Transforming Christians to Transform Culture

Posts from the “Holy Spirit” Category

Transformation by Resurrection

Posted on April 1, 2012

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10

 

Paul has just been teaching that Jesus is running up the score on the Devil.  Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more (Rom. 5:20).  In other words, where there’s lots of sin, God not just forgives that sin (if we repent, of course) but showers His grace and obliterates that sin.

But people might get the idea that, since lots of our sin elicits a shower of grace, why not sin more and more so that God can shower His grace more and more?  “This grace is so great, let’s just keep sinning so we can get more grace.”  Then, sin might end up being a good thing after all, since it highlights God’s grace.

Paul’s answer (v. 1 ) is, well … no.   God’s grace overwhelms our sin, but please understand one important thing: God’s grace isn’t designed just to forgive sin; God’s grace is designed ultimately to get rid of sin.  Paul’s whole point early in Romans is how God gets rid of man’s sin.  God’s not just trying to forgive sin; His objective is to destroy sin.  Sin destroys man, and God — by His grace — destroys sin.  The goal of grace is to destroy sin, not just forgive it.[1]  (This is why sanctification is no less important than justification, and you can never have one without the other.[2])

We read in Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . . .”

So, if there’s anybody that says, “Well, I know sin is bad, but I can keep sinning since God’s grace will always forgive me,” he or she is on the road to destruction.  That’s not grace; that’s a disgrace.   “Shall we sin that grace may abound?  May it never be!”

And in saying no, Paul brings up one of the most remarkable truths in all the Bible.  It’s this: that when Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the grave, in some sense we died and rose with Him.  Remarkable.  What does this mean?  Paul is saying that what died when Jesus died was the power of sin over Jesus, and what came alive when Jesus rose was the great new power of righteousness (vv. 6 and 10).  And we died to sin and we rose in righteousness right along with Him.

It’s hard to tell you how momentous this teaching is.  We’ll get back to it in a minute.

But first, Paul brings up baptism.  He’s not trying to give some sort of “baptismal theology.”  He’s trying to make a bigger point, and baptism helps him make it.

When you’re baptized, you’re baptized into something.  For instance, you remember John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who baptized Jesus?  Well, when you are baptized into someone’s name, you really say that you’re becoming that person’s disciple (Ac. 19:3).  The men who were baptized in the name of John were baptized to become John’s disciples or followers.  When you are baptized in the name of Jesus, you publicly say you become His followers.  Baptism is a public attestation of discipleship.

But Christian baptism in water signifies something deeper.  It signifies union with Jesus Himself.  You see, when we trust Jesus, we are united to Him.   But becoming a part of Him means to share in His death and resurrection.

The big issue is not the baptism in water.  It’s like circumcision in the OT.  Baptism is supposed to signify something else, a deeper reality.   Baptism in water (as we saw in the preceding chapter) signifies our union with Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.

This is why the Baptists believe in baptism by immersion:  you are immersed, laid out and then brought up out of the water.  I’m not persuaded by their view, but it does make a good point: baptism signs our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection.  This is where Paul gets really interesting.

Now, remember from Romans chapters 1-3 that the big deal for Paul is how God is going to overcome all this sin that has infested the world.  Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, the world has turned into this big, poison-infested swamp.  We’re in it, and this fetid swamp-water gushes over us and dirties us, and it influences all we do.  In fact, the swamp water comes from our own insides — our own sin pollutes all the worldly swamp we’re swimming in.

How God Gets Rid of Sin

The big question for Paul is how God gets rid of the poison in the swamp.  That answer has two parts.  First, recall that God justifies us in the blood of Jesus.  Jesus took our place on the Cross.  He bore our penalty.  We no longer will face punishment for our sin since Jesus was punished in our place.  God has justified us by faith — we trust in Jesus.  “Justification by faith alone”[3] (Rom. 4:5).  So now our guilt before God is wiped away in the blood of Jesus.  The penalty of sin is done away in God’s court.[4]

But man’s problem isn’t just the guilt of sin.  Man’s problem is the pollution and corruption of sin. Sin pollutes the swamp.  How does God clean up the swamp?

