Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The gospel question; what is the gospel: Part III

What is the gospel? This is a question that needs to be explored in depth. The question resulted from reading Brian McLaren’s latest book A New Kind of Christianity. This question is one of his ten questions. It is certainly an essential question for recovering or rediscovering the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42.) We have explored several other essential questions already on this website. Click the link and you can get the essential questions in PDF form. Still, the gospel question is important and will end up being included as one of the essential questions. We have also explored some of these essential questions previously in this blog.
First of all, there is a paradigm shift within the pages of scripture. The New Testament, as we have stated before is transitional. It moves from a Jew only focus with John the Baptist, through Jesus ministry (still Jew only focus)… through the cross event, through Pentecost…still a Jew only focus with a new covenant emphasis… through the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10.... through Paul’s focus on the new creation… to the destruction of the temple and the end of the Mosaic covenant. All of this must be considered in the question what is the gospel?
Likewise, we have looked at the way in which Jesus changed the hermeneutic and focus of the scripture from Torah to gospel. Jesus also taught that the scripture was primarily redemptive and, that too, must be considered in defining the gospel. The gospel then must be defined in terms of the total transition of the New Testament writings.
But, an equally important aspect of defining the gospel is to look to what the Old testament predicted. The word that is translated as good news or glad tidings in Hebrew is BASAR. It is found in Isa_40:9, Isa_41:27, Isa_52:7, Isa_61:1, and Nah_1:15. Therefore, the guiding definition is best described in the following two passages:
Isa 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
And….
Isa 61:1-3 "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (2) To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, (3) To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."
According to the above Old Testament passages the expectation of the gospel is the proclamation of peace and salvation and the reign of God. It will be a proclamation to the poor, the brokenhearted and, the captives. It will proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and also the day of vengeance. It is a proclamation that will comfort all who mourn in Zion and will bring in a way in which they can be declared righteous.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The gospel question; what is the gospel?

We are looking a little deeper into the gospel question. We mentioned Brian McLaren’s new book A New Kind of Christianity because one of the ten questions he asks is what is the gospel? Here is a quote from the book, chapter 14, page 139:
“Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion….Instead, he came to announce a new kingdom, a new way of life, a new way of peace that carried good news to every religion. A new kingdom is much bigger than a new religion, and it has room for many religious traditions within it. This good news wasn’t simply about a new way to solve the religious problems of ontological fall and original sin (problems, remember once more, that arise centuries later and within a different narrative all together). It wasn’t simply information about how individual souls could leave earth, avoid hell, and ascend to heaven after death. No it was about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven for all people.”
This sounds very good at first read… well, probably not to die hard evangelicals but, that aside, there is truth in this excerpt. My problem with it arises from what I see as a complete dismissal of the religious problem of the ontological fall and original sin. And, while I agree that Jesus came to announce a new kingdom and way of life, a way of peace for people of every religion… I think that the all important way in which the kingdom can properly progress is found precisely in the unique solution to the ontological fall and original sin problem that Jesus provided. Just because the ontological fall and sin problem wasn’t acknowledge in Judaism and spoken of specifically that way in the new testament writings does not mean that it was not there.
The question of whether or not humanity is essentially fallen is important. For me, original sin is found in humanity as the result of mortality and the knowledge of good and evil (the ability to determine what is right or wrong). I am one that believes that humanity, with all of its knowledge and compassion is essentially fallen….there is a pathology that manifests itself in greed… it is part of the survival instinct. History seems to bear out this condition. Education alone does not seem to improve mankind spiritually. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that we are spiritually dead but, if not, we are very close.
I see redemption as a necessity. It can only come through our faith in the grace and the mercy of God. Reconciliation to God is important and after all, if humanity was not fallen… if there was no condition that could be attributed to the ontological fall and original sin, then there would be no reason for reconciliation. When Paul speaks of the ministry of reconciliation he is of necessity saying that there was a fall and that original sin is a problem. It is birthed as the result of our mortality. Whether one looks at the Genesis three account as settled fact or allegory it does not matter. The fact remains that the results of mortality is the source of sin. I find it interesting that one of the most obnoxious sins in the view of evangelical Christianity is sexual sin. The source of this particular sin is founded in lust, greed and the procreation process.
Next we will look at how the gospel deals with human pathology… but first we must define the gospel. The question; what is the gospel… is very necessary.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kairos; Romans 5:6, the gospel, the kingdom and Brian McLarens new book A New Kind of Christianity

