Tag Archives: In Christ

The Gospel defines

70099c4f97f7370a1ee45adf222abdb2“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:16–17).

The Gospel believed is salvation received. In our moment of faith, Holy Spirit plunged us into Christ. Simultaneously, the Spirit birthed new life in us: God-life. Spiritual life. Eternal life. Suddenly everything had changed. The old had gone; the new had come!

Perhaps not everyone noticed the change. I came into this world with my mother’s nose and my father’s ears. These remained the same after I was born again. In other words, while absolutely everything had changed, to the casual observer nothing had changed. This is Paul’s point in the passage quoted above. Many people even looked at Jesus and saw just their neighbour, another Galilean; nobody special at all. They knew Him according to the flesh, or according to outward appearances. And outward appearance is not the business end of the Gospel.

That’s not to say that the Gospel doesn’t impact outwardly. Countenances change. Postures do too. Behaviour should make a quantum shift. But the issue here is that Christians are judged by the work of Christ, and not by their outward appearance, or even their behaviour. For Christians, the old has gone and the new has come. This is so because of what the Lord has done for them and to/in them. Therein lies the defining measure.

399635879We all continue to live in our Adam-suits after we are born again. The Bible calls these vestigial components of our old lives our flesh. This flesh refers to a little more than just our physical bodies, for it encompasses the remnants of our in-Adam-ness. Thanks to our flesh, our lives have the propensity to be reduced to some kind of war zone. Our mortal bodies are subject to sickness and disease, deterioration and decay; even death. In Christ is health and resurrection. Unhelpful views, attitudes, memories and beliefs flood our hearts and minds. In Christ is a lifestyle of repentance and mind-renewal. Our flesh is by its very nature godless, rebellious, selfish and sinful. Our new life in Christ is anything but.

The result can be an unhelpful religious schizophrenia. Sinner sometimes; saint sometimes. Saved today; unsaved tomorrow. Passages of Scriptures, unhelpfully applied out of context, all too easily reinforce the confusion. Into this malaise comes the Gospel with glorious clarity. Our flesh does not define us; the work of Christ does. Our freedom from any confusion is wrapped up in the once-for-all-ness of the Gospel. The Gospel is definitive news, and as such the Gospel defines us unambiguously. Christians are righteous. They belong to God. The Holy Spirit is in them. Period! The Christian with a hand in the cookie jar is just as justified (not guilty) as the Christian piously praying in the pew. There is no difference at all between the two according to the Gospel plumbline. Both are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

imagesGrasping this becomes the God-given foundation for all behavioural change. It takes us off the horns of dilemma and settles once-for-all who and what we are. Christianity is identity-driven. Christians learn to live righteously because they are righteous; to do good because they are good; to do what pleases God because they are pleasing to Him! Christians “do” because they “are”. That’s the mystery of the Gospel.

By way of illustration: The early church was being prepared to disseminate the Gospel cross-culturally. At the time, while not all Jews were Christians, nearly all Christians were Jews. Consequently, the distinction between Judaism and Christianity was not all that clear.
One morning, as lunchtime approached, Peter, the leader of the Christians at the time, went up onto the rooftop to pray. At that moment, Peter the apostle was Peter the hungry, and the Lord made magnificent use of the opportunity. Peter was induced into a trance-like state, and in the ensuing vision a huge tablecloth of sorts descended in front of him. In it were birds and animals of all kinds, and they all shared one thing in common – by the standards of Law of Moses, they were unclean or common. Three times the Lord instructed Peter to kill and eat. Three times he declined. Each time his reason was the same – he’d never eaten anything unclean, and he didn’t propose to do so now. Each time the Lord’s response was the same. “What God has made clean, do not call common”.

From there the Gospel went to the Gentiles. From then on Peter and the Christians understood that only one thing defined clean and unclean, and that was the Gospel! Anyone in Christ had been fundamentally redefined. It did not matter what they once were, or even what they looked like, for nothing was to be judged by its flesh. Anyone who was in Christ was a new creation. The old was gone; the new had come. To be in Christ is to be clean!

2-corinthians-5-17Many of the Jewish brothers and sisters of the day struggled enormously in coming to terms with that, Peter included. So do we, because it takes us so firmly into counterintuitive territory. We all agree that God does not judge the book by its cover, but we’re also painfully aware that everybody else does. Perhaps in the church, this is especially so. After all, if it walks like a sinner, talks like a sinner, sounds like a sinner and smells like a sinner, well, it must be a sinner. And if it walks like a saint, talks like a saint, sounds like a saint, and smells like a saint, well, the probability is that it’s a saint. Not true, bellows the Gospel! Saints who walk and talk like sinners may well be wayward saints, and on other days they might be you and me. Sinners who walk and talk like saints are a blessing to have as neighbours, but their self-righteousness falls short of Heaven’s Perfections.

It’s not unusual for things not to be as they appear in the religious arena. The church is consistently embroiled in scandal, and unhelpfully so. But even more scandalous is the Gospel, our God-given plumbline. Outside of Christ, and apart from the righteousness that is by grace alone through faith alone – everyone is leprously unrighteous. And in Christ, even the most Peter-repelling, creepy-crawly-esque individual, who evokes our immediate no-thank-you is perfectly righteous. Perfectly righteous, and mercifully, undeservedly, completely so! There is nothing fair about the Gospel. There is nothing fair about sinners being made righteous. But then, there is also nothing fair about sinless Jesus becoming a sin offering for our sake. It’s not fair, but in Christ, the old has gone, and the new has come!

