Discovering who we are!
Romans 6:1 – What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Someone recently asked me if I had any concerns for the church in this time of world-wide upheaval? I affirmed that I was deeply concerned. Then they asked why? Then I had to decide how to structure my thought and emotions into something that is coherent and understandable. What I finally came to understand is that I am not concerned with God and His plans, but with the natural arena of the church on planet earth and what we are doing to ourselves.
- I am concerned that the church is leaving its commission.
There has always been a tendency for the church to move away from the power of its nature and heritage back to the law. We seem to be comforted by that which is easily defined and categorized. Adam and Eve were attracted to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and so are we. We want to know the definitions of good and the warnings about evil. We want things codified, and reasoned, so we can be measured as good, in contrast to the equal opposite of evil. We want to be safe in a context that affirms that we are OK and that our behavior violates nothing.
The problem is, that the law, that which defines good from evil, is powerless to deal adequately with evil or to measure properly what is good. The end result is the rule of human government and the need to trust fallible humans with our state of being. This becomes increasingly difficult by the nature of the law. It tends to expand in scope, and reduce us as it becomes more intense in its application. The vortex of human government is ever revolving like a water spiral, becoming more dense at its core while the mass is spinning at greater lengths. The mass increases until it crushes we who are caught in its process.
Law is constructed for seemingly good intentions, yet its principle course is not to remain in place but to increase in density. Freedom is always the ultimate victim of law without grace and purpose.
The church tends to move from revival and revelation to identification of the revelation, then to codification of the revelation then to the legalization of the codification, then to enforcement of the legalization. That is, God speaks into the church and it experiences Him in relationship and the sense of His presence and the expression of His power, then, over a short period of time, it tries to capture God’s presence in a legal form and to use that form to prove that it is the right way, the true church, the best of God’s people and the presence is reduced to a golden calf.
Right now, we are experience a falling away from the church of a generation who simply cannot relate to doctrine, dogma, religious systems and the hard cold control of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The definitions and the legal descriptions of God do not suffice for His presence and His power. Besides, with high taxes to pay and the cost of living being what it is, who wants to shell out another 10% to support more bureaucracy?
As Christ is the express image of God, we are to be the express image of Jesus. But when the image is compressed into an icon without the substance, it has little attraction to gather to worship the shadow, devoid of the substance. The commission of the church is to be (BE) the image of the creator, not just talk about the legal representation of Him.
The other day two nice Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. In the good old days, we were told to never talk to them, but I am not inclined to be that impolite so I always try to take time with them. While I was pastoring, several came to the church because of that interchange. Most stayed.
Anyway, they started in with their Bible in hand, thumbing through and telling me why they were right and why the rest of Christianity was wrong. I listened. Then I asked them if they were trying to prove that they were smarter than me and if I was stupid. It was quite a pointed question, and they back-peddled, assuring me that they were not trying to put me down. Then I asked them if God was partial to smart people with right doctrinal statements but was somehow prejudiced toward the many stupid people He had created? They looked toward each other for support and a way out of this dilemma.
So I asked if God’s acceptance was determined by our ability to construct the right description of Him? They looked at each other once again then the lead spokesperson bypassed the question to get back on script. He talked about the way in which they had found the truth and how they studied to find the truth and how they knew the truth. So I asked how they found the truth. They described the process of gathering, hearing the word of instruction and of finding the revelation of the word.
I love it when a plan comes together.
So I asked if they received revelation during their times of instruction. They nodded in agreement, as though I had finally understood the source of their rightness. Yes, they affirmed, that is how revelation of truth happens. So I asked if they received revelation, then the assumption is that they did not know what was revealed prior to the revelation, so they had to give up prior presumptions and understanding to receive the revelation. They agreed. So, if your being right is the basis of your acceptance by God, you were not right, before the revelation????
Confusion filled their faces as they saw that they had walked into a trap. The very basis of their argument, being right, was turned against them. They had to admit that they believed error while in the pursuit of truth, but that God loved them anyway. And if they had that Grace from God, then the rest of creation must also have that grace also, for God is no respecter of persons.
I had just destroyed their entire platform and they had to now admit that others may have revelation and be on an equal footing and that their entire approach of contrasting right from wrong had holes in it. I pointed them back to the concepts of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. I challenged them that eating of the tree of definition and contrast was a substitute from the Tree of Live and the fellowship with God. They politely excused themselves and beat a quick retreat.
Yet, that is the tendency for all of us, who are human, born in sin and shaped by insecurity and fear. We need the security of our own parameters, of our own definitions, of our having some foundations of personal security. That is not wrong, but it is not faith and it is not to be confused with having the presence of God. God is not a concept that we fabricate from arguments and dogma. He is a person to be experienced, to be related to and to be acknowledged. Jesus did not say that He understood the truth or that he had discovered the truth or that His teachings contained the truth. He said He was the truth –
John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
It is so easy to confuse the shadow and the substance. It is the story of human history that we choose to have information about God rather than to walk in the intimacy with the person and presence of God. We far too often reduce God to a system, a codification of right and wrong and provide measurements of acceptance by God through our systems. The church is its own worst enemy, as it bites once again into the apple from the wrong tree and fall prey to the subtle surface images of a god of regulations.
We tend to the law. It is easier that way. In the passage at the start of this chapter, the concluding “because” is, we are not under law but under grace. The task of the church is not to dress up the old man in the right suit. It is not to cover the old man with new rules of conformity. It is to declare the old man dead and to live in the freedom of the newness of life in Him who is our life.
The practice of baptism is a visual declaration of what becoming a Christian is about. It is a declaration of death. We are dead to the old and alive to the new. We are not reformed by a new context, we are transformed by new life. It is not a redefinition of our beliefs or our behaviors but a transformation from old life, now dead, to new life now revealed. The task it not to restructure or revive or to find a new context. It is the revelation of a new content, the transformation from death to life.
I shall never forget a simple event, when I was a young pastor. We had invited people to come forward to receive Christ and one fellow came, with deep emotion and a repentant heart, knelt at the alter and was weeping as God was dealing with him. I knelt beside him and opened my Bible and started to talk to him about passages I though he ought to know, when I felt a definite and clear correction in my spirit. A still small voice said, “What are you doing?” I replied, “He is a new Christian and there are a lot of things he needs to know and a lot of things he will have to change!” Then as clearly as I have ever heard the voice of God, He said, “I’m in here now, and I will take care of it!”
We sometimes act as though God is only a thought, an idea, a doctrine, a prohibition, a context, when He is, in fact, a real presence, quite capable of ruling His own universe. Our task, is not to be God for people but to declare the presence of the Eternal and walk as an example of the newness that is found in Him. Christianity is not a change of clothing but a transformation from the rule of the old tree to the rule of new life. It is a death of the old and the growing of a new life in Christ. It is more than the joining of a church or the taking of a class to become oriented to new loyalties and practices. It is “All thing have become new!”
Grace is not just that I am forgiven of my old sins, but that I am transformed to a presence of God in me. I am new, the old has passed away. The act of baptism is a declaration to me, to others and to the powers of hell that attended me in my sin, that the old me is gone, dead and buried. The new me is living by a new power and a new means. It is not just a change of context, it is a change of content – Christ in me the hope of glory. The old man is dead, dead, dead! Changing his clothes, altering his beliefs, changing his context is not the point. Life is Christ is not a change of context – it is a transformation of spirit.