Sunday, July 29, 2012

What is a New Creature?


It has seemed to me for a long time that there must be something more to “a new creature” than just the generic definition of the new birth. Yes, a new creature is someone who has been born again but more than this the term involves the distinguishing of a person based on their new identity in Christ rather than by any former Jew or Gentile distinctions.

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:16, 17.

When Paul said “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” he meant that even though at one time Christ was “not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matt. 15:24, and was “a servant to the circumcision” Rom. 15:8, yet we no longer know Him this way anymore. He is not just “the God of the Jews only” but “of the Gentiles also” Rom. 3:29. While preaching to the Gentiles, Peter affirmed that Christ is now “Lord of all” Acts 10:36 and Paul agreed “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.” Rom. 10:12.

Therefore, to “regard no one according to the flesh” is to no longer show partiality with regard to Jew and Gentile attributes because we no longer know Christ in this way—He is no longer sent exclusively Israel but is now Lord of all who call upon Him. When Paul told the Gentile Christians at Colossae, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” Col. 2:6, he was conveying a principle he taught in all churches: “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.” 1 Cor. 7:17, 18. What he was saying is that believing Jews do not need to give up their kosher diet and keeping of the Sabbath while at the same time believing Gentiles do not need to begin keeping these Jewish mandates. Everyone should continue to walk as they did when they came to Christ which is why Paul went on to advise the Colossians, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths” Col. 2:16.

It is within this Jew/Gentile context that Paul later says, “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Col. 3:10, 11. Notice the terms “new man” and “created him.” A new creature is someone who is no longer regarded according to the flesh, i.e. “Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free.”

Now listen to what Paul said to the Gentiles in Galatia “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” Gal. 6:15, 16. This “rule” is the principle he taught in all churches. And notice that “a new creation” here is juxtaposed with circumcision and uncircumcision. A new creature, therefore, is a person whose identity is in Christ and whose relationship with God is no longer regarded by whether he is circumcised and walking according to Jewish practices or is uncircumcised and not walking this way.

A parallel statement earlier in Galatians helps shed some more light on this: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” Gal. 5:6. This “faith” obviously has Jesus Christ as its object because of what Paul had already been teaching up to this point Gal. 2:16, 3:26. And this “love” must be the commandment he reiterated to them, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Gal. 5:14. It seems that a new creature is anyone circumcised or uncircumcised whose faith is in Christ Jesus and keeps His commandment of love. Again, this corresponds to another parallel statement to the Corinthians: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” 1 Cor. 7:19.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” In keeping with the meaning of the context, the “old things” are more specifically the Jew and Gentile dissimilarities that should no longer cause division since the barrier between them was removed, “and has broken down the middle wall of separation” Eph. 2:14.

That Paul was speaking of Jew and Gentile distinctions in Second Corinthians chapter five is emphasized even more as we read further: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” 2 Cor. 5:19. Christ reconciled everyone to God and not just Jews; “that He might reconcile them both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross” Eph. 2:16. Also, listen to how Paul interpreted Isaiah 49:6- 8 which he quoted in this passage:

Indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the LORD who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You.” Thus says the LORD: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages.”

Christ was given not only to “restore the preserved ones of Israel” but also “as a light to the Gentiles.” So when Paul quoted “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you” then subsequently declared “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Cor. 6:2, he understood this to mean that Gentiles are now accepted by God and can now be saved. This is why he said “if anyone [Jew or Gentile] is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4:21-24. A new creature is a person in Christ who has been renewed back to the image of God from the original creation. We were created “according to God” or “in His own image; in the image of God” Gen. 1:27, which is “in true righteousness and holiness.” But sin corrupted the whole creation.

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” Col. 3:9-11. When God created man after His image in true righteousness and holiness, there were no selfish divisions between any people groups. Therefore a new creation is one who has been renewed back to the image of God and walks in love toward all—Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, or slave and free—without partiality. It is a moral transformation that takes place as we are “renewed in knowledge,” specific knowledge gained from Christ’s teaching: “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” Eph. 4:20, 21.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What is a True Convert?

