A Cross-Centered Ministry for Christ-Centered Living

As Pastor Al Martin noted, the inescapable repetitive theme of Scripture from cover to cover is sin and grace. As pastors, we have the often unappreciated task, but awesome privilege of persuading folks that God loves people by His active confrontation of their sin.

By His Word, His Spirit, and His ministers, God continually brings people to the crossroads of repentance. We are heralds of a message that is always timely: Repent, confess, mortify sin – experience renewed cleansing and restoration. Delight in God again, find new wonder and gratitude as you commune with Him; have the joy of your salvation restored. Experience joyful integration (as the Psalmists) when you come out of hiding and walk in the light again; living a sin-judged life of transparency before God.

But how do most of our parishioners live in the private world of their spiritual lives? What lies behind the guarded shutters of their souls? Beneath their quiet desperation and patterns of spiritual defeat is a fear that if their rebellion, and weakness, and failure were to come into the full light of God’s gaze, they would be devastated.

As a result, they shore up the little hovel that conceals their depravity with self-protective strategies to defend against judgment. Beneath that stiff upper lip is a proud, but fearful spirit that won’t take the “risk” of running to the atonement one more time.

The flesh works overtime to shield itself from any feelings of condemnation, shame, diminishment, and failure. Chutzpah becomes the rule of the day – the posture that is maintained says, “I have it all together.” Prickly defenses are employed to keep others from drawing too close. Personal brokenness is kept at arm’s length as a repugnant thing too filled with weakness to be considered beneficial.

When Mike Horton wrote the book, Putting the Amazing back in Grace, he was addressing a pervasive problem – it’s all too common for believers to lose their wonder and awe of God’s grace. Why does this happen?

Amazement at God’s grace is a function of being conversant with our ill desert and ruin by reason of sin. The greater our apprehension of our need for Christ, the more we will marvel at God’s grace. The reverse is also true – without a deep awareness of our ill desert and ruin by sin, we will unintentionally devalue divine grace.

It’s needful, but humbling to wake each day with the intent of facing our utter dependency upon Christ. The alternative is choosing to be managers of our own depravity. When we lose our amazement at God’s grace, it’s generally because we have drifted into a lifestyle of managing our own dereliction and depravity with something other than the grace of God in Christ.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:27 that, “You have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When believers lose their wonder at God’s grace, it’s often because they have been seeking toclothe their souls with something other than Christ.

The behavior of the self-deceived Laodiceans of Revelation 3:14-22 typifies the universal tendency of seeking a counterfeit clothing of the soul. They boasted that were rich, wealthy, in need of nothing. What a shock it must have been when Christ the Lord, with eyes like a flame of fire, peered into their hearts and declared them to be wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

There is a certain specter of horror that rises up at the prospect that the bulk of the professing Church today may see itself far differently than Christ the Lord does. The mindset of the Laodiceans was the polar opposite of utter dependency upon Christ. Their boast was in things which they imagined would clothe their souls. As a result, not a small part of their blindness involved abject ignorance of their desperate need of divine grace. The mirror of God’s Word alone can keep us from self-deception in this matter.

How does God deal with our sinful tendency to seek “clothing” for our souls in things other than Christ our completeness (Col 2:10)? The answer is that God through His Spirit and His Word exalts Christ in all of His offices (Prophet, Priest, and King; Logos, Lawgiver, Loving Redeemer, Lion of Judah). The Father displays His Son to the saints so that they will come to understand that in all of His offices, Christ ever lives to represent us and bring us to God. The Father convinces us that apart from Christ we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

The safest place for the believer is to be constantly undergoing a “grace awakening.” Welcome views of personal sin, of your depravity, dereliction and utter dependency – let them drive you to Christ. Invite the Sunrise from on high to shine upon your life. Ask Him to show you where you are building with wood, hay, and stubble. (Yes there is some pain involved; but it is primarily to our pride. Oh how fortifying this is to spiritual health to be scraped down to bedrock so that we are motivated anew to build upon Christ alone.)

The theme of sin and grace runs through Scripture like a continuous scarlet thread – the invitation has continued for thousands of years: apart from God’s grace solution in substitutionary atonement, there is nothing to clothe the nakedness of your souls but worthless fig leaves that cannot hide moral deformity from God’s sight.

One would think that sinners who have tasted God’s redeeming grace would be done with every sort of fig leaf covering. But such is not the case. The believers at Corinth had many kinds of fig leaves; boasting and ‘upsmanship,’ a party/sectarian spirit, materialism, ruthless self-assertion. The “grace garments” enjoined in Colossians 3:12-20 were all but missing from their corporate practice.

Paul placed all of the Corinthians’ carnal behaviors under the microscope of God’s wisdom in the cross and found each one of them to be symptomatic of the world’s wisdom; a wisdom antithetical to the cross of Christ (James 3:13-18).

The Apostle stated in his Corinthian letters that the message of the cross-centered life is the spiritual diet of the mature. But only those who are sick of the world’s wisdom are ready for this diet (1 Cor 2:15-3:3).

The diet of the spiritually mature produces substantial spiritual growth. The cross-centered believer increasingly perceives that his relationship with the Lord is the foundation for all of his other relationships.

Thus, the man or woman constrained by Christ’s love will have all of his relationships transformedbecause his motives will not be dominated by self-protection and self-enhancement (the flesh by natural instinct is committed to protection from judgment, criticism, diminishment, as well as to self-advancement). Instead of an agenda issuing from a self-directed life; the controlling, constraining love of Christ will equip the believer to love God and others (2 Cor 5:14).

If we are to excel in love and servanthood, honesty, realism, and heroism in dealing with personal sin are necessary. Only the man or woman who is constrained by Christ’s love and who lives a cross-centered life is capable of dealing with personal sin at the depth enjoined in Scripture – the depth commanded of the true disciple of Christ.

Attempts to clothe our own souls produce a host of masks, defenses, and personal agendas that keep us from being unhindered vessels of Christ’s love to the Body of Christ. As the Scotsman said, “There’s a stone in the pipe.”

Jesus said that His true disciples would not love their lives in this world. (The carnal love of one’s own life in this world includes all of the community-destroying, cherished, fleshly defense mechanisms employed to guard ourselves from others.)

The man who lives a sin-judged life by walking in the light will stand out amongst those who do not live in this way. Only the cross-centered life has the guaranteed power to transform our relationships (Phil 2:1-8; Rom 15:1-6).

The message of sin and grace is the starting place. 500 years ago Luther wrestled to the point of weariness with the problem of how a totally depraved person could be completely accepted by God. Once he had his salvific “epiphany” regarding the wonder of God’s justifying love – then Luther could exclaim with uncontainable joy that the believer is justified, yet a sinner.

This is precisely where our parishioners are still stuck. “Justified, yet a sinner” has never taken hold of them in a life-transforming manner. Therefore they cannot be heroic in dealing with personal sin and failure. Why? Because deferring judgment, defending against condemnation, and protecting from perceived criticism is still a higher priority than fellowship with God.

Only the person secure in Christ’s justifying love can face his sin with courage; only the individual who solidly appropriates the word of justification can afford to hear the worst things about self.

Apart from deep confidence in Christ’s justifying love -- judgment, condemnation, and criticism (perceived or real) make our defense mechanisms go ballistic. Figuratively speaking, we are ready to cut off, attack, or “kill” the person who brought our failure to light and made us feel diminished. This non-evangelical response to hearing about sin tears churches apart. The foolish, and frequently the immature, cannot tolerate admonishment; it is the wise man that welcomes correction and shows gratitude for it (Prov 9:8).

For this very reason, the saints are in constant need of taking the good word of justification into their souls. If the Gospel is not their “food,” the temptation will be overwhelming to manage their depravity by carnal methods (the world is more than happy to oblige our longing to clothe our souls – it has a thousand counterfeits and “scorecards” by which we may pronounce ourselves “O.K.”).

If we are not integrated or made whole by Christ’s righteousness imputed, then we will attempt to find our completeness in other things. The latter approach was indeed the state of the Laodicean church. In their self-deception, the Laodiceans imagined that they were in charge of their own value and completeness.

 

Self-deception must give way in order for the message of sin and grace to transform. In order for the message of sin and grace to take hold, the Body of Christ must determine to be examined by God’s Word through the Lord’s ministers.

Everything in us (except for the Spirit and the new nature energized by Him) opposes coming close enough to the light for exposure of sin to take place (Jn 3:19-21).

The false, flattering prophets of Jeremiah’s day were taken to task because they “heal[ed] the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jer 6:14; 8:11). John O. Anderson, author of The Cry of the Innocents, remarks that the most distinguishing trait of false prophets is that they refuse to warn God’s people.

If churches are in part “hospitals for the sin disease,” then dysfunctional churches are like hospitals in which an accurate diagnosis is eschewed – self-deception reigns, for the unspoken agreement is, we must always communicate, “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.”

Apart from the news of redemption in the cross, we tend to shoot the messenger. If the atonement is not our daily hiding place, we will have false refuges from judgment – and every false refuge has its social consequences (note how destructive the Corinthian “fig leaves” were to true community in that local church).

The man who walks in the light of the cross learns to take in the glorious word of justification in Christ as the “loudest verdict” in his conscience. Oh how liberating this is! Our people are overly critical, sensitive, self-protective, and walking on eggshells because the verdict of conscience is suspended upon the opinions of men instead of the verdict of Almighty God (Rom 8:32-34). (So many professing believers are virtually undefended against the accusations of the evil one who works to keep the consciences of the saints in a heavy, joyless, and defensive state.)

(The immature have yet to discover the spiritual diet of cross-centered living. Therefore they are far too dependent upon the praise, approval, judgment, criticism, and glory of man. This is one of the negative factors that “morphs” churches into social clubs that turn upon human recognition. So sensitive have church members become to the praise of man that every ministry effort and “performance” must be heaped with praise, applause and recognition –even though this moves them dangerously close to having their reward in full nowThe glory of man and the glory of God have always been antithetical – John 12:42-43; 5:44)

 

The sin and grace theme is about God actively confronting our sin that we might be brought closer to Him who is the source of all life, light, love, and blessedness. The cross brings us down that we might be raised up to live in overflowing gratitude for the “exotic love” inherent in our sonship (1 Jn 3:1).

God’s answer to our excesses, and spiritual lassitude, and propensity for fig leaves is fresh apprehensions of Christ and His grace. Wonder of wonders, as John Owen states in his work,Communion with God, our depravity is a huge point of interface with God. As we take our sin to the Lord and take Christ for our righteousness again and again, we are having communion with the Lord. God is honored – He takes delight in our frequent appropriations of Christ for our entire righteousness.

How much this differs from the carnal conclusions of our fleshly minds. When we make efforts to clothe the nakedness of our souls, we always do so at the cost of leaving the cross at the entrance gate of our salvation. It becomes a distant memory instead of a daily reality for all of the needed “bookkeeping” of our consciences with its outstanding accounts and consciousness of guilt.

How do our parishioners live behind the doors of their souls? They tend to work 1000 times harder on their goals and all of the accompanying props and supports of ego than they do upon maintaining their relationship with the Lord.

If they only knew that what they are seeking (peace, joy, happiness, security, a non-accusing conscience, a sense of intense belonging) are byproducts of walking in close communion with the Lord – literally the dividends of the cross-centered life. (Let us not be afraid to preach the benefits of obedience. Paul spoke of the peace, joy, and hope that redound to the saint who lives a life of faith – Romans 15:13.)

Twenty-seven hundred years ago Jeremiah proclaimed that God’s covenant people had a preference for stagnant leaky cisterns instead of the pure, cool fountain of living water found in the Lord (Jer 2:13). Why this preference for the irrational and for false sources? What motivates us to attempt to slake our thirst on bile-colored pond scum instead of the artesian well of God’s love and presence?

The answer is that since the Fall in Eden, men have placed their confidence in what they can control and produce. (God Almighty, through Isaiah diagnosed this penchant for control when He read the hearts of the Jews who were ready to boast, “My idol did them” (Is 48:5). By contrast, the faith that pleases God is self-renouncing – it looks away from self (and self’s desire to control). It looks away from self as a source and instead looks to God’s character and covenant.

 

How we must get it into our heads and hearts that God desires to meet with us at the following juncture: God meets us at the cross when we deal with sin His way.

It’s true for the person just converted as well as the saint. When we begin to understand and practice this, then we will be better equipped to preach the vast theme of sin and grace to a needy people.

 

God’s infinite grace is full and free, but it is bestowed within the context of conditions produced by God’s Spirit. In His mercy, God grants the ability to repent. The Spirit produces brokenness over personal sin – the convicted man is crushed in his spirit over his lusts and his hurtful sinful patterns of behavior. The cross alone can produce a Spirit-convicted man who desires to leverage himself upon God.

The cross brings the sinner low; it dashes to the ground all human strategies for managing depravity. The man brought low abandons all false refuges and hiding places from judgment; he comes clean and owns his guilt. He judges himself worthy of divine judgment. Only then (through this Spirit enabled conviction and repentance) does the “altar” of the cross become the sinner’s treasured everlasting meeting place with God (Heb 13:10ff.).

The Christian comes back to meet God there over and over again. By fresh acts of faith in the message of the cross, we are renewed and we are motivated to maintain our relationship with the Lord. The outcome of maintaining our relationship with the Lord is practical progress in sanctification (Rom 6:22-23).

The “grace” part of sin and grace tells us that the cross-centered life demands our full attention. It refuses to be peripheral; it cannot be compartmentalized nor formalized. Life as a living sacrificecalls for universal obedience – every area of life is to be characterized by ongoing conformity to God’s Word.

Cross-centered living calls for courage; a daring to draw near again and again in order to have the light of Christ and His work shine upon our affections, our identity, our behavior, and our relationships – there is a constant renewal of our determination to take refuge in Christ the covenant and hiding place.

The cross-centered life calls me to a path of radical identification with Christ in which the Word of God dominates exceptionally in every area of my life. The cross is inseparable from self-denial -- there are 10,000 places where God’s will cuts across my will. Those who take up the crossunderstand this intimately – they “feel” the ruggedness of the cross upon their flesh. What they would prefer to pamper and excuse, the cross condemns and slays.

Yielding to God’s Spirit involves ongoing mortification of sin (Rom 8:12-13; Col 3:5ff.). At these junctures of putting to death sin, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14). Our striving against sin is not merely moral exertion at work. The cross-centered saint puts on Christ by reckoning the entire sphere of grace, co-crucifixion, and sonship. He abides in this sphere, reckoning all that is his by union with Christ. This alone is the Christian’s “staging area” for his battle against sin.

 

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ results in fellowship with Him. We gladly submit to His Meditorial Kingship – we say “yes” to the Spirit at those junctures where sin is to be mortified. The result is the Spirit’s filling and control; joy in the Lord; intimate fellowship with God.

The Church has many who walk at a determined distance from the cross. They walk so as to give the cross a wide berth. Those who do not take up the cross fail to cooperate with the purposes of God’s heart (Rom 8:28-29). As a consequence they do not have as their life goal to be presented complete in Christ (Col 1:28).

Is it not time to remind our people that it only those who are friends of the cross who are truly friends of God (Phil 3:17-21). The cross stands at the center of our relationship with the Holy One. The message of sin and grace is not only about our entrance into salvation. It is the message of God’s eternal purposes fulfilled in Christ (Rom 16:25-27). It is the message of how the God of all grace is taking defiled sinners from dust to glory.

What about the folks who sit under our preaching? Are the people under our ministry fed up yet with expressions of the world’s wisdom in their own lives? Are they disgusted with the mindset and behaviors that destroy love and unity? Are they finally fed up with the sins which work against the Spirit’s will for true community (see Rom 14-15). Do they as yet crave the diet of the mature? What is required in their lives in order to be consumed and intoxicated with the beauty of Christ?

As pastors, how will we cultivate a longing for the spiritual diet of the mature; how can we be a catalyst for that which induces hunger for the message of the cross-centered life? How does God take hold of a man so that he desires the cross, knowing it will pinch and pierce his flesh?

Certainly the message of sin and grace is the revealer of God to man. Through the Gospel we come to know the Holy One. We must learn to display Christ not only in His sinless life of infinite virtue made manifest, but we must also learn to display the perfections of His Saviorhood – a Saviorhood perfectly suited to the sinner’s every need (Heb 7:26-28); a Saviorhood that is co-extensive with the sinner’s ruin.

We are to be ever about the business of setting forth sin and grace and of displaying the Son of God. Apart from cross-centered living, the individual will attempt to clothe his own soul. God’s answer has been clearly given – let us set our course to emulate the Apostle Paul who said, “For I determined, while among you, to be unconscious of everything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

 

 

A Meditation on the Worship of God

“But a time is coming – indeed, it is already here – when real worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and reality, for the Father is looking for just such worshippers” John 4:23 (The Williams Translation).

QUESTION: What truly captivates us about God so that we would be highly motivated to worship Him for who He is? How would you answer those who say that they worship God out of duty?

1.) The human condition (by reason of sin and satanically inspired darkness), is one in which the matchless glory of God is hidden from the creature. Only the saint can “see” the glory of God.When we draw near to God to worship Him by “beholding” His glory, we are changed in the process. Consider why beholding the transforming splendor of God changes us into God’s likeness (See 2 Cor 3:12-4:10).

2.) Worship is a function of knowing God as He truly is. The redeemed creature, by God’s Spirit, has been created anew; he has been endowed with a new capacity to know God and worship Him. When God is contemplated as He truly is, there will be a “reflexive” response of worship; the redeemed creature will gladly ascribe to God the honor due His name. Consider the reasons why meditation upon Scripture is indispensable to true worship. Through meditation upon the truth of God in His Word, we can experience the joy of spontaneous worship – the creature’s highest activity is to be lost in wonder, awe, love, and praise; beholding God as He really is. Reflect upon Psalm 145; look for the connection between meditation and worship.

3.) Saved men and women have been “remade” after the image of Christ. The redeemed are God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10). Thus, God’s glory is bound up in His redemptive purpose to call out a people for Himself (Titus 2:11-14), and conform them to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). This called out group will have as their mission, their habit, and their practice, the privileged task of declaring the excellencies of God (1 Pet 2:9, 10). Consider that God’s revealed purpose is to glorify His grace, thus the redemption of sinners is the key revealer of the Godhead. As trophies of His glorified grace, our worship always has in it the element of, “Let me tell you what the Lord has done for my soul!” It is a form of worship when we proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us from darkness to light. Ask God to give you an opportunity today to proclaim His excellencies by sharing with someone how He called you from darkness to light.

4.) The magnum opus sermon of Jonathan Edwards, “The End for which all Creation Exists,” reminds us that there is not one truant molecule in the universe. God has set precise boundaries on sin, and He fully intends to punish it comprehensively. As Edwards reminds us, it unthinkable that our infinite God should create this universe for His glory out of nothing, and then fail to make it realize the end for which it was created (ie. His glory). God will get the glory from the works of His hands. The entrance of sin, evil and rebellion cannot overturn that purpose. Reflect upon Romans 9:22-24ff. The believer is described as a “vessel of mercy, . .prepared for glory,” but taken from the same common lump of defiled clay. How does the contemplation of sovereign mercy move you to worship?

5.) The creature was made for God. In our thoroughly humanistic culture, men imagine that God is merely a helpful force, not the end for which all things exist. As a consequence, men continue unabated in their idolatry. Scripture refers to this all-encompassing idolatry as, worshipping and serving the creature and the creation, rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). As creatures made for God, our course of idolatry is only broken when Christ saves us from sin, the world, the devil, and ourselves. John Piper has pointed out a fascinating dimension of true worship. As creatures made to be enthusiastic spectators of God’s majesty, our act of worship is not complete until we verbalize our reaction to God’s majesty in actual words of praise and adoration. Not until we verbalize the contents of our hearts toward God in praise is our worship brought to fulfillment and completeness. God has designed us to experience the pleasure of God in this act. As we utter to God’s glory the wonderful things of God that we have beheld, God is magnified, and we are filled with delight. To some extent this is traceable to the fact that we, by covenant, are united to God. In a sense, there is a mutual “ownership” of one another. We have been united to the Godhead as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). It’s time we answer the upward call to worship; our tendency has been to settle for pleasures too low – it’s time we seek the pleasure of God. Select a Psalm about God’s care; determine to enjoy and delight in God as you meditate upon His commitment to you.

6.) We live in a hectic culture that is increasingly complex and busy. Our consumer-oriented, high-tech culture is characterized by over-stimulation. We are saturated with input to the point of sensory overload. Multi-tasking is the rule of the day – eating, driving, and talking on one’s cell phone – all at the same time has become the norm. As a result, we try to get off of the spinning wheel of hectic activity by escapism, leisure, recreation, sensuality, amusement, fantasy. Our culture of selfism attempts personal integration by means of mood alteration, hobbies, self-improvement, and entertainment (2 Tim 3:1-9). Believers have been affected by this smorgasbord of self-centered activities. In the process we’ve drifted away from the Scriptural disciplines of meditation on the Word of God and worship. Consider how quiet, how still, and how focused we must really be in order to worship. God must have our full attention. We will need to cleanse our minds of entertaining sounds, images, distracting thoughts UNTIL our hearts are able to go out to the unseen God in love, adoration, awe, marveling. The over-stimulation of our culture has literally glued shut the eyes of our hearts. Here is the paradox, the more we take in the sensory assault of our culture, the more dead our hearts will be toward God. We need to open the eyes of the heart again to behold God and worship Him. Read Psalm 4 and give God your entire attention; reflect upon Him, maintaining an attitude of stillness before Him.

 

 

A Three-Fold Witness to Assurance of Salvation (Rom 8:1-17)

How important is your personal assurance of salvation? As you search the Scriptures you will find that you cannot live a life of gratitude to God without it, you cannot worship aright without it, you will not be eager to obey and put off sinning without it.

Because of these reasons Scripture makes Christian assurance a duty (2 Peter 1:10). Where true faith exists, it will long for assurance just as much as you long to know where you stand with your best friend. Scripture is not stingy in extending solid promises of assurance to those who are truly born again. See 1 John 5:11, 12.

This is certainly then an important question: How may we know for sure that we “have the Son?” In many quarters of Christianity one might hear in answer to this question, “Just trust your decision that you made and do not doubt it.” But the more I search Scripture, the more convinced I am that this advice is a little bare of biblical support.

Evidence for assurance of salvation in Scripture is far more “3-D” and comprehensive. Our topic deals with this very issue. God has given us a THREE-FOLD WITNESS TO ASSURANCE in order that we may know for certain that we possess salvation.

This three-fold witness makes a complete testimony of the true believer’s salvation - it is the biblical foundation for assurance of salvation.

The three we will be discovering together are: 1.) The witness of saving faith in the Gospel. 2.) The witness of a changed life. 3.) The witness of the Holy Spirit in the heart (of the believe).

1.) The Witness of Saving Faith in the Gospel (vv. 1-4).

In this section, the Apostle expands upon the believer’s assurance and hope. (This section resumes the theme of assurance and hope set forth in 5:1-11. Paul wants the glory of our salvation to fill our minds and hearts – filling our consciousness that we are accepted in Christ to the glory of God.)

The law couldn’t nullify sin’s power – the law was impotent to deliver us, Christ alone accomplished our liberation (2 Cor 5:21).

In our nature, Jesus blotted out sin’s guilt, he condemned it, He overthrew its power, He brought us nigh to God. This could only be done in human flesh! He took on the battle in the same human nature that had sinned – the same flesh that had become the seat and agent of sin.

In the crucifixion, the Son of God was judged and condemned in our place so that the claims of sin on a believer become invalid. That means at the cross, the judgment and condemnation of sin has resulted in power to the believer to live free of sin’s dominion.

As those set free from the tyranny of sin and death (and free from the sentence and punishment of being wrong with God), we begin our new life of overcoming. The law is fulfilled in us (yes by Christ’s obedience in our place) but also in a normative fashion in our walk – by the Holy Spirit’s directing, enabling power. (The grace of God in Christ translates the righteous requirement of the law into action – the Spirit loves God’s will.

 

QUESTIONS: Do you love the way God saved you (i.e. by the Gospel of Jesus Christ)? Do you take great delight in God’s way of salvation? Do you see God’s holiness, kindness, love, and wisdom in His plan to send His only begotten Son for sinners? Do you find now that the Law of God is written on your heart so that you desire to fulfill it and please God? Has the Gospel reconciled you to God so that you are no longer His enemy and so that you no longer walk according to the flesh and the world? Can you attest that the only possible solution to your dilemma of guilt, enslavement to sin, and love of the world was for Christ to die in your place? Is it your testimony that before faith in Christ, you were helpless and hostile to God?

 

2.) The Witness of a Changed Life (vv. 5-13).

There are two different kinds of persons described here, one, a natural man, the second, a regenerated man. The two are described in terms of their settled mindsets. One is under the influence of the flesh, and the other is under the influence of Christ and His Spirit.

For Paul there is a strict correspondence between what a person’s interests are and who he is in his essential being. The man whose thoughts are according to the flesh operates in such a way that his affections, interests, thought life and will are one unified complex. His natural reason advises him to choose what he thinks is best for himself, not what the Word of God commands.

The inner man here is not just the thought life, it is your interests, affections, direction.Therefore to “live after the flesh” is to be governed by that fleshly complex of reason, will and feeling. And what is Paul’s conclusion? For those who are in the flesh (unregenerate), it is morally and psychologically impossible for them to do anything well-pleasing in God’s sight. This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity and inability. It presents a graphic picture of man’s plight – his desperate need of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

When self is supreme, the uncontested “lord” of one’s life, that person will regard God as an enemy. The unregenerate man is hostile toward God.

At the moment of the new birth, the Holy Spirit planted a new principle in the believer with new affections, new desires, and a new bias toward sin.

As a new creature, now we are mindful of the things of the Spirit. Now there is the powerful evidence of a changed life. “The old things have passed away.” The former pattern has been displaced by the new – the new man is governed by the rule of Christ’s Spirit.

The indwelling Spirit is the believer’s antidote to the flesh. At regeneration, the benefits and fruits of Christ’s redemptive power and mission are applied to the believer. The believer is renewed and regenerated -- but remember, this is unto a new relationship. It is because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence that the believer experiences (realizes) the fullness of Christ.

The assuring ministry of the Spirit is basic to our mortification of sin. As the Holy Spirit communicates the confidence to us that we are the Father’s adopted child, we are emboldened to fight sin. The Holy Spirit assures us that we are secure in Christ’s love –the result is a confidence that we are equipped with infinite resources to fight sin.

We are under obligation to put sin to death. We are not to allow what remains of the lower nature to set the standard for our behavior. The Holy Spirit stirs us to put to death selfish actions.

The very activity of the believer putting off sin is evidence of the Spirit.

QUESTIONS: Do you find that you have a whole new principle operating in you with new affections for the Lord, His Word, and the things of God? Do you have a new bias and power against sin? Can you honestly say that because of Christ you are a “new creature?” Can you say that formerly you were opposed to God’s Law, but now through the Spirit you are able to obey it? Has your relationship to the Bible changed so that it is no longer a “closed,” often mysterious book, but now you can understand it and it is your daily food? Do your thoughts now frequently turn toward God and all that He is toward you in Christ? Does your gratitude for salvation motivate you to please God and to daily fight indwelling sin (by the power of the Holy Spirit)? Do you have a solid, well-grounded hope that Christ will receive you favorably into His eternal kingdom?

 

3.) The Witness of the Spirit in the Heart of the Believer (vv. 14-17).

Walking in the way of holiness is described as the “leading of the Spirit.” This holy walk of putting to death sin and communing with God is the specific mark of the true child of God. (Adoption and leading go together – the Holy Spirit does not leave us orphans. As those justified, freed from condemnation, set free from the power of sin, taken into the family of God, the Spirit desires that we be PERSUADED by Him that we belong there.

The Spirit’s leading is persuasion, not force, fear and bondage. He guides into truth and holiness (obedience).

Sonship is the glorious goal and triumph of God’s grace. The Spirit imparts the assurance of sonship. As sons of God we have the right to cry “Abba” because we share sonship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Sonship guarantees eternal life itself.

The Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God. This internal testimony or witness is the assured awareness of our sonship. He produces in us the posture and life of a son. He seals to our hearts that the promises of Scripture belong to us – they are ours. He instills a supernatural hope that we may build our very life and future upon – namely that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ. He assures us of our Father’s love. 

 

QUESTIONS: Do you have peace with God so that you know your standing before God? Do you know for certain that He has forgiven you? Do you bring your hopes, fears, requests, and sins to your Heavenly Father? Does the Holy Spirit continually produce in you the consciousness that you are God’s beloved child? Has the Holy Spirit testified to your spirit that you belong to God? Do you consider it a privilege to suffer for Christ socially, and if necessary in other ways? Is God’s Spirit leading you into greater holiness and into the habit of putting your sin to death? Do you count it your greatest treasure to be an heir of God?

 

CONCLUSION: When the true believer comes to Romans 8, his doubts come to a full stop. (His fears, agitations, wanderings – lay down of their own accord as he enters Romans 8 because this is his identity and his experience in personally knowing God.)

He says, “This is my spiritual experience! These are the changes God has produced in me! These are the truths He has written on my heart!”

These are the spiritual realities that fill the mind and heart of the Christian. This is his “home turf” so to speak – these are his spiritual surroundings. His hopes and affections are thrilled by the consciousness that his spiritual life is described so beautifully in this chapter.

 

 

 

Bible Study on True Repentance

Bible Study on True Repentance

 

I. The Definition of Repentance.

REPENTANCE: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly

Question 87).

“Repentance . . . is the true turning of our life to God, a turning that arises from a pure and earnest fear of Him; and it consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,

3:3:5).

II. Repentance in the Old Testament.

 

A. Read the following passages; Is. 58:5; Neh. 9:1; Joel 2:13. Which deeds are outward and which are inward?

B. Read the following passages and describe in your own words evidences of repentance found in each.

Is. 30:15

Jer. 34:15

Jer. 26:3, 36:3

C. Read Ez. 18. Summarize the elements of true repentance you find in this chapter.

Repentance in the New Testament.

 

A. Greek words: Metanoia - a change of mind, (to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.) Luke 10:13.

 Epistrophei - to turn to, to cause to return, to bring back, to turn one’s self about, conversion. Acts9:35.

 

 

B. Read Luke 15:11-24. Does the prodigal’s repentance involve regret only? Which aspects of the Prodigal’s repentance coincide with the Greek words above?

C. Read Eph. 5:8-14. What evidences of true repentance described in this passage would be absent in false repentance? Why?

IV. The Nature of Repentance.

 

A. Evangelical repentance always involves a true sense of sin. Read Ps. 51 and write down the verses which communicate a true sense of sin. 

 

 

 

B. Repentance is turning from sin with grief and hatred for it. The following attitudes can be involved: loathing, mourning, sorrowing, indignation against sin, regretting and disgrace. Explain why repentance ought to make a true believer open to exhortation with a willingness to humbly receive correction (see Prov 9:8; 10:8; 27:6; 28:23; Ps 141:5)..

C. Repentance means that a person sees his sin for what it really is; defilement, ill desert, guilt -- and that his sin is against God. This is the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 1:32, 3:20). Is it possible to have a fear of punishment without a true knowledge of sin? Would that be false repentance? Why or why not?

D. Not only is a true sense of sin a root of all true repentance, but also the apprehension of mercy is vital to true repentance. Read Ps. 130 and Luke 15:17-20 and locate the words and phrases which hold out hope of mercy to the penitent.

E. God’s offers of mercy always accompany His calls to repentance. T or F

 (See Joel 2:12, 13; Jer. 3:12-14; Is 55:7).

F. Why would each of the following attitudes fall short of true repentance:

1.) A deep sense of sin without a sense of mercy and forgiveness in Christ.

2.) A sense of mercy while suppressing feelings of conviction about sin.

G. (see Luke 15:11-32) Not only was the prodigal son convinced of the misery of his sin, but he also arose and went to his father, (back to his father’s mercy, ways and rules). Feeling convinced of sin only, falls short of a true repentance. A person must turn to God in His mercy, His ways, and His worship. T or F

 

 

H. Read Prov. 28:13 and identify two or more of the elements found in true repentance.

I. True repentance is an inward act, a spiritual turning and change which has external affects. Select one of the following three examples of a false, external repentance and explain why it falls short of true repentance:

The repentance of; 1.) King Saul, (Sam 24: 16-22); 2.) the repentance of King Ahab, (1 Kings21:25-29); 3.) the repentance of Judas, (Matt 27:3-5); note that the “sorrow of the world” bears a close relationship to false repentance (2 Cor. 7:8-11).

