Rick and Monique

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Covenants--It's About God

The Covenants--It's About God

Creation intimidates me sometimes—I mean the idea that creation stands perfect, trustworthy and right and that even rocks cry out. A bold thought--All of creation did not sin…man did. My tree outside does exactly as the Creator asked of it. Thorns grow by God's command not because the earth has committed some evil, but because man did and God said they must grow. Sap falls from trees and delights the wiles of sweet teeth. Creation swallows man into the ground and conversely from its dust springs new life...creation groans not because I stand upon her but because she perfectly loves and desires the coming of her maker.

I'm not saying that earth reigns over mankind, I'm not. I am saying that I am awed by the “obedience” of floods and tornadoes and hurricanes, by avalanches, forest fires, by lightening and thunder, by earthquakes, by monsoons, and tidal waves, by hills and valleys and the highest of mountains, by ants and snake and bee, by bear and lion, by shark and stingrays, by frog and even by plant. My instinct lies toward imperfection while theirs lies in obedience and praise.

And still I am allowed to adore Him who called me good; Am I not still called “good” to Him who looked into my eyes as one in His image? I feel intimidated by my environment and my voice rings out to God like a conversation in the dark. I do not fear creation as if it is my enemy--I am also created. I am simply intimidated by unfettered obedience and that makes me glad because each day I step outside my door I witness an act of praise that will one day be my privilege. I cannot wait until my heart is wholly gratified by simple praise, glad of law and accomplishment and purely grateful for salvation.

My dad used to say "Don't do anything to disparage my good name." I remember his advice and I’m grateful. Yet I resented such favor as a name because portions of my life were filled with ways I did disparage my name. God gives me the same instructions. I need to work on that.

My dad fought with the bravest of men. He and the integrity of the men who fought by his side disparaged themselves in youthful petulance often enough I'm sure. But when the commander spoke there were no questions in their minds that they should obey, and I remain free because these men stood in mighty company with their peers. Yes I am grateful. One could say they are slaves to the commands of their superiors and yet through them they gain freedom. Like the soldiers, I can say I am no longer a slave to chaos, but a slave to Christ, and by Him I am free.

Creation intimidates me. Nature obeys God the Father perfectly. Creation groans not because I walk upon her, but because she yearns for the day when the entirety of creation might be fulfilled unto His name even as the entirety of creation already bows to His command.

This document hinges on the promises of God contained in His covenant with His people. One can’t study covenants without first indicating the importance of cutting a Covenant. The sign and seal of the Covenant with Abraham was circumcision—the removal of the foreskin from the penis of an 8-day-old male, or from any “outside” male who wanted to join the Israelite nation. The actual covenant was cut in blood, and the sign and seal of the Covenant was cut in blood. Cutting, or the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:18, 22, Zech. 9:11, Gen. 15:9-18) seals a covenant and proves God’s faithfulness in keeping it.

Circumcision points toward Christ, never toward the law (Romans 2:25-26). Circumcision reminded Israel that God says “By my words I am faithful, and furthermore, I will later cut another covenant with you and by the blood of my Son your heart will be circumcised for all time.” Furthermore, the book of Romans suggests circumcision was never made under the Law (Romans 5:10-15). Circumcision disappeared with the Old Covenant, but circumcision was wholly attached to faith. Circumcision signified and sealed a Covenant given to Abraham 430 years before the law was even given to Israel. God made an everlasting Covenant with Abraham and the sign and seal of that Covenant in faith (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6) was circumcision. God called Abraham righteous and Abraham had faith in God and His promises. The whole world knew who was “The People of God” by their circumcision--circumcision was always sealed under promise and faith. The law, though holy (Romans 7:12), and by every right were of God, did not seal God’s promises to His people. God’s law proved God’s faithfulness, held the Israelites accountable, and proved Israel’s faith (James 2:20, Phil. 2:12). But law primarily revealed sin—obedience to them did not make a person Israelite (Exodus 12:49 & 20:10, Deuteronomy 16:14, Numbers 15:27-29). Circumcision on the other hand, revealed God.
But if circumcision came before the law, why is circumcision not everlasting? The answer—in a way it most certainly is everlasting. Circumcision doesn't have value today because salvation was fulfilled in Christ's blood, meaning that blood from any thing other than Christ’s blood has no value. Therefore, circumcision is no longer necessary. However, God’s everlasting promise did not cease to exist, nor has a seal to His promises been eradicated.

Paul made clear how much better the New Covenant was (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:6). In particular, to the Galatians, Paul vehemently refuted the law of circumcision because the blood had already been shed, i.e. Jesus Christ’s blood has been shed. I believe that Paul simply suggests that the law doesn't save and never had. The New Covenant is better in that you don’t have to constantly sacrifice with temporary blood-- a mere foreshadowing of the blood of Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. That's the point. I think Paul asks this question (interpretation mine), “if the blood has been shed and that blood cleanses our sin for eternity, why are you still trying to save yourself by your own right actions, which didn't give you salvation anyway?” One could put it this way...why try to shed your blood toward your own salvation? Don’t you know my promises were about a relationship with you rather than blind adherence to law? (I Samuel 15:22, Hebrews 9:16-21).

