Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Eleven

The following is a summary of week eleven in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

The Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Seven

Summary of the seventh week of class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. The next five weeks cover lessons in Systematic Theology (Part 1).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

For the purposes of this exercise, and not necessarily as a reflection of what you really believe, assume the stance of either an Arminian or a Calvinist. From the point of view of your chosen perspective, present and develop two ideas: (1) the one which is most convincing to you about the Calvinist or Arminian perspective and (2) the one with which you struggle the most regarding that perspective.

Concerning the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, we must remember these schools of thought address two distinct issues: (1) free will and ability to choose one’s actions; and (2) election, or God’s choice, as to whom He saves. Calvinism and Arminianism both support the idea of the total depravity of man, to include an inability to choose how to behave. We cannot be saved by the Law. Rather, the Law merely informs us of our inability to “behave” ourselves into righteousness. Arminianism supports universal redemption (general atonement) and conditional election, whereas Calvinism believes in limited (definite) atonement and unconditional election. Calvin is best noted, of course, for adherence to “predestination.” After the Fall, man stood condemned before God. God chose and called “some” who would be saved.

Arminians believe God’s election depends on man’s free will because it is based on His foreknowledge. God does, in fact, see all time at the same time as noted by Grudem. [1] The apostle Peter said we are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2, RSV). Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Arminians are clear that individuals must accept God’s calling to be saved. It is not a matter of being predestined or chosen “ahead of time.” It is interesting to note, however, that this doctrine (universal salvation) is not necessarily supported by Scripture. Since Jesus died for all, Arminians argue that all will be saved. First Corinthians 6:9-11 says the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God; further, only those who are washed (sanctified, justified) by the blood of Jesus will be saved.

Taking the position of Calvinism, I would have to believe the “call” of God on our lives is resistible—we can reject Jesus or accept Him. However, once we accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord, the internal leading of the Holy Spirit is all-powerful, achieving God’s purpose in our lives and giving us a measure of grace to be able to choose. We can stand on the belief that God works out everything for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We’re made “spiritually alive” with a new ability to see God’s plan for our redemption and the place of Jesus in that plan. This call is so wonderful and appealing that it becomes impossible to say no to God. This is not a violation of our free will because we didn’t really have it in the first place; our will was corrupted by original sin. Martin Luther believed even the most excellent of men—endowed with the Law, righteousness, wisdom, and all virtues—is nonetheless ungodly and unrighteous. Due to the innate nature of sin, man cannot consistently choose to act righteously, if at all. [2]

Paul gave the example that many Jews were without faith who were most wise, most religious, and most upright. He said they had a “zeal” for God yet were transgressors of the Law. He wrote in Romans 3:9-10 that the Jew was no better than the Gentile; both are under the power of sin. No one is righteous on their own. This fits well with Paul’s remark that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities; rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). Because we all are Adam, we need salvation. Adam’s offense comes to us not by imitation, nor necessarily by anything we do (although we do sin, sometimes habitually); rather, we receive our sin nature by birth. Luther believed original sin “does not allow ‘free-will’ any power at all except to sin and incur condemnation.” [3] Therefore, he rejected the notion of free will. He believed this conclusion is well supported by Scripture, especially in the writings of John and Paul.

Grudem quotes Peter, who called Jesus, “a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Pet. 2:8, emphasis added). Peter says in verse 10, “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” Grudem says in a footnote related to verse 8, “The ‘destining’ in this verse is best taken to refer to both the stumbling and the disobedience. It is incorrect to say that God only destined the fact that those who disobey would stumble.” [4] Grudem notes that Calvin gives some room for man’s “free” acts and choices. Calvin admitted, however, that this statement is a bit confusing, causing him to avoid using it. Instead, man has “this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.” [5]

For me, this idea of “will” can mean only one thing: man acts wickedly by deciding to reject the Light of Christ and remain in darkness. He is compelled by his sin nature to act the only way he can—in an ungodly and unrighteous manner. Admittedly, some men choose to act justly or “God-like” at times, but no man is capable of decidedly obeying the Law and acting righteously in a consistent manner. He is not compelled or tempted to do so by God. James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NIV, emphasis added).

Grudem notes that God has made us responsible for our actions, reminding us that our actions have real and eternal consequences. He notes that Adam blamed Eve for his own disobedience, saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Scripture, as Grudem notes, never blames God for sin. Regardless, He accomplishes all things (no matter their impetus) according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). In the case of Job, God pulled back and allowed Satan to attack Job in any manner He chose (including wiping out his livestock, killing his wife and children), but He would not allow the devil to kill Job. This type of issue gives me pause. It is easy, at least in my human intellectual capacity, to think God willed (therefore, caused) evil on Job’s animals and his family. Innocent people died for God’s point to be made. However, when I consider the horror and evil inflicted upon Jesus during the last twelve hours of His life (what we consider the “passion”), and when I play it out to the end, seeing that mankind could only be redeemed through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, I have an easier time understanding what is meant by God using whatever happens to accomplish His will.

