prevail in our behalf!

And Paul ends up this section with a "gentle" rebuke, saying that some are not even believers at all, and that the rest of them who might still be believers ought to be ashamed for tolerating such a state of affairs. Try running that up you post-modern, emergent flagpole and see what you get! Maybe Paul needs a little more epistemological humility!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thomas Watson Fails Clappy-Happy Test
How incomparably useful are the graces! Faith and fear go hand in hand. Faith keeps the heart cheerful, fear keeps the heart serious. Faith keeps the heart from sinking in despair, fear keeps it from floating in presumption.

"A Divine Cordial" - Chapter 1 - Thomas Watson

Saturday, September 13, 2008

1Cor 15:24-27 - Glimpsing Triune Hierarchy

24-27 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Paul has re-established with the confused Corinthians the doctrine of resurrection that he first delivered to them as an integral and vital part of the gospel. Remember that apart from faith in Christ’s resurrection there is no true gospel and so, any presentation of the gospel must include the doctrine of His resurrection - and, by implication, the teaching that our own resurrection both spiritually and physically is indissolubly linked to His.

It is useless to believe that Christ lived and died and was resurrected unless the meaning and implication of these historical events is apprehended and assented to in the heart. To be apprehended they must be taught or preached. This is what the Bible means by "preaching Christ". It doesn’t mean just parroting or mentioning His name, or the events surrounding his life; it means communicating those facts in such a way that the implications of them are laid bare for faith to lay hold of.

Note the outwardly subtle, but inwardly vast difference between relying upon our own means and power on the one hand, and relying upon God’s means and power on the other. We do not invent, concoct, embellish or otherwise conjure up things that will ensure that people believe, if only we press the right buttons. The means are not the effectual ends. That is full blown Pelagianism, or modern Finney-ism. No - we preach God’s word in His way to all and sundry, and trust that He alone will save whomever He wills. In the one case we rely upon ourselves to obtain the result, and in the other we are merely the means by which God brings about His preordained will.

So, having re-established the correct doctrine (yes, doctrine) of resurrection, Paul goes on to flesh out some details concerning the end times. We ourselves will be bodily resurrected at the very end of history when Christ returns the kingdom to the Father, after establishing (manifesting) His complete victory over Satan, the demons and death itself. In fact, our resurrection is a part of the demonstration by which the powers of darkness are publicly put to shame.

The devil’s own words come back to haunt him. The from Satan’s lips, "You will not surely die" is miraculously turned into truth through the life and death of Christ the Son of God. But only through His life and death and resurrection. Yet Satan cannot say that he was right, for all men did die in Adam both spiritually and physically. What a galling taste there will be in the mouth of that vile being on that day! To have tried to corner God by His own words and to have discovered that God made a way where there was no way to bring truth out of the lie through an unimaginable deed, displaying in the process the eternal glories of His righteousness. Such a final realization for such a wicked being will be eternally tormenting.

But the last - the very last enemy that disappears is bodily death. It was the first physical result of disobedience and so it will be the last thing righted. This is symmetry. It is reflective of last things being first and first last. It is a punctuation mark upon the story of redemptive history. Like all good stories, the threads of the plot are all tidied up in the very last chapter.

An interesting side note to bodily resurrection is what the cross of Christ accomplished for the unbeliever. For resurrection and the negation of the physical death that God originally decreed comes about also for the unredeemed. He tasted death for everyone. {Heb 2:9} The unbelievers also rise bodily from the grave. It is the dead in Christ who rise first, but all will rise.

Unlike the wicked spirits, wicked men are corporeal creatures and must be both judged and sentenced in the body for the deeds done in the body. This is why the Christian believes in eternal conscious and bodily torment of the unredeemed in hell. We are bodily beings.

On the one hand, those who apprehended through faith that they rose in Christ will actually rise to life eternal in and with Him. They receive glorified, physical, eternal resurrected bodies. On the other hand, those for whom the death and resurrection of Christ was sufficient, but was never apprehended through faith for whatever reason, are still raised from physical death to be judged and condemned in the body and consigned to eternal punishment.

Is this what is meant by Peter when referring to those denying the Lord that bought them? Is this why, to them, He is not kurios, but despotes? {2Pe 2:1} In any event, it cannot be ignored that the resurrection of Christ is in some way connected to not only the eternal glorification of the redeemed, but also the eternal damnation of the lost. He is not just connected passively but actively. Christ has His part in the eternal torment of the damned, because He is the same wrathful God who despised their sin. If you doubt this, the read Re 14:10.

