Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Are We To Live? Part-3 (continued...Redemption Part-2)

(from previous post)…so what’s the point?

The point is that the “death” that we’re delivered from is estrangement. And this “death” that is estrangement has occurred because we’ve become less than human (sub-human) through The Fall. Remember, our nature as “image-bearers” is due to the fact that we were created as human beings. No other creature or aspect of Creation is said to bear the image of God. We are uniquely qualified as “image-bearers” because we are by nature (created nature) human beings. There are many aspects of what it means to be image-bearers, e.g. our rational capabilities, our creative ability, our moral bent, etc.; but they are all sourced in our humanity. It is our humanity that makes us image-bearers; and it’s in our humanity (not in the things that we do) that we testify of our Creator and enjoy intimacy with Him as our Father. And this is precisely our problem: because of the entrance of sin and death (estrangement), we have become sub-human. Our “humanity” has been “vandalized” by sin so that we don’t bear God’s image as intended and we don’t enjoy communion with Him as Father. We need a new nature—we must be “born again”!

Before the Fall, when Adam and Eve were simply being who they were (as human beings), they testified of God to each other and the rest of Creation by enjoying intimate fellowship with Him and living their lives in the freedom of their created nature; and this was the paradigm that was to mark all of Creation for all time. “Man” lived in intimate communion with God, with each other and with the rest of creation in the state of Shalom. They didn’t have to do anything but live out the reality of who they were. It’s when they decided to exercise autonomy and take upon themselves the definition of who they were created to be that they disobeyed God and brought “death” to themselves and the Cosmos. They became less than they were created to be (they became sub-human) by disbelieving God and taking it upon themselves to (re)define themselves. Like a fish that will only find “death” if it tries to redefine itself (what it means to be a fish) by jumping onto dry land because it thinks that’s where life and meaning is found, so Adam has plunged the entire human race into “death” by trying to redefine what it is to be “human”. Our communion with God is broken because we are not what God has created us to be—truly, fully human. Because of the entrance of sin, we have become “sub-human” and are said to be “dead” in our trespasses and sins. Estrangement (death) has replaced intimate communion (life) because we are not what we were created to be.

Oh, we still bear some marks of our humanity and thus, we haven’t completely destroyed our nature as image-bearers. But to borrow again from Plantinga: our humanity (as well as the entire Cosmos) has been “vandalized” by sin. And with the entrance of sin, Shalom has been broken as “death” has infiltrated the entire created order. Things (all things) are not “The Way They Are Supposed to Be” (Plantinga). We need redemption! The creation needs redemption! And so, Christ has come—Jesus the Christ, the last Adam and True Man! What was typified in the paradigm of the original creation has found its anti-type in the fulfillment that has come in Christ! It’s not simply that He restores all things (including “man”) to its original created design and function; no…Christ fulfills the typology of “Eden” so that all things find their purpose & meaning in Him. As I’ve mentioned before in various contexts, God’s purpose from the beginning was to have all things made complete in Christ. When I speak of “restoration” I’m speaking of the fulfillment of the purpose of God to “sum up all things in the heaven and earth in Christ”. The design and purpose of Creation (“Eden”) is fulfilled or completed in its purpose & meaning in Christ!

I’ve spent a bit of time talking about the concept of “life” out of “death” (see Redemption Part-1) so that we will realize that the Life that we’ve been granted in Christ is the “life” of true authentic humanity. As the True Man, Jesus Christ is the only fully authentic human being that has ever lived (remember, Adam was “perfect” in his humanity as a type of Christ—even Adam finds his true and full humanity in the True Man, Jesus Christ). And as the True Man, only as we are joined to Him by the Spirit through faith, only as we are participants in His life through the indwelling Spirit (new creations), only then are we “redeemed” to our created purpose and function as authentic human-beings who truly and fully (though not always or perfectly until the consummation) bear the image of God. Jesus Christ is the fountainhead of a new humanity because we have become “new creations” in Him. We now truly (though again, imperfectly until the consummation) bear the image of God as the Spirit works to conform us into the likeness of Christ. By God’s grace through faith, we now share in the Life of Christ! Death has been swallowed up in victory because it’s been swallowed up by the Life of Christ, by the Life that is found only in Christ. Christ has overthrown the curse and restored all things to their created design and function in Himself (the “summing up of all things in Christ”).