The law proved to be a detriment to Israel, because in the Law they saw or acknowledged God less and law more…the actions of the Pharisees in the New Testament bear this out. God used circumcision to reveal, signify and seal God’s everlasting promises. The Pharisees used circumcision as a matter of right living. They viewed circumcision as a method of sacrifice to God, but did not extend the hand of relationship to God (I Samuel 15:22). They used circumcision and the law as a weapon. God gave it to them as part of a relationship He had and wanted with His people. The law was used to reveal the process of God’s faithfulness to his promises as signified in circumcision, which came to them before and in front of the law. In circumcision God’s everlasting truths withstood the Israelite arrogance toward God and their preferential treatment toward the law (a fact that remains to this day). God made circumcision a Covenantal requirement well before the law, and indeed outside of it. Why?

Why do so many of us desire so much to obey the law believing that somehow it will obtain us favor with God when It seems to say the opposite is true (Romans 2:25-27)? God’s favor rests on His people apart from the law and apart from my ability to see Him. I believe I read that we have been chosen and therefore we are allowed—we get to—we have the privilege of seeing and obeying God.

We’re certain that the Covenants of God covered and covers all law--supercedes all law, has no need for the law. A person can’t say, “I’m a good person and go to Heaven.” No person can accomplish enough good works to enter the Kingdom of God (Romans 3:11). One can't ritualistically obey a single law and automatically enter God's Kingdom. Instead, the promises of God, the choice of God and the blood that signified and sealed them, does. It is only by the shedding of blood that our sins are forgiven (Hebrews 9:22). Freedom, forgiveness, and by extension, salvation, happened by God’s choice, through faith, of the power of the Holy Spirit and by the blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit now reveals to me that my “fleshy” heart has been cut away, signified in baptism. I am a new man by the blood of Christ and am saved and freed from sin. We are anointed and we follow the call of God. We know and understand that the promises of God remain everlasting.

Paul says in Galatians that if you insist that the law engrafts you into the Kingdom of God, you’re sorely mistaken (Galatians 2:15). In fact, Paul reminds them of the true story--that the Covenant promises celebrated in circumcision remained in tact, even today (Galatians 3:6--they were always EVERLASTING), that the sign and seal was instituted BEFORE the law not by it, and that all these things were always dependent on God's will, God's actions, and to faith. Both Covenants were carried out by and began of God (Jeremiah 31:30-34, Ezekiel 36:26 etc.). Both Covenants called for a significant sign of the covenant. The law did not change this, nor would it ever because law bears no weight in deciding salvation. Oh, but what Grace awaits me because I’m obedient to Christ! Romans details Paul’s frustration with those who could not see the joy in obedience to Christ. My obedience in my calling and election to the truth God willed me to see, allows me to know God in great measure (Matthew 25:35-46).

Today, the law is written on our hearts (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul…) and we are not freed from obedience to it (The Schema, Mark 12:28-30, Luke 11:28). God did not change (Hebrews 13:8), His will for His people did not change, and the mode of our forgiveness did not change (blood). Even the idea of faith under God did not change from the Old to the New Testaments. And the “requirement” of a sign and seal also did not change…if it had, every modern Church in the world would not institute baptism as a sacrament. Romans and its relation to Galatians then suggest something different than the lawful value of circumcision. I believe Scripture clearly says that shedding your own blood has no effect (Acts 15-particularly v. 10). One can not equalize oneself with God. Having the knowledge of Good and Evil does not make one holy. Knowledge and control over the two were part of the lie.

Romans 7-8 demands the understanding that only by God’s will can you become holy. Humanity cannot see the will of God, nor can they please Him of their own volition (Romans 7:18-20, Romans 8:22-25, John 1:12-13). God will please Himself. He’s pleasured by what He does for His people. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest otherwise. Romans and Galatians teach in part that we cannot become Holy without Christ’s own blood and by the Father’s own decree (Hebrews 9:22). Therefore Galatians is the picture of Cain and Abel--a story in which God teaches early that Salvation and Sanctification comes from the will and command of God, not from the designs of the people.

There is no GOOD outside of Christ (Romans 5:18-20). God wants to save you and does (John 6:33). God promises to change you and does. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, one knows he/she is being changed. One knows that the works of Christ, the First Born of all creation, purses through their heart because God said they would. That’s the point. The Covenant of blood was always GOD’S covenant, never ours. God made promises without qualification; the covenant promises will be completely fulfilled in spite of man's success or failure to keep whatever conditions or commandments may be contained in the covenant. Fulfillment depends upon God and not man. Abraham may have had to fulfill obligations, but even if Abraham failed to fulfill those obligations, God's promises to him would have always been kept.

Here is the crux. The relationship with God’s people happens and remains because God said it must. In fact, He cannot fail in this. Genesis 15 tells the story about God’s Covenant with Abraham. We find a Covenant called an unequal Covenant…one can find records of these covenants in legal documents from the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Empires used unequal treaties to administer conquered kingdoms a covenant that they must obey. A covenant was stronger than a treaty in that a relationship must be within the covenant, and because covenants were always sealed by blood. As with treaties, each party made specific promises and could expect certain benefits and penalties based on the terms. However, covenanted parties viewed each other in a relationship that bound them permanently. Abrahams covenant with Abimelech in Genesis 21 allowed these two very different men to live peaceably in the same area. David and Jonathan’s covenant was one of mutual loyalty and love. So the covenant, a legal issue, was based on relationship or friendship. Lastly a covenant is always cut not made. To break a covenant was to invite one’s own death as a penalty.

