Christianity 201

August 28, 2018

You are a Slave: Who is Your Master?

by Russell Young

How often have you heard a passage put in a context that seems to make sense without giving its meaning second thought? Romans 6:23 may be one of them. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This passage is often used in the evangelizing process to confront people with the fate that awaits sinners and to reveal the hope provided by Christ; however, the context of this passage makes it more expansive than often appreciated. It is directed to both those who have confessed faith in Christ and to those who have not. Paul is addressing the question of whether those who claim to be believers should go on sinning “that grace may increase” (v 1) and has stated that we should “count” ourselves, or consider ourselves, to have died to the practice of sin which our baptism has pledged. He has proclaimed that sin should not be our master because we are no longer under the law. In addressing slavery to sin his words are:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16 Italics added)

In his encouragement, he has added, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (v 18) The freedom to which he refers is from past sin and from slavery to sin since breaking the law is sin and the law has been nailed to the cross. Paul wrote to the Colossians,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (the law) with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:1314)

Old Covenant law does not apply to those under the New Covenant, therefore sin cannot be acquired by breaking its prescriptions. He has commended their slavery to righteousness since they were obeying the teaching that he had given. Paul went on to explain that although they used to offer their bodies in slavery to sin, they were to “now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (v 19) Further he explained, “but now that you have been set free from sin (past Heb 9:15) and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (v 22) His position is that slavery to righteousness leads to eternal life. It is in this context that he wrote, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many confessors have taken the last clause, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” to over-rule the first. A “gift” is normally something given unconditionally. Paul has not promoted the idea of a “gift” anywhere in this chapter, however. In keeping with his teaching on “slavery” a more understandable and a better rendering of charisma, the Greek from which “gift” has been translated, can be gained.

The Liddle and Scott Greek Dictionary presents charisma to mean “grace, favour.” The online Ancient Greek Dictionary (to 1453), Glosbe, represents charisma to mean “personal charm or magnetism; (Christianity) an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence others; personal magnetism or charm.” This chapter does not mention “gift,” nor hint of a gift, but of a life of slavery.

Gift” as used in Romans 6:23 is misleading. Charisma refers to the idea of the appeal or magnetism of God and implies a response by the one who has been attracted or charmed and influenced. Some confessors will not see the charisma of God and to others the influence of a holy God will not endure; they will be claimed by the world once more. It is the appeal of God’s magnetism (attractiveness) which motivates a person’s soul to pursue God and to become a slave to righteousness that provides eternal life. Christ is to be recognized as lord or master and it is through obedience to him (Heb 5:9) that he is able to accomplish the believer’s eternal salvation. Paul has presented that while slavery to sin –which is the continuation of sinning and rebellion against the Spirit—results in death the influence or appeal of Christ entices slavery to righteousness which results in eternal life.

Verse 23 is a summation of his address to the question concerning whether we should go on sinning so that God’s grace should increase. Those who don’t live in slavery to Christ as their master and lord by default become slaves to sin which will result in death. Confessors have the freedom to choose their master. However, the wages of sin is death but the charisma of God provides eternal life through Jesus our Lord, our Master. The sin issue cannot be resolved until the mastery issue is resolved.

Although the first covenant law has lost the power to enslave the confessor, a law still exists that can be broken. Paul said that he was not free from God’s law but was under “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21), which he has also called “the law of the Spirit of life”. (Rom 8:2) Breaking Christ’s law brings death. John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) If life over death for a brother can be gained by forgiving a sin, neither pardon for sin nor certainty of life must have been established for the brother.

The Lord addressed the issue of slavery, as well. He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:3435 Italics added) A son is one who is led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14), who in slavery to righteousness, through which he or she honors Christ’s law.

Confessors would be wise to consider Paul’s words in their context and to choose their master carefully.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

 

October 26, 2015

Unity in the Body

Eph. 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.…

This is from the website Christ-Centered Christianity and the writer is David Bolton. I’m not sure which you might enjoy more, the words that follow, or the 9-minute video linked to in the closing paragraphs that he discovered. But you need to read the first for the second to make sense. Better yet, click the link below and read everything at source:

100 Pianos

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?  They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.  So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
A. W. Tozer The Pursuit of God

Ever since the earliest days of my walk with Christ, I’ve had a strong passion and deep burden for the unity of the Body of Christ.  This passion and burden have sprung from two main sources: the clear teaching of Scripture and, in stark contrast, the grievous division that abounds in the Church of Jesus Christ.

