Monday, July 24, 2006

005. sins and Sin

Section I: The Diagnosis

Chapter 3

sins and Sin

Evangelical Christians have long distinguished a difference between sins and sin. Sins are the outward expression; sin is the inward dynamic. A tree is recognisable through its fruit, but it is not the fruit which produces the tree but the reverse. All tbe fruit may be removed from a tree, but the removal of the fruit will not alter the nature of the tree. Given the proper conditions the fruit will return evidencing the life which is within.

The Finnish language has dozens of different words for snow. Each word conveying some important feature of the particular kind of snow; its wetness, its usability for building etc. To the Finns snow is never just snow. They have become highly sensitized to ‘snow. In a similar manner the Hebrew people of God became highly sensitized to ‘sin’.

The scriptures have several different words for man's failure to comply with God's expectations. One word means to miss the target, as a wayward arrow.(1) Another means to be lawless (2) and yet another means to cross a barrier(3) . Sometimes the scripture will string together a whole list of them as in the phrase keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin(4) .

Sometimes the scripture takes one single area of life and declares that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue alone is implicated in blasphemy, lies, slander, gossip, backbiting, murmuring etc; here is a world within a world. Small wonder that James describes it as being humanly untamable(5) .

The outsiders’ notion that God is not pleased with mankind has an obvious Bible base. One central purpose of the relationship into which God brought the people of Israel was that they would become convinced of their sinfulness(6). Rather than enhancing man's self-image much of God's purpose under the law was to demolish man's too good an impression of himself. The Law of Moses was never given as a means of do-it-yourself salvation; it was given to reveal man's true condition and to restrain it. This is tellingly recorded in our Lord's conversation with the religious leaders of His day; the law concerning divorce had been given not to acquire merit or to eliminate sin, but because of the hardheartedness of man(7) .

The positive expression of God's expectation from His people is expressed in the couplet You shall love God; you shall love your neighbour, but for the people of Israel it was expressed in the main in a serious of negatives beginning You shall not. Right living cannot be created by legislation, but wrong living can be exposed and restrained by it.

The true nature of the problem was illustrated again by our Lord in His contention with the Pharisees from Jerusalem who were insistent upon the outward niceties. Our Lord's point is that sins of evil thoughts, murder, immorality, crime, and the like were not the causes of mankind's problem, but rather the symptoms of it(8) . It was not the outward which polluted the inward; it was the inward which poluuted the outward. The most the law could do was to identify and restrain the outward failure; the cure would have to be sought elsewhere.

Romans identifies the Adam-Death that mankind has experienced by the use of the definite article and describes it as a king upon a throne. In this image Death is personified; It is not only an absence of 1ife, but the illegal reign of an alien power. Romans refers to Sin a similar way. ‘The Sin’ entered; ‘the Sin’ was the channel for ‘The Death’; ‘the Sin’ reigned(9) .

There is a vital spiritual revelation to be seen here. ‘The'Sin’ entered. Something passed from the outside to the inside; that is a workable definition of the word entered. A change of status is revealed. ‘The Sin’ is older than the human race, but there was a point in time when The Sin entered the human race. Through the man Adam ‘The Sin’ found entrance into the human race and brought ‘The Death’ as its companion.

The Greek word enter is the most usual word used for enter in the New Testament. There are, however, one or two uses of the word which may illustrate further the enormity of what happened to the human race of that day. John records that Jesus gave to Judas Iscariot a choice part of the meal and continues after the piece of bread; Satan entered him(10) . A second is even more sobering; Behold; I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me(11) .

This latter reference speaks not only of entrance but of a consequent relationship; a relationship which was to be the consequence of entrance through an opened door. I am making a conscious effort to understate things here rather than be drawn into extreme speculations, but we seem to be reading of profound things. It is plain that Satan's entrance into Judas had some profound effect upon him; it is also plain that Christ's entrance into the open door of a life also has a profound and lasting consequence.

In some similar manner ‘The Sin’ entered through man's disobedience and ‘The Death’ accompanied ‘The Sin’. As Satan controlled the man Judas and directed him in his attempt to eradicate God, so ‘The Sin’ entered Adam and established a settled state of enmity towards God.