Something different happened on the day God covenanted with Abraham. Like all or most covenants, animals were slaughtered so as to solemnize a blood covenant. Afterwards the animals were cut up and its pieces were lined up in two parallel rows. Normally where a conditional covenant was made, the Master or King made a covenant with blessings and curses upon the vassal or servant or slave. Should the vassal or servant keep the covenant, certain things would happen, if he didn’t, the curse upon them was death. The vassal/servant would be made to pass through the animal pieces, verifying the promises in the covenant, (e.g., Jeremiah 34:18-19). This meant that the terms of the covenant would be mandatory on both parties. The executor of the covenant was also placed in a position of fulfilling the covenant. It’s significant that in the case of Abraham, God—the Master and King, the Almighty, was the King but also made Himself the Vassal for Abraham when God alone passed through the animal pieces.

Genesis 15 says that God put Abraham in a deep, terrible sleep, and only God, in the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch (Genesis 15:17), walked between the animal pieces. This meant that the fulfillment of the covenant was based unconditionally and purely upon God's grace and mercy. In spite of how often Abraham or his descendants failed, they would forever remain a people of God. Abraham could not be a participant in the covenant because he was imperfect and could in no way make an everlasting Covenant with God. Abraham and his descendents could only be a recipient of a covenant promise simply because God would fulfill His own agreement with Himself for His people! This is the reason why God didn’t destroy the entirety of the human race at its first act of disobedience. And Israel did egregious disobey God over and over again—and God spared them over and over again. And yet the covenant curses must be upheld because God cannot fail Himself. God took the Covenant curses upon Himself from Israel’s disobedience in His death. A perfect man came who was also God, and He was put to death, fulfilling the Covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis. Even more stunning and mind boggling though—at the very same time he fulfilled the terms of the first Covenant, He issued a new and better Covenant to His people, cut with blood from the true perfect lamb…blood that would never have to be sacrificed again and that would satisfy God for all time. Again, we could never keep the terms of God’s covenant. So for a second time, while we again slept in a deep and terrible darkness, God took the curses upon Himself—not only for our failure under the first Covenant, but also for failure we would commit under the New Covenant. Because we are sinful (Romans 3:10), God again made a Covenant for His people, swearing an oath unto Himself. Again the terms of the Covenant had to be paid. So, on the cross God in Christ fulfilled the terms of the New Covenant. He alone passed through His own blood from Jesus Christ the perfect lamb who had not failed and would not fail. A second Covenant, and a second time God became both King and Vassal.

Paul simply proves the faultiness in those who say that mankind earns their salvation. We don have the ability to fulfill our Covenant with God... in fact, it wasn’t ours to fulfill. Our role is simply to prove that God will fulfill His covenant with us. Furthermore, Paul's message was not that only those aged 13 years (age of “discernment”) could be saved, nor had the promises contained in God’s covenant changed. The Old and New Testaments are God’s covenant. The new covenant is radically different in that, according to God's will, the chosen will not lose the eternally graceful part of God's Covenant because the Covenant's curses were forever meted through Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 9:11-13)...from the perfect lamb, God's only begotten son. The two covenants are alike in that in and under the covenant we acknowledge and are aware of its blessings and curses. The two are joined together (Colossians 2:10-13 and Galatians 3:17).

I’ll repeat the point in another way: Under the first Covenant, circumcision defined the Covenant promises of God, defined the love of God, the saving nature of God and defined the inclusion of God's people into His fold, and lastly defined the freedom from the bounds of sin through Him. The second Covenant signifies the same thing. In the first Covenant, the law identified a sanctification process through obedience to the law and reliance on God (Prov. 22:6). In the second Covenant, the law being written on our hearts STILL gracefully guides and teaches what is right and what is not…even as the Holy Spirit acknowledges its fruits within us. We are still daily trained by the law of God (do not murder, do not steal, etc.). The law was fulfilled and then written on our hearts (Ezekiel 36:27, Jeremiah 31:33-34), not made obsolete. By the law we understand the call of God as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control take shape in our lives. Before Christ, all knowledge of God was discovered & practiced outwardly. In the New Covenant, God promised to write the law on our hearts even as we are no longer "under" it. To not be “under” the law (Galatians 5:18-19), does not mean it is not written “over” or on your heart. To not be “under” it is not to mean that you’re absolved from obedience to it. To not be “under” the law does not mean that, although the covenant promises a release from sin and a promise to be saved from the punishment for them, that you are expected to disregard the law in order that you might be saved. In fact we now have the freedom and awesome privilege to obey God. In obedience God gives us the grace to endure hardship, to be assured that God is, to hope in my eternal life at His throne (Romans 5:3-6). The shedding of Christ’s blood fulfills the promise that the law will be written on our heart (Holy Spirit) and strengthens our grasp on what we should do and who we should be as God’s in faith…to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves…doers of the Word in faith (James 2, Duet. 10:16-17, Duet. 30:6). A caveat—I hate the question “what would Jesus do?”, as if He’s dead, or as if we could somehow separate ourselves from Him or His will. I hate the statement “Winning the world for Christ”, as if He does not “win” it for himself. He simply gives us the grace to see Him work. So, instead ask “What is Jesus doing?”, because he is very much alive and is very much taking the world unto Himself. Praise God.

