Tuesday, September 30, 2008

49 - Christ - from BEFORE the Beginning - (2)

The Eternal Covenant - what a concept! AND - by IT, Christ was raised from the dead. That anticipates to me, Christ DYING, Christ being necessary for God's plan and promises; Christ dying as part of the plan before the world even started PLUS, WE were involved back then and are part of an Eternal Covenant. WOW - what a concept!

Several phrases are part of this teaching to me - "chosen IN HIM - before the foundation of the world" which tells us that the "Lamb slain before the foundation - or FROM the foundation - of the world" is an assumed subject in Scripture. Apparently THEY - the first century readers, knew much better than do we - the structure of God's plans and promises.

People NEED to know that their sin wasn't a situation which threw God for a "loop" - or caught Him unawares. As a Psychologist, I do appreciate counseling Christians as they seem to be SO SURE their sins cannot be forgiven, and telling them - "God anticipated you". HE paid for ALL SINS which could ever be committed. So - did YOU accept the payment? OR - did you think your sin was just too much for God to think Christ's sacrifice could COVER?

NOW - add to that - this all happened before the creation of us humans - can you see this is GOOD NEWS? To use a NT story - when the Prodigal left home - he had a HOME to return to - even though he didn't realize it. The lamb which wandered away - had a sheepfold to go back to - and Someone to carry him there - unbeknownst to him. God is ALWAYS prepared for us.

The concept is an Eternal one - and possibly MORE eternal and present than we realize.

CONSIDER - this might well mean that when God came to Adam and Eve, He was simply announcing the ETERNAL COVENANT in the Promise of Genesis 3:15.

CONSIDER - when God came to Abram, and proclaimed "I am your shield and exceeding great reward - and Abram believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness" - God was simply announcing the Eternal Covenant to come down through the ages as the concept of faith - birthed though Abram as the Father of Faith and reiterated in the NT as "Faith - from first to last" as an Eternal concept of Covenant Grace.

What about the OLD covenant? It was used to contrast the NEW with former lifestyle - but Paul reminds us - "it was added" to THE PROMISE. Don't forget, the PROMISE was made from the beginning - and existed BEFORE the beginning. (BUT - God did come to Abram to force it upon him - but that's not a perfect word since Abram believed - even though it was a DREAM - and believing is not a forced concept - but an invitation.) Added - the Law - so as Paul reminds us in Galatians - it cannot annul the former Promise. (Galatians 3:15-20) Maybe a challenging thought - since God told Moses to give a message to Pharaoh, "Let MY people go" - they were already covenant people. And - even during Christ's three year ministry they were referred to as "Children of Abraham." The same concept is available to all who trust God's promises - and Paul taught about that in Galatians 3 and Romans 3-5. Those who put on Christ are "heirs according to THE Promise" - Galatians 3:29.

I know Western thinking likes to separate and divide Scriptural concepts - sometimes it seems "man-made" to me - and in THIS case a failure to see THE ETERNAL COVENANT - focused in JESUS - from before the beginning and always in place. More to come.

48 - Christ - from before the beginning (1)

I need to focus on the principle a little more intensely as to what seems to be God's overall plan.

Scriptures have been given about Christ slain before the foundation of the world. The same concept includes other scriptures about US being chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Since the "in Him" idea has always been difficult - we could well say the problem has been around quite a while. Well - let's at least admit it to be around all of OUR lives. I didn't see the little phrase as a difficulty until my first Greek class in the '60's. I then noted that there was more to it than I had guessed, even though a surface meaning was still meaningful.

Until I read some stuff about "covenant grace" I had no clue that "in Christ" had a focus of Christ - not me! (By the way - WE do get a wonderful focus - just indirectly - so, make no mistake, when we get it right, we come out JUST FINE.) The directive seemed to be "make sure YOU are in Christ" - and I don't think that is a bad concept. Problem is - when we put the focus on US - we MISS OUT on the REAL concept, so our understanding is off and we begin down a road which isn't the REAL road. (Substitute the word "WAY" for road - and you get my drift.)

So - back to our theme - Jesus is the focus of History and the focus of the Bible and the focus of Covenant grace. And - amazingly enough, that started before time. So - what exactly started before time. We love to sing about it - "He tells me of the years that went before me - when heavenly plans were made for me to be" - IF the focus is ME. And - that IS one of the focus directions. But - the ULTIMATE focus is what God is doing to get me back and then what God is doing to keep me for all eternity. If we don't see that we cannot understand the Bible correctly. The focus is GOD'S doings. And - God got that started in His plan before time - well "the lamb was slain before the foundations of the world". So - our redemption is an old subject and it focused on what God did, plus, it started before time - so it was an ORIGINAL PLAN.