Redemption is so much more than simply “the forgiveness of sin”. There are many salvific ideas related to redemption (e.g. justification, propitiation, imputation, reconciliation, etc.), but redemption is not confined to any one of these soteriological aspects: Redemption is no less than re-creation! Beginning with Man, the first-fruits so-to-speak, Christ’s redemption is no less than the inauguration of the New Creation (what the Scripture refers to as the Kingdom of God-a concept that deserves its own “series”) in Himself. Eden has not simply been recovered, it’s been redeemed! It’s been fulfilled in Christ!

Of course, there is the already/not yet aspect to the work of Christ in redemption; He has already redeemed and fulfilled all things in Himself, though we still await the not yet of the consummation when His completed work will realize its full fruition. But the reality of what He has accomplished is certain and is even now present as the Kingdom of God continues to grow by taking into its realm people from every tongue, tribe and nation to glory of God our Savior!

So how does all of this speak to the issue of “How Are We To Live”? Stay tuned for the Consummation/Conclusion where I hope to tie it all together and show us that God’s calling upon humanity (all of us!) is the same today as it’s always been: “Be perfect as I Am (your heavenly Father is) perfect”—only the paradigm has changed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Body of Christ--A True Blessing!

I just wanted to share with you all what a blessed time we had at church yesterday. This was a "special service" of Scripture reading, singing and testimonies. We just completed our series on The Sermon on the Mount and, like we did upon finishing our series on God With Us (what I call our Sacred Space series), we capped it off with a service of testimonies on how the Gospel teaching in the series has affected our thinking and our living. I so look forward to these times of sharing because, as I've already shared with our Body, it helps me to "fill out" my own understanding of the Gospel. To paraphrase Paul, the Body causes the growth of the Body! Only as we minister to one another do we truly grow in our faith because it's through our mutual ministry that the Spirit within each of us ministers Christ to each of us. While all of us are not gifted and called to be Preachers or Teachers (in the formal sense), we are all gifted and called to be ministers of the Gospel--to one another as well as the "world".

To be honest, at our church we do all minister to one another on a regular basis in our conversations and our fellowships (and various classes and studies throughout the months); but services such as these allow each of us to gather our thoughts and express a particular aspect of the Gospel teaching that has affected our individual thinking and application for life. It's in these services, as I said, that a particular sermon series becomes "filled out" in my understanding. In a series as large as our God With Us or The Sermon on the Mount series, my mind, like most I suppose, latches onto certain aspects of the teaching more than other aspects. Our minds can only process so much at a time and we tend to take a special interest in the ideas that affect us personally, or speak to our individual hearts. What may stick out in my mind may not be what someone else is motivated by and vise verse. I need to hear the thoughts of my Brothers and Sisters concerning the Gospel. I need to hear what I missed! I need to know what aspect of the series has affected my Brethren so that I grow with respect to Gospel itself (and by extension, God) and with respect to my Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.

As a "worship leader", I may have been intimately involved with the series each week; but as I've said to our congregation, I still get "tunnel vision", so-to-speak, and focus on certain things that stand out to me. I need to have my understanding of the series complimented by the understanding of my Family members. Our Pastor also recognizes his need to hear from his Brothers and Sisters not only to be encouraged by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, but to have the Gospel ministered to him! He understands that even though he has been the most intimately involved with the material, he still needs to hear how the Spirit has ministered these things to us so that his understanding of the Gospel is made full. We must be faithful with one another as fellow ministers of the Gospel to one another.

