Saturday, February 27, 2010

God's Zeal to Save (Revised, 3/28/2010)

The Gospel of John Chapter 9 is a remarkable story, unusually long for a gospel, but it ought to be read.  In this story, our Lord Jesus turns a blind man into a believer, prophet, and teacher of the Jews!

But, the point addressed in this blog article is simply this:

NKJ John 9:1-3  Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him."
Christ's disciples thought they were delving into big-time theology when they could converse with the "expert," God's Messiah, about the legal niceties of responsibility for sin.  But, our Lord would have nothing of it.  He simply would not talk about or calculate the consequences of the man's sin.  He even says that the real reason for the man's distress isn't his sin!  He can say this because there is a bigger revelation to make than judgment for sin -- a revelation so big that it swallows up sin.  The man's predicament is instead an opportunity for the works of God to be revealed in him.

Now we know that the man born blind could not have been born blind if Adam had not sinned.  The man is guilty.  So are his parents.  They are more guilty than the disciples can even imagine.  But, God did not permit sin in order to simply bring a curse.  He permitted sin in order to show himself the Savior.  Jesus portrays the healing of this blind man as a manifestation of the (good) works of God -- as opposed to the (evil) works of man.  God is good -- and he is good to sinners.  He is the saving God.  The "works of God," which are his glory, are saving works. And, his saving works are greater than all our sin!

Christ is so zealous so save and to show forth the works of God that he put the man's sins out of his mind!  He simply refuses to bring them up against him -- forever.   (Heb 8:10-12)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Imputation -- a "New Perspective"?

The mainspring for seeing Law (works) and Gospel (faith) as mutually exclusive paths to salvation comes by seeing the total and exclusive damning power of the Law.  This is the reason that imputation of righteousness (or union with Christ) was so important to the Reformation.  If the exclusive, complete and total damning power of the Law is a false interpretation of Paul, as the "New Perspective" on Paul asserts, then there is no need for the imputation of anything.  In this view, we may be "saved by faith," but this has nothing to do with putting a full set of righteousness to our account.  By "believing" we have just ticked off one of the requirements for salvation.  There is no imputation required, because God does not keep accounts this way.  We just don't need the righteousness.

But, Paul's doctrine is clear.  The natural creation is under the condemning power of the Law, totally and completely.  Because we do need the righteousness, there is no exit but by judgment and death.  There is no salvation unless that death in which we die is the death of Christ.  The first creation comes to an end in judgment, inside or outside Christ.  The new creation in Christ, and all its righteousness, is given to us as a gift. 

We do need the righteousness.  And, we have it!

Paul's Doctrine of Law -- A "New Perspective"?

Recent decades have seen influential academic research and discussion presenting a "New Perspective" on Paul the apostle's doctrine of the Law.  This discussion denies the paradigmatic attitude about an overarching threat from the Law of God, which they say was an inaccurate understanding of Paul's doctrine stemming from misunderstandings which developed during the Reformation.

We need to be careful about this.

Paul's doctrine is that through the law we died to the law.  We as believers died to the Law in Christ when he died.  We and he are still dead to the law, and dead to its curse. We believers live in the resurrected Christ in a new way, by the Spirit.  We are members in him of the New Creation. 

All persons and cultures not believing in Messiah Jesus are part and parcel of the First Creation, which is a fallen creation, and which has been and will be judged unto death.  According to Paul, all such persons and cultures are the natural offspring of Sinai.  All are "legal," no matter how much they may speak of "grace." And, because they are "legal" and do not keep the Law, they are doomed to death.

The only hope is resurrection, a spiritual birth into the New Creation in Christ, through faith in him, and ultimately a physical rebirth in the resurrection of the body.

This only is the resurrection and the life.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Separation from the World as Witness to the World

Consider our Lord's High-Priestly Prayer:

John 17: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. ... I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. ... I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. ... Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. ... I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. ... I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. ..."