I suppose that what I am saying is that we cannot divide God into two or more beings with opposing aims. One, the Father - remote, stern, judgmental and Old Testament-ish; the other gentle Jesus, meek and mild - approachable, loving and forgiving. God is one. There is no division of Being and no division of character, purpose or will. There is the manifestation of different Persons Who perform different functions but there is absolutely no division whatsoever. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." By this is meant "of one will and purpose," as well as of one substance.

God has decided that all of human history and all of human eternity finds its meaning, its experience and its ordained conclusion in the work of the Son. He is the centre of all creation and all meaning is to be found in Him. He is a the focus of the eternal destiny of all human beings, whether they are eternally saved or eternally damned. It all hinges upon Him, His life and the meaning of that life. And a part of His life was His resurrection leading to the manifestation of His victory over sin and death.

The victory won by Christ on the cross through His death and which was testified to by His bodily resurrection from the dead is, from the eternal perspective, already a fait accompli. Nevertheless, in time where we mere mortals live, that victory is worked out through the calling and the lives of the church militant. God the Father has put all things into subjection under Christ. This is a picture from ancient times, when victorious kings would place their feet upon the heads or necks of vanquished enemies. Jesus did the work appointed to Him by the Father, and the Father exalts the Son over all the enemies that so attacked and abused Him in the incarnation by working out that victory in history; by effectually calling out and saving a people, a promised bride for the Son; by shaming the powers of darkness; by overcoming and destroying death.

But there will come a time when all this has been accomplished in history for we mortals to see - and then the Son will turn all things back over to the Father. This need not be confusing. Some people think that all this putting under, and exalting above, and subjection to, and serving that goes on among the Persons of the Godhead implies some sort of inequality. Far from it! It demonstrates the very nature of our triune God. All the Persons, though united in substance and will, nevertheless express themselves by honouring and exalting and, in some senses submitting to each other. Jesus said, when in the flesh, that the Father was greater than He. Here, He turns all things back over to the Father at the end of history. But the Father was greater than Jesus during the incarnation because Jesus emptied Himself of His glory, humbled Himself, and was found in fashion as a man. And at the end of history He returns to the Father only what the Father has already given to Him. Nobody is Lording it over anybody else. Such thoughts spring not from any Biblical text, but from our own corrupt, prideful, unsubmissive, proud, fallen carnal natures.

Note that the very reason for the Son turning all things over to the Father that the Father had given to Him is so that God may be all in all. The Theanthropos which is Christ rules the church age by decree of God. But when that age is over, then God as He was before creation, and before the incarnation, will once more govern all things. But the Eternal Son will forever be the Theanthropos - both God and man.

Friday, September 12, 2008

LHC - The Final Word
If, after viewing my prior entry about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN you're still worried about the earth being swallowed up in man-created black hole...

.... then here is an interactive video article (you'll need Flash to be installed and activated) featuring physicist Michio Kaku and explaining the utter harmlessness of the CERN experiment. Besides, it's too late now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

1Cor 15:20-23 - Making a Federal Case of It

20-23 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Back to the context ... this is about resurrection and its essentiality to Christian faith through identification with Christ’s resurrection. It is important for all Christians to understand the doctrine of resurrection - not only for its theological content, but also to understand how it comes about for every believer. We believe that we were raised with Christ in the Spirit and that we are now unified with Him and that we already have eternal life, starting when we first believed.

But an important part of resurrection is the resurrection of the body. This is where Christ’s bodily condition now differs from ours. He has a resurrected body and we don’t. Looking at the outside alone - through the eyes of the flesh, you could never tell the difference between Christians and unbelievers in this regard. They all get sick, they age and they die.

It’s perfectly understandable that unbelief, overt or not, is bamboozled by this apparent homogeneity. Unbelief does not receive the truth about our race, that when Adam sinned then all of his (future) offspring sinned in him. Unbelief cannot assimilate the federal principle of responsibility in which a single person stands (or falls) as the representative of a whole group of people. Unbelief does not believe that it sinned in Adam and that we are all born already under the condemnation of God, having of ourselves not yet done anything either good or evil - and that this is because our forefather, Adam, sinned as the representative of us all ,and that the whole race was consigned unto death both spiritual and physical on account of his act.