The letter of First John is a short writing but full of many characteristics we can look for in our lives that indicate whether or not we are truly saved. A true convert:
  1. Admits he is a sinner 1 John 1:8. Do you try to justify your sins or do you confess them and repent?
  2.  
  3. Lives a life of obedience by keeping God’s commandments more often than he breaks them 1 John 2:3, 3:6, 5:2. It is a good sign if you are quick to ask God for forgiveness when you sin. But if you can sin without feeling guilty then you are in a bad place.
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  5. Does not harbor hate for his brother but displays forgiveness, love, and compassion 1 John 2:9, 11, 3:15, 4:16, 4:20. Are you harboring ill feelings for someone else even when they have truly mistreated you?
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  7. Does not love the world or the things of the world 1 John 2:15. Not that we can’t do activities we enjoy but that we do not love the world system that is controlled by Satan.
  8.  
  9. Proclaims Jesus Christ is the Son of God 1 John 4:15 who came in the flesh 1 John 4:2-3. Are you willing to defend the deity and humanity of Christ?
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  11. Has the hope and longing for the return of the Lord 1 John 3:2-3. Are you so wrapped up in what is going on in your life that you would rather Him not return right now? Do you not even believe He is coming back?
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  13. Loves the brethren and desires to serve and help them 1 John 3:14, 17. Do you feel compassion and want to help other believers when you see them in want and distress?
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  15. Loves being with and fellowshipping with other believers 1 John 1:7, 5:1-2. Are you more comfortable around worldly people or fellow Christians?
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  17. Rejects false teaching 1 John 2:22-23, 4:5 and listens to the teaching of Christ and His apostles 1 John 4:6.
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  19. Continues to abide in Christ 1 John 2:27-28.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Evidence for the Christian Faith

The historical event of the resurrection establishes the fact that Christ is God and His resurrection proves the following:
  1. He is God because only God can do what no man has ever done; gotten the victory over death.
  2. His death on the Cross paid in full for our sins. The penalty for sin is death but Christ never sinned. So why did He die? He died to pay the penalty for our sins and His resurrection proclaims that God accepted His sacrifice as payment in full.
  3. He is the only way of salvation. Man cannot save himself. Only God can save us and He did so through His Son’s death for our sins. Therefore there cannot be other ways to God because He only provided one way through His Son.
  4. All other religions are false. Obviously if God saves people only through Christ then no other religion saves.
  5. Every claim He made about Himself is true. All of His claims are proven because He is God.
  6. Everything He taught is the truth. If Christ is God then we need to listen to what He said and, more importantly, obey Him.
  7. The Bible is the word of God. Christ validated the Old Testament by quoting from it as authority. He also commissioned His disciples to write the New Testament.
  8. There is a heaven and a hell. Christ knows about these two places because He is God and He created these two places.
  9. There is objective, universal standard of morality.
  10. He will judge the world.
The entire Christian faith stands or falls on the resurrection 1 Cor. 15:14, 17. If it did not happen then Christianity is a sham. If it happened then everything above and more is settled. The question now is how do we prove the resurrection?

The apostle Paul wrote that after Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to not just five, or even fifty, but to over five hundred people at the same time 1 Cor. 15:6. But how can we know this really happened? Mainly, the credibility of not just Paul but all the apostles was on the line because they were in agreement and fellowship with each other. Paul said that James, Peter and John gave him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship Gal. 2:9. Also, Peter read Paul’s letters and endorsed them 2 Pet. 3:15, 16. Therefore, this claim was verified by all the apostles after he wrote it.

Also, this claim involved so many people—over five hundred—that if false it could have been easily exposed as such. Yet Paul even challenged the Corinthians to investigate the truthfulness of it by stating: “most of whom are still living.” 1 Cor. 15:6 In effect he was saying that if they did not believe him then it would not be difficult to track down some of those five hundred and hear it from them firsthand because most of them were still alive when he wrote the letter. He was not the least bit worried about his claim being scrutinized.

What gives substance to the Christian faith is that it is established on public events that happened in real history. Other religions have to be followed blindly because they consist mainly of “wise” sayings and commandments of men with no proof they came from God. Only Christianity is grounded in historical events, political figures, geography, archaeology, nations, and people groups that can either be verified as accurate or proven false. Whereas Christianity does not shrink from allowing itself to be examined, other religions do. Christianity is proven objectively by eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. The following Scriptures reveal how crucial eyewitnesses were for the resurrection to be established as an historical event: Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8; 1:21-22; 2:32; 3:15-16; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-41; 13:31; 26:16.