One thing we see in this passage is that we are sent into the world, just as our Lord was sent from Heaven into the world.  We are not of the world, just as he is not of the world.  When our mission is over, we will return to be with our Lord, just as he has returned to Heaven to be with the Father.  Therefore, our tour through this world is a mission to call men into the fellowship of the Father and the Son, just as was our Lord's mission into this world.

The witness to the world is not that we love the world (though we do), nor is it that the Father loves the world (though he does).  Our mission is characterized in this passage as witnessing to the world that God sent Christ into the world.  The proof of this is that his followers bear within themselves the love of God for one another which transcends all knowledge and natural human capacity.

The Church's internal fellowship of love, witnessed by the world, is the divine apologetic for the mission of Christ and the truth of the Gospel.

The implication of this is that it is our 'separation' from the world and our allegiance to one another in the church -- in the right manner -- which is the saving testimony to the world.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spiritual Separation in the World

To speak of "Separation" sounds like something from Fundamentalism, doesn't it?  But is there a Scriptural "separation" from the world, and what is it?

Let us examine the parable of the wheat and the tares:

Matthew 13:24-30  Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn." ' "
From this parable we draw certain conclusions.  (And, by the way, we don't want to abuse the parable to draw conclusions out of the range of our Lord's intention in giving it.)

It is clear that the intention of the parable is to show that good and evil grow simultaneously and in mixed proximity with one another in the world.  Good produces a crop, and bad produces a crop.  It's also clear that this is not a parable about evangelism.  There is no converting of tares into wheat, or vice versa.  The emphasis is on the distinction between the wheat and the tares.  This is an agelong distinction, as the two parallel crops grow to their final fruitage.

The explanation of the parable is like this:

Matthew 13:36-43  Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." He answered and said to them: "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
There is a clear doctrine of "separation" in this parable.  This must be kept in mind when perusing other parables, such as the parable of the leaven, which teach the secret (but thorough) permeation of the world with the leaven of God's Kingdom.  There is a conquering by the good seed, but there is a constant mixture in the world with the bad seed, which will only be removed at Judgment Day.

Now, no one would say that we should abuse this parable to teach such an isolation of the good from the evil that no evangelism is possible, or that Christians leave the world.  The parable isn't about these things.  But, it is about the present phase of the Kingdom of God, as being a field containing a mixed crop until the end -- crops which don't mix their natures or their fruit, until their ongoing separation is made final in the Great Separation on the Day of Judgment.

Then will the Sons of the Kingdom shine forth as the sun!

Monday, February 15, 2010

What is "Legalism"

The term "legalism" has a million applications :-).

But consider Paul's allegory:

Galatians 4:21 - 5:1   21 ¶ Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?  22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.  23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise,  24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar --  25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children --  26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.  27 For it is written: "Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband."  28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.  29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.  30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman."  31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.  5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
The idea is that the natural offspring -- those not "promised" -- are related to God via Mt. Sinai, whereas the spiritual offspring -- those "promised" -- are related to God via the Jerusalem which is above.  It is probably the case that one could say "Mt. Zion," by arguing from other passages (Heb 12, Rev 14).

Therefore, to be "legal" is to be related to God as a natural (unregenerate) person, as typified by Mt. Sinai.  To be "gracious," or "spiritual" is to be related to God via the Jerusalem above, or Mt. Zion.

To be related to God via the Jerusalem above has no correlation with being exempt from the requirement for Christian behavior.  It is not "anti-nomian."

The real issue concerning Christian behavior is whether converted Christian behavior is brought about by a relationship to God's good law, which is in the mode of the First Creation, now fallen, (and which is typified by Mt. Sinai), or whether converted Christian behavior is brought about by a relationship to God by the Spirit in the New Creation, typified by Mt. Zion and the Jerusalem which is above.

Paul spends considerable time explicating this difference, when he compares the legal "do this and live," with the spiritual "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ."

The alternatives of legalism and spirituality have to do with the nature of the spiritual power-relationships which are active in a person's life.  A power-relationship to "do this and live," is a power-relationship to sin:

1 Corinthians 15:56   56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law

A power-relationship to the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ is a power-relationship that delivers from the bondage of sin and writes the Law on the heart!

