In Christ

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. —1 Corinthians 15:22

It is important that we know how God sees us. This can be rather difficult given our tendency to think the worst of ourselves, or to define our lives through the lens of others. One of the richest passages about identity in Scripture is Ephesians 1:7-14:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In this passage, Paul explains the many aspects of our new identity in Christ. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace; unconditionally loved and accepted; we are pure, blameless and forgiven; we have received the hope eternity with God. When we are in Christ, these aspects of our identity can never be altered by what we do.

Often, we feel the pressure to define ourselves through our jobs, financial status, successes, grades, appearance, what other people say about us and many other means.

As Christians, our true identity is in Christ. We are no longer who we were. Paul calls us saints, set apart by and for God, and invariably addresses us as those who are in Christ. He implores us to live our lives in Christ, as he also lives, saying, “I glory in Christ” (Romans 15:17). In his epistles he encourages us to be in Christ, in him, or in the Lord 160 times. What it means to be in Christ is exactly the opposite of what it means to be in ourselves. In other words, if we are not in Christ, we are only into us. It’s all about us and no one else.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

So what does it mean to have our identity in Christ? It’s not just a matter of claiming Bible verses for ourselves, or starting our mornings reciting key Scripture. To have our identity in Christ means placing our confidence for life and eternity in Christ alone. To be in Christ involves being formed into the image of the Lord. It means wanting others to see Jesus when they look at us. Galatians 3:26-28 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV) [Italics mine].

To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation in Him. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Prior to conversion, Paul knew “about” Christ merely as another man. At conversion, Paul became a new creation. The old passed away, indicating the definitive change that took place at regeneration. Paul adds, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (verse 21). Being in Christ means having His righteousness. This position is made available to us as a result of God’s grace. Because we have no righteousness of our own, this is of paramount importance in order to stand before God.

According to Scripture, we die in Adam but are born again in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). In Adam, there is condemnation; but in Christ, there is salvation. In Adam, we receive a sin nature; but in Christ, we receive a new nature. In Adam, we are cursed; but in Christ, we’re blessed. In Adam, there is wrath and death; but in Christ, there is love and life. It’s as if there are two teams in life. We each take to the field with one of them. The decisions made by the team captains affect the entire team, for better or worse. The first team is led by Adam, and the second by Jesus. We identify with Adam and share in his defeat, or we identify with Jesus and share in his victory. In other words, are we in Adam or are we in Christ?

OUR IDENTITY AS BELIEVERS

The main theme in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is identity formation. Union with Christ gives us a radically new identity. Ephesians 4:20-24 says, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV).

The phrase “in Christ” literally changed the world and is the very essence of our identity as believers. In speaking of identity, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV). When Paul talks about the new I is he talking about who he was before Christ in combination with who he now is in Christ, or is he referring only to the new creation in Christ? Considering the words of Jesus in John 15:5, it seems he might be speaking of both. We are re-created in Christ, but we are not able to exist as a new creation apart from Him.

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of spiritual life—a relationship that brings a new seed or root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can occur. Likewise, unless there is a root of life within the believer (i.e., some core of spiritual life), growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow! This fits nicely with the analogy of vine and branches. Frankly, this is why Paul’s theology is based solely on our position in Christ. He was brilliantly able to point out the constant struggle within himself between doing that which he did not want to do and not being able to consistently do that which he wanted to do.

NEW HEART, NEW SPIRIT

We’re told in the Bible that the center of the person is the heart. Proverbs 4:23 identifies the heart as the “wellspring of life” (NIV). In our natural state of being, the heart is deceitful above all things (see Jeremiah 17:9). Born under sin, we are conditioned by the deceitfulness of a fallen world rather than by the truth of God’s Word. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (NIV). From the moment we are born again we are grafted into the vine—sanctified and set apart as children of God.

We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves to grow accordingly.

We read in Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (NIV). Biblical scholar and author F.F. Bruce says, “…the new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.” But exactly what does it mean to be a new man? Does it mean every aspect of us is changed? After all, we still look the same physically. Our voice sounds the same. We still have many of the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Our DNA does not change when we become born again. Our past, although forgiven (and forgotten) by God, is still our past. We carry emotional baggage with us well into our future even as new believers.

The Natural Person

In our natural state, we must contend with flesh, mind, will, and emotions. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (NIV). The word flesh typically refers to the body, but theologically it can also refer to the learned independence that allows sin to reign in our lives. We struggle in the flesh with inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, worry, and doubt. Our mind is the seat of obsessive, recurrent, distressing thoughts and images, which are often at the root of compulsive behavior, bad habits, and addiction. Our body is the situs for migraines, allergies, asthma, arthritis, heart problems, cancer, and other physical ailments. Our emotions include depression, anxiety, bitterness, anger, resentment, and many other sensitivities.

We are spiritually dead in our natural state—separated from God. Accordingly, we tend to sin as a matter of course. We have a soul, in that we can think, feel, and choose. Our mind, and subsequently our emotions and will, are directed by our flesh, which acts completely apart from God. In our natural state, we tend to believe we are free to choose our behavior. But because we live in the flesh, we invariably walk according to the flesh. Our choices reflect the “deeds of the flesh” we read about in Galatians 5:19-21. Our actions, reactions, habits, memories, and responses are all governed by the flesh.

The Spiritual Person

When we become renewed by the Spirit, we are able to crucify our flesh by recognizing we are now dead to sin. Our mind is transformed. Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV). As we present ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, our body becomes a temple of God. Our soul reflects changes brought about by our spiritual rebirth. We start receiving the impetus for our behavior from the Spirit rather than from our flesh.

Remarkably, we are now free to choose not to walk according to the flesh, but to walk according to the Spirit. When we exercise our choice to live in the Spirit, our lives exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). I refer to this as the dichotomy of true freedom. Additionally, our bodies have been transformed. We have become the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We can now choose daily to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service. Our flesh is conditioned to live independently from God under the old man. Unfortunately, our flesh is still present after we’ve been born again. The difference is we’ve been given the resources to crucify the flesh and its desires daily by recognizing who we are in Christ.

BEING IN CHRIST WILL CHANGE OUR WALK

Becoming a new believer does not anoint us with magical sin-defying powers. We are still spring-loaded toward fleshly behavior. A life of fleshly habits does not just vanish. We tend to go on living according to what we know, and we don’t know much about living a Spirit-filled life. As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. We occasionally make poor choices—we’re human after all. However, we are learning daily to crucify the flesh and walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. This walk is built on relationship, not subordination.

Freedom doesn’t just lie in the exercise of choice; it ultimately lies in the consequences of those choices.

Paul defines what it means to walk by the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-18: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (NIV). Paul is quick to note what walking in the Spirit is not a license to sin. License, in this regard, is contempt for rules and regulations constituting an abuse of privilege. Amazingly, some Christians wrongly assert that walking by the Spirit and living under grace means I can do whatever I want to do. On the contrary, walking by the Spirit means we are free (from the dominion of the flesh) to live a responsible, moral life—something we were incapable of doing when we were a bond servant of sin.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I cannot overstate how important it is that we come to understand how God sees us. We must fight the tendency to define ourselves based on our past sins and transgressions, or through the lens of others. In Christ we have redemption; we have the forgiveness of sins. Additionally, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We are no longer who we were. We have become saints, set apart by and for God. To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. We are literally given a new identity in Christ. It is through walking in the Spirit that we are able to deny our flesh, but we must do this daily. This is only achievable when we recognize and operate in the truth of who we are as new Christians. 

As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. This helps increase the odds that we make the right choices relative to behavior. Paul warns against the practice of sin. Because we still occupy a fleshly body, and still possess a mind, a will, and emotions—along with baggage and past experiences—we are prone to take the wide road rather than the harder, narrow road. Being in Christ is not merely about being forgiven and living under grace. It is not a license to sin. Rather, it is about living a responsible, moral life. It is about being free to choose righteousness over sin. It is about being in right relationship with God.

 

 


 

Why Do Christians Still Sin?

If we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly.

Many Christians are living under half a Gospel. Christ died for our sins. When we pray to receive Him, believing in our heart that He is the Messiah, we die with Him, and are buried with Him. If we leave it there, where is our resurrection? If we do not repent from continual, deliberate sin, do we not act as if His death and resurrection was a worthless gesture? Think of it this way. If you came across a dead man lying along a road and you had the power to save him, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, then he would merely die again one day. You would have to cure the disease that caused him to die in the first place.

The True Definition of a Christian

Regardless of how overused the word Christian has become, the biblical definition of a Christian is one who is a follower of Christ; a disciple of Jesus (see Acts 11:26). A Christian is not merely someone who has ascribed to a particular set of religious beliefs or practices, joined a church, said a penitent prayer, or participated in certain sacraments or rituals. A Christian is a person who has responded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and has put his or her whole faith in the finished work of the cross of Christ for salvation. Christians have repented of their sin and have made Jesus Lord of their lives. Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (NIV).

