Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Cross As Glorification

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38-39)
It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. For the first seven days, the priest processioned from the Pool of Siloam to the temple and poured out water at the base of the altar. As they went, they sang words from the prophet Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). The Hebrew word for “salvation” is Yeshua, which is the name Jesus.

Now it was the eighth day, the greatest day of the feast. Jesus stood up among the crowd and in a loud voice announced that whoever believes in him, rivers of living water would flow from within them. The significance of these words on this occasion would not be lost on them. The rivers of living water would be water from the “wells of salvation” — water from the wells of Jesus.

John the Evangelist tells us that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit. But those who believed in Jesus had not yet received the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet been given, and the reason for that is that Jesus had not yet been glorified. The giving of the Holy Spirit happened at the Feast of Pentecost, and is vitally connected with the glorification of Jesus. But what is the glorification to which John referred, and when would it occur?

We see something of it in the next chapter, when Jesus addresses a group of Pharisees who were challenging him. He said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).

The Greek word for “lifted up” is hypsoo, which means to elevate, or even to exalt. The “lifting up” to which Jesus referred is the cross, the crucifixion the Pharisees and Jewish leaders who would soon insist Jesus be put to. They wanted to elevate Jesus on that wooden instrument of death, but it would be an elevation they had not expected — if would be an exaltation. For in that lifting up of Jesus, they would know that Jesus is the Son of Man, and that he does not do anything on his own but does and says whatever the Father has taught him. It would be the exaltation of Jesus and the revelation of the Father.

In John 17, on the night before his crucifixion, after speaking to his disciples about the Holy Spirit and of what would come, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5 NKJV).

The hour had now come for the Father to glorify the Son and the Son to glorify the Father. It was the hour when the Son would be lifted up and the Father revealed. It was the hour of the cross. The Resurrection and the Ascension are part of that same movement, but they each in their way show reveal the glory of the cross. It is not merely because of the cross but in the cross that Jesus is “highly exalted” (hyperypsoo a compound of hyper and hypsoo) and given “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Paradox of Descending and Ascending

In my last post, we looked at the Cross as Ascension, particularly in the Gospel of John. There we saw Jesus speaking of his death on the cross as being “lifted up.” The Greek word is hypsoo, which means to be elevated, and can even mean exalted. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” Jesus said (John 3:14). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

It is at the cross that Christ, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, is“lifted up” from the earth; it is there also that he “draws” all to himself — surely this describes his exaltation. Is this not what the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians 2:5-11, the paradox of descending and ascending?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here we see the descent: Christ, thoroughly divine, “made himself nothing” or “emptied himself” (NET) — the Greek word is kenoo, to make empty — taking the very nature of a servant, participating fully in human nature. As humankind was created in the image and likeness of God, now God in Christ took on human likeness, to become what God intended for humankind to be. This is the Incarnation.

Thus joining himself with humankind, subject to mortality, it was necessary that he should “humble himself” (make himself low) and become obedient to death, so to deliver humankind from death. And it was necessary that he be put to death by the hands of wicked men, so to deliver humankind from wickedness and sin. Christ became obedient even to death on the cross, and by that was “lifted up.”

Here we see also the ascent of Christ: God “exalted him to the highest place.” The Greek word is hyperypsoo, a compound of hyper and hypsoo, the latter being the word Christ used of his crucifixion — this is Christ highly exalted. Further, God gave Christ the “name that is above every name.” As Theodoret of Cyrus observed, Christ “did not receive what he did not have before but received as a man what he possessed as God.”

Jesus was given the highest name so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Is this not what Jesus said would happen? “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We tend to think of the descent and ascent of Christ as two different things. First, he goes down, down, down, then subsequent to that is raised up, up, up — two movements with a u-turn in between. But I don’t think that is necessarily what Paul is describing here, because he is exhorting us to have the same mind toward each other as Christ has toward us. Is that so we may one day be glorified, with servant humility as but a means to that glory? Surely not.

