All posts by John

Christian saved by grace through faith.

The Importance of Studying Church

 

We’ve been working our way through several posts that examine what it is that we have come to call church.  The posts are as follows:

Sometimes these types of posts seem academic, or removed from practical Christianity.  Sometimes it can be difficult to see how a study of terms like ekklesia, synagogue, or church apply to our daily lives.  For instance, if you scrambled to get the kids to school and to work on time, what value does a post on Tyndale and Luther’s bible translation add to your situation?

At first glance maybe nothing.

However, perhaps for one, it shows that our daily struggles are short-term and temporary.  When we consider that God has had a plan to unite a people for Himself from before the foundation of the world in the person of His Son Jesus Christ it puts everything else in perspective.  Two, considering those who have gone before us and the battles they faced for the advancement of the kingdom of God puts the perspective on a human plane.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve compiled some  blog posts that have shown up in my news-feed, all fundamentally related to how one understands the nature of church.  Seeing the questions that others have raised and the related issues helps me to realize that their is eternal value in taking the time to understand what God has communicated through His Word regarding the assembly of His people.  I’ve offered a brief synopsis on some of these posts below.

http://feedingonchrist.com/weight-of-the-church/

In this post, the author discusses the weight that church should factor into our decisions on where we live, go to school, etc. and places membership in a local church above jobs, school, and housing.  Is he correct?  Should the geographical location of 4 walls weigh more on our decisions about these things?  Only a proper study and understanding of God’s Word can determine this.

https://www.challies.com/resources/can-you-help-me-find-a-good-church

In this post, “Can you help me find a good church?”, Tim Challies answers one of his commonly received emails from readers trying to locate a “good church”.  He lists a couple church directory links to aid in the search.  God’s Word may have something to say along these lines, but we would have to take the time to study and listen.  Is church available on the market shelf like everything else?

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2017/05/in-defense-of-the-sabbatical.php

This is an interesting post where the author defends the pastors sabbatical, or time off, due to the nature of the 24/7 calling.  It’s no wonder there is so much pastoral burn-out.  But maybe we should ask, have we properly understood the nature and function of the pastor according to God’s Word?  Do we see 1 or 2 men in Scripture on call 24/7 tending to needy sheep?  Or do we see the burden distributed among all the believers through the “one-anotherings”?

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/dilemma-of-bivocational-pastor

Similar in direction as the previous post, this author discusses the dilemma of the bi-vocational pastor.  It is an interesting self-created dilemma where a small church’s survival depends on affording their building and their pastor.  Did Paul or the other Apostles face this same struggle?

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-is-this-thing-called-church

This is an interesting post that hits at the heart of our series here, namely What is this thing called church?  There is much that I commend the author for and agree with, but some other things that hopefully we’ll be able to look at through our on-going series.

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/rayortlund/2017/05/23/is-your-church-institution/

Another post discussing a topic that we’ll directly address (Lord willing), namely the institutionalization of the church.  The author concludes that the church is in fact an institution.

http://deadstate.org/u-s-churches-are-now-costing-taxpayers-71-billion-a-year/

Three interesting notes here 1) The tax-exempt status that most U.S. churches seek and are granted 2) The cost of these churches 3) The universal use of the term church which lumps protestant-evangelical, Muslim, Mormon, etc. into the same category.  Is this what Jesus meant when He said I will build My “church”?  I doubt it.

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/churchless-christian-oxymoron/

Finally, a recent post discussing the importance of a believer’s church membership.  Some decent observations, but  there’s no way to agree/disagree with him unless we take the time to search the Scriptures.  Is church membership biblical?  Implied?  Assumed?

Each of these posts in their own way are specifically related to the questions we’re looking at in our own study of the church.  Simply put, these questions matter.  But finding and applying the biblical answers matters more.

Union with Christ

 

“The present writer has not the least doubt in his mind that the subject of spiritual union is the most important, the most profound, and…the most blessed of any that is set forth in the sacred Scriptures. Yet, sad to say, there is hardly any that is now more generally neglected. The very expression “spiritual union” is unknown in most professing Christian circles; and even where it is employed, it is given such a protracted meaning as to take in only a fragment of this precious truth. Probably its very profundity is the reason why it is so largely ignored in this superficial age. Yet there are still a few left who are anxious to enter into God’s best and long for a fuller understanding of the deep things of the Spirit. It is principally with these in mind that we take up this subject. -A.W. Pink (1886-1952)

Our recent posts concerning 1 Corinthians 15 have been focused on the outworking of humanity’s union with Adam, as introduced by the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle Paul, 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22-23

After looking at our relationship with Adam through his federal and seminal headship and subsequently the consequences of his original sin that have permeated down to this very day among all mankind, we turn now to the other side or parallel of the relationship defined in the passage above, namely a believer’s union with Jesus Christ.

