Tag Archives: Gospel

Glimpsing the Bride

Imagine for a moment that the distant horizon is an enormous timeline.

Far left are the seven days of creation, beyond which things fade into eternity past. Far right is eternity future. Arranged between these extremes, left to right, is all of history. People, places and events are all there, chronologically and proportionally. Your imagination is the artist here. The detail is up to you.

Somewhere off to the right is today. Pencil that one in while you’re at it.

Now focus on the middle of the timeline. Straight ahead, centre stage, is the cross of Christ. It towers over the timeline as the centre-piece of history. It represents Jesus’ virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection. Right alongside it is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. These inseparable events together form the centre-piece of our theology: the New Covenant, blood and water, Word and Spirit.

Preeminent Jesus

Take a step back and survey the finished masterpiece. Take it all in. Notice how the cross is all-pervasive. Look left, and notice how it casts its shadow back across all that preceded it. See how its influence extends beyond the beginning of the timeline, right into eternity past, with the Scriptures revealing that the Lord had the cross in mind before the creation of the world. Its reflection is everywhere. In the tree of life, the centre-piece of Eden. Adam and Eve’s redemption after the fall reveal it again. They should have died, but didn’t. An animal died in their stead, yielding its skin to cover their nakedness. The more you look, the more you see. Timeline left, its reflection is in every feast and festival, sacrifice and offering. There it is in prophet, priest and king. In tabernacle and temple. In all God’s dealings with men. Timeline right, it shows up everywhere as well. History correctly understood is His story. Everything subsequent to the cross has unfolded in the light of its purpose and plan. Sometimes in acceptance. At other times in rejection. Either way, everything since has referenced the cross one way or another.

So say the Scriptures. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:15–20).

Defining Jesus

The cutting of the New Covenant was all-defining. It is the Bible’s interpretive master-key. It is the eternal mechanism of our salvation and the unwavering foundation of our faith. And as definitive goes, it is applicable to the people of God also. For while God has always had a people, Christ only had a bride in waiting before the cross, for she was only fully formed in the deluge of blood and water, Word and Spirit, that was the New Covenant being established.

Like the cross, she too dates back into eternity past, and can be glimpsed prophetically in the communities of faith of old. The first tiny nuclear family around Adam and Eve eventually expanded into many much larger extended families. A few generations later and Abraham could raise a small army from within his family. As the multiplication snowballed, families became clans, and clans nations. And while the church is family, clan and nation, she is much more besides. She is of Christ and in Christ, and Christ is in her by His Spirit. It is from their eternal union, reflected back through time to the beginning, that Biblical parameters for marriage stem: one man, one woman, for life.

Timeline left, and there’s the shadow. The Lord put Adam into a deep sleep. From his side, He took a rib, and fashioned Eve. Bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of his flesh. A perfect mate for perfect union. And the two became one. Straight ahead on the timeline is the substance from which that shadow derived. The Lord put Last-Adam Jesus into a death sleep. His side was pierced as temple curtain tore and heavens rend asunder. In the torrent of blood and water, by Word and Spirit, Christ’s bride was now revealed. Spirit of His Spirit and essence of His essence. Corporate Eve. A perfect mate for perfect union; Jesus and His bride are one. One Lord, one wife, forever.

Transcendent, Glorious Beauty

Now gaze timeline right, deep into promise territory. There she is, revealed in full glory!

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 21:9–22:5).

A New Covenant Girl to her core

Quite a bride Jesus has there!

First manifest in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out, her essence transcends time and space. Even if but a small group gathered in a school hall on a Sunday morning, that small group is much more than meets the eye, for they are His, and in Him. They are transcendent in splendour. His splendour. They are His, perfect in the fullness and freedom of the unmitigated glories of the New Covenant. They are His, the perfect mate, in perfect union with Him.

Some have distinguished between church (the local church) and Church (the church universal). Jesus Himself used the word in these contexts, sans capital letters. Yet here we must be careful, for while church is Church, Church is not church. The local church is a limited manifestation in time and space of the glorious, eternal, transcendent Church of our Lord. The universal church is thus at best poorly represented by even the best of local churches in their finest of hour. Yet no matter how unimpressive a local church may seem at any given time, we must remain emphatic about the her belonging to Christ and being part of His bride.

The implications are enormous. No local church is ordinary. No local church is less than a full beneficiary of the New Covenant. Every principle of leadership and governance instituted needs be thus derived from the New Covenant; never the Old.

Consider for a moment just how often we derive our approach to doing church from pre-cross shadows. How often we suggest to the local church tht she is less than righteous; less that qualified; less than made perfect forever in Him.

Recognising her exclusive New-Covenant-ness must also cast aspersions over Jethro-pyramid oversight structures, Elijah-Elisha succession plans, and David-esque leadership models. With reference to the latter, the New Covenant purports that we already have our Braveheart. His name is Jesus. We don’t need pastor or apostle trying their best to be another one. A final observation suffice to the moment is that the four Gospels are substantially pre-cross also. What if Jesus discipled the Twelve in the way in which He did because the Spirit had not yet been given. Could it be that we have no right cultivating devotees in the name of discipleship for fashioning in our own image? These, and many provocative questions besides, need be asked.