We Can’t Deny We Still Sin

The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a, NIV). Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins. Is the whole Gospel simply curing the disease that caused us to die? Not at all. Finish reading the verse: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23b). When we forget the entire Gospel, we remain fleshly. We are forgiven yet not redeemed. Sounds strange, right? Almost counter-intuitive. Surely, we’ve been ransomed from the wages of sin by the death of Christ. However, full redemption provides a number of benefits we need in order to live righteously. Redemption provides us with eternal life; forgiveness of sins; a right relationship with God; guidance from the Holy Spirit; adoption into God’s Holy family. When we’re redeemed, we become different people. We are truly alive in Christ. We are now free to choose to live in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

The First Epistle of John was written to Christians. We’re told in 1:8-10, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (NIV). God tells us not to deny that we sin, saying if we do, we’re actually calling Him a liar. Verse 9 indicates what we’re to do when—not if—we sin. He promises to forgive us and cleanse us of the unrighteousness associated with our sin.

1 John 3:9 says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (NIV) [Italics mine]. These types of seeming contradictions confuse new Christians and drive agnostics and atheists crazy. This, however, is not a contradiction. John’s idea of committing sin on a permanent, habitual basis is further explained in 3 John 1:11: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (NIV).

In 1 John 3:6-9, the apostle is examining the question of whether a person “born of God” can commit sin. In verse 6, he writes, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” In verse 9, he emphatically shares, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” John seems to say it is not possible for those who are really  born again to continue to sin. If that were true, there would not be many genuine Christians. This is not what John means. Remember, every believer still possesses a fallen, sin nature, as well as the indwelling Holy Spirit. This reminds me of the old Cherokee saying that we all possess two wolves inside us. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, truth, compassion, and faith. Which wolf will win the fight? The one you feed.

The correct translation of 1 John 3:8 should be, “The one who practices sin.”

What Does It Mean to “Practice Sin?”

Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (NIV). The Greek word for committing sin (poieo) means to be seen sinning, or to display a sinful behavior. Certainly, this will present a poor witness, making the Christian appear hypocritical. I’ve been there, my friends. Far too many times. I’ve often said, “If I don’t start behaving better in public—stop raging at stupid tailgaters, for example—I’m going to take the Jesus First plate off the front of my car.” The Greek word for practicing sin (prasso) means to perform repeatedly or habitually, and hints of deeds, acts, or using arts. Notice the plurality and repetition here.

In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, we read the following regarding Hebrews 10:26-31:

The sin here mentioned is a total and final falling away, when men, with a full and fixed will and resolution, despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour; despise and resist the Spirit, the only Sanctifier; and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life… all this does not in the least mean than any souls who sorrow for sin will be shut out from mercy, or that any will be refused the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice, who are willing to accept these blessings. Him that cometh unto Christ, he will in no wise cast out” (pp. 1212-1213).

The Nature of the Problem

The Bible teaches we are dead in our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and “were by nature children of wrath” (2:3) [Emphasis added]. In other words, we were born physically alive but spiritually dead. We had no access to God’s presence in our lives, nor knowledge of His ways. We simply lived our lives devoid of God, unless and until someone introduced us to the Gospel. Paul plainly explained, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (NIV).

The flesh can be described as existence apart from God—a life dominated by sin or a drive opposed to God. Obviously, the flesh considers itself self-reliant rather than God-dependent; it is self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Mankind, accordingly, is sinful by nature and spiritually dead. But, at the moment of salvation, God transfers us from the domain of sin and darkness to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (see Colossians 1:13). Additionally, sin’s dominion through the flesh has been broken. As believers, we are no longer in the flesh—we are in Christ. We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves accordingly.

If you are a new creation in Christ, have you ever wondered why you still think and feel at times the same way you did before? Because everything you learned before you knew Christ is still programmed into your memory. Unfortunately, there is no mental delete button. Surely, this is why Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2, NIV) [Emphasis mine]. We have to renew how we think, not delete our old way of thinking.

Concluding Remarks

God’s work of atonement changes us from sinners to saints. No doubt this is a hard concept to comprehend as a new Christian. The radical change—aptly called regeneration—is effected at the moment of salvation. The ongoing change in the believer’s daily walk continues throughout life. The progressive work of sanctification, however, is only fully effective when the radical, inner transformation by regeneration is recognized, accepted, and appropriated by faith.

New believers are dominated by the flesh and deceived by the devil. It takes time and practice to renew the mind and overcome the patterns of the flesh. We have to believe we have a new nature. Our “new self” is oriented toward God. Being a child of God and being free in Christ is positional truth and the birthright of every believer. However, because of a lack of repentance and ignorance of the truth, many believers are not living like liberated children of God. Our freedom from sin’s domination hinges on knowledge of the truth.

Hmm. In other words, the truth will set us free. Where have I heard that before?

 

 

 

Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing Your Identity in Christ

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Is who you are determined by what you do, or is what you do determined by who you are? It is time to discover who you are in Christ, and what that means for your life. Jesus promises us we can live triumphantly. As Christ hung on the cross, He said, “It is finished” just before taking his last breath. What is finished, and just what does it mean to you and me? If we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly. Consider this: When heaven opened to reveal the glory of God, individual witnesses in the Bible were immediately and profoundly changed.

Who Are You?

Who I am—who you are—is far more than what can be seen on the outside. Paul said, “We recognize no man according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). Most of us identify ourselves and each other primarily by what we look like (tall, short, stocky, muscular) or what we do (plumber, police officer, carpenter, physician, clerk). When we Christians are asked to identify ourselves in relation to our faith, we usually talk about our doctrinal position (Protestant, evangelical, charismatic, Calvinist), our denominational preference (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent) or our role in the church (Sunday school teacher, pastor, elder, worship leader).

You need to know who you are in Christ so that you can live your life as God intended and fulfill your destiny. The more you are in agreement with how God sees you the more your behavior will begin to reflect your God-given identity. After all, it’s God’s opinion that matters. Understanding who you are in Christ will provide a solid foundation on which you can build your Christian character.

Know Who You Are; Know Who Christ Is

Is Jesus just another prophet? Is He an historical figure? A “good man?” A teacher? Or is He much more? Is He the Son of God? The Christ? The Messiah? Jesus is more than a good man. He is God revealed in the flesh, who came to rescue mankind from the wages of sin. But the key is to see Jesus as He is, not as others see Him.

Our identity is discovered through a more thorough understanding of who we are in Christ. Once Peter realized his identity in Christ, he went from ordinary fisherman to a key participant in spreading the Good News of the Gospel. On the day of Pentecost, he preached and thousands were saved. He performed miracles and is credited with helping establish the early church. He found out who he was in Christ, which made all the difference.

I Know Who I Am

Scripture contains numerous passages on who we are in Christ:

  • I am a child of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
  • I am a branch of the true vine; a conduit of Christ’s life. “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1,5).
  • I am a friend of Jesus. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
  • I have been justified and redeemed. “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
  • I am crucified with Christ. “For we know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body ruled by might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6).
  • I am a fellow heir with Christ. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17).
  • I am called to be a saint. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).
  • I am a new creature in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • I have been set free in Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
  • I have been made complete in Christ. “And in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10).
  • I have been raised up with Christ. “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
  • I have been chosen of God; I am holy and beloved. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
  • I am victorious in Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
  • I am God’s masterpiece. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
  • I am totally and completely forgiven. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John. 1:9).
  • I am called. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Life in God’s Kingdom

What about life in God’s kingdom? Everyone has the same chance to live a meaningful life. Why? Because wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what you have or don’t have, what you’ve done or haven’t done. You are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who you are—a child of God. The only identity equation that works in God’s kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness and meaning.

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If our relationship with God is fundamental to wholeness, why do so many believers struggle with their identity, security, significance, sense of worth, and spiritual maturity? Ignorance is probably the primary reason. The prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). For others it is carnality, the lack of repentance and faith in God, and some are being deceived by the father of lies. Sadly, a great many Christians are trapped in the downward spiral of self-doubt. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only leads to more failure. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. We have been deceived by the enemy into believing that what we do determines who we are. Of course, such a belief can send us into a tailspin of hopelessness and more defeat.

Who we are is rooted in our identity and position in Christ. If we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us, to that degree we suffer from a false identity and poor self-worth.

The Example of Christ

God’s plan for redemption began to unfold when Christ, the Last Adam, appeared. The first thing we notice about the life of Christ is His complete dependence on God the Father. He said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30). Also, “I live because of the Father” (6:57). And, “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (14:10).