But the Bible teaches this federal responsibility not to create despair, but to point to hope. For, as we all sinned and died in Adam, so all who are in Christ are made alive. Christ is the federal representative of His people, just as Adam was the representative of his. As all are born lost in Adam, so all who are reborn in Christ are reborn unto eternal life in Him - all those that the Father gave to the Son out of the mass of lost humanity.

You cannot have one without the other. We are all Adam’s children and we are all lost until regenerated by God through faith in the work of Jesus Christ. And this work is attested to as acceptable to the Father by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is the seal. It is the authentication. It is the amen of heaven to the declaration "paid in full" that Christ made from His cross.

Remember that the Corinthians are being told by some that there is no resurrection. Christ’s resurrection, which is believed by all who truly are His, is all the proof necessary for the child of God to be assured that he will one day follow his Lord in bodily resurrection and glorification. We are subjected in hope until that day, according to the definite plan of God from eternity. Our trust is in Him that these things will come to pass. It is a part of the testing of our faith - and we all understand that testing is for us, and not for God, Who already knows everything. But we, by trusting in what is not seen, but is promised by our faithful Saviour, are living as all God’s children lived from the earliest days - by faith, which both pleases and glorifies God.

Christ, then, is the firstfruits in the same sense as there must always be some grain or some particular fruit that ripens first, and is ready for harvest. We are not ready until our body dies in the providence of God or the Lord returns. Christ was ready first because, in the eternal perspective, and as a man, He is the very first Who was dead to sin and the very first to be raised in sinless, glorified perfection.

So we must die bodily just like everybody else. But our death has no sting, for though we die bodily, yet we live in the presence of God, and never die - for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What state this shall be we are not told in any detail. But we are told that He will descend from heaven with the shout of the archangel on the day of His coming and that the dead in Christ shall rise first. The only way we can be both dead and alive is if it is our bodies which die while our renewed spirit (new man) lives on until we receive a new body in the resurrection spoken of. This will be at the end of history as we know it.

Paul has reminded the Corinthians of a very important part of the gospel. It is a part that was under attack then, as now and many times since the Apostolic age. I’m not talking about those outside the church who disbelieve in the resurrection. Such people need evangelizing. I’m talking about those who have crept in unawares and seditiously attack the faith. Angels of light bringing subtle heresies. Such people need rebuking and rooting out.

There is an error called Pelagianism which denies original sin and its effects, despite what the Bible clearly teaches on the matter. This error gives birth to more error by putting man in charge of his own salvation and effectively turning him away from the humility of the cross, with its death and its resurrection. It destroys Biblical evangelism and makes means the effectuator of decisions, rather than the Holy Spirit, through the plain preaching of Christ.

It would be another 350 years before Pelagius actually showed up in history and gave a name to this heresy that was even then troubling some in Corinth. But Paul saw it for what it was right away, and did what a good under shepherd always does - he corrected it by retelling as often as necessary (and it is always necessary, whether as a preventative or as a restorative) the correct doctrine about the matter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

False Security
“In times of danger and threatened disasters there are always those who claim to have extraordinary revelations. The devil stirs them up to fill men with false hopes in order to keep them in sin and false security. Then, when God's judgments come, they are taken by surprise. So whoever claims to have extraordinary revelations, encouraging men to feel safe while living a sinful life, does the work of the devil, for whatever encourages men to feel secure in their sins is from the devil.” (Jer. 5:30, 31; 23:9-33).

Dr. R.J.K. Law - Apostasy from the Gospel (Communion with God and the Glory of Christ)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

1Cor 15:12-19 - Raising Grave Objections

12-19 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

The whole point of Paul re-outlining the gospel they first received is to confront false ideas and teachings which were present in the Corinthian church. The first of these is the heresy that introduced the concept that there is no resurrection of the dead. Sadducee-ism. Unbelief. Anti-supernaturalism. Cynicism. Call it what you will it is poison to the sheep and a denial of the gospel, which is why it is plainly heresy.

And Paul explains why this heresy is so dangerous. What is the problem with it? Well, there are several. One is that the whole gospel itself rests upon the principle of death and resurrection. Take away resurrection and you take away Christ’s resurrection. Take away Christ’s resurrection and you gut the gospel, for reasons to be explained later.

Another problem is that, if it is true that there is no resurrection, the Apostles are all liars and misrepresenters of God - so why believe anything that they say? If this essential piece of the gospel is a lie, then how can the other essentials, also propagated by the very same Apostles, be received as true? A liar is a liar and he may tell some truth, but how to distinguish what is and isn’t true out of that person’s mouth is impossible. If they misrepresent God in one respect then how can they be trusted to speak the truth about him in others? Did Christ actually die, or is that also a lie? Was He God in the flesh or is that an exaggeration?