Makes one think, doesn’t it!

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Dusting off the blog

Dusting off a blog is a challenging endeavour.

Just facing up to the technical bits ‘n bobs is an obstacle. That’s because logging in to the back-end of a website for the first time in months is likely to unleash a deluge of notifications and warnings, amidst which the jetsam and flotsam of add-on updates and widget upgrades swirl and jostle, bobbing in a sea of spam. Only the most resolute of minds actual logs in.

And that’s the easy part. Thing is, whilst blog posts are written one at a time, effective blogging is about the cultivation of an audience. Sporadic fits and starts simply don’t cut the mustard. Just don’t do it if you don’t have something to say, they say, by which they mean something sustained and meaningful to say. And, of course, the time and energy to say it.

In this my heart and mind are sorely exercised.  It’s time! The Gospel, in a general sense, provides a limitless fount of meaningful things to say. But much more to the point, the Gospel, in a specific sense, is a limitless fount of meaningfulness to us today, in our situation. We live in urgent times. Defining times. Critical times. Difficult times. Everybody knows that something must be done. Many even know what others should do. Yet the question that cuts to the heart of the matter as does scalpel in surgeon’s hand is, “what should I/we do?” My thesis is that the Gospel, through the Scriptures, answers that question emphatically.

Such a claim is either delusion and/or arrogance, or revelation. If it’s revelation, it’s voice will echo and be echoed. The choir will grow, each contribution unique, but on key and in tune. Watch this space, and you decide. All I ask is that if you find your faith stirred, yield and obey. As the Psalmist has said in 110:3a (ESV), “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power”. If this be that day, may we be those people!

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In defense of new year’s resolutions

It’s easy to be disparaging about new year’s resolutions. So much talk; so little traction; such a poor track record.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to new year’s resolutions.  To be reflective as the calendar rolls around is to be human, and to resolve for the good expresses hope and self-awareness, fertile ground both for increased fruitfulness.

So … what are your goals for 2018? Do you have any resolutions, overt or covert? What would you like to see, and where would you like to be, as the sun sets on 2018. I’m not just talking about pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but steak-on-the-plate reality. What is in your mind for 2018 spiritually, socially and economically? Are there adjustments to be made in favour of your health? Dietary changes? Exercise? Sleep? Are there disciplines to be embraced? Is there study to be embarked on, or at the very least books to be read? Or written?

These are good questions all, and I write to encourage you to ask them. Challenge yourself as necessary. It’s 2018, and opportunity is pounding on the door. God is good! He has revealed His will for us in Christ Jesus, and it is to save and to bless. Embrace Him, and it, and make as many necessary adjustments as is practicable to make the most of the blessing on offer.

As was said in the days of our forefathers: “The year of our Lord, 2018.”

And why not?!

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Worthwhile reads

My friends have been busy.

Herewith an introduction to two new e-books, and links to both. Each are for download at no charge.


This book resolves the crisis of the HOW in Christian living. Many Christians live frustrated lives because they have tried ‘doing’ it for so long and nothing seems to change. They have prayed countless hours, they have fasted plenty meals and they have cried buckets of tears and yet, they can’t seem to live in the good of the abundant life Jesus promised. How do I do this? This book shows you.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/727641

 


The Gospel reveals a Jesus who is for us. In all situations and circumstances, He is for us, and never against.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/728917

 

 


Enjoy!

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My story, generically told

Life happens, and it’s happened enough to have messed me up a bit. Fortunately, I met Jesus. It was not finding faith or getting religion. I met Jesus. I knew that He was real, that He loved me, and that He cleansed people. I knew that I knew. Embracing His love and cleansing was amazing.

Being a Christian, I quite naturally hung out with other Christians. My biggest misunderstanding of my life came from them. They taught me that God was the God of the second chance. With Jesus having given me a second chance, they made it my responsibility to make good use of this new start. I didn’t. because I couldn’t. It resulted in my feeling an utter failure, and trying harder. And the harder I tried, the more I failed.

They were wrong in what they taught me. Jesus does exist, and He loves us, and cleanses us. But He loves us so much that He cleanses us by making us new. Christians are born again. We are new creations, righteous with His righteousness, and un-dirty-able.

I was on very young when I first met Jesus. I was on my way to fifty before I discovered that my new start was really a new life. All I have to do is believe it. When I do, He lives His life through me. This has radically transformed me. Instead of condemnation and failure, my life is now marked by gratitude and rest. My innards are healthy, and as time goes by, I’m definitely much less messed up. Amazingly, I also find myself reacting a little more like Jesus would from time to time, and its great.

My plan is to spend the rest of my days helping as many other people understand this as what I can. It’s really big deal. It’s the Gospel!

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The Gospel redeems

The Gospel is the continuous application of God’s once-for-all solution in Christ Jesus. There is nowhere it cannot go, no one it cannot save, and no situation that it cannot redeem. It is the yeast in the dough; the smallest of seeds that becomes the biggest of trees; literally Heaven invading earth.