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Like the First Adam, Jesus was born both physically and spiritually alive. This was made evident by the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and was born of a virgin. Unlike the First Adam, although Jesus was tempted in every way He never sinned. He never lost His spiritual life because of any sin he committed. He kept His spiritual life all the way to the cross. There, He bled and died, taking the sins of the world upon Himself. He committed His spirit into the Father’s hands as His physical life ended (Luke 23:46). What Adam and Eve lost in the Fall was spiritual life, which Jesus came to restore. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b).

What a Difference Christ Makes In Us

The difference between the First and Second Adam spells the difference between life and death for us. Perhaps that life-giving difference is best noted in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Being “spiritually alive” is mentioned often in the New Testament. For example, in the six chapters of the book of Ephesians alone we find forty references to being “in Christ” and having Christ “in you.” For every biblical passage that teaches Christ is in you, ten teach that you are “in Christ.”

Of course, new life requires new birth. We weren’t born in Christ. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). What is God’s plan for transforming us from being in Adam to being in Christ? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Physical birth gains only physical life for us, period. Spiritual life, the eternal life Christ promises to those who come to Him, is gained only through spiritual birth (3:36).

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Spiritually Alive!

What does it mean to be spiritually alive in Christ? The moment you were born again your soul came into union with God in the same way Adam was in union with God before the Fall. This is creation as God intended. Adam and Eve were completely immersed in communion with God in the Garden. Not only did Adam enjoy a sense of significance, but he also enjoyed a great degree of safety and security. All his needs were provided in the Garden.

At the moment we accepted Christ as the Messiah, we became spiritually alive and our name was written in the Lamb’s book of life. Eternal life is not something you get upon your physical death. Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). He was referring to the spiritual life of the believer that doesn’t age or decay as does the outer shell. To be spiritually alive—characterized in the New Testament by the word zoe (the God-like life)—means your soul or soul/spirit is in union with God. That is the condition in which Adam was created—physically alive and spiritually alive, in perfect union with God.

For Christians, to be spiritually alive is to be in union with God. This spiritual life is most often conveyed in the New Testament as being “in Christ,” or “in Him.” Like Adam, we were created to be in union. You may have heard the expression Man is a social animal. We truly live for interpersonal relationships. Man, however, is also a spiritual being. Unfortunately, Adam sinned and his union with God was severed. It is God’s eternal plan to bring human creation back to Himself and restore the union He enjoyed with Adam at creation. That restored union with God, which we find “in Christ,” is what defines who we are as children of God.

A Christian, in terms of his or her deepest identity, is a saint, a spiritually born child of God, a divine masterpiece, a child of light, a citizen of heaven. Being born again transformed you into someone who did not exist before. Of course, it is not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do (see 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 John 3:1-2).

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It’s all in how you see yourself.

You don’t change yourself by your perception. You change your perception of yourself by believing the truth. If you perceive yourself wrongly, you will live wrongly.  If you think of yourself as a worthless bum, you will probably live like a worthless bum. If, however, you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly.

Naturally, Satan’s main strategy is to distort the character of God—in my opinion, one way he does this through the rantings of militant atheists, with Christopher Hitchens calling God a “heavenly dictator”—and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If he gets us to believe a lie, we will live as though our identity in Christ isn’t true.

New life results in a new identity.

 

The Peacemaker (Part 1)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

The “Four Gs” of conflict resolution:

  • Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Biblical peacemaking is motivated and guided by a deep desire to bring honor to God by revealing the reconciling love and power of Jesus Christ. As we draw on His grace, follow His example, and put His teachings into practice, we can find freedom from the impulsive, self-centered decisions that make conflict worse, and bring praise to God by displaying the power of the Gospel in our lives.
  • Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). Attacking others only invites counterattacks. This is why Jesus teaches us to face up to our own contributions to a conflict before we focus on what others have done. When we overlook others’ minor offenses and honestly admit our own faults, our opponents will often respond in kind. As tensions decrease, the way may be opened for sincere discussion, negotiation, and reconciliation.
  • Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). When others fail to see their contributions to a conflict, we sometimes need to graciously show them their fault. If they refuse to respond appropriately, Jesus calls us to involve respected friends, church leaders, or other objective individuals who can help encourage repentance and restore peace.
  • Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Finally, peacemaking involves a commitment to restoring damaged relationships and negotiating just agreements. When we forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us and seek solutions that satisfy others’ interests as well as our own, the debris of conflict is cleared away and the door is opened for genuine peace.

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Unfortunately, many believers and their churches have not yet developed the commitment and ability to respond to conflict in a Gospel-centered and biblical manner. This is often because they have succumbed to the relentless pressure our secular culture exerts on us to forsake the timeless truths of Scripture and adopt the relativism of our postmodern era. Although many Christians and their churches believe they have held on to God’s Word as their standard for life, their responses to conflict, among other things, show that they have in fact surrendered much ground to the world. Instead of resolving differences in a distinctively biblical fashion, they often react to conflict with the same avoidance, manipulation, and control that characterize the world. In effect, both individually and congregationally, they have given in to the world’s postmodern standard, which is “What feels good, sounds true, and seems beneficial to me?”

Pastor Mike Miller at my home church, Sunbury Bible Church, started a Spring series on peacemakers. He opened the series on April 22, 2018 stating, “Peace matters to God.” The Hebrew word shalom has a comprehensive meaning beyond being content or “at peace.” It also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It can further mean “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” Shalom speaks of a completeness or fullness that encourages you to give back. Jesus is not talking about mediators or political negotiators in Matthew 5:9, but those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is only available through son-ship with God. As you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

3 Relationships Needed for Building Peace:

  1. With God (first). Peace must begin vertically, between us and God, before it can be shared horizontally, between others. Man has a broken relationship with God since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. This has left a God-shaped void—a hole in the soul—which we try to fill with anything and everything. It’s like an infinite abyss.
  2. With Others (second). This is what helps build horizontal connectedness in order that we might live in harmony as much as possible. Philippians 2:5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (NIV).
  3. With yourself (ultimately). We simply cannot expect to have peace within if we are at odds with everyone around us. Jesus knew this when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (NIV). Moreover, we cannot expect to be at peace with others if we are not at peace with God.

But at What Cost?

Genuine peace is a priority, but it is costly. We often have to give up something of ours to obtain or promote peace. Genuine peace is only found at the Cross. We’re part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. Genuine peace has eternal consequences. Most conflicts also provide an opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus. As Paul urged in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul elaborated on this opportunity when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29, italics mine).

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity

Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and He is present and working in your life. The opposite is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the Good News about the saving work of Jesus on the Cross.

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One of the most emphatic statements on peace and unity in the Bible is found in Jesus’ prayer shortly before he was arrested and taken away to be crucified. After praying for Himself and for unity among His disciples (John 17:1-19), Jesus prayed for all who would someday believe in Him. These words apply directly to every Christian today:

My prayer is not for [My disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you. May they also be in Us so that the world many believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

In Summary

The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: Whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, God is eager to display His love and power through us as we strive to maintain peace and unity with those around us. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer. If you have committed your life to Christ, He invites you to draw on His grace and commands you to seek peace with others. Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you. Your dependence on Him and obedience to this call will show the power of the Gospel and enable you to enjoy the personal peace that God gives to those who faithfully follow Him.

Please join me next Monday for The Peacemaker (Part Two), when we will look at helping others to break free from the habit of focusing on other peoples’ wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to conflict.


 

Christ Suffered and Died: For the Forgiveness of Our Sins

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying for the forgiveness of our sins.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. (Ephesians 1:7)

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WHEN WE FORGIVE a debt or an offense or an injury, we don’t require a payment for settlement. That would be the opposite of forgiveness. If repayment is made to us for what we lost, there is no need for forgiveness. We have our due. Forgiveness assumes grace. If I am injured by you, grace lets it go. I don’t sue you. I forgive you. Grace gives what someone doesn’t deserve. That’s why forgiveness has the word give in it. Forgiveness is not “getting” even. It is giving away the right to get even.

That is what God does to us when we trust Christ: “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43). If we believe in Christ, God no longer holds our sins against us. This is God’s own testimony in the Bible: “I, I am He who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake” (Isaiah 43:25). “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

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But this raises a problem. We all know that forgiveness is not enough. We may only see it clearly when the injury is great—like murder or rape. Neither society nor the universe can hold together if judges (or God) simply say to every murderer and rapist, “Are you sorry? Okay. The state forgives you. You may go.” In cases like these we see that while a victim may have a forgiving spirit, the state cannot forsake justice.