Grudem says, “In response to the claim that choices ordained by God cannot be real choices, it must be said that this is simply an assumption based once again on human experience and intuition, not on specific texts of Scripture.” [6] Note that Grudem uses the term “ordained by God,” and does not say God performed the evil act itself. This speaks of the means through which He achieves His intended result. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We’re made in such a way, however, that God ordains all we do. The Calvinist would endorse the theory that God does not sin but brings about His will through secondary causes, including the immorality of others. We should accept that whatever God ordains is within His purview and His authority.

Calvin distinguishes between “necessity” and “compulsion.” He notes that unbelievers necessarily sin. Scripture supports this, as does Martin Luther. There is, however, no “Godly compulsion” to sin. There is simply God’s ability to use whatever happens to further His will and promote His glory. What I find most difficult to grasp regarding Calvinism is the idea that God “predetermined” who will be saved and who will not. Perhaps this is a gross misinterpretation of “predeterminism.” The concept that, before the foundation of the world, God predestined a plan of redemption is about the plan and not a prior decision who He will accept and who He will reject. In addition, because God sees the past, the present, and the future all at once, He already knows who will be saved. The responsibility still remains with each individual to either accept or reject the sacrificial death of Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Bibliography

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will, trans. By James I. Packer(Old Tappan, NJ:       Fleming H. Revell Co.), 1957.

 


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 168.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 275.

[3] Ibid, p. 298.

[4] Grudem, p. 327.

[5] P. 330.

[6] P. 343.

Jesus Said, “It is Finished.”

“After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished he said [in order to fulfill the scripture], ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30, NRSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

TYPICALLY, WHEN WE HAVE completed a “project” or task, we say, “It is finished!” That which we set out to do has been completed. We followed the written instructions (hopefully to the letter); we sought advice when needed, and most likely adhered to it. We stood back, realizing there was nothing else to be done. Our project was completed.

it_is_finished.jpg

“It is finished” is perhaps one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. I know atheists, agnostics, philosophy professors, car mechanics, surgeons, gardeners, school teachers, retail sales clerks, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and humanists who are familiar with the verse. They know Who said it, when it was said, and some even know where to find the verse in Scripture. Yet very few know what it means—especially its scope. Perhaps more sadly, there are those who know what it means, and grasp its comprehensive meaning, yet fail to live out the truth of its significance.

Pontius Pilate

pontius-pilate-02.jpg

At the beginning of John 19, Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the fifth prefect (governor) of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius. It is important to understand that Pilate was not well liked by the Jews. This is likely because he hung worship images of the emperor throughout Jerusalem and had coins bearing pagan religious symbols minted. Pilate essentially helped create a “cult of personality” of the emperor. The Jews had strong objections to Pilate’s customs, especially executing men accused of crimes without the benefit of a trial or to face the charges lodged against them.

The First Century historian Josephus called Pilate a headstrong strict authoritarian Roman leader who, although both rational and practical, never knew how far he should go in a given case. He provoked both Jews and Samaritans to riot. Josephus tells us that “in order to abolish Jewish laws,” and with the intent of diminishing privileges Jews had hitherto enjoyed, Pilate ordered his troops to encamp in Jerusalem and sent them into the city with images of the emperor attached to their ensigns. This practice violated the Torah’s prohibition of graven images and desecrated the Temple by the presence of pagan cult objects on the Temple hill.

The New Testament suggests that Pilate had a weak, vacillating personality. Could he have at least postponed the death of Christ if he stood his ground, making an official proclamation of “innocent?” Pilate weakly capitulated even though he found no fault in Jesus. He said to the mob, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him (John 19:4, NRSV). Pilate’s wife sent him word of a revelation she had about Jesus, urging Pilate to “…have nothing do do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:19, NRSV). Pilate again appealed to the crowd, arguing that he could find no fault in Jesus. The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7). In any event, Pilate was but a cog in God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.

This frightened Pilate to the point that he returned to his court room and asked Jesus, where he was from (v. 8), but Jesus would not answer. Pilate then said, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you” (v. 10). Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (v. 11). Pilate finally capitulated. He brought Jesus before the crowd and said, “Here is your King! Shall I crucify [Him]? The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then Pilate handed Christ over to the mob to be executed (v. 14-16).

