Up From the Old Life to New Lives in Christ

Albert Benjamin Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had been raised as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian, and ministered as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian pastor. In his poetry, hymns and testimony, though, there’s a longing that’s visible for something more than stumbling and confessing, something more than just ‘continuous repentance.’ Rather, it was a longing after a victory over sin in this life – not sinless perfection – but rather the victory that he saw written and explained in the New Testament. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m weary of sinning and stumbling,
Repenting and falling again;
I’m tired of resolving and striving,
And finding the struggle so vain.
I long for an arm to uphold me,
A will that is stronger than mine,
A Savior to cleanse me and fill me,
And keep me by power divine.”
(I Want to be Holy, A.B. Simpson)

Is this the desire of your heart? Have you been coming to church for years, and finding that in your heart that before even the opening prayer has begun that you are under conviction for the way that you’ve been living throughout the week and especially on Friday and Saturday evening? Do you sense that y0u’re continually having to try to dig yourself out of a spiritual hole, to try to keep on trying and confessing, to get back some of the joy of salvation that you once experienced?

The answer to this longing is to go back to the scriptures and to grow deeper into the understanding of the gospel, to understand the depth of the provision of the salvation of God for your life through Jesus Christ. So often I think that some of the people who leave off attendance at the public services of our churches do so because they do not find an answer to the conviction that they feel when they come in being beaten down by their own besetting sins. Sometimes they settle for less than the promised victory over sin promised in the salvation of God, and they become accustomed to what we can call ‘cheap grace.’ They come to accept the idea that a person can grow deeper and continue onward in the ways of sin and self-indulgence because of the depth of the free mercy and grace of God.

The scriptures themselves provide the the strongest correction to the dangerous misconception of cheap grace, that the preaching and teaching of freedom from the eternal consequences of sin means a divine permission slip for self-indulgence in more and more sin. This is what we could call ‘antinomian orthodoxy’ – the idea that if you just have faith in Christ you are not responsible to grow in Christlike holiness and love. While there is often today a rightful reproof of legalism, the idea that salvation comes from adding on additional rules and regulations to faith in Christ, there is a tendency also today towards antinomian orthodoxy. This is where some may take the truth of the gospel of grace to a seemingly logical conclusion but in the totally wrong direction. This is the dangerous misconception that the gospel is permission to sin and can even be taken as an encouragement just to sin more and more. Make no mistake, the result of antinomian orthodoxy is that it discredits the gospel as truth from the holy God and leaves professed believers wallowing in rampant hypocrisy.

The key passage for the understanding of victory over sin in this life is Romans 6:1-13 .This passage gives the proper understanding of our position in Christ, our new standing and our new identity in Christ and our special privileges, as those who have been brought from death to life in Christ. This passage is key to understanding the scriptural teaching on sanctification which is so necessary to live for Christ in this world . It is key to growing deeper in what Christ has for us, and to grow beyond spiritual babyhood to maturity in the scriptural truth of who we are in Christ.

“So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection, since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God. In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus.”

“Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH WITH CHRIST MEANS FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN. This  is truth that some believers may have heard at some time and may no longer be part of their awareness, but it is truth for the heart which needs to be regularly remembered, considered, and reviewed before God. It is part of the Emancipation Proclamation for all believers from God through Christ of freedom from the slavery to the power of sin and part our legal standing and privileges in Christ. So then, it is truth which we need to understand well and remember often.

The full message of the gospel means that the free grace of forgiven sins includes freedom from the power of sin through Christ. His death to provide a full pardon from the penalty of our past, present and future sins also means freedom from the power of sin both now and forever. This freedom is made possible by something done outside of us, our past death with Christ, and it already has been completed for us, whether it is part of our personal experience or not.