So it is with God’s justice. All sin is serious, because it is against God. He is the one whose glory is injured when we ignore or disobey or blaspheme Him. His justice will no more allow him simply to set us free than a human judge can cancel all  the debts that criminals owe to society. The injury done to God’s glory by our sin must be repaired so that in justice his glory shines more brightly. And if we criminals are to go free and be forgiven, there must be some dramatic demonstration that the honor of God is upheld even though former blasphemers are being set free.

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That is why Christ suffered and died. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness costs us nothing. All our costly obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That’s why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus His life. That is why we call it just. O how precious is the news that God does not hold our sins against us! And how beautiful is Christ, whose blood made it right for God to do this.

Forming a Christian Worldview

IMPLICATIONS OF A WORLDVIEW

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Every worldview frames how one understands the world and how one acts in that world. Understanding the phenomenon of worldviews has implications for our thinking in at least three fundamental ways: (1) understanding what happens when variant worldviews meet, (2) recognizing the degree to which worldviews are inherited, and (3) acknowledging the limited degree to which we can objectively reflect upon and alter our own worldviews. Conflict between worldviews usually stems from incompatibility at the level of our assumptions. For instance, if one assumes that the material realm is all that exists, then talk of the immaterial seems absurd. Dialog between individuals who hold differing worldviews must begin by talking about the assumptions inherent in their respective worldviews.

A second implication of the fact that we all hold worldviews is, perhaps, more troubling; it must be admitted that worldviews are less chosen than inherited. From the moment we are born, our views of the world are shaped by the culture and subcultures within which we are raised. Our families, religious traditions, educational institutions, media, and a host of other forces instill within us assumptions about the world and our place in it. We are less aware of these influences than we might imagine or wish. Most of what we know and believe has been given to us by our parents, friends, community, and society. We learn more about the world from others than we conceptualize on our own. We accept and assimilate more than we reject or deny. In short, we do not develop our own private worldviews. At most, we refine and re-conceptualize what we have learned.

The repercussions of this claim are astounding. Very few people have been able to rise above their cultural prejudices to challenge institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender bias, or a host of other societal ills. It is humbling to consider how many incorrect beliefs we have adopted – and how many immoral actions we engage in – because of how deeply acculturated they are in our own worldviews. The fact that so many of our beliefs and behaviors are blindly accepted and ignorantly followed is alarming. We are not completely without hope because of our observation about worldview thinking: We can, to a limited degree, perceive and reflect on our worldview. Willingness to look at our assumptions with humble recognition of our own finitude and failings, though, presents an opportunity for re-examination.

FORMING A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

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Worldviews ask four basic questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” and “What’s the remedy?” The worldview with which you were raised, modified by your personal experiences and reflection, will inevitably affect how you answer.

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Creation

A biblical understanding of Creation informs our concept of who we are, the nature of the world in which we live, and the proper ends toward which we should strive. The biblical account begins not with an anthropocentric focus centered on humanity, but with a theocentric focus centered on God. It is God who creates. It is God who gives graciously and lavishly. It is God who declares the Creation to be “good,” and after it is completed with the making of an image-bearer, it is God who declares it to be “very good.” Humanity is intimately connected to the Creation, and yet is set in a unique relationship to the rest of Creation.

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The biblical sense in which humankind is an image of God, who is given dominion over Creation, is easily misunderstood. The image of a god was a familiar concept within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which Genesis was first read. Images such as idols were thought to contain the essence of a god, and human beings were thought to have been created to care for that god and his or her god-image. Politically, however, Ancient Near Eastern religions promoted social stratification, where kings and priests had more access to the gods – and hence more power – than common folk. Kings and idols were carried in front of and venerated by those who were not royalty. In Egypt, it was not uncommon for kings to claim that they had been suckled by a goddess to buttress their own claims of divinity. The blending of the god-image with the elevation of the king afforded them an incredible amount of power.

Kings ruled their provinces as the gods’ representatives – as the caretakers of the land, resources, and people belonging to a local deity. Oppressive kings created and sustained economic, political, and educational systems that favored the elite and oppressed the marginalized. In contrast to the surrounding religious cultural context, the God of Genesis reveals that all of humanity was created to bear His image. To be His representatives on earth, to do what God would do: to lovingly rule and care for the creation (including not only what we might call “nature,” but also all other aspects of God’s Creation – including societal and cultural institutions). The Judeo-Christian belief that humans are the image of God and have dominion over Creation is not one in which some people have divine right over others, nor one in which nature is to be pillaged, but rather that all of Creation (natural and cultural) is to be tended and developed in loving submission to God’s sovereign rule over all things.

Creation holds two truths in tension, first, that humans are part of the created order, and thus, in many ways similar to the other creatures, and second, that they are made in the very image of God and given a caretaker role over the realm to which they belong. We are part of Creation, and yet uniquely set over it to steward it. More importantly, we are social beings, and only through community can we reflect the image of God.  First, God created man from the dust of the ground. Then, God decided that is not good for man to be alone. God made “a helper fit for him.” Loneliness is not good. It is clear that human beings are viewed as the pinnacle of Creation, with the affirmation by God that Creation is very good coming only after the creation of humanity. David felt this, and expressed his emotion in Psalm 119:14a, “I will give thanks to you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NASB).

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The Bible shows Creation as infused with potential. God’s creative power bequeaths power and creativity to the Creation. Humans are told to tend the garden, that is, to develop its potentials. Certainly, there is a great deal of creativity involved in tilling the earth and mining its countless treasures. The presence of the first couple in the garden creates the beginnings of social and cultural life. It is through mankind that Creation will be shaped as people bring to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands. Creation is pregnant with potential for art, agriculture, education, civil government, science, and literature, waiting to be developed by those who bear the image of God. That is, after all, the very definition of Creation.

A final point about Creation must be made: that man, a created being, is given freedom. He can name the animals. He can till and tend and shape the garden as he wishes. But this freedom is also given limits: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17, RSV). There is a paradox in the concept of created freedom. It is the use of free will to transgress against God’s will that is the next part of the story, what theologians sometimes refer to as original sin.

The Fall

While Christianity affirms the goodness of Creation, it also teaches that this goodness is only part of the story. The next chapter in the story recounts the rebellion of the first human beings against their God-given boundaries, and a failure of their responsibility to tend the garden faithfully as God’s representatives. The result was a fundamental alteration of the entire created realm. As a result of human disobedience, pain was multiplied, relationships were damaged, the ground itself became cursed, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14-19). From that point on, the Bible recognizes a twisted nature within the human condition: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). Moreover, it is precisely because those who were given authority over the creation rebelled that the created realm over which they rule is subject to the curse.

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It is worth pointing out that the created realm is not just physical nature, but it also encompasses the potentials for culture and technology, and all of these things are affected by the curse. Thus, art, architecture, politics, science, commerce, and every human endeavor is now marred and easily twisted away from their proper ends – bringing glory  to God, stewarding the creation in love, and living in peace with each other and with nature.

As we read on through Genesis, we see that the sin of Adam and Eve leads in quick succession to sibling conflict and fratricide, to an antediluvian culture where God laments at how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (See Genesis 6:5,11). We are able to see sin as a corporate phenomenon. We begin to catch a glimpse of how sin becomes embedded within cultures and institutions, so that its members become blind to the sins of their culture. It’s sometimes easy to forget that evil is a feature of our existence – a certain undertow – separate from our personal choices and decisions. We are born into a world shaped and distorted by such evils as violence and abuse in families, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, violent jihad, sexual immorality, and the wrongful taking of life.

Throughout Scripture we see not just an individual inclination to sin, but the corporate nature of sin, such that the last five of the Ten Commandments focus on social consequences of individual sin (murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness). The permanent vices and crimes of adults are not transmitted by heredity, but by being socialized. The “gospel” of individualism has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart, and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God to save every soul that comes to Him. But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.

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While it is entirely appropriate for us to attend to individual sinfulness, doing so is incomplete unless we also focus on our participation in the social and corporate sins of our social practices and social structures. Spiritual conversion, then, is not just repenting of individual sin, but also examining our participation in collective sin, and prophetically challenging sins that become embedded within a society, including economic systems which disadvantage some and privilege others. Unfortunately, many Christian denominations tend to focus either on individual sin and the need for individual repentance or on culturally embedded sin and the need for social reform and social justice. A fully biblical picture must acknowledge and address both personal and social dimensions of sin.

