Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"We are the circumcision"

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— (Phil 2:3 ESV)

Already in the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, YHWH had challenged His people to consider that the ceremony of circumcision was insufficient to earn His favor. The LORD was looking for people who did not just have part of their flesh cut off, but who had their hearts circumcised: purified from fleshly lusts (Jer 4:4; 9:25-26). The heart circumcision that the LORD required was not something that could be achieved by human will or works: the change that sinners desperately need can only be achieved by the Spirit of God, taking out the heart of stone, giving the heart of flesh (Eze 36:26), writing His holy moral law on the heart of His people (Jer 31:33). True, inward circumcision is a blessing of the New Covenant, as God re-constitutes His people on the basis of the completed work of Christ.

In explaining what it really means to be a “Jew”–not in the sense of mere ethnic or biological identity, but in the sense of being a member of God’s covenant people–the Apostle Paul writes the following:

For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart: by the Spirit, not the letter. His praise is not from men but from God. (Rom 2:28-29 HCSB)

There was a time when Gentiles-on the whole-were kept outside of this definition of “Jew,” when Gentiles were separated from God’s covenant promises by the Law, which included circumcision, as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:11-12,

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (ESV)

One of the functions of the Law was to keep Israel separate from the Gentiles, to preserve the covenant line that would culminate in Christ. With the coming of Christ into history, upon the completion of His work, salvation has been made available to all. The New Covenant promises are for the whole world. The dividing wall of separation between Jew and Gentile has been removed. As the Apostle goes on to explain:

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:13-22 ESV)

True, spiritual circumcision unites Jew and Gentile because it unites all believers to the work of Christ, as Paul explains in Colossians 2:11-14,

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)

Circumcision was a symbol indicating the obligation to obey the entire Law from the heart (Gal 5:3). Another function of the Law was to demonstrate that we all fall short of God’s requirements, to display the need we have for a Savior. United to Christ by faith, we have been circumcised with Him, we have died with Him, we have been raised with him. Therefore our debt–our condemnation under the Law–has been erased.

According to Philippians 2:3, “we”–that is, the Apostle Paul, the Philippian Christians, and (by direct implication) all who have true faith in Christ–“are the circumcision.” Paul further defines the character of true disciples of our Lord with the phrases “worship by the Spirit of God” and “glory in Christ Jesus;” these are two facets of the same truth about Christian character: that, by faith, we are consistently pointing to the glory of God alone. Christian character is negatively defined as putting “no confidence in the flesh.” Our flesh–our own will and works–are entirely powerless to restore us to a right relationship with God. As Jesus declares: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63 NASB)

Dear reader, please consider: have you trusted in Christ? Is your life characterized by worshipping in the Spirit? Have you ever come to the place where you can honestly say, “I place NO confidence in the flesh, but only in Christ alone”? Or are you still, on some level, seeking to please God through your own will and works? Please, I beg you, consider these matters and trust in Christ today!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"The Israel of God"

The following is an excerpt from and article by Brian J. Vickers, "Who is the 'Israel of God' (Galatians 6:16)?" Eusebeia (2006): 8-9. In the article, Vickers argues that-in the context of the epistle-"Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 refers to all believers in Christ: both Jewish and Gentile. The following  paragraph situates the Apostle's use of this term in Galatians with other NT language for believers.

Though the phrase "Israel of God" only appears in Galatians 6:16, there are texts in which language
Brian J. Vickers
reserved in the Old Testament for Israel alone is applied without hesitation to all who believe in Jesus: whether Jew or Gentile. For example, Peter, quoting Exodus 19:5-6, calls his readers (who undoubtedly included Gentiles, see 1 Peter 4:3) "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people (1 Peter 2:9; cf. 2:5)." Here Peter unreservedly uses covenant language once reserved for Israel alone and applies it to all who believe in Jesus. References to God's election of believers (e.g. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:10) are reminiscent of Old Testament texts that speak of God's election of Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:6-7; 14:2). Finally, the all-inclusive designation of believers as the "children of God" (e.g. Romans 8:14; 1 John) finds counterpart in Hosea 11:1, "out of Egypt I called my son," a clear metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel (as well as a clear Messianic text).


Friday, February 13, 2015

Humiliation and Faith

This past Lord’s Day, my pastor (Mitch Chase) celebrated his birthday with a full day of preaching and teaching. In the morning service, Mitch preached from Matthew 15:21-28. In his sermon, he helpfully and rightly pointed out that Jesus’ seemingly harsh and even racist words—in calling the Canaanite woman and her daughter “dogs”—were adapted to the expectations of His hearers. These words would have provided a background, so that His subsequent commendation of this Gentile woman's faith would have been an even more stark challenge to His hearers.

Reflecting more on this passage, I’m also struck by the humility of the Canaanite woman. When Jesus answered her plea by basically calling her a dog and directly implying that she was unworthy of His help, she did not react as we might imagine she would. She might have responded, “You can’t talk to me that way!” She might have said, “Who are you calling ‘dog’ you wandering Jew?” She might have stormed off in a huff, feeling offended.

Instead, she did not argue. If the Lord decided to call her a “dog” on this occasion—for whatever reason—she was ready to accept it. She simply renews her request for her daughter. If the Lord declares her unworthy for “bread,” she is willing to accept “crumbs.”

The Lord answered her request and commended her faith. This passage—along with others, such as the parable of the Pharisee and the publican—present a crucial truth concerning faith. It is faith alone that justifies. But the faith that justifies is more than mere mental assent to a set of propositions. Faith is rather a casting of oneself wholly upon the Lord, despairing of one’s own attempts at righteousness. True faith exalts Christ above all. True faith comes only through humiliation. The Canaanite woman began her address to Jesus with a plea for mercy. “Mercy” implies that she already considered herself guilty, under just judgment. Her interaction with Christ showed that she was not giving lip-service to humility, but that she was truly humiliated before Him.

Please ask yourself, dear reader, if you have ever come to the place of the Canaanite woman. Have you ever seen yourself as guilty and in need of mercy? Have you ever cried out to Christ for salvation? If not, I pray that today would be the day that you truly place your faith in Him.

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