This is also an important way in which we show our love for one another. As my friend Jim continues to stress, we're called to love one another! And if we hold back from ministering to one another, then we are not loving one another. We need each other to grow up in our faith! We need each other to grow up with respect to the Gospel; to grow up with respect to our love for God, to grow up with respect to our love for one another, and to grow up with respect to our love for the "world" that doesn't know the love of God for them in Christ. Without the mutual ministry of the Saints one to another, each of us is deficient in our spiritual growth.

I wanted to take this opportunity to publically thank my Brothers and Sisters at SGCC for their faithfulness to me. And I also want to encourage you, my readers, to be faithful in your ministry to the Body that God has placed you in. I'm so blessed to be a part of a congregation that truly loves one another and shows it by seeking the good of each of its members. As Paul says, "We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." Let's be faithful to the Spirit as He continues to remind us of who Christ is and who we are in Him by the power of the Gospel. And let's continue to be faithful minsters of the Gospel one to another for our maturity in the faith unto His glory--in the church and in the world. Amen!

Monday, March 9, 2009

How Are We To Live? Part-3 (Redemption Part-1)

Redemption is a word that covers a lot of theological and interpretive ground. Since this is simply a “blog” post, I won’t go into all the various ideas and nuances of what can be represented in the word redemption. For my purpose, as it implicates my title question, we’ll look at one aspect of redemption, though I believe it is the crucial and often overlooked and misunderstood aspect: Life out of Death.

For those of you who have been here for awhile, you know (whether you agree with me or not) that I believe redemption to be universal in scope. I don’t believe that every human being will be “saved”, but I believe that Christ’s Person and Work takes everything into its grasp and leaves no area of creation untouched. Redemption is cosmic—Christ came to redeem the entire creation and recover Sacred Space (see previous posts on Sacred Space and SGCC sermon series--God With Us). Everything that has been affected by the curse, which is…everything, will not simply be restored, but fulfilled to its created design and purpose. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that every human being will experience the salvation that is in redemption; there will be countless people experiencing an eternity of estrangement from God in hell. I’m simply saying that God’s redeeming work in Christ extends beyond merely “man” to take in the entire Cosmos that has been cursed due to sin. Christ didn’t come merely to redeem “man”; He came to redeem Creation, to recover Sacred Space in full!

Hoekema puts it this way in his excellent work, “The Bible and the Future”:

To fully understand the meaning of history, therefore, we must see God’s redemption in cosmic dimensions. Since the expression “heaven and earth” is a biblical description of the entire cosmos, we may say that the goal of redemption is nothing less than the renewal of the cosmos, of what present-day scientists call the universe. Since man’s fall into sin affected not only himself but the rest of creation, redemption from sin must also involve the totality of God’s creation (p. 32).

Hoekema goes on to quote Ridderbos: “This redemption (wrought by Christ)…acquires the significance of an all-inclusive of a divine drama, of a cosmic struggle, in which is involved not only man in his sin and lost condition, but in which are also related the heavens and the earth, angels and demons, and the goal of which is to bring back the entire created cosmos under God’s dominion and rule” (Ridderbos, “Paul and Jesus”, p. 77).

And this ‘redemption” in its most fundamental and powerful expression, especially in reference to man, is: Life out of Death. We see this paradigm as early as the creation itself. In the very act of Creation, we begin to understand the paradigm of “life” out of “death”. When God “created the heavens and the earth”, we’re told in the first chapter that the Spirit was “hovering” over the “formless void” of the dark “waste” or emptiness of Creation. In a very real sense, God created the heavens and the earth in the context of “darkness” and “death” and in His six days of “work” the Spirit brought “light” and “life” to the Created Order. Then the Spirit went about “ordering” the universe by establishing “realms” and “rulers of realms” culminating in the creation of Man as God’s vice-regent and supreme (created) ruler over the works of God’s hands. Man, as with every aspect of the Created Order, was created out of “death”, as it were.