Salvation comes by believing in Christ’s resurrection Rom. 10:9, because to believe this one event is to believe everything else about Him. Does Christ require us to believe He was resurrected even though we never have the privilege of seeing Him with our own eyes? Just listen to what He said to His disciple Thomas after His resurrection: “‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 We have no excuse for not believing even though we do not see because we have evidence of the eyewitnesses who did see Him. This is more than sufficient evidence to believe and to dismiss this is to reject Christ and perish.

The Apostles’ Encounters and Claims

The apostles’ encounters with the resurrected Christ were face to face, close, and personal. It is not as though they only believed they had spotted Him somewhere in a crowd but rather that He appeared to them several times over a forty day period Acts 1:3. They saw Him with their eyes Matt. 28:17; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19, felt Him with their hands Luke 24:40; John 20:27, heard His voice with their ears Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-29; 21:5-23, and even ate with Him Luke 24:42-43; John 21:12-13. Plus, the encounters were not brief. He spent lengthy periods of time with them explaining the Old Testament Scriptures Luke 24:27; 24:44-45. They talked with Him, ate with Him, and learned from His teaching after His resurrection. They knew this was the same man who died on the cross just days earlier.

What are People Willing to Die For?

People will often die for what they believe to be true even if it is really false (e.g. Muslim terrorists). But people do not die for something they know to be false. The apostles were willing to die for the truth of the resurrection but they did not just believe Christ rose from the dead, they claimed to have seen Him. If this was only a belief they held then it could have been a false belief even though they thought it was true. Therefore being willing to die for it would not have demonstrated much. But since they claimed to have seen Him and were willing to die for that claim then it would not have been a false claim because people do not die for things they know are false.

In order for us to believe today that Christ truly rose from the dead in natural human history, we need evidence. How do we know it really happened? The key is the apostles. They were the ones who claimed to have seen Him and were willing to die for that claim. The question now is how did the apostles, particularly Paul, influence and change the world we live in today? In other words, what can we point to today and say that if the apostles did not do what they had done then this would not be here.

What about the New Testament itself? If Christ was not resurrected then the book of Acts would not have been written because the history it records never would have happened. Paul would not have written his 12 or 13 epistles because Christ would never have appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. In fact, Saul would not have even been persecuting Christians in the first place because there would not have been any Christians to persecute. All of this holds true for the other epistles in the New Testament and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ because He would not have been alive to give it to John. At the very most someone might argue that we would still have the four gospels short of their resurrection endings. But even then we must ask why the disciples would have written four accounts of the life of someone who died and stayed dead like everyone else?

The apostles were willing to die for the encounters they had with the resurrected Christ and they evangelized the known world as a result of these encounters. They preached to the world and established churches because He commanded this after His resurrection Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15. If He was not raised then this commandment would not have been given and there would not have even been any gospel message—good news of His resurrection—to preach. Therefore they would not have evangelized the world and the New Testament would not have been written. Why would they write about encounters with Him that never happened? Because if they never happened then they would not have been willing to die for it since people do not die for things they know are false. The fact that we can hold a New Testament in our hands today proves the resurrection happened.

Though many do not believe the New Testament is the word of God, its very existence affirms that it is. Without an actual resurrection, we would not have it. But since we do have it, there was an actual resurrection.


What if the Resurrection was a Hoax?

  • People are not willing to die for what they know is false
  • The apostles were willing to die for what they wrote
  • What they wrote were the encounters they experienced with the resurrected Christ
  • Therefore what they wrote is true that Christ really was resurrected

The underlying premise of this argument is that people are not willing to die for something they know is false. But what if it can be shown that there have been times where people did die for things they knew were false? This would be an attempt to bolster the claim that the resurrection was only a hoax perpetrated by the apostles and they were in fact willing to die for it. But supposing this to be the case with the apostles creates a progression of extremely unlikely scenarios in the book of Acts. If the resurrection was only a hoax enacted by the apostles then many of the events in the book of Acts could not have reasonably happened.