J. Repentance is not only a turning from sin but a movement of the soul to God. Read Ps. 51and locate two or more verses which demonstrate a CHANGE IN PURPOSE. (The turning is a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing and attachment to God.)

K. The fruits of repentance include a new bias against sin. This heart attitude is not passive but active. Daily choices are made to steer away from all sinful influences. Read Col. 3:1-11. What mental dispositions are described which show the new sin bias in action?

L. Read Rom. 13:14. Think of life situations that involve a provision for the flesh. How could these provisions be avoided before they are entered into? 

 

 

M. Read 2 Cor. 7:8-11. Read verse eleven carefully. Explain how each of the action words describes the penitent’s new relationship toward sin.

V. The Recipients of Repentance.

A. According to Scripture which of the following are indispensable marks of salvation which must accompany true conversion in every case?

1.) tears; 2.) a total change in lifestyle; 3.) a crisis experience; 4.) an extended workof conviction by God’s law; 5.) immediate and sudden joy; 6.) knowing the exact day you were saved; 7.) none of the above.

B. Repentance is not a natural fear produced on fallen human nature by the law. It is a gift and demand of gospel grace. T or F

 

 

C. Is it possible for an individual to be a truly penitent unbeliever or to be an impenitent true believer? Why or why not?

D. Repentance is a gift of God’s grace. It is a plant that grows ONLY in the renewed soil of the regenerate heart.

T or F (See Acts 5:31, 11-18; 2 Tim 2:15)

VI. The Relationship of Faith to Repentance.

 

A. Repentance is a fruit of faith which itself is a fruit of regeneration.

T or F

 

B. In faith and repentance we see the new nature beginning to assert itself.

T or F

 

C. No man can repent unless he hates sin and loves holiness and that is impossible apart from SAVING FAITH. T or F

 

D. Without faith one cannot please God. Does that mean that the kind of repentance that is prior to faith does not please God? Yes or No

 (See Heb. 11:6; Jn. 15:5; Rom. 14:23).

E. Repentance prior to faith is an attempt to find a way to the Father apart from Christ. T or F (SeeJn. 14:6).

F. The awakened conscience of a sinner can only be appeased by the justice of God at Calvary (Heb 9:14). Until the person and sacrifice of Christ are the object of trust, true repentance will not take place. T or F

G. Apart from the mercy found in the cross, the prospect of repenting of sin is hopeless. Which of the following phrases describe the impossible task of repenting outside of Christ. 1.) indifference will stupefy; 2.) remorse will torment; 3.) dread and fear will drive away; 4.) guilt will move to legal efforts of reformation.

How does the mercy found in the cross give us the courage and desire to repent? (See Acts 20:21; Jn. 3:16; Acts 26:18).

H. The roots of true repentance - True repentance is nourished by, and grows out of, two great convictions in a soul. Read the following verses before each question then fill in the blanks.

1.) Repentance involves a true sense of the guilt and wretchedness of

____________. Acts 2:37-38; Luke 15:21; Ps. 51:1-6.

2.) The second root of repentance involves the apprehension of God’s ____________ which is found in Christ Jesus. Mark 1:5; Joel 2:12-13; Jer. 3:22; Is. 55:7; Acts 9:35; 11:21.

I. Faith and repentance are joined. Read Zech. 12:10. Then write out some insights on why faith and repentance cannot be separated.

J. Repentance is permeated with trust in God and His Word. Read the following verses about turning from sin. Ezek. 18:30; Luke 15:18; Ps. 119:128. Now read the verses about turning to God. Acts 26:20; 1 Thess. 1:9; Ps. 110:59; Luke 15:20.

 

1.) In false repentance a man attempts to turn from sin but does not turn to God. T or F

2.) In false repentance the sinner is yet alive to the world and dead

to ________. Read Gal. 6:14; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Jn. 2:15-17.

K. One of the fruits of true repentance is extreme watchfulness about falling into sin.

T or F

 

L. Though sometimes it is difficult to discern true repentance from false, in both types of repentance, the following will always be found: a passion and delight in spiritual things, joy in the promises of God, attraction to God’s holy nature. T or F

 

M. The false repenter is blind to the moral majesty (holiness) of God. T or F

N. The love of God STARTS with our affections perceiving the excellence of God’s nature. In the false repenter, self interest will always be primary. T or F

 

O. True believers are actually described as “partakers of the divine nature.” They have the Spirit of God forever united to their soul, literally communicating His holy nature in the saint. T or F (see 2 Pet 1:3, 4)

P. Once we’ve repented of sin, we never need to repent of sin again. T or F

Q. Ongoing repentance is absolutely necessary in the life of the true child of God. We could accurately define ongoing repentance as follows; it is the ongoing action of conforming and adjusting our affections and our will to the Word of God. T or F 

 

R. False repentance takes pride in temporary “victory” over one sin. True repentance is God-ward, therefore true repentance is _________________, covering every area of the believer’s life.

S. False repentance is ultimately the sinner’s attempt to “manage” an accusing conscience. By contrast, true repentance is connected with taking delight in God’s nature, therefore true repentance is inseparable from loving God. Read Jude 21, then explain what it means to “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

T. The false repenter keeps his heart’s affections for self. He or she is primarily concerned about “outward” sins. Read Isaiah 6:3-5. Concerning true repentance, comment as to why there is trauma in knowing the God of holiness. Read Psalm 139:23, 24. In true repentance, we know God’s holiness by Scripture AND secondarily by experience -- describe the Psalmist’s willingness to have God’s holiness intrude upon his heart (Ps 139:23, 24). Why is the Psalmist’s attitude a mark of true repentance?

 

 

Christ Our Champion, Warrior-King, and Husband: He has Conquered the Enemies of His Bride

How does the God of the universe communicate His love to sinful man? God’s love is given to us in the Person of His Son (John 3:16). In the giving of His only begotten Son, the Father freely bestows eternal life upon all those who believe and repent. “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The Bible tells us that all those who believe make up a community of individuals known as the Church or “Bride of Christ.” Prior to her salvation and arrival in glory, Christ’s Bride is truly a “damsel in distress”, for Scripture indicates that without a Savior she would perish (John 8:24). There are SEVEN enemies of Christ’s bride that are individually and collectively too strong for her. Without Christ’s victory, the people of God would most certainly be ravaged and consumed by these seven enemies.

These enemies lie in wait to ambush the unprepared soul. Like a pride of famished lions, they leap out and consume the naïve and unwary. The ambushed gazelle is torn apart and devoured in moments. So also, the unrepentant sinner is destroyed forever by these enemies of his soul. These seven enemies are the WORLD, the FLESH, the DEVIL, SIN, DEATH, HELL, and the CONDEMNATION of GOD’S LAW.

The enemies of man’s soul line the broad road that leads to destruction spoken of by Christ (Matt. 7:13). The only ones who escape destruction by these enemies are those who follow Christ closely on the “narrow way” (Matt. 7:14).

Christ is a conquering King who has defeated the enemies of His people. Psalm 45:5 tells us that Christ (the King) has fired His arrows into the hearts of His enemies. These are mortal wounds to the adversaries of His spouse. The arrows are in the hearts of His enemies, not in their limbs that they might recover and assault again the King’s bride. He has vanquished the adversaries of His spouse. He has made our enemies His! He left His heavenly throne to become Conqueror.

In the incarnation we discover how He armed Himself as our Champion and Deliverer. The book of Hebrews tells us that He partook of flesh and blood that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14).

The condescension of our king is remarkable. He who is worshipped by angels became for a little while lower than angels (Heb. 2:6-8; Phil. 2:6-8). He assumed our nature, He was born of a woman, born under the Law. He trusted upon His mother’s breast (Ps. 22:9,10). He lived under the curse as a weakened mortal (2 Cor. 13:4). He entered into our experience of misery, sorrow, suffering, temptation, and death.

The manner by which He made our enemies His was by substitution. He took our place in our nature in order to vanquish our foes. We must carefully study how Christ has conquered our enemies in order that we might become partakers of His victory over them.

Daily reliance upon Christ is the believer’s security (1 Pet. 1:5). Jesus’ sheep stick close to their Shepherd. They know that He alone is able to take them safely past each of the seven foes. The believer is kept by his love of gospel truth (2 Thess. 2:10). It is in this way that the Christian is prepared for tomorrow’s battles that are sure to come.

In a television ad, beer drinking campers exclaim, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” What the ad doesn’t say is that it will get worse. A man’s strength will decline, the grave will ultimately claim him. Death is the place of no return (Job 10:21). Scripture says that the glory of man is as temporary as a wildflower that lasts only a season (Is. 40:6-8). Death is followed by a judgment that will test each man’s works. Judgment Day will be a public determination that discovers the absence or presence of saving faith in Christ (Heb. 9:27).

True believers are assured that they “overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Those who follow Christ are overcomers (1 John 5:1-5; Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7). Through Christ, they overcome the seven enemies. The following section catalogs the SEVEN ENEMIES of man’s soul and describes the manner in which Jesus Christ saves His Bride from them.

THE WORLD

Christ has overcome the world with its lies and soul-damning philosophies. The entire world system is energized by Satan. It lies under his power (1 John 5:19; John 14:30). Those who are “of the world” subscribe to its anti-God propositions and are therefore enemies of the knowledge and glory of God (1 Cor. 3:19; Eph. 6:12; 1 John 3:13; 4:5; John 7:7; 15:18,19; James 4:4).

Jesus warned that no one can serve two masters. The person who attempts to do so will love one and hate the other. The love of God and the love of the world are mutually exclusive (Matt. 6:24; 1 John 2:15-17). The world opposes the immutable righteousness of God. Those who love the world will pass away with it (1 John 2:17). The world is filled with idols that corrupt and enslave the worshipper (2 Pet. 1:4; Col. 3:5).

Christ spoke of the antipathy that the world would have toward the believer (John 15:19-23). John also warned that the world would listen to its own but not to the Lord’s messengers (1 John 4:1-6). Christ redeems out of the world those whom the Father has given Him (John 17:6). The believer’s union with Christ in His death and resurrection liberates from the old master, sin and the world, and binds us to a new master, Christ and righteousness. As a result of this transfer, the believer is to daily present the members of his body to God as instruments of righteousness.

By union with Christ, the believer is dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:10-13). Thus by the cross of Christ, the believer has been severed from the world as a source and has been joined to the Lord. Galatians 6:14 depicts this event as a double severing. The believer through Christ is crucified to the world and the world is crucified to him.

The world is no longer a “bazaar” or workshop for the flesh to seek the fulfillment of its desires. That alliance has been broken. The cross has attached the believer to Christ as “Source Person.” The Christian is now ashamed of what was once his pride and boast (Rom. 6:17-21).

The redeemed now glory in the cross. They willingly reckon the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the world (Heb. 11:26). The Christian’s radical identification with Christ is seen in his willingness to follow his Savior outside the “gate of this world”, counting it a privilege to bear His reproach (See Heb. 13:13).

On last day, Christ will own as His only those who have confessed Him before men. These are the ones who have not been ashamed of Him and His words (Luke 9:26; 12:8,9). The true believer maintains a visible and verbal witness for Christ in the world. The believer is no longer ofthe world (John 15:19). By Christ’s sovereign deliverance, the saint has been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13).

THE FLESH

The flesh comprises all of the desires, passions, reactions, and reasonings of the Adamic nature. The flesh is dead to the things of God. It cannot “see” above the horizon of this present existence. Therefore it finds all of its objects of delight in this present world. The flesh and the world possess a hand in glove relationship. They appear made for one another. They are fused into a Satanically inspired bond (Phil. 3:18,19; 1 John 2:16; Gal. 5:19-21).

The flesh is hostile to God’s Law and is therefore hostile to God Himself (Rom. 8:5-8). The flesh lacks the ability to obey God, it doggedly follows a self-determined course of destruction ending in death (Rom. 8:6).

The believer is set free from bondage to the flesh and from the consequences of that bondage. By union with Christ, the legal reign of the Adamic nature is broken. Christ has crucified our flesh in the crucifixion of His flesh. God declares that Christ’s death was the execution and death of the tyranny of our flesh (Rom. 6:5-11).

We now walk in newness of life, led by the Spirit of God so as not to fulfill the lusts of our flesh (Gal. 5:16). The believer’s daily task is to live out his co-crucifixion with Christ. This means he is under obligation to mortify or put to death the deeds of the flesh, cutting off provision for their expression (Rom. 13:14; Rom. 8:12; Col. 3:2-5; Gal. 5:24).

The flesh is no longer our standard for behavior. We do NOT consult our flesh to determine what is right and wrong for ourselves (Rom. 8:5, Williams Translation). The new birth implanted within us a new inclination to obey God. We now sow to the Spirit and no longer to the flesh (Gal. 6:8). The heaven-bound person thinks the things suggested by the Spirit (Rom. 8:5, Wms. Transl.). The flesh and the world are no longer his master.

THE DEVIL

Christ conquered and overcame the devil. We were formerly slaves under the devil’s blinding reign (John 8:34. 38, 44; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2,3; 2 Tim. 2:25,26). Christ confronted the devil in the wilderness, defeating his most powerful temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). Christ opposed Satan and his minions by performing miracles, exorcisms, and healings. By these signs and wonders, the Lord demonstrated His authority over the kingdom of darkness.

The devils cast out by Christ recognized that some day He would speak an irresistible word that would send them into the pit forever. Demons shudder to think of the agony and destruction that awaits them (Matt. 8:29; James 2:19).

The schemes of the devil are crafty and wicked, but Satan uses one weapon that is righteous. That weapon is the condemnation of God’s Law. Satan approves of the capital sentence of God’s Law.

He who is known as the “murderer from the beginning” presides over the verdict, “the soul who sins will die” (John 8:44; Ez. 18:4). Satan slew our first parents by means of a lie. By apostasy, Adam placed himself and his progeny under the divine sentence of death. Thus, as the instigator of human (and angelic) lawlessness and rebellion, the devil possessed the power of death thereafter (Heb. 2:14,15).

The evil one takes ghoulish pleasure in overseeing the deaths of billions. He approves of the sentence of God’s Law, for it seals the destiny of the damned. Satan is the “spiritual coroner” of the lost. He gladly hovers over the dying as they pass through the portico of death into the place of everlasting burning. The devil claims them as his own. They are the tares laid up for burning that fill his barn. Why is the mouth of Sheol never satisfied? Why does it want every single soul? Here is the reason. Lucifer, the shepherd of death, for whom hell was created, seeks to take all souls with him into his final doom.

But God, in His great love for mankind sent His only begotten Son into the world to save sinners. Christ our Substitute has struck the devil’s chief weapon from his hands. Christ disarmed the devil and made a public display of him (Col. 2:15). Only those who understand the meaning of the cross and who share in Christ’s victory perceive this triumph as the public defeat of Satan.

As the believer’s Substitute, Christ subjected Himself to the sentence, “the soul that sins will die.” Upon Jesus Christ, the Law of God prosecuted its sentence to the fullest degree. Christ was executed as the Sin-bearer. He was cut off from the living. The wrath of God was poured out upon Him.

As the God-man, the benefits of His substitutionary death are infinite in value. Christ has traded places with the sinner who believes! (1 Peter 3:18). Christ took upon Himself the believer’s guilt, shame, death, suffering, separation, and damnation. Christ exhausted the capital offense of the Law for all those who would believe. This event forever changes the nature of death for the believer. Death is no longer under the jurisdiction of Satan. For the saint, its agony and sting have been removed, but for the unbeliever they remain (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:55-57).

For the believer, death is the stepping stone and doorway to paradise with God forever (Rev. 21:1-8).

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are for His people that they might have life eternal. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). The devil has been stripped of his most potent weapon, death. Jesus now holds the keys of death and hell. No one gets in or out of death and hell but by Christ, the King of kings (Rev. 1:18).

SIN

All sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). We live in a moral universe because the Author, Sustainer, and Ruler of that universe is holy. The God for whom and through whom all things exist is holy. Therefore, sin necessarily reaps a consequence of death, decay, dishonor, agony, punishment, and separation.

God has an absolute claim upon all of His creatures and He has a perfect purpose for His creatures, therefore all sin is against God. The Holy Scriptures are an exhaustive testimony from God concerning man’s sin. According to the Bible, sin defiles, pollutes, deforms, enslaves, corrupts, and destroys those who practice it. Sin flows from man’s nature like stinking water from a contaminated spring.

God alone is able to ferret out the treachery and deceit that is inherent in sin (Jer. 17:9,10). Men conceal their sinful thoughts, plans and desires, but God sees their hearts with perfect clarity (Rom. 2:16; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 20:12).

Nothing is more fickle than the temporary religious devotion of the unregenerate. Multitudes who heard Jesus preach and who witnessed His miracles cried out for His murder when stirred up by the religious leaders of Israel. By these actions they evinced the character of universal sin.

The character of sin is vividly seen in the murder of Jesus. Sin is high-handed rebellion against God. In order to defend and perpetuate itself, it would plunge a knife into the very heart of God if it were able to do so. Certainly the murder of Jesus gives evidence of sin’s malignity.

Sin is so vile that it contains much of its own punishment (Isaiah 48:22). Sin keeps producing the “fallout” of regret, guilt, shame, fear, and self-contempt. It putrefies in the soul of a man producing festering wounds of resentment, rebellion, and hatred. It sits in the conscience of a man ready and waiting to take eternal revenge against its owner. Here is the worm that never dies. In eternal perdition, the wrath-awakened conscience keeps beating the soul to bits, producing the torment of ever-increasing dissolution.

Nothing can avail against sin but the Person and work of Christ. In order for sin’s reign to be broken, there must be a blood atonement by the Son of God. Nothing else can cut sin’s enslaving links of iron. Nothing else can satisfy the justice of God and thereby win the sinner’s freedom.

Here is the reason why. The guilty sinner awaiting condemnation is spiritually dead by reason of his transgressions. In the deadness of his sin nature he lacks the power to love God and turn from his iniquity. For him to be set free, the guilt of sin must be dealt with in strict justice. It must be punished to the full extent of the Law. This very sentence of death has been carried out by Christ, the believing sinner’s Substitute (2 Cor. 5:21).

Sin’s grip is only broken when its guilt is pardoned! Through the forgiveness purchased by the sacrifice of Christ, sin’s power to enslave is broken. Within the sinner’s bosom is an enmity, hatred and hostility toward the holy God who holds him accountable and deserving of damnation. It is only the cross of Christ that can remove enmity from the heart of man.

When by faith in the gospel, the sinner beholds Christ becoming sin for him, he marvels that Christ should take his penalty so that he can go free. Christ became sin for us. He became its shame, guilt, curse, and separation. No wonder Jesus is called the friend of sinners.

DEATH

Death is described as the king of terrors in the book of Job (18:14). Scripture indicates that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the Law (1 Cor. 15:56). The prospect of death holds men in a state of enslaving fear Heb. 2:14,15). People may pretend that they do not fear death, but Scripture puts this to the lie.

The conscience of man rightly reasons that death holds a portent of ultimate judgment (Heb. 9:27). Death is a most formidable enemy because man cannot recover from it. There is finality in death. The Bible says that all self-determination ceases at death (Eccl. 9:10).

The spiritual state and character of a man at death remain with him for eternity. At death, sin receives its “wage” of eternal separation from God. This is known as the “second death” (Romans 6:23; Rev. 20:14; 21:8).

Death is the great leveler of the human race. Every class of men, whether slave or free, rich or poor, are placed in the grave with nothing accompanying them into eternity but their bad record in heaven. Death begins the eternal ruin of the sinner.

The marvelous news of the gospel is that for believers, Christ conquered death by dying and rising from the dead. Death could not hold Him because He was sinless. Since death is the penalty for human sin, it could not keep Christ, the perfectly Holy One, under its power. His death was for the sin of others. By the giving of His life for His people, He exhausted death’s penalty and eliminated death’s ability to ruin the souls of His own (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

When Christ died, His soul left His body. His cold lifeless corpse was entombed. Only in this way could death be defeated. Everything horrific about death happened to Jesus. He was mangled, mutilated, and tormented, all while being mocked. He was abandoned and deprived of care and compassion. He was humiliated during His agony. He was terribly alone, dying without comforters. The reproach of men and the wrath of God fell upon Him at the same time. He was treated as worthless. Those who witnessed His crucifixion assumed He was cursed of God (Is. 53:4).

Everything Christ suffered He suffered as a Substitute (Heb. 9:11-15). Jesus rose from the dead the third day. He was victorious over death for the sake of all who would believe upon Him. Those who trust Him are assured that death cannot hurt them.

Christ promises His own that He shall raise them from the dead (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ’s victory over death is the assurance that death cannot ruin His people. The Savior guaranteed that His resurrection was the “first-fruits” of a coming “harvest” of innumerable resurrected individuals (1 Cor. 15:20-26).

The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Death will ruin every person whose sin and guilt have not been carried away by Christ the sinner’s Substitute (John 8:24). Only the names of those written in the Lamb’s book of life will escape the second death (Rev. 21:27).

HELL

No New Testament speaker addressed the subject of hell more frequently than the Lord Jesus Christ. Hell is the greatest enemy of the soul. It is separation from life, light, love, God, goodness, and peace. It is a conscious existence that involves the eternal loss of all well-being. Hell is a place of darkness, remorse, and agony. In hell, the terrors of conscience are released. Damnation is the sinner’s ill desert, therefore perdition is an eternal monument to the justice of God.

How little sinners consider the brevity of time on earth and the lack of strength necessary to repent of sin. Jesus put the issue of eternity into graphic terms when He indicated that gaining the whole world could not begin to offset the devastation of losing one’s soul forever in hell (Matt. 16:26). All of life is but a brief time to prepare for eternity.

Jesus warns that hell will ultimately claim the vast majority of mankind (Matt. 7:13).

As the sovereign builder of His Church, Christ proclaimed that the “gates of hell” would not overpower His Church (Matt. 16:18).

Christ defeated hell for the believer by permitting the infinite wrath of God to crush His own person (Is. 53:6-10; Rom. 5:8,9). With sin’s guilt and curse loaded upon Him, He bore the wrath of God. Amidst the suffering of His passion, the wrath of God coursed through His soul like white-hot bolts of lightning.

For the sake of those who would believe, He endured the turning away of His Father’s gaze. He died alienated and cut off, perishing under sin’s curse (Ps. 22:1; Gal. 3:13). Christ drained the cup of judgment. From the first bloody drop of sweat in Gethsemene until He uttered “it is finished” from the cross He endured the penalty due our sin. He exhausted an eternal hell for all who would believe upon Him (John 19:30).

Christ did in one day what the sinner can never do. The condemned sinner can never exhaust hell’s justice. A trillion years in hell will not place a damned individual any closer to release. No wonder Christ is the “city of refuge” where guilty sinners may flee for salvation (Heb. 6:18,19).

THE LAW’S CONDEMNATION

The Law points an accusing finger, but won’t lend a hand. The reason for this resides in the purpose of the Law. The Law of God is the primary revealer of man’s moral condition (Rom. 3:19,20). The Law was never intended to be a means of gaining eternal life. The Scriptures indicate that the Law was added because of transgressions (Gal. 3:19).

By divine Law, God holds all sinners in custody. Unbelievers are considered criminals under the government of God (Gal. 3:23; Rom. 11:32; John 3:36). The Law pronounces transgressors guilty of a capital offense against God. The Law is not a tool of self-reformation, for no man can work his way out of the Law’s condemnation.

The Law’s great salvific use is that of providing an x-ray of the human heart. The Law shows a man his moral deformity and helplessness. The stringency of the Law stirs up man’s ire and wrath, fomenting his innate rebellion (Rom. 5:20).

The Law accuses and thus brings to the surface the enmity and hostility of the creature. The Law’s power to exasperate the sinner is a necessary step in preparing him for salvation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ explained that God’s moral requirements extend to man’s thoughts, glances, speech, and intents of his heart. The Law is not a free-floating arbitrary code of ethics, it is the revelation of God’s righteousness. To transgress God’s Law is to rebel against God’s moral authority.

The natural man is a fugitive under God’s moral government. He dreams of a land where the 10 Commandments are not enforced. This becomes his philosophy of freedom. It can appear in subtle ways. The covenant breaker says in his heart, “I will choose what is right and wrong for myself.” “ I will set my own standard.” By such impenitence, the unbeliever says in effect, “I will cast off God’s yoke because it is repressive” (Ps. 2:2,3). The rebel, whether legalistic or lawless, refuses to be “tutored” by God’s Law.

Scripture states that the Law is a “tutor” to lead men to Christ. The Law teaches the sinner that his only hope of salvation must come from outside of himself (Rom. 10:1-4; Gal. 3:24). Christ has great love and compassion for sinners held in custody by God’s Law. He knows that the sinner attempts to meet his needs by sinning. He knows that the sinner has misery instead of peace as he feels the vice of the Law and his own conscience squeezing from both sides. He knows that the more the sinner tries to feel better by pursuing sin, the more his misery increases. For the Law and conscience cast up accusations and self-contempt. The Law accurately whispers to him that he deserves to die and be separated from God.

Christ’s love to sinners is unfathomable. For believers, Christ disarmed the Law’s power as a damning force. Jesus took the sinner’s place that He might satisfy the Law’s absolute requirement of perfect obedience. By Christ’s life and death, He purchased peace, pardon, acceptance, and adoption for His people (Rev. 5;9,10). Christ accomplished right-standing for believers in the sight of God’s Law (Rom. 2:16).

How do we know when the Law has done its preparatory work upon a sinner? Only when a soul is led to Christ alone for righteousness is the work of the Law done (Rom. 10:1-4). The justified person has repented of his sin. He affirms that God’s Law is “holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). He also knows that it is Christ alone who commends him to God.

By His substitutionary death, Christ cancelled out the certificate of debt. “He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). The Law of God is now in the hands of a placated Mediator. It is no longer an accuser that is hostile to us. For believers, it has ceased to condemn and charge with guilt (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:18).

For the man who dies outside of Christ, the horrors of an endlessly roaring conscience await him. A great part of hell’s torment is the possession a conscience that cannot be quieted, bribed, or pacified. To the lost man’s chagrin, his conscience keeps shouting out its agreement with the condemnation of God’s Law.

How serious a thing it is to be made in the image of God! Even in hell, the reprobate cannot escape having been made in God’s moral image. That moral mark and image cannot be sinned away. The Law of God written on the conscience will not evaporate in the lake of fire. The Law of God will continue to inform the conscience forever that its condemnation is just.

In the “second death,” the Law and the conscience will never unfasten their eternal grip. They shall always be in agreement. In echoing God’s immutable commands, the conscience will incessantly beat upon its owner, declaring that he deserves to be eternally miserable.

Who but the most incorrigible rebel would not run to Christ to escape this wrath to come? Think again what the Lord has done for sinners. The God of the universe, the Lawgiver Himself, took off His judicial robes and allowed Himself to be executed by lawbreakers!

Christ’s death was no mere martyrdom. God the Son, by His Father’s plan, had the guilt of sinners transferred to Him! Think of the incalculable debt the believer owes his Savior. Christ voluntarily placed Himself in the immense stone cog works of God’s justice. He was crushed by divine decree (Is. 53:10). He became the willing victim. The turning teeth of God’s ineffable justice pressed the life and heart blood out of Him. He reaped what we had sown so that we might have an unchangeable love relationship with God.

Sinner, put down the weapons you bear against God. Receive His love. Be reconciled to God on His terms of peace. The justice of God has been satisfied on behalf of those who will believe. Consent to be represented by the Son. Repent of your self-will and love of sin. He will receive you and will not turn you away. Now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).

 

 

Christ Our Life: Colossians 3:1-4

1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (NASB).

Our passage is a “bridge” passage that joins the indicatives concerning our salvation in Christ (chap. 1-2) with the ethical demands that flow from these grace truths.

Colossians 3:1-4 provides the logic for putting to death the old man (3:5). As a bridge passage, our text connects the work of Christ with the implication of being raised with Christ (Col 2:10-13).

“For you have died,” (3:3) – our death by co-crucifixion with Christ severed our link with the old order (the old life; the former life of sin’s dominion).

“If then” you have been raised with Christ, “then” you are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6). IF refers to a fulfilled condition; THEN alludes to the change flowing from your union with Christ. That change must be realized in your lifestyle because in Christ you have died once for all to the world, and you are now living another life.

The change that resulted from union with Christ altered your whole nature – now your new life in Christ must pervade your whole life. The new life is to exert itself so that it dominates exceptionally in both the intellectual and practical sphere. (The false believer keeps religion in a compartment in his life. The truth of God in Christ does not dominate exceptionally so as to take possession of his affections producing universal obedience.)

True believers live in a new sphere. That means that the believer has been transferred from earth to heaven as far as purpose, position, destiny, relationships, and vantage point are concerned.

As a new creation, the believer’s whole standard of judgment has been changed – his new heavenly life is in Christ.

Colossians is pure Christology. Paul is exhibiting Christ as preeminent in all things, all-sufficient Redeemer, sovereign Lord, and God very God. As God-man and Redeemer, Christ entirely fills the infinite gap between God and sinful man.

Consider how expansive this chasm is between the self-existent, transcendent, holy God of the universe, and sinful, feeble, defiled humans made of dust.

The human race is created with a spiritual longing for the transcendent (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But carnal reasoning leads men away from Christ to religious philosophies of human invention (Col 2:8).

Paul has written Colossians to combat the errors that are troubling the churches of the Lycus valley in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). The false teachers have introduced doctrines and practices that prove to be an oblique attack upon the preeminence and sufficiency of Christ.

When sinful man leans upon his reason in order to attempt to partially bridge the gap between God and man, he always comes up with an “ism.” The book of Colossians destroys these dangerous “isms.”

Legalism, asceticism, ceremonialism, mysticism, sacramentalism, subjectivism, antinomianism, and Gnosticism are all refuted by the powerful Christology of Colossians which declares the absolute preeminence and perfect sufficiency of Christ.

The dangerous “isms” prove to be nothing more than will worship – that is man asserting his fallen will, telling God how he will approach Him and be commended by Him.

Five hundred years ago before the Protestant Reformation, sacramentalism (or sacerdotalism), had a strangle hold upon the Church. Through the Protestant Reformers, the blessed truth of the Gospel of free grace in Christ was recovered through the study of the Scriptures.

So also in first century in the region of Colossae, Gnosticism was harassing the churches seeking for a stranglehold. Paul exposed the false premises of his opponents. Paul thunders out in the book of Colossians, Christ completely fills the entire gap between holy God and sinful man! He is all and all. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him. The believer is complete in Him!

Everything in relation to God needed by the believer is to be found in Christ. In Christ the believer finds acceptance, favor, sonship, status, right standing, power, purpose, destiny, bold access, wisdom and knowledge. Our entire life is upheld and provided by Christ – none of our spiritual needs are provided by us. This is death to the “isms!”

(Example: Recently a Jehovah’s Witness woman came to my door; she was training another woman. I quickly challenged her as why the founders of her cult had changed the N.T. so as to make Christ a creation of God instead of God the Son. She answered back, “Then how do you explain Jesus praying to God as His Father?” I said to her as respectfully as I could, “Madam, if you could answer that question, you’d be a saved person.” The point is Christ lived the perfect life of a human believer and disciple for our sakes. His life as God incarnate completely filled the gap between God and man. His praying to the Father is an argument FOR the Trinity, not against the Trinity.)

The moment you read our text (3:1-4), it’s easy to see what God wants us to do. He wants more of your mind’s attention so that you meditate on the heavenly life.

The benefits of utilizing our mind to dwell on things above are manifold. When we do so, our fellowship with God increases; for when God is honored in our truthful and adoring thinking about Him, we are holding communion with Him and He manifests His presence to us. When you practice dwelling on things above, you’ll abide in Christ as a habit. Your perception of the reality of the heavenly sphere will become increasingly influential in your life. Your confidence and comfort in God will increase. And your love and devotion to Christ will be more consistent.

That is our purpose in studying this passage – that you might gain a greater perception of your life in Christ and as a result experience the benefits just named.