We need to look at some suppositions that are currently being considered on the theological scene. First, there is the new perspective on Paul crowd that are forcing us to take another look at the Jewish aspect of Jesus and Paul and, to a great degree it is necessary. On the evangelical scene John MacArthur wrote a book entitled the gospel according to Jesus and, Brian McLaren has revisited the gospel in his book A New Kind of Christianity. While I think that in their own way, each one of these investigations have merit that we must consider…especially, the new perspective and McLaren, they miss one salient point….that is, the statement of Paul in Romans 5:6 and the term kairos.
Paul Tillich made this point for me originally in one of his writings. Essentially, he said that God waited until the ripe time in history to reveal Jesus. What was this ripe time? It was the time of the pinnacle of the hellenization of the Jews. It was a time when Greek philosophers had defined the word, logos as the divine seed, the creator of all that is. It was a time when the intellectual processes of understanding a spiritual need and, a spiritual reconciliation to God was made possible by the melding of Jewish and Greek thought. It was a time when the Hebrew language did not have the capacity to explain in proper terms the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s kingdom plan especially from a fallen spiritual perspective.
Paul tells us so simply that; Rom 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. This right time…ripe time…kairos was the time when God would be able to explain cogently his plan that was in place from before creation. Think about the words before creation. Before there was an Abraham or Moses…before there was an Old Covenant… before there was circumcision or the Mosaic Law… before any of this… God had purposed to redeem and reconcile humanity. Not Jews… not Gentiles, humanity. So then, had I been sitting in the Chinese restaurant with the evangelical leader as Brian McLaren was, I would have replied kindly that what Jesus said about the kingdom prior to the cross was strictly spoken to Jews who were under the Mosaic Law and covenant….that is was spoken prior to the cross event and that Paul brought added clarification by way of progressive revelation.
It does not matter that he was explaining it in letter form to a scribe. What he was imparting was his attempt at clearly explaining the gospel to the Romans. The problem was not just a problem of the wrong monarch. The kingdom of God was not absent from earth because the right form of government was not available. The kingdom of God requires a spiritual rebirth. The kingdom of God required a faith in a loving and merciful God who would declare us righteous based upon his loving act toward humanity (2 Cor 5:21.)
I am not down on McLaren the way that many evangelicals are. I see him as a brother in Christ with very important insights. I see him focusing on and bringing to light a side of the gospel message that the bulk of evangelical Christianity has overlooked and, I applaud him for it. However, I am concerned about the spiritual need of all humanity. I am concerned that we cannot just simply think more kindly and more gently and become that. We must be transformed and the transformer of all transformers is the gospel as Luther began to show it. It is the love of God shed abroad in the hearts of humans who are fallen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Gospel; Nuance a slight difference with a big impact missing in most evangelical doctrine

