Identity and Freedom

Paul has a very interesting way of framing the idea of freedom. He talks about it a lot but specifically in Romans 6:18-20. This is just verse 18 but you should go read the whole thingDo you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” In the Roman world where Paul lived if you were a slave, you had no personality. There was even a special phrase for this idea: Servus non habet personam. A slave had no past, no future, no property of their own, no family name, and no personhood. They were just property. It was possible to buy your freedom but that was typically not until you were old enough to not be of any value to your master. Some were treated better than others but they were still slaves. If you were a slave, you wanted freedom but generally, there was little to no hope of obtaining it. You were personless property. You did not belong to yourself. That is the idea behind the meaning of what Paul talks about when he talks about being a slave.

With that in mind, we can add in that Paul says we are either in Christ or in Adam. It’s a clear either-or scenario.  There is no in-between we are either in Christ (sometimes called Spirit) or we are in Adam (sometimes called the flesh). You cannot be in both. This is important because Paul is framing an argument throughout all of his writing that says we exist as slaves one way or the other. The question is who the master is. What is unique is that Paul says we get to choose our master. Now by default, the master is sin or flesh.

Before Christ we were slaves to sin, we were slaves to our sin nature. We belonged to it. Sin was not something that we did as much as it was part of who we were. It owned us. We had no identity outside of it. Some of us embraced that more than others but true to the reality of the situation we all belonged to sin. Our natural default position was self-focused. Being controlled by sin means you are free from the requirements of righteousness. You belong to one master and do not need to listen to the other.

After you come to Christ the whole thing changes. We move from this position of self-focused to Christ and Spirit focused. We transition from one master to another. It’s like the old Bob Dylan song Gotta Serve Somebody says “yes Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody” and yes I just quoted Bob Dylan while talking about the Bible. You don’t get a choice in whether or not you serve but you do get to choose whom you serve.

When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we chose to serve Him, that’s the Lord part of the equation. We now not only have the power to stop being self-focused, but we have new requirements for service. Before when we served the sin nature the requirements were to do what feels good. Do what you want. Lookout for you. Now we are bound to the requirements of righteousness. That means we are outward and upward focused. We are called to seek the kingdom of God and let Him rule and reign in our lives here and now. We are called to walk as Jesus walked. We are called to love the Lord God with all of being and love one another.

The amazing thing is that as slaves of righteousness we are also adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High. We are no longer just slaves and servants but children who are promised an inheritance. We get something we did not have before. We get a future.  We get personhood. With the change in masters comes a change in identity. This is an amazing and glorious thing. We went from slaves with nothing to servants who are adopted by God. But that is not cause for bragging. On the contrary that is a call to surrender. In Philippians 2:6, speaking of Christ, Paul writes that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to used to His own advantage. Instead Jesus, fully understanding who He was laid down His rights and served.

That is our call. We are called to now understand our rights and lay them down. We say, yes, I am a child of God, and yes, I will one day see heaven but until then I have work to do. We place ourselves under the authority of Christ and do like He did. We submit ourselves and find our identity in God just as Christ did. We do not use our freedom for our own good but seek ways to serve and love one another. When we do this, we can rejoice that we truly know who we are.

We need to understand our identity and when we do, we can go out and do the things of God and for God without fear and with less hurt because we know who we are. We can move from a position of being a child and serving as obedient slaves and servants.

Just a thought,

Mike

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A Base of Love

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Working from a base of love is a funny thing. Sometimes life is stressful and confusing. Sometimes life is great and easy. Regardless of what life is like at any given moment, we are called to operate from a base of love. This means that when life is stressful and confusing we are to look past our circumstances and move from a position of being loved and loving others. This can be hard because our stress and confusion attempt to demand our attention. They should be given attention but they cannot have it all.
When life is great and easy it can be hard because we don’t have something pressing us towards the Father in prayer, there is nothing requiring us to look past our own situation. We should enjoy the many blessings we have but we should not forget to love others. Operating from a base of love means embracing the love of God and intentionally looking past our situation to see the image of God in others. It is not always easy but it is best.
Today I challenge you to work from a base of love. First, embrace the love of the Father. Bath in that love. Let it roll over you like waves. Let it drown you like the sun. Soak it up. Then go out and find ways to express that love to others. Find someone, find a few people that need that love and drown them in it. Give them the water of life that flows from within you like a mighty river.
It’s going to be awesome!
Just a thought,
Mike

God of the Wednesdays

As Easter closes, we are left with this time of resting. A lot of the rest of Christianity will celebrate the Ascension and maybe we should too but in general, we have hit our high. After a long time of preparation, we move from this high back to the ordinary. I am anything but ordinary, so I struggle here. We like the high moments. The mountain top experiences. The event. The loud and the fast-paced. But most of life is made up of the ordinary. Most of life is lived in the mundane. Most of life exist on Wednesday.