Covenant takes two parties - and that may represent all of mankind, but the parties involved choose a Representative. Covenant demands a swearing and the Bible says that "God could swear by none greater so He swore by Himself." He guarantees His part of the covenant is KEPT. We can rely on His guarantee - but do we know what He guaranteed? (WE do realize it is good to know the stipulations of a guarantee - do we not?)

First question - and a very important one - who is the OTHER party? I think we realize it is us humans. Problem - who will represent us before time? God anticipated this problem - after all, if we are created to make choices we'll make the bad choice and that needs to be taken into consideration. So - God chose for Christ to die (Lamb slain from the foundation of the world) so Christ is a substitution for US - so HE is our Representative) because we would NEVER be able to make the choice to die, since we would sin and disqualify ourselves. So - the covenant parties had to be God and our Representative. The concepts involved include - OUR sin is anticipated before time; an agreement was made before time; Jesus is our Representative before time and our redemption and future is guaranteed before time. (Verses which help these conclusions include: Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8.) However - the Scriptures which probably help us most is the Book of Deuteronomy - and that presents quite a quandary. Understand that Hebrews were very conversant in Deuteronomy - and understood that the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) as being the foundation for all of life and God's dealings with mankind.

Deuteronomy is quoted from about 80 times in the NT - so it is assumed we know that source as cogent to a full understanding. The Book is a Covenant Document, totally understood by the nations about Israel in their day - in fact the same covenant concepts are used by any number of them in their own experience. I think we understand that far generally - but what we sometimes miss is - God was using the concept before time - AND - God already had something in place with Himself. Very challenging, but that's why we used those Scriptures to teach us the concept more fully.

THE COVENANT was enacted toward Abram - and still is with us. We can talk of other covenants - Adamic, Noahic - but for OUR purposes the NT refers in reference to SALVATION/REDEMPTION to one focus - Abraham as the Father of FAITH. BUT - what we sometimes miss is this covenant was already agreed to before us humans were created - so the NT calls it "The Eternal Covenant" - Hebrews 13:20. AND - about that, more to come.

Friday, September 26, 2008

47 - Conceptually, Christ is . . .(5)

In contrast to the more "symbolic" concepts, there are many very precious pictures which are not focused on enough by Christendom because we are tempted to have a religion instead of a relationship. Religion can be a positive or negative word and I won't get into that today. Instead, allow me to share why the negative is a thing to be concerned about.

As long as we think of ourselves as part of a religion we just don't "do" Sonship very well. So - picture number one for today is - CHRIST was to be the first born of MANY brothers. Covenant concepts show us that we receive the IDENTITY of Christ when we by faith are joined with Him in our baptism experience. By faith we are born "from above" and are now on the earth - sorta like Jesus. SO - conceptually we are SONS OF GOD. We probably need to resist the temptation to not allow that to be real. Think back with me to David as he took on Goliath - and he was having a hard time getting even the King to realize that the battle is the Lord's. But - there are ramifications of the concept. Deuteronomy had taught how to go to war as God's possession, and several concepts were very important. Possibly number one - all fearful should go home. WAIT - that means only David should have been in this battle by God's standards. Well - only David WAS in the battle directly and he represented Israel all by himself. Obviously though, David was there FOR ISRAEL and as Israel. Why would he go out there alone? Because his aim was to show that "there is a GOD in Israel" and "the battle is the Lord's". And - he knew he wasn't alone. (SO - don't worry if others are fearful - or rebellious - be a representative for them.)

So - we see some pictures of those concepts in Jesus - the victor, the fighter, and the one who was not fearful and knew the battle was the Lord's. ADD to that the fact that HE knew He represented humanity and needed to win the battle for them - because THEY were fearful and un-trusting of God and His provision. (As for His focus - Peter writes that "He entrusted Himself to HIM who judges justly".) There has been a tendency to ask "WHY does God even care about faithless rebellious and negative people?" But - the Biblical covenant answer is - those are the ones He came to win the battle for - to secure victory on their behalf- because they are fearful, rebellious and negative. (Besides - that's about ALL He has- we are all the sheep who went astray.) HE is the CHAMPION - the representative - the "needed one" for all of us. So - see the concept of our need to be perfect - and then see perfection coming to us in the Person of Jesus. See us getting HIS perfection - HIS performance and then receiving His victory and the spoils of THE war.

