Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Mystery of being In Christ

And [God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6).[1]

I looked up several definitions of the Greek word “ἐν” translated as “in.” They didn’t vary much and the big takeaway from them is that it means in. In the same way that I would say I am in a room, then the simple rendering of being in Christ Jesus is that I am inside Christ. To us living in a physical world, that is just crazy talk. We cannot literally be inside of Jesus, can we? If that is difficult to imagine, then it is equally difficult to accept the following verse.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

Is it really possible for Christ to be inside of me or is it just some feelgood cliché that Christians use to describe their relationship with Jesus? We often speak about our relationship with Jesus in term of him living in our hearts. “I have Jesus in my heart.” We often challenge people with whom we share the life changing message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection with the words, “Do you want to invite Jesus to come into your heart and become a Christian?” Yet there are very few verses in the Bible that speak of Christ being in us.

I think that many Christians do not understand the depth of what these verses mean when the Bible says we are in Christ or Christ is in us. I had one Christian tell me that Jesus cannot literally live in me because he has a physical body and that means he cannot be in my heart. If that is true, then why does Paul pray for us, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17)? My friend’s rational was that Christ’s Spirit is in us but not Christ. Does the same reasoning say that since we have physical bodies, we cannot be in Christ? What does the Bible tell us about being in Christ?

Ephesians 2:6 is only one of eighty-seven verses in the ESV Bible that speak of being in Christ. They do not all refer to the same thing. Some are talking about having faith in Christ (Acts 24:24). Others speak about redemption in Christ (Rom 3:24), eternal life in Christ (Rom 6:23), love of God in Christ (Rom 8:39), workers in Christ (Rom 16:3), approved in Christ (Rom 16:10), sanctified in Christ (1 Cor 1:2), and even infants in Christ (1 Cor 3:1). The list goes on and on. You can also add to the list multiple verses that reference being in Christ when they speak of being “in him.”

These verses express the different promises, privileges, and standing based on our relationship with Christ. These are not as troublesome to understand as Ephesians 2:6 because we all have certain rights when we join some organization. We have rights because we are citizens in the United States. However, they do not express the same concept of being inside of another person. Yet that is the direct implication of Ephesians 2:6.

Of course, someone could say that this is only symbolic. We are not truly in Christ; it is only an expression of unity and perhaps a summation of all those rights and privileges previously mentioned. However, that does not plumb the depths of Ephesians 2:1-10 to discover the foundation of the mystery of being in Christ.

The reason that I titled this the mystery of being in Christ is that Ephesians 2:6 is speaking of something that is mysterious to us. It is declared unapologetically but defies human reasoning. It can only be explained in terms that are outside our physical dimension. It is quite alien to those who do not know Christ. It is not about being in some fraternal organization, rather it has a spiritual dimension that is outside of our physical realm.

If we read all of Ephesians 2, we find that this mystery is not necessarily cleared up but takes on an even greater dimension. We find that being in Christ is also the same as becoming part of a new man (vs. 15) which is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. This new man has one body (vs. 16) and has access to the Father (vs. 18). This new man is then likened to a building and temple for God (vs. 20-22).

In Colossians 3:3-4, we have this theme expressed in a different way. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” There can be no doubt that this is speaking of something that is far greater and yet hard for us to understand than simply the privileges of being a Christian. There can be no doubt that when we are in Christ, we are not only in Christ, but we are in God.

This should make sense to us because Christ is one of the Trinity. All three members of the Trinity are God and each of the members must exhibit all the attributes of God or they would not be God. Therefore, since we are in Christ, it is logical that we are also in God and by extension, in the Spirit as well. This can only happen if we, physical beings, also are spiritual beings. C. H. Spurgeon described us as “spiritual beings embodied in material forms” (The Biblical Illustrator, s.v. “Christ the Creator”). When we are in Christ, our dead spiritual nature is made alive with Christ (Eph 2:5, 2 Cor 5:17, Titus 3:5). This new spirit that has been regenerated in us is now able to be in Christ in the spiritual realm (heavenly places) as well as having Christ in us.

G. G. Bradley (1881–1902) gives us reason for having difficulty understanding what is to be in Christ. He states, “Though we ourselves are spiritual beings, we can form no conception of any being that is purely spiritual” (The Biblical Illustrator, s.v. “Christ’s human body the temple of God”). If we cannot comprehend God as a purely spiritual being, how can we then comprehend what it is to be in Christ? How can we comprehend that our spirit (the essence of what we are after we are born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit) is in Christ? We may not comprehend it, but we must acknowledge it because that is what the Bible tell us.

Enough about the fact of our being in Christ. What is the practical, earthly value of being in Christ? I look to 2 Peter 1:4 and find that this is also mind-blowing, “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” If it is hard to imagine being in Christ, it is also hard to imagine partaking in God’s nature.

