Category Archives: Union with Christ

What God has cleansed…

(Acts 10:13-15)  A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”
Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

The book of Acts describes how the gospel was spread. First at Jerusalem, then to Judah. From there it went to the Samaritans and then to the whole world, ending with Paul in Rome.

Preaching the gospel to the Gentiles would have been a tremendous shock to anyone born and raised a Jew. They had no dealings with Gentiles and everything that a Gentile touched would have been considered unclean and unholy.

But the time had now come for the gospel of Christ to go to the Gentiles. God had promised Abraham that in his seed (Jesus) all the families of the earth would be blessed. So now the time had come. The blessing of Abraham was about to be poured out on the unclean gentile world.

But this meant that Peter needed to be prepared. Without a special revelation from God, he NEVER would have entered a Gentile house. Even AFTER he had that special revelation, he still struggled with it, sometimes failing, as we read about in the book of Galatians.

As Peter is resting on the rooftop, he sees a vision of every sort of animal in a large sheet being lowered from heaven.

A voice says, “Rise and eat!”

Peter is aghast. “Eat an unclean animal?? I’ve never eaten an unclean animal!”

And God said, “What I have cleansed, don’t consider it common.”

The application of the vision was first of all to foods. The Old distinction of common and holy, clean and unclean, in foods was now done away with. Christ had come. The shadows and types would fade away.

But there was a more immediate application. Peter was about to be asked to enter the house of a Gentile. God is telling Peter that the Gentile is clean, because God had cleansed him. He could enter the house in peace. For when God cleanses someone, they are truly clean.

The cleansing of the Old Covenant, through the sprinkling of blood and the sprinkling of water pointed to Christ. When he was crucified, blood and water poured out of his side. And when he ascended into heaven, he poured out the Holy Spirit on his church, fulfilling those ancient signs of sprinkling.

By faith, we are united to Christ and therefore we are clean, because he has cleansed us. This is what the “Holy” in “Holy Spirit” means. He is the Spirit of Holiness, and what He cleanses is clean.

This is the gospel. We are clean in Christ. We are no longer unholy.

Pause for a moment and think about that.

First, apply it to yourself. How many times to you feel unclean, unholy, unworthy of love, unworthy of companionship? How often do you lie awake while your conscience accuses you day and night?

These voices do not come from God, but from the Accuser! God’s voice speaks in the scripture – “What I have cleansed, don’t you call it common!” Obey that voice. When the voice in your head is accusing, accusing, accusing, repeat it. What God has cleansed, don’t call unholy!

But now look outward. How often do abusive men or women rail on God’s image bearers? “You are worthless. You are nothing. You are filthy. No one would touch you.”

How many have to live with these accusations continually thrown at them? Thinly veiled or outright contempt is so, so common in so many households. It isn’t of God.

And this abuse and reviling isn’t limited to those in one’s own home.

Civil discourse has declined so much, especially online, that there are those in the church who will divide and destroy one another over nothing. You can’t even disagree with someone anymore. They have to be destroyed. Those with “righteous crusades” are the worst. The revile, accuse, destroy with pixels of ink and then justify themselves as if they are simply “speaking the truth in love.”

But when you are calling that which is cleansed by Christ “unholy” or “unclean”, you are not speaking the truth. You are speaking lies, murdering with the tongue those for whom Christ died.

God knows the difference. He sees the hate and the venom disguised as “love” and he is not mocked.

“What I have cleansed, don’t you dare call it unclean!”

We are clean because of the blood and spirit of Christ alone. We are not clean because of our political views, our race, our sex, our theological acumen, our ability to tell people what is wrong with them, or our outward acts of piety. We are clean ONLY because of Christ’s blood shed for us and his Spirit poured out upon us.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John. 13:35)

How can we love one another when we don’t recognize them as being clean? How can we recognize them as clean apart from Christ?

But in Christ we are clean and holy, and this changes everything. It changes how we view ourselves and how we view others that God has placed in our lives.

The spirit of accusation against one another is not of God, but of the evil one.

1 Comment

Filed under Love, Abuse, Union with Christ

A word about treasure

Perspective:

No matter what we accomplish

No matter what we achieve

No matter what we build

No matter how many people speak well of us…

The day will come when your body will be laid in the ground. Someone will say a few nice words.

And everyone will go eat potato salad and ham sandwiches on Hawaiian buns. The kids will run outside and play on the swings. Everyone will look at the pictures of when you were young.

They will tell the someone who said some nice words “That was a very nice service.”

And six months later, people will forget what you looked like.