Our text falls under three points:

I. Our life in Christ is to be pondered (vv. 1-2)

II. Our life in Christ is presently hidden (v. 3)

III. Our life in Christ is to be revealed (v. 4)

I. Our Life in Christ Pondered (vv. 1-2).

(v. 1) -- If indeed we are members of Christ, we must ultimately

ascend to heaven (Calvin). (Application: If you are a Christian, you do not have to live in suspense about these things – begin “feeding” your faith, weak as it is, upon these grace truths found in the book of Colossians.)

It takes a strong faith to “see” Jesus enthroned as Lord of all. He who was made for a little while lower than angels is now Mediatorial King. He is our enthroned “Forerunner” – where He is, we are going to be (Heb 6:19-20). As members of His Body, we must someday join our enthroned Head. This is to be a controlling truth in our lives.

Every public thing done by the Son of God will from now on include His Church (whether Second Advent, Marriage Supper, Millennial Reign, or Final Judgment).

It takes strengthening of the inner man and an enlightening of the eyes of our hearts and a spirit of wisdom and revelation to be able to fully take hold of the remarkable truth that our destinies as believers are bound up in the Son of God (Eph 1:17-18; 3:16).

God is telling us in 3:1 to actively pursue a God-ward life in our thoughts. We must feed our faith in the Word of God. Our aims in life will ultimately flow from what we regard as reality. To keep on seeking the things above is to have our aims and ambitions shaped by the heavenly sphere spoken of in 3:1 (“things above”).

Therefore to abide above is to live with the awareness that we live as pilgrims and strangers – we are sojourners with a heavenly citizenship. The faith mentality of the saints who went before us is recorded in Hebrews 11:13-16. These men and women were not bound by things below. By faith, they saw the City of God with such clarity that they were able to abide in the heavenly sphere as their course in life.

“Things above” is where Christ is. He is at the right hand of His Father. Christ must rule until all of His enemies are put beneath His feet. These enemies pose a threat to His Bride the Church (Christ will bring her safely past sin, death, hell, the world, the flesh, and the devil.)

When we think of Christ in the heavenly realm, let us not think of Him as detached from the events of the physical world. In Colossians 1:15-18, Paul asserts that Christ is Lord of the cosmos, Lord of the Church, Lord of history, and Lord of every created thing, whether spirit or physical creature. Christ is ruling and reigning. He is holding all things together in the cosmos and He is active in all of human history.

By God’s design, He is preeminent in every realm. We are to live with His majesty in constant view. Whether the physical or spiritual realm; He has first place in everything. He fills the world.

This is the heavenly sphere – it is the invisible reality that the world is willingly ignorant of. We are to seek the things in this sphere where Christ is. We are commanded to see things from the divine viewpoint (DVP). This is ultimate reality – what we see by faith is eternal in the heavens. What we see with physical eyes is temporal; only the heavenly sphere is eternal (2 Cor 4:18; 1 Jn 2:17).

(v. 2) – Paul joins an imperative to the indicative in v. 2 (he links a command with positional truth just stated). Because of the fact that we are risen with Christ, therefore cogitate, set your mind upon (assiduously, with intensity), let your whole meditation be on this. Apply the abilities of your mind to holy thinking. Adore Christ in your minds – dwell with Him. Consider, give your mind to this. Judge, think upon as a practice.

A man’s thinking and life direction go together. They are reflected in his goals, his aims which he chooses for himself. To set your mind upon something is to be mentally disposed towards it. You move in that direction. (Example: That aim turns like a little radar, always seeking to fulfill the goal it is fixed upon.)

Paul’s exhortation is to have one basic aim, direction, orientation (Phil 2:5) – the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). This requires great effort. But God expects this of you. (Example: One of my seminary professors corrects his thinking by telling himself, “Higher thoughts Larry, higher thoughts.” Our thoughts, like water, naturally flow to a low level of merely sense perception and carnal reasoning (like a stagnant pond with no outlet). We are to engage our minds in the service of God’s revelation, especially His revelation of grace in Christ that they might be lifted to the heavenly sphere.)

All of God’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge are resident in Christ. In order to enter the heavenly sphere in our thinking, it will involve the diligent application of our intellects. Especially if those thought processes focused above are to give shape to our lives. The earthly sphere is always pulling at us.

Earth and heaven are different spheres of living (DVP – divine viewpoint and HVP human viewpoint). If we obey the command in verse 2, “set your mind on things above.” it will protect us from being lulled into a state in which we are infatuated with the trivial, the temporal, the sensual, and the material.

Countless people around us would never for a moment consider themselves to be enemies of the cross of Christ – but Philippians 3:19 warns us that those who set their minds on earthly things are not friends of the cross of Christ. (Of course we know why. It is solely the friend of the cross who has died with Christ and been raised with Him to newness of life.)

The spiritual man or woman is known by his or her aspirations. Our aspirations arise out of what and where we set our minds upon. Romans 8:4-8 (Williams translation) states that the spiritual man thinks the thing suggested by the Spirit. The carnal, or fleshly man practices thinking those things suggested by the flesh.

Because of his union with Christ, the spiritual man rejects the orientation set by the lower nature.

(Application: Paul’s intent is that setting our minds upon things above will control both the definition and direction of our lives. We will behold Christ as “Source Person.” Our affections will be conformed to the heavenly sphere. The “mind of Christ” is cross-centered living that keeps us severed from the world. The Gospel is the believer’s “food.” He takes in the grace truths that remind him daily that his life is hidden in Christ.)

II. Our Life in Christ is Presently Hidden (v. 3).

“You died” to the old order, the old vantage point, the old values through your co-crucifixion with Christ (see 2 Cor 5:14). V. 3 points back to our union with Christ. (In the mind of God, who determines all reality, the death of Christ counts as our death to sin as much as if we had been hanging upon that cross ourself.)

(Illustration: A friend of mine who is a pastor as well as a mental health worker, visited a young man who was in lock up in Juvenile Hall. The teenager had been arrested for attempted murder. As a mental health worker, Patrick was one of the few men from the outside, other than an attorney, who had access to this young criminal. Patrick greeted the teenager by saying, “I come to you in the name of the Judge. The teen sighed. Then Patrick added, “The Judge of the universe.” “He does not hold your crimes against you because He has charged them to the account of His Son.” The teen had a puzzled look, but three days later the teen asked Patrick to come back and tell him the Gospel again. He was gloriously converted.)

Your life has been so closely associated with Christ that He Himself is designated, “Our life.” Because of union with Christ, the believer is spiritually alive in God (Rom 6:4-5).

All the blessings Christ has wrought for His people are inseparable from His Person (every salvation blessing purchased by Christ is only given to those who have Christ by union with His Person -- people want heaven, but not the lordship of Christ over them). We have eternal life solely because of our union with Christ.

(Application: Risen life in Christ is only for those who are first dead in Him. One must be dead to the world to live for Christ -- see Gal 6:14; 2 Cor 5:14. To abide above is to reckon the fact that your life is bound up in Christ – He is “source Person,” the world is no longer regarded as source. What He is doing in the world, in His Church controls the spiritual man. The man with the “mind of Christ” marches under Christ’s banner and totally identifies with His purposes. He uses his gifts to contribute his part in “presenting every man complete in Christ” – 1:28.)

Our life is “hidden with Christ in God.” God is faithful in carrying out what is committed to Him (2 Tim 1:12).

For the time being, we are frequently distressed by trials, sufferings, afflictions, and weaknesses. Our true identity is concealed from the world, and apart from faith in His infallible Word, it is frequently hidden from us as well.

Our true identity is hidden (1 Jn 2:28; 3:2; 4:17). We wait patiently until that day of revelation. For the time being we live between the cross and the resurrection (our lives are radically influenced by both looking back to the cross, and looking forward to the day of revelation.)

(Application: Believers are to “abide above” – Eph 2:4-7. Fellowship with Christ brings a greater sense of security. What could be more desirable than to dwell with the “Fountain of Life.” The world has no “spiritual eyes” to behold the object of our hope – Christ; the Source of all life. A recent trend in TV programming – “reality TV,” in which a harness and life line protects people from falling to their deaths. The viewer identifies with the risk-taker and feels a rush when death is cheated. The natural man attempts to minister to his fears; he knows not that spiritually he is a walking dead person who is about to leave the land of the dying to enter the world of the second death. But only the saint knows where life resides.)

We’ve seen that we have died when we were baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit (2:11-14). Now our lives are hidden in Christ; the world knows nothing of our new life. Christ is our life; our life is not just shared with Christ. He is our life in every sense of the word. He is our “Source Person.”

Christ is the “north star” so to speak; the whole celestial existence revolves around Him. Positionally, we are seated with Him in this heavenly sphere. Our lives are shut up – hidden in Christ until the last day; then our lives will be manifested when Christ is revealed.

III. Our Life in Christ is to be Revealed (v. 4).

Our life in Christ is to be fully manifested when Christ returns. Then we will share His glorious epiphany. It was for this great cause that He called you, “that you might gain the glory of Christ” (2 Thess 2:14). (How incomprehensible apart from the Spirit’s illumination that we shall “share His holiness” – Heb 12:10.)

What is secretly present now shall be revealed on that day. Our secret existence now is a mystery (Col 1:27). As we meditate upon these things, we dwell in this heavenly sphere.

This was Paul’s practice -- his convictions are captured in Galatians 2:20 – those convictions ought to be the persuasion of every true Christian. For those who set their minds on things above are ever more cognizant of their shared life in Christ (a shared existence that will someday soon be revealed).

The glory shared, spoken of in v. 4, has a special reference to being made like Christ in moral likeness and in the likeness of His resurrection body (1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:20-21).

(Application: Colossians 3:1-4 sets before us an “already, not yet” tension of life lived between the cross and the resurrection. Now, all grace flows from Christ. Because of His cross, intimate, personal union with Him is already a reality. We are already crucified with Him, buried with Him, united with Him, and raised with Him. Therefore we are to pursue the things of the heavenly realm. We are dead to the old order – the old orientation of self and the world. So now we must center our whole outlook on Christ so that our mind, ambition, and aims belong in the heavenly sphere or ‘realm’.)

CONCLUSION: How are we to follow the Lord’s command found in our text? First there must be realism – the ongoing effort for the mindset enjoined in our text requires labor. The mindset is not automatic.

But consider that the exhortation in 3:1-4 is associated with taking delight in eternal things. In order to seek the realm above diligently, we must make it our practice to “preach the Gospel to ourselves everyday.

May I suggest that in order to set your mind upon things above, you must be able to take delight in all that God is toward you in Christ. To be able to do take delight in God and enjoy Him is a function of fresh acts of faith in the Gospel each day.

When you wake up in the morning, you again take Christ as your righteousness. You “preach the Gospel to yourself” saying, “By my Savior’s life, and death, and resurrection, I am fully accepted by God the Father. By my union with His glorified life, God has cleared away every obstacle to a love relationship with Himself.”

In order to develop this mindset, we will need to feed our faith upon these heavenly truths. For the time being, our life is hidden in Christ. But when He appears (He who embodies life), we will appear with Him.

This truth of shared existence and shared glory is wonderful beyond words. God will literally synchronize the glorious appearance of Christ with the glorification of His people and the renovation of the universe (Rom 8:18-25). On that day, the “sons of God” will be revealed publicly to the rational universe.

God will turn the tables on the false values of this world (1 Jn 2:17). The world with its temporal vantage point will be swept away like a dream. This generation worships youth, beauty, sensuality, materialism, pleasure, leisure, power, and earthly security. But a day is coming when the lusts of deceit will be shown for the poison they are.

On the Day of the Lord, God will put the myth of ownership to the lie. When Christ returns, everything loaned to man will be returned to God for an accounting (life, breath, the faculties of soul, mind, and body, talents, time, affections, everything).

Dear reader, what we regard as ultimate reality will be the sphere in which we dwell. Our aims will flow from what we regard as having lasting substance.

In order to diligently pursue the things above, we must stay centered on the Kingdom of God. The believer is to focus upon things of the new order. We must stay centered upon the exalted Christ.

Our Savior is currently hidden from view, but God’s Spirit will strengthen you and open and enlighten the eyes of your heart to behold your Lord enthroned -- if you will be make it your occupation to meditate upon things above in Scripture.

The truth of Colossians 3:1-4 is inescapable – the sphere in which we live is the one in which our thoughts dwell. The benefit of seeking the things above is immeasurable: “[that you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19).

 

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries

William Hendrickson, NTC, Baker, 1962

J. B. Lightfoot, Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians

Peter T. O’Brien, WBC, Word, 1982

Fritz Reinecker, Linguistic Key to the N.T., Zondervan, 1976

A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the N.T., Baker, 1931

 

 

Coming Short of Repentance

(v. 17) The man who came running to Jesus was wealthy (v. 22), young (Mt 19:22), a ruler (Luke 18:18). He had youth, wealth, power, health, an attractive personality – he had everything, but lacked the most important thing – eternal life. Everything was going for him as far as the world was concerned.

He came to Jesus with a visible urgency. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (How would we deal with this kind of person in our churches today? Often the message in churches winds up only rearranging prejudices and confirming the person in a false security. This ruler posed as if he were ignorant of the one thing needed to have eternal life. Did he really lack light? Jesus will ultimately expose him as guilty of compounding and mystifying the Gospel.)

 

His question, “What must I do. . . ?” appeared sincere. The words “do” and “inherit” used together along with his list of moral achievements demonstrate that he was thinking in terms of earning eternal life. His culture was steeped in legalism. (No one is capable of earning eternal life – it is only reliance upon God that brings eternal life.)

Eternal life is not just going to heaven. It is not just hell avoidance. It is so much more. Eternal life is a quality of life that begins now. The true believer is in possession of eternal life because he knows the giver of life. Thus the saved man has passed from death to life (Jn 5:24). He is dead to sin (Rom 6:11). Christ is in the believer, he has a love relationship with Christ that will never end (Jn 17:3).

(v. 18) “Why do you call me good?” Jesus wanted to show him that no one is good but God alone.The young man needed to realize that his works could not make him good. He must know that he is not capable of earning eternal life. Goodness is not something meritorious. God alone is good in character, quality, and nature. All true human goodness is derived from a relationship of moral trust in God (Hab 2:4).

Is this ruler ready to acknowledge that Christ’s “goodness” is not just high upon a sliding scale (relative), but absolute and therefore an attribute of God? (Is he ready to claim Jesus as deity?)

(v. 19, 20) Christ sets the divine standard before the man. (“Do not defraud.” This is a command that encompasses the avoidance of all covetousness.)

The Lord is about to expose the man’s complacency. Think of it. This rich man stands before God in Christ – the eternal God, light incarnate. And the man claims to have never lusted, coveted, taken God’s name in vain, never been resentful, never had an iota of moral and spiritual failure. Since a boy he has shown external conformity to the law. But like the Apostle Paul before salvation, it has been only obedience to the letter of the law (Phil 3:6). (Now the man wants Christ to give him assurance for his “blameless” life, assurance about eternal life.)

(v. 21) The Lord loves the lost as well as the saved. Jesus felt compassion for him. Christ is about to go the heart of the commandment (in this case, the man’s heart attitude toward his possessions). Jesus is going to expose the man’s heart as not as blameless as he maintained. By choice, the man served riches instead of God (Matt 6:24). If he loved neighbor as self, he would not be greedy and covetous, but would share his possessions.

(Our Lord stands before every person to break their complacency, self-delusion, pride, and self-righteousness – before they are broken, people imagine they can obligate and ingratiate God with a little moral exertion.)

The only ones who come to Christ are those who have seen their sin. They must come to Him as the physician able to treat their sin sick souls. Those who think they are good enough have no hope of eternal life. Those who think they can stand up to the scrutiny of God’s law are blind, deluded, and proud. They have no awareness of what God requires for eternal life. (The ruler wanted only betterment to merit eternal life – he did not want repentance toward God.)

The young man posed as one who was urgent, “What I wouldn’t give for eternal life. What I wouldn’t do to possess peace of soul.” No wonder why people around us are so blasé. They are apathetic about the Gospel. How willing are they to meet the cost? What are they prepared to do to be right with God? To be forgiven? This man has something he is not ready to release.

We must ask of our people, “Do you have a prior commitment, something more urgent, a pressing commitment more precious than Christ in your heart and your life?”

 

The ruler is standing before the majestic sovereignty of God. The young man is pretending in his complacency to be righteous (as if Christ the God-man does not see the idol factory in this man’s heart.) Would he submit to Christ’s lordship no matter what He required? If he wouldn’t acknowledge his sin and repudiate it so as to repent of it, he certainly won’t submit to Christ and follow Him as Lord and Savior. (He was unwilling on both counts. It kept him from eternal life. He loved the prestige, security, comfort, status of his riches more.)

Jesus gives this man steps to be taken. He has to make a decision. ONE (FIRST DECISION): sell all that you have and give to the poor (shatter the covetousness and benefit others). The principle – the man has a greater priority than God. His god is mammon. His whole lifestyle has to change before God. He has built his whole lifestyle on a foundation of wealth.

For others it’s music, science, learning, popularity, culture, prestige, romance, sensuality. Every conceivable form of idolatry exists. Our culture says “obsessions are normal.” But God wants an obsession for each person – let me be your obsession. Break your idol. Level it to the ground – the whole superstructure of your life, go down to bedrock – blast the foundations, I want it all. Forsake this life.

 

There is no eternal life without renunciation. (The young man was only concerned about the public side of life – he wasn’t ready to forsake what had been his god.) Repentance goes deep. It calls us to abandon our primary commitments that hold our emotional life. Forsake the things that were your priorities – your living for pleasure, comfort, culture, popularity. When a man repents, he is able to say, “I have been my own god, I’ve been living for myself. I will relinquish sovereignty over my life. I’m ready to be a Christ-possessed, Christ-obsessed man. I’m serious about eternal life. I cannot get God and bypass repentance. (I’m standing with a sledge hammer before each idol.)

TWO (SECOND DECISION): “Follow Me” turn your back on all the priorities you have had. No, not what a man do to be justified – we know that – believe, have no other trust but Christ. No the decision answers the question, “What must a man do to get eternal life?” The answer is submission of the entire life to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

This is the admission of Christ’s claim over us as leader, Savior, teacher. There is a deliberate rising and following after Him in His steps.

Christ promises that He can take us to God and confess our names before angels and before His Father. If you follow Me, you must follow the Lamb wherever He goes. He is Mediator, Author, Finisher, and Advocate of our faith. To follow Christ where He goes is an immensely high and holy morality. Do you want to get to Christ you’ll have to follow Christ and submit to His directives. You must take the same view of Scripture that He took (infallibility). You’ll have to take up your cross.

The repentance enjoined by Christ falls into three steps: pluck the idol from the throne of your life. Follow Me. Take up your cross.

All unsaved men are guided by governing obsessions, desires, and biases. The unsaved are disobedient. By contrast, the saved are characterized by a continual willingness to put the old man to death. By the constraint of grace, they are enabled to stand in shame and condemnation over what remains of sin in their lives – they follow and keep following Jesus. They see by faith that Jesus has the keys of death and hell. Do you really want eternal life? Jesus says follow Me, I haven’t lost one yet who followed Me.

Is our preaching in need of a cleaner, simpler, more brilliant, easier gospel message? NO! Don’t pretend that people don’t know the way to God. Let’s destroy all our idols and follow Him!

(v. 22) He went away with his wealth, but without Jesus. He went away without eternal life. The man came to Jesus, but went away sad. What should Jesus’ response to him been? “Should I make it easier, less demanding, -- should I be sorry I’ve driven you away?”

If you won’t sell all that you have for Christ there is not a man in the world who has the right to speak peace to his soul. Christ confronts us with the absolute reality that you can’t go on with your previous lifestyle, your old ego, your old priorities. Don’t go away, take up your cross and follow Him.

Plead with people – don’t think about it. Here is Christ. God is beseeching men by us. You can’t trust Christ soon enough.

Resources used: The MacArthur Study Bible; The NIV Study Bible; The Geneva Study Bible; The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary; Barker & Kohlenberger, eds.

[1][1] From Mark 10:21-22 to the end of this message, the material in this lesson is taken almost exclusively from a message by Geoff Thomas who spoke at the Banner of Truth Ministers’ conference in 1997.

 

 

Communing with Christ at our Point of Poverty – Part One

Is Christ “your Life,” or has He been added to your life?

In the context of Christ’s pointed letter of correction to the Laodicean church, our Lord states that He reproves and disciplines those whom He loves (Rev 3:19). The required response of the believer to the Lord’s discipline is zeal in the matter of repentance (see also 2 Cor 7:11).

In the previous chapter of Revelation Christ was dealing with another church the Ephesian church. In spite of her works, patience, labor, and orthodoxy, she was also in need of repentance. Repentance for her would involve returning to her first works. And it would involve remembering from where she had fallen; for she has left Christ her first love (2:5).

In the case of both of these churches, there had been a departure from Christ. Through neglect there had been a gradual, but radical move away from devotion to Him. The duties and trappings of Christianity had been allowed to overshadow the reality of Christ’s presence, majesty, preeminence, and supremacy.

Individual believers contented themselves spiritually in their labor and apparent faithfulness. All the while, they had been drifting from the Savior. Their sense of spiritual wholeness, life, andcompleteness was being drawn from somewhere other than their organic union with the Lord of glory.

The spiritual condition in the first century churches of Ephesus and Laodicea closely matches the symptoms that are so commonplace in the 21st century Evangelical church. Just as Christ was gradually edged to the periphery in those two Asia Minor churches; so also, modern believers tend to “add” Christ to their lives rather than radically identifying with Him and submitting to Him.

Amidst this vast number of present day professors of faith in Christ are true saints who will most assuredly be disciplined by the Lord for their departure from Christ. The Father’s discipline is a powerful tool which humbles the child of God and moves him from self-deception to repentance and from apathy to alert realism regarding personal sin and need of divine grace.

The church of Laodicea provides a model for the Lord’s discipline of the believer. Laodicea boasted of wisdom (sight), net worth (wealth), and wholeness (they boasted that they were in need of nothing). The Lord overturns their self-perception; exposing it as self-deception.

Instead of having wisdom, they were blind. Instead of having worth by wealth, they were poor. Instead of having wholeness and needing nothing, they were shamefully naked. God disciplines us to show us our true condition.

The Father disciplines us for our good that we may share His holiness (Heb 12:10).Discipline comes by way of revelation. The Father points to the immensity of difference between what we think of ourselves and what Christ thinks of our condition. Understanding this disparity between our perception and Christ’s perception of us is vital in our recoveries from spiritual declension. Christ is sovereign in these loving recoveries of His own.

God’s discipline moves us from personal claims of wisdom and sight to admissions of blindness and dullness in self. God’s correction moves us from claims of personal worth and wealth to understanding our poverty. And His discipline moves us from claims of wholeness and self-sufficiency to views of our nakedness and shame.

Contrition, poverty of spirit, mourning over sin are each dependent upon receiving Christ’s perception of us. It is impossible to be poor in spirit if we do not abandon ourselves to Christ’s wisdom. We must consent to it.

There is definitely trauma in being ratcheted down to the place of humiliation wherein we reject our inflated view of self and receive Christ’s diagnosis of self. When the Lord scrapes away our bogus coverings and unravels our false garments; pain is involved – for we have to admit that we have turned to false sources of wisdom, worth, and wholeness. And as Christ lays out our case before us, we are faced with the unnerving fact that we have taken our thirsty souls to the world’s cisterns.

Added to this trauma of exposure is the ostracism that often comes from our fellow man; for worldlings rate one another by carnal concepts of wisdom, worth, and wholeness and not by kingdom values. The natural man has little use for a man whose exponents are “low” in the three “w’s” (note how the Corinthians applied the “w’s” test to the Apostle Paul and nearly failed him for being so unimpressive – 2 Cor 10:7-12).

In His humanity, Christ was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Is 53:3b). He was ostracized; He was the ‘stone’ choice in the Father’s sight; but when examined by the builders, He was rejected. He was discarded and deemed unworthy to build upon (1 Pet 2:7). The saint must come to terms with the fact that the world hates the wisdom of the cross.

As the Lord weans us from the world there are degrees of devastation; believers are being “scraped” down to bedrock. The Father is carefully removing all false foundations. Under His faithful discipline, we make new discoveries of what we are in self; we are not as wise and self-sufficient as we thought. Trauma hits us between the eyes; God is reducing us to nothing in ourselves that He might fully rebuild us upon Christ alone as our life; this is how in our faith and practice, Christ becomes our life.

At times, the trauma of discovering the blindness, poverty, and naked shame of self is too much for us. We rage at the prospect of having our false coverings removed. As God scrapes away and polishes us, a deep layer of our depravity comes to the light of day. It’s an oily, stinking stratum of foul fetid muck. We protest that God should let the light of day strike this layer of our corruption. We panic and grasp for the false coverings that used to conceal our vileness from our own eyes.

But God has always seen that layer; He loved us and redeemed us in spite of our vileness. All we can think is that this horrid branch of our innate corruption must be concealed as soon as possible. Spiritual blindness and poverty seem more tolerable than nakedness and shame. We’re offended by the exposure of our shame; we bounce from pillar to post, striving for some sort of covering to conceal it from our own eyes.

We protest, “Why can’t we be like other worldlings who enjoy respectability?” But God is patiently boxing us in; He is hedging us in, cornering us until we agree with Him that the world’s coverings are impotent to deal with the problem of innate evil – Christ alone is our life and completeness, our purity, our righteousness.

But we must have our flesh crucified in order to realize this truth in our spirits. How totally our nature is opposed to Christ. For the world seeks to rule by means of the 3 “w’s.” The natural man, if he could, would totally reclaim Adam’s broken scepter by means of the world’s wisdom. But the world’s way was condemned at Calvary; God is destroying the world’s wisdom by means of the cross (1 Cor 1:18-25).

When we take up the cross, we cast out the world’s wisdom. The priests and kings who will reign with Christ over a restored earth will have all come to the throne by way of the cross.

Christ sees how much of the world remains in us. He knows how much we depend upon the world to pronounce ourselves superficially “whole.” By the world’s gauge we long to pronounce ourselves seeing, wealthy, and whole. But our Lord knows at what junctures we are yet foolish children who depend upon the world to carry our wisdom, worth, and wholeness. So the Savior takes us to His school and begins scraping us down to bedrock so that our reliance may be wholly upon our Substitute.

There is a legal craving to be complete in ourselves

The Word of God is filled with examples of men and women who excelled in the world but came to final ruin. The wicked Haman in the book of Esther surprises us with his commonness and humanity when he calls his family together to recall his blessings. Haman ran a verbal inventory of his wisdom, worth, and wholeness. He recounted his riches, the number of his sons, every promotion, advancement, and honor he had received from the king (Esther 5:11ff.). In this regard Haman is so much like us – he leverages his personal value upon his accomplishments, his worth is the sum total of what he has and what he has done (doesn’t that sound familiar?).

Haman made a log of his exponents in every area; not only was he healthy and wealthy and in possession of a prosperous family, he was a prominent man in a world empire. But Haman admits to all those gathered in his home that none of his achievements (“w’s”) gave him satisfaction because of one grand obstacle; Mordecai the Jew would not bow down to him.

You see Haman is a type of every worldling who will suddenly on Judgment Day be exposed as an imposter; a thief of God’s glory and an enemy of the cross. On the last day those who love of the world, like Haman, will forever be hung on the gallows of God’s justice and will be displayed as objects of God’s eternal wrath (Is 66:24).

Consider Haman’s response to Mordecai’s refusal to bow: 1.) Haman engages in rage, 2.) he indulges in self-pity, 3.) he reviews his personal exponents of wisdom, wealth, and wholeness, 4.) he expresses extreme dissatisfaction, 5.) and then he plans the genocide of an entire nation.

The story of Haman teaches us a great deal about our natures. Haman’s “slow burn” gestated into murderous rage; for Mordecai’s refusal to bow in effect had pulled back the veneer to expose a tiny section of Haman’s rotten core.

Mordecai’s spiritual integrity in refusing to bow to Haman was a prophetic act; it preached to Haman that God alone is ultimately and absolutely worthy of man’s honor. Haman was a thief of God’s glory like Lucifer. He was not jealous for God’s honor; he had no sentiment for God’s glory, his heart thought only of his own honor.

Haman’s jealousy was wanton; he would have gladly murdered God’s chosen nation in order to retain his own sense of wisdom, worth, and wholeness. What a terrifying picture of fallen human nature. Our “wedded-ness” to the world is no small matter. Only the cross can dislodge it.

The world’s magnetic pull is subtle; the pride of life has many disguises. The letter to the church at Laodicea teaches us that when we seek to see without Christ as our whole wisdom in all His offices, we leave wisdom and become blind. When we seek to enrich ourselves without Christ as our true wealth, we impoverish ourselves. When we seek to clothe and cover ourselves without Christ, we expose ourselves to destitution, nakedness, and shame.

Our proud, legal natures are prone to weave our own coverings and then sew initialed monograms upon our work. God in His faithfulness unravels these structures; for He knows how ready we are to burn incense to the work of our hands.

The flesh and the Spirit are at odds (Gal 5:17). The flesh says, “Let me weave something special to cover this part!” “Let me generate just a little merit in the name of zeal for God.” But the motive does not come from a subjection to the righteousness of God. The Lord sees our covert war against the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

At times our fruitfulness and the growth of our graces and virtues tempt us to pride. God sends the caterpillars of affliction to knock down the weeds. Sometimes the humbling comes by way of our flesh asserting itself. We are surprised, even horrified that sins we thought we had mortified long ago have re-emerged and found new forms of expression.

The pendulum swings back the other way; our pride turns to self-loathing. We start spending time attacking the fleshly lusts that have tripped us up. But usually we do not go any deeper than railing against these flesh outbursts. But fleshly sins are actually telling symptoms of our unbelief. After all, it was unbelief that brought us to a place where laxity, anger, impatience, lust, resentment, and discontentment could gain a foothold.

The truest response to our fleshly failures would be to not only confess and forsake them, but also to abominate the unbelief that gave birth to them. In all honesty we have to admit we are holding more loosely to our Head than we ought.

The cross of Christ for cleansing of sins of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1)

Charles Hodge refers to sins of the flesh as those which defile the body; and sins of the spirit as those which affect the soul such as pride and malice (Hodge, 1 & II Corinthians, p. 550).

Sins of flesh and sins of spirit each have their own particular “vortex” which pulls at us and tries to keep us in a state of compromised fellowship with the Lord. Sins of the flesh spin off shame and guilt. We feel defiled – shame screams into the conscience that we are disqualified for Christ’s love and favor, we are disqualified for service, and we are ineligible for the Father’s acceptance.

As a consequence, we depart from the sonship mentality and retreat into the grey castle of self. We feel distant and alienated from the Father. Our only comfort is miserable self and the old libidinal lust gallery of sensual images.

Sins of the flesh raise disputes in the conscience about our eligibility for God’s love and favor. The guilt and defilement that issues from flesh sins make us feel more like beasts than citizens of heaven. In that state, we run the risk of seeking comfort by another bout of sensual indulgence, another swill from the world’s hog trough.

The answer is cleansing by the cross and a renewed enjoyment of fellowship. The power of Christ’s blood breaks into the rotating flesh vortex of shame; it blasts light onto our true status as sons of God and our justified status in Christ. It illuminates the object of our faith so that we enjoy Christ’s love again and take comfort in the fact that we are held in our Heavenly Father’s heart.

Faith in the Gospel is the key. For the message of the cross gives us renewed confidence to vacate the grey castle of self and step out into the warmth and comfort of His presence and fellowship again.

The cross is also necessary in our dealing with sins of the spirit. Bitterness, spiritual pride, self-righteousness, resentment, discontent, grumbling are not easily dislodged. The mind inflated by a false sense of its own importance keeps “building a case” for self-vindication, self-promotion, and self-assertion.

The cross is necessary to bring down this pride. For the legal bent of our lower natures longs to move off of grace ground to a strict cause and effect system of moral reward and penalty. This “lust for law” gives the vortex its spinning momentum.

Once in the vortex, we have moved from the breast-beating publican to the proud Pharisee. We resist the humbling disciplinary work of God. In order to move us back to “grace ground,” He will have to apply the rod to us to make us empty out our imagined coffers of personal merit.

But we are caught up in the vortex; we resist His disciplinary intent because we can’t imagine that we are no more advanced spiritually than the publican whose only hope was divine pity and mercy. We’re bounty hunters who want justice poured out on those who have diminished us.