The theology behind death and resurrection is essential to salvation. It must be believed or there is no salvation. This doesn’t mean you have to be a theologian, but that you must believe rightly about God in this particular matter. Mess up here and you are in grave danger. Mess up here and you will become a second stage GES free-gracer, like Zane Hodges and his ilk who, in their haste to reinforce the true doctrine that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone have gone a step too far, and have stripped the gospel of its content; they say that believing in Jesus is all that is needed but they say that the "why" is unimportant. They do not define which Jesus one must believe in.

What was it that actually happened when Christ died and rose again that makes belief in these things so vital to our salvation? I’m not just talking about the penal substitutionary atonement. That happened and that is vital. But we must have something more than the fact that it happened. We must have faith in the fact that it happened. The events themselves do not save the unbelieving mass of reprobate humanity. What saves some of them is faith in those events as something personally accomplished for them and their own individual sin. And it is this aspect that death and resurrection that we must relate to. We died with Him and we are resurrected with Him, if we believe. And we do believe, if He died for us personally, according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

This is not just fanciful imagery. It is not just a sentimental picture. In the spiritual realm it is an absolutely uncontrovertible fact that is apprehended by faith. We are so joined to Christ that he identifies with us and we with Him eternally. We are of one will essentially though we are trainees left in sinful flesh precisely for the purpose of our training. But we must be careful even here because our faith does not make the facts real. Our faith apprehends the facts. And our faith is itself the gift of God that comes with regeneration. Faith and repentance are our acts, but they are acts granted to us by God. When we believe that we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection we are living out what God is working in us.

Now think what it would mean not to believe that we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection - to deny it or to ignore it. To do either of these is to disbelieve in the fact that Jesus took our sin with Him and upon Him, making us right with God and bringing us out from under all condemnation - past and future. And it is also to disbelieve that He is now with us and in us, and we in Him, as our eternal life. He is our life. He alone is good. He doesn’t make us good - He makes us anew in His image and power. He dwells in us, never to depart for all eternity. We are wedded to Him in a way that reflects the union of the Persons of the Trinity. We are ourselves, but we are one in perfect will and purpose with another. Our essential nature is and will be like His essential nature because this is what He wrought for us in His death and resurrection - making it both possible by His death under God’s justice and effectual in God’s love by his resurrection.

Apart from an understanding and belief in these things by assenting to the facts of His death and resurrection, Christianity is just another religion. It is earth bound - carnal - of the flesh. A person can have all sorts of knowledge about these things but unless he believes them he will prove to be a religionist - a false professor, and apostate and an eventual reprobate ... that is, unless the grace of God grants him repentance and faith. In fact, in a religion without union with Christ bringing both forgiveness and life eternal (in the here and now) Christians would be illogical dupes, without hope in the world.

But Christianity is not primarily about the here and now; it is about eternity. More than that, it is about eternity in the here and now. The Christian is unique because he exists in a state that most men do not. He is an citizen of heaven living in a perishing world. He is the vehicle by which eternity touches history. He is in the world, but not of the world. He belongs to the kingdom of God - out of place here, but willing to abide as long as God pleases. He is already eternally alive - he just extends into temporal reality in his very real temporal body. He works, he feels, he bleeds and he dies - just like every other person on earth - just like His Saviour - because, like every other person he is human. But His hope and faith are in the finished work of Christ and his life is, even now, hidden with Christ above.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Temporary Absence
This is an update to my earlier post. I managed to get a flight to England so I will be absent from Friday 12th until Thurs 25th of this month.

Like I said, the blog will self-publish, continuing the commentary on 1Corinthians - but the filler posts will be absent and any comments will go unacknowledged during that time. (Sorry - that will probably only affect you, Derek:-))

Blessings to all; please pray for a safe and smooth trip, and that my Father will be comforted in the right way.

