no condemnation, or corresponding fear for those in Christ Jesus

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

I believe strongly that it not only doesn’t hurt to go back to some level one gospel truths. All biblical truth in a way, is gospel truth, since in one way or another it’s related to the gospel. But when you start looking at such truth in scripture, you do best to read all of it in context. This is like music albums, when certain symphony or classical pieces are on the recording. Those are nice to have, perhaps especially for those who don’t have an appreciation of classical music. Maybe akin to precious promise books, which have certain verses and passages from scripture. I have two such albums I especially like, one supposedly for morning, and another for going to sleep at night. We all return to certain verses or passages again and again. But it’s best to along with that, look and listen to the entire thing, if we want to gain a keen eye and ear, so that we can better process and appreciate every part. Such is the case with one of the great passages of scripture, itself like a mountain, or beautiful place, Romans 8.

Let me preface these thoughts then to point out that to gain the best appreciation of Romans 8, we need to consider all of this great book. And then to understand the book of Romans best, we do well to be working through the entire Bible. All of that is a project which takes time, to be sure. But even if we haven’t done much there, it’s so good to look at one short passage, maybe even a verse, and then look at a paragraph out from that in whatever translation of scripture you use. And from there a whole section, since most translations nowadays incorporate headings.

The beginning of the Romans 8 masterpiece states that those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation from God based on the cross of Christ; his death taking care of the sinfulness of our flesh, our sin– the work of the Spirit in our life, corresponding to that. We can think we know these things already, but it’s important to keep meditating on them, and actually life itself along with our own propensities will make it essential for us to do so, if we want to keep growing, and going on with the Lord.

The end of this important section of this great peak in scripture is related to the beginning. Since there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there’s no fear of that, either, because such are indeed God’s children, the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit of that reality, as we live in dependence on that Spirit, and do not live according to the flesh, which means the myriad of ways people live apart from the Spirit in the way of this world.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:12-17

Again, to really appreciate this fully, we need to read it more fully in its context. But suffice it to say here that we are simply different people in Christ, because God is our Father, and the Spirit helps us to live out that reality. And front and center here, condemnation and the fear is therefore never to be accepted by us.

Romans 8 stands on its own as a tremendous piece that we need to get into our eyes and ears, into our hearts, and into our bones. Into the very warp and woof of our lives. All of this in and through Jesus.

keeping hold of the gospel

The gospel is at the heart of our faith, and therefore central to the well being, not only of us, but of the world. Faith, hope, and love depend on it. No wonder then, when it can become such a point of contention. I commend N. T. Wright and his writings, along with other writers and teachers such as Scot McKnight and Craig Blomberg, and many others.

The gospel essentially is the Jesus revealed in scripture, and all the truth that surrounds him in his person, life, teaching, works, death and resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his return. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage, but actually Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all accounts of the gospel. The good news in Jesus in which scripture is fulfilled.

It is imperative for us to hold on the gospel, not simply because of the life it promises after death, but also because of the life that is promised to us here and now. It is a life in God, one of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s redemptive work of the cross, and the freeing activity of the Spirit (Romans 8). I find that we have to hold on to faith to get out of survival mode, though in spiritual warfare, simply to stand our ground is all that’s required (Ephesians 6:10-20). This is all about the gospel: the good news in Jesus, and holding on to that.

God wants us in Jesus to be more than conquerors, actually in him we already are (Romans 8), victorious (Revelation 2-3) in and through Jesus by the good news, regardless of what we face, or our past, as well as present. It may be in the midst of much weakness, and fallout. Nevertheless God wants the truth of that gospel in Jesus stamped onto our lives, so that it defines and centers us in all of life. The good news, by the way, is as big as all of life, if one reads the pages of scripture in full. It is no less than new creation, God making all things new. It is not a matter of hiding in a cave somewhere with bread and water. At the same time, though, it does involve a following with others of Christ in identification with him, which in this life can spell trouble, even death. But in the midst of that, we know from the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to pray and ask God to help us grasp and hold on to this good news in Jesus. That it might correct us where need be, and set us on the path of life, even of immortality, the eternal life and everlasting way in and through Jesus.