We have discussed the idea of need, rest and, reasonable service and that it holds the proper order for the transformation of the saint. This order is necessary if one is to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This order will ultimately make the difference between fleshly motivated obedience and spirit motivated obedience…. i.e. obedience from the heart. Fleshly motivated obedience results largely from fear. Spirit motivated obedience… obedience from the heart… results from love for God. Personally, I think that this understanding and motivation is largely absent in evangelical doctrine.
The first requisite stage of the transformation is need. The individual must become acutely aware of their inadequacy to be righteous before a Holy God. They must realize that no matter how hard they try to be righteous it is not sufficient. Therefore, they must be confident of the fact that God is merciful and loves them as a good parent loves his or her child. This is the purpose of the law. It shows each person their need. Paramount to the spirit generated transformation is the understanding and acceptance of need and is precisely why Paul wrote Romans 7:8-23. The fact is that we all, when really honest… the kind of honesty we have alone in front of the mirror, realize that often…. the good that we want to do we don’t do and the very things that we do not want to do we do. Paul was right. It is a wretched condition.
The second requisite stage… and this is where nuance comes into play… is resting in the redemptive decrees of God. The writer of Hebrews referred to it as the Sabbath Rest. Yes, this rest is absolutely necessary in the spirit generated transformation process. In other words, one must rest in the fact that they are the righteousness of God in Christ. This is true whether or not it is manifest. It may not be obvious… at least not at first… This is precisely the place where faith comes into play. Faith is what is required. Resting in Jesus and, the redemptive decrees about how Christ bought redemption is exactly the source of the rest.
Finally, reasonable service will flow out of love for God. Here is the current problem… much of evangelical Christianity does not emphasize the rest and the order of transformation goes directly from need to reasonable service. If there is any rest at all in the current way of looking at it…it comes from doing reasonable service. Under the current popular majority view reasonable service is he evidence of transformation and thereby necessary so the order is as follows; needà reasonable service à rest. In this particular order reasonable service is motivated out of duty and fear. This is reason for so much burn out in evangelical circles. It is impossible to really rest when this order is in operation. People are always forced to do more to please God.
The gospel teaches that God is pleased by our faith and trust in his mercy, love and, grace. God is pleased with the one who is resting in Jesus no matter what. The person confident of God’s love and acceptance… if they really grasp it… cannot help but develop a deep love and, a heightened sense of praise for God. This nuance is a slight difference with a big impact.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Shema, human need and, the purpose of the gospel; should we completely reinterpret Paul?

Jesus agreed that the Shema (Deu 6:4-5) was the greatest commandment and, he said that Leviticus 19:18 was just like it. The greatest commandment was love God and neighbor. In order to look at how this affects human need it might be helpful to include both passages.
Deu 6:4-5 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
And….
Lev 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
In the above verses it is explained that one should (1) love God with ALL heart, soul and strength. Notice the word all. Proper love to and, for God requires a total commitment twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. The truth is that it is impossible to do this if one fears God. I believe that this is the reason that Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….beginning…not the end and entirety of wisdom (Prov 9:10.) The truth is that the Shema demands a standard that cannot be met by anyone. Further, look at Leviticus 19:18. It demands that one love his or her neighbor as they love themselves….think about the command…again a standard that is impossible for humanity to keep; Loving God in the way that the Shema demands would require total and perfect faith in the goodness and mercy of God and, a complete unending vigil. The truth is that no one except Jesus ever kept this and quite frankly no one else can.
This is precisely why God has imputed righteousness to individuals who seek him sincerely by faith and, why Christ Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness. There is a lot of merit in the Lutheran…Augustinian understanding of righteousness and I for one am a bit concerned about the rush these days to dismiss it.
There is an observable pathology in humanity. It is selfishness and greed and, education and awareness alone are not sufficient to eradicate it. In fact, it has not been eradicated throughout history. If we are to become really honest….if we look in the mirror and only confront ourselves in our own integrity and the presence of God, we have to acknowledge this pathology within. If it only exists in thoughts and, never materializes in action, it is still ever present quietly accusing us.
This is the reason that the scripture speaks about God doing two actions on behalf of the person of faith. (1) He does not impute sin (Psalm 32:1-2)….and (2) He does impute or accredit righteousness (Gen 15:6.) I find it interesting that the first mention of righteousness is Genesis 15:6 and the righteousness is accounted to Abraham by God because of his faith.
The fact is that there are many passages in the Old Testament that clearly show that righteousness is in fact imputed or accredited to humans by God. They come often in the many redemptive decrees. For example; Isa 54:17 No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me," Says the LORD.”
Imputed righteousness and not imputing sin is an important aspect of the gospel. It is one that we should not eliminate. This concept is in fact the source of the Sabbath Rest that is available to all the people of God. It is believing that God is –not- imputing sin and, -is- imputing righteousness.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The good that I would do I do not do; A look at Romans 7