From Scripture, it is clear that there are few things more precious to God than unity. Please consider the following:  

  • Unity defines the very nature of His triune being.
  • Unity permeated all of “eternity past” before the beginning of time.
  • Unity characterized the whole of creation prior to the rebellion of Lucifer.
  • Unity marked the Garden of Eden before the serpent entered and tempted Eve.
  • Unity is what God sought to manifest through His chosen nation, Israel.
  • Unity is what Christ taught, prayed for, and then died and rose from the dead in order to restore.
  • Unity is what the Holy Spirit poured out on the Church on the day of Pentecost.
  • Unity is what the early church was known by throughout the book of Acts.
  • Unity is what Paul and the other apostles repeatedly exhorted the Church unto throughout the Epistles.
  • Unity is what will define the Kingdom of God in the millennial reign of Christ.
  • Unity is what will prevail in the new heavens and new earth for all eternity.

From beginning to end, unity lies at the very heart and soul of God and His eternal purpose! That is enough for me!  How about you?

As we turn from looking at the central and significant place of unity in Scripture to the vessel that God has chosen to manifest His eternal purpose on earth, the Church, what do we see in this regard?  Instead of seeing a corresponding witness on earth of unity, we see an entirely contrary witness of disunity.  In my opinion, it is an utter mess, an epic fail, an outright mockery of the unifying work of God in Christ!  I really don’t think it could get much worse!

So, I have to ask, “What is the cause of this vast disparity between the strong testimony of Scripture regarding unity and the despicable testimony of the Church in its practice of disunity?”

As I’ve contemplated this matter, I’ve come to a conclusion that may be somewhat surprising.

Ironically, I’ve come to believe that the greatest enemy to unity in the Church is actually the Church’s pursuit of “unity!”  Look about the Christian landscape and I think that you will see that this is so.  When any portion of the Church pursues an isolated form of unity along sectarian lines, it becomes divisive to the larger body of Christ.  In fact, the sectarian pursuit of “unity” is one of the most dangerous and destructive practices the Church regularly engages in.  Christendom is riddled with the divisive fruit of this practice.

The reality is, that as much as God esteems and seeks unity in His Church, He has not set unity as a primary pursuit for His Church.  Rather, it is a secondary matter that comes into expression as His people primarily seek a much higher and greater objective, i.e., that of conformity to Jesus Christ.  In other words, the unity that He seeks is a “fruit” issue, not a “root” issue.

To give an example, if I want to have delicious apples to eat, I don’t primarily set out to create apples with my own determination, wisdom, and resources. That would be impossible! Rather, I plant and nurture an apple tree and, in time, I have delicious apples to eat!  The same is true with unity.  If we want the unity that God desires, we don’t primarily set out to create unity with our own determination, wisdom, and resources.  That, likewise, would be impossible!  Instead, we plant and nurture the right “Tree” and, in time, we have the delicious fruit of unity!

So, what is that “Tree”?

It is the “Tree of Life”!

And what is the “Tree of Life”?

It is CHRIST!

I once tweeted, “We don’t obtain unity by pursuing unity together; we obtain unity by pursuing Christ together!”

Isn’t this what Bro. Tozer is saying in the quote at the beginning of this post.  We don’t get 100 pianos in one accord by tuning them to each other, but by individually tuning them to another standard.  That “standard”, that “fork”, is Jesus Christ!

When man tries to create unity, he employs all manner of “forks” to bring people into one accord.  More often than not, however, Jesus Christ Himself becomes “the fork that the tuners reject.” (to paraphrase Psalm 118:12 & 1 Peter 2:7)

Jesus Christ is a “Fork” that is heavenly and spiritual in nature.  He can only be “heard” by those who have spiritual ears attune to His heavenly “frequency”.  Man, in general, is much more in resonance with earthly, natural things, and so are much more readily brought into one accord around a “fork” that is of a lower nature.

Jesus Christ is, likewise, a “Fork” that emits a sound that is fuller and more exquisite than any tone heard here on earth.  The range and resonance of the sound far exceeds the dull, monotone ring of our earthly “forks”.  He emits a symphony of sound that is able to tune all of our diverse “strings” harmoniously at once.  Those who are attuned to Him create a magnificent symphony of sound in their unified diversity.  Not so the “forks” of earth which emit a single tone and create a much more uniform drone.  Such, however, is easier for leaders to “conduct” and for man to “echo”, and so man’s spiritually tone-challenged ears rally around their monotonous, man-made rings.

Consider, then, the many “forks” that religious/spiritual people employ to bring followers into one accord:

Some employ the “fork” of church hierarchy and official dogma; others that of denominational affiliation and theological persuasion; still others a chosen religious tradition, spiritual experience, Scriptural emphasis, charismatic personality, church polity, crafted program, or popular movement.  All of these are used to bring a select portion of the Body of Christ into one accord around their particular tone.

This may all seem very reasonable, but what is the over-all result?

Body-wide DISSONANCE;

A global, ecclesiastical CACOPHONY;

A ubiquitous, religious BABEL!

