Saturday, August 13, 2011

Until Christ be formed in you

This post is the combination of several posts that deal with the transformation process. Of the many things lacking in current evangelical doctrine this is one of the most important. It will help move from read and do legal reformation to be and believe spiritual transformation.

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.

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.

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 to 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.

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.

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.

5 comments:

  1. Even the word accountability is stressful, but only because of coming from a very legalistic church. How does one know what being like Christ is? I've seen Christ portrayed as commanding us to get back in line with the law and only accidental sins are forgiven. Also being like Christ was always outward focus instead of heart, love, mercy forgiveness. I do not even know what Christlikeness is supposed to look like.

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  2. Hi Melanie,
    Thank you so much for your comments and interaction with this blog... it is a blessing indeed! Great question!

    As a matter of fact this was the topic of discussion at our meeting yesterday evening. We have more of a house church setting that is quite informal... around the table.

    I personally would like to have an atmosphere whereby a saint could seek out an accountability partner without fear of being judged. I personally don't think that it is possible based upon the way we look at scripture... especially, the reasonable service passages. James said to confess your sins to one another and I think he had loving accountability in mind.

    I personally would like to be better... i.e., more loving, slower to anger, etc. Jesus was selfless in my view and so being more Christlike is being more loving, more giving, more patient... generally exhibiting by nature the fruit of the Spirit.

    However, I must admit that as long as the read and do, legalistic mentality is around, I am not hopeful for any real kind of loving accountability.

    Blessings,
    Joe

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  3. Thank You for the hope that God really is a God of Love and understanding, compassion and mercy, not just someone else out there waiting to lop off my head when I mess up.

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  4. I would say that if I had to list the single thing that informed my view of God's love it would be the realization that Jesus and his followers redefined the term word of God to mean gospel or himself. There is something drastically wrong with current church doctrine when they will not acknowledge that Jesus redefined the term and offered a completely redemptive interpretation of scripture. The complete denial of this when it is so obvious once you see it shows that there is still a veil over the minds of most when it comes to scripture.

    Second to it is not recognizing the obvious Jew - Gentile distinction and imminent expectation in the New Testament writings.

    Finally, the book of Hebrews suggests a shift from the Jewish interpretation of the Rabbis to a Jesus of Nazareth centered interpretation and shows the the New Covenant will be fully in force (alone) when the temple was destroyed.

    Unfortunately, that has taken a great deal of time and a large shift in presuppostions and thereby is difficult for others who have not gone through the process to readily see.... and yet, it really speaks on a spiritual level to many of those who have been spiritually abused.

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  5. Christlikeness looks like love; unconditional, agape love. And what does love look like? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    We all fall short of the glory of God. We really have no room to judge anyone. People on glass houses should not throw stones, and every one of us live in houses made of glass. We must start loving one another and applying the “I will treat people the way I want to be treated” theology. Love as Jesus loves; this should be part of our prayers.

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