Monthly Archives: May 2015

The New You

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  II Cor. 5:17

Ask the average Christian what it means to be saved and the answer will be something like this, “Going to heaven when you die.”  Ask the question as to what Jesus does to save us and the answer will likely be, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins.”

Marvelous as all these facts are, this is only the “tip of the iceberg” as to what the book of Hebrews calls our so-great salvation.  Matthew Henry said something to the effect that going to heaven is like the frosting on the cake, but most Christians are on a starvation diet as regards the joys of salvation here and now.

The correct answer to the first question is that salvation means nothing less than becoming a new person, here and now, from the moment that person is converted.  How can Scripture make it any plainer than by saying that we are born a second time, that we must become like a little child – repeat our physical life, so to speak – in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Eternal life is not something that we enter when we die, but from the moment of our re-birth.  In some parts of the worldwide church of Christ this is so real and believed by new Christians that at the time of their baptism and initiation into the visible church they adopt a new name – usually a Biblical one – in the fashion that the Apostle Paul abandoned his natural name of Saul.

This “new you” is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who takes up residence within our hearts when we accept him, believe in(to) him.  Paul makes that graphic in Gal. 2:20 when he says, “I was crucified with Christ…”

And so the answer to the second question, above, is that Jesus did not “merely” die for us, die in our place, but lives within us.  The gospel is more than substitution; it is identification, union with God through Christ.  I John puts it this way.  Paul says he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.  This miracle is the answer to Christ’s farewell prayer on the eve of his betrayal and death on the cross, “That they may be one as you and I are one.”

Paul speaks of this profound condition as our hope (or guarantee) of glory.  The New Testament uses the marvelous expression “In Christ” more than 150 times.  An excellent Bible-study is scanning the Scriptures and underlining each instance.  This is heeding the admonition of II Corinthians to examine yourselves.

The result of this union or identification is, first of all, that a Christian is perfect, not just a forgiven sinner.  The Bible does not speak of us in the latter terms (in the fashion that many of our songs and formularies do, incorrectly) but uniformly regards us as saints.  We would do well to greet each other as that, in the fashion that God does whenever we gather together for worship.  If it seems awkward to do it verbally, one might practice this excellent custom by using it for addressing your brothers and sisters in mail correspondence.  You can’t imagine the inspiration and motivation to Christian living that this brings.

Be Bereans!

Now the Bereans were of more noble character, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  Acts 17:11

Finding fault with preaching is almost in a class with criticizing motherhood and the flag.  In Christian Reformed circles the sermon has become almost a sacred cow by being identified with church-going and the primary purpose of worship.  Sermons as we know them today are a far cry from the Bible’s understanding of them, John Calvin’s kind, and the catechism “preaching” that our forebears practiced.

Ideally, a sermon should be teaching.  But how much education – in any subject – would a student receive from a one-hour (per week) course at which attendance is voluntary, no preparation is expected nor notes required; no tests or reviews are taken, and the textbook is “studied” in such hit and miss fashion that some parts of it are never considered, while some secondary sections are gone over repeatedly?  But there, basically, you have a description of “preaching” as it is commonly carried out in our day.

All this, mind you, is not criticizing the method or content of contemporary preaching.  Changes certainly can and should be made in those areas.  Preaching should be expository (instead of topical, as is true of most sermons, particularly Catechism) and sequential, instead of taking time out every year for seasonal and occasional messages on everything from Christmas to Communion.  But even changes in this direction would not solve the problem.  The fault lies in the institution itself and its context.  We are expecting something from our preaching that it simply cannot provide.

The primary purpose of our weekly gathering as a congregation is worship, celebration.  God (and the angels) are supposed to be the audience and we, the congregation, are the performers.  But we have made the preacher the primary performer whom we watch as spectators, our “priest” (who does our praying for us, etc.) going through a performance while we watch and half-heartedly hear him “doing his thing” which he has spent most of the week rehearsing.

Put it this way.  The majority of our membership depend upon Sunday sermons for the bulk of their spiritual food.  Very few have personal daily devotions, and the remnants of “family altars” that still exist amongst us have very little pedagogical value.  Meditation of an inspirational sort are the norm, rather than instructional material.  All of this is comparable to a person eating a heavy meal on one day of the week and starving or nibbling on crumbs for the rest of the time.  What this meditation would like to accomplish is that all of us imitate the Early Christians and the newer churches even today by way of small-group or individual Bible study.

As it is, we long-term church members are put to shame by our ignorance of the Scriptures, despite hearing literal thousands of sermons in a lifetime.  Who of us can tell which gospel records the Sermon on the Mount, the visit of the shepherds to Bethlehem, most of the parables, the seven “I Am’s”?  And lest I make preaching the sole whipping boy for our deficiencies, how many Christian school/catechism graduates can give a one-sentence summary of any of Paul’s epistles?