So, in verses 1-5  — “So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection . . .” Paul confronts antinomian orthodoxy as he anticipates a possible objection to what he has just had written about justification by grace through faith. He understands that someone might consider what he had just written about justification by grace through faith as a license for sin, as the permission slip to do what had been considered impermissible. He meets this possible objection with an extremely indignant rejection of that as an impossibility. It’s hard to represent in English without resorting to profanity (so I won’t). He strongly rejects antinomian orthodoxy, the gospel as a permission slip for sin, as something unnatural for those who have already died to sin in Christ. Incidentally, here he also gives a fuller answer to reported slander of 3:8;

So as Paul starts to explain what it means for believers in Christ to have died to sin in Christ, he assumes that they as believers have been baptized. And likewise he assumes that this significance of baptism has been explained to them as a part of their having been baptized. So he then reminds them of the meaning of water baptism ,as identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, as an enactment after the fact of the believer’s incorporation into Christ, and the legal position of the believer as being acted out before God as they had already submitted to water baptism in obedience to Christ from about the time of their conversion. His explanation is a reminder of the original practice of believer’s baptism by immersion by the early church from the earliest time of the apostles – something which even acknowledged by Roman Catholic commentators on this very passage and on the history of baptism in the church. His explanation here has nothing to do with any kind of assertion of baptismal regeneration but is rather an explanation of the significance of believer’s baptism for believers after they have already been baptized. So what a believer is in Christ through death and resurrection with Christ, what a believer is assumed to have publicly professed through baptism Paul shows to be contrary and unnatural to a life lived in full surrender to sin.

So here we see the apostolic explanation and scriptural meaning of baptism as something that has been based in the full scriptural meaning of salvation through Jesus Christ. The scriptures do not teach and the apostles did not teach not that baptism leads to salvation, but that salvation by grace through faith, in the full apostolic and scriptural teaching of salvation, leads to baptism. So if we understand baptism in this way from the apostolic teaching and the scriptures, we realize that it is just and outward ceremony without power or meaning for anyone who does not already have faith in Christ and has not already been genuinely born again by the Spirit of God. Rather it is adequate to explain it as a ‘regular procedure of Christian discipleship’ and as a signpost act, of the end of an old life and beginning of a new life in Christ. There is no need for it to be area of controversy but let us leave it in its scriptural significance as part of a new life in Christ and an act of obedience to a new life of fellowship with Christ. And this is what we will see. I know of a church several years ago that made a real attempt to start to evangelize intentionally again, after years of benign neglect. They were then surprised first by seeing a number of people come to Christ – they had forgotten that the gospel works, that it is the power of salvation to those who trust in Christ. But even more, they were surprised when they saw a number of people explicitly asking for water baptism, and that they needed to have a number of baptisms of adults in their worship services.

The general practice of baptism in the Christian and Missionary Alliance simply follows the practice of A.B. Simpson, back in the Gospel Tabernacle in New York City, the grandmommy of all CMA churches. He himself was from a Presbyterian background and had been baptized as an infant, but he came to be baptized as an adult by immersion after he had spent some time studying the scriptures and after he had left his New York Presbyterian pastorate. In the old Gospel Tabernacle, only believers were baptized by immersion. But there was no one who was excluded from membership who was satisfied by infant baptism. But during the ministry A.B. Simpson, he presented the identification of the believer with the Lord Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection was so clear that many were baptized during the conferences he led once they had accepted his explanation who had no intention of leaving their churches where infant baptism was taught.

So then, baptism shows the change in life that comes for the believer shows the first reason to live a life of newness in Christ. But then, as we understand that the scriptural significance of having died with Christ means freedom from the heritage of enslavement to sin that has been part of the heritage of the entire human race. This long sentence introduces a concept that is difficult to understand at first, since it is something that it is outside our normal ways of thinking and acting, but it is definitely part of the truth of scripture for believers in all ages. The apostle explains further that the freedom from the power of sin for the believers comes from liberation from the inheritance from Adam through the believer having died with Christ.

So, in verses 6-7, the apostle Paul goes on to write, “ . . .since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin.”  So consider this, which seems to have been common knowledge among believers in the time of Paul: the incorporation into Christ, into his death and resurrection, cancels the legal authority of the power of sin over the believer. This means no legal authority in the universe can compel the believer to sin. This means that freedom from the consequences of sin in Christ also means freedom from the power and the legal compulsion to sin.