Christ’s humility was not a means to glory but the very expression of divine glory. For God is love, and it is the nature of love to give and serve. God loved the world by giving us the Son; the Son did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life for us. When we see the humility of Christ in his deep descent, we are not seeing the divine glory in recess but, rather, most fully revealed. The lower Christ descended into the depths of the world, to redeem it, the more his glory was made manifest, and in that way, Christ was seen to be highly exalted.

The paradox of the descent and ascent of Christ, then, is this: It is not two different things but the same thing. His descent into the earth is simultaneously his ascent into heaven — and us with him.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Cross As Ascension

We often think of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension as three events instead of  one. They seem to be separate in time; each is given its own day within the space of forty-something days. But Christ is eternal, and in the Incarnation, not only is humanity joined with divinity but time is joined with eternity, and what appears separately in time is one in eternity. In the Gospel of John, Cross, Resurrection and Ascension are one continuous movement. (See also, Cross and Resurrection As Singular Event.)
In John, being lifted up refers to one continuous action of ascent, beginning with the cross but ending at the right hand of the Father. Step 1 is Jesus’ death; step 2 is his resurrection; and step 3 is the ascension back to heaven. It is the upward swing of the “pendulum” which began with the incarnation, the descent of the Word become flesh from heaven to earth. (NET Bible, study note at John 4:13)
We can find several references to ascension in John’s Gospel, but they cast it as crucifixion. We see this early, in John 3:
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:13-15 NET)
Jesus speaks of descension from heaven and ascension into heaven — a downward movement (katabaino) followed by upward movement (anabaino). We may think of the descension as the Incarnation, the Logos of John 1 becoming flesh and dwelling among us — God condescending to join in union with humankind — and the humiliating death of the cross, with the descent from the cross into the grave.

But when we come to ascension, we find something unexpected. It does not begin with the resurrection but with the cross. In John 3, Jesus, understanding the Scriptures as speaking of himself, refers to the story of Moses “lifting up” the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) and makes a comparison (indicated by “just as”). The point of comparison is lifting up: Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; Christ must be lifted up. The Greek word is hypsoo and means to elevate or exalt.

In the Numbers 21 account, when the people turned away from the LORD, venomous snakes passed through the people, killing many. When the people turned back to the LORD, Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten would look upon that serpent, they would be healed and saved from death.

Just as Moses elevated the bronze serpent on the pole, Jesus says, so the Son of Man must be elevated, and the instrument of that elevation would be the cross. Jesus had just been talking about descension and ascension? Which one was he now speaking of by this comparison of himself with the lifting up of the serpent? Well, we can say it is descension; is it not the cross to which he is referring? Indeed it is. Yet Jesus speaks of it as ascension, being lifted up, elevated, exalted. In John 12, Jesus again speaks of it as exaltation:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)
Is this descension, or ascension? By his words, Jesus showed the kind of death he was going to die, death by crucifixion. And yet those very words speak of him as being “lifted up,” elevated, exalted. For the world was about to be judged, which is to say, there was about to be a world-changing crisis (the Greek word for “judge” here is krisis) that would set things right. The old death-dealing way of the world was about to be condemned, and the living, life-giving Christ would prevail. The “prince of this world” was about to be driven out, exorcised.

The cross is the exaltation of Christ because it is his judgment on the world, casting out darkness and death and the devil. It is his rule and reign that is exercised, and in a singular way, dramatically changing the world forever. It is ascension, and humankind, joined with Christ through the Incarnation, is ascended with him — to the Cross, to the Resurrection and to the right hand of the Father.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

God in the Old Testament Scriptures

There are passages in the Old Testament which, if interpreted literally, would portray God as a Zeus-like, retributive deity. But to read them that way would be to read them very differently from how Jesus taught us to read them, and would contradict the revelation of God we have been given in Jesus Christ, who is the perfect expression of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus taught the disciples that the Scriptures (the Old Testament) are about him (see Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures). So, if we read them as being about anything other than Jesus, we are reading them differently from the way Jesus taught us to read them, with the result that our “understanding” (Greek, nous) has not yet been opened (Luke 24:44-45) and a veil still covers our heart (2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

So the disciples and the New Testament authors read the Old Testament Scriptures as being about Christ and the gospel. Of course, Christ is not found in the Old Testament by a literal reading, and so they looked for him there in spiritual, allegorical and figurative readings, which was an ancient practice of Jews and non-Jews alike. The only difference is that they read the Scriptures with Christ as the interpretive key — they read them Christologically, that is, in a Christ-focused, Christ-centered way.