We must also note that sin has widespread effects throughout the created realm. While sin itself has both individual and social dimensions, the biblical view is that sin affects the entirety of creation. God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-20, NIV). The effects of the Fall are pervasive, and yet we often fail to notice them, because they are part of the fabric of our lives. When sin shattered a perfect creation, everything changed. It’s not just that we sin or that we are sinned against; it’s that everything is different from the way God intended it to be, and all of these differences can be attributed to the consequences of sin. There are weeds in our garden now, and in our personalities. We have mental illness, disease, discontentment, failure, and a lack of vision. Since the Fall, creation now groans with birth defects and disease and poverty. Everything around us is broken. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Notice that we look forward not only to individuals being released from the consequences of personal sin, as we see in Romans 8:1-2, but now we see that all of the created order is being released from the consequences of the Fall. In part, the release of Creation from the bondage of the Fall comes about when the image bearers begin to rule properly as God intended, rather than in selfishness and idolatry.

A Christian understanding of human nature affirms our created origin in the image of God, and it recognizes the reality of human sin and its pervasive effects throughout the created realm. Decay, suffering and morality are among the unavoidable realities that led the author of Ecclesiastes to remark on the seeming futility of life. While a Christian worldview insists that we acknowledge the reality of sin – both individual and corporate – the Bible also speaks of God’s continuing interest in humankind, and recognizes remnants of the splendor in which humanity was created. In the Reformed view, Creation and Fall both frame important aspects of human nature, but it is the story of redemption that speaks to the deepest hopes of humanity.

Redemption

The biblical story proceeds from Creation and Fall to the unfolding story of Redemption and Restoration. The story advances through God’s interactions with characters such as Noah and Abraham and Sarah, and to events such as the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the giving of the Law to God’s people. It includes the progressive history of God’s interactions with the Israelites, the proclamations of the prophets, and the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It reaches its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It proceeds through the early church, and continues today through God’s activity in reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Throughout these encounters, we see Redemption cast in both individual and social terms. Individuals are called to turn from their evil ways, and the entire nation of Israel is called upon to enact justice.

Since sin has social consequences, and is corporate as well as individual, Redemption involves confronting both individual and corporate sin. Reconciliation of relationships is clearly a major focus of Christ’s redemptive work. But Redemption goes well beyond individual and social life. Colossians tells us that Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. This means that every aspect of creation is to be redeemed and restored: Art, music business, economics, politics, our caretaker role over the environment and our fellow creatures, and so forth. In every conceivable area of life, Christians are called to be agents of Redemption.

Consummation

The biblical story as discussed explains why human nature has elements of both good and evil. It explains why the world around us is subject to decay and disease. It introduces God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the entire created realm to Himself. If we were to leave the biblical narrative at this point, we would have an incomplete picture, because it has yet to address questions about our ultimate end and the final shape of God’s Kingdom. Christians believe that they live in the “now and not yet” of salvation. While a Christian has been saved from the penalty of his or her sin, the struggle with sin and the effects remain very real.

The term Consummation refers to the completion of God’s rule over the Creation that has been in rebellion against His sovereignty. The concept of Consummation is sometimes framed as re-creation – that is, that God restores the Creation from its fallen state. Fulfillment comes in the eschaton, the end of the present age, which begins when God’s rule is firmly established. Much of what the Bible has to say about this is difficult to interpret because it is often presented in apocalyptic imagery. It is also easily misunderstood, since modern, western, individualistic Christianity often focuses on the salvation of the individual rather than on the Restoration of all Creation.

Re-creation culminates in the reversal of sin’s effects on the fallen, judged Creation. The biblical account climaxes with the “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). It is clear that this picture is not just one of individuals saved from personal sin. It is also an image of the people of God living in community where righteousness reigns. Thus, the complete reign of Christ offers the solution to both individual and social dimensions of the Fall. Moreover, Restoration involves the redemption of all created things. It is my belief that Christ intended for us to live in a manner that promotes the redemption of all things within our present circumstances.

Concluding Remarks

To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, those who are mentally or physically ill, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the Gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was not merely saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of Creation which is God’s ultimate purpose. So, Consummation is the final outworking of what God will bring to completion, but which He is already beginning to bring about in and through His people in restoring all things to His rule.

 

Who We Believe We Are Directly Affects How We Act

We live in a country glutted with biblical material, Christian books, radio and television, but many Christians are not moving on to spiritual maturity. Additionally, there is a degree of biblical illiteracy in America today. Although surveys indicate that a majority of households report having a Bible, not even 50 percent of those who own Bibles read them regularly. Only 1 percent of young Christians read Scriptures on a daily basis.

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Sadly, we have separated the ministries of discipleship and counseling in our churches. Christian discipleship too often has become an impersonal program, although good theological material is being used. Christian counseling has been intensely personal, but often lacks good theology. We’re told that Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. It is important to note that brokenness is the key to effective ministry.

I’ve come to understand that if we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly. I believe that the greatest determinant of mental and spiritual health, as well as spiritual freedom, is a true understanding of God and a right relationship with Him. A good theology is an indispensable prerequisite to a good psychology. Knowing God is key to maturity and freedom. The mind must be transformed in order that we can live by faith and grow spiritually.

WHO ARE YOU?

When we Christians are asked to identify ourselves in relation to our faith, we usually talk about our doctrinal position (Protestant, evangelical, Calvinist, charismatic), our denominational preference (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent) or our role in the church (Sunday school teacher, choir member, deacon, elder). Is who you are determined by what you do, or is what you do determined by who you are? If a meaningful life is the result of appearance, admiration, performance, accomplishments, status, or recognition, then spirituality would hold no inherent value. Rather, worth would be defined solely by the “stuff” we accumulate; the reputation we earn; the nature of our lifestyle; the circles we run in.

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The Book of Ecclesiastes describes the futility of humankind pursuing a meaningful life in a fallen world without God. Millions of people climb their individual ladder of success, only to discover when they reach the top that their ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Thankfully,  wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what you have or don’t have; what you’ve done or haven’t done. You are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who you are—a child of God. The only identity equation that works in God’s kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness of meaning.

If our relationship with God is the key to wholeness, why do so many believers struggle with their identity, security, significance, sense of worth, and spiritual maturity? Ignorance is the primary reason. The prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). For others, it is carnality, the lack of repentance, and little or no faith in God. Others are being deceived by the Father of Lies.

THE ONLY IDENTITY EQUATION THAT WORKS

Sadly, a great number of Christians are trapped in the same downward spiral. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures. This was my self-concept for well over forty years. Constant poor decisions, two failed marriages, and four decades of active addiction seemed to inject a false sense of meaning and identity into my life. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. To understand the Gospel and who we are in Christ, we need to look at the creation account and the subsequent fall of humankind.

THE EFFECTS OF THE FALL

Unfortunately, the idyllic setting in the Garden of Eden was shattered. Genesis 3 tells the sad story of Adam and Eve’s lost relationship with God through sin. The effects of their fall were dramatic, immediate, and far reaching, infecting every subsequent member of the human race.  What happened to Adam and Eve spiritually because of the Fall? They died. Their union with God was severed, and they were separated from Him. Was this a physical death? Not immediately, although physical death would be a consequence of the Fall as well. They died spiritually; they were separated from God’s presence. They were physically cast out of the Garden of Eden and a cherubim waving a flaming sword was stationed at the entrance “to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:24).

Lost Knowledge of God

What effect did the Fall produce in Adam’s mind? He lost his true perception of reality, and the idea of knowing God was no longer relational. Instead, it was about accumulating data about God. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after their disobedience. Certainly, this reveals a faulty understanding of who God is. How can you hide from an omnipresent God? Their distorted perception of reality reflects Paul’s description of the futile thinking of those who don’t understand who God is. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:18, NIV). For me, I had become so lost that I didn’t even realize how lost I was.

ALL SINFUL BEHAVIOR IS A WRONG ATTEMPT AT MEETING BASIC NEEDS. THE ESSENCE OF SIN IS A MAN LIVING INDEPENDENTLY OF GOD, WHO HAS SAID THAT HE WILL MEET ALL OF OUR NEEDS AS WE LIVE OUT LIFE IN CHRIST.

When they sinned and were banished from the Garden, Adam and Eve lost their relationship with and intimate knowledge of God, which was intrinsic to that relationship. In our unregenerate state, we may have known something about God, but we didn’t know God because we had no relationship with Him. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST

Many Christians are not living free and productive lives because they don’t understand who they are and why they are here. Who they are is rooted in their identity and position in Christ. If they don’t see themselves the way God sees them, to that degree they suffer from a false identity and poor sense of worth. In other words, they don’t fully understand the Gospel and the dramatic change that occurred in them the moment they trusted in Christ. The redemptive plan of God began to unfold when Christ, the last Adam, appeared. The first thing we notice about the life of Christ is His complete dependence on God the Father. He said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative” (John 5:30). “I live because of the Father” (6:57).