Best News Ever 3DThis 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, or on the icon to go to the book’s page.

 

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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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The Gospel includes

Nothing could be more revolutionary than that which is done to you in the moment that you first put your confidence in Christ. The Gospel believed is the Gospel received, and in that instant of faith, the greatest exchange imaginable is effected – Christ’s life for yours!

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:1–9).

goodbyeoldhellonewThe transformation that occurs is literally out of this world, as in a moment you go from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ”. All of the major metaphors of Scripture apply in that instant – death to life; darkness to light; satan to God, condemned to justified, slave to freeman; enemy to friend – on and on it goes. Many books would be necessary to do justice to the many wonderful facets of this single glorious truth – inclusion in Christ. And that’s the big idea. Believing includes us in Christ. This is not just some sort of transfer of allegiance; it is the all-encompassing transformation of a life. The phrase “in Christ” is ubiquitous in Paul’s letters, for it describes the essence of salvation. “In Christ”; “in Him”; “in Christ Jesus”. Those of us who preach and teach these truths will often refer to this as the believer’s position, placement, status or standing. In Christ!

Christians are saved, but they did not save themselves. They are in Christ, but they did not put themselves there. It is not even their faith that saved them. In the moment that they believed, it was the Holy Spirit who went to work as per the Father’s decree, transferring them from in Adam to in Christ. This was all of grace, and is something that God does to all who believe.

in-christThe enormity of what happens is not faith-sized, but grace-sized. It’s not as if those who have great faith receive a great salvation, and those with less faith receive a lesser salvation. Those with less faith may well appropriate less of the salvation given to them, but a lesser faith does not lessen the work of Christ on our behalf. To think thus is absurdity, for those who believe have not just seen, heard or tasted, but have entered into salvation by the power of God. Tentative faith (a mustard seed’s worth) does not unleash a tentative reaction from heaven. Salvation is a one-size-fits-all proposition – Jesus! Rather, believing thrusts us into the white-water of the new birth, and those who have put their confidence in Christ have been carried along by the power of God, away from the old and right into the new.

It is simply not possible to be a half-Christian or a bad Christian. It is not we, ourselves, who make ourselves Christians. It is a work of God, and all that He does He does well. There is only one kind of Christian on the planet, and that is the perfect kind, for we are of His making. Some of us do live poorly representing our in-Christ-ness, thanks to paucity of faith, or to misbeliefs of one kind or another. But that does not mean that we are lesser Christians, for we are all Christians by the same work of the same Spirit. Understanding this is life-changing. In Christ, is in Christ, is in Christ! We’ve received a faith of equal standing before God, writes the apostle Peter. We might have different gifts and callings, and some might fellowship more intimately with God than others do, but we’ve all received equal access to God, with equal rights and privileges. It is all of grace alone, and all because of Christ alone. We have all received the highest title and the richest commendation imaginable, for in Christ we are all God’s beloved children, in whom Father is well pleased. That is who we are. That is our identity.

inchristlogoIn the moment of faith His story became our story. That’s the Gospel. In an instant, the Holy Spirit united us with Christ, in His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. We were raised to new life in Him, and are now seated with Him in heavenly places. We are the saved; He is the Saviour. Our salvation has come through our literal immersion into Him, and into His substitutionary, atoning work. Christians have been baptised (immersed) into Christ. It is this to which believers’ baptism testifies most graphically.

The gift of salvation is not extraneous to our person. It is not like an item of clothing or jewelry, or even like any other experience we might have. It is not something that can be received, explored, enjoyed, kept, exploited or discarded. It cannot be lost or misplaced. It is defining. It’s not so much something we possess, as something that possesses us. Being in Christ is far more a matter of Christ having us than our having Him. Those who have believed have been engulfed in Saviour and salvation just as surely as Jonah was swallowed by the big fish. The difference is that we were not ingested, but en-wombed. We were re-created; born again; re-made. Nicodemus puzzled over this because he could not imagine how he would ever get back into his mother’s womb. He understood the point, just not the means, for the womb into which the Spirit thrusts us is the work of Christ, from which we re-emerge altogether new.

col-3-3-hidden-in-christWe would better speak of believing into Jesus, even if it is grammatically awkward. Coming to faith is literally believing into Christ, which is what faith ultimately accomplishes as grace is appropriated by the Spirit. It is also why the whole experience is irrevocable. If we were saved by our faith, then our salvation could well be on-again, off-again. But we are not saved by faith; we are saved through faith. Believing opens the door to the tsunami of God’s power, and that which was wrought for us on the cross, is applied to us by the Holy Spirit. It is a leap forward from which there is no way back. In a moment, we are included in something altogether other, immeasurably bigger than ourselves. We are welcomed into a kingdom, a family, a fellowship, a union. We enter by literal re-creation. The Gospel believed is salvation received; the Gospel believed is inclusion 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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