 

continuing in the word in the Word: “in Christ” and “in Christ…crucified”

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14

Regardless of what happens in the unexpected twists and turns of life, the Christian, or follower of Christ is grounded in the faith: dependent on Christ, but also calling one to faith. I would like to say, calling us to faith, since it’s a community endeavor. Being in the word in the Word is key.

Perhaps Greg Boyd is getting at some vital, even though I’m not sure I would end up agreeing with some of his conclusions (see his tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I await the shorter version due, I read, in August). But I am confident that at least there’s something to be said for the idea of reading all of scripture through the lens of Christ, and Christ crucified. As Christians, we endeavor to read the text in its original context, and ultimately as something fulfilled by Christ, so that in a certain sense the text is in Christ, or to be read in the light of Christ. And at the heart of Christ and his coming is his crucifixion, his death on the cross, and the God who is love being revealed in that light.

While scripture doesn’t talk explicitly about being “in the Word,” “in Christ” is repeated over and over again in the New/Final Testament, especially in Paul’s letters. It is shorthand for what is most essential in understanding the faith for our faith. So that no matter what I’m facing, or what we are facing together, the reality of remaining “in Christ” remains intact. And an important aspect of that is to remain in scripture, in God’s word. I take it that we feed on Christ both through the word and through the sacrament, Holy Communion/the Eucharist. For those of us (and I live among them) who don’t accept the view of the church at large since early times that somehow Jesus is especially present in the bread and the wine (not in the way the Roman Catholics suggest, but perhaps more like the Eastern Orthodox, or better yet for me, the description of that given by John Calvin), we at least acknowledge that we can feed on Christ by being in the word, in scripture. As we read it in the light of Christ’s fulfillment, in our union in him.

All kinds of things change, we get older, new problems and sometimes grave difficulties face us. But one thing remains for us, whatever else happens in our world, and in the world: In the faith by faith we are “in Christ,” and in that union both as individuals, and together, dependent on God through his word. Each of us must do this, but part of that is to do so in communion with all the saints, in the fellowship of the church. In and through Jesus.

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.

unanswered questions and where our confidence lies

The Bible is full of places where God’s people, even his servants question him, wondering about this or that, especially in terms of God’s justice and even goodness. Habakkuk is a good case in point, as we heard in the message (week one: “Honest to God”) yesterday. Another great example is Job, who in the end didn’t have all his questions answered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Actually in the case of Job, we might say he was intellectually satisfied, and probably more importantly, satisfied in his heart, because the essential answer which God gave him is that the God who created everything in all that wonder is beyond the scope of Job’s ability to comprehend and fully appreciate. God does give us what we need to carry on and do well in the faith which is in him in and through Jesus.

I too often, probably just occasionally have questions which while not necessarily large scale often have no quick and easy answers. Proverbs tells us that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, so it doesn’t hurt at all for us to pray and investigate and find out what we can in trying to arrive to some satisfactory answer. But do all of our questions have to be answered? The really essential one for the Christian faith is the reality or not of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Our faith depends on the veracity of that as a historical and not just religious truth. It either happened, and therefore our faith is true, or it didn’t happen. And since our faith purports to be dependent on that, and not just some tradition or religion we do, we have nothing according to Paul if it’s not historical fact (1 Corinthians 15). The evidence from the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is quite compelling, and coupled with Luke’s account in Acts followed by the rest of the New/Final Testament and what follows in history afterward, we can say we have good reason intellectually to accept that as true. And we have found that confession of faith to be life changing, setting us on a completely new course in life (Romans 10:9-10). It’s other nagging questions along the way which subtly can eat away at our faith, at the practice of it.

And that leads me to the main question for this post: Where does our confidence ultimately lie, in God himself, or in having all of our questions answered? And the easy answer is that our confidence is in God alone, apart from whatever questions which might remain unanswered. But the more complex, true to life answer is that we can continue to wrestle with God (the meaning of the word Israel, by the way is one who wrestles with God) and ask whatever hard questions we have, big or small. We can struggle and wonder and simply not know. But ultimately we can be at rest even with that tension, because our confidence is in God. So that by and large that tension is relieved without having all of our questions answered. Even as we continue to ask and search for answers to our questions. In and through Jesus.

the strongman is weak

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13

This could end up being one of those few posts I delete for whatever reason. But I want to say upfront that something of the very plague of thinking “might makes right” is endemic in our culture, as it was in  Paul’s day. It was a lot about a superior wisdom then to which the cross was pure folly. But make no mistake about it, to the Romans strength and power was also a first order value, the very breath of their existence, and in their minds at least helping them establish their value in the world. And ironically, one could make the case that this Roman grip in its strength, and extensiveness helped immensely in the spread of the gospel.