So - for right now - focus in on Jesus as a concept of US WINNING. That is why Jesus is covenant - KEPT covenant. However - to do that we have to correct our idea of faith to some extent. In the concept of Jesus is covenant - FAITH is focused on HIM and His performance and His victory. So - my question at this point is - did HE win - did HE overcome death; did HE pay for sin; did HE raise from the dead; did HE promise to be with us always?

SO - Christ is our need. Christ is all and in you all. God chose to sum up everything in Christ - and then give Him to you and me. So - if we try to focus on OUR lives and behavior - we'll be fearful folks worrying about the latest Goliath to arrive on the scene. Christ has ALREADY fought the war - already won the victory and already assured US of the spoils of battle.

Actually - the concept is very REAL - Christ is our champion. And - once in awhile I like to allow my mind to be creative and picturesque - maybe we can even see Jesus in the battle scene - in David as a picture of a representative - or maybe even as a ROCK! Since Jesus has so many dual roles, why not include both? So - Jesus is the ROCK . . .of provision - not just water, but protection. More to come

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

46- Conceptually, Christ is . . .(4)

"The ROCK that followed them was Christ" 1 Corinthians 10:4. That COULD have been one of those SHADOW concepts - except for the context which talks of their drinking actual water from a SUPERNATURAL Rock. BUT - that is not just "the supernatural Rock that FOLLOWED them" - so we are talking about a POWER of provision, we're talking about JESUS. Not only that - a provision that follows a people - ready to provide. That is a covenant concept - protection and provision. Again, we see Jesus AS the Covenant. (And - that was in what we generally refer to as Old Covenant times.)

Jesus claimed, "I AM the manna come down from heaven" and we CAN make that a spiritual concept of Jesus using an OT picture to make a new Testament picture complete. That is, UNLESS we already saw the concept of God's providence in Jesus in the OT as a continuing fact. Then, it is not JUST a picture, but a personal presence of God in Christ, which is what the "rock picture concept" seems to suggest. To be consistent, then we must see MANY OT things as shadows of Christ - feasts, new moons, sacrifices and even identities in Trumpets and Tabernacles. BUT - there are OTHER things which seem to suggest that Christ Himself was present "in Person" to provide and protect and even direct. Focus on the "Cloud and fire" covering - which was God's way of leading and stopping and doing other covering concepts like "shade in hot sun" and "blanket in cold night" facts of life. The Psalms especially give us that kind of picture. Most of those pictures are not fully comprehended because they are Hebrew Covenant concepts in their presentation and description. For today, let's focus in on ONE concept - JESUS represents Himself as being actual covenant provision for Israel. ADD to that, all those shadows which have their substance in Christ and we have quite an involved activity of Jesus from beginning until incarnation.

Some OT scholars have contended that Jesus is all the expression of God's involvement in all ages. I can see that as a general concept - with exceptions in a limited way. Jesus is the "creator" Paul taught us in Colossians 1:16. BUT - the idea of that scripture includes God the Father - creating through Jesus and for Jesus. We just cannot separate the "Deity" which is spoken of as being fully embodied in Christ (Colossians 2:9) and we don't NEED to. As the Hebrews very basically said, "The Lord our God, the Lord is One" - but they used the term Elohim to express that and it is a plural concept. The almost FIRST time we see the concept of God, He is saying, "Let US make man." Us Western thinkers like to separate concepts that may not be intended to be separated. BUT - separate or non - both concepts are cogent in their own sense. We can encompass both with ease if we try. So - don't hear me saying the concepts of Jesus in the OT have to be a certain way - they include several facets of God's dealings with us humans. The "covenant idea" is part of the picture and without it, many NT concepts loose their force, More on that as we continue.

However - let us see clearly what Scripture DOES say - JESUS was covenant provision for Israel in the water and manna and other pictures - either in shadow or in actuality or parts of both. Jesus used the picture of the brazen snake to picture Himself . . .and I'll try to deal with that down the road - but it is meant to be used for OUR LEARNING - and we can learn facets of Jesus' provision and God's involvement if we try.

When Jesus said, "I AM The Way, The Truth, The Life - nobody gets to God except THROUGH Me" John 14:6 - HE was claiming a singular focus -very narrow. Christians have used a facet of this concept to EXCLUDE everyone in the whole world - even believers in Christ. However - we should use the concept to point to Jesus as OUR EVERYTHING - then we'll be Biblical. Problem is - many Christians do NOT think Jesus is everything - and it has been that way since the first centuries - our doctrine and positions became more important than Jesus HIMSELF. "If one cannot figure out OUR position, then obviously they cannot be TRUE CHRISTIANS." However - Christ is the ONLY everything. HE is the only real or ultimate focus.