1Cor 15:9-11 - His power, Your Pot

9-11 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Christ’s resurrection appearance to Paul was post-ascension. It was "out of time" with the others. He does not regard this as making him more special, but less. And he certainly regards himself as less worthy on account of his persecution of believers prior to his conversion. Note how he refers to them, though, as the church of God. Like all sin, he sees his rage against Christians as having been primarily rage against God Himself. That is because whoever does anything (good or evil) to the least of Christ’s little ones does it unto Him. All sin is ultimately committed against God. This is why David, having wronged both Bathsheba and Uriah said, "Against You and You only have I sinned." {Ps 51:4}

This again is the gospel. Believers are so united with Christ by His completed work that the Lord Himself identifies with them all individually and collectively as if they were His very own person. This is the fullest, eternal, heavenly manifestation of that command to "love your neighbour as yourself." Grace is shown to all men, and God requires all offenses and all blood at their hands - but His love for His Own shines with a fierceness and a brilliance that cannot be matched - for Christ’s sake, because we are One with Him in His death and resurrection.

Is Paul really the least of the Apostles? Is he truly unworthy to be called such? In the light of Jesus Christ such questions are redundant. They are the itchings of the flesh that troubled James and John's mother (if not the men themselves) {Mt 20:20-21} . Paul understands that a larger candle and a smaller one standing in the light of the sun are equally insignificant of themselves. What stands out and what gets all the focus is the sun itself. Christ is the sun.

This is because Paul understands grace. Grace allowed him to be a persecutor of the church without destroying him. Grace saved him. Grace is sanctifying him as he speaks and teaches and evangelizes and admonishes and exhorts others. He is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling but he quickly agrees with the thought that it is God at work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Don’t you just love it? Paul works like a madman for the kingdom yet attributes it all to the working of God’s grace in him. It is not seen as a partnership in which God has done His bit, and so now Paul must respond with his own contribution. No! It is all of grace. Paul is driven to do what he does, and he is called and equipped to do it; he is responsible to God for it - but he always regards it all as ultimately possible and effectual only and solely due to the grace of God in Jesus Christ actively at work in him. That is true freedom. Freedom from ego, freedom from fear of failure, freedom from pride, freedom from self ... I could go on and on...

Do you see the mindset of the true servant of God here? It doesn’t ultimately matter which of God’s legitimate instruments was used as means to evoke faith in the Corinthians - the other (some thought "real") apostles or Paul himself. He didn’t care. What mattered was that they came under the preaching of the gospel by the hearing of which faith comes - and they believed. The same saving grace that was in operation in Paul’s own life came to those who believed through the preaching of the gospel that he has just re-outlined to them. And he rejoiced in that.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

1Cor 15:3-8 - The Bare Bones Gospel

3-8 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

And here are the facts upon which our faith is based:
1) Christ was born without sin, lived a sinless life and died

2) It was for our sins that He died as the Scriptures both promised and pointed out as being necessary

3) It happened exactly as the Scriptures had foretold it would happen

4) He was buried for three days

5) He came back to life on the third day exactly as foretold by Scripture

6) He appeared in His resurrected body to a great number of people at various times and places

7) He appeared to the writer of this letter who is himself an eyewitness
These are the bare bones facts of the good news. A person may believe more than this but he cannot believe less and be a Christian. These facts can be explained, filled out, expanded upon, applied, opened up to deeper teaching - but they can never be discarded or ignored. The riches contained in these simple historical facts are, in fact, an endless source of truth and wonder.

All of the major elements are all there. The constant references to the Scripture (and its authority) affirm that it is Jehovah of the Old Testament - the God of Israel - who is at work in all of this. It is not the Buddha or Zeus or any of the Greek or Roman pantheon. It is precisely the same God, the One True God, Who has been faithfully dealing with Israel for two thousand years, and whose dealings are recorded in the sacred writings of that Nation. That is exclusivity and specificity and historicity.

Not only is Jehovah at work, but Jehovah is the very God who is manifested in the man Jesus. He is the Christ - which is simply the anglicised Greek word for Messiah - the Messiah of Hebrew writings and prophecy; the promised Messiah; the foreordained Messiah; the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. And it seems obvious to we to whom belief has been given that this Messiah had to be a human being, but could not himself be a sinner. This is why God took on human flesh, because He alone is good. This is how God could die and how He did die. All of this is contained in the simple phrase "Christ died".

But we go on from there. He died for our sins. In these few short words is contained all the theology of the substitutionary atonement of Christ that has come under such subtle and wicked attack in post-modern times - to the extent that the doctrine has been called "cosmic child abuse" by some. But it is plainly stated here. He died for our sins. That is penal substitution. That is atonement. It is no use to call it unfair or unjust
, as some now do, that one person should suffer for the sins of another. Such are the people who know only a God of their own invention and cannot accept what He Himself says about His Own actions. To deny substitutionary atonement one must invent and maintain a low view of God and/or of His word. So where Paul puts substitutionary atonement as one of the foundational aspects of the gospel it must surely follow that to deny it is not to believe the gospel and to be in peril of eternal damnation.