I say Wednesday because on Monday most people are getting back to work and still have some of high left over from the weekend. We can talk to our co-workers about what happened. We can talk to other students about what we did. Tuesday we are starting to come down, but we can still relive our stories. Someone might still ask how the weekend was. Our Facebook posts from the weekend might generate a few new likes. But on Wednesday there is usually a lot of silence. Maybe your Wednesday is actually Thursday but still, you have a day when nothing is going on. A time when nothing is happening, and you are just there. As a people who generally crave excitement these days can be hard but, in the Bible, we are presented with a deep and wonderful truth: God’s steadfast love endures forever. We think of forever as a time coming but in fact right now is part of forever. There are not moments that are here and gone or will be, but each moment is a moment where God’s steadfast love endures forever.

God is still God on Wednesday and He still reigns and loves us. He is still moving and active. He is still in control. We cannot be like the disciples that stood there looking up to heaven. We must move forward living out this life of love that we have. We must move forward walking each step as Jesus would walk. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “whether we eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things to the glory of God.”  In context, Paul was talking about not causing your brother or sister to stumble but it is important that he is using daily things. We are in the daily movements of life more than we are high on events. We spend more time living in Wednesday than anywhere else. It is in these ordinary times that we need to fall back on spiritual disciplines to help us remember that God is God and His steadfast love endures forever, even on a Wednesday.

  • How do you feel Gods love in the daily activities of life?
  • How do you connect with God in the mundane?
  • What are some areas you could improve on during your ordinary times?
  • What spiritual disciples do you make a practice of? (silence, reflection, daily reading (office readings perhaps?), contemplation, self-examination)
  • What is your private worship like?
  • What is your private prayer life like?

These are just some examples and you will need to find ways that work in your life, but it is important that you find ways and make them solid habits.

Just a thought,

Mike

Going the Distance

I have been thinking about Johann Dober and David Nitschmann who were so determined to minister to the slaves in St Thomas and St Croix that they were willing to sell themselves as slaves. I don’t think they ended having to do this, but they were willing to go the distance. I have also been thinking about Gladys Aylward who was so determined to get to China to be part of the ministry there that she worked for years as a maid to pay her own way. She was willing to go the distance. When I think missions, I think a lot of things, and one of those things is that we must be willing to go the distance. We must be willing to do whatever it takes (biblically) to reach the people we so desire to serve. What cost is too high?

Paul says 1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all people so that some might be saved. Yes, this means we take interest in the things that interest other people and yes it means we give up things so not to as offend but it also means we are willing to go the distance and be uncomfortable. In Acts 18:3 it says Paul was a tentmaker in Italy because the people he was with were tentmakers (he was also a tentmaker). In 2 Corinthians 11:7-15 Paul says he did not take money from the Corinthians because he did not want to offend or burden. Paul was willing to go the distance.

I don’t exactly know what it means for me to go the distance and I more certainly don’t know what it means for you to go the distance in missions. But I do know we must be willing to do it. We must be willing to sacrifice and live a life that gives preference to the call of God. It can be hard, and it can be tough, but it will always be worth it.

When we serve God when we are willing to take up our cross when we are willing to go the distance people and things change. Yes, the people around us see Christ and find hope and healing but we also change. We become filled with less of us and more of Him. We pour out our lives as a drink offering and in return, God fills us with more of Him.

So as Dober and Nitschmann said as they left for the West Indies “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering”

Just a thought,

Mike.

Four Statements you need to hear

Did you know God is calling you? Not on the phone, although I am sure he could. No, God is calling and has been calling you all along. We can think God is distant, but He is not. He is present and calling. I for one know there have been times when I know God is calling me and other times like after I sin that I am sure He is not calling me. But again, He is present and calling. Not only is He calling but I like the way River Tree church in Ohio puts it – He is For, With, One of, and In Us.