I tweeted at a different time: “The unity of the Church is found in Jesus Christ alone.   All human contrivances to produce unity only divide the Church further. JESUS ALONE!”

God has only ONE FORK with which to tune ALL of His Church!  The unity that He seeks is found solely in the Lord Jesus Christ!  “For He Himself is our peace…”  (Ephesians 2:14)  Only He, through His glorious Person and work is able to bring all of God’s people into unity and one accord.

So, let it be understood, that the “fork” that we tune to is not an institution or organization, for Christ is not an institution or organization.  The “fork” that we tune to is not a mere theological position or set of doctrines, for Christ is not a mere theological position or set of doctrines.  The “fork” that we tune to is not a particular spiritual emphasis or religious experience, for Christ is not a particular spiritual emphasis or religious experience.

The “Fork” that we tune to is a PERSON!  He is a Living PERSON in Whom all fullness dwells, and Who transcends all of these things.  As each one of us becomes personally tuned to Him, we automatically become tuned to one another.  This is God’s way of true unity!

May we as Christ’s Body transcend these lesser, divisive “forks”, and seek to become fully one in resonance with God’s chosen “Fork”.  Then, and only then will we be fully tuned with one another and so be fit for the Grand Symphony of the Ages to be played through us to the glory of God and the joy of all creation!

~ ~ ~

As I was searching for this quote of A. W. Tozer’s, I came across a video of a musical production which was inspired by these very words.  I share the link with you here as a final meditation and inspiration.  It is extraordinary!

As you watch and listen, please consider the multitude and diversity of talents and gifts that have gone into making this what it is.  This is a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ, all in tune, functioning in one accord, under the direction of one Conductor!  Enjoy!

100 Pianos by Gio Galanti

April 10, 2014

When God Steps Back

We try not to “borrow” posts from any one source more than every six months, but Jim Thornber’s writing is exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for here. When you click through to read, you’ll notice the name of the blog is similar to one you might have seen before! This one looks at very challenging passage of scripture. Click to read God Left Me Alone? (For those of you too shy to click the text is below.)

 “God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” — 2 Chron. 32:31

I know this is hard to believe, but sometimes I’ve felt very alone in the world.

Shocking, isn’t it? Here I am, a pastor of a church and a man whose been going to church for 40 years. I’m a self-proclaimed normal and sane person who believes I can actually talk with God and, at times, believes God even talks back.

Yet, sometimes I’ve felt there was no one listening, that God was not in the room much less in the universe, and I was the only real person in the world with feelings, hurts, disappointments, desires, lusts, dreams, failures, successes and more questions than answers.

Then I read about King Hezekiah, and I began to understand that I’m not the first person who ever felt he was alone in the world. And this was after Hezekiah had a great encounter with the miracle-making God. It went like this.

One day Hezekiah wakes up from a nap and isn’t feeling well. His buddy Isaiah, a local prophet, tells him to get his affairs in order for he was going to die. King Hezzy cries out to God and God sends Isaiah back to the King with good news: he is going to live!

When you read the story in 2 Kings 20, you see God promised He would heal Hezekiah of a life-threatening disease and proved it by making the shadow go back ten steps on the stairway. This is very heady stuff.

Word of this miraculous series of events draws international attention and foreign ambassadors come to pay their respects and see how the king is doing. Now God, knowing Hezekiah had a tendency to become proud (2 Chron. 32:25), decided to test the king. He withdraws His presence to see if he’s going to tell the ambassadors about God’s goodness and loving-kindness, or if Hezekiah is going to show them all his accomplishments as a king. Hezekiah failed the test by showing his visitors everything in his storehouses (2 Kings 20:13).

This is where I pause, because I completely understand Hezekiah. If I felt the Lord left me after I’d been healed of a life-threatening disease, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t try to recount all my accomplishments before the assembled crowd and show them everything in my storehouse. Then in my spare time, I’d be looking for God under every pew and behind every stack of Bibles. I’d be telling everyone who’d listen what God did in hopes that God would show up again and let me feel His presence. God, of course, can never truly leave us. There is nowhere you can go to escape His omnipresent Self. David learned this lesson well and wrote a poem about it. Well call this poem Psalm 139.

What I need to do when I feel God leaving the room is simply sit down and know He never really left me.  I remind myself that in His absence, nothing else satisfies. God knows this, but it is a lesson we all need to understand. Maybe we’re all a bit like Hezekiah, building up our storehouses by chasing things like cars, houses, iPhones, titles and vacations because we’re really looking for God. C. S. Lewis said, “All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

I see now that on the occasions God left me alone, He did it to see if I’d pursue Him or the stuff I think replaces Him. I’ve done both, and I found the stuff falls short. So next time I sense God has left me alone, I’ll know that all He really wants is me, and all I really need is Him.