We have been looking at need, rest and, reasonable service. The most recent focus has been on reasonable service and loving accountability within the body of Christ. We have looked at how loving accountability should operate. We have also seen the necessity of body ministry in this loving accountability. In order for loving accountability to work it demands that the members of the body trust each other and, love each other. They must value the progress and wholeness of their brother and sister as much as they do their own. They must be able to readily acknowledge that they are a work in progress. All members of the body….the ones seeking loving accountability and, the ones giving loving responsibility…..must have a realistic view of their continual need of Jesus. Here is where Romans chapter seven can play an important role. Given a proper understanding….it should magnify individual need for Jesus and his righteousness.
Let’s take a look at the passage: Rom 7:14-25 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. (15) For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (16) Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. (17) So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (18) For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (19) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (20) Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (21) So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (22) For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, (23) but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (24) Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (25) Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
This passage of scripture must be used to examine our best selves. I have in the past looked at it in relation to my worst self but that does not properly bring the passage to bear on our day to day lives. I think that anyone who gets up on Sunday morning and goes to a church service….goes out to a weekly bible study or, Prayer service, is truly seeking to be a better person....desire to be more Christ like. I think that it would be safe to say that that they delight in the law of God in their inner man and, I think that it is just as easy to see that the good that they would like to do they don’t do….at least not consistently.
Here are some examples that may apply. We want to be kind to people, especially our close family…and yet, many times we are short tempered. Where does the phrase “you always hurt the ones you love” come from? We want to be patient, kind, gentle and meek in our dealings with others but, often we find that the good we want to do we do not really do and the very behavior that we do not want to do… we do all too often. This isn’t just limited to our worst selves…our addictive selves but, is directly related to our best selves….our day to day selves.
A closer look at this will perhaps show each of us our great need for Jesus and his righteousness. This will shine a light on our need and the need of everyone we know and, it should produce humility that would make us more gracious toward our brothers and sisters. This mind set is necessary in loving accountability.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Until Christ is formed in you; Biblical perfection and loving accountability

Yesterday we looked at accountability. This was in relation to the reasonable service instructions found throughout the pages of the New Testament. Earlier we discussed need, rest and reasonable service. We looked at how Romans is divided into three major sections. Romans 1:18 – 3:20 shows the need for redemption. Romans 3:21 – 11:36 provides the redemptive decrees that one can rest in and, Roman 12:1 – 16:20 gives the reasonable service instructions. You can find this pattern in many of Paul’s epistles but the need is spelled out best in Romans.
Being conformed into the image of Christ; being a disciple of Christ; requires that one continually grow more Christ like. The reasonable service instructions are there to help one in this endeavor. We are currently exploring how to use the scripture, especially the reasonable service instructions in a way that is consistent with the new covenant dynamic.
The new covenant dynamic considers two essential points. (1) The law is written on the minds and hearts of the believer via the indwelling Holy Spirit and… (2) God is not remembering sin at all. The driver of the new covenant dynamic is found in Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." This verse is pre-eminent.
We stated that the goal should not be perfection but growth toward being more Christ like and, here, there is perhaps need for some clarification about the biblical use of the term perfect. Jesus said the following in the Sermon on the Mount. (Mat 5:48) “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is important to look at the definition of perfect in this sense. The Greek word translated as perfect in this passage is teleios. It means to be complete.
On the other hand, if you look at the definition of perfect or perfection on dictionary.com you will find the following: “1.conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman. 2.excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.” the definition we have of perfection today is not comparable to the definition used in the Greek of Jesus time.
In other words, we should not be moving toward perfection as found in definition number one above…that is a status we are given in Christ but, rather, we should be ever moving forward toward perfection. Let’s read what Paul said in this matter: Php 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. This is the purpose in the reasonable service instructions and loving accountability. Pressing on toward the mark and the mark is Jesus Christ himself.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Until Christ be formed in you; the transformation and discipleship

