62. Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Focus on Christ Meditations: 62.  Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

You might be excused for thinking we had arrived at the end of this series in yesterday’s study, for I had thought that. However, having done that I found this nagging feeling that actually we have not summed up the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross. Yesterday we sought to carry out an overview of the life and activity of Christ, but to more fully appreciate his work we need to try to lay out just what he has done and is doing in our lives, personally.

In our verses above the apostle Paul conveniently laid out an overview of the work of God in respect of our lives. As we have commented a number of times, at least seven times in the New Testament we are shown that the plan of God in respect of Christ and our salvation was mapped out by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. At that time they looked into the future and knew who would respond (that is not the same as making people respond) and in that sense they knew even then the total number of those who in time-space history would become believers, i.e.  ‘predestined’. In the fullness of time the process involved God, by His Holy Spirit, calling people and when they responded He declared them righteous on the double basis of Christ’s work and their faith response. i.e. they were justified. But then He also put His own Holy Spirit within every believer and established eternal life for them which would continue from this life into the next. i.e. they were glorified.

But let’s look at this ‘process’, as I have called it, first from a) what Christ did on the Cross and then b) what he does for each believer.

The Work of the Cross: The angel told Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The sins of mankind since the Fall were the thing that not only brought down mankind and made us less than that for which God had designed us, but also kept us from God and God from us. The word ‘justice’ has come up many times in these studies because it is a strange phenomenon of the human race, this demand for ‘rightness’ (that must come from the character of God). How to ‘put right’ the human race has been the central aspect of the plan of God from the beginning. So note the following two key concepts of his work on the Cross:

i) Atonement: We noted in a previous study: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”. The apostle John added, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole(1 Jn 2:2)

So here we come across a word we have not picked up on before: atonement,  which is about making amends, putting wrongs right and bringing reconciliation with God. It produces a salvation that is available for any and all, e.g. whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17 & also 1 Jn 2:2 above). Note my use of ‘available’. It is not automatic, it has to be asked for, it has to be received and it has to be appropriated – but it IS available for any to come down the path of repentance and faith.

ii) Redemption: This is a concept that suggests we have been bought back from slavery to sin and Satan (and indeed the Law’s curse, Gal 3:13), and the price paid was the blood of Christ. The idea conveyed in the Bible is that unbelievers ‘belong’ to Satan or are under his sway (dominion) and he has rights over them because of their sin. They can only be ‘ransomed’ from this way of life after they have repented and on the basis of Christ’s death. See 1 Pet 1:18,19 & Eph 1:7

The Work in our lives: That leads us on to what happens as a result of this work of the Cross which is available to each and every person.

i) Justified: we have already touched on this twice and it happens because of our faith and is received by our faith. Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-5 was that faith within us, the accepting of the truth of Christ put before us, and surrendering to God, is what God looks for to declare us justified. When He declares it, we have to believe and accept it and live it out. There is a sense whereby we were justified the moment we turned to Christ in faith, and are being justified as we live it out.

ii) Regeneration: This is not a word you will find in your Bible but it refers to the act of God by which a new life, His Holy Spirit, is implanted in the individual and can only happen because that individual has just been justified and made right with God, and so can now become a vessel of God or a temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16). Words we associate with this are being ‘born again’ (see Jn 3:3-8) or converted (e.g. Acts 15:3)

iii) Adopted: This is God’s act of declaring us to be part of His family as a result of the above things (see Eph 1:5)

iv) Sanctified: This refers to the act and process of being set apart to God and conforming to the image of Jesus. For the act see 1 Cor 6:11 & Rom 15:16 and for the process see 1 Thess 4:3 & 5:23.

v) Glorified: In addition to what we have said about this above, we may speak about the glory given to believers because of their union with Christ. (Col 1:27), his expression (Eph 1:27) who glorify him (Eph 3:21) as we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) but living out our lives here on earth. Moreover, one day we will receive gloriously transformed bodies (Rom 8:11,23, 1 Cor 15:43-53, Phil 3:21)

Now all of these things are what you will find in any book of theology but perhaps the biggest issue of all, in respect of who we are now, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, and now in our lives, is the potential of the relationship with God that is before us, summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) If we may expand that at the end of this series: God has done everything He has with His Son, Jesus the Christ, to bring about a new possibility in us humans, the possibility of sharing in the being that is Christ, so that we may share in the things that he is doing, things he planned from before the foundation of the world, things he wants us to share in. That is the climatic end to all of this. The Son of God came and lived and died and rose and ascended in order to reverse the works of the Fall so we could share with he and his Father in working to eventually create a new heaven and a new earth. Incredible! Hallelujah!