By the resurrection of Jesus.  That’s what the next few chapters of Romans are all about.  It’s not enough to be justified by the death of Jesus.  We have to be cleaned up by the life of Jesus.

So, what’s the big deal about this?  It’s this: Jesus’ resurrection changed Him.  And in getting to this, we’re getting to Paul’s major point. Jesus himself was transformed when He rose from the dead (as Richard Gaffin has so insightfully noted[5]).  When Jesus died, He died in weakness; but He was raised in power (1 Cor. 15:42-45).

In other words, Jesus’ earthly existence was not His resurrection existence.  Today, Jesus is not the same as He was when he walked on the earth and died on the Cross.  It’s the same Jesus, but He is a changed Man.

And because Jesus is a changed man, since we are united to Him in His resurrection, we are changed men and women.  That is how God changes us. God changes us by having changed Jesus.

Think hard about this.  When Jesus died, He was bound by sin.  Sin had power over Him — not His sin, of course, but ours.  Notice v. 9.  Before Jesus rose, sin and death had power over Him.  Jesus was enslaved to the power of sin — not His own sin, of course, but ours.  He carried our sin, our grief and sorrows (Is. 53).  His life was one of weakness and illness and weariness and tragedy and loneliness — the life of sin-bearing.  Sin, our sin, which He carried during His earthly life, had power over Him.

This is the earthly Jesus, the Son of God, Whom we read about in the Gospels.  This is the life of Jesus all the way to the Cross and to the tomb in which He was buried.   If you want to know the “life of Christ” according to Paul, it was a life of weakness, grief, burdens, illness, hardship — on the Cross, it was even a life separated from the Father, Who abandoned His own Son, the Son Who carried our sins.

This is the earthly life of Jesus Christ that we read about in the Bible.

The momentous teaching of Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5 is that in that empty tomb 2000 years ago, Jesus left that life behind.  Jesus was transformed.

Let me explain further.  Just as the Son of God entered a new mode of existence — a new way of living — when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, so He entered a new mode of existence — a new way of living — when He rose from the dead.  When Jesus came to earth to be born, He laid aside His way of life with the Father (Phil. 2:5-8).  He gave up the glories of Heaven for a life of suffering and humiliation — for us.  When He was conceived in the womb and born in Bethlehem, He abandoned His previous way of life for a life of sin-bearing and weakness and loneliness and defeat.  He assumed a new, humble mode of existence.

We must understand, similarly, that when Jesus rose from the grave, He abandoned that humble, earthly way of life for a new life.  He was sown in weakness; He was raised in power.   He gave up His life of sin-bearing and weakness and loneliness and defeat for a life of power and joy and communion and victory.  The old Man Jesus became the New Man Jesus.  Jesus had an old man and a new man (Paul’s language) just like we do.  And the old Man Jesus is gone forever.

Paul makes much the same point in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, where He’s talking about the resurrection.  He says that even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, that is, in a natural way, yet now we don’t know him that way any longer.  We cannot know Christ as we once knew him.  He has changed, and we have changed.

If you want to know the Jesus that now exists, read the book of Revelation, not the Gospels.  In Revelation, He is the conquering King, progressively beating down the old dragon (Satan); punishing His enemies on earth who are at war with Him; and delivering His people, who love and obey Him.  He is not just the Lamb Who had been slain but the Lion Who flexes his authority over the earth.  He is the Jesus at whose holy, horrifying presence John fell down as one dead.

This Jesus — not the Jesus of the Gospels — is the Jesus alive today.

Jesus’ New Life and Ours

This fact has staggering implications for Paul.  It means that since Jesus has a new mode of existence, a new life, we do also.  We are united to Him, so when He died to sin, we died to it also.  When He rose to righteousness, we rose also.  Why is it necessary to be united with Jesus?  Because that is God’s way of destroying sin!  Read v. 6 carefully.