God is the one who sought out Adam and Eve after they sinned. It was God who initiated the seeking. It was God who called Abraham to leave his homeland and become the father of the faith. It was God who called Moses. It was God who called Samuel. When we read through Scripture we read God calls to people. If we go back further even than the garden to pre-creation creation itself, we read that Christ was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8 NIV). Because God is omnipotent He knew before forming Adam that He would have to send His Son to pay the penalty for sin and still He was for us.

Because God is for us He was moved to be with us. Because God loves us He was moved to send Jesus to take up residence with us. Jesus chose to leave heaven and take on human form. Not only did He take up human form He spent time with some really bad people. How often did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day accuse Him of being friends with and liking sinners? It makes one wonder if I could be accused of such a thing.

Moving on, God is one of us. This is the incarnation! An event so great that all of heaven sang out in wonder that Christ is born as they gave glory to God and proclaimed peace on earth (Lk 2:14). This was a moment creation and heaven was waiting for. This was the first of what I think are four of the most profound statements in the Bible that relate to God’s relationship to humankind. The first being that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). God clearly pronounced what it means to be for someone. The incarnation is God demonstrating His great love for us. While the world is still sinning and far from Him, He has come to bring life. This creates the possibility for a second profound statement when Jesus says it is finished. God’s being for us moved Him to be with us, living like us and then dying as one of us.

Finally, we get to the God is in us. This is the third profound statement when the angels declare He is risen! The grave could not hold Him, and He is alive once again. This makes a way for the final statement which is in Colossians 1:27 when Paul declares that the glorious wealth of the mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory. God was for us and now He is in us.

FOUR Statements that changed the world!

  • The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John 1:14
  • It is finished. John 19:30
  • He is risen. Matthew 28:6
  • The glorious wealth of the mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

Just reread those four statements and let that sink in. If you are “far” from God read those statements because they tell you that God is not “far” from you. If you are a lifelong saint, then read those statements because Christ is in you and He is your hope so don’t forget that. If you are a new Christian read those statements because they will be what you hold on to in times of trouble. If you are wondering what the purpose of your life is when read those statements because they will show you that Christ died and rose just to be with you. The beautiful thing about these simple little statements is they show so much about God and so much about you. So what are you going to do about it?

Just a thought,

Mike

Faulty Teaching or Bad Language Part 2

In the last post, we looked at the results of some ideas that were put forth by the author of an article. They were that Jesus is no longer human and that reconciliation to the Father removes humanity. This time I want to tackle the next three which deal with emotions as it pertains to Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and us (humans). As a reminder the sentence in question is “after Jesus ascended into heaven, he was no longer human. He had been fully reconciled to the Father and wasn’t experiencing human emotions and doubts anymore.” So, what we are going to look at is:

  • Jesus does not have human emotions. Statement
  • God does not have human emotions. Implication
  • God’s emotions and human emotions are different. Implication

All throughout the Bible emotions are ascribed to God. So, the question we are really asking is, when the Bible speaks of God having emotions is it anthropomorphic like when the Bible speaks of God having physical human traits (eyes, ears, arms, etc.)? Put another way does the Bible give God human emotions like it does physical attributes so we can relate or understand Him, or does He truly have emotions? Additionally, are our emotions as humans different than God’s emotions, if in fact, He has them.

First, just to give a clear picture the Bible does use figurative language about God. There are multiple passages about the eyes of the Lord or the arm of the Lord. This language is sometimes used to convey a nearness about God or His seeking of people. This type of language is used to communicate something about God in a way that we as people can understand. We can grasp things like eyes being used or seeing or arms used for strength, but we cannot grasp how the spirit seeks or has strength. It is something that is beyond our understanding. That should lead us to ask if the language used about God having emotion is similar language. Is the language used about God having emotions figurative? I say no.

To start with we must go to the beginning. Genesis 1:26 God says let us create man in our image. This tells us a lot because if I tell you I am building something like a motorcycle then when you come by you already have a reasonable idea of what you expect to see. You know what a motorcycle is, and you would expect to see something similar. Here what we have is God saying “I am going to create something like myself” so we should expect that whatever we have is like God right? Now let’s work backward. If I tell you I am building something like a motorcycle and you don’t know what motorcycle is then when you come by you have no idea what to expect. But, and here is the kicker once you see the thing I have built and learn that it is like a motorcycle you will then have an idea of what a motorcycle is like based on the new information. So, for starters what we have is an understanding that we are like God because we are made in His image. We have emotions and He has emotions. But there is more that is not simple reasoning.