This is also how the early Church Fathers interpreted the Scriptures. The only early Church figure who took them in a manner like modern fundamentalist or evangelical literalism, threw the Old Testament Scriptures out altogether — because, taken literally, they present a very different portrait of God than the one presented in Jesus Christ.

The early Church Fathers, on the other hand, did not pitch the Old Testament but cherished them as being full of the gospel, because they interpreted them through Christ, with Christ as their meaning. I have written a brief series of articles about this:
That last one (Part 3) may be of special interest to many because it demonstrates how the Fathers, particularly Origen, approached the “terror texts” in the book of Joshua.

It would also be instructive to see how St. Gregory of Nyssa read the Moses narrative in his Life of Moses. And St. Irenaeus of Lyon shows how the gospel was preached from the Old Testament Scriptures, in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. What is very interesting in this work is that Irenaeus does not quote the Gospels, or any of the New Testament, but demonstrates the apostolic preaching of the gospel entirely from the Old Testament Scriptures. Reading it spiritually, through the  Spirit, and understanding it through Christ — reading the Old Testament with new eyes.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Cryptic, Coherent and Contemporary

The Scriptures are about Christ. This is what he said to the Pharisees (John 5:49). It is what he taught the disciples (Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures). The Scriptures are centered on Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is their source, their theme and the end for which they are given. That being so, there are at least three things that follow (forgive me as I indulge in a bit of alliteration):
  • The Scriptures are cryptic. They must be opened to us by Christ, just as Christ opened them to the disciples (Luke 24:24-27, 31-32). Our understanding must be opened up to the Scriptures, just as Christ opened the minds of the disciples to understand them (Luke 24:45). They must be unveiled to us, so that we, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, may be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18).
  • The Scriptures are coherent. They all hold together around one person, the crucified and risen Christ. Jesus said to the Emmaus disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26).
  • The Scriptures are contemporary. They are not about who Christ was but who Christ is. For Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). They are about the crucified and risen Lord, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, so that (Revelation 13:8).

Friday, May 15, 2020

Christ Is the Meaning of the Scriptures

What does it say? What does it mean? How does it apply? Those were the questions I was taught, in my earlier years, to ask when reading the Scriptures. But I have since come to believe that there really is no difference between the interpretation of a text and the application of it. The act of interpretation is the act of discovering meaning in a text; application is the act of discovering meaning in a text. They are both concerned with discovering meaning in the text. Application and interpretation of the text are really but two different ways of describing the same function.

In 1 Corinthians 10, when Paul speaks of Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness, he says, “These things happened to them as types written for our instruction” (v. 11). What are they? They are types. Why are they written? For our instruction. They have meaning for us, and that meaning instructs us. Some would call that application, and so it is; but there is really no difference between that and interpretation.

We cannot know for certain what the ancient Scriptures (the Old Testament) meant to ancient readers. We cannot even know for certain what the human authors of the Scriptures understood their own writings to mean. Did the author of Exodus and Numbers understand that the crossing of the Red Sea is about Christ and baptism? Did he realize that the Rock that followed them in the wilderness is Jesus Christ, and that the water that flowed from that Rock is spiritual drink? Did he understand that the One the children of Israel rebelled against in the wilderness is Jesus Christ? It is doubtful. Did the author of the book of Jonah recognize that the sign of Jonah is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Christ said it is? Again, doubtful. We could bring many more similar examples.

There is also no reason to suppose that there is only one correct interpretation of a passage. There may be many true interpretations (and there are also many interpretations that are not true). This is especially so when we consider that, though the Scriptures have many human authors, the author whose meaning matters most is God, and there is no reason to suppose that God cannot communicate any number of things to us through the divinely inspired Scriptures — but they will always be about the crucified and risen Christ.