So - someone responds - you don't think doctrine is important - right? WRONG - dead wrong.

Doctrine is supposed to SERVE us - to help us understand Jesus and how we became part of the new creation. IT is not THE focus - Jesus is. Don't allow anyone to steer you away from Jesus to some doctrine about what YOU DO or do not do - as Paul said, "These have an appearance of wisdom - but are of NO value." Colossians 2:23. Christ is our "YES" and those who follow Him - those who are indwelt by Him; those who are "in Him" - will be led by the Spirit and WILL NOT yield to the flesh. (Galatians 5:16.) That is simply a part of our "maturation" as God's actual sons. As John would write later - "those of the Spirit cannot continually live in sin" 1 John 5:18.

But - read through 1 John sometime in one setting - about 5 times John says - "life is in the Son" "he who has the Son, has life - he who does not have the Son does not have life" - and frankly I think it is LIFE we are after. So - do you have Christ - that should be our main theme and question. (Especially if we actually believe what John wrote. But - also what Paul wrote about God wanting to give preeminence in everything to JESUS.) My personal belief is that Christendom has failed to some degree in this regard. I plead guilty and promise to focus more on Christ in my future. Join me ?

Monday, September 15, 2008

45 - Conceptually, Christ is (3)

Guarantee - a word we all like sometimes, but as someone has said, "No guarantees, but death and taxes." So - allow me to share ONE MORE guarantee - eternal Life.

BUT - how in the world could that be true? Well - by the theological structure I had at the time - I agree - pretty nigh impossible and actually WE DO NOT WANT IT. WHY? Well, we cannot motivate people if they have a guarantee and, while many do not have it - they then jump to the claim that it is not available. Two problems - (1) a guarantee must mean I am perfect - is error; and (2) if I think that when I have a guarantee I won't be motivated by you or anything you say is error as well. FIRST - the assumption is that I can actually do something to make myself perfect focused on my behavior and beliefs. SECOND - we should realize that motivation doesn't HAVE to come from a desire to be perfect or even to be saved!

The FIRST example teaching (structure for redemption/justification of Abram - Romans 3-6) presents a challenge for some - Romans is too "mysterious" - but my reply is - Romans is first principles of salvation/redemption/justification and its implications. So - principle number one in this regard is: Salvation does NOT come by keeping some law. Paul revealed that in chapter 3-5. Romans 3:21 teaches that salvation comes "apart from Law". Verse 20 tells us why - Law isn't focused on Salvation - but revealing our sin. The answer Paul gives is "the faith of Christ" - Romans 3:22. Well, most "translations" say "faith in Christ" - and that is true, but we generally misunderstand that CHRIST is the focus of the concept. In other words, it is in the Genitive in Greek - possessive - so "Christ's faith - but that was what "faith in Christ" was SUPPOSED to mean to Paul's readers and to us. Our problem is that WE would like to be the focus of Scripture - especially if we can get some mileage out of a guilt trip. Well - that is a wrong assumption in ANY correct approach to Scripture. We are NOT the focus of salvation performance - Christ is.

We are the focus of reception of salvation - but Paul is quick to emphasize that salvation is a gift, not of works, not of ourselves - and God is the focus - it is the gift OF GOD, Ephesians 2:1-10. Verses 6-7 tells us that God wanted to SHOW OFF His grace. ALL of that happened when we were dead in sin.

In the Romans context the focus is to believe in CHRIST - note that is doesn't say "believe about Christ" - even though that is helpful at times. So - maybe our task is to really see what that phrase "believe in Christ" actually says. That little phrase "the faith of Christ" helps us realize that HE is the focus of performance; not we . . .HIS works are what saves, HIS sacrifice satisfied God's justice in reference to sin - perfectly. That is one reason Paul wrote in Romans 8:34 - "It is GOD who justifies, who is it that condemns?"

I guess my sarcastic answer is - "Church leaders of all generations"

BUT - the Bible answer is - "NO ONE, NOBODY and NOTHING"

So - GUARANTEE - Paul taught that if the focus is Christ and His performance - and our trusting HIM - then salvation can be guaranteed to EVERYONE - Romans 4:16. It rests on faith - and that focus is JESUS - more to come

Monday, September 8, 2008

44 - Conceptually, Christ is . . . (2)

So MANY pictures - so little time. One of the difficult parts of STUDY is the attempt to communicate in FEW words the very huge concept. JESUS is THE subject of all of history and most disciplines just ignore HIM or try to relegate HIM to a status of "prophet" or "good teacher" or some-such. It is very challenging to report on a situation which COULD only occur ONE time in all of history - and is the single most important act to have ever occurred and is a concept which is beyond the ability of our minds to even fathom - and yet WE MUST do it. WOW - what a quandary. Talk about "walking on hallowed ground" - BUT THERE IS MORE.