Understand, therefore: we can longer encounter — no longer have a personal relationship with — the crucified Lord.  We can only encounter and relate to and love and befriend the crucified Lord in His resurrected state.  Think of it.  What kind of existence does Jesus have today?  Can He die? (v. 9).  Can His life today be filled with sin-bearing, sorrow, loneliness and weakness?  No, it cannot.  Well, then neither must ours.  That’s Paul’s whole point in this section.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Lk. 9:23).  Paul says that he dies daily (1 Cor. 15:31).  And in passages like Matthew 10:38, 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, 4:10, Philippians 3:10, and Colossians 1:24, we are informed that our present life must include suffering, just as our Lord’s earthly life did.  But for the Christian, there can be no death without a resurrection, just as for Christ there could not be.  Every death entails a resurrection, including our future physical death and future resurrection.  But in the present life, you cannot die every day to sin and self without also being resurrected to righteousness and power and hope and joy and glory and victory.

Christians do not live the crucified life; they live the resurrection life.

What does this mean?  It means that when we suffer, when we are lonely, when we are ill, when we are weak, we can appeal to Jesus, yes, but only to the Jesus Who lives today in constant victory over loneliness, suffering, illness, weakness.  In other words, we cannot encounter a Jesus Who knows only loneliness, suffering, illness, weakness, because that Jesus no longer exists.  We can only encounter a Jesus Who has defeated all of these.  And if we are united to Him, we have also defeated them.  We simply must live a life of resurrection — dead to sin, alive to Jesus (vv. 11-12).  There is no other Christian life.

The wife of the best man in my wedding is a remarkable woman.  I have known her for 40 years.  Months after they were married, she and my best man were T-boned by a drunk driver.  He was thrown clear, but her backbone was crushed.  She was paralyzed and has been a paraplegic for over 30 years.  I knew her when she was a teenager in full bloom and health.  I cannot know Tina that way anymore.  She is a new and different woman.  Her life has been transformed.

In the same way, I cannot know the “old” Jesus that walked the earth.  I can only know the “new” Jesus that rules in Heaven (1 Cor. 15:47-49).

To those of you who want to know Jesus in His pain and suffering and agony and weakness, who want Jesus to join you in wallowing in your self-doubt and failure and weakness, who desire for Him to be your partner in misery: You’re too late; you missed Him; you’re 2000 years too lateThat Jesus has been transformed.  He is now the Lord of glory, not the Jesus of the earth.

John on the island writes of this Jesus, quoting Him: “I [am] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.”

Conclusion

What does this mean for you and me?  It means that when we come to Jesus for empathy and care and help (Heb. 4:14-16), we can come only to Jesus the Victor, not Jesus the Victim.  He can identify with our weaknesses and sorrows ands temptation, but He cannot identify with us in defeat — only in victory.  He can no longer identify with the three Hebrew boys who might perish in the fire; He can only identify with three Hebrew boys who are victorious over the fire.

Your way of thinking and mine must be dominated daily by this one fact — the Lord we love and serve is the Risen Lord, the Lord of victory and power and hope and joy and transformation.  There is no other Lord.

Jesus is incapable of commiserating with a life of defeat.  He can only lead us from defeat to victory. Jesus knows no other way.

Too many Christians live as though Jesus is still buried in the ground.   But that Jesus is gone forever.  There is no other Jesus to love and serve.  The Risen Lord is the only Lord there is.  The victorious Lord is only Lord there is.  The joyous Lord is the only Lord there is.  The powerful Lord is only Lord there is.

It is this Lord to Whom we are united.

Paul’s point: we can live the Christian life only by union with this Jesus, not the Jesus of Bethlehem or Nazareth or even Golgotha, but the Jesus of the empty tomb.

Therefore, according to Paul, there is no other Christian life possible except the life of victory and joy and power and hope and worldwide transformation (1 Cor. 15:56-58; 1 Jn. 5:4).

This is the Risen Jesus we serve, and there is simply no other Jesus.