This sweet Pauline one-liner – “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22) – is a concluding comment in his letter to the church in Philippi. What gets it jumping off the page is realising that Paul was writing from prison in Rome. Rome, epicentre of the mighty Roman Empire. Rome, which in the person of Pontius Pilate had literally issued Jesus’ death warrant. Rome, home to the Empire’s supreme commander, Caesar. Caesar, whose household had been infiltrated by the Gospel. Those of Caesar’s household greet you!

This Gospel is God’s strategy for the redemption of rebel planet earth. The way it all works is quite sublime. It is God who makes Christians. Each and every one is His workmanship, and so inherently witness to Him. This is self-evident. The newborn are testimony to the new birth. As trophies of the cross, we testify by our very existence, even if we never do a single thing for the fame of His Name. Yet we are not just static trophies of grace on the mantelpiece of heaven. Rather, we are living trophies, the workmanship of God, and engineered to partner with Him. In an action of extraordinary condescension, the Lord invites us to co-labour with Him in the very Gospel that is our salvation. We, witnesses to His work, get to testify in addition to His grace in words, works, ways and wonders. And, rather unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of our witness is dependent on His efforts and not ours.

Good works have been prepared in advance for us to do. Works that are perfectly suited to our unique blend of abilities and circumstances. In Christ, living in God and living for God are one and the same thing. There is absolute congruence between who God has made us to be and what He has called us to do. The enabling baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers our witness significantly, but does not create it. The new birth does that. John the baptiser, under the Old Covenant, declared that he needed to decrease in order for Christ to increase. Jesus later stated emphatically that the least in the kingdom (born again) was greater than John. That is so because those who are in Christ have been co-crucified with Christ; His story is our story. We do not decrease for Him to increase. On the contrary, He increases as we grow into all that He has made and called us to be. He must increase, therefore we must increase also! Any theology that insists that true piety is achieved by dying to self denies that those in Christ are new creations. Acknowledging that the new has come is what frees us to live in freedom and fullness, veritable oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.

The Gospel gifts us comfort in our own skins, and in Christ “authentic us” will always be infinitely more fruitful than “imitation someone else”. Learn of others, but be yourself. World evangelism is the job description of every believer. Many are the good works prepared in advance for each of us to do. The parameters of our daily lives are what describe the scope of our respective mission-fields. Our world is our parish, literally, even if not exclusive to us. The parishes of those around us overlap with ours, but in the great condescension of God, we are each invited to play our part. Accepting that invitation is our privilege, knowing full well that only one part really matters, and that’s His part. We are no one’s saviour; He is everyone’s Saviour. Our story might seem to have little value, except that in Christ our story is His story, and therefore invaluable. Thinking this way moves our paradigms beyond the restrictive confines of our vision, church or ministry, and encourages us to take our place in His vision, His church and His ministry.

A few will be called to leave their families for the sake of the Gospel; most will be called to love their families for the sake of the Gospel. Understanding this is life changing. The single mom, struggling to survive, learns that surviving and raising her child unto, for and in the Lord, is her ministry. Her life in God is her life for God. As such, she has the comprehensive backing of heaven, not one iota less than the television evangelist reaching multitudes. In Christ, everything we do, everywhere we go, and everyone we know, are all beneficiaries of our witness, if for no other reason than their being in our lives. As the Spirit leads and empowers, they are also likely beneficiaries of our witnessing, be it in words, works, ways or wonders. Think this way and our jobs are vocations (callings), no matter how menial they might seem to others, for we comprehend that we are strategically placed representatives, just because we’re us. It is a small step from there to becoming fully functioning ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven in our thinking, inviting those around us to be reconciled to God, just as we are.

The Gospel knows no great sacred-secular divide. That gulf is of dead religion’s making – a gulf which causes us to have Christian friends and non-Christian friends, sacred spaces and secular spaces. The Gospel corrects our thinking and teaches us that God loves His world; that we have only one life, and it is in Christ, with Christ in it. There we realise that we simply have friends, some of whom are believers, and some of whom are not (yet). There we know that any giving in response to the Spirit’s prompting is worship, whether in a church meeting on Sunday or to a beggar at the roadside on Monday. The Gospel unites our fragmented psyche and brings congruence to the many varied facets of our lives. It teaches us that living in the Lord is living for the Lord, and that the single important point of accountability for all of life is the will of God – His will as expressed in Christ Jesus, and His will in follow-ship of Him.

How we’ve diluted and domesticated the church by holding believers accountable to her vision and values. Christianity has become a diminished churchianity as accountability has centered on church – attendance, involvement, giving and service. This is small thinking, and will at best produce seemingly impressive local churches. The Gospel’s point of accountability is towards something far greater – global redemption. It is found in the glorious invitation that comes to us from Christ Himself. Having done all for us, “Come follow me”, He invites. If we’re going to ask each other anything by means of accountability, let’s ask each other whether we’re doing what God wants us to do. That question might harness fewer resources for the local church, but will unleash much more for the kingdom of heaven.