Let’s take a moment to review the etymology of the word crucifixion. Its origin rests solely with the Latin phrase crux, meaning a tree or any wooden structure used to execute criminals. In the Greek, the most common term is stauroo (σταυρόω), meaning “to crucify.” It occurs 43 times in the New Testament. The word excruciating—a word often used to express the most severe pain possible based on the “pain scale” we’ve all heard when asked by a doctor or nurse to rate our pain on a scale of 0 to 10—also has Latin roots. It is based on the term crux, and includes the term cruciāre, which means torment or torture. Some synonyms for excruciating include unbearable, insufferable, unendurable, agonizing, and racking.

The trial of Jesus violated traditional, official Jewish & Roman jurisprudence for capital crimes, procedures, & protocol, ending with an unlawful sentence & subsequent execution by crucifixion.

The Crucifixion

After His arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane under cover of darkness, Jesus endured six separate trials or hearings (three by the Sanhedrin and three by the Romans). In response to the mob’s insistence, Pilate released Jesus to them to be murdered for claiming to be “King” of the Jews. He underwent scourging, mocking, and horrendous beatings.

Dr. C. Truman Davis, a Christian medical doctor who is affiliated with CBN, felt compelled to apply his medical knowledge to the physical effects crucifixion had on the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Fair warning: This is an account of most horrific acts against  our Savior. I was brought to tears several times while recounting them here. Dr. Davis’s description brings to mind the major motion picture The Passion of the Christ.

The physical passion of Jesus actually began in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of His unimaginable sufferings, the one of greatest physiological interest is when He sweat droplets of blood. It is interesting that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible states, “…other ancient authorities insert add 44, And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). Modern skeptics have tried to discredit this account under the mistaken impression that this is simply not medically possible. However, medical literature has documented the rare phenomenon hematidrosis, or “bloody sweat.” You can read about this condition at Medical News Today. Under great emotional stress—such as the kind Jesus suffered—tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, causing blood to mix with sweat. This can cause pronounced weakness and possible shock.

Preparations for the scourging of Jesus were carried out when He was stripped naked and His hands were tied to a post above His head. It is doubtful the Romans followed the Jewish law of limiting a whipping to no more than forty lashes. The Roman legionnaire stepped toward Jesus with the flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand—a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’s shoulders, back, and legs. At first, the thongs cut Jesus’s skin only. But as the blows continued, the thongs cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and ultimately a spurting of arterial blood from vessels in the underlying muscles. The initial blows produced large, deep bruises which were broken open by each subsequent blow. Finally the skin began to hang from Jesus’s back in long ribbons. The trauma left the affected areas unrecognizable. When the centurion determined Jesus was near death, the beating was stopped. Jesus was untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, soaked in His own blood.

The Roman soldiers are not done yet. They saw an opportunity for mockery. Because Jesus was accused of claiming to be King of the Jews, the soldiers threw a robe across His shoulders and placed a “stick” in His hand to represent a scepter. Still, a “king” needs a crown. Flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used in bundles for firewood) were plaited into the shape of a crown and it was pressed into Jesus’s scalp. There was a lot of blood loss due to the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body. After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, exhausted from their sadistic beating, the robe was torn from His back; having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in Jesus’s open wounds, this caused Him great pain. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans returned His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross was tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers began its slow journey to a hill near Jerusalem called gulgulta in Latin, meaning “place of the skull,” seemingly because of its skull-like shape.

In spite of His best efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, was too much for Jesus. He was, after all, in a human body. He stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into His lacerated skin and muscles across His shoulders. He tried to rise, but his body had been pushed beyond its endurance. A centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selected an onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating and in a state of shock—a 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.

Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild painkiller. He refused to drink it. Simon was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus was violently thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire found the depression at the front of the wrist( between the radius and ulna). He drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. He did the same to the other wrist. The patibulum was lifted in place at the top. A plaque reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” was nailed above Jesus’s head. Jesus’s left foot was pressed backward against His right foot. With with both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Jesus is now crucified. As He slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in His wrists were putting pressure on the medial nerves.

As Jesus pushed Himself upward to avoid stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail that had been driven through His feet. This caused tremendous pain. His arms fatigued, causing great waves of cramps to sweep over His muscles, causing spasms. Eventually, His muscles were so severely cramped that He could no longer push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, His pectoral and intercostal muscles became paralyzed. He was no longer able to exhale. Carbon dioxide built up in His lungs, coursing through His bloodstream.

Jesus experienced hours of horrific pain, cycles of joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, and burning pain where tissue was torn from His lacerated back as He moved up and down attempting to breath. He began to experience a terrible crushing discomfort deep inside His chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum, compressing His heart.  It was almost over. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; His compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into His muscles. His tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp gulps of air. His tissues were severely dehydrated, sending pain signals to His brain.

