Sunday, November 19, 2006

Under Siege

Under Siege

When God’s people were being particularly stubborn and self-reliant, the Lord would allow a foreign army to lay siege to important cities (2 Kings 25:1-3). By cutting off supplies and preventing traffic from moving in or out, the enemy hoped to bend the city to its will. By allowing the city’s resources to be cut off, God hoped the city’s people would turn to Him for what they needed. However, it was often a long time before either of these things happened. To find relief from famine, many resorted to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:25, 29).
There are times when the Spirit of the Lord must lay siege to us as well. How He does this varies: He may permit the enemy to be a thorn in our flesh; extra responsibilities may be thrust on us, depleting time for taking care of ourselves; God may even limit the time we can spend with Him. Whatever the case, God sees the self-reliance of our sinful nature and desires to free us from it. The flesh is a stubborn enemy. It will resort to spiritual cannibalism and feed on itself before it depends on God. But we will not turn or rely on Him as long as the sinful nature is allowed the resources it needs to thrive. Only under siege will we realize the famine that self is and turn to the One who promises, “Whoever believes in me will never hunger” (John 6:35).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reflections on Colossians 3

Our life is hidden with Christ. We are no longer seen. What is mortal is swallowed up of life. We no longer live but Christ lives (Gal. 2:20).

Not only is our life hidden with Christ, but the life spoken of here is zoe, divine life, the life Christ is. "Your life" is not you. The life that is ours is of another kind. Genesis chapter one tells us that every creature comes forth from its own kind. Christ is the kind from which we come forth, from whom our life is. Our life is not bios, the physical life, or psuche, the self-life. Our life—who we now are—is the life that we have since we have been raised with Christ. It is the life above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1).

We are told not to set our minds on things on the earth (Col. 3:2). That is not where our life comes from. That is not where our life is. The life that related to the old creation, that was the old creation, died. Our new life—our divine life—is in another place, above, raised, in God. In Him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17).

We are told to deaden our members that are on the earth. We are from above, not from the earth. It was through our members we related to this creation, this fallen world, through our members we carried on the intercourse of sin. But no more. "For you died." Because one died for all, all died (2 Cor. 5). The members, the medium of our sinful intercourse with the earth, were cut off. Like broken roots, they are powerless to draw the earth into us, powerless to hold us down in it. We are free, free in Christ and above. We no longer have members that drink sin from the earth. We ARE members of Christ: one body drawing one life from the one God.

"For you died." What blessed rest there is for a dead man. Nothing is required of him. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'They will rest from their labors, for their deeds will follow them.'" (Rev. 14:13). At a man's funeral, his employer will not slide up the casket and say, "Bill, I'll still need those reports on Monday." Neither will his wife, clutching a tissue to her nose, tearfully ask if he remembered to take out the garbage. In the same way, God won't come to a dead man and say, "Thou shalt," or "Thou shalt not…." The dead man is no more able to honor his father and mother than he is able to commit murder or adultery. He has no capacity for good or evil. Instead, our labors belong to Christ. If something divine is accomplished through us, Christ is the source. If we sin or fall short, that too is Christ's: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24).

"For you died." Ecclesiastes expounds what it means to be dead with Christ:

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate, and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. […] Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom (Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10).

Unlike the living, who anxiously anticipate death, the dead in Christ are no longer enslaved by the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). The dead know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). They have no further reward. Whatever was gain to them they now consider loss for the sake of Christ (Php. 3:7). The dead in Christ are new creations. Old things have passed away. The memory of what they were is forgotten, and we no longer know them according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16, 17). Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions—love, hate, jealousy—and desires (Gal. 5:24). They have no part in anything that happens under the sun because the world is crucified to them and they to the world (Gal. 6:14). In the world, activities are pursued with might, striving, ambition. But the dead in Christ rest. Christ's energy works powerfully in them (Col. 1:29). Christ is living in them and is doing His work (John 14:10). Dead men do not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through them (Rom. 15:18). In Christ, there is no working, planning, knowledge, or wisdom. Christ has been made for us wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).