In our merit basket we have gathered personal graces, spiritual frames, fruit-bearing, and faithful Christian service. We desperately want these to commend us to God and to give us rank above our less faithful brethren. But all these fruits must be thrown overboard so that we have both arms free again to hang onto the plank of His free grace. Only then can we can wrap both arms around the neck of our Savior, recline in His bosom and be melted again by His love.

The cross is needed to take us off of ourselves. The humiliation of Christ breaks into our pride cycle. It releases us from the pull of that vortex that demands we carry a portion of our worth, personhood, and standing before God and our fellow man.

By His gracious dealings with us, we contemplate again the manifold sufferings of Christ on our behalf. We see by faith again that His agony, separation, ignominy, weakness, and dereliction were necessary to wash us and clothe our evil natures. We are humbled and look away from ourselves as the source of anything; we are willing to gratefully stand in Him alone – this is the cross at work in us.

How different it is when we are far from the cross. During those times, the vortex of spiritual pride generates a secret antipathy to the passion of Christ. We are inwardly scandalized at the thought that in His body, the holy Son of God exposed our shame and nakedness and pollution to the piercing nails and jeering crowds. But when we adore again at the base of the cross, we bear His reproach with gratitude and regard His shame on Golgotha to be our glory (Heb 13:12-13).

The cross alone can break the bondage of our pride, complacency, shame, unbelief, and laxity. But we must consent to be His beloved child on His terms; the terms of blood-bought grace. When we consent, pride falls down.

It’s a time for realism. For all of us have sins of flesh and spirit. To refuse the divine remedy of God’s exposing discipline and to refuse renewed adoration of Christ and His cross is to live as a Laodicean. Let us consent to be clothed by Christ alone and sanctified by His cross; for that is our safety and that is our joy.

 

 

Delighting in the Knowledge of God Ephesians 1:15-23

(v. 18) What is the hope of His calling:

Redemption has a result; a consummation – your right-relatedness to the Trinity through Christ has a very clearly defined goal; it is ultimate conformity to Christ. Our election before the foundation of the world is aimed at this goal – “chosen that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love” (1:4).

You’ve been called out of darkness into His marvelous light for this very purpose – that you may gain the glory of Christ (2 Thess 2:14). The more fixed your hope is on the final goal and outcome of redemption, the more straight and resolute will be your walk towards that goal.

All history is moving towards this event in which the sons of God are presented publicly to the rational universe (that is the holy angels). The entire creation is poised for this event (Rom 8:18-25).

The goal of redemption is not adequately described as simply the absence of sin, death, and sorrow and a new immortal body. The consummation of redemption will be the enjoyment of God in Christ communicating Himself to us foreverIt is eternal love attending you: it is Christ given to be your life, light, and blessedness without cessation. And it is the redeemed enjoying God and pleasing God perfectly.

In glory the Church will be a spotless reflection the character of the Godhead – God’s communicable attributes will have reached maturity in her – she will be as much like God as a creature can possible be. Relations within the society of the redeemed will reflect the excellence of relations within the Trinity (perfect love, honor, deference, goodness, humility, wisdom, truthfulness).

Now all of this is to fulfill God’s vision (dream if you will) – for He has never desisted from the goal He announced originally to make man in His image and likeness. What is His dream? It is to have an eternal temple to dwell in. Not a temple made of inanimate things, but a temple of living stones. That is how God describes you, the redeemed; the saints – as living stones that are growing together, being fitted together, being built up into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit; a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (Eph 2:21-22; 1 Pet 2:5).

(EX. Heaven is not an eternal vacation – it is an eternal vocation for that will be the source of our bliss. Randy Alcorn observes in his book, The Treasure Principle, “heaven will be a place of rest and relief from the burdens of sin and suffering; but it will also be a place of great learning, activity, artistic expression, exploration, discovery, camaraderie, and service,” p. 36.)

At the consummation the ages, the aim of redemptive history shall be realized (as announced by an angel) – “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them. . .” (Rev 21:3). And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bondservants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads (Rev 22:3-4).

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says fish and guests smell after three days. If we are careful about who stays in your home for an extended period of time – how much do you think God cares about who His eternal human companions will be? (APPL. This should give us some insight into our tests and trials; for they keep surfacing where our affections lie. God is wise to test us – testing exposes our loyalties. Affliction shows us what we really love; it detaches us from the love of the world and anchors our hope more securely to God as our true ‘home.’)

When Richard Baxter went house to house visiting church members, he always asked his parishoners this question, “Do you see all of life as preparation for the next life?”

(v. 19) What are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

Not only do the riches of God in Christ comprise our inheritance (also the physical creation! Abraham, a type of every believer lived in tents his whole life even though he was heir of the world (Rom 4:13). Yes, the meek shall inherit the earth; but we who make up the company of the redeemed are also Christ’s inheritance; His Bride – that the Lord Jesus Christ might be theFirst-born among many brethren (Rom 8:29).

Heaven is about mutuality – I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. Mutual ownership will take our joy over the top. This is to be a source of delight to us – the marriage metaphor is a figure of speech filled with incredible promises of mutuality and intimate love (Jn 17:26).

(EX. -- C. S. Lewis offered the following contrast; compared to the Lord dwelling with the redeemed in glory, the most ideal romance among mortals is like a glass of milk mixed with water (it’s insipid by comparison).

Mutuality means that we give ourselves to God and He to us in a covenant of co-ownership As Spurgeon said, “I’ll be able to say on that day, God on yonder throne is mine!” This is where God is taking us – this day is moving closer and closer to us. (In glory our fellowship with the Lord will be one of perfect intimacy. “Our communion with God lies in his giving himself to us and our giving ourselves and all that he requires to him” (Owen, Communion, p. 3). (APPL. What this means for the present – though by faith, the saints have begun this communion with God now).

To be in God’s presence is to behold God. The pure pleasure involved in beholding God has begun in the saints (2 Cor 3:18). But for the present in our beholding we see in a mirror dimly –then it will be face to face. “And it will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us” (Is 25:9).

And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bondservants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads (Rev 22:3-4).

The Reformers referred to “The beatific vision. To beatify is to bring a person to a state of exalted joy above anything possible on earth. It means the vision that makes us blessed, orhappy. Beatific is from two Latin words: beatus, blessed, and facere, to make. To look at God will change us and make us like Him: “We shall be with Him and see Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2).

The beatific vision which will bring us endless exalted joy will be our beholding of Christ in His glory (this is what our Lord prayed for in John 17:24 – that the saints would behold His glory.)

The sight of Christ glorified will ravish our souls (2 Thess 1:10). We will never cease to marvel at the sight of God looking out at us through eyes of flesh – our amazement will never cease as we behold our glorified Savior with the marks of our atonement on His glorified body. The slain Lamb is the center of heaven; the Light of heaven. (EX. The invalid Puritan, Isaac Ambrose, said, God’s desire is to converse with us after our form.)

This vision of God will be the consummation of our knowing God and will give us full delight and joy for all eternity: “In your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11) (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 189-190).

Invalid Puritan Isaac Ambrose said, God’s desire is to converse with us after our form.

Your present ability to behold the Lord, albeit in a mirror dimly, is what differentiates you from the unsaved around you. Beholding is a gift of sovereign grace that has begun for the redeemed (2 Cor 4:4-6). Scripture describes the redeemed in 2 Corinthians 3:14-18 as the unveiled ones.

Though you behold in a mirror dimly now, you are being fitted to behold face to face. In order to behold face to face, you must be a partaker of God’s holiness so that you can look upon Him without fear, shame and covering your face. This will happen the moment you see Christ – when we see Him we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:20-21).

Your eternal vocation will involve beholding – it will be your source of ravishment and bliss.(APPL. -- Is beholding so as to delight in the Lord a part of your vocation now? If so, then you are experiencing the answer to the prayer in our text.)

(EX. I find myself agreeing with Maurice Roberts and other divines who caution us about studying God’s attributes in a cold, sterile, philosophic manner. Our study of God ought to be in a doxological mindset – that is for the purpose of delight and enjoyment and adoration and relational knowledge of Him. This exhortation is a logical bridge to our third point.)

(v. 19) What is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

God’s attributes were not on display all at once until the work of Christ. Understanding this fact is an important access point to your growth in the knowledge of God. Here’s why -- consider that God has literally harnessed His attributes and put them to work in your salvation.

Think of it -- He is exercising His infinite love, wisdom, and power (which are all resident in Christ) in order to bring you to glory. God is exerting His attributes for your eternal welfare and glory.(APPL. This is so important to our topic – God wants you to grow in the knowledge of Him by seeing His attributes at work in your salvation.)

God can only be known in covenant because He dwells in burning holiness – the cherubim cover their faces as they call out holy, holy. God says who would dare to risk his life by approaching me – I dwell in unapproachable light (Jer 30:21; 1 Tim 6:16).

God cannot be known and enjoyed apart from a place of safety – creating a place of safety is what He has done in placing us in Christ, our ‘City of Refuge.” For God has carved out a place of protection for us in the wounds, blood, and body of Christ. Christ is given to us as our covenant with God.

Let’s go even deeper – the unsearchable riches of the Godhead are put on display in Christ – which means that HOW God is taking the Church from dust to glory that is the revealer of the Godhead to the holy angels (Eph 3:8-10). (EX. Give the example of the Jay and Jerry Feller water purification plant.)

It says in 2 Peter 1:3-4 that the precious and magnificent promises of the Gospel are given to us out of (or by means of) God’s own glory and excellence. Thus the Gospel promises to forgive you and to adopt you in Christ are promises cast in the foundry of God’s attributes. God took His own attributes and poured them into the mould of the Gospel promises. (APPL. God wants you to know Him better and better as you take delight in all that He is toward you in Christ. Dwell upon Him as the God of all grace who is exercising His mighty attributes on your behalf. This makes you an owner, not merely a spectator or observer.)

God exports His life, love, blessedness, and righteousness across time and eternity and gives Himself to us in Christ. This is why at the moment of salvation (2 Cor 4:4-6) the believing sinner beholds God Almighty’s glory in the face of Christ. The sinner sees for the very first time WHO God is – that God plucks out His own heart (so to speak) in the giving of His Son in order to reconcile hostile sinners to Himself. It’s God’s attributes harnessed in the Person and work of Christ in order to bring us to God.

When the sinner by faith beholds this display of divine love; it casts enmity out of his heart – it makes a friend of a former enemy (it reconciles – Col 1:21-22).

When the sinner sees by faith that his own eternal welfare and God’s glory are forever joined and bound up together in the Person of Christ –hostility toward God is purged from the sinner’s heart; it’s impossible for the former enmity to remain there.

The exercise of God’s immutable and glorious attributes (in the redemptive work of Christ) accomplishes not only your highest good (eternal salvation) – but it also is the highest form of God’s self-revelation; this revelation of God in our behalf will redound to the eternal glory to God.

The more that sinks in – the more delight you will have as you meditate upon who God is (it is always who God is toward you in Christ. It is always Christ’s perfect suitability for our every need. It is always Christ who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption – 1 Cor 1:30). Christ is the wisdom and power of God; He holds His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King in order to bring you to God.

This is the truth of the Gospel which dispels lies about God; lies that kept the soul in its dark dungeon. Now that we are sons of light; we find that we have communion with God when we take Christ for the reasons God gave Him (acceptance, forgiveness, righteousness, access). God is exalted when you keep taking Christ for the reasons God gave Him. Listen to what Owen says in Communion with God:

We must assure ourselves that there is nothing more acceptable to God than to keep our hearts filled with him as the eternal source of all that rich grace which flows out to sinners in the blood of Jesus. Our resistance to walking close with God stems from the fact that we do not behold and receive his love. The more we see God’s love by faith, the more will we delight in him (p. 32).

God’s giving of himself as an all-sufficient God, to be enjoyed by his creatures, to provide for all their needs out of himself, is only revealed in Christ. In Christ, God is in covenant with his people to be a Father to them. In this covenant he has promised to lay out himself as the one who alone can meet the needs of his creatures. In Christ, God has promised to give himself to them for their eternal good and to be their exceedingly great reward (p. 87).

We must be convinced that God will use all his glorious attributes for our good. He has set forth Christ to be the Lord our Righteousness (Isaiah 45:24,25; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:18). We must be convinced that His attributes are powerful and able to bring us into eternal glory. To assure us of this, God wraps up the whole covenant of grace in one promise: “I will be your God.” Now we know that this Gospel covenant is confirmed in the blood of Christ. To be in Christ by faith is to know the wonder, excellence, wisdom and knowledge of God exercised in the salvation of sinners (pp. 88-89).

Going to Christ as one’s sin bearer is the believer’s daily work. Christ calls the believer to daily lay the burden of their sins upon him. By faith the saints are to see God laying their sins upon Christ. This is what it means to know Christ crucified. Believers draw near and take from Him that righteousness which he has wrought for them, so fulfilling what Paul taught (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ is delighted that his saints should always hold communion with him by giving him their sins and receiving his righteousness. We commune with Christ when we keep taking Him to be our righteousness (p. 144).

 

 

 

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Assurance of Salvation

How important is your personal assurance of salvation? As you search the Scriptures you will find that you cannot live a life of gratitude to God without it (Col 2:6, 7), you cannot worship aright without it (Ps 116:12, 13, 17), you will not be eager to obey and put off sinning without it (Col 3:5-11).

Because of these reasons – Scripture makes Christian assurance a duty – 2 Peter 1:(9) 10. Where true faith exists, it will long for assurance just as much as you long to know where you stand with your best friend.

Scripture is not stingy in extending solid promises of assurance to those who are truly born again. See 1 John 5:11, 12. This is certainly then an important question – how may we know for sure that we “have the Son?”

In many quarters of Christianity one might hear in answer to this question, “Just trust your decision that you made and do not doubt it.” But the more you search the Scriptures, the more you’ll find that this advice is bereft of biblical support.

Evidence for assurance of salvation in Scripture is far more three dimensional and comprehensive. God has given us a THREE-F0LD WITNESS TO ASSURANCE in order that we may know for certain that we possess salvation. This three-fold witness makes a complete testimony of the true believer’s salvation – it is the biblical foundation for assurance of salvation.

The three we will be discovering together are: 1.) The witness of saving faith in the Gospel. 2.) The witness of a changed life. 3.) The witness of the Holy Spirit in the heart (of the believer).

1.) The Witness of Saving Faith in the Gospel (vv. 1-4).

(vv. 1-2) In this section, the Apostle expands upon the believer’s assurance and hope. (This section resumes the theme of assurance and hope set forth in 5:1-11. Paul wants the glory of our salvation to fill our minds and hearts – filling our consciousness that we are accepted in Christ to the glory of God.) “The spirit of life in Christ” is an entirely new operating principle. The believer has been set free from the old principle of sin and death.

(v. 3) The law couldn’t nullify sin’s power – the law was impotent to deliver us, Christ alone accomplished our liberation (2 Cor 5:21). The law is reveals God’s righteousness, and according to Romans 3:20, the law is the revealer of human sin.

In our nature, Jesus blotted out sin’s guilt, he condemned it, He overthrew its power, He brought us nigh to God. This could only be done in human flesh! He took on the battle in the same human nature that had sinned – the same flesh that had become the seat and agent of sin. In our human nature, He conquered sin and death. His work on the cross is the means by which sin’s dominating power and penalty have been broken. In the crucifixion, the Son of God was judged and condemned in our place so that the claims of sin on a believer become invalid. That means at the cross, the judgment and condemnation of sin has resulted in power to the believer to live free of sin’s dominion.

(v. 4) As those set free from the tyranny of sin and death (and free from the sentence and punishment of being wrong with God), we begin our new life of overcoming. The law is fulfilled in us (yes by Christ’s obedience in our place) but also in a normative fashion in our walk – by the Holy Spirit’s directing, enabling power. (The grace of God in Christ translates the righteous requirement of the law into action – the Spirit loves God’s will.) We ought to examine ourselves in light of these verses. Does your life bear testimony to the fact that your entire hope is grounded upon Christ’s finished work for you?

QUESTIONS: Do you love the way God saved you (i.e. by the Gospel of Jesus Christ)? Do you take great delight in God’s way of salvation? Do you see God’s holiness, kindness, love, and wisdom in His plan to send His only begotten Son for sinners? Do you find now that the Law of God is written on your heart so that you desire to fulfill it and please God? Has the Gospel reconciled you to God so that you are no longer His enemy and so that you no longer walk according to the flesh and the world? Can you attest that the only possible solution to your dilemma of guilt, enslavement to sin, and love of the world was for Christ to die in your place? Is it your testimony that before faith in Christ, you were helpless and hostile to God?

2.) The Witness of a Changed Life (vv. 5-13).

(vv. 5-6) There are two different kinds of persons described here, one, a natural man, the second, a regenerated man. The two are described in terms of their settled mindsets. One is under the influence of the flesh, and the other is under the influence of Christ and His Spirit.

For Paul there is a strict correspondence between what a person’s interests are and who he is in his essential being. The man whose thoughts are according to the flesh operates in such a way that his affections, interests, thought life and will are one unified complex. His natural reason advises him to choose what he thinks is best for himself, not what the Word of God commands. (Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit – Matt 7:16-20ff.)

(vv. 7-8) “Inner man” does not just describe the thought life, it is a man’s interests, affections, direction. Therefore to “live after the flesh” is to be governed by that fleshly complex of reason, will and feeling. And what is Paul’s conclusion? For those who are in the flesh (unregenerate), it is morally and psychologically impossible for them to do anything well-pleasing in God’s sight. This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity and inability. It presents a graphic picture of man’s plight – his desperate need of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

When self is supreme, the uncontested “lord” of one’s life, that person will regard God as an enemy. The unregenerate man is hostile toward God. Enmity toward God stems from that entire internal fleshly complex which is oriented toward the lusts of the world (1 Jn 2:15-17).

(vv. 9-11) At the moment of the new birth, the Holy Spirit planted a new principle in the believer with new affections, new desires, and a new bias toward sin.

As a new creature, now we are mindful of the things of the Spirit. Now there is the powerful evidence of a changed life. “The old things have passed away.” The former pattern has been displaced by the new – the new man is governed by the rule of Christ’s Spirit.

The indwelling Spirit is the believer’s antidote to the flesh. At regeneration, the benefits and fruits of Christ’s redemptive power and mission are applied to the believer. The believer is renewed and regenerated -- but remember, this is unto a new relationship. It is because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence that the believer experiences (realizes) the fullness of Christ (note Phil 2:12-13).

(vv. 12-13) The assuring ministry of the Spirit is basic to our mortification of sin. As the Holy Spirit communicates the confidence to us that we are the Father’s adopted child, we are emboldened to fight sin. The Holy Spirit assures us that we are secure in Christ’s love –the result is a confidence that we are equipped with infinite resources to fight sin.

We are under obligation to put sin to death. We are not to allow what remains of the lower nature to set the standard for our behavior. The Holy Spirit stirs us to put to death selfish actions. We are to declare war and wage war against sin – it is conquer or be conquered, overcome or be overcome (1 Pet 4:1-6; 2:11).

The very activity of the believer putting off sin is evidence of the Spirit.

QUESTIONS: Do you find that you have a whole new principle operating in you with new affections for the Lord, His Word, and the things of God? Do you have a new bias and power against sin? Can you honestly say that because of Christ you are a “new creature?” Can you say that formerly you were opposed to God’s Law, but now through the Spirit you are able to obey it? Has your relationship to the Bible changed so that it is no longer a “closed,” often mysterious book, but now you can understand it and it is your daily food? Do your thoughts now frequently turn toward God and all that He is toward you in Christ? Does your gratitude for salvation motivate you to please God and to daily fight indwelling sin (by the power of the Holy Spirit)? Do you have a solid, well-grounded hope that Christ will receive you favorably into His eternal kingdom?

3.) The Witness of the Spirit in the Heart of the Believer (vv. 14-17).

(vv. 14-15) Walking in the way of holiness is described as the “leading of the Spirit.” This holy walk of putting to death sin and communing with God is the specific mark of the true child of God. Adoption and leading go together – the Holy Spirit does not leave us orphans. As those justified, freed from condemnation, set free from the power of sin, taken into the family of God, the Spirit desires that we be PERSUADED by Him that we belong there.

The Spirit’s leading is persuasion, not force, fear and bondage. He guides into truth and holiness (obedience). The Christian is to walk by the power of the Spirit (Gal 5:16). Since the Spirit is leading the believer, the Christian must “Walk in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 18; 2 Cor 7:1).

Sonship is the glorious goal and triumph of God’s grace. The Spirit imparts the assurance of sonship. As sons of God we have the right to cry “Abba” because we share sonship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Sonship guarantees eternal life itself (Gal 4:4-6).

(vv. 16-17) The Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God. This internal testimony or witness is the assured awareness of our sonship. He produces in us the posture and life of a son. He seals to our hearts that the promises of Scripture belong to us – they are ours. He instills a supernatural hope that we may build our very life and future upon – namely that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ. He assures us of our Father’s love. 

QUESTIONS: Do you have peace with God so that you know your standing before God? Do you know for certain that He has forgiven you? Do you bring your hopes, fears, requests, and sins to your Heavenly Father? Does the Holy Spirit continually produce in you the consciousness that you are God’s beloved child? Has the Holy Spirit testified to your spirit that you belong to God? Do you consider it a privilege to suffer for Christ socially, and if necessary in other ways? Is God’s Spirit leading you into greater holiness and into the habit of putting your sin to death? Do you count it your greatest treasure to be an heir of God?

CONCLUSION: When the true believer comes to Romans 8, his doubts come to a full stop. (His fears, agitations, wanderings – lay down of their own accord as he enters Romans 8 because this is his identity and his experience in personally knowing God. This chapter describes the glorious reality of his life as a “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17).

The Christian says of Romans 8, “This is my spiritual experience! These are the changes God has produced in me! These are the truths He has written on my heart!”

These are the spiritual realities that fill the mind and heart of the Christian. This is his “home turf” so to speak – these are his spiritual surroundings. His hopes and affections are thrilled by the consciousness that his spiritual life is described so beautifully in this chapter.

What if you cannot say that this is your spiritual home, you do not have this three-fold witness of assurance? Ask God to show you your sin. Welcome conviction of sin. Go to the passages of Scripture that teach the Gospel of grace in Christ. Ask God to give you faith and have mercy upon you. He is willing to receive all who come to Him in Christ (Jn 6:37).

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Propitiation

PROPITIATION – an atoning sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God on behalf of those for whom it is made.

The five pillars in God’s plan of propitiation:

 

1.) Propitiation is required by God’s character.

2.) Propitiation is initiated by God’s love.

3.) Propitiation is defined by substitution.

4.) Propitiation is accomplished by Christ’s death.

5.) Propitiation is appropriated by faith.

INTRODUCTION: The Need for a Perfect Propitiation

 

The seriousness of sin.

The dominant problem in the world is sin. It stains every life, disturbs every relationship, fixes itself on every baby, rules the heart of every worldling. It makes us susceptible to disease, suffering, war, death, and ultimately hell. Sin is incurable (Jer 13:23).

Sin brings us under the control of Satan. It brings misery. It makes us children of wrath who are enslaved to sin under the lordship of the evil one (Eph 2:1-3). Sin renders us unable to love God and to please God (Rom 8:5-8).

Sin is lawlessness according to 1 John 3:4. It is the violation of God’s immutable law. Scripture describes sin as lawlessness, transgression, moral stumbling, enslavement to lusts and passions, pollution, rebellion. Sin produces a moral debt to God. Sin racks up a debt of moral obligation to God that ignites the fires of hell (Matt 18:23-34).

 

God is holy and will therefore punish all sin.

All sin is against God first and foremost (Ps 51:4). Unforgiven sin exposes the soul to unquenchable divine wrath – God will not acquit the guilty (Ex 23:7). Sinners go through life accumulating sin. God has told us that there is a strict principle operating of moral cause and effect (Gal 6:7, 8).

Scripture warns that unrepentant souls are “storing up wrath for the day of wrath” (Rom 2:5, 6ff). Those who do not repent and come to God for forgiveness will have God’s eternal wrath released upon them.

God is determined to not leave the guilty unpunished (Ps 7:11). He is angry with the wicked everyday. God regards it to be an abomination to justify the wicked (Prov 17:15; 24:24).

 

God’s punishment of sin will be absolutely comprehensive.

Every violation of God’s law will be punished. Judgment will extend to the thoughts, motives, and secrets of the heart (Rom 2:16; Heb 4:12). Divine judgment will extend to every careless word spoken (Matt 12:36, 37). Those who hope to have their severity of judgment offset by their efforts at law-keeping will be horrified to discover that they have offset none of their condemnation (Gal 3:10-13; James 2:10; Rom 3:19, 20). (When we see the wicked prosper in this life, we forget at times that they are hanging by a thread over the mouth of hell (Ps 37; 73; Job 21).

 

Sin is man’s greatest problem; forgiveness is man’s greatest need.

God has already sworn that He will punish every transgression. Yet the glorious news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God desires to forgive sins and to bury them in the deepest sea of His forgetfulness (Is 43:25). Your personal relationship with God begins when you receive forgiveness in Christ. This glorious gift of forgiveness becomes the basis of your relationship with God (Eph 1:7:2:8, 9; 1 Jn 1:9; 2:2). But in order to receive God’s forgiveness in Christ, we must recognize the depth and seriousness of our sinfulness. You must be willing to depart from your sin and surrender to Christ as Lord (Titus 2:14-3:6).

Those who come to God for forgiveness understand that they are sinners who deserve God’s wrath. They understand that God grants forgiveness and that they must confess their sins to God (Luke 18:13).

 

God’s Holy Spirit prepares the sinner to see his need of forgiveness and to see God’s willingness to forgive (John 16:8-11).

God’s Spirit brings us to the conviction that we desperately need forgiveness. The Spirit produces both the conviction of our sinfulness and guilt (and its eternal consequences), and the reality that you need to ask God for forgiveness and that He is willing to hear and forgive you (see Is 55:6-11).

 

God does not forgive by being indifferent or lenient toward sin.

The sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God was necessary in order for us to be forgiven. In order to receive forgiveness, we must understand and believe that forgiveness comes only through faith in Christ and His shed blood for sinners (1 Pet 2:24; 3:18; Heb 9:14). (Countless individuals who know something of the guilt of their sin stop short of faith in Christ and instead put their hope in religious works. Sadly they hope God will make some sort of exchange with them of effort and sincerity for salvation. God will not forgive on the basis of human works or religious exertion, only on the basis of Christ’s finished work upon the cross does He receive sinners.)

The Gospel must be preached, for in the Gospel, God’s way of putting sinners right with Himself is revealed and uncovered (Rom 1:16, 17). The Gospel reveals how God can be perfectly just when He justifies guilty sinners (Rom 3:26). The Gospel therefore proclaims God’s “legal basis” for the forgiveness of sinners.

 

Propitiation defined: It is impossible for man to make an adequate atonement for his sins that God will accept (Ps 49:5-9). (ATONE – to make amends for wrong doing so that oneness is accomplished. ATONEMENT – “at-one-ment.” PROPITIATION – is an atoning sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God on behalf of those for whom it is made). Oh how important it is to know where to find a perfect atonement for your sins.

The five pillars in God’s plan of propitiation:

1.) Propitiation is required by God’s character.

In the propitiation at Calvary, God’s wrath was poured out upon Christ in order to vindicate God’s justice, and to make possible His grace (He is “Just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”).

 

QUESTIONS WE NEED TO CONSIDER: What is it about God that requires propitiation for sin? What is it about God that provides propitiation for sin? What is it about man (as the image of God) that eliminates every proposed solution to sin and guilt but a divinely planned propitiation?

The infinite wisdom of God is manifested in the cross (1 Cor 1:18-25). Christ is God’s wisdom – all treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge are in Christ (in Christ’s Person and in Christ crucified). That God should plan man’s salvation, a salvation that magnifies God’s grace and at the same time, uphold and exalt all of God’s attributes is infinite wisdom.

 

The manner in which God has chosen to save rebellious sinners must uphold and vindicate God’s justice. (ILLUSTRATIONS: A Cossack leader passed a law that anyone caught stealing food would be beaten with 30 lashes on a bare back. When the hood was pulled off of the face of an elderly woman who had stolen food, it turned out to be the leader’s mother. The leader bared his back, sheltering her, he put his arms around his mother as he took the 30 stripes for her. This is justice and mercy in the same act.In a second example of justice upheld in mercy – a Roman governor passed a law that adultery should require that the male perpetrator have both eyes put out. When his own son was caught in the act, the governor had one of his own eyes put out and one of his son’s eyes put out. In both of the above illustrations, the action of the substitute was 100% voluntary.)

God’s righteousness and justice are demonstrated in Christ’s propitiatory work (v. 26). The truth exalted in this demonstration is that God is utterly just and righteous when He forgives the sin and guilt of believing men and women. God’s honor is linked to the fact that there must be a legal basis (in the sight of God’s law) for the forgiveness of sins. The divine legal basis for God extending forgiveness to sinners is propitiation -- Romans 3:19-26.

 

2. Propitiation is initiated by God’s love.

The plan to give His only begotten Son to be a propitiation for sinners comes from the heart of God the Father (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 4:9, 10; Rom 5:8). 

God was in Christ, “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:19). Rom 3:25 -- God “displayed” His Son publicly as a PROPITIATION. This “placarding” of Christ was, as we will see, for a most important purpose (Grk. Protithemai – to show publicly or openly). (The crucifixion of Christ involved both Jew and Gentile. It did not happen in some lonesome corner of the world but at the crossroads of three continents – see Acts 26:26.)

Propitiation is the heart of the Gospel. In the truth of propitiation, the purpose of the cross is clearly unfolded. Propitiation is indispensable to the understanding of the Gospel. Propitiation teaches us that the nature of Christ’s death on Calvary was that of an atoning sacrifice that satisfied the just wrath of God against sinners. Thus propitiation is the heart of the Gospel – it reveals the heart of God who is jealous for His own holy honor and it reveals the heart of God who loves the world (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 4:9, 10).

3.) Propitiation is defined by substitution.

God’s wrath is His holy disposition against sin. Wrath is His righteous response to sin against His holy character (expressed in His moral law).

In pagan religions the worshipper was responsible to satisfy the offended deity. In the glorious Gospel, Christ Himself is the satisfaction of God’s wrath on behalf of all those who will believe.

This is the principle of substitution; the Son of God being punished in our place (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:9; Is 53).

The very first issue when considering atonement is this: the value of the atonement is not set by the guilty party, it is determined solely by the Judge, (God Almighty who will judge the living and the dead). Tragically, there are millions of people around the world seeking to offset their wrongdoing by forms of penance/atonement NOT recognized by God (hot wax on the hands, stair-climbing on the knees, burning candles, religious rituals and ceremonies, repetitious prayers, social work, etc.).

When seeking an answer to the question, “On what basis can God clear the record of a sinful rebel?” we will have to ask the question, “What is the nature of Christ’s death?” Was it primarily an example, or a demonstration of love, or was it the very height of martyrdom, or some sort of sacrifice that won God’s love for the world? In understanding what Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross, God’s authoritative, infallible interpretation of what took place is the only thing that matters. Romans 3 makes it clear that Christ’s death was a true penal substitution. PENAL SUBSTITUTION is the glory of the Gospel!

Is God’s absolute moral law upheld when He forgives believing sinners? Romans 3 answers that question in the affirmative. God cannot forgive sin by a legislative act. When He forgives sin, it is not clemency, it is not leniency, it is not an unpaid pardon, it is not indifference toward sin, it is not a legislative act.

 

When God forgives sins, it involves a judicial act. When God forgives, it must involve justice; it must not be a violation of His justice because God’s justice is immutable. Christ being displayed publicly as a propitiation involves God’s intent to show the whole world the legal basis for the forgiveness of sins! We could accurately say that God only forgives what He pays for! This is the only way that God could remain righteous when He forgives wicked men.

4.) Propitiation was accomplished by Christ’s death.

Propitiation involves the satisfaction of God’s justice by the death of Christ for us. The trampling of His holy law must be fully addressed if sinners are to be cleared of guilt. God’s inviolate honor would be bruised if sinners were restored without justice being done. For God’s righteousness character is codified in the Law. This broken law, despised by sinners, must be answered, addressed head on, and vindicated if sinners are to be forgiven and restored to God.