First of all, the eleven disciples (12 minus Judas who was dead) would have had to unanimously conspire to tell a false resurrection story with every one of them willing to die for this lie and have no dissenters later on. Then they would have needed to steal the body right from under the eyes of several Roman soldiers and permanently dispose of it without getting caught.

After this is where things get very tricky. How could the miraculous events of the Day of Pentecost have transpired without Christ being resurrected? If the apostles were the only ones privy to the hoax, they would first have to deceive almost 120 people into believing their resurrection claim. This, of course, is not farfetched but the big question is how did this group of people become instantly fluent in foreign languages they never learned before? The unlikelihood of this becomes especially pronounced considering they were not even in on the “hoax.” How were 120 deceived people able to perform such miraculous acts? They certainly were not trying to deceive anyone else because they were supposedly deceived themselves.

After the events on the Day of Pentecost, how were the apostles able to produce numerous miraculous-looking acts of healing and raising the dead that fooled even their enemies Acts 4:16? Then what about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus? Here was a man who was a prominent Pharisee in the religion of the Jews. He already believed the resurrection was a lie and was killing Christians because of this belief Acts 26:4-11; Gal. 1:13-14. So then, how were the apostles able to talk him into becoming a Christian after revealing that what he already believed was a lie really was? How could they convince him to stop murdering Christians and leave his powerful position as a Pharisee to become one of them and be beaten, flogged, stoned, and imprisoned for this lie 2 Cor. 11:23-27?


What if the Apostles Only Believed the Resurrection Happened?

But what if the apostles only believed this person they encountered several times was the same man who died on the Cross but actually was not? Then we will have to speculate about the identity of that imposter and how he could have fooled all of them so thoroughly. How was someone who looked and sounded just like Christ able to put holes in his own hands, feet, and side and have those wounds heal fast enough to not still be scabbed? In other words, how could he have known well enough in advance that his look-alike was going to be crucified so that he could inflict his own wounds and have them heal in time to pull this off? In addition, he would also have the difficult task of stealing the body.

Now someone might say that it was someone else who was crucified rather than Jesus. Yet His own mother, mother’s sister, and closest disciple John were all standing below the Cross while He hung there and spoke to them John 19:25-27. How could a “double” have fooled them by looking and sounding the same? And even if he could have, why would he even want to? For what purpose would he subject himself to such a cruel death? Then would someone say Christ had a secret twin brother that nobody including His mother knew about? Or maybe His mother was the real mastermind who hid His twin brother in the manger in Bethlehem, raised him in secrecy and then convinced him to subject himself to this brutal execution? And if someone else died in Christ’s place so He could feign a resurrection, He still would need to have stolen His imposter’s body, inflicted wounds in His own body and have them heal ahead of time. Furthermore, how could He have hidden the holes in His hands from his apostles for many months before His imposter’s crucifixion? And how could He have ascended into heaven in front of their eyes Acts 1:9? And how could He have fooled the apostles into thinking they could work miracles and then have them actually be able to? This ridiculousness could go on and on.

Conclusion

  • People are not willing to die for what they know is false
  • The apostles were willing to die for what they wrote
  • What they wrote were the encounters they experienced with the resurrected Christ
  • Therefore what they wrote is true that Christ really was resurrected

The fact that the New Testament was even written and we can hold it in our hands today is evidence that Christ truly was raised. Since the actual historical event of Christ’s resurrection from the dead validates all of Christianity, and His resurrection is evidenced by the willingness of the Apostles to die for the encounters they had with Him, then Christ is true and He is the Savior of the world.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My 10 Favorite KJV Archaic Phrases (Humorous)

10. "whilst that I withal escape" Psalm 141:10
9. "they are sottish children" Jeremiah 4:22
8. "By his neesings a light doth shine" Job 41:18
7. "and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him" 1 John 3:17
6. "I think myself happy" Acts 26:2
5. "all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt" 1 Samuel 30:31
4. "building the rebellious and the bad city" Ezra 4:12
3. "harpers harping with their harps" Revelation 14:2
2. "superfluity of naughtiness" James 1:21
1."Jacob sod pottage" Genesis 25:29

The Maturity of the Faith

For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:9-13

Some claim that the “perfect” in this passage is Christ Himself because this understanding supports their belief that the gifts of the Spirit have not ceased; that they are still here today until He comes. But there are four reasons why the “perfect” cannot be Jesus Christ Himself:

1. The Greek noun for “perfect” which is “teleion” is in the neuter gender. Therefore Paul could not be speaking about any person.