Choosing an interpretation as the one and only interpretation and then calling the rest “applications” simply disguises the matter. The truth is that whether we call it “interpretation” or “application,” we are talking about what a text means, and that is always a matter of interpretation.

What this means when we are reading the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, is that we are not applying them to Christ, as if Christ were not already inherently present in them — we are not imposing Christ upon them. It is one thing to say that an interpretation is imposed upon the Scriptures; it is quite another to say that Christ is imposed upon them. Christ is neither imposed upon them nor applied to them, but the Scriptures are about him. He is always the One of whom they speak. He is the One they present to us and give witness to. For Christ, who is the Word, the Logos, the divine author of Scripture has said that they are about him.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. (John 5:39)
Likewise, in Luke 24, Christ opens the Scriptures to the disciples, and opens the minds of the disciples to see that what Moses and the Prophets wrote are about him, and thus to understand them properly (see Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures). Christ himself is the meaning of the Scriptures. So we do not apply the Scriptures to Christ, or impose Christ upon the Scriptures, as if he were external to them. Rather, we discover Christ in them as their inherent meaning.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Random Thoughts

Thoughts culled from my random file, gathered from my Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and Instagrams. About God, the mystery of the Incarnation, redemption, faith, and life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of prayer and quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. The stuff that memes are made of. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • When you love, you don’t think about sacrifice.
  • The Incarnation means that Christ did not die on the cross simply instead of us but that he died as us. His death was our death so that his life is now our life.
  • The Incarnation, when God became man, is the atonement — the at·one·ment. For in Christ, God has become one with all humankind. The Cross and Resurrection flow inevitably from that.
  • At his baptism, Christ identified with us in our brokenness and shame, and turned us to God. In our baptism, we are identified with him in his death and resurrection.
  • Lord, let the prayer of my breathing be as angels ascending and descending, inhaling the breath of your Spirit and breathing out your praise. Amen.
  • God is love. Grace is the love of God reaching out to us. Glory is the revelation of that love and grace — the revelation we have in Jesus Christ.
  • The holiness of God is the revelation of his love, and the justice of God is the revelation of his mercy. All is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ.
  • Let go the what ifs of the future and if onlys of the past. They keep you from the one thing that matters: this present moment with God — the only moment there is.
  • Jesus did not come into the world to get mixed up with religion.
  • The fast God desires is one that never ends, an ongoing process of faith being formed by the love of God.
  • Repentance does not change how God sees us but how we see God.
  • Sin, like repentance, does not change the way God sees us but the way we see God.
  • It is through the gift of repentance that God shows us the way to life. It is a good day to repent.
  • Life is not a passing stream of moments. It is but one moment. This one.
  • Our understanding of eternal things gets flattened out in our time-bound perspective, like trying to understand a three-dimensional world from a two-dimensional point of view.
  • Our true origin is not in time but in eternity, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We are na├»ve about evil until we have recognized the depths of it in our own heart.
  • Pride has ten thousand faces, and every one of them is false.
  • In praying, “Forgive us our trespasses,” we are asking forgiveness not only for ourselves but for everyone else as well. For there is no them; there is only us — of whom we are all a part.
  • God redeems our every moment, transforming them by the blood of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection, making them all one.
  • With God there is no merit system. No points are awarded or taken away. There is simply no such reckoning, and never has been. There is only the love of God surrounding us through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
  • Christ has broken the gates of Hades and set us free. The only hell now is the one we create within our own hearts.
  • In Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself, and so also to our true selves, who are created in the image of God.
  • Though we are created in the image of God and to be like Him, still we are finite creatures and ever shall be. How then shall we suppose that anyone possesses an infinite ability to resist the love of God forever?
  • There is no us and them. There is only Christ, in whom all in heaven and on earth are made one.
More random thoughts ...

Sunday, May 10, 2020

From the Face of the Lord

These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 NKJV)
This is often supposed, by not a few evangelicals, to be a “kill” verse to any idea of Christian universalism. After all, does it not speak of “everlasting destruction”? Case closed! Or so it is thought.