[1] Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2000), 104.

[2] Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), ch. 2.

[3] G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), ch. 7.

[4] Leon Morris, The Atonement (Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1983), ch. 8

[5] Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978, 1987), 78-92.

Hatred for History

Posted on March 28, 2012

For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear, some new thing (Acts 17:21)

. . . they soon forgot . . . (Psalm 106:13)

Richard Weaver said in Ideas Have Consequences: “It has been well said that the chief trouble with the contemporary generation is that it has not read the minutes of the last meeting. Most modern people appear to resent the past and seek to deny its substance for either of two reasons: (1) it confuses them, or (2) it inhibits them. If it confuses them, they have not thought enough about it; if it inhibits them, we should look with a curious eye upon whatever schemes they have afoot.”

Our generation is abominably, embarrassingly, hatefully anti-historical. Much of this hatred of history is the result of political liberalism, with its love affair with the present and the future, the belief that the latest generation in time is necessarily the most advanced generation of all time. The politically correct crowd love to hate the past, because it represents to them all they oppose — sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious orthodoxy. The farther we can get from that past, they think, the greater chance we have of escaping from these evils. Two factors, if they would only think a bit, may give them pause: first, they have no guarantee that the future cannot “revert to the past.” Some of the leading views of history are cyclical —the idea that history just repeats itself. This view is in error, but they have no means to disprove it. Second, the enemies of the past forget that it was often the very ideas of the past that destroyed the supposed evils they so loudly oppose. For example, they hate slavery in any form, but do not recognize it was the ideas of Jefferson (a man who owned slaves) that later in this country helped to abolish racial slavery.

The church is sometimes no better in its attitude toward history than is the wider society. This was highlighted for me at a ministerial association meeting in Cleveland I attended many years ago. The slick leaders were hyped up over the “relational” work of the Holy Spirit in “unbinding” Cleveland (apparently, the city was constipated). I soon discovered few there knew even a modicum about the heritage of the church — and most of those who did carelessly cast that history aside in favor of “the new wave of the Spirit” in this hour. Orthodox Christianity was for them passe. They wanted the spanking new, shiny, glitzy, updated version. They are this susceptible to every little fad (“move of the Spirit”) that comes along, led around by the nose by quick-speaking quacks. And they never know the difference.

When this happens, the members of church lose the gains of the past. The first gain they lose is orthodoxy. Because they hate the past, they are forced to reinvent the wheel. And they never do as good a job as their forebears did — and often they do much worse . . . heretically worse. They damn (or neglect) the creeds of catholic orthodoxy and the confessions of Reformation orthodoxy in favor of “restorationism”: the idea that without recourse to history they can restore primitive, Biblical Christianity. They do not believe the Bible when it says that God will preserve the Faith intact in history. Therefore they end up espousing some of the very heresies the fathers so capably refuted — subordinationism, modalism, docetism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism, etc. They repeat too the errors refuted at the Reformation.

The second gain they lose is knowledge of the lessons of the past — for example, that unity without doctrine is an impossibility, that the inability to distinguish primary from secondary doctrine is unnecessarily divisive, that doctrine without practice is deadly, that the church must not (under ordinary conditions) assume the sword, that a low view of the visible church is destructive, that evangelism must be comprehensive, etc. The moderns do not know that there are no new problems — only old problems in new clothes. They do not have the benefit of the past because they hate the past.

Perhaps worst of all, they develop an anti-historical and anti-intellectual arrogance, according to which they consider themselves and their own little group true Christianity. They are so ignorant that they assume they could come up with Trinitarian Christianity with no recourse to church history. They turn their backs on the Faith preserved in the martyrs’ blood. They turn up their noses at the creeds and confessions that give them any semblance of orthodoxy they may retain. They bite the hand that feeds them.

They may appear oozily and humbly spiritual, but they are peacock-proud, vacuum-headed moderns, no better in the religious realm than liberals in the political realm.

And they are an affront and embarrassment to historic orthodox Biblical Christianity.

  

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