The paradigm of “life” out of “death” (as well as the concepts of “light” and “darkness”, which I’ll leave for a future post) as seen in the original creation is recapitulated throughout the Scripture and culminates in the New Creation in Christ. After “The Fall”, not only Man but the entire created order was cursed and now all things exist in the context of “death”. Where once Shalom and with it, “life” and “light” characterized the created order, now estrangement and with it, “death” and “darkness” mark all things. But God doesn’t leave His creation in the state of “death”—He redeems! God in His mercy and for His glory brings “life” out of “death”.

Immediately after The Fall, our parents attempt to cover themselves with fig leaves. They recognize their nakedness, their “death” (estrangement) and attempt to hide themselves from themselves while also attempting to hide from God. But God, being rich in mercy, will have none of that! Death will never win out over Life! Out of “death”, He clothes them again and proceeds to promise the restoration of “life” in the Seed to come from the woman. Adam, confident in the promise of his Maker, once again takes up his role and “names” his wife “Eve, for she is the mother of all the living.” Out of the context of “death” comes the promise of “life”.

We see again this paradigm of life out of death in the story of Noah. There are many typological aspects of Noah himself and the story of the flood; we’ll consider the typology of the New Creation. When God determines to destroy the world and start over, He does so through one man—a man who God calls “righteous”. God will “re-create” the world, saving it through the righteousness, so-to-speak, of one man. All who would participate in this New Creation must do so in connection with (by joining themselves to) the “righteousness” of the one man. They must exercise faith in God by heeding Noah’s warnings and enter the Ark with him. “Life” is brought forth in the context of “death” as God destroys the world and brings a New Creation.

Life out of Death is again in view as we see the promise of a son to Abraham. Not only are Abraham and Sarai too old to have children (Abraham considered his body as “dead”—Rom. 4:19), but Sarai had a “dead” womb! Yet, in God’s mercy and according to His promises, He determines to bring “life” out of “death”. Isaac is born! But again, lest God not be clear yet about how He determines to “save”, Abraham is commanded to kill the “promised seed”. How can God keep His covenant with Abraham if his only begotten son is to die? Abraham’s faith never wavered (and it was reckoned to him as righteousness) for he was fully persuaded that what God had promised He was also able to perform—even if that meant raising Isaac from the dead!

Time won’t allow me to bring up every example of this principle, but we can see it throughout the Scripture as time and time again the promise of God is in jeopardy. His promise to bring forth the “Seed who will crush the serpents head…” who is also the “Seed of Abraham” who will become a great nation is constantly in danger—not only from the “seed” of the serpent (remember the enmity between the two “seeds”), but from God’s people themselves. The “death” of God’s promise always seems near. Abraham tried to give Sarai to Pharaoh…then to Abimelech. And Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps! After “Israel” is “born” through God’s deliverance from Egypt (“life” out of “death”), the nations was in constant danger of being wiped out completely (remember especially Esther and the Babylonian captivity). Moses himself, while not in the line of Messianic descent, is also an example of God’s principle of life out of death as he was hidden and then rescued when his brethren were being killed upon birth. The nation of Israel itself, as previously mentioned, was “born” out of “death” again as they were delivered from famine as Joseph preserved them and then yet again as they were delivered from “death” in Egypt to be consecrated as God’s “son”.

The point is: from the beginning of creation, God’s principle in redemptive history is of a redemption that is “life” out of “death”. And this principle culminates in the resurrection of Jesus as He gives Life based on His redemptive work on the cross. He died and rose again to give life to those who are dead. Those who come to Him by faith were once those who were “dead in (their) transgressions and sins” but are granted Life as those who, after having been “crucified with Him” and “buried with Him” and “baptized into His death”, have now been “raised to walk in newness of life”. For those who’ve come to Christ by faith, they have “died…but their life is hidden with Christ in God.” Life out of Death is the paradigm of our redemption! Life is the participation of the New Creation in Christ—a New Creation that extends beyond "man" to incorporate all things (the entire created order) in the consummation through the “summing up of all things in Christ”!

So what’s the point? The point is…(coming soon in Redemption, Part-2)