 

Application: I hope that you are picking up on the fact that it is not as easy for God to forgive as one might think – in order for God to pour out oceans of mercy upon sinners, His justice must be fully satisfied.

 

Key in understanding propitiation is that it is a transaction between the Father and the Only Begotten Son of God on behalf of sinful man. Just before the Lord Jesus Christ gave up His spirit in death on the cross He uttered these words, “It is finished” (Grk. Tetelestai  [it is] paid in full (Jn 19:30). This same word, tetelestai, was written upon first century tax receipts that had been paid in full.) How significant this is for our understanding of the nature of the atonement. Jesus paid and paid until the Father said “Enough! I am satisfied. My wrath against the sin of believers has been fully satisfied and placated.”

 

Application: We are frequently tempted to run somewhere other than to the atonement when we feel our guilt and failure. How significant this is for us who are frequently disturbed by the sense of our sinfulness and failure over against God’s law. How vital to our walk with God that we know precisely how satisfied the Father is with the finished work of the Son on Calvary on our behalf. We need often to think clearly through propitiation, the heart of the Gospel, and its application to us. God’s Holy Spirit assists us in this – He points to the blood (John 16:14).

 

5. Propitiation is appropriated by faith.

Faith is the instrument by which propitiation is applied to us. (By faith in Christ and His substitutionary death, we find full and free forgiveness in the cross.)

In the exercise of saving faith the believing sinner transfers all reliance away from self and self efforts. He or she stakes all confidence of eternity with God the Person of Christ and His merits. (Faith is not the ground of our salvation, the work of Christ on the cross is the very foundation of our salvation.)

 

Application: The God of the Bible is not a god who is detached, distant, implacable, unappeased, unmerciful, unknowable. The God of the Bible cannot be mollified and softened by human works, by Mary or priests, or by religious acts. God has planned our salvation from start to finish. He has given His only begotten Son. Christ’s sacrifice is the basis for all mercy poured out upon the believing and repenting sinner.

 

Dear people, there is a great need for repentance here regarding the things that you have heard. It is in our sin nature to distribute our soul’s security or “weight” over things that cannot save us. Your eternal destiny depends upon your willingness to turn away from all false atonements. You must cast yourself upon Christ alone – the God of the universe has provided a perfect atonement for sinners. Christ is the propitiation that provides the only secure refuge from God’s wrath. God is glorified when we take refuge in Him. On the last day, all false refuges will be exposed as such. They cannot save us more than a cardboard box could save us from a tidal wave.

 

The Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ (He is Priest of His propitiation).

Hebrews 5:5-10 – He is the source of eternal salvation to those who obey Him.

Hebrews 7:25-28 – Jesus holds His priesthood permanently; He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him. He is perfectly suited to our needs – infinitely superior to all fallible human priests.

Hebrews 8:6-13 – Christ is High Priest and is Mediator of the new covenant.

Hebrews 9:11-15 – Christ as High Priest entered the perfect tabernacle to offer His own blood. He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Christ’s blood will cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 9:24-28 – Christ entered the holy place, heaven, to appear in the presence of God for us. He represents believers as High Priest. He was offered ONCE, to bear the sins of many.

Hebrews 10:5-9 – The Father prepared a body for Christ to “sacrifice” once for all. God’s will was for Christ to offer Himself to the Father as a sacrifice for us.

Hebrews 10:10-18 – By Christ’s once for all sacrifice, believing sinners have been set apart to God, once for all.

Hebrews 10:19-23 – Confident access to God is only through the once for all finished work of Christ.

Hebrews 13:10-16 – Christ was offered once for all that He might sanctify us. He suffered outside the gate. We must identify with Him, bearing His reproach. Since Christ’s work is finished, the only sacrifice that remains to be offered by “believer priests” is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9, 10).

The implications of Christ’s work of propitiation:

1.) The mediation, dispensing, and application of the infinite benefits of Christ’s work on Calvary belong to the Trinity, not to man! The application of Christ’s propitiatory work is by the power of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Peter 1:2; Titus 3:5-7). How dangerous for man through religion to try to control it, manage it, dispense it, harness it, sell it, mediate it, or market it! Judgment awaits those who have sought to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in applying the saving benefits of propitiation through manmade religion. Christ is the High Priest who offered Himself once for all to God. Sinful man is not needed in this offering. Christ’s work of offering Himself is finished, complete, and all-sufficient.

2.) If Christ’s work is indeed finished, then the only work for us that remains, regarding sacrifice as His priests, is that of praise and thanksgiving. (Consider the blasphemous error of the “bloody” offering of the mass in light of this biblical truth.)

3.) The Christian life is built solely upon the foundation of Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 3:11).Even ongoing forgiveness is based upon the all-sufficient, finished propitiation of Christ (1 John 2:2).

4.) What are the ramifications of knowing that God propitiates His own wrath against sin? First, man can have no part in the atonement. Second, all three members of the trinity are involved in your salvation. The Father planned your salvation, the Son secured it, and the Holy Spirit applies it. Under the new covenant, God’s name is “Father.” Third, all barriers to your fellowship and acceptance with God have been removed by propitiation. As such, God in Christ has removed all that disqualifies the believer from fellowship, love and security in God as His beloved child (1 John 1:1-4). Fourth, it is impossible to know God, unless you know Him as the God who has given His Son to be a propitiation for sin – we must know Him as propitious (1 John 4:9, 10; 2 Cor 4:6).

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Reconciliation

INTRODUCTION: The members of the Godhead have perfect knowledge, love and communication, therefore we would expect that the creatures made in the image of our triune God to have as their greatest longing to be loved and known and to love and know others. Thus we could expect loneliness to be painful, and the desire for lasting, meaningful relationships of trust, respect, security and love to be strong.

Think about what triggers our anxiety; often it is concern over rejection, disrelatedness; we hate that feeling of being forgotten and feeling like we don’t matter. We’re attracted to people who value us.

We try to put our best foot forward, make a good impression, have a recognizable contribution in our relationships. We can’t stand to live without security (of love and favor) and significance (that we matter).

 

It’s super uncomfortable to live with a diminished sense of security and significance, so we utilize a host of defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from emotional pain. (You can’t just walk up to another person and say, “Please love and accept me for who I am!” “Tell me I am significant!” Yet those God-created needs are there.)

 

The issue is where will you take those needs? The Bible is so clear; our relationship with God is the foundation for all other relationships. The Lord has made you with needs only He can meet. The more we take those needs elsewhere, the deeper our idolatry. There is a God-shaped vacuum in every person’s heart. Only God can fill it, not another person, not things.

 

What does it look like when God fills that vacuum in the Person of Christ? 1.) You will KNOW that you are loved by God unconditionally. 2.) You will KNOW that you are right with God (have His full favor and acceptance in Christ. 3.) You will KNOW that you are forgiven and that your conscience has been washed clean by Christ’s blood. 4.) You will KNOW that you are in the center of God’s purpose (knowing why you were put on earth and knowing your identity and significance as His beloved child).

 

Only when those “core needs” are met by Christ are you equipped to have relationships as God intended. All of our venturing out in forming relationships must spring from the fact that we are right with the God we were created to know. Only Christ can meet these core needs of ours.

Without this vacuum filled by Christ and His redeeming love, we are liable to take our core needs to people and things. Can you imagine what kind of problems that creates? Oh how blessed to know the Lord, then we can venture out from that secure continent of rock to form God-glorifying relationships. We can operate from a secure position of love, forgiveness, and purpose. My identity is secure in Christ! People and performances don’t carry my value or identity (1 Cor 4:3-5).

What incredible joy to be aligned and identified with God’s purpose to glorify Himself by bringing hell-deserving sinners to Christ and adopting them as sons and daughters of God through the Savior.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

I. The Meaning of Reconciliation

 

  • To Reconcile” --is to remove the enmity between parties that are at variance (at odds) – the restoration of friendly relations after a period of enmity and estrangement.
  • Reconciliation answers our alienation and estrangement from God by reason of sin.Reconciliation is distinctly Paul’s word. He uses it to describe the relational benefits of justification (Justification results in friendship with God).
  • Sin drove a massive wedge between us and God. We ought to take notice of the scripturalwords describing our “disrelatedness” to God: enemies (Rom 5:10); children of wrath, sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2, 3); alienated and hostile in mind (Col 1:21); hostile toward God (Rom 8:7; James 4:4); enmity (Eph 2:15, 16); haters of God (Jn 7:7; 15:18, 23-25).
  • What is the cause of our quarrel with God? James 4:4; Rom 8:7; Jn 7:7; 1 Cor 1:23, 24) provide enough of a clue. God has an absolute claim on His creatures – He has the right to tell us how to live. While slaves of sin, how can we love His holiness (His holy response to sin is wrath). How can we love His righteousness when He justly condemns sinners to death? Thequarrel also arises from the fact that we hate God’s justice against our sin. 

II. The Ministry of Reconciliation (v. 18).

 

  • All these things” – refers to the new creation of which Paul has been speaking vv. 14-17, (God is the sovereign Author of these life-transforming realities).
  • Reconciled us to Himself” – This is God’s act; He does this, not us. We cannot put away our own hostility and enmity toward God. He accomplished reconciliation when, in the death of Christ, He put away everything that on His side meant estrangement!
  • God’s reconciliation to us must precede our reconciliation to Him. WHY? As long as we are under God’s wrath and the curse (due to our sin), we cannot be anything but aliens and enemies, cut off from God’s favor and fellowship. Only when God’s wrath and the curse are removed, can be holiness, life, and love – that is the order; we must have divine favor beforewe can be holy. “While we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10). Application “melts” the heart of the sinner.)
  • [He] gave us the ministry of reconciliation” – God has called believers to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation, to preach peace – we’ve been given a ministry of reconciliation – God is ready to receive sinners into favor and manifest His love.
  • A ministry of reconciliation is needed because man’s reconciliation to God is not complete without a human response. Men can only become right with God when they consent to God’s terms of peaceThe gospel comes bringing the power to fulfill its condition for salvation(the effectual call, the gift of faith – “turn Thou me, and I shall be turned” Mt 11:25-30; Jer 31:18 KJV). 

III. The Mediator of Reconciliation (v. 19).

  • God in Christ was making atonement for the sins of the world; He was reconciling the world to Himself.
  • The two personal pronouns, “their” and “them” emphasize that reconciliation is applied to personal relationships. Through sinfulness they have become estranged and hostile (Rom 5), reconciliation in Christ removes this barrier to friendly relations with Almighty God.
  • Not counting” explains how God was reconciling the world to Himself. (The sins of believers are not reckoned, or imputed to them – to not impute sin is to forgive it.) “AND” joins a second activity to this “not counting” clause. God was “putting in us the word of reconciliation.” He has sent His ambassadors. Not imputing sin, and committing to us the word of reconciliation are both involved in God’s saving activity (“how shall they hear without a preacher” Rom 10:14).
  • The “word of reconciliation” -- God has willed that it be announced to all men: Because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection on behalf of sinners (1Cor 2:1, 2), God is reconciled and ready to forgive – turn to Him and live, be received into favor. (The death of Christ proves that God is kindly disposed toward sinners; His disposition is that of willing their reconciliation.)

IV. The Message of Reconciliation (v. 20).

  • Ambassador” -- title of Emperor’s Representative. Paul, and every believer, is a representative of Christ the Reconciler (and behind Christ is God – redemption is as much the work of the Father as the Son). Paul speaks with authority granted by the Lord. Ambassadors watch for opportunities with hearers (Paul a “debtor” to all men – Rom 1:14KJV).
  • Seeing that God is urging, asking, pleading, entreating by us” – the divine command, “be reconciled to God”! (It is not reconcile yourselves to God, for it was God in Christ bearing the enmity, therefore become reconciled, embrace the offer of reconciliation.) Do not think that it is we who are asking, it is Christ who is asking you, it is the Father who entreats through us! (This is the basis of our pleading with sinners to be converted, we are authorized to do so.)
  • of our pleading with sinners, We are the heralds of this amazing love, God gave His Son so that we could have no penalty. Enraged sinners put to death God’s Son and they slew many of the messengers of reconciliation, yet God continues to send more ambassadors to proclaim the word of reconciliation.
  • Paul repeats that our message is on behalf of Another (huper). (By the authority of Another.) The intensity, passion, and urgency of the plea show that man is not merely a passive recipient in an automatic process, No, God is calling for a response from the unconverted.

 

  • Application: The believer needs daily to remember the reason why he is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Treasure the infinite provision for ongoing forgiveness. Preach the Gospel to yourself each day.

 

V. The Means of Reconciliation (v. 21).

 

  • Here Paul summarizes the heart of the GospelHow can sinners be reconciled to an immutable, unchanging God? How is the non-reckoning of sins consistent with the attributes of God?
  • God’s answer: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin” – this is how the non-reckoning of sin was made possible; the sins of all who would believe were imputed to Another. Christ suffered what the greatest sinners ought to suffer. God allowed Christ to be condemned and die as One who was cursed – He was treated as sin personified (note Gal 3:13 and language of the LXX).
  • He was made sin” -- Though the Son of God was sinless, He became officially guilty of our sin and guilt. Christ’s  satisfaction as Substitute guarantees the reality of our reconciliation. He suffered the penalty we deserved. He made a full and perfect satisfaction of the Law’s demands of justice to the lawbreaker (Rom 8:3). As Hodge states, “His death was a true substitution; what was done by One was in place of another. It avails as though that other had done it. The victim was the substitute of the offerer – its death took the place of his death. If both died, there was no substitution.”
  • Because of Christ’s finished work as Substitute, there is nothing in the perfection of God’s character, nor His holy law, nor in His moral government that stands in the way of your pardon. (This is huge! – it’s the basis of both legal pardon, and joy and peace in the conscience.)
  • In His voluntary death, Christ experienced not merely the death penalty, but the consequences of sin within His Person: He was plunged into alienation from God, dereliction, isolation, disrelatedness, radical estrangement, and divine wrath.
  • Christ’s willing identification with the sinner’s guilt, sinner’s penalty, and also the consequences of sin in the soul (alienation) was for the purpose of exchange – He became identified with sinful humanity that we might become identified with His righteousness.Because He is God, because it was voluntary, God’s law is upheld in this exchange. Our sins are imputed to Christ and His righteousness is imputed to us.
  • Here the meaning of justification is disclosed: through their relationship with Christ, men and women may exchange their sinful condition for a status before God of “God’s righteousness.” The removal of guilt (alienation), joined to the reckoning of righteouness equals a positive relationship of friendship with GodNot only is there a cessation of enmity, but the bestowal

of a righteous status of favor. We become the righteousness of

God by union with Christ.

  • Believers are not merely beneficiaries of Christ’s work, they are partakers of Christ’s righteousness. We are identified with Him and His righteousness to such an extent that it forms our new identity – “sons of God.”

CONCLUSION: How difficult it is for Adam’s race to understand how propitious God is (He is both the God who atones, and the atoned-for God). It is impossible to make Him any more propitious than He is! You cannot soften Him up or make Him more kindly disposed toward you.

One cannot conceive of an act that would appease Him. (EX. If you gave a man a rowboat and a thimble – transfer all the beach sand of the Atlantic to the Pacific. That assignment would be easier than pacifying God.) The only protection from God’s wrath is the hiding place He provides. As soon as man attempts to do the work of propitiation, he winds up being an enemy of what God has done at Calvary.

According to Gardner Spring, the great stumbling block of the cross is fact that the cross is a monument to what sinners deserve. Here is where the unbeliever resists – he protests that he does not deserve to die, be separated from God and be eternally miserable. Therefore he has a quarrel with God over what his sin deserves.

In resisting God’s verdict, you know the weapons sinners useA good God would not allow suffering and evil, it’s not fair that God should judge those who’ve never heard, God will not judge a person who is moral, sincere, and religious, man has probably falsified whatever Scriptures were given, so many Christians are hypocrites, religion has done more harm than good.

Here is where you come in as a minister of reconciliation.

You must show the sinner that his weapons and excuses are groundless. Here is the reason why,in the work of reconciliation, God has satisfied His own wrath and justice against sin.

It’s only pride and the love of sin that keeps the sinner from responding to God’s plea to be reconciled.

You must show the unbeliever that he is the only one holding the weapons, God has satisfied His own justice and now holds out open arms.

God has put away His own wrath -- He pleads with you to be reconciled, will you prefer to die an enemy? God has paid an infinite price to make peace with you, will you hold fast to your weapons and retain your enmity against God? Do you find the terms of peace too stringent? Does “come and be forgiven offend you?”

 

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Redemption

DEFINITION: Redemption – to buy, to buy out, especially of purchasing a slave with a view to his freedom. To release on receipt of ransom. To release by paying a ransom price. (Of Christ’s work -- He redeems us from iniquity, self-will, and bondage to sin.)

 

INTRODUCTION We are not God-centered enough. Too often we picture a god who is merely trying to be helpful, rather than the God who is sovereign ruler who reigns over all. We forget that God does all things for His own glory, whether saving lost sinners or bringing judgment on the earth.

God has always existed - He was there before He made this vast universe. According to the Prophet Isaiah, it is inconceivable that God should create the universe and not receive the glory for which it was made (Is 42-45). (God’s glory is not the same as our glory. We may have some temporary fame or recognition for an accomplishment - but God’s glory is different, it is the outshining of His unchanging beauty, excellence, holiness, majesty, wisdom, justice, mercy, and love. We were made to find our satisfaction in His glory.)

In all of God’s acts, whether promises, threats, wonders or self-revelation, we should seek to know His glory. (This is only possible if you are safely hidden in Christ.) God doesn’t need anything to feel good about Himself. But He does receive pleasure in revealing His excellence. He chose to form an order of creatures in His own image to whom He would reveal Himself. He is revealed in creation, in providence (history), in His wondrous acts, in the Bible, in His only begotten Son, and in the work of salvation.

All things exist for God’s glory - humanism says the very opposite. God’s glory is the purpose we were made from the dust of the earth. We were made to run on God, to take delight in Him, to be satisfied in Him, to find our peace, joy, significance, and security in Him.

The key revealer of the Godhead is man’s salvation in Christ. God’s might, love and wisdom in saving sinners through His Son is the primary means of making God known. Think about it - God has chosen a way to take defiled, polluted, rebellious sinners and bring them from dust to glory. Transgressors who believe upon Christ and repent of sin become exhibit “A” of God’s grace. They become eternal trophies of God’s matchless grace. Salvation says more about God than anything He has done since creation! Central in God’s plan is His purpose to glorify His grace in the salvation of sinners (see Eph 1 and Ex 33:19).

What a corrective the sovereignty of God is for our man-centered view of life. All things exist for God. He is worthy to be King of creation. Because He is absolutely holy, He does all things well. The perfection of His plan will be revealed on the last day. From our perspective, the tapestry of history is filled with loose threads, dead ends, unpunished crimes. But on the last day, when the final second of history ticks off the clock and all calendars are thrown away, once eternity begins, THEN history will be bound into one giant volume of instruction. A book about the character of the Creator and the character of His creatures, yes it will be the record of the honoring and the dishonoring of God, and the destiny of each of those paths (life or destruction).

 

I. The Message of Redemption is first of all about God.

God is sovereign Creator. He is the designer, fashioner, and sustainer of all creation (Ps 100:3; Acts 17:24-31). He called the universe into existence by His spoken Word and He explains it by His written Word, the Scriptures.

 

He is revealing His mighty attributes by the creation (Rom 1:18-20). The created universe discloses God day by day (Ps 19:1-6).

 

He is sovereign Ruler and Lord over everything that exists (Is 14:27; Ps 24:1, 2).

He is an infallible Creator.

He is light – He is the source of all truth, wisdom, knowledge, and ethics (1 Jn 1:5; Prov 1:7).

He is holy. He made the universe in order to demonstrate His holiness. God is unchanging in His moral majesty, purity, and holiness (Is 6:3). He alone sets the standard for right and wrong -- every commandment he has given is the manifestation of His holy character (1 Pet 1:16, Rom 3:19-21).

He is personal Creator. God is a personal Being – He is self-aware, personal, holy, knowable, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient (Ps 139; Rom 11 :36).

 

God is love – He created us in His image (Gen 1:27) in order to have a love relationship with us (1 Jn 3:1; 4:7-10). We were made for communion with Him. He created us for His glory that we might take delight in worshipping, honoring, and reflecting Him (1 Cor 10:31; Is 43:7, 21). God is worthy to be loved. His character is perfect, wonderful and excellent. We were created to be satisfied in Him and all that He is for us. It is the creature’s duty to live for His glory.

II. The Message of Redemption is about man’s sinful condition.

Mankind rejects God’s wonderful characterGod’s laws and blessings are intended to show us and warn us of God’s loving ownership of us (Rom 2:4). But

Scripture says that men will not live for the glory of God (Rom 3:23) -- it is because of sin that people are uninterested and are unable to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

God’s testimony of man’s condition reveals that all are in rebellion against God’s moral government (Rom 8:5-7).

None of us have treasured God the way we should. We have sought satisfaction in other things and treated them as more valuable than God (Eph 2:1-3).

Mankind is separated from God because of sin. God has born witness to the consequences of sin (Rom 6:23). Sin produces guilt, death, and separation from God (Rom 5:12). Sin results in separation of our souls from God forever (God is the only Source of light, life, goodness, and love). God is just and righteous in shutting us out from the enjoyment of His glory forever (Gal 3:10). Hell is real, it is not a myth. Jesus addressed the subject of hell more than any other speaker in the Bible (Matt 10:28).

Man is in bondage to sin and cannot free himself. God’s Word tell us that the human race is dead to the things of God (Col 2:13). Man’s will and choosing are enslaved to sin (Gal 3:22). Man’s thinking is darkened (Eph 4:18). Man is spiritually blind (2 Cor 4:4).

God’s Word tells us that sinners do not have the power to reverse their habitual breaking of God’s laws (John 8:34). We are sinners by birth, practice, preference, habit, bondage and rebellion (Rom 3:10-18).

God’s Word tells us that man’s soul is eternal (Heb 9:27). Physical death does not destroy the “real you.” Christ solemnly warned that those who refuse God’s provision for the salvation of their souls will experience eternal destruction (Matt 25:30; Mark 8:12).

God has given us His Word to show us our sin and need of salvation (1 Jn 3:4-6). Unbelief in God’s authority is evident in the fact that humans do not take responsibility for their sin. They run their lives as if God does not matter. They attempt to live lives that are self-made, self-sufficient, and self-fulfilled. Only a correct diagnosis of man’s condition, found in the Scriptures, can point man to the divine cure (Rom 10:1-4; Gal 3:23, 24).

The Bible tells us that we are not fit to determine the depth of our sinfulness (Jer 17:9). A hasty diagnosis has ruined many. (EX. Would you suggest that bulldozing the ash away from Mount St. Helens would solve the problem of future eruptions? Our sin goes deeper than the magma under that volcano.) 

 

III. The Message of Redemption is about Jesus Christ, the Merciful Redeemer.

Christ took on human nature in order to deliver us from sin and restore us to God (Heb 2:8,9, 14-18). Jesus Christ is the “God-man.” He is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), He alone can bring a soul to God for acceptance, favor, forgiveness, and adoption (Eph 1:4). Christ’s obedience to the Father was an obedience to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). Christ’s love for sinners is demonstrated by His willingness to die for us while we were yet enemies of God (Rom 5:8-11).

Christ is the Sin-bearer and Substitute for sinners (1 Pet 3:18). The good news of the Gospel is that Christ died for sinners like us. He offered Himself as the innocent substitutionary sacrifice for sin on behalf of all those who acknowledge their sin. He took the guilt of sinners upon Himself  On the cross, He bore our guilt and endured God’s judgment against it (Is 53:6).

Christ’s payment for sin means that God can acquit sin and still be just (Rom 3:24-26).Christ’s offer of Himself in our place at Calvary has fully satisfied the justice of God. Christ’s death obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:14, 15; 10:14; Jn 17:2). Because of the redemption Christ accomplished, God freely justifies the believing sinner. When God justifies, He declares a person righteous in His sight (2 Cor 5:21; Rom 4:5-8; 24, 25).

Christ has risen from the dead; the empty tomb is proof that Christ’s sacrifice for sinners was accepted by God on their behalf (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor 15:20). 

Christ rose bodily from the dead. His resurrection validates the saving power of His death and opens the gates of eternal life and joy. Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of the believer (Jn 14:2, 3). By the Redeemer’s death and resurrection, the sinner may come home to God, where all deep and lasting satisfaction are found (Acts 3:19, 20 ff.; Titus 3:4-7).

 

A. Christ’s redemptive work was an effectual purchase.

Redemption is purchase – it guarantees to secure and obtain what it buys.

When describing the atonement, the Scriptures consistently use the language of efficaciousness. By efficacious is meant that Christ’s work on Calvary produced the effect desired by God (Heb 9:14). Christ did not lay His life down for a reward that was indefinite (Is. 53:10-12).

The promise was made to Christ of eternal life to His own before the world began (Titus 1:1-3; 2 Tim. 1:9). Had the success of His work been dependent upon the ungoverned will of man, none would have accepted salvation. Had the security of salvation been dependent upon fickle and faithless minds, none would have uniformly held fast so as not to be finally cast out. BUT, Christ did not descend from heaven and pour out His soul unto death on an uncertain enterprise. NO, He had the promise BEFORE He left the Father’s bosom that He was entitled to a certain reward for His great work (see Rev 5:9; 14:3, 4).

 

Application –We marvel that God should take us from defiled dust to immortal glory. As a result, we increasingly magnify the Lord for so complete and great a salvation. The success and certainty of God’s redemptive plan is anchored in His eternal wisdom. Scripture indicates that prior to the cross, this eternal wisdom was a MYSTERY, predestined before the ages to our glory! (1 Cor. 2:6,7).

B. Redemption describes one of the key facets of Christ’s atonement.

SACRIFICE – An offering by which the sinner is sanctified and made perfect in God’s sight (1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 10:14; 13:12).

PROPITIATION – An atoning sacrifice that turns God’s wrath away from the sinner and makes him an object of favor (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 4:10).

RECONCILIATION – The removal of enmity and hostility whereby the believing sinner is brought into the bonds of everlasting friendship with God (Rom. 5:10;

2 Cor. 5:18; Heb. 2:17).

REDEMPTION – The giving of Christ’s life as a ransom purchases sinners out of bondage for God (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rev. 5:9;

Eph. 1;7,14).

The work of Christ in these four aspects of the atonement arise from the sinner’s need.

The need for SACRIFICE arises from the guilt of our sins and the condemnation that our transgression of God’s Law deserves.

The need for PROPITIATION is created by our being under the wrath of God (our liability to eternal condemnation under God’s settled anger).

The need for RECONCILIATION arises from our alienation from God (holy indignation on God’s side and enmity on our side).

The need for REDEMPTION is born of our bondage to sin, our bondage to Satan and our bondage to God’s justice system (we were bound in custody, awaiting punishment).

All four of the above terms used of Christ’s work in the Bible have a background in the common language patterns of the day. The Apostles did not come up with terminology that required a new dictionary in order to understand. Salvation terms employed by the Apostles had a place in the vernacular of everyday life. For example, redemption is a term taken from commercial transactions, propitiation is from the practice of religion, and justification is a term taken from the law courts.

C. The meaning of redemption helps us understand what Christ accomplished on the cross.

The term, redemption, is a commercial term. It was the language used in commerce. It means tobuy back or to buy out. Remember, in the ancient world, much of the commerce had to do with the buying and selling of slaves. When used in the context of a slave market, the term takes on the particular connotation that it has in Christian theology. Thus, in the doctrine of salvation,redemption means to buy out of slavery or to set the slave free from sin by the paying of a price.

A great illustration of redemption out of slavery is found in the book of Hosea. Hosea’s wife ran away, she was unfaithful and she sank down in the social strata of that day’s society until she was eventually sold on an auction block in the city of Samaria. God sent Hosea to buy back his wife. Hosea 3:1-5 records the details of Hosea’s redemption of his wife. Hosea was the highest bidder. The acceptance of Hosea’s bid ended the bidding. The auctioneer declared, “Sold to Hosea.”

The prophet Hosea then says to his wife, “Now you shall abide with me many days, you shall not be for another man, you must be faithful to me. You must not play the part of a prostitute and so also I will be true for you.”

This is a vivid picture of redemption. This is exactly what happens to us in salvation. We are the adulterous slave sold on the auction block of sin. The world bids for us (with its many kinds of currency) to keep us in its bonds.

Some people sell their souls for sensual pleasure, some for power, others for fame, respectability and wealth, others for manmade religion.

The Lord Jesus enters the slave market of sin and says in effect, “I bid the infinite price of my blood.” God the Father is an auctioneer in this illustration. He brings the gavel down and says, “Sold to my only begotten Son for the price of His blood!”

This is why Peter can say, “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold (from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers), but with the precious blood, as if of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).

Application - What kind of redemption would it be if the death of Christ only made redemption possible? What kind of redemption would it be if Christ’s work on Calvary allowed the majority of those for whom He died to perish in a state of bondage to sin, to Satan and to divine justice?

It is worth noting that even in contemporary examples of release by payment of a price (i.e. bail bonds), freedom is secured by a payment. The payment is not a potential or hypothetical redemption, when the bail is paid, the incarcerated party is taken out of his cell and released.

D. The Bible speaks of redemption as a triumphant accomplishment.

That triumphant note is as follows. Though the cost of our release is beyond calculation, Scripture proclaims Christ as having obtained the ransom price for the release of His people (Titus 2:14; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 5:9). The very nature of Christ’s mission is to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life (Matt. 1:21).

A redemption that secures salvation guarantees that not one for whom it was intended can be lost. When speaking of those given Him by the Father, Jesus said that it was God’s will, “that of all He has given Me I lose nothing” (John 6:38-40).

The Bible treats the death of Christ as a price paid to make us His own. By redemption, God in Christ acquired the Church (Acts 20:28). The purpose of His death is to form those He ransoms into one body (John 10:16; 17:21).

Because of the efficacy of the payment, redemption is regarded as synonymous with freedom, liberty and emancipation. Freedom constitutes the redemption. Redemption is deliverance by the payment of a price or acquisition by the payment of a price.

The O.T. concept of kinsman redeemer provides a vivid picture of Christ’s redemptive work(Deut. 25:5-10; Ruth 3:1, 9-13; 4:1-11, 14).

The kinsman redeemer was to be a close relative in order to redeem. Christ took on our human nature (became related to us) in order to redeem us (Heb. 2:14-18)

The kinsman redeemer was to be free of debt in order to perform the work of redemption. Christ was sinless, He was free to redeem. He had no sinful liability in the sight of God’s holy Law (1 Pet. 3:18).

The kinsman redeemer was to have the necessary price in order to redeem. Scripture indicates that the price our Savior paid was the infinite price of His own blood (1 Pet. 1:18, 19).

The kinsman redeemer was to do his redemptive work in a totally voluntary fashion. He could not be coerced to do it. So also, our Redeemer voluntarily laid His life down for us. No one took His life from Him (John 10:17,18; Phil. 2:5-8).

More examples that illustrate redemption.

There is the example of the expired pawn that is redeemed. EXAMPLE: There was a father and son in England. The boy loved boats. His dad carved a beautiful model boat out of wood. It had fabric sails with rigging and carefully painted features. One summer day, the boy told his father that he was going to sail his model ship in the shallows of the bay. A sudden squall came up and the wind swept the boat out to sea. The distraught boy returned home and told his father the sad news of how the boat was lost. Six months later the boy was walking down town when to his utter amazement he saw his own boat for sale in the window of the village pawn shop! He ran in and told the owner that it was his boat. The shop owner told the boy that it may have been true that it was once his boat, but that the boat would cost him twelve pounds. The next day he returned to the pawn shop with his father. The boy waited outside. He father came out of the store with the beautiful boat under his arm. He had redeemed it by paying the necessary price that was set.

Application: When the human race rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, their departure from God placed our first parents under the dominion of Satan. Under Satan’s rule, their spiritual darkness was accompanied by bondage to sin. This enslavement to sin was inescapable by human exertion. Only God Himself could affect our recovery. In our hostility and preferred estrangement from God, we are captives behind the window bars of Satan’s “pawn shop.” Only a ransom of infinite value could produce our release.