Jesus Came to Give Us Life

Like the first Adam, Jesus was born both physically and spiritually alive. This was made evident by the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and was born of a virgin. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus was tempted in every way, but He never sinned. He never lost His spiritual life because of any sin He committed. He kept His spiritual life all the way to the cross. What Adam and Eve lost in the Fall was spiritual life, and Jesus came to give us life. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

THE WHOLE GOSPEL

Many Christians are living under half a Gospel. They may have heard that Jesus is the Messiah who came to die for their sins, and if they pray to receive Christ, they will go to heaven when they die. They know their sins will be forgiven, but they don’t see the benefit of a personal relationship with Christ. Perhaps you’ve been plagued by this unfortunate short-sightedness, as I have. What’s wrong with thinking this is all there is to salvation? It is only half the Gospel. If you came across a dead man and you had the power to save him, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, then he would die again. To save the dead person, you would have to cure the disease that caused him to die.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE CHRIST’S DIFFERENCE MAKES

Believers are alive in Christ. Being spiritually alive in Him is the overwhelming theme of the New Testament. In the Book of Ephesians alone we find 40 references to being “in Christ” and having Christ in us. For every biblical passage that teaches that Christ is in you, 10 teach that you are “in Christ.” This is the primary basis for Paul’s theology. “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17, emphasis mine).

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Here’s the thing: We weren’t born in Christ at the time of our natural birth. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins (see Ephesians 2:1). Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Physical birth gains only physical life for us. Spiritual life, the eternal life Christ promises to those who come to Him, is gained only through spiritual birth (see 3:36). The moment you were born again your soul came into union with God in the same way Adam was in union with God before the Fall. You became spiritually alive, and your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (see Revelation 21:27). Eternal life is not something you get when you die.

New Life Brings New Identity

Salvation is not a future benefit; rather, it is a present transformation. This is what a large number of born-again Christians do not seem to grasp. Transformation occurs at spiritual birth, not physical death. Being a Christian is not just a matter of getting something; it is a matter of becoming someone new. Salvation is not just forgiveness of sins and a ticket to paradise. A Christian, in terms of his or her deepest identity, is a saint, a spiritually-born child of God, a divine masterpiece, a child of light. What you receive as a Christian isn’t the point; it is who you are in Him. It is that identity that now makes you who you are. Moreover, it is not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do.

Understanding your identity in Christ is essential for living the Christian life. People cannot consistently behave in ways that are inconsistent with the way they perceive themselves. You don’t change yourself by your perception. You change your perception of yourself by believing the truth. If you perceive yourself wrongly, you will live wrongly because what you are believing is not true. If you think you are a no-good bum, you will probably live like a no-good bum. If, however, you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly. Of course, the major strategy of Satan is to distort the character of God and the truth of who we are. He can’t change God, and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If, however, he can get you to believe a lie, you will live as though your identity in Christ isn’t true.

CONCLUSION

One of the greatest ways to help yourself grow into maturity in Christ is to continually remind yourself who you are in Him. The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity. In practice, we should constantly be reminding ourselves who we are. We need to learn to talk to ourselves, and ask ourselves whether we truly understand the scope and meaning of our conversion and baptism. We have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. We no longer have to be a slave to sin. We have a new Master.

How important is it to know who you are in Christ? Countless numbers of Christians struggle with their day-to-day behavior because they labor under a false perception of who they are. They consider themselves sinners who hope to make it into heaven by God’s grace, but they can’t seem to live above their sinful tendencies. What is the believer’s hope? That you are a child of God now, who is being conformed to the image of God. The person who has this hope “purifies himself” and begins to live according to who he or she really is. You must believe you are a child of God to live like a child of God. “God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)

 

Like a Roaring Lion, Seeking Whom He May Devour

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WHEN YOU YIELD YOURSELF to sin, you’re serving Satan, who is the author of sin. But when you yield yourself to obedience, you serve God, who is the author of righteousness.

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It’s easy to realize there are consequences (and rightly so) for what we do in everyday life, some worse than others. The impact is often multi-leveled. If you’re driving over the speed limit – something I used to do quite frequently – you could get a ticket or cause an accident. The speeding violation could cost you money and put points on your driver’s license. An accident could damage your car, other property or, worse yet, cost someone their life. Infidelity could cost your marriage, and typically leaves emotional scars on the couple and any children. Stealing a loaf of bread, even when out of necessity, puts you at risk for a criminal charge, which will blemish your record for years to come. Embezzling from your employer – one example from our local television station involved a bookkeeper taking nearly $100,000 from her employer – can land you in prison.

There’s much more to life than what we can see – the physical, natural, surface-level realm. Spiritual dynamics are constantly taking place around us. Frustration, resentment, unforgiveness – all can leave a blemish. Have you ever had a falling out with an individual, perhaps a family member? I am presently struggling with this very problem; something I brought on by my actions. It is easy to get embroiled in the dispute to the point that you cannot see your own part.  Pride goeth before the fall. Whether you recognize it or not, Satan is the one who influences us to respond in the wrong way.

Joyce Meyer, in her seminal book Battlefield of the Mind (1995), says, “How can we express the importance of our thoughts sufficiently in order to convey the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7: ‘For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.'” Frankly, the longer I serve God and study the Bible, the more I realize the importance of God’s thoughts and words. Today, I long for finding the guidance and divine influence of the Holy Spirit. It is clear that as long as we are alive on this earth we will need to study what God’s Word teaches on the the various areas of thoughts and deeds.

Clearly, the devil is a liar. Jesus called him the father of lies and of all that is false. (John 8:44) He lies to you and me. He tells us things about ourselves, about other people, and about circumstances, that are just not true! He usually will not tell us the entire lie at one time. Instead, he begins by bombarding our mind with a cleverly devised pattern of propaganda, including a hierarchy of nagging thoughts, suspicions, doubts, fears, wonderings, reasonings, and theories. He moves slowly and cautiously – after all, well-laid plans take time. He has a strategy for his warfare. He has studied us for a long time, and he knows what will trip us up.

Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message says, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.” The New King James Version states, “…your adversary walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

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Because we are in a spiritual battle, we cannot afford to indulge the “luxury” of strife. God is a God of peace. (Romans 15:33; 16:20) Regarding the creation of mankind, God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26; 2:7) He directly breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils. Consider that God’s intent, at the moment when He breathed his breath of life into man, was to impart His image on mankind in full measure. I believe it was then and there that man became an image bearer of God. He at least hoped man would be of peace and not of strife. It is likely at this point that God transferred His agape love, His unconditional love, unto mankind with the desire that man would handle his every interaction with his fellow man in accordance with the kind of love we’re told about in 1 Corinthians 13. This is clearly the ideal.

Our life should be full of peace, not animosity and disunity. Of course I’m not saying that we (after the Fall) will ever live totally free from all wrangling and dissension, hatred and jealousy, but we should never just accept these attitudes, like it’s “game over,” nor should we promote them through our behavior. We ought to actively stand against such things and fight, recognizing that every time we get into strife a door is opened for anything the enemy wants to do in our lives. Think I’m nuts? Hey, how many times (consider the recent news events involving mass shootings) has strife or jealousy or mistrust or bigotry led to outright massacre? Too often! Satan gains access to our daily lives whenever there’s strife, and he has a giant appetite for death and destruction. He’s quite pleased when mankind turns from love and acceptance to carnage and plunder.

AN ONGOING BATTLE

Whether you realize it or not, we are at war. We’re in a fight over our souls. A battle which has the potential to end in spiritual death. Satan is walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The devil is trying to destroy our lives, moment by moment, from within. This is no typical war. In this battle, the casualties are our souls. The devil desires to rip your soul right out of your chest and drag it into the darkness forever. Worse, he wants to do this to our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. Essentially to everyone. A scary component of this war is that every man, woman and child on the planet is being dragged into combat whether they like it or not. There is no escape.

I’m not making this up. I wish I were. If you are attending a church where your pastor is not telling you about this struggle, please consider seeking a new, Bible-filled church. Our church leaders need to be talking about this. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV) Satan is ready to do battle at the drop of a hat. Peter warns us to be alert and of sober mind because the devil is on the prowl.

This is hard stuff, and I don’t find any of it particularly comforting. I will say that I lived well over 50 years in ignorance of these facts, or, worse, stupidly unafraid. The battle for my soul really went into full swing when I could not let go of anger and resentment toward my father, or anyone who would challenge me, defy me, or disappoint me. I laughed at the warnings I was given about drugs and alcohol. Surely I was bigger than addiction. I gave over to strife, opening the door just a crack, only to have mental illness, delinquency, selfishness, bitterness and active addiction claim me. We all have these types of issues, and we’re all vulnerable to conquest from the devil. Consider it a draft into servitude if you will.

IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP

Most Christians do not want to face this reality or acknowledge the stakes. Certainly, there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on; maybe the Bible is wrong. Perhaps it’s all just allegory and illustration. Perhaps we can just lethargically run out the clock and then float up into the heavens and stroll along streets of gold. When we get there, we think God will embrace us and hand us our “honorable mention” trophy or, for some of us, our “conduct above and beyond” plaque. Maybe, but what about the warning of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 regarding those who thought they were Christians because they said so? The Scripture says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (NKJV)

You see, even Christians tend to sleep when their outward circumstances are most pleasant. A man doesn’t sleep when he discovers his hot water bottle has been leaking all over his bed, but when an electric blanket has warmed up his bed to the ideal temperature and he can curl up under the sheets. When all is soft and comfortable, then he will say, “Soul, soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thy rest; eat, drink, and be merry.” Admit it, you’ve been there. And while there, you’ve closed your eyes to the bad things you’ve been through, as well what’s going on around you now, and the terrible days that lie ahead. I remember all the painful, lonely, out-of-control times. The many years of active addiction. The sense that nothing would ever get better. My addiction, my brokenness, forced me to the throne of grace. I dropped to my knees and surrendered. I engaged with addictions professionals, fellow addicts and alcoholics, my sponsor, my pastor. I returned to the church of my youth, where I was saved and baptized at age 13. I made a habit of taking notes during men’s Sunday school and during the pastor’s message. I typically do not miss an opportunity today to assemble with fellow believers.

Funny, but I suddenly felt alive, relevant. I was wide awake. More spiritually engaged than I can ever remember. Few men sleep with a thunderstorm overhead and lightning striking nearby; many more sleep on a calm night. Now I’m not one to be ungrateful when given an completely new life; when renewed and rescued, set on the correct path, forgiven by God yet again, one more time. Moreover, God has called me to serve despite my decades of selfish, deliberate, sinful behavior. I start every day with enthusiasm, completely cognizant of the possibilities. It’s still fresh for me, but I know the potential remains for complacency to set in. As an alcoholic and addict in recovery, and a psychology major headed to graduate school for a master’s in professional counseling, I have at least a “head knowledge” of what happens when we get comfortable. Even as Christians. We “settle in.” We fluff our pillows and relax.

Ironically, we can get to a point where we rely on God less than when we did back when our world was crashing down around us. We tend to pray less often, and hardly ever on our knees. We claim being too busy, but we rationalize, saying to ourselves, “At least I talk to God in the shower or while driving to my next appointment.” We become less aware of God’s hand on our life. When the evening news becomes too laden with bad stories, we simply turn it off. Thankfully, I belong to a praying church. Several Sundays ago, our church held a special service. Instead of worship and a message, we held a “prayer walk.” We began in the sanctuary, then, after some basic instructions and prayer, we headed to the gymnasium of our affiliate Christian school. (Our church also operates a Christian school, grades K-12, which was founded in 1974.) Our pastor and elders had set up more than twenty individual prayer tables around the gym. Needs ranged from the missions we directly support, to missionaries in Muslim countries, our military men and women around the globe – especially those serving within harms way of North Korea – the fight against terrorism, various diseases, hurricane victims in Texas and Florida, our Christian academy, all the public schools and colleges in our region, those in the grips of active addiction, and so on.

My point? Arouse yourselves. Don’t become satisfied or complacent. Stay in the fight. Is Satan asleep? Or those powers and principalities, rulers of the darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms? Are they less dangerous than they used to be? No! There is no trial half as bad as imagining we are free from all trials. There is no defeat so great as imagining we are living lives of constant victory despite the headlines. It is often after we get confident about our status as God’s children, and rest in cliches, that we sleep; that we let our guard down. There is extreme danger in slumbering in the face of ever-present evil. We cannot defend ourselves when we’re sleeping. Nor can we stand in intercessory prayer for those in danger around us. Let’s face it: We need to arouse ourselves. There is work to be done. Did you know that Bible-believing Christians have never been so well off in this country. We have the resources to get anything done we set our minds and hearts to. We have everything we need except the will to do it.

A FINAL THOUGHT

When someone robs a bank and the police surround the building, they sometimes take a hostage. A bank typically has a great deal of security – locks, vaults, cameras, armed guards, top-notch alarm systems. One person with a gun isn’t really sufficient to go in and overpower such security measures. In spite of this, if the thief grabs a hostage and puts a gun to the hostage’s head, the thief knows his demands will be met. The people who run the bank aren’t willing to see a hostage killed just to protect a pile of money. One person with a gun and clip of ammo can challenge a multitude of police and S.W.A.T with automatic weapons simply by placing the life of one person in jeopardy.

Satan knows he can never overpower God in a direct confrontation. However, he saw how God gave Adam and Eve unconditional authority. Suppose he could get them – of their own free will – to yield their authority to him? God created the universe, and breathed life into Adam. He gave Adam a partner, a help-mate, Eve. When Adam and Eve defied God and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God had the right and the authority to simply push the reset button and start humanity all over again. He could have destroyed Adam and Eve, the devil, and all the angels caught up in Lucifer’s rebellion. Instead, He realized that to intervene in the affairs of this world in such fashion would violate his covenant with Adam and Eve. He had given dominion over the earth to Adam and his help-mate. And he gave them free will. If God intervened, He would have violated His Word.

What was God’s answer? Redemption. That’s a powerful word. Have you ever looked at its meaning? It means (i) the act of gaining or regaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt; (ii) the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. God had Adam’s attention. Indeed, He had his heart. He walked in complete harmony and fellowship with God. Nothing was wrong. Everything was beautiful. Exactly as God intended it to be. Then Satan took Adam and Eve hostage, plunging all of mankind into exile. Somehow, God had to regain possession of mankind. In the original Hebrew redemptio, redemption means repurchasing of captured goods or prisoners; the act of procuring the deliverance of persons or things from the possession and power of captors by the payment of an equivalent; ransom; release; as the redemption of prisoners taken at war; in theology, the purchase of God’s favor by the death and sufferings of Christ; the ransom or deliverance of sinners from the bondage of sin and the penalties of God’s violated law by the atonement of Christ.

Knowing that you were not redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless; the blood of Christ. – 1 Pet. 1:18-19

References

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York, NY: AA Worldwide Services.

Meyer, J. (1995). Battlefield of the Mind. Fenton, MO: Warner Faith.

The Gospel: Part Three – The Consummation of all Things

Consummation, from a biblical perspective, deals with eschatology. The part of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and of all of mankind. It is commonly referred to as the end of the world, or the “end times.” Of course, most modern fiction regarding this topic does not deal with the end of time, but rather with the end of a certain period of time; the end of life as it is now, and the beginning of a new period of time. Most books or films on this subject depict violent disruption or destruction of the world. Christian eschatologies show the end times as the consummation or perfection of God’s creation of the world.

The Book of Revelation is at the core of Christian eschatology. It shows God in control as life moves toward the consummation of a great goal in accordance with the purposes of His will. Man may hinder, deflect, or delay God’s plans, but he cannot destroy them. Righteousness ultimately will win out. Evil will be utterly destroyed. The God of Revelation is the Creator. All who gather around the throne proclaim, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things.” (Revelation 4:11) In Revelation 14:7, the angel says, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (NIV) He made us. He is with His people. He is guiding the course of human events, and His cause will ultimately be victorious.

The climax of the ages-long conflict between Christ and Satan is depicted in those scenes portraying the woman versus the dragon, the Lamb versus the beast, and Jerusalem versus Babylon. In the climax, there will be only two classes of people: those who receive the seal of God and those who receive the mark of the beast. God’s victory will give the church great assurance. Believers will be comforted and encouraged as they recall how God has upheld His faithful throughout the centuries. He has been the guard and the Great Protector of those in the church who have been loyal and true throughout the eons. He still holds the stars in His right hand. He is still the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

The last battle with be the most spectacular ever seen. Satan and his demons, indeed all his minions, will gather as an army. His opponent? The KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. According to Isaiah 25:9, “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'” (NIV) The complete work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem the entire creation from the effects of sin. His purpose will not be accomplished until He has ushered in the great new earth; until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. It is through a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth in order that we fully see God’s redemptive program in cosmic proportions. God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s Fall.

Old Testament prophesies speak of a glorious future for the earth. We are told that, at some point, the earth will become far more productive and spectacular than we can possibly imagine. The Old Testament views this future redemption as a restoration of life in creation. God picked the Israelites – His chosen people, the apple of His eye – to show the world how He intended it all to work. He gave the Jews specific instructions, shaping every part of their public and private lives. The Law was meant to govern their environment, their economy, their families, their society, their politics, their worship, their everything. As the Israelites submitted to the Law of God, they would show the nations how life was supposed to go. Israel was going to demonstrate to the world how walking as God’s image-bearers under explicit acknowledgment of His sovereignty and majesty, and in complete rhythm with God’s design, worked.

