Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Discipline of Dying

Over the past year (or maybe even longer) I've been working on writing here and there when I have the spare time. The end goal: a new book on the Sovereignty of God. I'm excited to announce that it's nearly complete, but that's not really the point of my post today. Today, I share an excerpt fresh off the press.

For about 3 months now, there has been a chapter left hanging. Incomplete. Wrapped in an enigma I not only failed to solve (which is never my aim) but I could not even begin to explore it. The chapter was on Moral Imperative, and the question: in view of God's absolute sovereignty, why even try?

Finally, it hit me (I think, at least. I'll let the comments on this post be the judge as to whether it makes the final cut). The reality is that we do not try. We die. But, lest that seem a mere platitude of escapism, do not forget that when we die we do. There is no trying in God's law, there is only doing. Be perfect. Be holy.

I wish that believers everywhere would find far less comfort in the limited success of their efforts to obey. Instead, when faced daily with the realities of our iniquity, we ought to learn the discipline of dying to self—self-motivation, self-sufficiency, self-reliance—and living in Christ's power. We ought to "carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10).

When we believe the lie that we, as Christian people, are somehow empowered now to live perfect lives, the reality of our present life lived in a dead carcass not yet regenerated will ultimately lead to disparity and defeat. We are, even after confessing Christ and receiving the Spirit, defeated by the moral imperatives of Scripture. And here, once again, in our present weakness we find strength only in God's power—His absolute sovereignty to work in and through us.

We know the folly of believing that one can earn salvation without the atonement of the cross. We are helpless but for His mercy. How much more foolish, then, after one's acceptance of Christ's atonement to go on in the Christian life pursuing moral imperative by our own will? How blinded have we become to take the same imperative which once drove us to our knees at the foot of the cross and later attempt its perfection within ourselves. No, the truth of the Gospel is that we must continually return to the cross, "to proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26) so as to confess with the Apostle Paul that "I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The Spirit's work in sanctification is not unlike His work in justification. Whereas we find righteousness through the imperatives of Scripture only when we die by the Law and receive Christ's imputed righteousness, so too does the Spirit sanctify us by the same imperatives which continually teach us to depend on Him for life. A deep thirst for Scripture is instilled in God's elect as a provision of God with the chief purpose that we find there not instruction for how to now succeed as Christians, but a perpetual conviction that we must "die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31).

That is the discipline of dying. Scripture drives us to our knees begging for God's mercy more than once in the Christian life. Life by the Spirit begins in utter dependence on God and therein it must also continue.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Attitude the Same as Christ: Learning from the Kenosis

I read an article this week related to the topic at-hand: Jesus is Fully Human, from the Desiring God blog. In it, the author walks through a simple progression of concepts from the simplest to grasp to the most profound. Jesus had a human body. Jesus had human emotion. Jesus had a human mind. And finally, Jesus had a human will. While the mystery of the last statement is certainly an inviting topic for anyone seeking a stimulating whirlwind of thought and study, I don't want to move on too quickly from the first. That God Himself would take on a human form is, second to Christ's death on the cross, is the most astonishing manifestation of His love we could ever imagine.

Theologians often use the term "kenosis," and while I don't want to puff myself up with fancy vocabulary and 5-dollar words, the roots of this term should be meaningful to us all. the Greek ?e??? (kenoo) means to empty out, like pouring out a pitcher until it's entirely empty. It's a total dispelling of all that one has. Christ emptied Himself in order to be found in the likeness of a man so that He might die the death that we deserve.

But how did He empty Himself? What is it that emptied Christ of His equality with the Father and His glorified state? Not the subtraction of a divine nature, but the addition of a human one. Subtraction by addition... much in the way that adding new paint on top of the Mona Lisa would empty it almost entirely of it's value.

I must give credit for this "Emptying by Adding" interpretation to Gerald Hawthorne, professor at Wheaton College who has published commentary on Philippians. To affirm that Christ was emptied of His deity is called the Kenotic Heresy. Scripture and Church History both affirm that Christ is both fully God and fully Man. So, what does that mean for us?

First, your attitude should be like that of Christ. He sacrificed so much to be our savior... to be our God who would tabernacle among us. What can we withhold in our worship? What do we have that we do not owe Him?

More than that, what excuse do we have as we continue to fail in our obedience to God. Living in His totally human nature, albeit not sinful nature, but nonetheless susceptible to temptation in every way that we are, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, resisted temptation entirely. He was not spared from sin because He was God. No, indeed He endured by the same strength that we now have available to us through the indwelling Counselor, the Holy Spirit.

Peter offers a daunting charge for all of us, yet it was not Peter who charged it first. Inasmuch as we have been called, we are called to this: perfection.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth'" (1 Peter 2:21-22)

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

1 Peter 1:3-9 - Rejoice in Your Inheritance

The emperor is out to kill us. It's becoming increasingly difficult to meet in public without the risk of imprisonment or worse. We're losing our businesses. We're losing our minds. And when, OH WHEN, will He return to make it all end? Have we done something to upset Him? Can we do something to appease Him? Are we sure that we're really His? Oh, what a terrifying prospect... my goodness, what if we aren't?

When times are bad, doubts can spiral out of control. In an era where economic prosperity was a sign of the gods' favor, what can a group of Greeks make of their desperate plight that seems to worsen every day. As we read in 1 Peter 1:3-8 this coming Sunday, try to put yourselves in the shoes of a 1st century Christian in Asia Minor. It's not hard if you know how to relate.

While the ancients looked to prosperity and health, today our highly experiential world tells us that God is near to us, and us to Him, when we sense His presence. Quiet times are deep and "spiritual." We pray daily. The mountain-top experiences tell us something is real in this religion. And when that fades? And when we fade? What then?

Peter told his readers there was confidence to be had in the power of God. Adam said it best after class last Sunday when he told me, regardless of your persuasion on free will vs. God's sovereignty, we can't be deceived into thinking that salvation revolves around us and our actions.

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