Our love for God's statutes (Psalm 119) proves our faith and God's faithfulness according to His will and His everlasting promises. Good works prove God saved us (Matthew 7:16, James 2:20). But works in themselves are nothing without the Love of God flowing through us. Therefore, looking back at Christ and the cross, and forward to eternal life, we baptize our children in celebration of our being washed from sin. The body of Christ celebrates the inclusion or adoption into the God’s family (1 Corinthians 7:14) according to God’s eternal and faithful promises. We still act from faith in grateful obedience because we have hope (Hebrews 11:1, Romans 4:19-21) and so because faith has been given us we want to respond in righteousness. The law written on our Hearts (Jeremiah 31:30-34) allows obedience to God by doing what is "right", and these things become part of our "acts" of faith that came by God's will (John 6:44). James said it--without the acts of faith, there is no proof that faith exists at all. Therefore, taking up the cross is about acknowledging that God’s will is, that Christ’s blood saves us, that we take these truths with us, and that we the Grace we have receive in His calling spurs us to response in Christ. The action of the law that was fulfilled - not abolished - calls us to 'Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength' and 'to love our neighbor as ourselves.' By the power of the Holy Spirit, we're able to internally know God and obey Him with utmost certainty ... something the Israelites did not have. Today we have internal assurance that the greatest man is one who is willing to die for His friends. We now know internally - in faith - by the power of the Holy Spirit what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable, and what ever is excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). And today, God’s will still allows those who are not about any of these things to suffer temporal consequences that are merited by disobedience to it (Romans 1:21-32). But I am saved eternally from the law through blood by the very same faith that first began from promises made 430 years before the law was given (Galatians 3:15-20).

Jesus says, “you must be born again” (John 3:1-8). Paul says the very same thing (Romans 8:9-10). Jesus clearly says that regeneration is supernatural (John 3:6). Paul mirrors those words in Romans 1, 5-8 etc.
Many Christians say that being born again must happen by people who themselves begin the process by “accepting Jesus as personal Savior." They purport salvation to be "if you come half way, Jesus will come the rest of the way, but God won't come His half-way until you initiate it on your side, or until you take the first step." Furthermore, there are Christians who believe that God draws you, comes 99% of the way--and yet the balance of a scale will not tip to your favor until you reach within yourself to make your OWN decision about salvation. However, I don't believe these accurately describe God in Salvation. God's doesn’t require His chosen to climb to the blood of Christ themselves. God says they can't. Salvation is a work that only God can do, and by it God’s people enjoy an inward transformation that is like a birth (Romans 2:28-29, I Cor. 15:40-50). Faith is given to us, and we live in Righteousness. We were present at our birth…but we most certainly did not make it happen. And so it is when we are "born again." When Jesus said we must be born again (John 3:7) it was not a command, but a statement of what the Spirit must do before a person can enter the kingdom of God—a concept called “regeneration.” Regeneration (John 3:1-8) says that God's regenerative work happens and then conversion happens (John 3:14-18, Romans 5:6). Regeneration is mysterious and supernatural…a work of the Holy Spirit—John 3:8 says, “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell from where it comes from. So it is with everyone born of the Holy Spirit.” The statement (which is not a command) contained in John 3:16 that whoever of them that know 'the work of the Holy Spirit and believe, will be saved' follows the explanation and definition of regeneration and conversion. In fact, put in context, John 3:16 is really summarizes the work of God in John 3:1-15. Many of you have read John 3:16 as a command. But I believe that put in context the verse becomes a beautiful summary statement about the work of God. Regeneration precedes faith. We are by nature objects of wrath. Our inclination to sin is part of who others and we are, not just what they do.

The primary characteristic of the old Man to the new Man is that the sin passed through us “freely”. I did not choose to be born into sin (Romans 5:19). I believe the gift of grace also bears this characteristic. Why, if we could not choose to be born into sin, can we choose to be born into life? I see that the gift of Grace is written into scripture...but I cannot find the words "Gift of Free Will" in scripture...at least not unto our salvation.

God did all things in His way (Rom. 5, Eph. 1), and in His time so that he may reveal himself in Grace, Mercy and Justness. And that gracefulness is not always free from physical or mental pain (Jeremiah 18), but the end is being in sanctified commune with Christ. No amount of darkness can overcome a sliver of light (5:15-17) and that light does not come from Man. Romans 5:6 tells us that while we were still helpless, Christ died for us. Does the word "helpless" allow for a moment in which by our decision we can suddenly become self-reliant, and able to choose God for our Salvation? No, I believe that "helpless" means exactly that...helpless. Conversely, if after I'm saved I cannot be snatched from His hand (John 10:22-30)--not even I can snatch me from His hand, then how is it that I'm able to choose to jump into the hand that I can't choose to jump out of? C.S. Lewis Quotes – “God. My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” - Mere Christianity

In light of this quote, my questions are these: We’ve all experienced when God “closes a door” to us. And most of accept that when God closes a door we can't choose to open that door again (“a closed door is a closed door” we say). When God closes a door we turn and walk in another direction, wondering where God will take us next.

Can we choose to walk through or not walk through an open door, but cannot choose to open a door that God has closed to us? Can we boast the ability to choose to close the door ourselves? Does free will occur only when the door is open?

Even the courts and the police system prove cause in regard to guilt. No one is free from cause which means no one’s will is deterministically free. God simply says “I came to you, picked you up, regenerated you, opened your eyes, gave you faith and gave you your salvation. There is no repentance outside of the cause of that repentance. You never find belief and repentance of your own will, and you never ever find it outside of the cause—God (John 6:33-34). This is not the same as free will. A Caveat... Our knowledge of Good and Evil came when we sinned, not before, therefore it is part of the curse. In Adam we suffer for the one sin, but in Christ we are saved from many sins (Romans 5:12:17). Paul repeats himself in Romans 6:5-9 saying “There is no condemnation in Christ, that death is no longer our master (6:9), and that we will live as Children of Christ. The impartation of the law has a negative bent to it...the fulfillment of the law has a positive bent. When we are saved we CAN love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Conversion is real, and faith is a life-long endurance and perseverance-building race. The much discussed question is when faith can manifest?