I could leave it at that and I think that is a fairly decent argument but because there is more I will provide more. Theology places the perfections or attributes of God in categories. Why? Because we need more categories in the world. Anyway, two such categories are the Incommunicable and Communicable attributes of God. Incommunicable are attributes He alone possess and Communicable are ones He shares (for lack of a better term) with us. An attribute like Omnipresence (all present) is His alone but truth, while He possesses it to the ultimate degree, He shares with us. Omnipower (all powerful) is His alone but unity, as in being united as the body of Christ, we can share in. We can see there are things about God that rubbed off on us in creation. These are just two examples.

Emotion is one of those things. But how do we know this? Well, the most two popular are probably God saying He is a jealous God and Jesus weeping. However, because we are arguing the point of emotions for a preincarnate and ascended Christ we will skip over the earthly life of Christ for now even though I think that foolishness.

Here is a brief list I stole from a website because I am feeling a little lazy:

The list above shows us that God not only has emotions, but He has multiple emotions. More than that He is in control of His emotions. God is able to have emotions and not let them control Him. This, by the way, is an attribute of God which I place in the unity section because there is no division within God. He does not wrestle with His emotions like you or I do. He does not have to be conflicted over being angry at sin or feel sorry He hated something. There is perfect unity in His emotions.

I think one of the reasons people might reject the emotions of God is because to acknowledge that God has emotions and is able to remain in control (for lack of a better term) of them highlights the lack of emotional control we feel. We know that sometimes our emotions get the better of us and that we should do a better job at keeping them in control. To acknowledge that God has emotions is to either run the risk of being afraid God will fly off the handle at you or is to suggest you are not as in control of your own emotions as you think.

Additionally, we cannot attribute our general basic understanding of emotions to God. For example, we overuse and misuse the word love so much that when we attempt to think of God as love we uncut the real meaning of what that means. In the western world, and especially the English-speaking western world, we can say we love everything and the meaning can be anything from a fleeting infatuation to romantic desire to lifelong service to a spouse. The biblical definition of love, however, is vastly different. I like the way Charles Ryrie puts is when talking about love “love seeks the good of the object loved.”[1] Love is an emotion, but it is so much more too.

Lastly, because we have laid the groundwork we can probably now talk about the emotions Jesus has while in heaven and I will only mention one. Jesus sympathizes. According to Hebrews 4:15 Jesus sympathizes with our weakness. The Greek word is sympatheō. We could not even come up with an English word for the emotion or action. He intimately understands and relates to our weakness. Sympathy is an emotion and Jesus feels that for us while in heaven. This is why He lives to make intercession for His people.

None of this even gets into the emotions of the Holy Spirit see for example Eph 4:30. But whereas He is a full member of the Godhead He too has emotions.

We could probably keep going but I think the point is clear. Yes, Jesus has emotions because He is God and yes God the Father has emotions. God is not some impersonal force that is void of emotion who creates beings with emotions and then leaves them to fend for themselves. Jesus experienced all the “human” emotions and when He returned to the Father He kept those emotions.

We must be clear with the words we use to describe and talk about God because words are the basis for understanding and thinking. If we use the wrong words we start to get the wrong idea. It is not easy, and I have failed many times, but we must push forward never settling for cheap theology. We can never adequality explain God, but we can try to better understand and use the right words.

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Moody: Chicago 1999), 44.

Faulty Teaching or Bad Language Part 1

I think before I get started it is important for me to preface that I know I am a little weird. I get excited with things like theology, church history, word choices, church structure, and so on. Topics like these make me happy and if brought them up in a conversation you will quickly realize this. That being said, I also think it important to note that I get excited about them because they are highly important.

I was reading an article the other day and it was good. Nothing mind blowing but more of a comforting you can do it too type article. Nothing really jumped out at me except this line “After Jesus ascended into heaven, he was no longer human. He had been fully reconciled to the Father and wasn’t experiencing human emotions and doubts anymore.” At this, I slammed on the brakes. The brakes were hit because there are some large problems with this statement which is actually composed of multiple statements. I am going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and say they did not mean to express what I think this statement says and what it implies.