We hear a lot said about the need for Christian character.  It's true we need this, and the Scriptures will instruct us.  But, perhaps we need to pay more attention to the need for Christian faith!  Faith -- in the Gospel of Christ -- is associated with that power-relationship that delivers from sin and ultimately produces Christian character.  Sin began in Eden as a loss of faith.

Legalism has nothing to do simply with wrong methods of using sets of rules, or with making rules too "harsh."  Legalism is the advocacy of a power-relationship to the "do this and live."

Spirituality is a power-relationship to Christ which is only received -- by believing the gospel.  Faith is not a work.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Righteousness Higher than the Law

It has been maintained that the holiness, righteousness and glory of God is far higher than anything revealed even in his Holy Law.   

It has been maintained that, before the Lord, even the holiness of the unfallen angels is inadequate.

This divine "extra" is certainly associated with the essential separateness of the divine essence of the Triune God from all his creation, but this is not all that is meant by this divine "extra."

We know that Christ overcame death -- a death mandated by the Law.  But, in overcoming death, the text of The Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 7:4-6 is clear that we, though now living, still remain "dead to the Law."  We are not simply delivered from its curse, but are also delivered into a new resurrection life -- a new way of life before God, married to Christ and producing his fruit by his whole Word and Spirit -- not just a renewed life under the Law.

We have a higher life than the Law could ever have delivered to even the unfallen Adam in the original creation.  We are in the New Creation.  We have been delivered into this creation by the divine power of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, in his death, burial, resurrection and session at the right hand of God.  And, we are in this New Creation only because we are in him, the God-Man.

By our union with Christ we receive entrance into a righteousness that is higher than the Law, and have a level of fellowship with God which is higher than any revealed in the First Creation -- a level of fellowship unknown to the angels, and which they must learn about by watching and caring for us!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Total Depravity

Acts 17:16-34:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the (Gentile) "God-fearers," and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. ... And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?” ... .

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

It must not be presumed that Paul was nodding his approval of their meekness and piety in providing an altar to the "unknown god."  The following discourse shows that they not only know the true God, but have rejected him. 

"God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, ...

The import of Paul's apologetic to this point is that God is the all-giver, not the taker.  He is the God of power and life.  Furthermore, he has created a unified race of men to know him, and has regulated all their times and seasons, and even their dwelling places on the face of the earth, so that they might actually seek him out.  Why, then, do they not know him?

Paul continues, speaking of God’s providence being arranged

so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. 

Paul argues from the unity of the race, from its sense of its own image as the offspring of God, and from its being drawn to him by his providential kindness that they should be groping their way toward God.  But, they have rebelled against God’s favor!  

Paul continues:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead."  And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter."

The age-long, old witness of God's glory and goodness revealed in creation and providence has failed to draw men to himself, so Paul now preaches the new witness of the Day of Judgment by the hand of that Man whom God has raised from the dead. But, most scoff at this witness, too.

This resistance to the knowledge of the God who made them, and who arranged all history so that they might come to know him, is the essence and kernel of human depravity.

No matter what works of righteousness men may conjure up outwardly, nor how pious they may appear to be, this inward insubordination to the grace of God reveals their earnest resistance to his being and glory as creator and as the giver of all good.

Men call God’s altar “unknown.”  Yes, they will worship every "god" but this one -- every "god" that takes from them, but not the God who made them in his own image and gives them everything!

As in Eden, this kind of depravity is not just an insistence on sinful acts.  This depravity doubts and takes offense at God's goodness -- and it pervades everything.

This is Total Depravity.

Only the death and resurrection of Christ can deal with this depravity -- and it has!  We can live under the cross and be saved.  

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Resurrection is not simply the reversal of death, though it's a right thing to say.  Death is certainly vanquished.  The curse is reversed and changed into blessing.