Faith comes to people at any age, in every situation, but their names were in the book of life before time began (Ephesians 1, Psalm 139). Therefore, faith, belief and repentance can and does begin at infancy (II Timothy 1:8-14). Any life touched by the Holy Spirit, by God’s choice and by His will (Eph. 2:6, Romans 3:27, 4:2-4, 5:1-10, 11:6) bears the mark of forgiveness upon him or her. And there is no faith that occurs outside of God’s will and God’s causative work (John 6:44). Romans 6 proves that once we are saved we are always saved. Romans 6:9 says “knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” The verse shows that when God said, “I know the plans I have for you” (Jeremiah 29:11-14), that He is consistent to His promises. There is no time when man can refute the will of God for you in justice or in mercy (Romans 9-11). So Romans 6 says, “You’ve already died, and you already live, so then why do you act as if you still must die?” Verse 23 solidifies the will of God by saying the wages of sin is death (which it is) but God's free gift is eternal life. You're not saved because of Free Will. In fact Scripture never mentions free will as a gift. One’s own ability to make decisions does not indicate that man determines his own salvation. Scripture defines Salvation by God’s will and solely for His glory. I am only man. I was not there when the mountains were birthed or when lands were created (Romans 1:21, Job 38:4-41). God set creation into place and He breathed life into me. I am not my own man. I am God’s man. Just as He breathed life into me, He breathed life into His Word.. His word is infallible, speaks truth absolutely, and never contradicts itself. Romans 5 defines Romans 9. Romans 9-11 makes Romans 12-16 possible. If we have joined with Christ in death, we have most certainly joined with Christ in His Resurrection. Nothing can separate us from God the Father by faith through the blood of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit--not even ourselves.

When was this not true? Two doctrines exist amongst Christians--one that says God is reactive, and one that says that God always knew, and purposed what was done. I believe it is possible that God is reactive and proactive. But Romans reveals some intent about salvation in the revelation of the fullness and the power of God (Romans 1:7, Romans 7, Romans 8, Romans 4: 2 etc.), and other books and verses confirm Paul in speaking about God (Job 38:4-41, Psalm 46:10). And Scripture reveals something about the will of God in the “will” of man (I Corinthians 2:8-16). When do we know for sure that we had enough hutzspah to thwart it (Daniel 4:34-35)? If nothing can separate us (Romans 8), then at what point are those who are the chosen-elect living outside of the will of God? Or is our part being played exactly as God intended it at that time whether to mold us, discipline us or bless us? First Timothy 1:12-15 says “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” Romans 7 and 8 also assert that motivation to obey and serve Christ first came from a God who considered us before we knew to know God (Romans 7:24-25 for instance). God does not show mercy because we merited it or because we asked God to show mercy to us. God shows mercy far ahead of our own intent to desire it. Paul tells Timothy that he was shown mercy because he acted ignorantly, hatefully and disobediently. By the time we know what it is, we’ve already received it...that’s why we serve. All of this is according to the will of God, not our own wills.

Paul knows that everything he had said up to that point culminates into one statement at the middle of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...” (Romans 8:1). It’s basically a thesis statement. The discourse then requires his audience to prove his instruction with a question...”Who Shall Separate US?” Paul repeats the idea later saying, ”For I am convinced that nothing of any kind or space can separate me from God...not even myself” (Romans 8:38, also see John 10:22-26), designed to further embolden God’s people. The early part of Paul’s letter to the Romans protests that people have separated the law from a relationship with God, believing that the law itself saves (Romans 1-7). Paul then writes that one cannot separate anything from a relationship with Him (Romans 8), then he writes why it is impossible (Romans 9-11) and then teaches them a proper perspective about all men, about faith and about how obedience fits beautifully into a wonderful relationship with God and each other (Romans 12-16). We sense the core of Paul’s character in this letter; he is a seasoned speaker/debater/orator! God chose him and provided Paul’s abilities and gifts for His purposes to be used for His glory. Paul suffered and lived in every kind of experience, but his calling was based according to the skills that God gave Paul with the foreknowledge of what Paul would be doing and what he would need!

Paul’s letters always encourage and challenge Christ’s followers (see Romans 15:14-16). At the beginning of Romans 7 he explains how a woman (a bride) is bound to her husband until he dies. Even if she ‘joins’ with another man while he is alive, it does not change the fact that she is tied to her husband. The cheating does not take away the idea of being joined...a great relational note. He takes that idea into the bride of Christ and the focus changes. Paul reveals (in verses 4-6) that Christ will not die, that He is always faithful to His bride, and that you are joined with Him for eternity according to His promises. Paul spends the rest of the chapter essentially asking us (paraphrasing), “If you cannot die because you as the bride will always be joined to your husband and your husband cannot die, then why do you continue sinning joyfully? You already know the fact that you cheat on Christ doesn’t change the fact that you are joined to Him.”