On two separate occasions I have visited Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp in southern Poland. It is almost mind-numbing to contemplate the atrocities that took place there. My reaction at the second visit was no different to my reaction at the first visit; it is almost impossible to believe that men could behave like this towards other men. And yet the recollection of my own childhood cruelties bore a witness that what one man is capable of, all men are capable of. What is it in the human race that produces behaviour like this? Animals don't behave like this, why the human race?

There is the only one adequate explanation for the present spiritual state of the human race. An alien has entered, and has taken the throne. Our Lord described the characteristic behaviour of this alien by saying he was a murderer from the beginning and comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy(12) . This is the death-through-sin that Adam experienced and which was revealed so clearly in Cain's slaughter of Abel.

This Death-through-Sin has contaminated the entire race for The Death has spread to all mankind, because all sinned(13) . This is (roughly) what the theologians refer to as the doctrine of Original Sin and consequent Total Depravity of Man. It is does not mean that there is no good in man, but it emphasizes the truth that the contamination has left no part untouched. This is true for the individual and for the entire race.

To return to our original picture at the beginning of the chapter, individual sins may be identified and restrained. The individual pieces of fruit may be removed from the tree, but the essential mature of the tree remains. The specific sin may be identified and dealt with; the liar may recognise his sin and cease from it; the adulterer may recognise his sin and cease from it. Society and the individual will be all the more comfortable for these outward changes, but inside there lurks the spirit of the destroyer and the liar.

When my daughters were younger they would dress our Staffordshire Bull Terrier in baby clothes and make it a member of the family. They shaped its daily life with rules as to when to sit and when to stand. Its behaviour was exemplary... as long as there were no cats in the vicinity. However human its outward behaviour might appear the presence of its ancient enemy always provoked the dog that was within. Law can reform manners but it can never change nature.

(1) Hebrew – Chatja; Greek-hamartia; to miss the mark
(2)Greek – anomia; lawless
(3)Hebrew – pasha; Greek – parabatEs; to overstep a fixed limit
(4)Exodus 34:7 The Hebrew Old Testament has at least 15 different words for ‘sin’.
(5)James 3:6-8
(6)Romans 7:12,13
(7)Matthew 19:8
(8)Matthew 15:1-20
(9)Romans 5:12-21
(10)John 13:27
(11)Revelation 3:20
(12)John 8:44, 10:10.
(13)Romans 5:12

Friday, July 07, 2006

004. Death

Section I: The Diagnosis

Chapter 2


There are aspects of life in which we can discover nothing at all by our own ingenuity.

In material matters we have the physical facts around us and the scientific method with which to evaluate them. Some facts can be proved by experiment, others deduced from probability.

The world of spiritual realities is quite different. In this world we can only receive what has been revealed. There are many claims regarding this kind of revelation; some rely on inward convictions, some on sudden impressions. For many centuries Christians have relied on the testimony of the scriptures to provide information which they could acquire in no other way.

God had banned the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil with the warning that death would be the consequence if the prohibition were breached. What could death have meant to Adam in his idyllic surroundings? The principal of death was not completely unknown to him. The first chapter of Genesis speaks of God's creation of seed bearing plants which would reproduce according to their kind.[1] It seems that seed falling into the ground and then dying in order to multiply was pre-Adamic and therefore before mankind's sin.

We have no means of knowing how long Adam may have been able to watch this phenomenon before his disobedience. Perhaps there was no need to observe in order to understand; perhaps he knew by revelation. Certainly he would sense the ominous implications of the warning and understand that some final, irreversible condition was being referred to. In the place of an endless future there came the possibility of an ending. Something which was would be no more.

The warning is also very specific as regards time for in the day that you eat the fruit of it you shall surely die.[2]

Adam's likeness to God was not physical but moral and spiritual, and the life which would end in death was not primarily physical but spiritual. In the event this was clarified in that Adam did not die physically for a considerable time afterwards. The sentence however was enacted on the very day of the disobedience; in that day he died.

He died in his likeness to God. He died in his relationship with God. He died in his access to God. In that day he died and his destiny died with him; more on this theme later. Death implies an absence and these absences began in that day. Before there had been a living likeness to God; now there was an absence. Before there had been a living relationship with God; now there was an absence. Before there had been a living access to God; now there was an absence. All that had been living in his link with God, died.

