Transforming Christians to Transform Culture

Posts from the “Sanctification” Category

Jesus, Not Politics, Saves

Posted on April 21, 2012

In reading the current fracas over at American Vision (and I want to mention here that I have the highest personal regard for Gary DeMar), I was reminded again of a travesty I observed frequently while a part of the Theonomy movement (with which I no longer identify): the apparent subordination of Christianity to politics, specifically libertarian politics.  This is the first time I’d ever encountered such misguided thinking.  I’d always been politically conservative, not because there was any inherent value in conservatism, but because conservatism (I mean by this classical liberalism, with its stress on individual liberty that libertarians most value) was more in harmony with the Faith and the Bible than its alternatives.  I was only interested in politics to the extent that the Bible and Faith shape one’s political views (Ayn Rand would not have approved).

Of course, I believe that the Bible addresses, either explicitly or implicitly, many political and cultural issues, and that’s why I’m devoting a big part of my life to Christian cultural reclamation.  David Bahnsen and I, for instance, will be hosting on April 28 in Orange County a conference on The Roots of the Financial Crisis, and my talk is “The Theological Roots of the Financial Crisis.” I am passionate about the application of the Faith in culture, including in politics; but politics may never become the proverbial tail that wags the Christian dog.

Conversely, it appeared — and appears — to me that many professed theonomists are committed libertarians who are seeking in Christianity a religious sanction for their libertarianism. I believe this because they seem quite willing (at times) to sacrifice Biblical views (like God’s moral law) when they conflict with libertarian tenets (like freedom for any action that doesn’t harm others).  For this reason, some of them are eager to make common cause with secular libertarians, who often despise Jesus Christ and the Bible and who support clear violations of God’s moral law like same-sex marriage and other extramarital consensual sexuality, which God abominates (Heb. 13:4).  These Christian politicos hate the state, and therefore make common cause with libertines.  They are so afraid of Stalin that they leap into bed with the Marquis de Sade. They don’t seem to understand that individual liberty minus Biblical Christianity equals libertinism, against which God promises judgment (Gal. 6:8).

If there is to be a libertarianism at all, it must be an explicitly Christian libertarianism.  I’m sure that I didn’t invent that moniker, and if I knew where I first heard it, I’d give due credit, but people seem to think I’m the modern source of it.  In any case, we are Christians first, not libertarians (or anything else) first.  If that Bible-shaped Faith leads to generally libertarian conclusions, well and good.  But if the Bible taught state socialism, I’d be socialist (it emphatically does not, and so I am not). The issue is Jesus Christ and the Faith and the Bible, not politics as such.

The Christian stake in politics is, first — always first — to disciple all nations (Mt. 28:18–20) in the Gospel of Christ, the message that his death on the Cross (1 Pet. 3:18) and his victorious resurrection (Rom. 4:25) save all who believe in and submit to him (Rom. 10:13).  As individuals trust and submit, they reorder their lives in accord with his Word (Phil. 2:12–13).  We pray that the state stays out of the way so that we can live a peaceful life under Jesus Christ’s authority (1 Tim. 2:1–2). In democracies we employ our vote and discourse to bring all of life, including politics, steadily under God’s righteous standards (1 Pet. 2:16).  That includes, among other factors, maximum individual liberty under God’s law (this is how I defined “Christian libertarianism” in my article 15 years ago).  Individual liberty is not a stand-alone virtue.  It is a virtue only as it’s subordinated to Jesus’ gospel and God’s law.  Liberty without God is vice, and it leads to enslavement (Rom. 6:16).  To repeat: individual liberty minus Biblical Christianity equals libertinism.  We must be Christians, and we should be Christian libertarians, but we cannot be libertarians who also happen to be Christians.

I warned recently about political salvation, or messianic politics, which is generally the province of liberals but can ensnare conservatives as well.  Let’s never assume that if we just got rid of an onerous state and got back to unfettered liberty for any action that doesn’t harm anybody else, we’d have a really great society.  We wouldn’t.  Man needs salvation from sin, the greatest slavery of all (2 Tim. 2:26).  Only Jesus Christ provides this salvation.  And only the gospel furnishes true freedom (Jn. 8:36).

Jesus saves.  Politics doesn’t.

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.

  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 87 other followers