2. “Teleion” can be translated as either “perfect,” “complete,” or “mature” depending on its usage. Here it should be translated “mature” because the context of Paul speaking about a child maturing into an adult clearly favors this.

3. The analogy of a child growing into adulthood is a gradual process that takes time while on the other hand Christ's coming will be a sudden event. Therefore Paul’s analogy would not make sense if the “perfect” is Christ Himself at His return.

4. After the gifts would eventually cease, Paul expected Christians to continue walking in faith, hope, and love. Now if the gifts would not cease until Christ returns then why would we still need to exercise these traits after we are glorified in Him? “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor. 5:7 We walk by faith because we can’t see Him, once we see Him we will no longer need to believe. “But hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” Rom. 8:24 We only hope now because we don't see Him now. Also we are commanded to love because our sinful natures are inclined toward selfishness. Once we are resurrected at Christ's coming our very natures will be to love.

Others believe that the “perfect” is the completed canon of the New Testament. Since “teleion” can be translated as either “perfect,” “mature,” or “complete” depending on its usage, therefore the passage could be understood that the gifts of the Spirit would cease once we reached a completed canon of Scripture. This view has some relevancy to it but still falls a little short. “Teleion” should really be translated “mature” and we will see why next.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. Ephesians 4:11-14

In this passage, Paul actually tells us what the “maturity” is that will come. It is “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Did the apostles instantly assimilate all the details of the Christian faith on the day of Pentecost or did it come to them gradually over time? Well, if it came to them instantaneously by the Spirit at once then why did Christ tell them “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come”? John 16:12-13 It is obvious from reading the book of Acts that the apostles had to learn the faith. One example is that for the first few years they did not evangelize Gentiles because they were not clear about God’s will in this matter. Another is the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts chapter 15 where they had to decide necessary practices for the newly converted Gentiles. If the apostles had all knowledge of the faith already then they would not have needed to meet and discuss these things. And why would Peter need to be corrected by Paul? Gal. 2:11

Notice that Paul used the analogy of a child maturing into an adult in both the Corinthian and Ephesian passages. His point is that in a similar way which a child grows into an adult, the full understanding of the Christian faith developed gradually as the apostles and prophets of the early church taught and gave new revelation. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” They received revelation from God in parts over a period of time until the entire body of truth came together in its fullness. The full knowledge of the Christian faith did not come immediately to them but in parts by every prophecy and every revelation. In fact, the New Testament itself was written in 27 parts and the complete canonization of Scripture coincided with “the faith” finally reaching its maturity. Jude speaks of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Now since the gifts of the Spirit were needed to deliver this faith, and the faith was delivered once and for all, then why would the gifts need to continue after this?

Now when Paul spoke of seeing “face to face” he was not referring to us beholding Christ at His return. This phrase was part of an analogy he used of looking into a mirror. We tend to miss the point because mirrors today give a very clear reflection but back then rather dimly since they were made of polished metal. He means that we see our own faces in a mirror distortedly but others see us clearly—looking at us face to face. So when the maturity has come then “I shall know just as I also am known.” I will see just as clearly as others see me. In other words, I have an immature understanding of the faith now which is like seeing my face in a mirror dimly but eventually I will have a mature knowledge which is like seeing clearly face to face.

We might paraphrase what he was saying in the Corinthian passage like this: “The gifts of the Spirit are the means by which God is gradually revealing the Christian faith to our understanding. It is a process similarly to that of a child growing into adulthood. But mature adults do not continue to speak, think and act the way they did as children. Likewise the gifts will cease once our knowledge of the faith reaches the mature level God intends. Right now our limited understanding is like seeing our own faces dimly in a mirror but once we reach full knowledge then it will be as clear as when we see each other face to face. Though the gifts will cease at that point, faith, hope and love will continue. And the greatest of these is love.”