God can say what is certainly applicable to most of us, “My people perish for lack of knowledge”.  And we have far less excuse than those to whom God first said that. In the  Old Testament nobody had a personal copy of the Scriptures.  In the days of the Bereans an important part of the Bible had not even yet been written.  Many of our immediate forebears were unable to read with ease, and naturally had to look to their dominees for Bible instruction and application.

But today we have Bibles in abundance, as well as study helps, tapes, and even sermons in downloadable and video form.  Liberal education is commonplace amongst us.  To whom much has been given, of them shall much be required.  For all our church-going we threaten to be the first who shall be last in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, back to our Bibles!  Be Bereans!  You will be sure to discover for yourself dozens of important Biblical truths for which the pulpit does not have time and these meditations do not have space.  Then, like the Bereans, you will become a living epistle for all to see and hear.  Moses’ prayer will have been answered, that all of God’s people are preachers.  That is what the Bible says we should be and the Early Christians were, rather than just the man who occupies a pulpit briefly one day a week.

Questions and Answers

If a Christian does not have to sin (I John 3:4-10), why does he?  If we are new people, saints, perfect, then why the exhortations to “be perfect”? or – If our old, sinful self died with Christ, why (Col 2:20-3:17) are we told to “put to death” our sins and even “put on” the new man?

The simplest answer is to say, Be what your are; like telling a man, “Act like a man.”  (That is why, though every Christian is “filled with the spirit” he is told to “Be filled with the Spirit” – that is, know Who you are; act out what God has put in.)  Another answer: Just as our bodies are not the real “us”(though they die, we are still alive), the real you, the new you, does not commit those sins that trouble us so.  Paul even goes so far as to say, “If I do what I do not want to do (sin), it is no longer I (the new me) myself who does it, but it is sin living in me.” Rms 7:7.

For illustration, think of a new computer, perfect, it makes no mistakes.  But if I put or program wrong information into it, it will produce lies, mistakes.  After our conversion we are like perfect computers, but we have been programmed so long with bad “software” (input) that after our conversion we still react, respond, the way we were used to.  (Most of our 20,000 responses per day to our environment – other people, Satan – are “unconscious”, second nature.)  You never have more than one self (new or old) at a time, but the death-struggles, the momentum, the grave-clothes of the old nature (software) have to be gotten rid of.  This is what we usually think of as “sanctification”, the improvement of our souls – minds, emotions, will – although we – our spirit – is sanctified, perfect, Spirit-filled, from Day One.  “Christ is our sanctification” – not sanctifier – though he is that too, just as he is our complete justification.  I Cor 1:30. I john 4:13,15,17b.  I Cor 6:17.

New Question:  Doesn’t that make a Christian “easy” on sin and his own sins?  To the contrary; a person who realizes that he does not have to sin, feels all the more guilty when he does.  What is more, he has an increasing awareness of what sin is; he is much harder on himself as to what is wrong.  Eg, he does not limit it to obvious things like lying or stealing, but wasting time (doing nothing) is sin.  So is “religion” instead of godliness. (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”)  But he thanks God for the forgiveness of those once-unrecognized sins, puts them behind him, and grows spirituality by means of the whole experience.  (Any one who has a low view of sin is not a Christian.  Rms 6:1-7)

That answers the question as to why God “punishes” the Christian for his sins (reaps the results of) as well as the unbeliever.  In the case of the Christian the failure becomes a sanctifying  experience, from which God makes good to come.  It would be a terrible calamity for a believer if – just because his sins have all been paid for and it is not really “he” that does them – he could sin with impunity.  The “clear conscience” that a Christian has is from knowing he is guilt-free; his conscience is increasingly sharp as to what sin is and what it deserves.

What about the “Lord’s Prayer” and “Forgive us our debts”?  1.  At best, this is a “baby-Christian’s” prayer, intended as a model (for people who did not know how to pray), not to be used as a substitute for our own.  It might even be called a “birth-cry” prayer, a “sinner’s prayer”, marking his conversion as he asks for forgiveness and putting God first instead of self.  (Cf Luke 11s:13; Acts 2:38 – so Calvin)  2.  It is certainly an Old Testament prayer, in a class with those of David (“Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”)  It is not in Jesus’ name (John 16:24).  Atonement for sin was still unmade; the “Kingdom” had not yet come.  (NB: The New Testament begins with Acts, not Matthew; the Old begins with Exodus, not Genesis 1 or 3.)  This explains the spiritual immaturity of most Christians.  When you think that Christmas and Good Friday/Easter are all in the Old Testament, most of their knowledge of salvation has to do with the ABC’s of the faith.  (Cf. John 14:26; 16:25; 15:12; Matt. 11:11; Hebs 5:11-6:3)  This is the weakness in using the Decalog primarily as a Guide to Gratitude.

What about “Lead us not into temptation”?  This, too, is Old Testament.  James 1, I Peter 1:6 say we should welcome, rejoice in trials; Jesus himself did not pray to keep Peter from them. (Luke 22:31)  What we do ask is victory, and God has promised us that .  Plus the guarantee that even our failures will have constructive purposes.  Luke 22:31; John 21:15-19.