Give me a person who is weak in Jesus, depending on him, and I’ll see a person whose strength is ultimately in God. Give me a person who is strong in themselves, and depends on no one, and I’ll see a person whose strength is destined to fail, since it’s only in themselves. I realize life can be more complicated than this. We have no further to look than Proverbs to realize that, along with the rest of the Bible, and then some reflection on life itself.

But ultimately, when you get right down to the heart of existence, you have to find your strength in God, and you do that, paradoxically through finding it in the weakness of the crucified Jesus, in whom we both die and live, in resurrection power and life. In the strength which is God’s in Jesus given to us by the Spirit for each other and the world.

“proof” of the resurrection of Christ is in the pudding

Christianity Today has an interesting review on the new film now out in the theaters, “The Case for Christ,” telling the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from an atheism to evangelical Christianity. The story by itself probably makes the film compelling enough to want to watch, though I’m not much of a film watcher myself. And I admit to avoiding watching Christian films, since I think what is often painted is an unreal world. Which is sad and difficult, since something of what those films convey is usually valuable and even important.

Christian apologetics concerns both the defending and argument for the veracity of the faith, so that in perhaps what at best is a kind of C. S. Lewis approach, an appeal is made for the argument of the truth of the gospel, specifically here, of Christ’s resurrection. Not completely on a rational basis, but even an appeal to experience and beauty gets put on a rational scale in the end. I admit that I like that approach for myself. But good as that might be for people like me, who like to see intellectual arguments pro and con, that actually ends up not being the most satisfying approach in the sense of life changing. And when one puts all their weight on the intellectual side, there is always the possibility that the something more we don’t know might tip the scales another way; we just can’t know for sure. Although many a person who either practices law, as a lawyer, or approaches life from that perspective has concluded that the evidence in favor of Jesus having actually risen from the dead is quite telling and compelling.

To consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week before his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a good exercise, as we see the perspectives of the four evangelists in telling that story. And then Luke’s story continues on in Acts, which tells us about the beginning of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world.

What ends up, I believe, being most persuasive in appealing for the faith of the gospel and the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the change that occurred in Jesus’s followers. That is in terms not only of this really taking place, but of its significance, as well. If Jesus simply rose from the dead with the promise that someday we who have faith in him will likewise be resurrected into that same life, that has wonderful meaning, to be sure. But it might not impact us much in this life, at least not in the way that scripture tells us it does.

We begin by faith right now to share in Jesus’s resurrection life. This is clear throughout the Final/New Testament, Romans 6 being one example, but all throughout. Romans 6 speaks of participation by faith and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we can now, by grace begin to live this new life. It might be seen as a more “religious” argument, but Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the faith, of what Christianity essentially is according to scripture. It is a partipation not just in seeking to follow Christ’s teachings, or the teachings of the church, as important as those are. But it is an actual participation no less in the very life of Christ, yes, his resurrection life, beginning even prior to the resurrection to come, in our lives now, by the Spirit.

We live because he lives, and our life in him is distinct. And while it is in anticipation of the resurrection to come, it partakes of that resurrection in partaking of Christ right now in this life. In changing the way we live, the breath that we breathe, in other words what motivates us, and how we want to live. More precisely, what God is making us to be over time in becoming more and more like Jesus.

This is both an individual and joint venture, to be sure. But the key is Christ and his resurrection. We follow one whose life is now our life, which means a difference now, and all the difference in the world beyond this life, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

And so the truth and reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead will be seen by me today, not in considering once again the way the story is told in the gospel accounts. But the difference this reality makes in my life right now, through the nitty gritty and sometimes downright difficult circumstances of life. Does Christ make a difference there, and in what way? That’s the question, answered more than well enough for me time and time again. In and through the risen Jesus.