Now the argument will be made that because of the thousands of Protestant denominations, Christians today are not in unity as Paul said must happen; “till we all come to the unity of the faith.” But “the faith” is simply the foundational and fundamental doctrines of the faith that we all agree on, not our secondary beliefs that divide us. The fact is, if we take an average true believer out of every major denomination; one from the Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Church of Christ, etc. and join them into one group, there would be unity on the essentials. Just ask this group of Christians if Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are saved and we will get a unanimous answer of “No.” All true believers have an accurate “knowledge of the Son of God.” We agree on exactly who Jesus Christ is—this is the essence of true saving faith.

Some also may argue that reaching “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” is unattainable in our present state; it can only be reached after He returns and glorifies us. But Paul was not talking about us reaching the same sinless perfection as Jesus Christ Himself. He simply meant that our understanding of the faith was to reach the standard He set for us. And besides, will there be any “trickery of men,” “cunning craftiness,” and “deceitful plotting” in Christ’s Kingdom after He comes? No. A mature knowledge of the faith is what we need right now to stand against these things until He returns, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

They Went Out From Us

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” 1 John 2:19

Calvinists and the proponents of “Once Saved Always Saved” (OSAS) use this verse as proof that people leaving the local church never were saved to begin with otherwise they would have stayed and continued in the church. But it is clear from the surrounding context just who “they” really are. “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” 1 John 2:18 “They” are not your average churchgoers but false teachers who deny the Son: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22 John was talking about the men who had spread false doctrine to his readers and were undermining the teaching of the apostles, “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” 1 John 2:26

Now since “they” are false teachers that came out from “us” of which John includes himself, then “us” must have been the leaders of the early church with the 12 apostles at the core. In the first chapter of this epistle, John stated that fellowship with the apostles is necessary for having fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3 Anyone teaching doctrine about Christ that is contrary to what the apostles taught is a false teacher and does not have fellowship with God, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” 1 John 2:23

According to OSAS proponents, verse 19 proves that those who leave the church never really were believers in the first place because if they had been then they would not have left. But clearly John was not talking about professing Christians leaving the local church but about false teachers who were no longer in fellowship with the apostles. And it seems these heretics were using their past association with the apostles as credentials to gain acceptance by the churches. This was the main reason John was writing, to warn about these men.

So when he said “they were not of us,” did he mean that they never really were in fellowship with the apostles to begin with? He could not have meant this because then “they would have continued with us” would not make sense. The only way they could have continued in fellowship is if they had fellowship at one time. And if they had fellowship with them then they had fellowship with the Father and with the Son. So when “they went out from us” they must have been part of a larger group led by the apostles. Now it could be that these men were made to leave the fellowship; that they had been excommunicated through the discipline prescribed by Christ in Matthew 18:15-20. But regardless, John wanted his readers to recognize that they were not true teachers because they no longer had fellowship with “us” and therefore were not sent out by them.

“They went out from us, but they were not of us.” The last part of this statement “of us” is also translated “belonged to us” (NIV). Yet a literal rendering of it is: “Out of us they came, but out of us they were not.” The same Greek preposition “ek” for “out” is used in both parts of the statement. Therefore, he was not saying that they never really belonged to that group or “of us” but that they were not sent out by that group.

Also, the last part of the verse is sometimes mistranslated: “none of them were of us” (NKJV); “none of them belonged to us” (NIV). But other translations get it right: “not all” (KJV, YNG, WEB); “they all are not” (ESV, NASB, RSV, ASV). It literally says “they are not all out of us.” It is not that none of them who left never really belonged to them but that not all of them who went out were sent out by them. This is crucial because if you hold to OSAS and that this verse supports it then you want it to say that none of them belonged. Because if it really means that those who left the church never were believers in the first place then it also means that this is not true for all of them. In other words, some who left really were believers thus disproving OSAS.

The entire verse literally says, “Out of us they came, but out of us they were not. For if they were out of us they had remained ever with us. But that they may be being made to appear that they are not all out of us.” John was saying that the way his readers would know these teachers were not sent out by the apostles is because they did not remain in fellowship with the apostles. Not all who came out from them were sent out by them because not all remained in fellowship with them.