As a reminder, the Apostle has introduced this parallel relationship between Adam and Christ for the purpose of magnifying the resurrection of our Lord, His defeat of sin and death, and our subsequent defeat of sin, death, and bodily resurrection by means of our union with Him.  This is communicated through, “by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” and “so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  It is this simple, short statement in Christ that we want to focus our attention.

The Puritans described three ways in which the union with Christ could be understood and described.  These are not three distinct unions, rather three parts or aspects of the one union with Christ. First, what they called an “Immanent Union”, a pre-temporal union, that is, outside of time and space.  Second, a “Transient Union” or union with Christ in times past through the events at the cross, namely His mediatorial death, resurrection, and ascension.  Finally, a “Applicatory Union” that is, an actual union with Christ by faith, or we may say experimentally, better still a present reality in time and space at the moment we trust in Christ.

First, our pre-temporal union with Christ may be seen clearly in Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

It is this phrase, “in him”, along with the previously mentioned, “in Christ” that expresses the various ways in which believers are in union with Christ.  In this particular passage, the Holy Spirit, through the pen of the Apostle Paul, is communicating our union with Christ before the foundation of the world.  On this, John Murray writes, “The fountain of salvation itself in the eternal election of the Father is ‘in Christ’.”  This pre-temporal union is not universal, but is limited to the elect of God whom He has sovereignly chosen according to His own good pleasure, reason, and justification, apart from any works, deeds, or otherwise inherent goodness in man.

  •  Summarily we may say that this union is a work of the Father through the plan of redemption in Christ.

Second, what the Puritans referred to as a transient union, or that which occurred through the mediatorial death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The classic passage representing this is Romans 6

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:3-11

This union with Christ answers that battlefield question, “For whom did Christ die?”  The answer is that He died for those who would ultimately believe, those whom the Father chose and have been given to Him (John 6:37).  Murray again writes, “It is also because the people of God were in Christ when he gave his life a ransom and redeemed by his blood that salvation has been secured for them; they are represented as united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven.”

  • Summarily, we may say that this aspect of union is a work wrought by Christ through His perfectly obedient life, death on the cross, resurrection from the grave, and His mediatorial role as Kingly High Priest by which He presides over all those in the New Covenant.

Third, the “applicatory union” or what is sometimes called the mystical union is the experiential union that comes by way of faith in Christ.  When a sinner repents of sin and places their God-given faith in Christ, they are united to Him in a very real way.  It is the application in time and space of the two previous unions discussed above. Ephesians 2:4-10 is offers a typical explanation

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Notice also that our sanctification, “created in Christ Jesus for good works” is expressly related to our union with Christ as well.  This is the link to our obedience that our Lord describes in terms of the vine and branches in His sermon from John 15:1-17.

  • Summarily, we may say that this aspect of the union is a work of the Holy Spirit in applying the benefits purchased by Christ on the cross and sealing those for whom election was decreed by the Father and purchased by the Son.

The union with Christ intimated in 1 Corinthians 15, takes these three to their ultimate conclusion, namely resurrection from the dead unto life for all who have believed in Christ, therefore bringing our union with Him in a death like His and a resurrection like His to consummation in glorification like Him.

Union with Christ is central to the New Testament teaching of our salvation.  In fact, without it, there is no salvation.  It is the basis of our election, the basis for our justification, the basis for our adoption, the basis for our sanctification, and will be the basis for our glorification when we are raised from the grave and given our glorified bodies as was the Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.  As we have seen, union with Christ is entirely a Trinitarian work from beginning to end.

A further application of union with Christ that is deserving of it’s own post is that of Christ in us.  Not only does Scripture affirm our “in Him”, but amazingly it details the reality of Christ in us!  Galatians 2:20 is a passage worthy of meditation in this regard.

The ramifications of these glorious truths are infinite, let us attempt to put this theology on the cookie shelf at eye level by asking, what has union with Christ to do with my everyday life?