For those of us who know God’s Word, it is obvious Israel did not do so well in this regard. The Old Testament chronicles  their perfecting the art of failure. As they failed time and time again, the prophets among them looked forward to the day when Israel would return to their land,  repent of their sin, and live according to God’s will. In this way, Israel was meant to be a light to all nations. The prophets would speak, often at great length, about all nations being drawn into God’s kingdom until it encompassed the whole earth.  Escape from earth is not the goal. Old Testament Scripture views the destiny of mankind as inseparably linked with life on earth. Jesus affirms this view of salvation. The announcement of Him being God’s kingdom at hand must be placed in this very context.

Jesus was not trying to change Israel’s understanding of a new heaven and a new earth. Rather, the Gospel ministry of Jesus and his disciples shows Jesus operating in the framework of an Old Testament expectation of a new creation. His miraculous deeds demonstrate His healing of a broken world, revealing that the Gospel of the kingdom includes the eradication of disease, poverty, the usurping of death, and the ushering in of a new order. Jesus inaugurated this new kingdom in His first coming, but He hasn’t consummated it yet. We are living today in the tension of this already-not-yet world where Jesus has purchased reconciliation, but consummation still lies ahead. We get a glimpse in Matthew 19:28 when Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (NIV)

Paul’s understanding is also interconnected with the Old Testament’s forecast of a new creation and Jesus’ affirmation. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul relates that even the non-human aspects of God’s creation share in the destiny of God’s chosen people. The ground is cursed because of one man’s disobedience. It groans. It has been subjected to futility. This is not to say that the earth is alive in a pantheistic or paganistic manner, but only that Paul’s metaphorical language refers to the reality that the earth’s brokenness is bound up with man’s sin, and therefore the solution to the earth’s problems is bound up with man’s redemption through Christ.

It is common every day, all over the globe, to see man is suffering at the hands of extreme weather, wildfires, pestilence, famine, drought, evildoers, rampant sinfulness, sexual identity confusion, violence, rape, murder, envy, strife, drug and alcohol addiction, jealousy, theft, and any number of horrific conditions. All of creation groans in anticipation of its own liberation. Jesus is the answer to deliverance of the entirety of creation from the wages of sin. The end goal of redemption is a resurrected body on a new – resurrected – earth. Isaiah 65:17 tells us, “For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” [Italics mine.] I love this verse. Having spent nearly forty years in active addiction, and having served three years in state prison, I have seen firsthand the horror of sin. Isaiah prompts me, however, to look forward and envision the day that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and all the former things – pain, sorrow, difficulty, rebellion, hatred, deliberate infliction of emotional pain will no longer be remembered at all.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2)

This is the ultimate fruit of the Gospel mission, and it is undoubtedly what Jesus was praying for when He prayed that God’s kingdom would come in such a way that God’s will would be done perfectly on earth as it is done in heaven. Jesus Himself was the answer to this prayer, inaugurating the kingdom through His earthly ministry and testifying that people who place their faith in Him alone will enjoy the blessings of the kingdom’s future consummation, when all the crooked ways are finally made straight.

 

Reconciliation: A New Heaven and a New Earth

When God surveys the depraved mess mankind has become, he notes Noah’s righteousness but describes the pervasiveness of sin and the repercussions of it this way: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth has become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting – life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.'” (Genesis 6:11-13, MSG)

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Why would God flood the whole Earth? What did the Earth ever do to God? The answer, of course, is nothing, but the destruction of all living things – save those in the ark – shows the deep ramifications of our cosmic treason against God. Because the stewards of creation are corrupt, the Earth is corrupt. We are the opposites of King Midas – everything we touch turns not to gold but to ash. The ground is accursed on account of Adam and Eve’s sin, on account of our sin, because the consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.

His glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, an eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared “very good” again. At the tail end of the story of Noah and the ark, as Noah finally plants his feet on dry land again and makes a burnt offering to the Lord, God promises, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, NIV)

God’s promise back then is actually a foreshadow of that day still to come when the curse will finally be eradicated from the earth, from pole to pole and from east to west. God’s plan of redemption is gigantic. The vision He has for the world, then, is not destruction, as many Christians have believed over the years, but redemption. Not annihilation but restoration. A new heaven and a new earth. Purified by fire. Clearly, the reconciliation God has in mind through the atoning work of Jesus Christ is both personal and global. Because all things in the earth have been corrupted by man’s fall, God will be “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and putting “all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:27)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, His example included the words “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This was in essence the purpose of His ministry; to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth. Right now, the entire creation is out of wack. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on account of man’s sin. Jesus’s ministry of ultimately inaugurating God’s kingdom, with Himself as King, is not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects; it is about reversing the curse. Again, His was both a personal and a global mission. Consider the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament: It was not just about individual salvation, but about national redemption, restoration of covenant, “real world” reconciliation.

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The Gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, He is saying that the Gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself. It’s not just about forgiveness of our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, He is demonstrating the authority of God’s sovereignty. When He heals the sick and the lame, He is saying that the Gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness: the effects of sin. In fact, the mission of Jesus is so big that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:3, quotes Isaiah 40:3-4. Here’s a look at that passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: “Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God said.'”

One of the dangers of a Gospel that stays on the ground too long is that it becomes man-centered. The idea, for instance, that the Bible is God’s love letter to us has a bit of truth to it,  but this shows how easily we trade the centrality of God’s glory for the centrality of our need. Colossians 1:18 puts this man-centeredness to rest as follows: “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” (NIV) The peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers everything. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven.

The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to His sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground, we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade back to the Garden of Eden. Back to the wonders of the new covenant kingdom, of which the old was but a foreshadow. The cross is the keystone in God’s plan to restore all creation. And although we are each saved as an individual life, we are not saved to an individual life. Rather, we stand as part of God’s restoration of all things. When you and I are reconciled by Jesus Christ to God, we are brought into the covenant community of faith. Remember, we have been made members of the Body of Christ.

In Christ, we’ve also been called not just into the universal church but to the local church. I my case, I was called back to the church of my youth, where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized at thirteen years old. This is where I became part of the work of reconciliation. I, like nearly all of us, went astray. Although I was covered by the blood, and saved by grace, I failed to participate in God’s plan of reconciliation. I discovered drugs and alcohol, and, through associating with the wrong people, and a series of very bad decisions, I ended up in state prison. There were times, even in those darkest hours, when I again participated in God’s plan of reconciliation. I organized and conducted a Bible study during free time known as “block out.” At times, as many as seven or eight prisoners joined me to study the Word of God.

Sadly, I continued to step off the narrow path, on to the wide path, which leads to destruction. It has taken me nearly four decades to return to the path God has chosen for me. Now, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and have applied to the graduate studies program at Lancaster Bible College for fall of 2018. I will be ministering to teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction. Yes, we are awaiting the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but of that hour no man knows. Our great commission, in the meantime, is to spread the Good News, and to bring freedom to the captives.

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God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is about a refreshing of the earth rather than destruction of the existing earth. Dr. David Jeremiah tells of purification by fire. There will be renewal, not annihilation. 2 Peter 3:10-12 describes the heavens disappearing with a roar, and  the elements (the earth) being “laid bare” by fire. Heaven and earth will be new not in time but in quality. In other words, it is about renovation. Not something that never existed before. Something made better. Just as our bodies are redeemed and will be changed, so it will be with heaven and earth. Because the whole of creation has been affected by the curse, and further polluted by man’s sin, it is not a suitable place for resurrected, perfect people to live. How could we live among fossils, graveyards, and reminders of death, and a flood-scarred earth that bore evidence of God’s great judgment of sin? How can we live on a planet next to a sun that has a limited lifespan, or within a universe that has a build-in timer our physicists have labeled entropy?

Here is another way to look at it. Did the Great Flood destroy or annihilate the earth? No! Neither will God’s purifying fire. Just as our bodies die and return to dust, ultimately raised as new bodies that have continuity with who we were before our death, likewise the earth is fallen and will be renewed. The renewal of the earth is directly analogous with the resurrection of the redeemed in Christ. Just as we have to die before we are resurrected, the earth must be destroyed before it is renewed. It is not an ultimate or final destruction; it is a destruction that purifies and clears the way for re-creation.

Somehow we’ve managed to get away from the message of the Bible: Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these words begins with the prefix re-, which means return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design. Realize this: If God doesn’t redeem or restore the physical world, then Satan wins, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose of Creation. The Bible promises that God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. Frankly, man has an innate longing for a Golden Age; we’re homesick for the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us, “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a, NIV)

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NIV)