Local churches are wonderful things. It is my strong conviction that every believer should be a contributing member of one. But I also regard local churches to be the products of the Gospel, as well as essential conduits of the Gospel to those around them. Each local church will inevitably have its own distinctives, these in both strengths and weaknesses, but no matter what, the local church’s core business remains the same – the Gospel. Let’s hear far less about vision, values and ethos – about us and what we’re doing. Let’s keep things about the Gospel – about who He is and what He has done! Thinking this way releases believers and churches into glorious synergy with what the Lord is doing in our day. Local churches need not be controlling or confining. They can be givers rather than takers, and entities that believers live their Christian lives out of and from, rather than towards and into.

The redemption of the planet is in the Gospel. Local churches either tend to facilitate this flow or dam the river. Those who dam it most will produce temporary verdant oases that will inevitably tend towards stagnation over time. The church is not the power of God for salvation; the Gospel is. Myriad are the testimonies of just how much Jesus loves His world. Innumerable others await, and increase and acceleration will be logarithmic as Christians get clear on the Gospel, and are liberated and encouraged to be and to do, twenty-four-seven, anywhere and everywhere, as per the glory of the Good News. On every street in every village, and in every suburb in every city, are soul, situation and circumstance aplenty perfectly poised for redemption. Let it be. Amen!


This is the last in a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel empowers

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31a–39).

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

More than conquerors! Do all things! The prophet Zechariah declared Christians to be prisoners of hope. Jesus Himself said that we would do even greater things than He did. Christianity’s history is that it often thrives most vibrantly in the face of vehement opposition. Something indomitable is going on here, and the Gospel is the cause of that.

It is right-standing with God that sets Christians up for risk-taking, because although a righteous man may fail, he can never be a failure. Right-standing grants glorious immunity for it is apart from the Law. As such, it is divorced from performance, and is defining, constant, unchanging, irrevocable and inviolable. God says that we are not guilty. He says that we are not guilty even when we are guilty. Even when sinning – literally busy sinning – Christians are still justified (not guilty before God), for they are in Christ.

The Gospel doesn’t just tell people that they are new; it actually makes them new! Sin appeals to the flesh, but it cannot satisfy. Sooner or later, with our righteousness a settled conclusion, the desire to live significant lives arises. And since failing cannot turn us into failures, we have every reason to be bold, risk-taking adventurers in our pilgrimage. Someone with nothing to lose has everything to gain, and with the promises of God factored in, all things are possible! Why pray small prayers when you can pray big ones? Why aim low when you can aim high? If it really is all by grace alone through faith alone (which it is), and if it is all to Christ’s account, and already paid (which it is), and if He really is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we could ask or imagine (which He is), then why not go for it!

The Gospel is clear. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. The freedom and fullness of our salvation are irrevocable gifts. Why then settle at any point, or ever take no for an answer? A squandered inheritance is not irreplaceable, because God does not have to reallocate slices of pie; He simply makes more pie! (The Lord does not have to take from the older brother in order to reinstate a returning prodigal’s inheritance). Christ is as much Healer of the sick Christian as of the healthy one. This never changes, even on one’s death-bed. Christ is as much Provider to rich as to poor, in bull markets and in bear. His riches in glory are the measure of our supply. No matter how much has been squandered, for whatever reason, Zechariah is right – we are prisoners of hope.

The gleanings of recent years have included in their yield four magnificent illustrations that illustrate our point. None is original to me, but I’ve used them all repeatedly. I can’t recall where they came from (best guess Rob Rufus on most), or else I’d give credit where due. They’re just too good to exclude, though, and so if it’s you I’m plagiarising, please forgive.

Life in Christ is like walking on the high-wire, with His perfect work our safety net. We might slip and fall, but are guaranteed to remain safely suspended in the lofty context of His victory. When we lose our footing, there is no devastating plunge to destruction. Instead, all that needs to be done is for us to regain our equilibrium and get walking again. We’re righteous in Christ, and in that all-important regard, nothing’s changed. Consequently, when we walk, we do so confidently, sans anxiety or fear, for no matter how tetchy things might get on the wind-buffeted high-wire of life from time to time, we cannot fall. So let’s go for it!

For those who love the game of cricket, life in Christ is an innings at the crease with an umpire who will never give us out. The bales scatter; we’re not out. Caught playing the shot; not out. Plumb LBW; a shake of the head from the umpire. We can’t even be run out. That’s because every ball that life or devil bowls is effectively a no-ball. The cross has rendered every ball a free hit. Each and every one remains a scoring opportunity, but none can take our wicket. So, spinner or seamer, it matters not. Simply take a stroll down the wicket and have a go!