It is in Christ that our salvation was planned, secured, and applied.  This should give us not only freedom, but glorious hope that our salvation rests on no merits of our own, but solely on the finished work of Christ.  It is this freedom that impacts how we live our daily lives before the throne of God.  Because Christ dwells in us, we may have confidence to face whatever battles the world, the flesh, and the devil throw at us, knowing that Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.  Ultimately our union with Christ gives us hope, a blessed hope, that something far better awaits us than what we have or experience in this life, when we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

Killing Sin at the Desire Level

 

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Galatians 5:16-17

One of the primary strategies for killing sin (Romans 8:13), perhaps the only real legitimate, successful way, is to attack it on the level of desire.  This puts engaging sin squarely on the battlefield of the heart, rather than a battlefield of the hands (see Matthew 5:29-30).  It becomes then much more a matter of properly setting the affections on things above rather than simply exercising will power over deeds.  The latter can only happen properly when the former is given priority.

In the passage above, the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle is instructing us in the way that these sinful desires operate while also  providing for us the means by which to kill them, namely by walking in the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  How does one maintain that walk?  Paul does not offer an explanation here, and perhaps for good reason so that we simply won’t create a to-do list.  However, by combing through Scriptures, we may arrive at a helpful strategy to keeping in-step with the Spirit.

First, by engaging the heart and mind in the Word of God.  The Psalmist, who knew a thing or too about fighting sin, informs us that a young man may keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God.  He follows this thought with, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11  Additionally, in Psalm 37:31 we read, “The law of God is in his (the righteous’) heart; his steps do not slip.”

Secondly, by meditating on the Word of God.  We must note that it is insufficient to simply read the Word of God.  Rather Scripture must be contemplated, ruminated upon, churned over in the belly of the mind until it has been properly digested sending the spiritual nutrients throughout the soul.  In the previously mentioned Psalm 119, we find no less than 6 mentions of the word “meditate”.  This may be summarized in Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”  The classic passage for the example and consistency of meditation by the godly is the familiar Psalm 1:2, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Third, by offering continual prayer.  The apostle gives us the simple directive for continual prayer in 1 Thess. 5:17 with three little words,pray without ceasing“.  How can one pray without ceasing?  This isn’t instructing us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in prayer to the neglect of life and duty.  Rather the implication is to have a heart prepared constantly for prayer and a tendency to turn to God in prayer on every occasion.  It may be easy to go through the motions in Scripture reading, doubtful for meditation, but fundamentally impossible to go through the motions in having an attitude of continual prayer.  Again, this is not simply 5-10 minutes in prayer, in which the mind may be easily derailed or where a rote prayer is offered.  We are talking about a spiritual frame in which the mind awakes to prayer, be it thankfulness or praise, goes throughout the day in prayer, and falls asleep at night on the pillow of prayer.  It simply cannot be faked, cannot be counterfeited, and it belongs only to the truly regenerate.  In fact, it may be the best gauge for determining whether one is maintaining a consistent walk in the Spirit and might well be the first to disappear should that walk slow or come to a stop.

Fourth, through the fellowship with other believers.  One of the detriments to the “structure” of the contemporary church is that we have come to treat it as a weekly obligation.  Even those who still hold to Sunday and Wednesday evening services neglect the fundamental meaning of ekklesia and the pattern that the early church provided, namely the daily or habitual interaction of “one-anothering” that occurred much like that within an immediate family as opposed to 3rd-cousins at a dreaded family reunion.  Hebrews 10:24-25 is instructive here, 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Habitual, routine, stirring up, meeting together, encouraging one another.

There could be additions to this, but the objective is clear, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  It is not “may”, nor is it “could be possible”, but “will not” gratify.

Yet the Apostle presses further to define the motive of these desires by stating their opposition, indeed that they war against the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit that that has renewed the inner man through the power of regeneration.  The contrast is not between the Holy Spirit (as used in verse 16) strictly speaking, but between the new nature brought about by the Spirit and the old nature.  Sometimes called the new man and the old man, i.e. the spirit vs. the flesh.  The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit.  Literally they are hostile adversaries.

Finally, notice the purpose of this hostility, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do“.  I’ve understood this before to mean that the flesh keeps the spirit (see earlier) from doing what it wants, but that is not the natural flow of the passage and only half of the meaning.  It is actually stating that the flesh keeps the spirit from doing what it wants and the spirit keeps the flesh from doing what it wants.  There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia taking place within believers.  A tension so to speak, however not one of neutrality.  If left unattended, the spirit will give way to the flesh.  Paul does not leave an option open to stand still in the Spirit, but to walk in the Spirit, an ongoing, lifelong action.

Let’s close with a word from Charles Spurgeon on this passage,

“The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through him.  With such assistance the newborn nature is more than a match for its foes.  Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds.  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, looking unto Jesus, and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward.”