A few years after that, they will forget that you existed.

Your loves, your hates, your feuds, your words, your talents, your desires – will all be buried and forgotten along with your bones. And after that, the judgment.

This is what Jesus meant when he talked about treasure.

And yet, we strive so hard to lay up treasure on this earth, gathering together food for the worms and the moths and the rust,

And we forget to remember to look up from this trough, where Christ is.

We forget to count all of our earthly treasures as dung, that we might know Christ and the power of the resurrection.

He doesn’t count significance the same way that we do.

In His kingdom, weakness is strength. The greatest one takes the lowest place. The sheep are ready with a glass of water, a kind word, clothing for the naked.

In his kingdom, money and power count for nothing whatsoever, for the cattle on a thousand hills are his already.

We follow him into glory with nothing but a cross, or we don’t follow him at all.

8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
  9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
  10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
  11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

4 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Patience, Union with Christ

Rahab and the Gospel

(Joshua 2:4-6)  4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
  5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
  6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

For reasons unknown to me, those in Reformed circles continually discuss the ethical problems posed by Rahab.

According to the strict reading of the account, she did not tell the truth to the officials who asked where the spies were. To not mince words, she lied.

Here is the problem. In her lie, she saved the lives of the men. In saving the lives of the men, she saved her own life and the lives of her family. And, to take it one step further, the scripture itself commends Rahab for her lie and states that it was done in faith.

(James 2:25) 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

So here is the ethical dilemma, for those who are wired for disputes over the law: Did Rahab sin when she lied?

On the one hand, we certainly do not want to say that the Ten Commandments are situational. Committing adultery and murder are wrong, no matter what the situation is. And the devil that is a liar. God’s people are to be people of the truth.

On the other hand, Rahab’s only other option was to say nothing or to tell the truth – either way, she would have condemned the spies to death and condemned herself and her family along with them.

So which is it? The debate will continue forever.

But may I suggest that the debate itself is wrong. The accounts of scripture are not given to us as moral tales. The point of Rahab is not the importance of truth telling. When you look at these accounts as moral fables as is done by countless children’s Sunday School books, you miss the point. The Old Testament is not a McGuffey reader or the Aesop’s fables of Israel. Jesus said all of scripture is about HIM.

All scripture is given to point us to Christ. Let’s look at the account of Rahab through the lens of the New Testament, as the apostles would have us do.

(Hebrews 11:31)  31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Let’s put the account in its proper place. The people of God, the nation of Israel, was bringing the judgment of God to Jericho. They were being led by Christ himself, the Captain of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). Utter destruction was the plan. The city of Jericho knew it, for they trembled at their arrival. Rahab testified that there was no more courage in the whole city. Judgment was upon them.

Rahab only had one chance – side with the people of God, and perhaps God in his mercy would spare her. The only other option was destruction.

We could, by the way, endlessly speculate on other options, but scripture does not. These are the only options in scripture.

When the official came to Rahab’s door, it was not an ethical exercise. It was very, very real. Save the lives of the spies and be spared yourself. Or hold on to your own self-righteousness and die.

Now was not the time for self-righteousness. Now was the time to choose a side. Throw in your hand with God’s people and the promised seed? Or be destroyed with the whole city?

So let me suggest reading this account through the eyes of faith, and learning from the example of Rahab, as the writer of Hebrews would have us do.

This world is heading for judgment as certainly as Jericho was. This judgment will begin in the house of God, and is already taking place. Incest, abuse, rape, oppression, spiritual bullying, extortion, casting out the widow and orphan take place continually – in the Church of God. Judgment is coming. And if this is the state of the church, how much worse is the state of those outside? When the salt has lost it’s savor, what will it be salted with?

Perhaps, as Rahab did, now is the time to say, “Lord, have mercy on us!” and cling to Christ, as Rahab did. Rahab saw his coming by faith and rejoiced. The Pharisees bickered over the law.

Paul wrote:

(Philippians 3:8-9)  8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
  9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Perhaps now is the time to exalt Christ, cling to him by faith, and count our own “righteousness” as dung. Remember that Rahab was a harlot – not exactly a moral paragon. Just as each one of us, we either receive the mercy of God, or we die on our sins. Now is not the time to bicker over the law. Now is the time to flee to Christ, as Rahab did.  Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die. Or come to Christ in the shadow of the spies and live.

She chose to live – to count her own righteousness as dung, that she might gain Christ and know the power of his resurrection.

That – it seems to me – is the point of the account. The rest we can argue over until doomsday, but it doesn’t seem to be to be a fruitful use of time.