Our life in Christ is a ride on an up-escalator. The inexorable upward momentum makes it well-nigh impossible for us to lose ground. Serious regression takes concerted, sustained effort, for He wills and works for our salvation at all times. Stumble we might, but as we do, the escalator of His loving-kindness continues to carry us into our preferable future. He works for our good in all things, even if the things themselves are not of Him and not good. We can rest in Christ and enjoy the blessings and privileges that are ours by unmerited favour, for it is He at work to will and to do in and through us. Forwards, upwards, glory to glory – that’s the doing of this Gospel in which we stand. Let’s live large, and go for it!

Ours is the privileged life of the adopted child. (This is Biblical fact. Indeed, we are His four times over. He created us; He redeemed (purchased) us; we are born again of Him; and He has adopted us). He has taken us into His family and given us His name. We are His, and all our stuff is His! He is our protector and provider, wills the best for us, and plans and follows through accordingly. And so, out there on the giant school playground of life, there’s no need to submit to the bullies of anxiety, fear, guilt, manipulation, oppression, condemnation and shame, and no need to inflict their pain on others. On the contrary, there’s every reason to suck the stuffing out of the marrow bone of life – who is your Daddy!

Nothing is more empowering than the inability to fail. Temporary setbacks are inevitable, but in Christ we have been placed out of defeat’s reach. We might yet disappoint ourselves and others, but our relationship with God is disappointment-proof in any ultimate sense. We are in Christ, and the perfection of His performance has been imputed to us. The most natural thing in the world now is for us to embrace the advantage and live well.

The Biblical accounts of Abraham of old illustrate the potential we’ve been presented with magnificently. Read the descriptive account of his life and times in the Old Testament, and it’s the story of a typical human being. There are moments of extraordinary faith, and there are times of sin and unbelief. He reads just like us. Then read Heaven’s record of that same life and times in the New Testament, and what you find is a fully sanitised account. Post the cross, Abraham suddenly presents as a super-saint, who never doubted for a moment, nor put a foot wrong. Can you see it? The same life and the identical events, when viewed through the gift of righteousness, is flawless. It’s failure-proof. Right-standing with God ensures that there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

The righteous live by faith, and that life has every reason to be an abundant one, for there is no other kind of life in Christ!

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel transforms

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16–17).

Quoted above is the paragraph that Paul used to set up his theological magnum opus (we call it Romans). Its final phrase launched the Reformation in the heart of Martin Luther, and makes the heart of every Gospel-believer sing. Amidst its awesome virtues nestles this great insight – we can no more change ourselves than save ourselves. Fortunately, the righteousness of God is by faith from beginning to end, which declares a Gospel as able to change us as to save us. The same dynamics of grace and faith that save are those that transform.

Before pursuing our opening line of thought, three matters are best borne in mind regarding Christians and their behaviour. Firstly, Christians are not under Law, but they are also not lawless. Under grace, they belong to Christ, and are under His governance. As such, our actions should rather obviously bear appropriate witness to our faith. None of us can represent Christ perfectly, but licentious or lawless living is simply not concomitant with those who are His.

Secondly, although Christians have a new nature and are indwelt by the Spirit, personal transformation towards godliness is not automatic. If that were so, then the New Testament would carry no instruction on behaviour appropriate to the faith, and no discipleship would be necessary in the church. While new nature and indwelling Spirit inevitably work towards Christlikeness, the flesh (the remnant of our in-Adam-ness) leans towards sin. Christians are left with choices to make and allegiances to decide, and should be encouraged and instructed in order to facilitate their choosing wisely.

Thirdly, the most common error regarding behaviour and personal change is for believers to come to the conclusion that it is all up to them. The Galatian churches had fallen into this by-our-own-efforts trap. Having started in the Spirit, they were continuing in the flesh. This migration from grace to law has remained a perennial problem amongst believers throughout church history, and is strongly in evidence in the twenty-first century church also. Programmes proliferate, be it in the name of vision, growth or change. Meanwhile, the saints become busier and busier, and more and more tired. This continues despite the fact that the whole treadmill of self-effort is doomed to fail. Yet many believers blindly forge on, trying harder and doing more, until they grind to a disillusioned, burnt out halt. The lesson in it all: we cannot change ourselves, and we cannot change others.

It’s the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This salvation, Biblically speaking, is a broad, all-encompassing notion. It certainly includes salvation from sin, but also includes healing, deliverance and provision. It is even used in reference to resurrection on occasion. In other words, any kind of saving we could ever possibly need is part and parcel of our salvation, including the wherewithal to save us from ourselves. In it is all of the grace we could possibly need for personal transformation. There is grace to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, and endure the unendurable. In the Gospel is the answer to every dilemma, strength for every weakness, wisdom for every occasion, and freedom from all bondage. The Gospel is the power of God for freedom and fullness in Christ. Period!