What goes unnoticed is that the word for “everlasting” (aionion) does not actually, of itself, indicate any idea of endless duration. Oh, it can certainly take on such meaning when applied to God, or to the kingdom of God, or to the life we have in Christ, all of which are otherwise known in Scripture to be without end; but it does not inherently mean without end. Also unnoticed is that “destruction” (olethros) is not necessarily annihilation but may actually have a corrective, therefore, redemptive purpose — I have addressed both these points elsewhere (see “Eternal Punishment, Eternal Destruction?”). To put it simply, in this passage, Paul is speaking of chastisement in the Age to Come.

But there is something else in the verses above that is often assumed to disprove any Christian universalism, and that is the phrase, “from the presence of the Lord.” The assumption is that the “everlasting destruction” is separation from the presence (or face; the Greek word is prosopon) of the Lord. But that assumption fails on at least two counts:

First, it fails theologically, in regard to the relationship between God and creation. Paul teaches us in Colossians 1 that all things are created by Christ, through Christ, for Christ and in Christ, and continue to hold together in Christ. That being so, it is impossible for Christ to be absent from any person or thing in creation, or else such persons or things would simply cease to exist. Of course, that could be a point in favor of the annihilationist view — except that Paul also tells us in Colossians 1 that God is pleased to reconcile to himself, through Christ, all things in heaven and on earth (that is, all that has been created), having made peace by the blood of the cross.

Second, the phrase “from the presence of the Lord” (apo prosopou to kuriou) is used in only one other place in the New Testament, and it does not indicate any separation from God. We find it in Acts 3:19, where Peter is preaching in Solomon’s portico and says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (apo prosopou to kuriou). Clearly, this has nothing to do with being separated from the Lord but is about the blessing and refreshing that proceeds from the Lord’s presence.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, the phrase, “from the presence of the Lord,” is not about being separated from the presence of the Lord but is about what proceeds from the presence of the Lord: chastisement in the age to come. Now, the Lord does not have two different presences, one that brings refreshing and another that brings chastisement. Christ is everywhere and always present throughout the universe, but his presence may be experienced in different ways.

The difference is not found in the Lord or his presence but in the disposition of the one who is in the presence of the Lord. For those who turn toward Christ, his presence is experienced as blessing and refreshment, but for those who turn away from Christ, his presence is experienced as torment and destruction. The presence of the Lord is life and light and love, and those who turn to Christ are prepared to receive his presence as such. But those who turn away from Christ experience his presence as torment for as long as they cling to their dead, dark ways. This is just as true in the Age to Come as it is in this present age.

But as the life of Christ overcomes death, and the light of Christ overcomes darkness, so the love of Christ overcomes hate. So the “destruction” in the Age to Come is not a destruction of persons but of the things of death and darkness and hate. It is purgative and corrective, therefore redemptive in purpose.

Make no mistake, the prospect of such drastic measure in the age to come is not pleasant but is thoroughly dreadful, to be avoided at all costs — not only for our own sake but for the sake of others as well. But it in no way forecloses God’s redemptive purpose in Christ, to bring all things in heaven and on earth to unity in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10), and to reconcile to himself all in heaven and on earth, through Christ, by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:19-20), “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Mercy of God Rescues Us All

Through the Incarnation, Christ participates in humanity, the only humanity there is and in which we all participate. Christ participates in it with us; we participate in it with him. This is how Christ is able to save us, because he participates with us in our humanity.

This is why Paul can say, “Just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18), and “Just as in Adam all dies, so in Christ all with live” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Humankind, formerly headed up in Adam is now headed up in Christ — because of the Incarnation, and through the Cross.

The mercy of God rescues us from very real consequences, namely, the death that resulted from Adam’s sin, and the bondage to sin that death entailed. That death was never a penalty but a consequence. When God warned Adam (whose name means Man) about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God did not say, “For on the day you eat of it I will kill you,” but, “On the day you eat of it you will die.”