The most curious verse in Romans 7 is verses 21 and 22 and 23 which say, “I find then the principle that evil is present within me, the one who wishes to do good, for I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, (Psalm 119), but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” (Relate to Galatians 5:17). In Ephesians 6:12 he calls it a war against Princes of Darkness. But he exclaims the power of light in Romans 7 by saying that no matter the darkness, I have the joy of God and His commands in my heart and darkness does not consume me. But these verses must inspire a deeper conversation about choice. I am unable to stand up and yell outside of both powers, “Would you just give me a moment so that I can figure out what I want?!!!” What does that say about will? It’s often good for us to step out of a situation so that we might make a reasonable decision about it...but our nature is not subject to freedom on either side...we’re described as slaves for good or evil. Therefore when Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who Strengthens me,” it doesn’t mean that I can turn myself into a ballerina through Christ who strengthens me. It doesn’t mean that I can see through people through Christ who strengthens me. It doesn’t mean that I can become Chinese through Christ who strengthens me. It means that I wake up, through Christ who strengthens me. I visit friends in Christ, I work in Christ, I play in Christ…do you see how absolutely nothing falls outside of the cause that is God Himself.

God calls, justifies and glorifies those whom He wills, by the blood of Jesus Christ that sealed a new covenant by which God is able to save His people. The law never had a salvific ability. Salvation and forgiveness were always declared through blood in the faith of God's people (Hebrews 9:22-23)...a faith God gives us and that is nothing less than the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Because of the promises of God (Abraham, Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 31:34 etc.), we are saved by His will (John 19:1-19, 30).

God adopted us, His children (II Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 4:5-7, I John 3:2). And we are children not by man’s will, but by God, His Holiness, His purposes, and His good and perfect will. We can not cut ourselves, nor can we cut ourselves off ... impossible. God makes it clear that once we are called His, we are forever His. God makes it clear that cutting was God's sign of His Covenant, not our own sign of our own Covenant...the Pharisees of Jesus time egregiously perverted circumcision (being a human, lawful action which it hadn't ever been) and Paul was peeved.

I love adoption. Parents seek a child or children who had no family and makes the child or children part of their family, A child lost has is found (Ezek. 36:26, Heb. 8:11, Jeremiah 31:34). The child becomes engrafted into their new family, not because they said “I accept” but because the parents said, “I Want You and I Love You!” The child joins the family their name until they die. Furthermore we will not turn from it. Adoption into God’s family means God’s children are engrafted into His family…His body. An adoption means that all God wants for the child has been given to them by God, including the gift of faith, the desire for a relationship, God’s Holy Law in their minds and hearts, a new mind, a new Heart, the promise that He will forever be our God, He will inspire us, will forgive our wickedness, not remember our wickedness and unify them with the body. At the cross he said “IT IS FINISHED!”… it is done…forever.

Because the covenant as signified through circumcision came outside the law 430 years before the law, and because God's promises have never been subject to the law, the promises signified in God’s covenant remain everlasting. Also, when God speaks of covenants, He generally speaks of it being passed on to further generations. On Pentecost day when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the church, Peter assured the people of this familiar concept that this “promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39).

Assurance—found in Romans 4:19-20 says that in faith, Abraham simply knew God would do as He said. Hebrews 11 defines assurance and hope in faith an absolute security. God Almighty commits himself to be faithful and loyal to a people who are always going his or her own way. Even as Israel's faithfulness ebbed and flowed and even as they were condemned and trained through law, they were also reminded about salvation through blood rituals, beginning with circumcision. Obedience to the law was external and an action of the people. But inclusion as an “Israelite”, a people of God was an act of God as signified in circumcision, and many in a long line of sinners knew such assurance and hope. They were required to circumcise under the law that they would remember that God promised and He would be faithful to His promises.

In fact, the children of God's children were already God's children in the 8 days before they were circumcised...their circumcision signified the promises of God to the people of God--even then circumcision didn't "make" them God's children. In fact, circumcision showed and proved that they already were. Too many Christians claim in error that the law "made" Israel what they were. The New Testament shows us that before our children become baptized they have become a covenant son/daughter of God (I Cor. 7:14). Baptism doesn't "make" us anything because salvation wasn't ever dependent on us doing anything. Doing only proves fruit of what's already there. Those who would become of the faith by God's will were already filled with the Holy Spirit (Cornelius-Acts 10:46-48).

Infant and Adult baptisms mirror the Old Testament sign of circumcision, and shed light on the wonderful, comforting and everlasting God revealed in Scripture from the time of Genesis until the end of Revelation. God required Old Testament "outsiders" whom wanted to become an Israelite to be circumcised in order to be “Israel” and benefit as a child under the promises of God (Exodus 12:48). But, their faith, not their abilities toward lawful obedience precipitated their becoming "Israel.” Circumcision also signified that, although unlawful disobedience to the law as an Israelite had temporal consequences, they did not have eternal consequences according to the promises covenanted by God, made by His own name for the people of God.

So what of the law in circumcision and baptism? The book of Galatians for instance, read outside of all other scriptures, might move one to conclude that there’s no way baptism could replace circumcision. Furthermore, infant baptism would then be reprehensible. Paul says in Galatians that adherence to the law of Circumcision does not save you and is of no use to you! If circumcision were merely a law, given to nothing except that which is under the law, one could conclude that infant baptism can’t “replace” circumcision because then we’d under the law and dependant upon the law, something Paul said was sinful. We say that baptism replaced circumcision according to the promises of God. This is valid under our belief because baptism is still a “required” sacrament…we could not say that baptism is merely “suggested” as a sacrament. So it goes that neither circumcision was nor is baptism rites of law. God hasn’t removed the adamant participation in it -- because the promises remain forever, the very promises signified in circumcision and baptism.