All God’s promises are “yes” in Christ Jesus (in Christ we qualify), and it is through these that we receive that which God has provided for us through the cross. As the Gospel produces faith in us, so that faith unlocks the deluge of God’s goodness, already stored up and just waiting for us to receive. As we believe, in rushes the Lord, Word and Spirit, to do in us and for us, just as He said He would. Here’s the key! The Gospel is not only the news of salvation, but by the Holy Spirit’s power, it is the power of God that works that salvation in us. The news believed is its benefits received. This is how God has decreed it to be; the Spirit and Word are inextricably linked. Creation demonstrated this magnificently – God (Father) willed, and the Spirit wrought as the Word (Jesus) spoke the world into being. In the same way, the Spirit and the Gospel are inextricably linked. It was the Spirit who revealed Christ to us when we first heard the Good News. It was the Spirit who immersed us in Christ when we believed, and who made us alive in Him. Everything else that the Gospel does is accomplished in this same way. It is all by the Spirit. Christians are therefore by definition spiritual people – of the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit and led by the Spirit.

Word and Spirit working in tandem transform us from glory to glory. Finding this counterintuitive, our greatest temptation remains reverting to our own efforts, earnestly seeking the Spirit’s enabling on those. Obedience to the Scriptures, Christlikeness in all things, and a lifestyle marked by the disciplines of the faith – these are virtuous notions all – but pursuing them carries the danger of attempting to transform ourselves. The dynamic is entirely different when we put our focus on the perfect, finished work of Christ, and unleash its power to work within us. From His work within emerge obedience, Christlikeness, and disciplined living. These things might sound similar, but they could not be more different.

Repentance is how the Bible describes our aligning of our thoughts with the Gospel. A lifestyle of so doing equates to the renewal of the mind. As we repent (change our minds) and align our thinking (belief-systems) with the Gospel, the Gospel effects transformation from within. The obedience of faith is a fruit of the Gospel, and not its precursor, or its requirement. Scripture consistently distinguishes between our own efforts and Christ’s work. Salvation is by the latter; self-righteousness, disillusionment and bondage by the former. These are lessons well relearned in our day, for too many church activities are focused on what we should do, and too few celebrate what Christ has done. If we gave the focus to celebrating Him, so much more would be accomplished, for it is His working we need, and not our own. There are no limitations in the equation from God’s side. The restrictions are with us. We are finite, temporal creatures, independent of will, and of limited capacity. Imagine for a moment a vast ocean and a tiny bucket. Toss the bucket into the ocean and it is instantly surrounded and filled. That’s us and God. We are in Him and He in us. And our hope is in the ocean, not in the bucket.

It is this that the Scriptures seek to convey through what have become somewhat clichéd phrases. “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” “Put Jesus first.” “Seek first the kingdom.” “Fix your eyes on things above.” We’re people of the Spirit, so let’s live by the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, sing in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, and live one-with-another in the unity of the Spirit. This is the way of salvation; the way of righteousness that is by faith from beginning to end.

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel liberates

The freedoms granted us in Christ are Christ’s victories won, but couched in liberty’s language.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

The freedom the Gospel brings is a wonderful thing. It is not dangerous, wild, or boundary-less. The Gospel’s gift is freedom in Christ, not freedom apart from Him. True freedom is not licentiousness or lawlessness. Those who live without restraint are not free, but prisoners of sin, satan and flesh. Freedoms in Christ are His victories appropriated, and appropriating these will always move us towards Christlikeness, and never away. The opening line of Freedom for Dummies would be, “It’s freedom from sin, not freedom to sin, silly!”

Like everything else the Gospel brings, it grants freedom unconditionally. No strings attached. The freedom that is ours in Christ is without rules and regulations. It is unmerited, and it can be squandered. For this reason the Bible wisely cautions us against using our freedoms to indulge our flesh. Why? Because, if we do so, we will once again find ourselves in bondage to our carnality. And why run back to that from which the goodness of God has delivered us?

freedom-001Those who are in the know tell us that most addicts require more than one attempt at rehabilitation before they’re able to break the cycle. This is because they typically misuse their early freedoms, flirt with temptation, and get themselves back into bondage that first time round. The fact is that the addict is only truly free when he or she uses his or her freedom to stay free. So it is in Christ. True freedom values freedom. In Him we are unfettered; free; no strings attached, and soon learn that to misuse that freedom is to relinquish it. The younger son in the parable ended in the pigpen thanks to the exercising of his rights and freedoms. Not the freest of outcomes, that. This is why Paul tells us that all things are lawful, but not all are helpful; all things are lawful, but not all edify. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, and maturity can tell the difference between the two. Walking in this distinction – now that’s freedom!

The mechanism by which we are free in Christ is the same by which any of the other benefits of salvation become ours – death and resurrection. In the moment we believed, His story became ours, and we were placed in Him. Faith is confidence in this exchange, which in turn enables us to appropriate the richness of the salvation-package in its fullness. In the moment that we believe into Jesus, His victories become ours. All of them. Instantly. But it is believing that is receiving, and so it is in the day-to-day of our Christian living that the Gospel imparts revelation and faith, both of which work within us for the appropriation of these freedoms a little at a time. As we shall see in a later chapter (The Gospel Empowers), freedom from condemnation is the linchpin around which all of the many benefits of salvation are appropriated. This is so because it is impossible for a righteous man to be powerless. Increasingly the full assurance of our right-standing with God becomes the beachhead from which we possess our inheritance on an experiential level. The gift of righteousness persuades us that we indeed qualify, without exception, for everything that God has promised. On that foundation, believing is receiving.