It is important to remember that there is only one Resurrection in the history of the cosmos.  This is the Resurrection of Christ.  We who are resurrected are only resurrected because we are in him.  We are not resurrected at the same time, since Christ is the firstfruits, but we, the full harvest, are resurrected only because we are in him.

In the first place resurrection only occurs after real death under the curse of the Law.  This real death, in our case, apart from Christ, would be an eternal death.  The wrath of God would abide (rest, dwell) upon us, forever and ever.

Christ did not escape this curse.  He did take the death we deserved, and we in him.  Except for his eternal power and Godhead we would both have remained in the state of death!  And, as far as the Law is concerned, we are still in that state.  Before the Law we are dead!  It has destroyed us for our depravity (Christ bearing our sins for us), and this destruction is eternal.  Our connection to the realm and age of the Law, as conveyed to us and to which we were bound in the original creation, is over.  There is no life for us, or for Christ, in that age any more.  The only exit from this terminal state is the Resurrection of Christ.

Christ has died!  Christ is risen!  Christ will come again!

Even now Christ himself, in his human nature, lives a new life in resurrection, and we live it with him, in him.  We live in a new way, not under Law, not lawlessly, but under Grace.  Spiritually, we are already in heaven, seated with Christ in the heavenly places.  When the birth-pangs of the New Creation are finished, we shall be like him, soul and body, for we shall see him as he is.

Until that day we only live by resurrection life that comes from him.  This is not just a life that doesn't face death any more, but it is a life in glory, moved by the grace of God in the New Creation, which longs for the day when Heaven and Earth will be one, wrapped in the majesty and glory of God forever and ever.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

How the Kingdom Comes

If then you were raised with Christ,
     seek those things which are above
         where Christ is, 
         sitting at the right hand of God.

Set your mind on things above
    not on things on the earth.  

For you died, and
    your life is hidden with Christ in God.  

When Christ who is our life appears,
    then you also will appear with Him in glory.   Col 3:1-4

This mindset was the guiding principle of the First Christendom.  It will also be the guiding principle of the next.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What is Plan A?

The material which is presented cryptically in this table is discussed at length here.

If Plan A was the original creation, then:

Plan A
Plan B
Restores plan A
Low (but definite) revelation of the trinity.
Trinity fully revealed only in redemption.
Full revelation of the Trinity was originally unnecessary for divine religion.

Was, and is, the religion of “God.”
No Incarnation.
Incarnation, only to repair the problem of sin, and to restore the original creation.
Christology was originally unnecessary for divine religion.
Establish social and political order of the First Creation.
Restoration of the order of the First Creation.
The  order of the First Creation can now be implemented in the present aeon.

No “deification”
(2 Pet 1:4).
First Creation based on Law, not Gospel.
Restoration of the First Creation through the Gospel restores the effectiveness of the Law.
The Current (and Final) Kingdom is based on the restored Law.
The Old Testament is the Canon of Creation.

No Messiah in the original creation.
The New Testament restores the Covenant and Canon of the original Creation through contingent Messiah.
The New Testament is not the normative revealer of God’s purposes.

Not Redemptive-Historical

If the original intent of creation is actually redemption, then:

Plan Zero
Plan A
Implements plan A  (redemption).
Low (but definite) revelation of the trinity.
Trinity fully revealed only in redemption.
Full revelation of the Trinity is necessary for divine religion.

Is the religion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
No Incarnation.
Incarnation, to save mankind and elevate them to a higher level than the original creation.
Christology is truly necessary for divine religion.
“Deification” possible
(2 Pet 1:4).
Social and political order of the First Creation.
Elevation of the mankind to a new level in the New Creation.
The New Creation is fully inherited only in resurrection.
First Creation based on Law, not Gospel.
Redemption and Elevation of the First Creation through the Gospel, not the Law.
The Kingdom is based on the Gospel, not the Law.
The Old Testament promises the New, in the Person of Messiah.
The New Testament fulfills the Old, in the Person of Messiah.
The New Testament is the supreme revealer of the prophet, priest and king, in the Person of Messiah.