As a confirmation of Christ’s death - to show that it was a real human death in which life left the body in exactly the same way that life leaves every human body upon death - Christ not only died, but was buried for 3 days. No swooning. No magic mushrooms. No whisking away by disciples for a secret recovery. There were guards at the tomb. It was under the scrutiny of the authorities. It was overseen by them and Christ’s death and burial were never denied even by His worst enemies. It is a matter of clear historical public record attested to by disinterested observers who had nothing to gain by an invention of His death.

But then we are told that He rose again on the third day. This was not entirely unheard of in history. There was a small number of people who had already been raised from the dead. The widow of Zarephath’s son {1Ki 17:17-24}; the ruler’s daughter {Lu 8:49-56}; Lazarus, who had been dead four days {Joh 11:38-44}; unspecified numbers at the moment of Christ’s death {Mt 27:52-53} .

So what made His resurrection different from these others? Well, all the others had deserved death because they were sinners - and their resurrection was by grace. Christ, on the other hand, never sinned though He bore the penalty of the sin of all who had or would believe in Him - and His resurrection was by justice. The grave could not hold Him because, in bearing the sins of His people He displayed His grace, His love and His righteousness while upholding His justice. He turned the punishment itself into a virtue.

There is much more here than this alone. Consider the question of Who it was that died. It was infinite, eternal Life Himself. More than a sufficient payment for the sins of the whole world - yet the only sufficient payment for them. Infinite God is infinitely offended by sin and only the infinite can atone once for all eternity. So Paul’s gospel is simple in appearance on this point, but like all things about our great God and Saviour, bears with it riches that yield to patient and maturing study. One need only believe the fact that He rose in order to be saved - but there is so much more that can be learned about it. C.S. Lewis said something along these lines - that it is as if Jesus descended lower and lower, like diving deeper and deeper into the darkness until He was underneath everything and then ascended, carrying all things triumphantly upon His shoulders.

The final piece of the gospel seems a might strange and one cannot easily think of it as part of the good news. Perhaps it isn’t. But Paul is at pains to mention the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to various people, including himself. Do you have to believe that He appeared to the apostles in order to be saved? No. But you must believe what the Apostles say, for they were both charged and inspired to declare and unfold to us the whole revelation of Christ. How then can one make a distinction which denies that He appeared to the Apostles as they say He did, and pretend to follow what they say that He revealed to them?

No - the appearances were for a purpose that is, of itself, good news. They confirm not only the declaration that He is Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness (Romans 1:4) but also the fact that because He lives, we shall live also. The very same power that raised Him will one day raise all who believe in Him. If we don’t believe this - then we don’t believe the gospel because we fail to see that it is not about here and now so much as it is about eternal things. The eyewitnesses witness to us and we witness to the world and it all moves through the means of faith. They have seen and we are (more) blessed because we have not seen, but have believed anyway.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Edith Elaine Hayling (nee Ambridge)

I got home from work on Saturday morning just in time to receive a phone call from my Dad in England. After a long illness in the grips of Alzheimer's Disease, my Mom passed away at the old age residence during the night.
She was 92. It appears that she simply stopped breathing.

Even in her healthier days she used to do that a lot. She'd wake up in the middle of the night trying to catch a breath and scare my Father half to death, until he would somehow coax her into breathing again. It might have been a form of sleep apnea.

My Dad has visited her faithfully at the home every day without fail for the last 8 years (except when the buses were on strike - and even then he once walked all the way there - a distance that took more than 2 hours each way to traverse on foot). This daily pilgrimage was at the heart of my visits to England to see my Dad. We would catch the bus together rain or shine and spend a few hours at the home with Mom.

To the best of my knowledge, Mom was not a believer, but since salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) I can't truly know what went on between her and Him in the closed universe that had become her mind. The last time I was there I had a few moments alone with her in the room and I asked her, "Mom, do you love Jesus?" Contrary to her customary lack of response - as soon as she heard the Name above all names, her eyes lit up, and she let out a girlish giggle. I don't know what that all means. I know that I'm grasping at straws but I wasn't left utterly bereft of hope for her.

All this to advise my readers that I may (don't know for sure yet) be off to England for a week or so. The blog will continue to self-publish but filler articles and comments will go the way of all flesh for a while.

I'll drop a note here to confirm the situation if arrangements can be made for me to make the trip.