When Paul says, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature," he assumes that "you died," and also, "you died with Christ" (Col. 2:20; 3:3, 5). We cannot put to death unless we are already dead. Paul is not giving a command with the expectation that we fulfill it. He is asking us to believe in what Christ has already fulfilled. He is commanding us, as we live day to day in the world, to remain above, where we are already dead in Christ, hidden in Christ, raised in Christ, to remain where old things—immorality, evil desires, covetousness, and the other things he lists—have passed away and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Romans 8:13 is a good companion scripture: "[F]or if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live." As we remain in Christ, the Spirit is released to realize the death of Christ in our bodies.

We have this affection for ourselves, for our old life. We do not want it to really die. We want to help it, to change it, to rehabilitate it, and we want God to share our sympathy with self. This is as when Abram prayed that God would bless Ishmael, the fruit of his flesh. Or, like Samuel, we continue to pity and to pray for Saul in us when God is altogether done with him: "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king?" (1 Sam). When the people of Israel were past reform, God told Jeremiah, "So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you" (Jer. 7:16). God's plan is not to rehabilitate the old self. He crucified it and is finished with it. He wants us to leave it, to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is seated, where our life is now hidden. Rather than wrestle with the old, we can just walk away from it. God wishes this to be simple for us, but our affection for self makes it a struggle. We mourn and pray for ourselves. We cry and beg God to covenant with our flesh. And yet if we saw how many of our tears flow from self-love we would cry less and believe more. God does not answer prayers for the old self. Christ is our new self, and He is ours without struggle, without tears. God would not have us try to change the old self (which is like a leopard changing its own spots)(Jer. 13:23). He would merely have us change clothes: "[Y]ou have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self," which is Christ (Col. 3:9, 10).

"For you died…." These three little words are a mountain to our faith. They are hard to believe because we live with ourselves every day. We can't be rid of ourselves, of our petty reactions, our selfish desires, our vanity, and all the myriad of other ways we are a plague unto ourselves. Sin just keeps popping up. But we are dead: "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:6, 7). Adam, the root and source of sin, was destroyed at the cross. We are free
Sometimes a corpse will move reflexively. Or, if a dead person's chest is compressed, residual air in the lungs will be forced out, vibrating the vocal cords, and causing a moan. But such occurrences do not mean a person has come back to life. "You died," and all the reflexive jerking of Adam won't change that.

"You died," as in, "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall keep the Sabbath." The one whom the commandments addressed ("You") is no more. And where there is no one to command, there is no further use for the commandment.

God does not require us to be anything but dead and hidden with Christ in God. How can a dead man be anything? What can he be that will please God? God is not more pleased with some activities than others. He is not more pleased by our religious activities than with others. He doesn't want super-evangelists, prayer warriors, and the like. He wants us to be dead, hidden, raised. If Christ in us does no more than work 9 to 5 and raise 2.5 kids, then we should rest in that and receive God's pleasure in His Son. If He has us disciple many and minister in the church, we should again rest in that and receive God's pleasure in His Son and not in our activities. For how many years did being about His Father's business mean that Jesus did mundane things? He was no less about His Father's business when obeying His parents or learning the trade of carpentry than He was when casting out demons or teaching in the temple courts. In fact, the majority of His life was spent carrying out unspectacular duties related to family and occupation. Only the last few years of His short life were spent in public ministry. In this, God shows us that He is in every part of life, not just the small part we hallow simply because it includes explicitly religious activity. God is pleased by His Son in us, and His Son is in us at all times. Therefore, whatever we do, we should do "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:17). "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders" (1 Thess. 4:11, 12). Paul's charge doesn't sound very ambitious. It seems to lack all zeal for the kingdom, all vision for reaching the world with the gospel. Just live life in Christ and Him in us? This can't be enough for God. But being an average person full of Jesus is more valuable to God, and will draw more into His kingdom, than 100 super-ministers who think they please God by their zeal.