If we partake of God’s nature, then we have all that we need according to his promises so that we are able to live godly lives. We have the power of God’s nature to continue increasing in the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Without this divine nature, we would have no power to grow in holiness. In fact, this brings us back to the beginning of Ephesians 2 which tells us we were dead in our transgressions. We did not live for God at all and had no reason or desire to advance in holiness because our spirit was dead.

Paul breaks into a doxology at the end of Ephesians 3 which expresses the greatness of the power of God that is available to us, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:20-21). If we think we cannot overcome some sin in our lives, then we must remember that we are in Christ. When we are in Christ, we have more power to resist and chose to live a godly life than we can imagine (NIV). Maybe the problem in living a godly life and increasing in the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7 is that we do not ask. We do not think we can do it because we have limited our thinking to symbolically being in Christ and not actually being in him because our spirit is in him.

Another benefit of understanding that we are in Christ is that we are already seated with Christ in heaven. This is not describing some future position that will occur after Jesus comes back and we enter eternity. This is talking about the here and now. Since we are already there in our spirits, we can see this as an assurance that we are accepted by God. Even more explicitly, God has not only accepted us, but has done all the work to bring us to himself since he raised us up (Eph 2:6). If he has done this then what in any realm, physical or spiritual, could ever unseat us? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). Being in Christ gives us the full assurance of our salvation that will never be removed from us.

Being in Christ is a reassurance and encouragement that wherever we are in our journey toward sanctification, we are no less a child of God than the Apostle Paul. We may be a new believer, but we are just as much in Christ as the elderly person who has lived a godly life. C. H. Spurgeon in his Morning and Evening devotional for October 19th expressed it this way, “Are you mourning, believer, because you are so weak in the divine life: because your faith is so little, your love so feeble? Cheer up, for you have cause for gratitude. Remember that in some things you are equal to the greatest and most full-grown Christian. You are as much bought with blood as he is.” When we are in Christ we do not look back at our sins and weakness, but we can rejoice in our place in Christ and know that, “You are as rich as the richest, if not in enjoyment, yet in real possession” (Spurgeon).  Rather, knowing we are in Christ, we can press forward in “the upward call of God in Christ” (Phil 3:14).

[1] Scripture is English Standard Version, 2001, unless otherwise noted. Italics have been added for emphasis.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Do Not Fear - Rather Fear Him


Do Not Fear - Rather Fear Him

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven (Matt 10:28-33 ESV).

Most of the “fear not” and “do not fear” passages in the Old Testament are in the context of physical enemies, disaster, and conflicts. We claim many of those for ourselves and one of those that is often quoted is “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10 ESV). It is one of my memory verses and one that brings assurance of God’s presence whether trouble is lurking near or all is peaceful. Like most passages in the O.T., the context is God’s promise to Israel to give them victory over their enemies.

You are probably asking how this relates to the passage I selected for this article. Matthew 10:28-33 starts with a command not to be afraid of anyone who can deliver the utmost physical calamity. In this, Jesus’ “fear not” is like the O.T. passages. However, He zeroed in on what we most commonly think is the worst thing that can happen to us, death. He has purposely bypassed all the other evils that may be around and cut to the chase with what we usually fear the most.

Unlike Isaiah 41:10, there is no mention of God’s protection or deliverance from trouble or evil in Matthew 10:28-33. This stands in stark contrast to most of the “fear not” passages of the Bible. Therefore, we should stop and consider why Jesus spoke as He did. If we should not fear death, then all the other problems should have less fear attached to them. Of course, we often fear things that seem worse than death such as extended years of physical torture and pain. I think the point of not fearing people who can kill us is that it is not the worst that can happen, and we should be more concerned with eternity.

We can see this because Jesus does not follow with an assurance that God will deliver us from someone who is going to try to kill us. Rather He immediately points us to the proper person to fear and tells us what is even more fearful than death. It is death and going to hell instead of going to heaven. If our fear is one of those lesser things, then we should get a better grip on what is truly important. Paul would agree in this respect when he explained that we should regard all the suffering and trials of this world as “slight and momentary” because we must be looking forward to eternal things (2 Cor 4:16-18) so that we don’t get bogged down with fear in this life.

Did you react negatively when I said Jesus did not promise protection or deliverance? Did you not ask about the sparrows? How many devotionals have you read that use this passage as assurance of God’s protection? How many of them included the contextual verses before and after Jesus talked about the sparrows and the hairs on our heads? As I read this passage, Jesus did not say that God keeps the sparrows from falling to the ground but said He knows when they fall. Some of the other translations say that they do not fall without the Father’s will. This is not a promise of protection. This is God’s promise that He has everything in control. He knows and determines when we will die, suffer illness, be attacked, or fly above it all. He has every one of our days planned from the beginning of time (Ps 139:16). His assurance comes in His sovereignty and our value to Him, not in getting us out of our circumstances. That is the reason not to fear death or any other thing. Trusting in God’s sovereignty is a might fear-reliever. Yet, without a focus on eternity and knowing Who to fear, trusting in God’s sovereignty is a platitude.