Here is the statement and some implications broken down:

  • Jesus is no longer human. Statement
  • Reconciliation to the Father removes humanity. Implication
  • Jesus does not have human emotions. Statement
  • God does not have human emotions. Implication
  • God’s emotions and human emotions are different. Implication
  • Jesus does not doubt. Statement

Of these statements and implications, only the last one has a biblical foundation. Jesus (i.e. God) does not doubt. That’s it. I have problems with every other statement and implication brought on by the sentence. I do not want to get long-winded here so I will try to be as succinct as possible while not doing damage to the importance of the problems brought on by these statements.

First, we have the question of the physical body of Christ post-resurrection and ascension but before we can get there we do have to look at the preincarnate and the incarnation of Christ. As Christians, we believe that before Christ walked on the earth He existed as the eternal Son. This is part of what we call the eternality of the Son. He was part of the Godhead along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. John chapter 1 speaks to this in detail. He had full rights as God. What happened at the incarnation was that Jesus came and was born of the Virgin Mary and became a man. He did not lose His deity but instead became a man as well. This is what we call the hyperstatic union of Christ. It means that the two natures (God and man) existed in Christ simultaneously but never mixing or diluting. He did not stop being God but as Philippians says He did not use that His advantage (Phil 2:6). Now there are many questions about this and not a whole lot of agreement on some of the questions brought on about this, but we have a phrase or word for it (hyperstatic union). That being said, it is a mystery. As a side note, a mystery is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you tell me you can explain or understand everything you believe you are a liar. If you could explain everything about God, you either have the wrong God or you are a little too big for your britches. Either way what we see in the incarnation is God becoming a man.

This was important for multiple reasons beyond substitutionary atonement (Christ died as a substitute for us). Jesus is called the King, Prophet, High Priest, and Apostle of the faith. For Him to be these things He had to have a physical body. If He did not, then, as an example, He could not be king in the line of David. A physical body was and is required for Him to be those things. If when we ascended into Heaven He somehow lost the body He would also lose the ability to be those things because those things require Him to be and remain human. More can be read on that here.

Additionally, to deny a continued physical body by Christ is dangerously close to Docetism which denied the physical body of Christ and said that Jesus only appeared to be human. Colossians 1:15 says “The Son is the image of the invisible God” and Colossians 2:9 says “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Docetism is a form of heresy that was denied at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Now please hear me, I am not saying the author is a heretic. My point is only that we have to be careful of the seeds we plant. I would not plan the seed for an oak tree in the garden that butts up against my house. The seed is small, but it grows into a great tree that would fracture my foundation. We have to follow seeds along their path to know what will grow from what we plant.

Moving on to the next point which is an implication. The author states that Jesus is reconciled to the Father and while I have trouble with this wording I am going to chalk it up to bad writing because reconciliation carries a very specific connotation in Christianity. For us, as Christians, it especially carries the idea of being separated by sin and no longer having free-flowing relationship or fellowship. Christ came to reconcile us to the Father and God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. To say that Christ became reconciled to God would imply He experienced a time when He was out of relationship with the Father which would imply disunity within the Godhead and the whole universe would collapse because Christ as God holds all things together (see Heb 1:3). I suppose I have a bigger problem with the wording than I thought.

Anyway, the other problem with this statement is that it implies that humanity or humanness cannot be connected or near God. That Jesus being reconciled to God meant He lost His humanity would imply the same thing for us. After all the Bible says that we will be raised like Him and while this speaks to union and eternal life I see no reason why a physical body would not be included especially because 2 Cor 5 talks about a new heavenly body which is one that does not see corruption or death. This again is Docetism and Gnosticism which says the physical is evil and only the spiritual is good. This means the flesh can never be good and leads to hedonism. There is a lot more than be said about this, but I think you get the picture.

We will stop here for now and split the rest up into another post. For now, we can summarize what we have. Jesus ascended to heaven and kept a human body. He was glorified (not reconciled) by the Father and then returned to heaven again. The physical or matter is not inherently evil and when we are united with Him in heaven or on the new Earth we too will have new, but still human, bodies. Next time we will talk about emotions. That will be a fun one…

Just a thought,

Mike