 

Redemption BUYS US OUT of Satan’s usurped ownership of us. (Redemption’s price is not paid to the devil. Redemption’s price is not set by devil. Redemption’s price cannot be supplied by sinful man. The cost of redemption is only possible if God in our nature, the nature that sinned, is sacrificed on our behalf.)

 

How does an efficacious redemption affect our message?

A definite atonement gives us the confidence to boldly preach the accomplishments of the cross. We proclaim a cross that is mighty to save because its accomplishments are certain. Too often one hears a watered-down version of the gospel that places all the emphasis upon the sinner’s response and little upon the victory of the cross. These diluted offers sound something like the following, “God will do this if you’ll do that.” “Won’t you add Christ to your life?”

When Scripture describes the nature of Christ’s cross work, it presents it as a triumphant accomplishment. Redemption, reconciliation and propitiation are said to have happened when Christ died. Death was abolished there (Acts 2:24; 2 Tim. 1:10). Jews and Gentiles were made one at the cross (Eph. 2:14-16).

When speaking of triumph of Christ’s death, these blessings were as good as accomplished there. The power of Christ’s death is such that it will certainly produce salvation in those for whom it is offered. Victory is inherent in our proclamation of the gospel.

The glorious benefits of Christ’s redemption belong only to those who repent and trust Him (Mk 16:16; Jn 3:36; 8:24. The person who savingly believes trusts in nothing he can do – when he believes, he transfers all trust away from self to Christ alone (Rom 10:9, 10, 13). Saving sinners is the mission for which Christ came to earth (Luke 19:10).

 

God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). To repent is to agree with God that we have sinned and deserve eternal judgment. To repent is to turn from all known sin and take Christ as Lord and Master in humble obedience. It is to turn from the deceitful promises of sin so as to despise sin our sin natures (Matt 10:38, 39; 16:25, 26).

IV. The Message of Redemption is intended to transform our walk with God and worship of God.

The very nature of Christ’s mission is to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life. Therefore, the cross is efficacious to produce a pure BRIDE, a bride already known and loved by Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ’s particular love for His bride is also evinced in His all wise and loving discipline of her (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19). Therefore the Christian has every right and duty to glory in Christ’s particular love.

The believer reasons as follows, “He specifically set His love upon me from all eternity. Hethought of me, His heart love for me motivated the atonement. The joy set before Him of being with me forever moved Him to endure the cross (Heb. 12:2). In eternity, He thought upon me, 2000 years ago He bought me, in time He sought me and made me His own.”

Knowledge of completed salvation is of special comfort to God’s people. It was the heartbeat of the Apostle Paul’s faith (Gal. 2:20). Paul rejoiced that his life was bound up in Christ and His work. The Apostle viewed the atonement in a most personal way and so should we. Our life, our purpose, our hope, our future and our destiny are all wrapped up in Christ. Our security, comfort, praise, love and devotion are by union with Christ. We celebrate the oneness He has with His people.

Application: To be SAVED is to be purchased by God. To be owned by God is to live as His possession. You are no longer your own, you are bought with a price, therefore, glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19, 20). All progress in your Christian life is a function of you giving yourself back to God – continually entrusting yourself to God so as to be transformed by His Word.

 

It is such an immeasurable privilege to be God’s own treasured possession – to hold fellowship and intimate communion with the holy, majestic God of the universe so as to know Him better each day. The cost on your side will be a life of dying to sin and self – a life of putting to death your lusts. It will be living unto God and being satisfied with all that He is toward you in Christ.

 

A plea to come to Christ for salvation

People who stop short of God’s all sufficient remedy for man’s ruin by sin can be counted in the millions. The darkness of men’s hearts causes them to turn to works, religious deeds and experiences. Let’s consider a question that can cut through all of this: What if God asked you on the last day, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” What would you say? What is your qualification to be here? The born again believer would whole-hearted answer that his entire right to be in heaven is found in Christ alone, not himself.

 

Christ is Savior and Lord. The issue of coming to Christ always deals with the subject of “who will be in charge of your life.” Countless people who know the facts of the Gospel assume that they are right with God, yet in their hearts they are not ready to be owned and possessed by God as His property. But there is no salvation unless the person is the purchased possession of God!

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Union with Christ, Part 1

INTRODUCTION: God’s eternal plan to save His people is that they should have salvation by union with the Only Begotten Son of God (2 Tim 1:9). By radical identification with Christ, our sins became His and His righteousness became ours (see 2 Cor 5:21). (Note that Reformed theologians observe that there never was a time in eternity past when God contemplated the elect apart from their being “in Christ.”)

Christ’s righteousness belongs to believers by virtue of union with Christ (Rom 5:19; 1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9; 1 Pet 2:24).

So fully is the believer identified with Christ that what Christ earned for us is rightfully ours as if we had earned it ourselves (1 Pet 1:3-5; Col 3:3-4). His dying and raising is applied to us personally – it is the basis for newness of life in Him.

Notice how many “in Christ” passages there are in N.T. (“in Christ” is used 216 times by the Apostle Paul). All the believer’s blessings are in Christ as a source.

 

I. The definition of Union with Christ

“Union with Christ is a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation. These relationships include the fact that we are in Christ, Christ is in us, we are like Christ, and we are with Christs” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 840).

II. The Biblical Illustrations of Union with Christ

How is the believer united to Christ? How have Christians died in Him? OBJECTION: These descriptions of the Christian’s union with Christ may sound like theological word games, but they speak of a reality that is central to all Christian doctrine. ANSWER: The Bible provides much for our faith and inquiry by way of illustrations of our mystical union with Christ. (It is a “mystical union” because there is nothing exactly like it on earth.) Note the following biblical illustrations of union with Christ:

A. The relationship between stones in a building (believers) and the building’s chief cornerstone (Christ) (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-50.

B. The relationship between branches of a vine (believers) and the main vine itself (Christ) (John 15:1-80).

C. The relationship between members of a body (believers) and the body’s head (Christ) (Eph 4:15, 16). The Headship of Christ is His Lordship over believers. Our relationship to Christ as Head is a living, growing, union. It is an organic union in which Christ Himself takes up residence within the individual. It’s impossible that man can produce this union – it is not established by any religious act, including membership in a biblical church. (EXAMPLE: The pituitary gland in the head is the master gland that controls the growth of the whole body. Christ controls our growth.) (See also Eph 1:22, 23; Col 1:18; 1 Cor 12:12-27).

D. The relationship between a wife (believers) and a husband (Christ) (Eph 5:22-23; Rom 7:4).Note how marriage changes so many aspects of one’s life: intimacy, legality, name change, fruitfulness. The husband and wife are bound together legally. All their legal affairs are conducted in oneness. This throws light on our union with Christ as the basis of salvation. Through union with Him as our faithful Bridegroom and husband, He is able to pay the penalty which we have incurred because of sin. There are numerous psychological and social changes as well. The wife regards other men very differently now. Old relationships change. There is a shared status with one’s husband and a sharing in his station in life. Ultimately, the believer will “gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 2:14).

E. The relationship of solidarity between the race (and Adam) which descended from Adam by ordinary generation and Adam himself (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:22; 48-49).

F. The relationship between the Persons of the Godhead (John 14:23; 17:21-23).

APPLICATION: The believer’s union with Christ is as real as if an umbilical cord were stretched from you to Christ in heaven. He is the entire source of your spiritual life. He is your life, your very viability. There would be no spiritual life without union with Him. (An additional example is provided by the astronaut who journeys out from the mother ship by way of an “umbilical cord.”) Union is NOT the loss of one’s personality by merging into Christ. That would be like a raindrop falling into the Pacific Ocean; it is then no longer a rain drop at all, but a part of the ocean.

III. The Gracious Cause of Union with Christ

 

A. The Father’s eternal counsels of redemption planned the salvation of sinners (Eph 1:4). The Son was sent to seek and to save that which was lost (Lu 19:10). “Christ did not come to represent a disjointed conglomerate of people – He came to die for those who would be saved by union with Him” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 448).

B. The sovereign grace of God alone puts us in union with Christ (1 Cor 1:30-31; James 1:18). The Father poured out His infinite grace IN the One He loves – that means that all of God’s grace comes to us in Christ (Eph 1:6; 1 Cor 1:4). This was a planned union by God’s own decision. It was not conditioned upon what God saw that you would do (see 2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:11, 13; Gal 2:20; faith is the instrument 3:26). Even saving faith is traceable to God’s grace (see Phil 1:29; Eph 2:8, 9).

C. We are God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10; 2 Cor 5:17). The believer is “complete” in Christ (Col 2:10). Christ is our life (Col 3:3, 4).

D. The believer’s union with Christ was planned in eternity (Eph 1:4). It was objectively actualizedin Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6:5). It was subjectively realized in the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). “The flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead into itself” (Calvin’s Institutes, IV. 17.9.). Calvin’s point is we cannot share in Christ’s saving benefits without possessing Him.

E. The Holy Spirit unites the believer to Christ (1 Cor 12:13). Union is coincident with regeneration – it takes place at the moment of the new birth (Gal 3:27). The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner (Titus 3:5-7). There can be no new life UNTIL the bondage of sin and self is broken (Rom 6:2-7; 2 Cor 5:14-15, 17). Christ’s death and resurrection is the basis for imparting new life to the believer. His death was the judgment of our old life (Rom 6:6). Who and what we were before we met Christ was judged at the cross – it is slated for demolition, not improvement. (Note that false forms of “Christianity” major in attempts to patch up and fix up the “old man” – Rom 6:6 teaches us that victory over sin’s power is by the crucifixion of the “old man” by co-crucifixion with Christ.)

APPLICATION: The Spirit’s regenerating work unites us to Christ. An unbreakable union ensues. Because of the believer’s union with Christ, final resurrection is assured (Rom 6:5; 1Cor 15:22; Rom 8:17). We will always be with Him (1Thess 4:17, 18). He who has the Son has the life (1 Jn 5:12).

 

Being united with Christ saves us from the PENALTY of sin, the POWER of sin, and, ultimately, the PRESENCE of sin. If a person is only interested in being delivered from the penalty of sin, what does it say about the lack of evidence that they are in union with Christ? (Note the passages which teach that Christ purchased the believer’s consecration – 2 Cor 5:14, 15).

 

APPLICATION: There is nothing that man can do to command or control the new birth. Neither baptism, nor a religious formula, or membership in a church can eternally unite a person to the Son of God. Being united with Christ is an act only God Almighty can perform – it is not even triggered by man’s action (Jn 1:12, 13; Matt 11:27; Eph 2:1-10; James 1:18). (See quote from The Cross and Salvation, by Bruce Demarest on the erroneous view of Catholicism, p. 317.)

 

IV. The Dimensions of Union with Christ

 

A. In union with Christ by faith, there is the legal imputation of Christ’s righteousness which is justification by faith (Rom 3:24-26). The Holy Spirit works in the person He is calling a profound awareness of the fact that they have no righteousness of their own. The righteousness with which they must appear before God to be just is the imputed righteousness of Christ.

B. There is the feeling of dependence upon Christ in the depths of one’s being.

The Christian understands that all the grace he receives is from Christ, not from religious practices. The Christian life entails a spiritual or mystical participation in the graces, or qualities of Christ our “Head.” As we behold Him by faith and seek to imitate Him, our souls are renewed in the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18) (someday bodily! – Phil 3:21).

C. There is a social dimension of union with Christ. The unity of the saints is the result of union with Christ (Phil 2:1, 2ff). The unity among believers is to be a powerful, and practical unity of mind, heart, and will so that God’s loving purpose is seen by the world (Jn 17:21-23; Rom 15:5, 6).

V. The Results of Union with Christ

 

A. When we have been crucified with Christ, the old anti-God bias and its sinful passions has been put to death so that it is rendered powerless as a dominating force (Gal 2:20). The believer is freed from the yoke of the Law (Gal 2:4). Union with Christ produces sanctification (Gal 5:24; 1 Cor 6:17-20). There will be holy progress, ethical progress. As a necessary consequence of union with Christ, we will gain an increasing knowledge of God. We will be empowered so as to make headway against what remains of our corruptions (Rom 8:12, 13). Eternal life is the outcome of a life of sanctification in Christ (Rom 6:22).

B. Union produces an awareness of God’s presence in the heart (Col 1:27;Rom 8:14-16). There will be an experiential knowledge of God’s love and the Son’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s consolation and comfort. The believer will take great delight in fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. Profound spiritual communion is a result of union with Christ (Gen 6:9). There will be godly fear and a profound sense of His presence. Do you think it is possible to be in union with Christ and little desire for fellowship with the Lord? Why or why not?

C. Union produces a heightened sense of dependence upon the Savior for service, for victory over sin, and for the empowerment of our spiritual faculties (Jn 15:5).

D. Union with Christ has an incredible significance for one’s daily walk. Christ is the fountainhead for every spiritual blessing: repentance, faith, pardon, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification (1 Cor 1:30; Rom 8:29-32). No human agency can join us to Christ. Once the Spirit baptizes a person into Christ, the Lord becomes their Head and Husband. To the degree that you take seriously your union with Christ, you will give evidence by your holy walk that you are saved.

SOURCES CONSULTED:

 

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

 

James M. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith

 

Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation

 

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

 

Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology

 

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Union with Christ, Part 2

INTRODUCTION: Chapter six explains why it is impossible for a believer to go on happily living in sin. At first blush, it may appear that if salvation is all of grace, and not based on anything we do, then why is obedience to God so vital, why not go on sinning? If grace keeps covering our sin, would God not receive more glory by covering more of our sin? (6:1)

Religious groups who reject the Apostolic Gospel have even reasoned as follows: if heaven is a free gift given to those who simply believe a message, then the recipients would have no reason to value it, after all, they have done nothing to work for it.

The Biblical answer to these objections exposes the erroneous thinking in the above questions and also confirms the fact that the Apostle Paul is indeed preaching a free salvation. The entirety of chapter six argues for the doctrine that a believer cannot persist in sin as the bent of his life.“Trust in the atoning work of the representative, the Lord Jesus Christ, is incompatible with self-indulgence in sin and increasing depravity because of our union with Christ (vv. 3-14), and [because] of the nature of the human will and voluntary agency (vv. 15-23)” ( S. Lewis Johnson, Believers Bible Bulletin, Lesson 19, p. 2).

 

vv. 1-2 – The opening verses of this chapter anticipate the question, “Does an increase in sinning bring an increase in grace?” (see 3:5, 6, 8; 5:20) The subject of the freeness of God’s grace in the face of sin brings to mind this query regarding God’s grace – does grace provide a license to sin? Paul is emphatic in his answer of no. To continue in sin would amount to a complete contradiction of the Christian’s new identity in Christ. (Since sin is no longer our master, we must not allow it to usurp control. Yielding our whole life to God is the only life that is consistent with our identity – 6:11-14.)

 

The believer’s identity is that he has died to sin. He has made a once for all breach with sin. He no longer lives in the realm or sphere of sin. Having died to sin, the believer has been transferred to another realm (Col 1:13; 14). The reality that the believer is dead to sin and exists in a new realm is the premise of the entire chapter. Our break with sin is that we might live unto God.

v. 3-4 – Paul begins to explain how we died to sin, and he opens up the implications of our death to sin. Baptism signifies UNION with Christ. The Spirit’s baptizing us into Christ (uniting us with Him) places us into fellowship with Christ. This union of the believer with Christ is living and intimate. All that Christ is, and all that He accomplished in all phases of His work as Redeemer and Mediator become the believer’s possession. One cannot separate what Christ accomplished from His Person. We have the benefits of His redemptive work solely because of union with His Person.

Baptism proclaims that those who are united with Christ have died to sin. Water baptism is a picture of what took place when the Holy Spirit placed the repenting believer into union with Christ (1 Cor 12:13).

“Therefore we have been buried with Him.” – the completeness of our identification with Christ’s death (emphasized by co-burial), sets the stage for resurrection life. “Dead to sin” is not an adequate enough description of our character as believers. But our having died to sin is the precondition of life which is the full and final issue of grace. Grace gains its goal in our shared life in His resurrection (by reason of union with Him). We cannot partake in His resurrection and resultant newness of life unless we partake in His death. (Note how graphically water baptism depicts death, burial, and resurrection to newness of life.)

v. 5 – Our co-crucifixion with Christ should not primarily be thought of as a process. We are in the state or condition of having been conformed to His death. (Death to sin and resurrection to spiritual life are inseparable – you cannot break them apart.) Because of our union with Christ, it is impossible to continue in sin and have grace abound. Grace reigns only through the mediation of Christ – it is operative through union with Him because of the efficacy of His death and resurrection. (Note how corrective this is of the kind of erroneous thinking that suggests grace is merely God’s leniency toward moral failure. Grace is ever joined to the Person of Christ in all His redemptive work.) 

v. 6 – The “old self” is the self-willed ego of the natural (unregenerate) man. (Numerous N.T. passages contrast the old man with the new inner man of the regenerate person – Titus 3:1-7) The body of the believer is no longer conditioned and controlled by sin. Union with Christ has produced a new controlling principle – obedience unto righteousness. Destruction of the body of sin is the purpose of crucifixion of the old man – to the end that we should no longer be slaves to sin. (“Body of sin” refers to the body’s role as a voluntary, but inescapable tool of sin and servant of sin.)

Our old self was crucified so that our bond service to sin might be terminated (put out of business).Remember, the premise of this chapter is that by union with Christ we have died to sin SO THATthere might be a definitive break from sin. Before conversion, our bodily existence was dominated by the cravings of sin. Now that we are united to Christ, our bodily existence is dominated by a passion for righteousness and holiness. Whatever sinful cravings remain can no longer enslave us.

v. 7 – There is a judicial aspect in deliverance from sin. The forensic or legal dimension of justification is the basis for our sanctification. There was a divine judgment executed on the power of sin in the death of Christ (Col 2:15; Jn 12:31). Deliverance from sin in the life of the believer arises from the efficacy of God’s judgment of sin at Calvary – this is why sanctification is anchored in the cross of Christ. Our deliverance from sin is by virtue of the judgment executed upon sin in Jesus’ cross (Rom 8:1). (Note how sin in this chapter is personified as a king ormonarch who reigns, and as a general who uses the body as his weapons, and as an employerwho pays wages (v. 23). Through union with Christ, righteousness becomes our new master (v. 14-19).

v. 8 – The idea of final resurrection is in view, but also resurrection refers to our present shared life in Christ, because the believer is “alive in God.” The life of Jesus’ resurrection (newness of life) belongs to those united to Him in His death. Our new quality of moral life (as the result of the new birth) increasingly asserts itself in the believer’s life. The Christian will increasingly gain victory over what remains of indwelling corruptions.

v. 9 – For our sakes, there was a time (at the cross) when it could be said that sin and death “ruled” over Christ. Though sinless, He vicariously became “guilty” of our sin and experienced it punishment (death) in His Person. He willingly subjected Himself to the power of death in order that He might vanquish sin and death and end their reign. He decisively broke the power of sin and death. (Consider how great Christ’s love is for His own – He voluntarily became the curse of sin; He became the object of God’s wrath against sin – Gal 3:13. He took His stand between sin and death – He experienced sin’s moral consequence so that we might be set free to live unto God.

Victory over sin in our lives as believers is not a function of us dying with Christ again and again, it is the progressive realization of the implications and claims of having died and risen with Christ (as a definitive and decisive event).

 

v. 10 – When Christ died to sin, He triumphed over the power of sin and death. Those united to Him in His death, DIE to the power of sin and become DEAD to sin. Christ’s death broke the judicial link between sin and death. (Note how ineffable the moral law of God is in its strict principle of cause and effect. Sowing to sin reaps eternal consequences, death and separation from God – Gal 6:7, 8. In bearing these consequences, Christ severs the judicial link between sin and death. Those united to Him are freed from the reign of sin and death.)

 

v. 11 – This verse is an imperative, a command (hortatory, “let us!”). But, we are not commanded to become dead to sin and alive to God; that is presupposed. Reckoning or “considering” ourselves dead to sin and alive to God does not make it factual. We have already been placed in this state of “dead to sin and alive to God” by virtue of our union with Christ. We are in this abiding state or condition by reason of a decisive event; our having died with Christ. By union with Him, in the efficacy of His death, we have been given life unto God.

APPLICATION: Counting ourselves dead to sin and alive to God is the first step toward victory over sin in the believer’s life. We are to live by faith in the light of this truth (recognize that what has been said about you in 6:1-10 is the truth.)

Though believers are commanded to strive for moral purity (2 Pet 1:5), our striving does not resemble the moral striving found in false religion. Religions without the true Gospel are moralistic and legalistic. Works are performed in an attempt to gain acceptance with God.

The Christian’s striving is to be grounded in the fact that Another, Christ Jesus, has performed for us and has brought us by union with Himself into a state of being dead to sin and alive to God (the basis for newness of life). Romans chapter six teaches us that all true progress in sanctification is the result of faith in Christ’s finished cross work. Our faith (6:11) is to translate into the actions of resisting sin and presenting ourselves to God for daily service. Our progress in sanctification flows from what Christ accomplished at Calvary.

v. 12 – Do not let sin reign is an imperative. The imperative flows from an indicative; the indicative is because of union with Christ, sin does not reign. The command in v. 12 presupposes the fact that sin does not reign in those who are united to Christ.

(EXAMPLE: It would be mockery to tell a slave, don’t live as a slave. But if the slave had been set free, the command would make perfect sense. Note the condition of the Hebrew nation before and after the Exodus from Egypt. Once they crossed the Red Sea, they had to learn how to live as free men.)

 

Paul’s exhortation to us is based upon emancipation. Sin does not have dominion any more, so do not allow it to reign. Its reign has been broken; therefore its attempts to regain control must be resisted. In Galatians 5:13-16ff, Paul argues that our freedom from sin is maintained by continually placing ourselves at God’s disposal for His service.

 

Death to sin will be demonstrated in a visible real denial of the sinful lusts of the body though they demand gratification from you.

v. 13 – Sin is a master at whose disposal we used to willingly place our members. We used to yield our members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, our slavery to sin promoted unrighteousness. Now we are commanded to no longer place our physical organs or bodily members at the disposal of sin. Instead, we are to present ourselves to God (not simply our bodies, but our whole personality – thoughts, affections and will).

Paul’s explanation of victory over sin has three practical steps which are commands in Romans 6:11-13. ONE: consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. TWO: refuse to let sin reign in your life. THREE: present yourselves to God (put yourselves in the service of God).

 

These three steps form one action that is grounded in a conscious awareness of our new identity in Christ.

v. 14 – The fact that we are not under law, but our being under grace assures us that sin shall not exercise dominion over us. The law pronounces approval and blessing only upon those who conform to its demands. The law brings condemnation for every infraction. It exposes sin and convicts of sin; it even aggravates sin and guilt. But the law is impotent to make the transgressor right with God. It has never justified one violator. The law cannot relieve the bondage of sin. It can only confirm a person’s state of being under condemnation. The law lacks the resources to deliver. Under law, the natural man remains a bond servant under sin (Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22, 23).

By contrast, grace sums up all the redemptive benefits of God in Christ. Grace renews, liberates and sets the believing sinner right with God. Grace was purchased by the death and resurrection of Christ. “Grace is the sovereign will and power of God coming to expression in the deliverance of men and women from servitude of sin” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 229).

Verse 14 sets up an antithesis between law and grace, especially in terms of one’s existence under the reign of each, and the resources of each. Those under grace are guaranteed that sin will not exercise dominion over them.

APPLICATION: God has not set aside moral law. His moral requirements will always remain in full force. Paul is reminding us in v. 14 that the law is not a condition for man’s acceptance. The law is designed to show man his sinfulness. Under grace, God gives gracious enablement to fulfill the law’s righteous requirements (7:6; 8:3, 4).

SOURCES CONSULTED:

John Murray, Commentary on Romans

The New Geneva Study Bible

The MacArthur Study Bible

The NIV Study Bible

S. Lewis Johnson, Believer’s Bible Bulletin on Romans

 

 

Facets of Salvation: Union with Christ, Part 3

INTRODUCTION: We’ve seen in our study of union with Christ that it is impossible to separate salvation from the Person of Christ. Sadly in the Church today there are likely multitudes who want the benefits of Christ’s salvation, but do not want His Lordship over their lives. (Christ’s offices consist of His role as Prophet, as Priest, and as King. As Prophet, He teaches us in His Word about our sinfulness and need of salvation. As Priest, He makes atonement for the sins of all who will believe. As King, He rules as Lord over His redeemed people and perfects them by means of His Word and His Spirit. In order for us to be safely brought to heaven, we must follow Him and submit to Him in all of His offices!)

 

Because of union with Christ, the believer has the resources for godly living, for victory over sin, and for progress in sanctification. Our responsibility in living out our union with Christ involvescounting ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, refusing to let sin reign over us, and presenting ourselves to God as slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:11-13).

 

In Romans 6:15-23, our responsibility of presenting ourselves to God is developed in detail. This section of Scripture is vital in equipping the believer for victory over sin. Romans six is nothing less than the divine strategy for overcoming defeat (see the verses on sin and the need to “kill it” while it is yet gestating in the mind – James 1:12-18). 

 

v. 15 – The fact that the believer is not under law, but under grace might appear to provide a license for moral carelessness. This Paul denies, since under the reign of grace, Christians have become slaves of God. The freedom of grace therefore is freedom for obedience and service, not license.

The Greek tense of “shall we sin” is an aorist tense. Here the verb is used as a “snapshot” or event, without reference to time. The tense may refer to isolated acts of sinning. The question in verse 15 would be then, “Can we sin deliberately now and then since we are not under the law but under grace? Is an isolated act of sin permissible?”

Paul’s reply is emphatic, “May it never be!” That expression is tantamount to saying, “How unthinkable, how blasphemous, how monstrous!” Paul is opening up his discussion on the nature of the believer’s freedom. The burden of the whole verse can be expresses as follows: Under the government of Almighty God, there is no such thing as freedom without a master. The only alternatives open are to have sin, or to have God. The man who imagines he is free, because he has no god but his own ego is deluded. Serving one’s ego and self-will is the very essence of slavery to sin. It’s either slavery to life in God, or slavery to sin which leads to death. There is no third option (Cranfield, Romans Commentary I, p. 323).

v. 16 – The second reply to Paul’s question stresses that man is the subject of his moral actions. Paul is deriving his argument from the nature of the human will. Purpose and inclination in one direction are incompatible with purpose of inclination in another direction. (EX. House cats do not clean themselves and then roll in the mud on alternate days of the week, their voluntary life direction is cleanliness.) Christ makes the argument that no man can serve two masters without hating one and loving the other (Matt 6:24; 7:18; Luke 16:13; Jn 8:34). The maintenance of our walk with the Lord centers around submission to Him as Master.

APPLICATION: We need to remember that the nature of sin is rebellion, defilement, bondage, and lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4). Sin masquerades as freedom, but is abject bondage (2 Pet 2:17-22). The death that sin leads to is not merely physical death, but separation from God in hell (Rom 2:5-9; 2 Thess 1:9).

v. 17 – Our salvation is all of grace. God graciously enables the sinner to respond properly to the Gospel of grace. The individual is active in conversion, but not in a meritorious way (divine sovereignty and grace are not compromised when a sinner believes the Gospel and repents).Grace plants in us a new inclination of the will toward God and righteousness. The believer is a slave to righteousness. Reckless and unresisted sinning is therefore incompatible with the grace of God. The nature of the human will forbids doing two contradictory things at the same time (Shedd, Romans, p. 164).

Paul commends the obedience of the Romans to the Gospel. Their obedience was “from the heart.” They were (formerly) servants of sin by nature – it was their continual state. But now their nature has been changed.

“Form of doctrine . . .delivered” uses the Greek word for form that describes a craftsman’s mold for casting molten metal. God may be said to “pour” his children into the mold of divine truth (Rom 12:1, 2). God plants in new believers a compelling desire to know God’s Word (1 Pet 2:2). This “mold of truth” is not some vague set of emotional or sentimental ideas; it is a definite standard. It is Christian doctrine. There can be no stable, strong Christianity without sound theology at the heart of it. No man can reach the God of Scripture without sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13; 1 Tim 1:10; Titus 1:9; 2:1). The grace of God instructs us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:11-14). The Gospel teaches us with great precision what God requires morally of a believer.

APPLICATION: The Gospel pattern for liberty in Christ does not interfere with the genuine freedom and spontaneity of the believer – he obeys “from the heart.” His commitment is whole-hearted and voluntary. How clear our thinking needs to be in this area. The only freedom is enslavement to Christ. His will is revealed in His Word.

vv. 18-19 – Verse 18 is a restatement of their obedience from the heart just stated in verse 17. With this obedience comes the consequence and obligation of enslavement to righteousness.The words, “freed from sin” do not imply complete and absolute freedom from sin, but freedom substantially and virtually from the dominion of sin (Shedd, p. 164). Believers are free from the condemning and enslaving power of sin. The believer’s will is free from the dominion of sin. But like an unruly slave in one’s house, indwelling sin annoys and vexes until at last at death, we are set free from its presence. (See Galatians 5:16-26 for a description of why the remnants of indwelling sin hinder holy living.)

In verse 19, the Apostle admits that the figure of speech he is employing (slavery) is inadequate and perhaps unworthy of the reliever’s relationship to Christ and righteousness. The believer’s relationship to righteousness is not humiliating, grievous and degrading as slavery often is. Our enslavement to righteousness is perfect freedom, for we have come to love righteousness.For all its limitations, the slavery figure of speech communicates what Paul intends it to: total belongingness, total obligation, total commitment, and total accountability of those under grace.

APPLICATION: Just as our servitude to sin was one of “total loyalty,” now our enslavement to righteousness must be singular and consistent. The result of living out our union with Christ as our Master is sanctification. Scripture demands that this sanctification, or holiness of heart and life, be present in those who expect to see the Lord (Heb 12:14; 1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7).

vv. 20-21 – In your former state, you had no concern for righteousness unto holiness (v. 19). In the days of your abandonment to sin, no good fruit accrued, only shame ending in death. In your days prior to Christ, you were carefree in respect to the demands of righteousness. Christ and righteousness didn’t exercise mastery or authority over you. When you were living in sin, you were “released” from holiness and its demands. But that “freedom” is a false freedom that ends in damnation. Only when a person is a servant of righteousness is he truly free (Jn 8:32-36).

vv. 22-23 – By the renewing grace of God which made you a new creature you are now able to think clearly about your former rebellion against God. You can now see that you were speeding down the broad road to destruction (Matt 7:13, 14). You grimace with shame as you reflect upon your former life; the memory of it is a cause for humility before God.

But now, by God’s sovereign grace, you are freed from sin by virtue of union with Christ and His cross. You are enslaved to God. Submission to righteousness leads to sanctification, which ends in eternal life. APPLICATION: Consider how the truth of v. 22 corrects the “easy believe-ism” views of salvation which downplay the pursuit of holiness. Note how judgment day will involve a graphic public display of one’s works as evidence of which of the two masters he served (Matt 25:31-46).

The contrast between sin and grace is climatic. Sin pays wages. It operates on the remuneration principle. When a person is serving sin, the death meter is running so to speak. The individual enslaved to sin is moving in the direction of death and separation from God. (EX. A depiction of serving sin: note the example of an object careening out of a stable orbit into the black depths of space – Jude 13). His whole person and character is being conformed to unrighteousness. Payday is unstoppable. The wages paid by sin is always death and separation from God. The sinner earns his judgment.

By contrast, the principle of grace operates upon the imputed righteousness of Christ. The Apostle does not say that the wages of righteousness is eternal life. The sole basis upon which the sinner receives life is by God’s free grace – a gratuity, a gift. Whatever progress occurs in inherent righteousness since conversion is the product of the Holy Spirit moving and inclining his will toward God. Righteousness, unlike sin, is not self-originated, consequently, its reward must be gracious. The ground and cause of all grace is Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION: Union with Christ grants the believer into all the benefits of Christ’s work as Redeemer and Mediator. Christ’s conquest of sin and death becomes the believer’s possession. Through union with Christ, the believer participates in Christ’s victory. The Christian is described as a conqueror, and as an overcomer (Rom 8:37; 1 Jn 5:4, 5). 

Are we conquerors no matter what we do? No! Paul addresses the commands in chapter six to believers, those whose wills have been renewed by regeneration. As new creatures in Christ, we now desire fellowship, obedience, righteousness, service. We delight in the knowledge of God and desire to please Him. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we now have the power and inclination to give voluntary loyalty and submission to Christ. Because of union with Christ, we have the resources for godly living and victory over sin which produces progress in sanctification.