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21. Process

Meditations in Meaning & Values  21. Process

2 Cor 3:18    And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

In the last meditation we spoke about reaching full potential which, we said, only comes when we fully surrender and let God work in us to bring us to become what He has on His heart for us. The problem is that when it comes to understanding the world and more specifically my part in it, we want it now and we are impatient to have understanding now. We spoke briefly about the years it took to change Abram, Joseph,  Jacob and Moses and we did use the word ‘process’, but we didn’t really think about it beyond that and yet this concept of process is vital to understand as a Christian is you are not to suffer frustration.

The truth is that the Christian life seems to come in crisis moments followed by long periods of gradual change. For instance it was a crisis when you were converted and everything seemed to change all at once – except you came to realise there was an even bigger, more long-term work beginning which would carry on for the rest of your life. That life-long process of change is called sanctification. You were sanctified when you were saved and you are being sanctified for the rest of your life.

Simply observe a human life growing up into a bigger baby and then into a toddler and then a young child, and so on. If you are a parent you will be especially aware of that. Now if it happens in the physical world, why are we surprised that it happens in the spiritual world.

Thus Solomon in Proverbs wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) In that he was acknowledging that our live constantly change and he used the picture of the rising sun to convey a very positive change that takes place in us. The apostle Paul used a very similar picture to convey the same truth in New Testament terms as we see in our verse above: “we …. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”

Now both of these pictures convey a gradual change. It doesn’t happen all at once; it take time for it is a slow and gradual process. This is what frustrates us when we don’t understand the ways of God. God takes time because He knows that for any change to take place in you in any real measure, it has to take time. An oak tree doesn’t shoot up from an acorn in the ground in one day. It doesn’t form a strong trunk and branches in once day. Leaves don’t form and come out in one day. It takes months and years. Although it flies against that ‘instant’ or ‘must have it mow’ mentality of the twenty first century, it won’t happen.

Now this is made more complex for the Christian because the Lord may have spoken a prophetic word into you early on in life – and you are still waiting for it to be fulfilled. In the previous two meditations we considered the lives of Jacob and Peter, noting the crisis they each had to go through. Often the process of change is simply worked out in the ordinary everyday events of life – learning to cope with the boring and humdrum as well as with the busy and active, learning to cope with people, learning to cope with time or money pressures, all these things work to change us. But then there are also the crisis moments when our sovereignty is challenged and we have to see it must be handed over to God.

Now for so many of these changes to be brought about in us, there are two necessary ingredients in this material existence. They are time and events. I was sitting and pondering this in respect of changes in our church life the other day and found myself asking the Lord, “Lord why aren’t the changes that I know you want coming about?” His answer was, I believe, we are waiting for circumstances of change. i.e. the circumstances were not conducive to change. When everything is going smoothly, people are content to stay as they are. It is often only as things get difficult that people cry out for God to come and bring change.

The need to wait for circumstances to change is aptly revealed in the story of David. David was a shepherd boy but one day the judge and prophet Samuel turned up and anointed him to be king. The only difficulty was that there already was a king, Saul, and he was so insecure he wouldn’t tolerate any thought of a successor. So David carried on looking after his father’s sheep – a king (in God’s eyes) looking after sheep. Who does that remind you of? Circumstances meant that David ended up at the battle front where the warrior spirit within him meant him killing a giant (Goliath) and obtaining fame. He was taken into the king’s service but after a while the king’s jealousy meant that David had to flee or be killed. This resulted in him on the run from Saul, even having to take refuge with the enemy and even feigning madness at one point to survive – but he’s still God’s anointed. It is only when Saul dies in battle that the way is open for David to come forward as his successor, and then only initially as king over the southern part of the kingdom and it took a further seven years to become king over all Israel. In the process David was changed.

Very often we want instant understanding but we are called to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and understanding only comes more fully (not completely) with the passing of time and life-changing circumstances. Very often we think God is concerned with how well we perform the tasks He puts before us, but in reality He is more concerned about how we are changing into the likeness of His Son. That is the crucial issue. We need understanding but we also need patience and perseverance. The promise will come.