6 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Union with Christ

Out of Egypt I have called my son

There is a very perplexing verse in Matthew’s gospel:

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
  14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
  15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matt. 2:13-15)

In verse 15, Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that this event in the life of the child Jesus fulfilled a prophecy. He quotes that prophecy as “Out of Egypt, have I called my son.”

One of the best things that you could do when reading the scriptures is look up the passages that the New Testament apostles quote. It is quite enlightening to see how they interpreted the scripture. They didn’t do the modern “proof-texting” – where you take a verse out of context and twist it to apply to some point you want to make.

So here is the interesting bit. Matthew is quoting Hosea 11:1. It is the only passage he COULD be quoting. In Hosea’s context, God is rebuking Israel for rejecting the great privilege that he had given them. He loved them, and redeemed them from Egypt. But even more than that, he gave them the great honor of being called the son of God. Here is how the  passage reads:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
  2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
  3 I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. (Hos. 11:1-3).

This is quite perplexing until you understand how the apostles viewed the sacred scriptures. What does this passage have to do with the child Jesus fleeing to Egypt from the wrath of Herod? Does Matthew know how to interpret scripture? Could the original readers of Hosea have known that this was a prophecy about the Christ?

Is Matthew’s hermeneutic (the science of the interpretation of scripture) wrong?

This passage always puzzled me. I knew that Matthew was not a modern preacher just picking a verse that reminded him of what he wanted to say. He was a far better expositor than that. More than that, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, inerrant and infallible. We can trust his words.

So here is the question – in what sense did the historical event of Jesus returning from Egypt as a child fulfill Hosea 11:1.

The heart of the gospel is this: God is seeking a people for his name, a people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Adam was created in God’s image, and was called the son of God (Luke 3:38). But Adam failed.

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered from Egypt to be the peculiar people of God, His own special treasure (see Exodus 19). They also were called the sons of God. But they failed spectacularly, which is what the book of Hosea is about.

Will God’s bride be forever lost? This is the tension in Hosea. How can God be just and loving at the same time? How can God love Israel, when the very nature of Israel is an abomination to the Lord. They are idolaters, oppressors and thieves. They are a nation of adulterers. God cannot abide sin. He cannot pretend to be pleased with their human sacrifices to demons, their calf worship, their adultery and murder. And yet, he loved them.

Since God cannot abide sin, but is angry with the wicked every day; since we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God; since we are all covenant breakers like our father Adam, and like the nation of Israel; how will God fulfill his desire to redeem a people for his name. God desires a nation to call his own special people. My son.

The answer is found in the book of Galatians, primarily in the 3rd and 4th chapters:

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
  5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
  6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
  7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:4-7).

Jesus was the son promised to Abraham. Jesus was the seed. Jesus is the Israel of God. He is the one who succeeded where Israel failed.

So it was necessary that he be tempted in all points, like as we were, that we might be saved IN HIM. This included being “redeemed out of Egypt”. He is the reality, and the nation of Israel was the shadow. The whole miraculous event of the Exodus was given to us for one purpose – so that when the Christ came out of Egypt, we would know for certain that “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”

The exodus was about Christ. Not about the twelve tribes. It was about the people of God.

Jesus is the Israel of God. For this reason, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is taken to the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He is there 40 days, re-living the 40 years that Israel spent being tested in the wilderness.

The temptations were the same. God is not good. Put him to the test. Force him into your box. And if you just bow to the calves and worship me, I will give you your heart’s desire. Israel fell to each one of these temptations.

Moses rebukes them in Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 and calls them to repentance. They should have remembered who God was, Moses said. They should have known.

Jesus resists each temptation by quoting this exact passage 3 times. He remembered his God. He obeyed perfectly. He was the true and faithful son of God.

We know also from scripture that Jesus is the eternal, natural son of God which we can never share. He is truly divine, of the same essence as the Father, and we will always be human. But that is another post.

Matthew is reminding us that Jesus is the son of God in another sense. He is the one who obeyed and loved perfectly, who was faithful even until death. He was the well-beloved son, succeeded where Israel and Adam and each one of us continually failed.

And the whole point is this – if we believe the words of the apostles, by faith we are also sons of God, and heirs according to the promise. It is Christ who is the Israel of God. And when we believe in him, we are also children of the same promises. Whether we are Jew of Gentile, male or female, bond or free, in Christ we are also “delivered from Egypt”, “obedient in all things” and the “well-beloved sons of God.”

That is the gospel. It is why the book is called the “Good news according to Matthew”.