It is this death which Paul's letter to the Romans reveals was the result of sin entering the human race. It is also this death which has spread to all men. When Paul speaks of this death in Romans 5: 12-20 he invariably uses a definite article. This has the effect of showing the particular death that he has is mind. It is not just death, but The Death.[3] It is The Death which Adam experienced, and it has spread to all men.

This truth is illustrated in Genesis itself. Chapter 5 is a long genealogy which begins with Adam and ends with Noah and his sons. The first two verses repeat the formula of Genesis 1:27 God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and called them Mankind in the day they were created. The next verse speaks of the generations which followed Adam. And Adam lived 130 years and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The tragedy of Genesis 3 lies between the verses.

On the site of ancient Ephesus the visitor can gain a good impression of the splendour of the ancient city. It. is built almost entirely of white marble; streets, harbour, library and public baths shine in the bright sun. At the street corners there are white marble statues, and the public buildings have friezes of white marble figures. Unfortunately an impression is all that the visitor can gain. Generations of Turkish boys have spent their childhood throwing stones at the white marble figures; partly in accord with their religious objection to idols, and partly, I suspect, because they .were boys. The figures no longer have faces. They are still the images they once were, but at another level they are not.

Man is still in the image of God, and as such is to be respected and honoured. But at another level the image is now spoiled and defaced; the work of the Vandal. Adam received an image and likeness to God, but before he could pass on the likeness the image was distorted. The likeness he passed onto Seth was the likeness of a being who was no longer what God had made him to be.

The Death not only spread throughout the race; it also reigned.[4] The most astounding fact of life concerning mankind as we now find it is that man is dominated by this Death. Man had been intended to feed at the Tree of Life, and Life would have been his most significant characteristic. The Life is now conspicuously absent, and in its place Death is king. This reign touches everything he does.

He is not loved any less by the God who created him in His own image and likeness. Those grieving over a lost loved one do not love any less. But things can never be as they were. The atmosphere of this is caught in the earliest chapters of the scripture where we discover the Creator searching for that which is lost; Adam, where are you? [5]

There is a dramatic phrase sometimes used to express the utter helplessness of a project or individual; they are described as being dead in the water. It is another powerful picture. To see the carcase of a fish or an animal dragged too and fro by the tide is a vivid picture of Death. That which is dead can no longer affect events. It is at the mercy of other forces. There is little point is urging more effort to a corpse as it ebbs and flows with the tide.

This starting point of revealed truth is repeated in Paul's letter to the Ephesians when he refers to those who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked...[6] This is a startling picture; dead but won't lie down! It points to the fact that Death is not only an absence of Life, but is the presence of an ominous force. It holds its victims in its lifeless grip and refuses to let go.

But there is a gleam of hope here to which we must return later. It is in the single word once, and in the past tenses of the verbs. Paul is writing to people over whom The Death no longer reigns. He shared himself this same confidence of having been freed from Death's lifeless grip.[7]

1.Genesis 1:11,12
2.Genesis 2:17
3.Romans 5:12, 14, 17, 21
4.Romans 5:14, 17
5.Genesis 3:9
6.Ephesians 2:1, 2
7.2 Corinthians 1:9, 10

003. Disobedience and Disaster

Section I: The Diagnosis

Chapter 1

Disobedience and Disaster

It is only logical that in trying to discover the origins of things we should turn to the book of the beginnings which is what the word 'Genesis' really means. The Bible does not attempt to be a chronicle of world history. It is a highly selective, God's eye view, of key events in the destiny of the human race; it is mankind's story. It is the only genuine explanation for the world as we have come to know it. In the Bible other histories do touch mankind's history from time to time but the creation of the angels is not mentioned, and the animal creation is only referred to in passing; it is man's story, but where other histories touch ours the point of contact gives fascinating insights.

At a specific point in human history God breathed a spirit of life into the creature he had formed and that creature became a living soul. Man was made with a unique description and destiny; he was made in the image and likeness of God. He was given authority to care for the rest of the creation as its chief servant. His role was to be a servant-king for creation itself; true dominion is the authority to serve. The man, Adam, was placed into the garden of Eden to serve it and guard it. The woman shared this destiny with the man, being in Adam when Adam received his commission.