In closing, this verse is not about professing Christians leaving the church therefore proving they were never saved to begin with. It is about false teachers who left fellowship with the apostles. In fact, the letter sent out from the Jerusalem church to Gentile believers explicitly says this: “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave no such commandment.” Acts 15:24 Not all of them who went out from the apostles were sent out by them but only those who remained in fellowship with them. And fellowship with the apostles is fellowship with Jesus Christ and with the Father.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

What is a New Creature?

It has seemed to me for a long time that there must be something more to “a new creature” than just the generic definition of the new birth. Yes, a new creature is someone who has been born again but more than this the term involves the distinguishing of a person based on their new identity in Christ rather than by any former Jew or Gentile distinctions.

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:16-17

When Paul said “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” he meant that even though at one time Christ was “not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matt. 15:24, and was “a servant to the circumcision” Rom. 15:8, yet we no longer know Him this way anymore. He is not just “the God of the Jews only” but “of the Gentiles also.” Rom. 3:29 While preaching to the Gentiles, Peter affirmed that He is now “Lord of all.” Acts 10:36 “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.” Rom. 10:12

Therefore, to “regard no one according to the flesh” is to no longer show partiality with regard to Jew and Gentile attributes because we no longer know Christ in a way that justifies this—He is no longer sent exclusively Israel but is now Lord of all who call upon Him. When Paul told the Gentile Christians at Colossae, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” Col. 2:6, he was conveying a principle he taught in all churches: “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.” 1 Cor. 7:17-18 What he was saying is that believing Jews do not need to give up their kosher diet and keeping of the Sabbath while at the same time believing Gentiles do not need to begin keeping these Jewish particulars. Everyone should continue to walk as they did when they came to Christ which is why Paul went on to advise the Colossians, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.” Col. 2:16

It is within this context that Paul later says, “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all." Col. 3:10-11 Notice the terms “new man” and “created him.” A new creature is someone who is no longer regarded according to the flesh, i.e. “Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free.”

Now listen to what Paul said to the Galatians: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” Gal. 6:15-16 This “rule” is the principle he taught in all churches. And notice that “a new creation” here is juxtaposed with circumcision and uncircumcision. A new creature, therefore, is a person “in Christ Jesus” whose relationship with God is no longer regarded by whether he is circumcised and walking according to Jewish practices or uncircumcised and not walking this way.

A parallel statement earlier in Galatians helps define this even further: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” Gal. 5:6 This “faith” obviously has Jesus Christ as its object because of what Paul had already been teaching up to this point Gal. 2:16, 3:26. And this “love” must be the commandment he reiterated to them, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal. 5:14 It seems that a new creature is anyone circumcised or uncircumcised whose faith is in Christ Jesus and keeps His commandment of love. Again, this corresponds to another parallel statement to the Corinthians: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” 1 Cor. 7:19

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” In keeping with the meaning of the context, the “old things” are more specifically the Jew and Gentile dissimilarities that should no longer cause division since the barrier between them was removed, “and has broken down the middle wall of separation.” Eph. 2:14

That Paul has been speaking of Jew and Gentile distinctions in this passage of Second Corinthians is emphasized even more as we read further: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” 2 Cor. 5:19 Christ reconciled everyone to God and not just Jews; “that He might reconcile them both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross.” Eph. 2:16 Also, listen to how Paul interpreted a prophecy he quoted from this passage in Isaiah 49:6-8:

Indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the LORD who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You.” Thus says the LORD: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages.”

Christ was given not only to “restore the preserved ones of Israel” but also “as a light to the Gentiles.” So when Paul quoted “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you” then subsequently declared “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Cor. 6:2, he obviously understood this to mean that Gentiles are now accepted by God and can now be saved. This is why he said “if anyone [Jew or Gentile] is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4:21-24

A new creature is any person in Christ who has been renewed back to the image of God from the original creation. We were created “according to God” or “in His own image; in the image of God” Gen. 1:27, which is “in true righteousness and holiness.” But sin corrupted the whole creation.

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” Col. 3:9-11

When God created man after His image in righteousness and holiness, there were no selfish divisions between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, or slave and free. Therefore a new creation is one who is renewed back to the image of God and walks in love toward all without partiality or regard to these fleshly distinctions. It is a moral transformation that takes place as we are “renewed in knowledge”—specific knowledge gained from Christ’s teaching: “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus.” Eph. 4:20-21