hurdv4Then, in Christ, we are the justified. We are not guilty. We are righteous. We are condemnation-free. In Christ we are free from sin, and from its dominion. We have been forgiven, cleansed, and delivered from sin. We are saints (holy ones). Grace teaches us to say no to sin, for grace has loosened us from sin’s grip. Christ has also freed us from our past. We are no longer in Adam. Our baptism served as the funeral service for that old life of ours. We might still carry its scars, but not its wounds. Even Jesus carries scars, and they do not make Him ugly; on the contrary, His scars are medals all; veritable trophies of grace and mercy. We no longer have a sinful nature. Our old man was co-crucified with Christ. We are not who we once were. What freedom! In Christ, we are no longer subject to the dictates of our flesh. We are Spirit-born, Spirit-indwelt, Spirit led and Spirit-empowered people. By the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the flesh. Our vestigial in-Adam-ness does not provide the drumbeat to which we march; we keep in step with the Spirit and are moved by the rhythms of Heaven.

The pressure is off. No more striving. No one left to impress, including God! We are free from trying to be and trying to do, for God has made us to be, and has prepared good works for us to do. The righteous requirements of the Law have been met in us. We are free from the Law’s demands (we are not under it), and we have been delivered from its curse (its accusation, condemnation and disqualification). Satan is a defeated foe. Christ has triumphed over Him. In Jesus’ name, demonic strongholds yield and demons flee. His power over us has been broken, and to us has been granted authority over him, in Jesus’ name. The world no longer fools us. We are no longer ensnared in the system that surrounds us. Its way of thinking is not ours; its value system no longer ours either. We are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world, and our worth and ways are determined there. We are no longer ashamed. We are the forgiven, loved, accepted and affirmed – no matter what has transpired. God is not ashamed of us, nor is He embarrassed to be associated with us. He proudly, publicly, takes full responsibility for us. We’re His kith and kin now. He is the lifter of our heads, says the Bible.

Last but not least, we are free from fear. Even death, the last enemy to be conquered, has lost its sting. No judgement awaits us; only the consummation of our salvation. The Lord has promised that He will never leave or forsake us, and He reassures us constantly that there is no need for us to be anxious about anything. He is well able to take care of us; and He will; and He does.

csa-bron-freedomThis chapter could be amplified exponentially. For instance, all sickness, war and poverty has its source in satan and sin. Jesus is Healer, Prince of Peace, and Providence Himself. The will of God is clear – Jesus taught us to pray heaven to earth – and there is no sickness, war or lack in heaven. Having couched the benefits of believing in the language of liberty, let’s not short-change the Gospel by misrepresenting its richness in any way. The truth is, the benefits of our salvation are a two-sided coin – freedom and fullness – which can and should be described, understood and received in abundance. Freedom and fullness in Christ, that’s the Gospel, and the Gospel believed is its benefits received.

A well-proclaimed Gospel will leave no room for an orphan spirit. Our God is our Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of His Son, the Spirit of sonship. Anyone who is in Christ is God’s child in God’s family, and is blessed. The old has gone; the new has come. The bad has gone; the good has come. Paul’s words help us to conclude the thought: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel regenerates

‘Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again”.’ (Jesus in John 3:7)

21ya3ywuvlOur world is indeed a global village, and emigration (from) and immigration (to) common. In a way, this describes what happens when we believe into Jesus. But faith in Christ results in much, much more. As the Holy Spirit plucks us from in Adam and plunges us into Christ, there is a new passport, but there is also a new birth certificate! The Gospel literally regenerates. Emigration might make a South African an Australian citizen, but it can never make the South African an Australian genetically. Union with Christ accomplishes exactly that. The Bible is emphatic about this. Those who are born again by the Spirit’s power are born again with a new nature. They are no longer who they once were; they are altogether new. What they have become is not a reconditioned or improved version of their former self, but an entirely new self. “Born again” can just as accurately be rendered “born from above” in its translation. This helps us comprehend that the new birth is of holy, imperishable, eternal, incorruptible seed. The new nature is just like Jesus’ nature. Not like Adam, but like Jesus! Christians are born again from the same stuff Jesus is made of, and their new nature is effectively a twin of His.

The implications are enormous, and the Scriptures reiterate this truth in numerous ways. Peter’s writings teach us that Christians are participants in the divine nature. The book of Hebrews declares that anyone gathering with Christians is gathering with the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Paul described his body parts as the body of Christ. In this he went beyond the mere metaphorical use of language. We are not just like His body; we are His body. We are spiritual, and that’s not because we behave in “spiritual” ways, but because we’re spiritual in nature. Jesus is the only Son of God, but we are the sons and daughters of God. Christians are the residential address of God here on earth. Holy Spirit is in us. We are not like temples; we are temples. Christians have eternal life, and we have it now.