So in fact, baptism does replace circumcision because both celebrate the cleansing, forgiving inclusion into God’s family according to the promises of God. Although circumcision became part of the commands of God or the Law of God, it was instituted according to the Covenant of God under faith (Hebrews). One thing can be sure; Paul loved the law of God. Contrary to what many believe and teach, the apostle Paul—more than 25 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—believed and wrote that "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12). The law is the expression of God's character, which is holy, just and good. In verse 22 he wrote, "For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man." Paul believed that the law provided the framework for a beautiful, fun, healthy and safe relationship with God. Paul was confused why anyone would want to turn the law into an idol. Paul loved the law, but was grateful not to be dependent upon it for his salvation.

The everlasting heart of the covenant, which includes the necessary tools to enact a covenant, come from God, by His Son, through the in-working of the Holy Spirit. Central is what God says about His children and how they experience the fulfillment of God’s promises. Parents want to instill in their children the desire to follow Jesus, but they are also profoundly aware that they are inadequate to the task. So we ask for help. However, too many Christian parents are so focused on their responsibility for their children’s spiritual lives that their prayers are essentially, “Lord, help me do my job and fulfill my calling to raise my children in the faith.” They don’t stop to listen first to what God has told them about His commitment to our children. They don’t stop to ask, “What is Jesus Doing?” Is He not always doing?

The Covenant of God--just as Evil convinced Adam that he could stand above good and evil, Evil convinced man that he could shed his own blood to the forgiveness of his own sins, all-the-while believing it was indeed the will of God that we should save ourselves. This was Satan’s most egregious deception. Instead, we baptize infants in knowledge that circumcision was not dependent on the choice of man because salvation was never dependent on law ... therefore infant baptism replaces circumcision not based on man’s willful sensibilities, but on the saving promises of God...the law never once stood in front of Circumcision. Circumcision was always led by promise and faith.

A gentleman named Matt Bradley said this, "If the nature of the community is invisible, then how can we baptize anyone with a clear conscience, not knowing men's hearts? If however it is a visible community (as it was in the OT), and the promises that flow to this community belong to its children as well (as they did in the OT, and also do the NT-present, see Peter's statement in Acts 2:39 "the promise is for you and for your children"), and if God commanded his one people to administer the sign to their children, and has not rescinded that command, then on what basis can I deny the sign of covenant membership to my children?"

John Calvin said “It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christ’s fold those whom He nursed in his bosom, and to shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them.” Furthermore, God who has shown himself toward consistency and faithfulness, held Israel tightly from infancy to adulthood, even through disobedience. The idea mirrors God’s prophesy in Isaiah 59, assuring His people that God’s covenant will remain as an everlasting covenant—the faithfulness to our children always included. Although circumcision became part of the law, it is engrafted to the Covenant of God that is by faith, not by law or works or by Humanity's own Spirit (I Cor 2:12-14). Was it a fluke that John the Baptist leapt for joy from within the womb when Mary, impregnated with the Christ, came to Elizabeth’s house? Maybe the baby simply started kicking at the most coincidental moment? Or was faith involved in the process of a not-yet-born infant human being? Did Paul not mean what he said about Timothy when he said "From Infancy" Timothy has regarded his faith (II Timothy 3:15)? These pictures help us define what faith really even is, where it comes from, and how God allows it to grow and stretch, mold and sanctify throughout a lifetime until it is perfected.

I believe the burden of proof is actually on those who believe in 'believer baptism' only -- not on those who would baptize their children. The sign of circumcision was given to the children of God, and it was a good thing to be in the covenant. In fact, it was a gracious thing to be in the covenant and receive the covenant sign. Why would this gracious thing be taken away in the New Testament? Why would grace diminish under the New Covenant? One actually ought to justify how it is that children are now excluded from the covenant and therefore no longer suitable recipients of the covenant sign. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says that the child of even one believing parent is Holy. Therefore our children ought to be baptized because they are “already” holy in Christ by God’s will…not that baptism makes them holy...that would not be congruent with the covenant of God made by Him to Abraham. Nor are they “innocent” until age 13 (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:2-3, Romans 3:10). How is it that we must teach our children how to obey and do right, but we do not need to show them how to disobey or sin? God knows us before we are born (Ps. 139), and by the promises of God to our children and their children after them. Our children ought to be baptized because we know that Christ's blood was shed, that Christ's blood allows an eternal forgiveness (Ephesians 3:14-20, Romans 6:1-18), thereby fulfilling the promises made to Abraham by faith as signified through circumcision. We believe now that despite ourselves, we have died to Him and are raised with Him as signified by baptism (Romans 6:3), but always according to the eternal promises of God made many thousands of years ago. It says in Romans 6:14 that we are no longer under the law but under grace.

This is why we baptize our children because God's promises were about faithfulness, forgiveness and salvation. Our obedience and in essence the tasks and laws inherent in our election reflect faith, and they mirror and become how we engage in our relationship with God. These are facts as true now as they were then. It’s our privilege to obey God, it’s an expectation to obey God and we have a need to obey God. The promises are and always have been part of the beautiful, saving, generational and covenantal nature of God...and I haven't even talked to you through Romans 9-11 yet. Read these chapters and the above ideas will even more clearly reveal themselves.

Lastly, all the above happened so that God could commune with His people. Community--Paul opens his letter to the Romans with a communal blessing, he writes, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7). While he addressed them, he also addresses the Christian community today. I exist within a body and at the head is Christ. I've preached, I've taught, I've learned how to play guitar. I've counseled and I've given advice. I've learned how to read a bank statement, I've learned about real estate, learned how to write and learned how to negotiate. I've learned to talk over the phone and I've learned how to resolutely make decisions for my family. Lots of people became my mentors and teachers along the way. But the body of Christ strengthens as I mature. It is the same with the rest of the body of Christ.