Jesus’s body was now extremely ravaged. He could feel the chill of death creeping through His body. This realization brought Him to express, “It is finished.” His mission of atonement had been accomplished. He could finally allow His body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deep breath, and said, “Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

“It is Finished.”

Found only in the Gospel of John, the Greek word translated “it is finished” is tetelestai, an accounting term that means “paid in full.” When Jesus uttered those words, He declared the debt owed to His Father due to man’s sin wiped away. He died to pay our debt. Certainly, the full meaning of Jesus’s life and ministry had to culminate in His crucifixion. Through His resurrection, that ministry continues to this day. Paul astutely said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, RSV).

It’s been said that just before He died Jesus looked back over His life’s work, and, knowing that His mission was accomplished, summoned Death. He departed His body and went to be with the Father. There is something in Jesus’s dying declaration that has a much deeper meaning than the utterance of a man on his death bed indicating he has come to the end of his journey. Jesus’s dying remark indicates there are no loose ends left, no unfinished tasks dropped from His hands to be taken up and carried on by others. His life is a rounded whole, with everything accomplished that had been endeavored, and everything done that had been commanded. Jesus laid the foundation of salvation by the laying down of His life.

Henry (1997) writes,

“It is finished; that is, the counsels of the Father concerning [Jesus’s] sufferings were now fulfilled. It is finished; all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished. It is finished; the ceremonial law is abolished; the substance is now come, and all the shadows are done away. It is finished; an end is made of transgression by bringing in an everlasting righteousness. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. It is finished; the work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed. His life was not taken from him by force, but freely given up” (p. 1014-1015).

Matthew 19:28: “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill Scripture), ‘I thirst'” (RSV). There is an interesting interpretation that when Jesus said those words He was speaking of a “spiritual” thirst—a need to return to His Father. This sits well with the synoptic gospels: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me'” (Matthew 27:46, RSV). This verse in Matthew refers to Psalm 22:1:”My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Kidner (1971) calls this “The Psalm of the Cross.” No Christian  can read Psalm 22:1 without being vividly confronted with the crucifixion. It is not only a matter of prophecy fulfilled, but of the sufferer’s abject humility—there is no plea for vengeance, as Jesus certainly would not have intended. Kidner notes, “The Gelineau translation entitles it “The suffering servant wins the deliverance of the nations.” In fact, A. Bentzen ( 1955) points out, “it is not a description of illness, but of an execution” (p. 94, n. 40).

You may recall Jesus’s cry to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39, RSV). I believe Jesus was not asking God to “pardon” Him or take away the need for His death. Rather, I believe Jesus foresaw the wrath of God that the Father would justly and rightly pour out upon mankind for their sins. Jesus asked if it were possible that this cup of wrath might pass from Him. That He might not have to “drink” from it. Nevertheless, He was willing to bear the load of His sufferings (to the fullest extent required by the Father) in order that you and I could escape the bitter, dark, lonely, horrific consequences of our sin. Matthew 26:42 says, “Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.'” Jesus was willing to suffer complete and utter abandonment of the Father in order that we might walk with the Father for eternity clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

How Does This Apply to Us?

The last words of Jesus have a deep and eternal meaning. I have no doubt that Jesus knew what His last words needed to be and He knew the power those final words would have for generations still to come. He had great purpose in them, which still breathe such life and meaning for our lives today. Jesus became the final and ultimate sacrifice for our sin. The word in this verse, finished, means “paid in full.” The uniqueness of the wording is in the verb tense: it indicates both a point in time when it was initially accomplished and that it would continue to be complete or finished. This is what Christ came to do. This is the Good News. He came to firmly establish God’s plan for redemption that had been ordained before the foundation of the world. We read in 1 Peter 1:3 that by Jesus’s great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 says, “As the outcome of your faith, you obtain the salvation of your souls” (RSV).

Peter tells us to gird up our minds, be sober, set our hope fully upon the grace that is coming to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are to turn from our childish ways, no longer conforming to the passions of our former ignorance. Rather, we are to be holy as Christ is holy! He adds, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake… You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:18-20, 23, RSV).

In closing, I can only hope that you have felt in your heart the unbelievable sacrifice Jesus bore for you and for me; that you can spend even a moment imagining how horrific and excruciating His death was, and that He went through it in total obedience to the Father, lifted up on the wings of His glorious and unfathomable love for you and me. And perhaps, if even for a moment, the next time you step outside of the way of Jesus you will feel so severely convicted that you will stop in your tracks and thank Him for the power He has given us all to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Further, I hope you are as changed through reading this post as I have been while writing it.

As a faithful brother in Christ loves to say, “Change me LORD, never to be the same again!”

References

Bentzen, Aage. King and Messiah. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press, 1955.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1997.

Kidner, Derek. Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1971

 

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.