None of this implies that Christians are God; to suggest that is heresy. But it is to convey emphatically that Christians are born of God, and made of God-stuff. We are no longer of earth, but of heaven; and literally so, born and bred. Paul once again makes this point magnificently when dealing with the subject of the resurrection. Our Adam-suits (bodies) are perishable, weak, dishonorable, natural and temporal. Our new nature could not be more different. It is imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual and eternal. Our resurrection will be the clothing of our newness in an appropriate way, for that which came from Adam cannot adequately contain all that is ours in Christ.

Remember those Old Testament saints to whom righteousness was credited when they believed – the likes of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and David. They were put into right standing with God against the promissory notes of the sacrifices of their day. On the foundation of that gift they, and many others just like them, lived what can only be described as extraordinary lives. They healed the sick, raised the dead, circumvented death, and saw countless other miracles. Yet none of them received the Holy Spirit in the way in which we do today. Their sin was covered over, but not yet taken away. Righteousness was credited to their account, but they were not yet those made righteous in the same way we are. This resurrection life into which we are raised by the Spirit’s power at the moment of our re-birth was something longingly anticipated by those saints of old, and something which they only received after the cross. These saints went to the grave awaiting Christ, but for believers today, absence from the body is presence with the Lord. It was only together with us (in Christ) that these saints of old have been made perfect (their salvation made complete), for salvation only came in its fullness through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

born_of_spiritBaptism means immersion, and the Scriptures use this term with reference to our inclusion in Christ, and with reference to the Spirit’s work in empowering believers. Taking a moment to think this through will be most helpful. In the days of old, when craftsmen plunged cloth into dye, it was said that they were baptising the cloth in the dye. Dip, dunk, immerse and plunge are all synonyms. Notice also that the cloth did not baptise itself, the point being that self-baptism is a swim and not a baptism proper. Notice also that the cloth when fully immersed was also saturated, i.e. the cloth was in the dye, and the dye was in the cloth. So it is when we come to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the heavenly craftsman who immerses us into Jesus, uniting us with His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. In that moment, we are plunged into Him (included in Christ), and He indwells us (we are born again). These two things are simultaneous and inseparable, just like the cloth and the dye. Both also enjoy amplification as we respond to them and appropriate them more fully, and it is baptism that facilitates this.

As Christians are then taught that they are no longer in Adam but in Christ, they should also be taught that Scripture commands a response of faith-filled obedience. Baptism (immersion) in water celebrates their death and resurrection, testifying to its reality, and serves as a funeral service for the old life that once was but is no more. Extraordinary demonstrations of the goodness of God are often unleashed into the faith-filled believer’s life as the truths of the Gospel are appropriated through this simple, ever-so-tangible step of obedience. The hasty departure of demons is commonplace. So is healing from sickness of all kinds, and release from addictions and emotional pain. It has even been reported on occasion that ugly, disfiguring tattoos or occult-induced scars simply vanish. These good things happening are thanks to the Gospel at work, as vibrant faith, expressed in obedience to the commands of Jesus, accesses grace. The same sort of thing happens through the laying on of hands and the breaking of bread. These are not powerful rituals, but empowered means of grace, when appropriated by faith.

A similar explosion of transforming power accompanies baptism (immersion) in the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who immersed the believer into Christ when he came to faith. Now, as this new believer learns that all life in Christ is by the Spirit, a desire for more arises deep within him. This is all of God, and as deep cries out to deep, Jesus steps in and baptises him in the Holy Spirit. He does so just as John the baptiser had said, “I baptise you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. This immersion is for enabling, and the Scriptures describe it as such – a baptism for power. Experiences likened to encounters with water, wind, fire and oil are commonplace. Gifts are imparted; revelation abounds; joy overwhelms; peace proliferates; and this immersion in the Spirit is typically accompanied by speaking in tongues. Drunkenness in the Spirit is also not uncommon, as was the experience of the one-hundred-and-twenty in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Believers who step into this vortex of life and power also learn that encounters of this nature are in the offing, and many pursue a lifestyle of repeated infilling as they desire to be conduits of more and more of the life and power of God.

born-againWe have all been given far more than we’ve received. The Gospel is good news of glory, freedom and fullness, and even those amongst us who have experienced much have only just begun to enter into all that has been freely provided for us. In the moment of faith we are included in Christ, and the Spirit regenerates and indwells us, a deposit guaranteeing much, much more. And there is so much more! Our experience of Him intensifies, heightens, deepens and widens as we grow in God. The Lord works in our lives to bring us increasingly into what Paul so wisely refers to as the obedience of faith. Compliance is not a good motivator for water baptism or the infilling of the Spirit. There’s little point in subtly pressurising believers towards these things because “that’s what the Bible teaches” or “that’s what we do as a church”. We should preach and teach them unashamedly, and offer opportunity for them constantly, but be sure to anchor them in the perfect, finished work of Christ. Let’s have the Gospel impart the faith that will see believers responding expectantly and obediently. All of Christianity is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. All of Christianity is with the Father, through and in Jesus, and by the Spirit. These are things that cannot be legislated or administrated. Let’s preach the Gospel, and let the Gospel do its life-giving work.

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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