My point--I've seen all your lives in tid-bits along the way and you've seen mine. I love life that way because I'm sure you've watched me work as often as I've watched you. I'm not sorry I've failed in front of you. I am sorry for the days and years I hid from you. But I bear the characteristics of my God in whose image I am born. In much the same way, I bear the traits of my earthly family and God has blessed us.

I might have filled a troubling pot-hole for you along the road. I know you've saved me from a few. There are great scientists and teachers and workers. The smell of the first rocket that sailed into the heavens rings in the memory of the folks who lived in that day. There are those with a dream and others who ask what they can do for their country. There are great businessmen of whom I've talked about and read. I've met a few of them. Their knowledge benefits the world. I met a star of television and stage the other day. His legacy lies in books and his actions might have changed the course of history. But he or they are not my heroes...building blocks maybe, but not heroes. I've got my parent's love for words, my dad's hard but patient headship. I've got my mom's love for English and poetry and I've got my grandfather's sense of honor and my grandmother's sense of humor. I've got my mom's love for singing and writing and my dad's love for meaning and his love for the guitar. I know in whose shadow I've tread until I learned to see my own shadow. And In lieu of my own little ones are those who've needed my shadow for one reason or the next. And I know with whom I am cleft and I am incandescently in love with Her.

Maybe I could've been the one who passed on great skills to the next generation. Instead, I've turned into the guy who simply walks a broken road and whose God has allowed others to watch and learn. I'm glad about that. Because we watch and learn, we gather together and we worship the God who paves roads. We get to watch those on stage playing and singing and we get to be glad for them. We get to watch teachers and cooks and secretaries and preachers and financiers. We get to watch servers and mechanics and we get to watch janitors and builders and cleaners. We're all so afraid of tootin' our own horns, but I'm not afraid to toot mine. My trumpet is pointed towards heaven as my knees are solidly fixed to earth. Some of my notes have been sour, but my true heroes forgive them and encourage me to play again, as I've sometimes forgiven another's sour note and encouraged them. I'm not an island and I'm playing along side my wife ringing bells and singing purely. I play beside a clarinet and a guitar and a drum, and I'm playing beside violins and organs and all those who are tootin' something meant for them. Together we make an orchestra and we make traveling the road through the narrow gate really loud...but amazingly beautiful.

The church as a whole has made a mantra of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Fine. I do too. However, many millions of us have a difficult time moving beyond our own “Personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. Christians use this “personal relationship” to ward other Christians off with a simple “This is between me and God. You wouldn’t understand.” I don’t mean to suggest that our experience with God isn’t very personal to us. But I believe that living in the Holiness of God is a very communal activity. The fact is, I’ve experienced loss, pain, and sadness. I’ve had surgery, I’ve experienced joy, barrenness, job loss, and insecurity. I’ve experienced Joy, gladness, relief and happiness. I’ve experienced anger and money problems and marital issues. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been happy. Don’t tell me that I wouldn’t understand. I as part of the body am like white blood cells rushing to somewhere in the body that needs healing. I am there for you. I can’t not be there for you.

Christians often believe they’re in the driver’s seat, controlling their own destinies. One day they’ll wake up and realize that they’ve always been in the passenger seat. Even though we are all different parts of the body (I am the hand, you are the foot, someone else is the neck etc.), each body part exists in community with the rest of the body. And Christ tends to it through all of us who tend to each other. For example, the heart, the brain, the kidney, the hand and the earn work in tandem with the rest of the body period. My finger can’t be lopped off my hand and still act as a finger. Likewise, you were never intended to be separate from God, nor the rest of the body of Christ.

I know whose blood runs through my veins and I know whose name I shall never seek to disparage. And I know who's breath passed into them and who said it was good. And I know whose Sabbath we now rest.

My wife and I assisted a weary friend. He needed to get out of town for awhile and we helped him do that. He's wealthy for a man under 30 yrs. old, so we rented a van, he bought a flat screen plasma T.V. and an adapter and power converter, we hooked it up in the van and the girls drove while he and sometimes I played video games the entire trip. If that's how a friend helps another friend so be it! None-the-less they are two people that are very dear to us and we were more than happy to work this out with him.

Another friend's daughter has a lot of problems and she writes about how grateful she is to be interrupted by this or that because interruptions remind her to breathe. Monique ministered to her, and I sent her a couple of poems. Hopefully she breathed She's had a couple similar things happen to her lately. She lost a baby. I know how she feels and isn't that a good thing that someone knows? It is. Another couple had a baby in their home, feeling great about their new adoption, until the birth father dashed their hopes and dreams. But then, they get up in the morning, like we did. The body finds needs and fulfills them.

The end of all things…God knew and knows me decisively. My day encompasses many decisions, choices and opportunities to serve God. I make bad choices. I can choose. I do choose—but not unto my salvation. Hundreds of Scripture verses prove that He, in the fullness of His character revealed Himself to me and said I AM” (John 6:44), and by that unarguable, irresistible moment, I know the will of God, the call of God, the affectations of God. God’s prepared me to see Him in His body and in all other ways and I am grateful.

2 comments:

Annette B. said...

I read it! I did! Lots of food for thought...it hasn't all absorbed yet, but it makes me want to get into those scriptures more myself.

ricknieklikebike said...

yea and I think you read the hard version...I cleared up a few paragraphs that confused me after I reread them, and I believe I might've also shortened it by two whole lines!