Jesus makes his primary point to in us in just a few words in verse 28. It is not that we should not fear men, but His point is that we should fear God. We cannot say to ourselves that death is not all that bad without acknowledging that death without a proper relationship with Jesus is going to mean an even worse outcome with eternity in hell. At some point of our lives we must have a dread, fear, horror, and even panic that God can and will kill us, then put us in hell if we do not have a proper relationship with Jesus. For a person who is truly saved, born again, regenerated, indwelt with the Holy Spirit (I’m trying to cover all the bases here to make sure that simply saying “is a Christian” is too inclusive) that may be a very fleeting moment before or even after salvation. But it still stands that Jesus said that kind of fear should appear sometime in our lives. He clarifies this point by explaining it in verses 32-33.

Note that verse 32 starts with “So” or “Therefore” (NAS). The purpose of the previous verses is to bring our attention to our relation to Jesus. If we fear men more than acknowledging that we belong to Jesus, we will not be acknowledged before the Father. The only possibility that Jesus would not acknowledge us before the Father is that we are not saved, born again, regenerated, or indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Jesus made a similar statement in Matthew 7:21-23 to those who called Him Lord but do not do the will of the Father. They would have called themselves Christians, but they will not be allowed entry into the kingdom of heaven. These are fearsome thoughts! How can this be? It should make any Christian sit up straight and consider his or her relationship with Jesus. It should make us tremble at that thought of what our sins deserve.

The Psalmist gave us some very good advice about what to do in regard to considering our relationship with Jesus:

Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Ps 2:11-12 ESV

We must get our “fears” in order and our relationship with Jesus in the right perspective. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). I am thankful that Paul didn’t stop with verse 12 but made sure that we understand that it is only because God is working in us that we can have the correct relationship with Jesus. This corresponds to the illustration Jesus provided with the sparrows; the fact that we must trust in God’s sovereignty as part of working out our salvation. With both the assurance of God’s sovereignty and a correct relationship with Jesus, then all the “fear not” passages will bring great comfort to us. With this assurance that we really do belong to Jesus and we will be able to join with Jude in his doxology:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25 ESV).

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Pondering faith and theology related to politics.

After reading this post, I would like you to respond by answering the questions at the end regarding your theology and how it affects your faith regarding politics. 

By way of introduction, I should mention that we all have faith and theology. Even if you do not believe in God, you cannot escape the fact that you have a theology. Your theology is that you don’t believe in God and that belief affects your decisions. You also have faith and that faith is believing you are correct about your theology.

I have a request, please read this entire post before throwing stones. If you do choose to throw stones, please make them thoughtful as I will delete anything with vulgar expletives or simple name-calling.
The questions I have relate to the president we elect for the next four years and how you will perceive him or her based on your theology.

For example, I’ve seen many posts stating that they believe Trump is God’s chosen man. (Note that this not saying Trump is a man of God i.e. godly, though this is what some people claim.) The theology of this is based on the Bible which says, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan 2:21). This was spoken about Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king who conquered Judah. It also says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). This was written when Nero was in power. The basic idea is that God so affects the affairs of people to ensure that the people he wants to rule every nation at any particular time in history have been so chosen by him. Yes, I know that this means this also includes other ruthless evil men like Hitler have been chosen by God or as some would soften it, God has allowed them to rule for a time.

I’ve stated this to challenge you thinking about what you believe to be true about your faith. If you believe in the Bible then it seems to me that you should believe that Trump is president because it is what God wants at this time in history. If you don’t believe in the Bible or that there is a God, then it seems to me that you believe that Trump is in position by chance. It was by chance that enough people in the right places voted for Trump. Even if you don’t think it was chance, the fact that Trump is president can’t be disputed.

Let me turn your attention to the next elections. Suppose Bernie or Biden win the election. What will your faith tell you? Will those who believe in the Bible say that he is God’s chosen man? Will those who have no faith in the Bible say that it was chance? Or will you say that people just got smarter? That still sounds like chance to me.

The questions for response:
1.      For Bible believers:
a.       If a Democrat is elected, will you say that person is chosen by God and will you respect (not necessarily like) that person as much as you respect Trump?
b.       If Trump is reelected, what will be your response?
2.       If you do not believe the Bible:
a.       If Trump is reelected what will be your response, how will you explain it?
b.       If a Democrat is elected, what will be your response, how will you explain it?