What is discipleship? Let’s look at the definition of the word disciple. Here is the definition from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (e-sword:) “The word is found in the Bible only in the Gospels and Acts. But it is good Greek, in use from Herodotus down, and always means the pupil of someone, in contrast to the master or teacher…. In all cases it implies that the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he is also in practice an adherent.” Essentially, a disciple is a student that follows a specific teacher or master and adopts his/her teaching and lifestyle. Therefore, a disciple of Christ Jesus is a student of the teaching of Jesus who adopts the lifestyle of Jesus.
Frankly speaking, I think that discipleship is what Paul had in mind when he called the believers the body of Christ. In other words, the life of the body should be the lifestyle of Jesus…(discipleship)…especially, his compassion, service and healing. The world should see the life of Christ manifested in the corporate expression of Jesus in the earth. Now, while it is true, that to a degree, people will see Christ in the members of the body severally, the true expression of Christ in the world is the body jointly fitting together.
Discipleship is the place that the individual can submit to accountability. A person can become a closer adherent to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus through mutual accountability in the body….but, it must be stressed here, that this accountability and submission cannot operate at a legal level as is the current practice of the church in general. Rather, it must be from the place of grace and mercy absent of judgment. Individuals must be encouraged to ask for the accountability help from other members of the body. In order for this to happen; they must be able to trust that they will not be judged but instead, lovingly encouraged into accountability. Further, it must be understood that all are in process and all will be in process as long as they live on this earth. Perfection should not be the goal. Growth toward being conformed into the image of Jesus should be the goal…it should always be a marching forward and, this would be possible with a redemptive focus on scripture coupled with loving accountability.
This should come in the form of the individual believer reaching out to the body in general to provide strength and accountability. People would naturally do this if it wasn’t for the fact that when they do, they are judged in far too many cases and the accountability comes in the form of legal instructions. They are in essence given a law to follow.
The church should abandon this legalistic approach. It should stop viewing the bible as the law, legal code and, begin to look at it as the story of redemption. Only in the redemptive view can the reasonable service instructions be used in a proper way. My point in all of this is that, almost universally, especially within the ranks of evangelical Christianity, the reasonable service admonitions are used in a very legal sense. When used this way, it becomes a legal code, a Law that kills the spiritual life of the body. Therefore individuals are left to work it out for themselves with only the aid of the flesh.
I am certain that the first century church was taught the idea of graceful accountability and that it was not legal accountability.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Until Christ Be Formed in You; the transformation process in the body of Christ…loving accountability

What does the term loving accountability mean and, what does it look like in practice? First, it is a matter of heart which is really a mind set. This is hard to explain but I will try to articulate it as best I can. When the scripture speaks of heart it means; the center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling, or emotion; the center of emotion, especially as contrasted to the head as the center of the intellect; capacity for sympathy; feeling; affection; spirit, courage, or enthusiasm. This definition is right out of dictionary.com. I want to emphasize capacity for sympathy and intuition.
Jesus said, (John 7:24) Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." He was referring to their view of Sabbath breaking. They were criticizing him for healing on the Sabbath. He pointed out that circumcision was not considered work on the Sabbath but, they were accusing him of working and breaking the Sabbath for healing a man. Righteous judgment always allows mercy to triumph over judgment.
The Pharisees were trying to hold Jesus accountable to the Law but, they were not using righteous judgment. They were judging solely on the basis of their interpretation of the Law. In other words, they were not judging from their heart. The driving force in all accountability must be grace and truth. Notice this passage of scripture; (John 1:17) For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Let’s try to break it down.
While the Law was given through Moses…the grace and truth found in the Law, had to be interpreted by Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27; 44-45.) This reinforces the idea of the redemptive purpose of all scripture. It is not that grace and truth was not present in the Law but rather, it was hidden…awaiting the mystery of Jesus Christ and God’s redemptive plan to be revealed. Therefore, grace and truth must always have precedence over judgment.
Back to loving accountability…it must always be used by believers that are trusting and resting in the grace of God, i.e., the gospel message. Loving accountability will be used to help the saint renew the mind to their positional state in Jesus. The saint, according to Paul, is the righteousness of God in Christ. This becomes the first part of loving accountability. Now then, after the mind has been renewed to the position one holds in Christ…it is then possible to look at the reasonable service instructions and explain why following them is God’s best for the individual. Grace must always be the driver.
What must not be done under any circumstances is to judge the saint. Allow the scripture and, the Holy Spirit residing in the saint be the corrective force. I am not saying that one cannot lovingly correct someone or, lovingly point out what the scripture says about a matter but, it must not be done in judgment with a law mentality. No, it must be from a redemptive, merciful and loving perspective that allows the saint that has come for accountability to be open and honest with the accountability partner. It also helps to have the accountability partner to acknowledge that they are not perfect but a work in progress awaiting Christ to be formed in them also.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Until Christ Be Formed in You; the transformation process in the body of Christ