It is death that is the real problem, and it is death from which Christ delivers us. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

At the cross, Christ broke the power of death, breaking the power of the devil, and the fear of death that enslaved us — and so the power of sin.

This does not mean, however, that sin can be winked at or simply waved off. No, sin has no place anywhere in God’s creation or in God’s creatures. It must be completely destroyed, not merely sequestered in some dark corner of creation for eternity. For sin is corruptive, destroying the lives of all in whom it exists and defiling God’s creation. That is why it must be thoroughly dealt with and purged from everyone.

God is doing this through Jesus Christ. For it is God’s purpose to bring all in heaven and on earth to unity in Christ, under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). It is God’s will to reconcile to himself all in heaven and on, through Christ, having made peace by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).

All the enemies of God’s creation will be destroyed. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. As it is the last enemy, when it is destroyed, there will be no more enemies of God anywhere in Creation. All will be made subject to Christ, and Christ will be made subject to God, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:26-28).

Oh, hear and believe the good news of the gospel, what God has done in Jesus Christ. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Monday, May 4, 2020

Christ is Our True Nature

We are already in Christ as much as we are ever going to be, and Christ is already in us as much as he is ever going to be — which is 100%! It is irrevocably so because to undo it would require undoing the Incarnation, in which Christ has united with all humankind. Indeed, it would require the dissolution of creation itself, for all things are created in Christ and hold together in him.

Our salvation in Christ is settled from the beginning. For Christ is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, and we are chosen in him from the beginning (Ephesians 1:4).

But there is a sense in which our salvation is progressive as we continue to be transformed, by the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us, in our experience of salvation and the redeemed nature we have in Christ.

And there is a sense in which our salvation is future, for we have yet to experience the transformation of our mortal, corruptible bodies into immortal, incorruptible bodies, like that of Christ in his resurrection.

Yet our identity in Christ remains the same throughout. We neither increase nor decrease in him, and he neither increases nor decreases in us. What increases is our awareness and experience of him and our awakening response to him. Our true nature in Christ remains constant, created in the image of God and to be like God, to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

There is only one human nature, of which we all partake, and it is redeemed in Christ, by his participation in this nature with us. And though we do agree with God about sin, the things that do not belong in us and in our life (this is called confession), we do not agree with any false idea that we are of a sinful nature. For Christ is now our life (Galatians 2:20) and through the Incarnation, he shares with us in the only human nature there is and has healed it, so that Christ is our true nature. So instead of agreeing with the false idea that we have a sinful nature, we agree with the gospel, and with the Incarnation, which is foundational to the gospel.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Humanity As the Likeness of God

From the beginning, the purpose and project of creation was to make Man in God’s image and to be like God (compare Genesis 1:26 with Genesis 1:27). It is important to understand that God’s plan was not just to make us in the image of God but also in the likeness of God. Before that happened, though, humankind fell to sin and mortality.

But in the Incarnation, Christ came and joined himself with humankind, uniting with us even in all our brokenness and mortality. Being life, when he finally met death on the cross, he destroyed it, not only for himself but for all humankind. For even at the cross, Christ was joined with all of us.

That is the glory of the Incarnation; it means that Christ did not die on the cross instead of us but as us. His death is not merely counted as ours (a legal reckoning), but his death truly is our death (an ontological reality), so that his resurrection likewise truly becomes our resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Christ restores us to the image of God, as we are conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Through him, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). That is, through Christ, we become like God, becoming through grace what Christ is by divine nature.

Some have wondered what might have happened if man had not sinned, and the Fall, however we think of it, had not occurred. But we have not been given to know that; we have only been given what actually happened in the economy of God. Whatever happened and however it happened, it happened. Yet God used it to fulfill his divine purpose in Christ, to bring all things in heaven and in earth to unity under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

The cross, then, was not a waste of any kind. Nor was it God’s Plan B, a contingency in case Plan A failed. For it is precisely at the cross that we see the full glory of God revealed as other-centered, self-giving, co-suffering love. There also — and for the same reason — we see the full glory of humanity as both the image and likeness of God.