The Christian’s freedom is not a master-less freedom; it is a change in masters. It is a transfer from one kingdom to another (Col 1:13). Freedom is a change in service. To attempt to use our freedom without submission and service to Christ will result in indulgence of the flesh (Gal 5:13ff.). Paul states in numerous passages that the Christian life involves the continual exercise of godly discipline (Heb 12:1, 2; 1 Tim 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27). An honest examination of ourselves would reveal that we need a higher degree of godly discipline.

Romans 6:1-8:17 is the definitive section in Scripture on the Christian life. It has been described as the Christian’s gospel. This section of Romans clearly defines the path that the believer walks upon toward glory. It provides an exposition of the narrow way spoken of by Christ in Matthew 7:13, 14. It is a sobering thought that countless individuals imagine they are on their way to heaven, even though their lives bear no resemblance to the Christian life described in 6:1-8:17. True believers are to function like salt in its role as a preservative, and as a shining light that illuminates the narrow way that leads to life. In order to show people the narrow way, we must be examples of those who walk the narrow way.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED:

John Murray, Commentary on Romans

The New Geneva Study Bible

The MacArthur Study Bible

S. Lewis Johnson, Believer’s Bible Bulletin on Romans

Cranfield, Commentary on Romans

 

 

Getting Galatians 2:20 “into the Bloodstream” -- Part One

Faith in the Son of God is our ‘Lifestyle’

Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives within me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20 encapsulates in a single sentence the more comprehensive explanation of co-crucifixion found in Romans 6. Co-crucifixion, or radical identification with Christ’s person and work, produces enduring, all-encompassing results in the life of the believer.

Unlike the grace gifts of cleansing, a clear conscience, and the filling of the Spirit, the liberating force of co-crucifixion is a positional blessing that is not immediately experiential. It has to bereckoned as Paul enjoins in Romans 6:11 in order for its power to be appropriated day by day. Peace, hope, and joy are a function of ongoing fresh acts of faith in Christ enabled by the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13).

The behavior of the Galatian believers gives evidence to the fact that without sustained faith in Christ it is possible to lapse into a legal attempt to commend oneself to God.

Paul condemns this dangerous tendency toward relapse as a departure from faith in the sufficiency of Christ. All attempts to put oneself right with God by law will be met with utter impossibility (Alan Cole, Galatians, p. 83).

The saint must not return to the ‘old path’ of law. For life under law was characterized by reliance upon oneself. By contrast Paul exults in the fact that he is so transformed by union with Christ that he does not recognize his former sinful self (Geoffrey Wilson, Galatians, p. 50, 51).

Legal working for acceptance with God is hostile to what is ours by God’s grace through union with Christ. The Christian life of faith in the Son of God excludes reliance upon oneself or works. The life of faith in Christ is dominated, controlled, and animated by the thought of the love of the Son of God (ibid.).

Seeking to be justified in Christ” (2:17) refers to the fact that justification (though a once for all forensic act of God) is a continuous experience for believers. Christians not only exercise initial faith, but continue to believe. They continue daily to reckon that Christ is their life, their favor, and their acceptance with God. Confidence concerning our acceptance with God is the fruit of ongoing faith; “Christ liveth in me” is the distinctive mark of the saved person (Homer Kent, The Freedom of God’s Sons; Studies in Galatians, p. 74-77).

Luther on Galatians 2:20 – the necessity of knowing we are one with Christ

How do we live out union with Christ? It is no longer I who live says Paul. Christ and my conscience must become one so that nothing remains in my sight but Christ crucified and raised. If I behold myself only and set Christ aside in my thinking and in my self evaluation, I am gone.

It is no longer I who live – my own person is not the source of my spiritual lifeThe ‘old I’ was separate from Christ and bound to do the works of the law. The result of that arrangement was bondage to sin, death, and hell. Paul rejects the old person.

The new man; the saved man is in union with Christ. But our spiritual ‘sight’ is strained as we attempt to comprehend our oneness with Christ. We cannot spiritually conceive of Christ joined and united to us – it is like gazing at a wall and then attempting to see the color of the wall as separate from the wall.

Christ is joined and united unto us and abiding in us so that “He lives this life in me.” He lives this life in me which I now live. Christ Himself is the life I now live. Therefore Christ and I are now one. This is the great and glorious mystery of Colossians 1:27.

This union with Christ; my conjunction with Him is the reason I am delivered from the terror of the law and sin. I have been translated into Christ and His kingdom. It is a kingdom; a sphere of righteousness, peace, joy, life, salvation, and eternal glory. It is His, yet it is mine also by inseparable union. While I abide in Him what evil can hurt me?

If I behold and consider myself apart from Christ there is only sin, law, and condemnation. But I look to Christ and behold by faith my union and conjunction with Him – then I am dead to the law and have no sin on my account.

If therefore in the matter of justification I separate the Person of Christ from my person, then I am in the law and live in law, not in Christ – I am condemned by law and dead before God.

At this point Luther continues to reflect upon the reality of organic living union with Christ and wonders aloud about the actual spiritual condition of countless individuals who profess faith.

Paraphrasing Luther, countless individuals have only an historical faith which accepts the facts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. These individuals are not justified; for devils and the wicked have this kind of faith. (Historical faith is merely assensus, or mental assent; it is not fiducia, or moral trust.)

Faith must be purely and diligently taught. The true believer is entirely joined to Christ. The believer and Christ are made one person spiritually. The believer may boldly say I am now one with Christ. That is to say Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are now mine.

So radical is this exchange that Christ may say, I am that sinner . . . his sins and death are minebecause he is joined to Me and I to him. By faith we are joined together so that we have become members of His body; His flesh and bone (Eph 5:30).

I live indeed – the faculties of my fleshly body express my thought, will, and affection, yet it is not I, but Christ that liveth in me. There is then a double life. The first is mine which is natural. The second is the life of Another; that is the life of Christ in me.

As touching my natural life, I am dead – but now I live by Another’s life, even Christ. If I lived my own life the law would have dominion over me and hold me captive. To the end therefore that it should not hold me captive I am dead to it. This death (through my Substitute) purchased for me the life of Another, even the life of Christ: which life is not mine by nature, but is given unto me by Christ through faith in Him.

How can this be? I look at my own person and see only flesh. The answer is that this life which I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God. Observers see my life; I eat, sleep, labor, yet they don’t really see my life.

Yes, I indeed live in the flesh, but not through the flesh, or according to the flesh. I live through faith and according to faith. Yes, I live in the flesh and exercise the faculties of my fleshly body, yet every good work, whether self-control, or edification of the saints, or Christian virtue, comes not from my flesh, but from Christ.

I cannot teach, give thanks, write, or pray but by means of the faculties of flesh that God has given me; but the ability to do these works does not come from my flesh but is given from God above.

So we see plainly where the spiritual life comes from; it is from the life of Christ in me (the natural man cannot perceive this). For this life is not visible to the naked eye. This life is in the heart by faith where the tyranny of the flesh has been killed and Christ reigns through His Holy Spirit. (The Spirit of Christ sees, hears, speaks, works, and enables the believer to do all things in Him, yet the flesh resists.)

What is the Apostle’s aim for his readers? Namely the discovery that happy is the man who can say I live by faith in the Son of God. We have here the true manner of justification, and a perfect example of the assurance of faith. He loved me and gave Himself for me. How we must hear this diligently and allow it to sink into our innermost being.

The kingdom of man’s reason and the spiritual kingdom must be put far asunder. By depravity, what is in man’s will is evil and what is in his understanding is error. Therefore by natural strength and ability, no man will fulfill the law and love God.

All begins with the love and grace of Christ. He loved me first; He is the beginning. He found no good in me but had mercy on me. I was wicked, led astray, increasingly estranged from God, carried away and led captive by the devil. My reason, will, and understanding were at enmity with God, yet in spite of this He loved me and gave Himself to free me from the law, sin, the devil, and death.

The Son loved me and gave Himself for me – let these words thunder against any attempts at righteousness by the law, or by any of the law’s works. So great is the darkness in the will and understanding, it was impossible that sinful man should be ransomed but the inestimable price of Christ’s death and blood.

Therefore it is terrible blasphemy to imagine any work whereby we should presume to pacify God. Only the inestimable price of the death and blood of the Son of God can bring us near to our Creator. He gave Himself for me – a wretched, damnable sinner.

What a travesty to choose a religious work, order, or sect that promises to commend us to God bynon-faith. It is blasphemous to trust in something other than faith in the Son of God who gave Himself to commend us to God. Nothing but destruction can come from religious exercise born ofnon-faith.

The only power against the solicitations, overtures, and temptations of acceptance with God bynon-faith is the imputed righteousness of Christ. It was necessary He be delivered up for me; no other price in heaven or earth could avail.

Christ the Son of God was delivered up for me; this is inestimable love. Saving faith wraps itself in Christ who was delivered to death for us. Our Savior is apprehended by faith – His gifts of righteousness and life are with Him to freely give to the believer.

Paul sets forth the Priesthood and offices of Christ which are to pacify God and make intercession for sinners. Christ offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins that He might redeem us, instruct us, and comfort us. He is our Prophet, Priest, and King.

Faith says He is the Son of God who, not for any of our deserving or any righteousness of our own, gave Himself out of His free mercy. He offered Himself up as a sacrifice for us sinners that He might sanctify us forever.

It is the greatest knowledge, treasure, and wisdom that Christians can have to define Christ as He is defined in Galatians 2:20. But of all things it is the hardest. Luther confesses that in spite of the great light and illumination of the Gospel which had shone upon his understanding so brightly, it is with difficulty that he is able to consistently define Christ in the way Paul does in Galatians 2:20.

The Reformer admits that his years in Romanism served to steep him in the wrong definition of Christ. Says Luther, [Oh how much work it was]to hold this definition of Christ which Paul here giveth; so deeply had the opinion and pestilent doctrine that Christ is a lawgiver[entered] as it were into my bones.

Read these words with great vehemence: “lives in me,” “loved me,” “for me,” that you may conceive, print, and etch their personal statement upon your heart and fully apply them to yourself, not doubting but confident by faith that you are among the number to whom the “me” belongs (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 87-97). 

James Haldane on Galatians 2:20 – the necessity of confidence in Christ

The believer is dead to the law by reason of having endured its curse in the Person of his Surety. Our Savior died a victim of the law’s righteous sentence. His death as our Substitute was sanctioned by God’s holy law that we might live unto God.

Paul speaks of himself as one of Christ’s members (Rom 12:4, 5). The believing sinner isbaptized into the body of Christ by God’s Spirit (1 Cor 12:12, 13).

It is our union with Christ that communicates all of the benefits of His Person and His work to us. We are conformed to our Head. But just as the cutting off of the head kills the body, so also the death of Christ was the death of His members (His people).

Death and the curse were pronounced by God upon the Son; He was cut off from God. All God’s waves and billows rolled over Him; the Father’s face was hidden from Him as He endured divine wrath. This was the price of our reconciliation.

The Apostle Paul’s life epitomizes faith in the Son. Paul represents himself as in Christ having been nailed to the cross. The Apostle’s statement illustrates just how fully Christ took our place.

As the holy, only begotten Son of God, it was not possible for Christ to be held by the power of death (Acts 2:24). He went down into the grave for one purpose; that by Him eternal life might be communicated to all those given to Him.

Consider that God’s plan is for sinners; but it required that the Son of God voluntarily offer Himself.A body Thou hast prepared for Me (Heb 10:5). For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).Therefore God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name(Phil 2:9). He accomplished the Father’s will for our deliverance.

On Calvary’s tree the natural members of Christ’s physical body were nailed to the cross. So also all the members of Christ’s mystical body (the children given to Him) were spiritually present on that awful occasion. They died and rose with Him.

Not I but Christ says Paul – in Christ there is a new endless life formed in us at regeneration (when the Son was revealed in us – 1:16). This new life is maintained by the supply of the Spirit of Christ. The truth as it is in Christ, the word of grace; the Gospel is the “food” necessary to our support. The truth of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection is the sustenance of our souls; in the Spirit’s hands the truth quickens us and manifests Christ to us.

The believer would die if he lost sight of Christ. The Christian is kept spiritually alive by the supply of the Spirit purchased for him by Christ’s ransom. The Spirit keeps us spiritually alive by taking the things of Christ and showing them to our minds (1 Cor 2:12).

Once the Lord has begun a work in us He will complete it (Phil 1:6). This is stated poetically in Isaiah 27:2, 3 – In that day a vineyard of wine, sing of it! I, the Lord am its keeper; I water it every moment. Lest anyone damage it, I guard it night and day.

The Christian is utterly dependent upon God’s testimony; the promise of Christ in us, and we in Him. Therefore we walk by faith, not sight.

Christ manifests Himself to His people (not the world). He forms in His people the hope of glory – they feel their security in Him. What is faith? Is it a body of facts to be believed? Is it truth claims? Saving faith is simply confidence in Christ. It is a confidence which under conviction, guilt, and helplessness casts itself on Christ alone.

The names of true believers (since the Apostles) are not published in God’s Word. So how do we know who is in possession of saving faith? The conclusive proof is that they are trusting Christ; they are living Galatians 2:20.

Pastors need to be discerning concerning those who profess salvation, for there is a false humility that says, my sins are so aggravated that I cannot speak confidently about safety in Christ. If you are not confident in his blood removing your guilt, you are not yet a believer.

Satan as an angel of light holds men in bondage by urging them to consider their guilt more than Christ. By contrast, the Holy Spirit through the Gospel gives Christ’s people the knowledge of salvation through remission of sins.

Paul wants believers to know they have eternal life. Yes, there is always the danger of presumption; the antinomian danger that winks at sin. But there is an equal hazard in embracing a legal spirit which drifts away from reliance upon Christ and moves ever closer to trust in self effort.

Apart from Christ living in us we are spiritually bankrupt. It is our Mediator’s supply of the Spirit through faith that maintains the soul. The more confidently we rely on Christ for pardon, the more we shall experience His power in subduing iniquity, healing backsliding, and promoting sanctification.

We ought to use every appointed means to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Read, pray, fellowship, admonish, flee sin, and don’t doubt your acceptance in the Beloved (James A. Haldane, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, pp. 87-98).

Again pastors need to be discerning. It is a legal spirit that is ready to substitute faith in place of its object. Saving faith looks directly at the object it wishes to behold. It deals directly with Christ. It’s not content to know about Him; it longs to be familiar with Him.

There is so much corruption that yet remains in us. If we seek comfort by observing how much we are conformed to Christ, we shall soon be disappointed and feel our comfort evaporating.

Some have based their comfort upon consciousness that they have believed. But tragically, many are conscious they believe whose faith is not the faith of Christ. Hearts are immeasurably deceitful. Consciousness of having believed, or any feeling is not the bedrock foundation of hope.

We are commanded to rest in Christ Himself; He is the great object of faith. In proportion to our confidence in Christ, we will have assurance of salvation.

It is the Spirit’s ministry to the saints to take the things of Christ, the things of His dignity, His Person, the infinite value of His atonement, the freeness of His salvation and show them to our minds.

In other words, God reveals His Son in the believer. Our response is to believe and obey the truth through the Spirit’s enablement. These supplies of the Spirit are essential to our continuance and commencement of faith.

Those who profess salvation must never be satisfied to coexist with doubt. Assuming that we shall be saved while we tolerate doubt is an unsafe position to maintain. The Scriptures command us to give diligence in confirming a full assurance of hope until the end (2 Pet 1:9-11). Never be satisfied until you can say and mean it He loved me and gave Himself for me.

All who hear the Gospel are commanded to trust in Christ for salvation with assurance of acceptance. Justification by faith is God’s gracious gift to those who believe; but to believe means to utterly forsake everything else you have looked to for justification or acceptance with God.

Having renounced every other ground of hope, look to Christ for salvation. Call on the Name of the Lord – we have the promise of God confirmed to us by His oath – we shall be saved (Heb 6:13-20).

The remaining corruption of our hearts diverts us frequently from the enjoyment of our fellowship with God. What is the solution? Count all temporal things but rubbish compared to the infinite treasure of knowing Christ (Phil 3). View all around you in light of eternity.

Seek after, and do not be satisfied until you have the enjoyment of the light of God’s countenance. Practice the cultivation of His rest – for a rest remains for the people of God (Heb 4). Plead with the Lord to take entire possession of your heart and reign there without rivals.

He is standing, knocking, open to Him (Rev 3:20).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Galatians 2:20 “into the Bloodstream” -- Part Two

An anthology of quotations concerning faith in Christ (Horatius Bonar, Words Old and New).

That man who, daily, in the sense of his sinfulness and poverty, fleeth unto Jesus Christ, that he may be justified by His righteousness, and endeavoureth, by faith in Him, to bring forth the fruits of new obedience, and doth not put confidence in his works, when he hath done them, but rejoiceth in Jesus Christ, the Fountain of holiness and blessedness, -- that man is a new creature (David Dickson, p. 142)

This is the misery of most Christians, that they mislay their justification. They lay it partly upon their faith, and partly upon their holiness. And this is the reason that, when a poor soul is tempted to some sin, he loseth his faith, his assurance, and his peace of conscience; because he grounds his saintship and justification upon his holiness (Walter Cradock, p. 166).

Christ will be a perfect Redeemer and Mediator, and thou must be an undone sinner, or Christ and thou will never agree. It is the hardest thing in the world to take Christ alone for righteousness; that is to acknowledge Him Christ (Thomas Wilcox, p. 201).

Nature would do anything to be saved, rather than go to Christ, or close with Christ, and owe all to Him (ibid. p. 202).

They only do account it an easy thing to believe in Christ, who never were acquainted with themselves (Thomas Shepherd, p. 253).

Every man has something that he rests on for obtaining justification and happiness. Faith is putting Christ instead of that; his so coming to Christ, and to rest upon Him, as to abandon it(John Love, p. 307).

Key quotations from T. Austin Sparks, The Prophetic Ministry

So the final appeal is that everything must be adjusted and brought in line with the vision (the vision is that God is never satisfied with anything less than the fullness of His Son as represented by His Church – Sparks, p. 22), and the one question for us is this: Are people seeing the Lord? It is not a matter of whether they are hearing what we have to talk about – our preaching, doctrine, interpretation – but: Are they seeing the Lord, are they feeling the Lord, are they meeting the Lord? (ibid. p. 65).

We cannot have the knowledge of the Lord – the most important thing in the mind of God for us – except on the ground of the continuous application of the cross . . . Do not imagine that there will come a day when you have done with the cross, when the principle of the cross will no longer be necessary and when you have graduated from the school where the cross is the instrument of the Lord (p. 74, 75).

[C]hristianity has become very largely a system which has reverted to the level of the old dispensation. That is, so many Christians have their lives based upon addresses and sermons and going to meetings and being told [things] by other people. How many Christians do you find today who are really living in the good of a throbbing, personal revelation of Jesus Christ? . . . The great need of our day is for the people of God to be re-established on the basis upon which the Church was founded in the beginning, a Holy Ghost basis; at the very beginning of that basis is this – not to have a lot of information given to Christians, but that the Christians should have the capacity for seeing . . . ‘My eyes are open; I am seeing God’s eternal purpose, I am seeing the significance of Christ, I am seeing more and more [of] the Lord Jesus (p. 130).

Key quotations from A. A. Bonar, The Person of Christ

Our purpose, then, is to enter into details whereby we may show that the Person of Christ is, and always has been, the essence of the Gospel. . . . [T]he warrants for believing the Gospel are in reality testimonies, the drift of which is mainly this – to fix our eye upon that Person’s self, and assure us of the capabilities of His heart and arm (p. 7).

The seeking sinner finds that his perplexities are cleared away, when he is dealing, not with abstract truth, nor with cold statements, but with a Person, and that Person full of grace and truth (p. 8).

We are wrong, in our day, when we speak more of the work of Christ than of His Person – directing more attention to the shadow afforded by the great Rock than to the Rock itself (pp. 27, 28).

[S]eparate from Him, doctrines “have no living power, but are as waters separated from the fountain; they dry up, or become a noisome puddle, or as a beam interrupted from it continuity with the sun is immediately deprived of light” (John Owen on the Person of Christ quoted by Bonar, p. 73).

Not content with representing them as ever gazing on this object (the Ark of the covenant), the Lord set forth their union to Himself who is the mercy-seat – union to Him in His glorified state sharing in all the fruits of His finished work and begun glory.

Union to Christ’s Person is a fact in the case of every believer, and ought therefore to be a constant subject of meditation to every believer. Now, this union realized, leads to a realizing of the Person (p. 75).

Now while all believers do in some measure deal with a personal Christ, yet all do not seek to extend their experience of it; although the more this is done, the more fervent, and mild, and calm will all holiness be in their souls; for then they will take it fresh from the spring, and that spring is the calm, deep soul of Jesus . . . Conformity to the image of their Lord [is] in proportion as their eye rests more or less frequently on His Person (p. 78).

Many saints seem to be little aware how much of grace there is in the knowledge of the Person of Jesus. It would singularly benefit some of these, who have lived so much on what they know about Jesus, to try for a week the more blessed and fruitful way of dealing directly with Himself. There are treasures in the Person of Him whose doctrines they believe, if only they could use them (pp. 78, 79).

“Those divines who in their Catechetical Systems have made the formal object of Faith to be the Promise, rather than the Person of Christ, have failed in their expressions, if not their intentions” (Spurstow on Rom 6:1 quoted by Bonar, p. 118).

“Many continue little children and weak in faith, because they do not presently attain a solid acquaintance with The Person of Christ” (Romaine, The Life of Faith, p. 159 – quoted by Bonar, p. 120).

John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians

(Regarding a lack of knowledge gained by years of reading the Scriptures – the knowledge of Christ must be the aim of our Bible study) Even so it is with them that labor in reading the Holy Scriptures and do not know which is the point they ought to rest on, namely, the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (p. 217).

But yet we shall never understand how Jesus Christ is our only foundation, unless we know for what purpose He was sent, according to the text . . . He was given to us to be our wisdom (1 Cor 1:24). . . He was given to be our righteousness, our redemption, and our holiness. . . Jesus Christ is our wisdom to whom we must wholly keep ourselves (p. 220).

Eli AshdownThe Saving Health of the Gospel

Dear friends, one hour’s felt sense of this righteousness imputed is worth all your seeking; God help you to thirst (Forward, p. ii).

The apostles in their doctrine, being eyewitnesses of the God-man Christ, keep close to His Person, close to His sufferings, close to His resurrection, close to His mercy, close to His grace; and all teaching as well as all practice outside this is outside the wall of the city; for in the foundations are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (p. 21).

There are many in the Church who live on things short of Christ, and are quiet and satisfied all the year round. The foolish virgins were just like that, and had no thought or discernment of any lack, till the Bridegroom came (p. 35).

[When] the ever-blessed Spirit takes up residence in the heart as the Spirit of light, of power, and of a sound mind; and as soon as He does, the man cannot live on the externals of religion. He will feel, “Lord in thy house I read there is room, and venturing hard, behold I come; but can there, tell me, can there be, among thy children room for me?” (p. 36).

One glimpse of Christ does more good than all moral walking. I would keep that in its place; but never let it jostle out a precious Christ and His merits and atonement (p. 46).

Time is very short, and to be tantalized by a legal spirit, a proud heart, to rest on things that are not saving, I say it is a waste of time, of life, and all. . . We need the Holy Spirit that we may flee to the blood of Christ, and let nothing quiet us but the atonement (p. 53).

How many here are feeling their need of the righteousness and atonement of Christ? That is the sinner that is partaker of the Holy Ghost; it is His rising beam in your heart; you will never be lost. See how close He is to you to move your heart after Himself. How sweet salvation is to a needy sinner (p. 57).

Isaac Ambrose, Looking unto Jesus

Such a one, as deals immediately with Christ, will do more in a day, than another in a year! And therefore I call it a choice. . . a high Gospel ordinance – now what this ordinance? The text tells you; It is looking unto Jesus (Heb 12:2) (p. 28).

Consider that a thorough sight of Christ will increase your outward joy in Christ. . . A right sight of Christ will make a right-sighted Christian glad at heart (p. 40).

Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls

You cannot minister Christ unless you know Christ, walk with Christ, experience Christ, are controlled by Christ, and are endued with the power of Christ. In other words, Christ is first ministered to your own heart so that you can minister Him to the hearts of others.

The goal of your preaching, praying, shepherding, and labors is union with Christ. The Apostle Paul suffered much for the sake of the sheep. He loved God’s people and was dedicated to their spiritual advancement. But what was Paul’s ultimate motivation? Was it that they might know more of Christ? No! His goal was that they might know Christ. Paul was a man who yearned for the saints to possess a deep heart knowledge of Christ. He labored to present every man perfect in Christ (Col 1:28).

When we can tell our people, “We beheld His glory, and therefore we speak of it; it is not from report we speak, but we have seen the King in His beauty” – how lofty the position we occupy! Our power in drawing men to Christ springs chiefly from the fullness of our personal joy in Him, and the nearness of our personal communion with Him.

Author unknown

Where there is no revelation of Christ’s majesty and glory reigning in the hearts of God’s people, lawlessness and anarchy result.

Only when our hearts are fully focused upon a revelation of Him and His splendor can we receive by Him a vision of the work He would have us do for Him. As we are captivated by Him we will not become overly infatuated with our work for Him.

Protocol, titles, and professionalism lose their appeal as the glory of Christ’s splendor and beauty captivate our hearts and minds.

We must realize that the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Person of Jesus Christ and speak of His majesty. The only delight and joy that the Holy Spirit has is the privilege of magnifying the Person and finished work of the blessed Son of God. For all eternity this will be the sublime ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Adolph Saphir, Christ and the Scriptures

We cannot speak, think, and feel too highly of Scripture in its vital connection with Christ and the Spirit; but there may be a way of viewing Scripture by itself apart from Christ and the Holy Ghost, and transferring to this dead book our faith, reverence, and affection; and this surely would come under the category of idolatry, -- substituting something, however good and great in itself, or rather in its relation to God, in the place of the living God (p. 125).

By bibliolatry I understand the tendency of separating, in the first place, the Book from the Person of Jesus Christ, and in the second, from the Holy Ghost, and of thus substituting the Book for Him who alone is the light and guide of the Church (p. 125).

The apostles spoke of Christ, and confirmed and illustrated their testimony by the prophecies of Scripture. They looked to the Man in the first place, and secondarily to the portrait given of Him in the Book (p. 130).

When the Word of the Lord comes to the soul, it brings authority, power, and attraction with it, and the response of the heart is, not “What is this Book?” but, “Who art thou Lord?” (p. 134).

The Bible is profitable, but only when we read as disciples whose object is to “learn Christ.” The children of God thus read Scripture, not with the purpose of exhausting its fullness, but of receiving from it what they need for the present . . .

(p. 143).

In this error (receiving the testimony of Scripture without receiving Jesus who is the sum and substance of Scripture) we Christians have encouraged the unbelievers, even by our false way of separating the Book from the Lord, and substituting intellectual sight for that beholding of heart, which is faith. Receive Jesus, and thou receivest not merely the testimony, thou thyself art an additional witness and seal to the truth of God (p. 150).

Highlights from David Wells, God in the Wasteland

Why has the 20th Century seen the “triumph” of Arminianism? ANSWER: In the “theology” of democracy, experience and testimony are authoritative. If theology is not translated into technique, people lose interest – legitimacy is only given to ideas that “work” (pp. 66-67).

Pragmatism equals success in the marketplace. In Scripture, pragmatism is not equivalent to truth and virtue. The Church has prostituted itself to methods and techniques; it has become results oriented, not theology oriented (p. 68).

Barna demonstrates that he is naïve about sin. The old Pelagianism is served up; human depravity is down-played. “Small sins” require but a market strategy in order to meet the real need. Wells’ response: Christ cannot be marketed. Consumers fed on the “new sovereignty” of personal needs have no interest in the cross-centered life.

God’s purpose is to have us see our needs in terms of sin having broken our relationship with Him. To repent of sin is to repent of self-centeredness. The Barna view is the reverse; it is inverted -- personal needs are sovereign (pp. 81, 82). 

 

The culture of modernity is characterized by pride and self-absorption. People are so self occupied they refuse to hear anything that would disturb their intuition that they are correct about what is true and right. By contrast, the Bible declares that there is no redemption where self is in tyranny. The sovereignty of self destroys both church and worship. There is no recovery but by biblical doctrine (pp. 112, 113).

Modernity embraces a god who can be used. Psychologized culture has an affinity for the relational, but a “dis-ease” for the moral. The modern church wants the love of God, but not the holiness of God (p. 114).

 

There is trauma in retaining the Scriptural, theocentric God of grandeur. The radical reconstruction of self by God’s revealed doctrine is needed or the knowledge of the Holy One will not sink in. The cost of retaining the knowledge of God is ongoing repentance (p. 115).

The only way to be God-centered is to be Christ-centered. Pluralism dislikes the exclusivity of Christ-centeredness. (The glorified Christ of eschatology who returns as Lord of history to judge the earth and consummate all things is assiduously avoided by modernity.) Disinterest in God’s holiness always results in a lack of interest in the pursuit of godliness and little interest in the reception of holiness from God (pp. 132, 134).

 

Victimhood is not interested in dwelling upon the holiness of God. God’s Word affirms that all God is and does is holiness. God’s holiness carries with it the demand of exclusive loyalty to Him. The experimental knowledge of God’s holiness should move us to awe, obedience, fervent prayer, ongoing repentance, and submission to His moral authority (pp. 135-138).

 

The God of holiness is a “lover” with deep passion; He tolerates no rivals. Worldliness is unfaithfulness; it constitutes spiritual adultery. His holiness is high and lofty; it cannot be correlated with earthly existence (p. 139).

Burning purity and tenderness are joined in covenant. His holiness reveals sin. His holiness necessitates the work of Christ. God’s holiness and majesty belong together and interpret one another. His holiness is synonymous with His majesty in many passages (i.e. Ex 15:11) (pp. 140, 141).

There must be an echo of holiness in those who approach God. That echo manifests itself in separation and consecration unto God. God’s holiness is intrusive to the inner man. To approach God’s holiness is to have the life of the inner man invaded by light that exposes everything (pp. 142, 143).

If holiness slips from a central position, then the centrality of Christ is lost. One cannot enter the knowledge of the Holy as a consumer, ONLY as a sinner. Sin, grace, and faith are emptied of meaning apart from the holiness of God (pp. 143, 144).

Seminary students are increasingly attracted to immanence and not transcendence. Here are the consequences of immanence without transcendence: Fulfillment is achieved through the process of looking within. The disconformity in the world is internalized into privatized meaning. There is an increasing civility toward other religions (the exclusivity of the Gospel is minimized). The whole human nature is corrupt, but self is not. Self is innocent – self provides an accurate vantage point from which to interpret the world (pp. 209-211).

With an ever increasing number of seminary students, contemporary assumptions have more control over the inner life and over world view than the Word of God (p. 212).

 

 

Getting Galations 2:20 'into the Bloodstream' -- Part Three

“Proofing” the Pastor for Ministry

God’s man needs “proofing” for ministry by means of Galatians 2:20

In order to “proof” God’s man for godly endurance in the face of adversity, popularity, personal attacks, and suffering, he must be prepared in the ‘school of Christ.’

Much of that preparation involves learning to live upon Christ as He is set forth in the Gospel formula of Galatians 2:20.

The pervasive truth of Galatians 2:20 applies to the entire continent of the soul; for Christ is displayed as the godly man’s source of confidence, co-crucifixion, control by love, andcompleteness.

Radical identification with Christ is the Father’s solution to the flesh’s craving for adequacy in self. The flesh longs for personal adequacy in ministry. After all, when it’s my adequacy, then it must be my victory – but also when it’s my inadequacy, then it’s my defeat.

Only co-crucifixion can produce the exchanged life. Galatians 2:20 is the graveyard of narcissism. We rest in Christ to labor for Christ. We are to BE a son in order to LABOR as a son.

Our hearts are deceitful; just below the surface is a legal spirit that wishes to personalize every victory and every defeat. Only the cross applied keeps the flesh from usurping glory. The cross applied keeps Christ established as “Source Person.”