I read a blog post recently on wrecked.org written by George Elerick. It was entitled, Vampire Christians: Jesus was more than the cross. The point of the post was this… a large amount of evangelical Christians see Jesus only as the provider of forgiveness of sin via his cross and his blood and, they focus their attention and effort on sin management. This attitude and idea limits the view of the total transformation expected in the disciple. After all, Paul states that the saint is to be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29.)
In (Gal 4:19) Paul says the following; “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,” For Paul, having Christ formed in the Galatians meant that they were resting in the gospel; that they were justified by faith and not the works of the law…essentially, they were resting in Jesus and all of the benefits wrought by his death burial and resurrection including the forgiveness of sin.
We have taken an in-depth look at the concept of need, rest and, reasonable service and we see it as being the natural flow of the transformation and, we have shown that the Sabbath Rest of Hebrews 4:9-10 is the catalyst for the transformation. In short, it is resting in Jesus no matter what may come that produces the love for God, that when focused on, will transform the saint out of love and gratitude toward God for the redemption found in Christ Jesus.
Paul realized that any read and do formula for walking in the Spirit would lead to a fleshly attempt at reformation. In fact, reformation will not lead to transformation. Anyone believing in original sin will understand this. Remember, we identified original sin as the condition of human mortality coupled with the knowledge of good and evil. The survival instinct leads ultimately to greed and the knowledge of good and evil helps one in power to justify greed. This is the source of all sin in the world and, for one to be absolutely sure about their eternal life…by the design of a loving God, is the catalyst for transformation.
This is the first step in transformation but, it also requires one to be a part of a community that can help to keep one accountable. It is in accountability that the ultimate transformation will take place. It has to be loving accountability that is seasoned with grace. Loving accountability is the missing ingredient in most if not all evangelical churches…there are some that have accountability but it is a read and do kind of accountability and it works as a legal code. This legal code accountability works against transformation.
It is in this area that the importance of the redemptive focus of the scripture plays the most important part. When we acknowledge that Jesus and his disciples redefined the word of God, word of truth and, word to mean either the gospel or Jesus and, when we see that Jesus taught a solely redemptive interpretation of scripture…one that saw him as the Messiah, we can escape the tendency to have a read and do mentality. This alone will be the force to bring about transformation in the saint of God.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Need, Rest and, Reasonable Service; Transformation by renewing the mind to the gospel of grace

Earlier, we discussed the pattern of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We observed that it took the following pattern. First, it laid out the need of all humanity both Jews and, Gentiles; it moved on to an explanation of the redemptive decrees, the source of the Sabbath Rest and, finally it began to look at reasonable service. It flows this way for a reason as rest is the source of the reasonable service. Paul writes I beseech/urge you brothers/sisters by the mercies of God that you present yourself a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your reasonable service….spiritual worship (Rom 12:1)
Notice that it is the mercy of God that is the catalyst for the reasonable service. Remember James….”mercy always triumphs over judgment.” What is the mercy of God Paul was writing about? Answer; it is the redemptive decrees that make up the Sabbath Rest.
It is observable that throughout the biblical writings there are statements that can best be described as God’s redemptive decrees. These are statements… that if one ties a condition to them….they end up being untrue. Here are examples; “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that -whosoever believes- in him shall not parish but have eternal life;”-- “that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved;”-- “There is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus;” -- “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness;” -- we could go on indefinitely but, you get the idea…these are proclamations that cannot be modified if they are true. They are either true or they are not and, if they are not true they are really worthless.
We have already looked at James and Paul earlier and, we discovered that James was not really saying what most evangelicals have suggested he was saying. The works were not Law works…they were not read and do instructions but rather, were indicative of a heart changed and they were aimed at loving ones brother realizing that mercy always, always, always triumphs over judgment.
The reason for this is that rest is the foremost aspect of the transformation. While there will be no transformation without recognizing the need, there can be no spiritual transformation without the rest. Rest is a term that includes all of the definitions of faith. We are using the Amplified Bible definition of faith which is clinging to, relying on, trusting in and having a settled confidence. It is not merely a mental assent. Still, this rest---faith is the catalyst of the transformation.
Further, real spiritual transformation can only operate if and when a person is resting in Jesus completely. Anything short of transformation from rest is in fact fleshly motivated reformation and is not really transformation at all. Transformation comes from renewing the mind daily to the gospel of grace.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A deeper look into Need, Rest and, Reasonable Service