The nation of Israel is not the true Israel. The Gentiles are not the true Israel. Only Christ is the true Israel. And all who are ingrafted into that tree by faith are also the true Israel of God, and heirs according to the promise. The promise that “all Israel will be saved” is a promise that God will also call Israel to himself by faith in Christ and not forget any one of his elect. He has not cast off the physical Israel, but he will call them also in Christ, when the fulness of the Gentiles are brought in.

And if you believe on the Lord Jesus, you also are children of Abraham, just as scripture says, because He was a child of Abraham. This promise is yours in Christ, the true seed of Abraham. This is why the New Testament begins with a genealogy – Jesus is the true seed of Abraham, the true seed of David. He became flesh for us, that we might become the sons of God – each one of us.

And thus was fulfilled what John the Baptizer said, “He is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”

There is a lot here. Think on these things….

8 Comments

Filed under Christology, Gospel, Union with Christ

Brothers and Sisters

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,
2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
(1 Tim. 5:1-2 NAS)

Aimee Byrd recently wrote an excellent article on the relationships between men and women. She rightly critiques the multiplying of rules that make interacting with the opposite sex so complicated. (I will take a moment here to plug her new book, which I have not yet read. I am greatly looking forward to it. It is called “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”). Aimee has done some excellent work, calling for a renewal of simple friendships between brothers and sisters in Christ. Anyway, her latest post has caused some discussion on the web. Some edifying, some not so much.

So I started thinking, naturally, about 1 Timothy 5:1-2, particularly where Paul commands Timothy to think of younger women as sisters and older women as mothers. This verse has always puzzled me, maybe it is because I never had any sisters. But I also know that there is much abuse that takes place between siblings. What does one tell a woman or a man who was abused by a brother or a sister? Did Paul mean here that we are to treat our sisters in Christ as a good brother would treat his sister?

Perhaps. Of course, a healthy sibling relationship can be a tremendous blessing to all. If it happens that way, then that would be wonderful to emulate in the church.

But when Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not at all a given that brothers and sisters were living together in chastity and purity. Caligula was emperor, and we all know what that did to the reputation of purity among siblings.

I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about Heidelberg Catechism question and answer # 1.

“What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ…”

Natalie Hoffman writes,

Her body belongs to Jesus, not her abuser. And by the way, not only does YOUR life and body belong to Jesus, but your spouse’s life and body belong to Jesus as well. So if you’re not treating your spouse’s life and body with loving honor, then you’re missing the point of grace.

And that got me thinking. I think that Paul’s point to Timothy is deeper than simply a reference to a sibling group. The reason that we as believers are one family is that we are all members of Christ, of his flesh and of his bone (Ephesians 5:32).

This union with Christ is so unbreakable and so close that Jesus considers mistreatment of one of his children the same as mistreatment of himself. Consider what he said to Saul of Tarsus:

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4 KJV)

Likewise, to the sheep and the goats

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:40 KJV)

Think about what that means. Christ considers what is done to his members as being done to his own person. Why are you persecuting ME, not others, but me? When Paul applies it to Timothy, he means that when he is speaking to a young woman who is a believer, he better remember that she is a sister – a member of Christ, a prophet, priest and king. A firstborn son. A daughter of a king.

And he better remember this. Whatever he says to her, whatever he does to her, whatever he coerces from her, Jesus will consider it as done to his own person on the day of judgment. Because that is precisely what it is. On the other hand, the respect and honor, kindness, gentleness, patience and love we show are considered as shown unto Jesus himself. “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

And even greater, in the body of Christ, you are serving Christ himself with every cup of water given, every meal served, every person clothed.

On the other hand, every harsh word, every act of contempt and hatred, every intimidation and power-play over one of Jesus sheep, He takes it very, very personally.

He does not take kindly to the abuse, ridicule, insults, contempt and hatred of the members of his body – of his flesh and of his blood.

Here is what we all must keep in mind. the young woman in the congregation, the older woman in the congregation, the young man and the old man – they aren’t objects to be used and controlled according to the pleasures and whims of the pastor, but they are dearly loved members of the body of Christ. Whatever is done to them is done to Christ.

Remember that, and you won’t need any “Billy Graham rule”. Love will flow from the heart, if, of course, you belong to Christ.

Take courage, you who have been mistreated and abused and assaulted in the name of Jesus, your Lord is coming again. He grieves with you and he hates what was done to you. He will come with recompense and vengeance.

He truly will. For by faith you are members of his body and are greatly loved by the Creator and Maker of the universe.

2 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Faith, Union with Christ