God already wrote the story down in Scripture - did I think I could do Him one better? ADD to that - the BIBLE is the single more discussed and dismissed book of all time - to one degree or another. Us humans just cannot agree on almost any subject the Bible brings up - and then I come along and try to actually make what God wrote BETTER? That's worse than arrogance - it is insanity.

So - call me crazy and lock me up! I am not trying to do God one better. All I simply wish to do is share my pilgrimage to part of an understanding of God's heart and plans for mankind. Much of what I write is demanded because translations are so limited - and PART of that is because we just don't have the courage to actually TRANSLATE the original into OUR language. But - that's another story. After all, language presents that challenge in all disciplines - but this subject is a supernatural one - and Satan is alive and involved in causing much deception since "He transforms Himself into an angel of light" - which to my way of thinking is much like a "preacher of the Gospel" - and THAT IS PRETTY SNEAKY.

The SUBJECT is JESUS - and since He is the "lamb slain BEFORE the foundation of the world" we have a subject which stretches our minds to the breaking point. When the author of Hebrews started his letter he wrote about a contrast: "God who in former times spoke to us in various ways, has in these last days spoken to us in SON" - and as I contemplate this one well-known verse I can see much of my former problem which may still be part of my continuing struggle. God USED to speak in various way - but NOW speaks in ONE WAY - and the way and the message are ONE WAY - a "SON MESSAGE" - a message in a person. Interestingly enough, the concept is not that Jesus came TALKING necessarily, but HE is THE message - period.

That was my challenge to receive. I'm here to share my conclusion that Jesus is HIMSELF the New Covenant - but no one talks about that - so how can it be explained? The Hebrews' author said it - and we just run past HIM to stuff about Him. So - why should I lose sleep over it - after all - I'll get labeled as some "kook" anyhow?

I remember responding to an aquaintance in this regard who finally said, "I think you've gone off on a tangent with this subject!" And - my response (since I'm not good at confrontation) was - "Maybe - or maybe I've gone toward THE CENTER instead! HOW will you decide which one is happening? Let's talk about which Scriptures you feel I am abusing and which Scriptures you think I ignore."

Well - he said he would get back to me on that - and he is still my friend, I think - but that was 25 years ago and I have studied the concepts every day since that time.

For today - allow me to challenge you with a concept already in evidence - Paul taught "the new moons and feasts are shadows; the SUBSTANCE is CHRIST" Colossians 2:17. The new moon celebration was attended by silver trumpets as were some feasts. The FOCUS however was not the trumpet or the feast - but God's PROVISION. The silver used to make the trumpet came from "redemption money" - and focused with each blast, the minds of hearers on the fact that they belonged to a covenant God. The idea is that God cares for me and God will take care of me. AND - our new Testament concept is even more focused. JESUS - is a multifaceted picture of God's continual care and has a ultimate focus on eternal care guaranteed to us for our security and peace. We need a fresh trumpet blast to remind us - JESUS is God's EVERYTHING and HE is God's GIFT to us. He REDEEMED us and He will guarantee the future safety and provision. John discussed it by saying that we even have FULL CONFIDENCE on Judgment DAY itself - 1 John 4:13-17. His conclusion is something to behold - "because, as HE is - so are WE in this world." I have had a couple friends confess they could not believe that verse by any general explanation. I said, "I don't blame you - to be honest - it is just too much." BUT - we all know it is TRUTH - Jesus is our provision on judgment day - but in my short 65 years I have NEVER heard a story told of judgment Day which had any kind of confidence or Jesus focus! (After all, those stories are to "motivate" folks and it is best to make them feel VERY alone!)

For today - just focus on that one word I used - "guaranteed" - and try to check that subject out in your Bible. Start at Romans 4:16 and let me know what YOU come up with.

One last hint - IF John was right - "as HE is, so are WE in this world - so we HAVE TO HAVE CONFIDENCE on Judgment day" - can you share with me a time when we CANNOT have confidence? OR - maybe we can say it - is there a time when we SHOULD not have FULL CONFIDENCE?

Jesus is our confidence - and HE is the full focus of meaning and HE is presented in the NT as - OUR LIFE. I have repented of watering down the story - and this context of 1 John 4 is one reason why. Share with me YOUR findings. The substance is Christ - not words about Christ - Christ Himself - more to come . . .