Earlier we looked at the Sabbath Rest and the operation of transformation in the Christian life. If there is a glaring need today within Christianity, it is to find saints that have truly been transformed into new creations. The transformation, we are told by Paul, is through the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2; 2Cor 4:16; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10 & Tit 3:5.)
What exactly is the mind renewed too? The answer is to the redemptive decrees; the accomplishment of Christ on our behalf. It is renewed to the Sabbath Rest; renewed to our abiding faith in Jesus. Renewing ones mind to the Sabbath Rest and the accomplishments of Christ Jesus is the source of deep and abiding love for God and, this love for God, is the source of the transformation….realizing that there must always be a healthy dose of need applied to bring about the love….(Luk 7:47 NKJV) Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." The more one is forgiven the more they love.
Paul stated that all have sinned (all sin, my emphasis) and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.) Therefore, the reasonable service passages…those that explain what love looks and acts like can often be the source of recognizing our need…for example, I look at the admonition.... Php 2:5-7 NKJV Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. and…every time we recognize that we do not measure up to this...really have the mind of Christ in us…that we are not really and always willing to be a bond servant we…at that moment….need to rest in the redemptive decrees such as…2Co 5:21 NKJV For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This will do two things for us; (1) it will cause one to rest and love God and, it will renew our minds to being a servant to all and, with renewed mind, we can have the same mind as Jesus…we can see others as he sees them.
In other words, instead of allowing the passage to become a read and do law that will condemn us for not obeying…the realization of our benefit in Christ, even in the midst of failure…will lead to love for God that, will briefly produce godly sorrow causing a shift in attitude and, we will then willingly –lovingly, become a servant with a servants heart.
The transformation from a renewed mind is a very practical operation. It is the way in which the sanctification process operates. The combination of our regularly reading the scripture….coupled with the Holy Spirit and, the law of God being written on our hearts and minds, will work the transformation over time. It will be real transformation….spiritual transformation.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What covenant is in force today?

Are the covenant theologians correct? Is there but one covenant of grace between the Father and Son from before the foundation of the world and, are the various biblical covenants merely aspects of the one covenant of grace? Or, are the dispensationalists correct? Are we living in the church age and awaiting a time when Israel will embrace it’s Messiah realizing that the New Covenant will only be in complete force after the return of Jesus? And, what about New Covenant theology? Is it possible that we are completely under the New Covenant and, are the Israel of God in Christ Jesus? I personally believe that we are totally in and under the New Covenant and, that the New Covenant is unique and different from the other covenants of promise (Eph 2:12) and yet, it is the ultimate covenant of promise as it incorporates the covenant of Abraham, with the covenant of David.
What are the covenants of promise? Eph 2:11-16 ESV Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- (12) remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (14) For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (15) by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Simply, they are the covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3.) and the covenant made with David (2Sam 7:16.)
Two things that can be observed; first, Gentiles are no longer alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and, are no longer strangers to the covenants of promise. The reason is that all have been brought near by the blood of Christ to those in Christ Jesus. Notice that it does not say covenant but covenants. Therefore there is not just one covenant... that eliminates covenant theology. Secondly, since the Gentiles are now allowed to be included in the commonwealth of Israel, they are in fact the Israel of God by virtue of their union with Christ (Gal 3:26-29)…. so then, the church is not a dispensational entity awaiting the new covenant but members in full standing of the New Covenant.
Further, it should be stated that Jesus himself declared the beginning of the New Covenant in Matthew 26:28; “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Plain and simply put…the new covenant….was instituted at the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As I have stated in he past, the only way to rightly divide the word of truth, the gospel is with the cross event.
It seems logical to me that one must admit that the New Covenant is in full force today, that, covenant theology does not properly deal with Paul’s statements about abolishing the commandments….this includes the Ten Words at least as to the read and do operation and, that to merely see the church as a provisional entity awaiting the kingdom is not adequate either.
In fact, the operation of love and faith obedience that we have already discussed is a perfectly reasonable explanation of the way in which the law is written on hearts and minds and, how…God forgiving and forgetting sin, aids in the operation of transformation and brings about the obedience of faith.