There's a gentle hint of the nature of man's amazing relationship with God in the words of Christ to the Pharisees regarding divorce. Jesus says that God had decreed that one man and one woman should be united, but a reading of the account in Genesis might suggest that it was Adam who voiced the statement. Adam was to learn by revelation rather than experiment. His relationship with God was such that God's words could flow spontaneously from him, and the words of a man would be the Word of God. What a destiny! God's will done on earth, as it was in heaven.

This intimacy was devastated by mankind's sin. The sin was disobedience. The biblical revelation is that the woman was deceived by the Tempter, but that the man sinned with his eyes wide open. The story and its consequences are all too familiar. Sin brought immediate separation from fellowship with God and consequently from the presence of God too. It also quickly revealed the characteristic human trait of blaming others for our own faults.

The sin was not merely the taking of forbidden fruit; that was the outward manifestation of an inward folly. Man had imbibed the Satanic lie that he need not remain under God's authority; he could go-it-alone and become a god himself. The noun 'god' is used in the Old Testament to describe not only the one true God, but to designate someone in ultimate authority in a given situation. Consequently it is used of judges and angels in certain contexts.

The nature of the temptation and man's response to it shows clearly that this was a break for freedom, and a usurping of God's rightful place. The letter to the Romans contains this same truth; although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful.

Although the man had been warned of the consequences of such action he made his choice and sealed his fate. The temptation, like most temptations, was at its root a slander against God's character. God was reported as being selfish and possessive. God was portrayed as standing between men and man's true destiny. God's influence must be eradicated. Man had nothing to loose but his chains.

As in all temptations there was a genuine point of contact between the Tempter and the tempted, and an element of truth which could be manipulated. It is probable that Adam did have a sense of destiny; future glories awaited him. There was within him amazing potential and the Tempter tapped into it. Satan is not a creator. He does not have the power to create but he does have the power to corrupt what has already been created. The most beautiful instincts in the human race have been distorted almost beyond recognition by this cosmic vandal.

God had greatness in store for man, but in His time and by His means. This Satanic short-cut was a slur on the character of God, and a buy-now-pay-later bait which Adam swallowed whole. Frustration is always a sign of unbelief. It is also an indication that I want to be in control. I will be a god. I will impose my will. I will have what I want now. For the believer it is a sure call to prayer. Activities pursued in frustration never produce lasting satisfaction; they merely bury the seeds of impatience for a future harvest.

If Adam did fear that his opportunity was passing there is a remarkable parable of this in the Bible story of King Saul. (1 Samuel 9 onwards) At his beginning Saul was an exemplary man; physically and morally head and shoulders above his peers. Greatness awaited him. His destiny was to be a powerful servant-king for the people of Israel. At a point early in his reign frustration and fear ruled his conduct. Instead of waiting for God's time he precipitated an action which he reasoned was in everyone's best interests; a religious sacrifice to prevent the army's defection.

Samuel the prophet echoes the words of Eden's fateful day; "what have you done?" He had forfeited his destiny; that is what he had done. We shall return to this theme later. For King Saul the disaster would take some time to work through. His initial feelings may have been shame or loss, but the full consequences were not immediately apparent. Saul had pre-empted God's provision in an independent action which was the beginning of the end of his unique role as a servant-king of Israel.

In the moment of Saul's sentence of dismissal comes a promise of another man who will fulfil God's destiny. Saul’s intended destiny was not a fantasy, but the genuine intention of God. God, however, is not to be taken by surprise and the future provision was already in hand. This is all a remarkable echo of the Genesis account. Light shines in the darkness. It was in mankind's darkest hour that God declared his settled intention to the vandal; I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Man's disobedience had an immediate consequence for the creation that had been placed under his authority and care. The creation as we now know it has been described as a beautiful bride who on the day of her intended wedding receives the news that the husband-to-be has committed suicide. It is a stark and sombre image. Paul's letter to the Romans tells us that the whole creation shared Adam's fall.