Christ weans us from the “drug” called human recognition

 The pastor faces a daily choice – he goes one of two places for love; he goes either to the Lord for love or to human recognition for love. The ability to go to the Lord for love each day is not an option. Here is the reason why – if Christ is not his Source Person (for love), then the flesh will assert itself by running to human recognition.

A true friend of the Bridegroom nurtures to the best of his ability strong attachments among his people and between his people and Christ. By contrast, a man feeding upon recognition cultivates strong attachments to himself.

The human recognition route blocks the selfless love of Christ from passing through the pastor-shepherd BECAUSE the pastor’s worth (which is a function of love) is too closely tied to human recognition he is receiving.

Like the slow drip of an intravenous needle, recognition gets mixed into the blood. The recognition-driven pastor is not truly free to be a channel of Christ’s love because he is inadvertently cultivating an unhealthy dependency of the flock upon himself. He’s “mainlining” recognition (see Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pp. 32-39 is a ‘must read’ on the tendency of pastors to foster dependency).

His self concept is so tied to recognition that it has become the mirror he gazes into to find out who he is. Galatians 2:20 is the way out of an all too common co-dependency between earthly shepherd and flock.

The growth needed involves a paradigm shift wherein the shepherd learns to live upon the love of the Son of God. This shift can be traumatic because source and control are such close bedfellows. The old way of managing the needs of the soul must be moved to the periphery. There’s trauma in that because you are no longer in charge of your love; Christ is.

To live upon God’s heart toward you in Christ involves trauma if one is used to living upon human recognition. There may be withdrawal symptoms. To be totally leveraged upon the grace and mercy of Christ is to live outside the arena of control, merit, and performance.

Men prefer an Adamic “spreadsheet,” a way of measuring how we are doing in the dominion mandate (man subduing the earth). But co-crucifixion tears up our scorecards. It kicks out our ego props. It puts us in the dust before our Savior and tells us that in this Gospel age overcoming through dependency upon Christ has replaced subduing the earth as our number one priority.

The cross doesn’t just mortify the flesh’s desire for honor and recognition. The cross makes us willing to receive Christ’s love on His terms. The cross makes us willing to be conquered by Christ’s love. It flushes us out of every narcissistic hiding place.

Every personal index and exponent we take pride in is touched by the cross; for it is our inner recognition of these exponents that inflates us above our fellows. When we stand on imagined high ground, we are in a narcissistic posture that makes us unable to receive Christ’s love.

Praise God for the school of Christ – it is there the pastor learns to consolidate all of his love and worth issues in the Person of Christ. It is there that he learns to expose the world’s most subtle lie. All our lives the world has told us that it is our right, even our duty, to turn every person exponent into personal worth. Like a huge hopper at a textile factory, our longing for personal adequacy gobbles up every speck of our achievement and weaves it into a bogus covering for the nakedness of the soul.

Galatians 2:20 is about who will be in charge of your love and worth. The pastor schooled by Christ has learned not distribute his source of love over a wide field of supports. But he has learned this lesson through pain.

To the eye of sense only, these lessons are not inviting. Some of Christ’s best gifts come wrapped only in “plain butcher paper.” The wrapping seems to say the gift has little value. Thorns in the flesh appear to be poor gifts.

But thorns are the way the pastor learns the error of his initial presumption – namely that he could be successful in ministry without having learned to live upon Christ’s love as it is revealed in the Gospel.

Only by learning to live upon Christ’s love will the pastor be fitted to labor in all seasons. Only by living upon Christ’s love will he model true discipleship. (We can only pass on to others what we are in the habit of receiving from the Lord in our own spirits.)

The Pride of Life crucified

What we love reveals our spiritual state. God cares deeply about who His human eternal companions will be. Those who love Him will live with Him forever. In both testaments the call has been come out of the Egypt of this world, come to Zion. God has no fellowship with Belial, darkness, and idols. Come out from their midst and be separate says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you (2Cor 6:17).

We preach frequently to natural men who have an idolatrous marriage to the world; an unholy ‘covenant’ originally hatched in the heart of Satan and initially offered in the forbidden fruit.

The child of wrath still entertains the devil’s impossible dream that sin and self-determination create a new reality in which the creature is autonomous, self-directed, free from eternal condemnation, and out from under the moral government of God.

The world is the “fantasyland” of self love. Every possible form of self idolatry is there; from the enormities of immoral perversion to the subtleties of personal refinement.

In its most subtle form, the pride of life has to do with lust for law. Lust for law gives self a scorecard by which it may measure its adequacy. This form of pride of life thrives in religion.

Do to be is the pride of life in a religious context. It is a mindset that is at war with God’s verdict upon Adamic man. Lust for law says that Adam can be patched up; his moribund state can be made to look vigorous and ravishing.

We’re often going to be preaching to folks who want Adam patched up. From the gym to the Lexus to the Armani suit to the charity to the mansion to the Rolex, there are countless indexes offered by the world that “prove” that Adam is thriving and in fine shape – the idea that he must be crucified is therefore regarded as foolishness.

The antipathy the flesh has to the news that Adam must be crucified and slain is beyond calculation. We can read that statement and find nothing shocking in it because we assume that it is only the unbeliever who hates the verdict of death by co-crucifixion.

It is at this juncture that the school of Christ has lessons for us that probe nerve centers deep within the saint’s soul. The Lord is showing us just how much we hate co-crucifixion. It is a disturbing revelation. Though we are redeemed, we maintain a secret war against the immutable truth that Christ is our only adequacy.

The flesh, like weed seeds or fungus spores, lays dormant but always ready to burst into a new phase of runaway growth at the first sign of moisture. We face a paradox; unregenerate flesh can build a metropolis, put a man on the moon, find a vaccine to prevent polio, yet Christ says of Kingdom work, “Apart from Me you can do nothing;” nothing that counts for eternity (Jn 15:5).

In religion, where the cross is not central, the flesh will fill in every gap. The flesh is ready in an instant to plant all of its ontological personhood needs on human recognition. Like Balaam, the flesh wants a reward for its efforts and perceived virtues. Wise is the pastor who knows this about himself.

Galatians 2:20 applied in the school of Christ imbues the pastor with the truth that whatever virtues are evident in me must be credited to the life of Christ in me, for it is not I who live, but Christ lives in me. But the flesh, in its insatiable thirst for recognition, would take for itself what is due Christ.

The battle has always been about source. From Eden to Sinai to Canaan to Babylon, the contest is always the same, where shall I go with my needs; the world or the Lord; self or the Lord? Who shall have the credit when my needs are met?

When man takes it upon himself to manage his SOURCE; it is the pride of life at work. Galatians 2:20 runs a spear through the pride of life. The man of God instructed in the school of Christ becomes centered by the Lord into a settled, faith-based, daily posture and conviction that Christ is his sole Source Person.

The cross applied produces the exchanged life

We’ve established that even in the holy pursuits of the ministry the flesh sets itself against the Spirit and actually “competes” with the Lord in an attempt to prove that it can be a source for spiritual production.

As such the flesh is an enemy of living by faith in Christ’s love. For when the flesh makes an attempt to prove, win, or earn favor and love, then our focus terminates upon self love instead of Christ. The flesh has an endless set of strategies aimed at transaction rather than grace. It’s a covert ploy to steal glory.

The flesh wants to live in an earning mode, not a grace mode. The flesh seeks to block the new man’s faith-based consent to receive Christ’s unconditional love each day. The flesh is so addicted to measuring up and to performance; it prefers the life of a slave over that of a son. The slave’s status rises or falls each day by virtue of the quality of his labor.

But sonship is not based upon graceless legal working but upon an immutable relationship. Consciousness of sonship is a function of Gospel reasoning. Bargaining and bartering are antagonistic to the faith reception of Christ’s love.

The flesh is imperious in its demand to earn favor and status. It is secretly insulted at the verdict that it must remain pinioned to the cross. God has condemned it as deplorable, beyond renovation, selfishly ambitious, filled with self-righteous defilement – it is therefore sentenced to the cross that the life of Christ may dwell in us.

The school of Christ is designed to make God’s man “unlearn erroneous lessons. We’ve had a lifetime of experience relying upon carnal strength. We believe that this strength has served us well on countless occasions. As a consequence, we do not welcome God’s touch of atrophy upon our carnal strengths.

We would rather wish that He would salvage all of our natural strength and sanctify it and mix it with His power that He might bless our ministry endeavors mightily. This approach makes perfect sense to our natural wisdom.

(After all, didn’t Paul say that he labored even more than all of them (1 Cor 15:10)? Yes, he did, but he was careful to say that it was the grace of God with him, and “yet not I,” who did it.)

God does touch the sinew of our thigh – He afflicts the areas of natural strength that we might become dependent enough to be blessed by Him. We would rather leap upon the mountains, but he causes us to walk with a limp in our hour of greatest need.

In the school of Christ we learn to make peace with the limps and the thorns God has sent. These “mercy messengers” of humility and reliance teach us that our strengths cause more trouble than our weaknesses. They teach us that the earthen vessel and its golden treasure must not be mingled or confused (2 Cor 4:7).

In this age of the fellowship of His sufferings, glory and honor must wait for the revealing of the sons of God. For now we walk by a sincere faith that looks away from self to Christ’s constraining love.

Without a thorn or a limp, we would be resisters of God’s grace in the Christian life. We would balk at the high privilege of being satisfied in God; for the flesh longs to be satisfied in itself. Therefore it is a hostile enemy of the comforting work of the Paraclete (Rom 15:13).

God’s Spirit works for our satisfaction in Christ and our flesh works against this. Radical identification with Christ is a product of faith apprehending all we have and share in the Son of God.

But it is always the Gospel order – first a vivid view of the impotence and corruption and pride of the flesh; then an exercise of faith which looks wholly away from self to Christ. Gospel faith is amazingly filled with self-renunciation because it has abandoned all hope in self as source. From the habit of Gospel faith each day comes the exchanged life.

A checklist for radical identification with Christ

1.) Is the object of my faith Christianity? Or is it Christ Himself? If He is to be my first love; He must “infatuate” me more than ministry.

 

2.) Am I reckoning myself one with ChristAm I defining Christ as Paul defines Him – as my life; am I attributing to Him every spiritual virtue and ability in my life, including effectiveness in ministry?

3.) Am I reckoning my co-crucifixion with ChristThrough Him am I considering myself dead to sin and alive to God? Am I drawing life from Him by faith so that my weakness is exchanged for His strength?

4.) Am I controlled and constrained by His “Gethsemene love;” the love which caused Him to give Himself for me? Is this my argument to no longer live for self (2 Cor 5:14)?

5.) Do I exalt Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship in the area of providence; do I give Him the “vote of confidence” each day to run my life? Does my faith gladly and trustingly submit to His sovereign control over my life? 

 

 

God’s Wisdom in the Cross, 1 Cor 1:18-25

INTRODUCTION

Not a few pastors have pointed out that Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians contain such a profound relevance for California culture that we could easily title them, “Paul’s epistles to the Californians.” Notice the sins that California “Christians” share in common with the Corinthians: compromise with sexual impurity, apathy about church discipline, a reckless devotion to self-improvement, image over substance, boasting, drunkenness, a propensity for litigation, a sectarian spirit, an orientation toward sensuality and pleasure, selfish ambition, spiritual immaturity, a lack of love, etc.

The Corinthians were attracted to the world’s wisdom. Because of that error, they were in danger of neutralizing the power and wisdom of the cross in their lives (1:17). Paul writes 1 Corinthians (esp. chaps. 1-4) to call the Corinthian believers back to the wisdom of God in the cross. (Paul was determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ and Him crucified – 2:2).

The Church today also stands at a fork in the road – in one direction, pragmatism allures with its promise of increased church attendance, greater relevance to culture, and the resultant increase in financial resources. The other path is modeled by Paul – it is the cross-centered life.

A fascination with man’s wisdom has pulled the Corinthians down the wrong path of that fork in the road. The result was an outbreak of carnality. It is the problem of divisions in the church that has led Paul to expound the meaning of wisdom in the first place.

In seeking the wrong kind of wisdom, the Corinthians had split the church into cliques. Until they realize that the scandal of the cross has put an end to human boasting, they will remain carnal babes. (The cross contains scandal because God’s way of working through the cross is considered insufficient to men. It is regarded as a way of weakness scorned by human wisdom; but hidden in the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God – 1:24).

Only when the Corinthians embrace the scandal of the cross are they ready for the diet of the mature. The message of the cross-centered life is an unacceptable spiritual diet to those who think in terms of human achievement and glory.Christ crucified must be realized in the Corinthians’ lives – if not, they will continue to operate by means of “earthly score cards” in which ego-driven spiritualism allows the self life to dominate.

The focus is to be upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Corinth had forgotten that focus. How they needed the recovery of Christ’s glory in His Church.

Paul’s message to the Corinthians is urgently needed by the Church today; for the world’s “wisdom” is opportunistically making its overtures to the Bride of Christ (2 Cor 11:3-4). The world’s wisdom is attempting to call the Church away from simply and pure devotion to Christ and His cross.

The message of 1 Corinthians is a radical corrective for those who find themselves attracted to human methods, human achievement, and the glory of man. The message of Christ and Him crucified overturns human conceptions of wisdom; for God’s power is perfected through human weakness.

The cross is the paradigm for this formula of power perfected through weakness (2 Cor 12:10; 13:4-5). By contrast, spiritualist power (one of the Corinthian errors) is powerful only when it is no longer weak or needy. Paul boasts of his weakness because it preserves the cross paradigm, then God’s power rests upon him. The Corinthian letters constitute a sustained theology of the cross – which is God’s way of working in the world.

Paul drives home his point about divine wisdom by referring to the make up of the Corinthian’s assembly of believers. One could paraphrase 1:26-28 by saying, “Who in the name of wisdom would have chosen you Corinthians? For by the standards of conventional wisdom, you are nothing but social outcasts (not many wise, mighty, well-born). Why even God’s choice of you is a picture of God’s wisdom in the cross – it is a wisdom designed to eliminate all human boasts” (1:29, 31).

MAIN PROPOSITION

This essay will examine four truths concerning God’s wisdom and power in the cross in order that you might become increasingly cross-centered.

 

OUTLINE

I God’s POWER in the cross is concealed from the perishing (v. 18).

II God’s PURPOSE in the cross is predicted in Scripture (vv. 19-20).

III God’s WISDOM in the cross is contrasted with the world’s wisdom (vv. 21-23).

IV God’s “FOOLISHNESS” in the cross is vindicated by His salvation of the called (vv. 24-25).

 

1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

 

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (NASB).

I. God’s POWER in the cross is concealed from the perishing (v. 18).

One of the symptoms of the Corinthians’ attraction to human wisdom, was their use of party (partisan) slogans, (“I am of Apollos; I am of Cephas,”) – Paul is stating that all of this carnal behavior among the Corinthians was traceable to an over-evaluation of human wisdom (and a neglect, or under-evaluation of the Gospel).

Paul is resolute about keeping his entire Gospel away from this sphere of the wisdom of men (v. 17). Paul’s preaching is in strong contrast with the “wisdom of words.”

(Example. There is such a strong tendency in us to clutch onto human wisdom. When a celebrity makes a claim to salvation in Christ, people cannot wait to place a microphone in front of the person to make them a spokesperson for Christianity – as if the glitz of a celebrity’s fame can lift the message of the cross above its association with sham, weakness, and scandal – but Paul says when we run the message of the cross through the grid of the world’s wisdom, we empty it of its power – v. 17).

v. 18 – “The cross occupies a central place in proclaiming the Gospel. It is both the crowing point of a life of self-renunciation and also the ordained instrument of salvation” (Lightfoot). The “Word of the cross” refers to speech that belongs to the message of the cross and consequently does NOT belong to the wisdom of the world (i.e. eloquence and rhetoric only work to neutralize the message of the cross; for the world does not find that its wisdom comports with the Gospel – 1 Jn 4:5-6).

Paul begins the emphasis upon the power of God. (v. 18 is in effect the fulfillmentof v. 19). God showcases His wisdom and power in the destruction of the wisdom of the world. “Perishing” is the fixed state of the individual outside of Christ; nothing short of a complete transformation can avail to change that state and the ruin implicit in it.

The Greek word for foolish is moreeah from which we derive our word “moronic.” Notice that those who are perishing regard the “Word of the Cross” to be foolishness. (Example. A common Roman graffiti scrawled on walls was an image drawn of a slave worshipping a crucified being with a human body and the head of a donkey.)

Those who are “being saved” experience the transforming effect in their lives of God’s power through the cross (solely because of their relation to Christ and Him crucified). The Gospel is simply the “placarding” of Christ crucified (Gal 3:1).

This “public portrayal” of Christ crucified has two effects: salvation in Christ, orperishing outside of Christ. The doctrine of the cross alone is effectual unto salvation. The wisdom of the world abandons man to eternal destruction. The two destinies (saved or perishing) are consummated on the last day when Christ shall judge the secrets of men’s hearts (Rom 2:16), and publicly pronounce the eternal destiny of each person (Phil 2:9-11).

II. God’s PURPOSE in the cross is predicted in Scripture (vv. 19-20).

Every time Jesus responded to Satan, He used geigraptai (Grk.) – it is written (or “it stands written” – the form expresses the authoritative character of the document.

In 2:4-5 the concluding thought to chapter one is that the believer’s faith must be grounded solely on the Scriptural message of the cross and not upon the wisdom of man – “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

God is literally precipitating a collision of worldviews. Christ and Him crucifiedis the divine wisdom which invades the realm of human wisdom. Human wisdom is a feeble wisdom – God’s wisdom invades like a wedge, piercing the impotent realm of human wisdom -- ultimately exposing its folly and finally obliterating it.

Paul is confronting the Corinthians -- it is wrong to hamper the truth of the Gospel just because wise men of the world laugh at it and hold it up to contempt (Calvin). Man’s opinion has no weight in the eyes of God – He will avenge Himself upon the enemies of the cross. God will punish the arrogant who rely upon their own “outstanding” discretion and natural abilities. God is going to bring about a great wonder that will produce astonishment – God will obliterate and blot out man-centered wisdom.

(Illustration. Man’s wisdom will be finely ground and blown away like powder in the wind, never to be seen again.)

God’s way of avenging is to strike the proud with spiritual blindness (Jn 9:39-41) – those wise in their own eyes; those bound to their own way of understanding will be left to their own cherished way of reasoning. God announces that their “wisdom” will be reduced to futility, vanity, and folly. (See Ps 33:1.) (Example. If God had an earthly business, it might be titled, “Pride-Demolition.com.”)

V. 20 – The Apostle initiates a taunting attack on man-centered wisdom. Paul’s tirade against human wisdom is certainly justified – for no words can express how hard it is to tear man’s mind away from confidence in the flesh. Consider how the world tramples under foot the Gospel message – the message of God’s most precious Gift of Christ given for a lost and dying world is regarded as not worthy of five minutes of man’s attention.

Man’s knowledge is nothing UNLESS it rests upon true wisdom (Prov 1:7). All the disciplines of the halls of learning are USELESS for obtaining spiritual wisdom (note today’s presupposition of philosophic naturalism – new data gained in research is only used to harden men in their godless worldview and practical atheism). 4000 years of research and philosophic speculation have brought man not one millimeter closer to answering even one ultimate question (space travel, the discovery DNA, mapping the human genome have not brought mankind one bit closer to a saving knowledge of God).

A person cannot reason his way to God – the saving knowledge of God is hidden from human perception. Apart from Christ, every branch of human wisdom is futile; it cannot give a saving knowledge of God. (EX. There was a researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography who studied Flashlight fish for more than 20 years, yet he was not one bit closer to understanding causation and purpose of Flashlight fish after two decades of intense research. But because of her Christian worldview, a 12 year old girl sitting in Sunday school knows more about causation and purpose of that fish than the evolutionary scientist.)

By means of the foolishness of preaching, the message of the cross is God’s way of doing what He said He will do – which is obliterate the wisdom of the wise. By means of the cross (the message of the Gospel), God has rendered foolish the world’s wisdom. God has cast down the entire realm of foolish self-sufficiency.This is not merely God making the world’s wisdom appear foolish, it is the world’s wisdom revealed for what it is, total foolishness (this is God turning the tables on the worldly wise – Prov 21:30) (Just as He warns Israel of old, don’t try to match wits with God – do not think that you can outwit God. Note the many examples of Israel’s disobedience that was the result of leaning upon man’s wisdom – Is 30:15-17.)

The whole fulcrum, the whole balance point, the arrow point, the focus of God’s wisdom, the very axis of God’s wisdom is Christ and Him crucified. By means of the cross, God will eliminate every single enemy of His glory. By means of the cross He will redeem the cosmos, save the elect, and fill the earth with Christ’s Kingdom. (All but the salvation of the elect is unseen for the present, but by the “foolishness and weakness” of the cross, God will ultimately eliminate every one of His enemies.)

III. God’s WISDOM in the cross is contrasted with the world’s wisdom (vv. 21-23).

V. 21 – According to Psalm 19 and Romans 1, mankind is immersed in a sea of revelation – the whole creation speaks of God’s power, moral authority, wisdom, might, and goodness. Yet men suppress the truth of God; they hold it down studiously because they do not want to deal with the God who is revealed in the creation. They are ungrateful; therefore they invert things; they change light into darkness (Jn 3:19-21). But this is the judgment, through the foolishness of preaching, God will save those who believe.

 

God will show the impotence of human wisdom – He will set it aside as worthless. For by its wisdom, the world failed to gain or secure the knowledge that leads to salvation. People in general have never acclaimed the Gospel as a masterpiece of wisdom. (They would rather give the Nobel Peace Prize to a Palestinian terrorist than exalt God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ.)

The world regards the cross as a foolish way of working. Human wisdom scoffs at the incarnation; that the God of the universe should become a man and submit to death; that the Creator, the Source of life, should be subjected to the Curse. The Gospel contains hidden wisdom (wisdom that astonishes angels – 1 Pet 1:12; Eph 3:10). What a testimony this is to the blindness of the human mind; that man is surrounded by light but perceives nothing and prefers darkness.

The cross is not a plan man would have thought of; it is considered folly by worldly standards. Man is self-centered, controlled by self-love, wedded to lusts; he cannot rightly handle God’s manifestation of wisdom. The sinner twists the message to make a god in his own image (Barrett). But our text has a difficult truth in it – this failure of human wisdom spoken of by the Apostle Paul is part of God’s purpose.

God intends to make a public display of those who cling rigidly to man-centered wisdom. (According to 2:7-8, God’s wisdom leads to our glory. God’s people are destined for glory, not shame; consider how this contrasts to the rulers of this age who are destined for shame. The sad irony is that the Corinthians in pursuing wisdom are pursuing what belongs to this age and is passing away (this is Paul’s point – the rulers and wisdom of this age is on its way out). The rulers were blind; they hated truth, therefore they used human standards of wisdom. Christ’s glory, manifested in His obedience unto death, was not recognized by the rulers of this age – they did not recognize Christ as the agent of God’s salvation of man – therefore in their rebellion, they lose their glory. The spirit of the world loves spurious wisdom, but despises the wisdom of God in the cross.)

The cross teaches us the very substance of the Gospel. In the cross is God’s wisdom and power. God’s plan (though regarded as foolish by the world) is that the Gospel should be preached everywhere: at work, at picnics, in the baseball dugout, over the backyard fence, in schools, at Starbucks, by the roadside, and in pulpits.

Do not be troubled or upset that there are such small numbers that believe the Gospel – for you have been set apart for salvation by an act of God (which we will see in v. 24).

Vv. 22-23 – These two verses are a parallel to verse 21; they open up and expand upon verse 21, explaining it in specifics. The Jews have a way (albeit idolatrous) of seeking to validate spiritual knowledge; it is by seeking external, supernatural signs. Jesus often condemned their fervent attachment to signs as the ground of faith (declaring to them that they simply will not believe the Scriptures unless they see signs – Mark 8:11-12; Matt 16:1, 4; 12:38ff.). The Jews demanded a striking demonstration of power and majesty – but the cross was a contradiction in terms; for to human perception it was solely abject ignominy, shame, and weakness.

The Messianic expectation of the Jews sketched out a portrait of a glorious Prince and political deliverer; but Christ disappointed and insulted their expectations. It says in 1 Peter 2:8 that He was carefully examined by them and rejected and discarded as a “Stone” unfit to build upon. “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the Word and to this doom they were appointed.”

The builders found Christ and His divine wisdom “unfit” to build upon (God’s wisdom in Christ is considered foolish by the world). The builders deliberatelytested and rejected God’s choice “Stone.” But they will find to their terror that the rejection of God’s stone will bring about their own disastrous injury and ruin (Hiebert, 1 Peter, pp. 138-139).

Unlike the Jews, the Greeks sought true wisdom through science and philosophy. They took immense pride in their speculations; even regarding those outside the circle of their wisdom to be barbarians. But Christ was not preached as a political conqueror or an intellectual philosopher. The message of the Gospel was not tailored to fit either group.

(v. 23) – “But we” -- is a strong adversative of contrast joined to the emphatic“we.” We preach Christ the crucified One whose finished work on Calvary continues to powerfully save and shall ever be the outshining of God’s wisdom.

But here is the scandal of the cross – the stumblingblock of the cross (Grk. “skandalon” -- death trap, trap stick, something that trips men up). If the message of the cross is merely run through human wisdom, it will cause a person to stumble over its all-powerful and all-wise truth. For how could the blood from a condemned man who died a hideous and shameful death forgive sin and convert the world?

Paul Zahl in his book, A Short Systematic Theology, p. 28, makes the following observation concerning God’s hidden wisdom in the cross. “Even the one concrete and universal Christian symbol of the appearance of the grace of God, the cross of Jesus Christ, represents the hidden-ness and, from our end, the inaccessibility of God in any objective form. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God operates sub contrario, under the opposite of His reasoned attributes such as strength and authority and life. In the cross, which is an objective symbol of Christ’s objective life on earth, the symbol belies the realty to which it points. God takes His stand on earth within the human experience of kinked, crooked desperateness.

IV. God’s “FOOLISHNESS” in the cross is vindicated by the salvation of the called (vv. 24-25).

V. 24 – This contrast in kinds of wisdom shows how badly Christ is received; the humility of Christ is set against the foolish pride of the world’s wisdom. Christ’s humility in the cross offends every form of wisdom that is filled with self-assertion. The Jews could not discern the most profound wisdom when they were confronted with it because they put their minds and opinions ahead of Scripture. (The wisdom and power of God in the cross is not perceptible to self-reliant human wisdom; yet the cross is accessible to all. (EX. L. S. Chafer relays the account of a man with Down’s Syndrome who after attending a week of evangelistic messages stood up in the meeting and declared, “Christ died for sinners; I’m a sinner; Christ died for me.” Then he sat down. Chafer’s remark -- the man’s simple confession showed that he understood and believed the message of the cross; it was enough to save him for all eternity.)

The “called” are those whom God quickens, and draws with irresistible power by His sovereign grace. It is the called who see and experience this power and wisdom of God in the cross (for by the redemption accomplished in Christ the chains that bound you to sin’s power and penalty are cut asunder). This is a change that only divine power can accomplish. (The wisdom and power of God in the cross will be the focus of eternity – you will never outgrow the centrality of the Gospel; for throughout the Church age, it will be the spiritual food of God’s people, and throughout eternity it will be the primary revealer of the Godhead.)

V. 25 – Paul uses this ironic expression, “God’s foolishness and weakness” to rebut, to refute, and demolish the insane pride of the flesh which seeks to strip God of His glory. What was done in Christ’s cross was a direct contradiction of human ideas of wisdom and power – yet the cross achieved what human wisdom and power could never achieve. For divine wisdom and power, even at their lowest point (by human standards) are infinitely above man’s wisdom and power. (The history of the world will prove to be a record of the honoring and the dishonoring of God. Thus, God in history convicts before His justice bar man’s wisdom as utter foolishness and failure.)

Consider what God did in Christ at the cross – He overpowered His enemies and He lavished grace and forgiveness upon His people. He judged us in His Son and took away the believer’s guilt and sin. He disarmed our enmity by forgiving us though we deserved death and separation. He birthed love and trust in us, which transformed us into His willing disciples (1 Jn 4:19; 2 Cor 5:14).

The cross is filled with mystery that towers over the human intellect. To think that the dereliction of the God-man should reconcile the derelict; that the God-man’s willingness to be a victim in the face of evil should conquer evil. His abject weakness and ignominy in His passion should overpower the most powerful enemies of man. To think that succumbing to death should conquer death; that being made the curse of God should lift the curse of God; that death and entombment and resurrection should bring the redeemed from defiled dust to glory. This is made understandable to God’s people through the Spirit.

What good news the cross is to those broken and crushed over their sin. But to those who see any righteousness in themselves, the cross remains a scandal (a stumblingblock and a death trap). Paul is making it clear; the way to a saving knowledge of God is not by brain power, but by a heart broken over sin.

The cross will ever be a way of working in the world, a way that does not make sense to man’s wisdom. God seems to act in an absurd way because He does not make His wisdom plain to see, or obvious to the natural mind. But what appears foolish surpasses the highest human wisdom. God hides His power; He appears to act in a weak way – but what is weak by man’s perception is stronger than the best efforts of the creature. Men will not find God by seeking to satisfy their intellectual problems – they find Him through a heart desire for forgiveness and deliverance from sin.

CONCLUSION

Paul confronted the problem in Corinth. He went to the very heart of the issue; the Corinthians were attracted to human wisdom. Much like so much of the Church today in its flirting with the world; the Corinthians couldn’t abide, nor stomach the scandal of the cross; that God was doing things His way, by means of the cross, without human help. They did not find it appealing to their carnal thinking that God should operate by means of weakness and folly. But Paul urges them to grow up; to grow beyond spiritual infancy so that the cross-centered life becomes their hallmark!

Paul warned them, just as God through Paul warns believers today – human wisdom blunts and dulls the scandal of the cross. If human wisdom is introduced to try to make the message of Christ’s crucifixion more acceptable and appealing; it will empty the cross of its power (v. 17).

God’s wisdom and power are encompassed in Christ and Him crucified (in the message of the God-man and His horrible death). God’s value system is encompassed in God’s dualism; Christ (the God-man incarnate) and Him crucified as Substitute. God is doing all through the cross. How is this wisdom applicable to us? God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom do not mix! Carnal wisdom will keep you in spiritual diapers!

Paul always starts with Christ. He always takes his readers and converts back to Christ. This is how he deals with man-centeredness, with boasting, with bickering, with a party spirit. Oh Corinthians, why hang onto to carnal wisdom if Christ died to destroy that worthless system of wisdom? Whether the issue is immorality (the body is for the Lord), “cup of demons” (we don’t share in the cup of – discern the body of Christ – 1 Cor 11), the resurrection etc. Paul runs everything through Christ and Him crucified. It is divine wisdom that overturns human wisdom.

 

Does the description of the “called” fit your situation (v. 24)? Have you felt the power of the cross giving you victory over sin, temptation, and guilt? Which kind of wisdom is yours today? Do you approve of God’s way of working in the world – through the foolishness of the cross? Are you willing to release the sin that Christ died to eliminate? Do you glory in the cross (Gal 6:14-15), knowing that it was your shame Christ was bearing? (Heb 13:12-15). Do you love the way in which Christ saves men and women? Do you see the infinite wisdom of God in the cross?

God continually beckons us back to the foot of the cross. For at the cross is the place that we have the best vision, the best vantage point concerning what God is doing in the world. At the base of the cross the world’s achievements and distinctions melt away. The cross levels all mankind before it – the world’s values are seen for what they are. At the cross, man’s wisdom is cast down to the dust, down to perdition.

Perhaps you know that you have been sitting on the fence between the two kinds of wisdom (the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God in the cross). I encourage you to examine yourself – to which kind of wisdom do you belong? Have you submitted to Christ? Do you bear His cross in a life direction of self denial? He will only save the person whom He can command. If you know Christ as your personal Savior, return to the cross; there you will behold the divine wisdom and power of God; you will see clearly again what God desires to do in your life – to make you a willing disciple and worshipper.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Kenneth Barker, NIV Bible Commentary

C. K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians

John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentary

Driver, Plummer, Briggs, ICC, 1Corinthians

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible

D. Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary

Gordon Fee, The New International Commentary on the NT

Charles Hodge, 1& 2 Corinthians

C. J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life

Leon Morris, 1Corinthians

Charles Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary

Fritz Reinecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek NT