This is not the place to examine the controversy between Creationism and Darwinian Evolution hypotheses, but the world as we see it is now is both wonderful and amazingly cruel. For every evidence of a wise and loving creator there seems to be a counter-evidence for 'nature red in tooth and claw'. Most sensitive observers will see in nature cause for celebration of the marvel of life and that which evokes a feeling of deep distress.

The biblical revelation is that the creation itself is in distress; things are not as they were, or as they were intended to be nor, indeed, as they will be at some future time. Events have occurred which have profoundly affected the world around us. The language of Romans is poignant; we read of it being subjected to futility, imprisoned in corruption, it groans as in the pains of childbirth.

Let's stay with the picture of frustration. The English word comes from a word meaning in vain. The effort seems to be pointless. Life is an endless round of 'might-have-beens'. This painful conclusion is what the writer of Ecclesiastes discovered for himself. Here was a man equipped with all the resources of his day to find fulfilment in life. At every attempt in every area of life he arrives at the same verdict; all is in vain. It is literally meaning-less.

This is not to say that there is no enjoyment in life, but that it is always hauntingly incomplete. "Life is a short, fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot give. When we appear to have attained some proficiency we are forced to lay down our instruments. There is not time enough to think, to become, to perform what the constitution of our natures indicates we are capable of. " is how A W Tozer once described it.

So man sits, like Charles Dickens' Miss Haversham, amidst the dying wreckage of all those might-have-beens. So much for this bold bid for freedom. Man's short-cut to destiny has proved to be a certain route to disaster.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

002. Preface

Read not to contradict and confute,
nor to believe and take for granted,
nor to find talk and discourse,
but to weigh and consider.

Some books are to be tasted,
others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested.

Francis Bacon 1561-1626

It is traditional to write the preface last of all, and equally traditional that hardly anyone should ever read it. I am intentionally breaking the first tradition and I hoping that the second tradition will suffer the same fate.

For some time I have been puzzled by a strange omission in modern Evangelicalism. Literature dealing with the issues of heart holiness has been conspicuous mainly by its absence. A generation or so past had a full choice of perspectives from the likes of Thomas Cook, Samuel Chadwick, Paget Wilkes, Barclay Buxton, Samuel Brengle and many others. The perspective has its continuing witness in the writings of Oswald Chambers, but many know him only in daily devotional readings.

The preaching of this truth has not quite died out, but not everyone has access to the preachers. Preaching has a unique place in God's economy, but there is room too for the kind of teaching which can take its time in developing a theme. The bustle of everyday life has resulted in a generation of Christians who have a leaning towards the snappy phrase or "sound bite". The New Testament was not written in this frame of mind, and can only be fully appreciated by those who are prepared to give some time to understanding it.

The intention of this book is to share some truths pertaining to God's plan for the believer, not only in the heaven to come but here on the earth.

In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress the pilgrim Christian stays for some days at the Castle Beautiful. It is early in his pilgrimage and he rests for the night in a room called Peace, where he slept till break of day, and then awoke and sang -

"Where am I now? Is this the love and care
Of Jesus, for the men that pilgrims are?
Thus to provide that I should be forgiven,
And dwell already the next door to heaven!"

This book is an expression of a heartlonging that men and women who belong to Jesus Christ should know the provision of their Lord not only for a future heaven but for their earthly pilgrimage too. He has made available to us all things that are necessary for life and godliness.

Included in His salvation is the provision that we might know not only forgiveness, but that even on earth we may live...

...Next Door to Heaven.

001. Introduction

Some time ago I began a book on this topic. This was the framework. You will see it was going to be comprehensive in its scope.

I The Diagnosis
  1. Disobedience and Disaster
  2. Death
  3. Sin and Sins
  4. The Old Man
  5. A Lost Destiny
  6. The Old Covenant

II The Remedy
  1. Setting the Stage
  2. The Hour
  3. The Baptism
  4. The Crown
  5. The Throne

III The Application
  1. Obedience and Restoration
  2. Life
  3. Forgiveness and Restoration
  4. The New Man
  5. The Hope of Glory
  6. The New Covenant

IV How to...
  1. Where am I now?
  2. Hearing
  3. Believing
  4. Receiving
  5. But if anyone does sin...