And this was accomplished by the crucifixion of the old Man with Christ – and that requires some further explanation. So we are to understand this term, the old Man, not as being our immediate earthly father, but rather our distant earthly father, our father Adam. So here Paul takes up something from previous context of chapter 5:12-21 when he speaks of the old Man, as the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So we can understand this term the old Man, as modern commentators on the book of Romans do, as a collective technical term for the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So Paul is here explaining that the old Mankind has been crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin rendered a useless, incapacitated corpse with no authority to make us sin anymore. He has then presented as a gospel statement not of experience or feeling but of fact, as having already been accomplished once for all in the death of Christ, as part of the truth that the past death and resurrection of Christ included us with Christ, and that is to be the truth that is to rule over our present and future. He describes our position in Christ, and our death with Christ, as an already completed and decisive event, as surely as forgiveness has completely been provided, past present and future through the death of Christ for us. So the apostle explains for us critical benefits of the atonement and resurrection that have been often not very well understood within our churches and less well communicated by Christian leaders among our churches – but still crucial to understand who we are in Christ and how we are to live in Christ.

The death of the old Man means the death of our heritage to sin, and we need to let this sink in to our awareness of who we are in Christ. The death of the old Man means the removal of the legal enslavement of the old Mankind in Adam from the death of Chris, from the heritage of slavery to sin. It means that believers are not legally under the dominion of sin and are not legally obligated to sin by any power in the universe. The past death to sin with Christ is part of the legal standing of the believer, one of the benefits of the atonement, whether we live in it or not. And because of that there is no need for slavery to sin, to the bondage to the old life among believers who have truly been born again and incorporated into the new Mankind as summed up in Christ. And so, as we continue with this passage, as well as the whole of scripture,  will find nothing in scripture to excuse continuation in bondage to sin as a master of our lives, as if we had never come to Christ.

This understanding of our legal freedom in Christ from the power of sin is comparable to the remarkable statement of the former slave Frederick Douglass. He came to the conclusion, after he had carefully read the Constitution of the United States , that it was actually contrary to slavery: “The Constitution will afford slavery no protection.” Slavery, Douglass tells us, “dreads the presence of an advanced civilization. It flourishes best where it meets no reproving frowns, and hears no condemning voices.”  So it is the same where there is careful understanding of the teaching of the apostles and scripture about freedom from slavery to sin. Antinomian orthodoxy can only flourish where there is only a superficial preaching and teaching of scripture, and where there is no one who will stand up and preach and teach the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes freedom from the slavery to sin, to the compulsion to sin.

But wait! There’s even more to what scripture has to say to us about who we are and what we have in Christ. Even more, the death to our heritage of slavery to sin through Christ means the participation in the resurrection life of Christ now and in the future. And the freedom through Christ and with Christ means freedom for the dominion of righteousness, for the will of God in our lives now.

The apostle goes on to explain, in verses 8-10, that the reality of our resurrection with Christ: “And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God.” So the outcome of our death with Christ means that our life  is then to be ruled by the resurrection of Christ, to live in newness of life rather than in oldness of life  — and we can identify that oldness of life as self-indulgence in sin. In this explanation, the apostle is moving from our legal position in Christ the definition of newness of life. He defines newness of life in Christ as living like Christ in resurrection life and completely for the will of God as Christ lives in his risen life. The explanation is that as the resurrection of Christ was the victory of Christ over sin and death, so our resurrection with him also becomes our victory over sin and death and newness of life now. Make no mistake, this is definitely part of apostolic teaching – see Colossians 3:1-4 and I Peter 2:24. And note now carefully the apostle defines what this means for our life now: newness of life. He does not describe it as complete sinless perfection in in this life – that will wait until glorification, the complete physical resurrection of our bodies to be like Christ. So here we have a comprehensive scriptural explanation of what Christ has done for us, what we have in Christ, how we are to live now in Christ and what we still have awaiting us in Christ). So the scripture asserts that we are not to live as if sin were still our master, but but rather we are to live as those who are living with Christ for the will of God.

The scriptural depiction of the risen life in Christ for us now was common in the past in the preaching and teaching of the church, particularly in the 19th century, but rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church. It is, though, liberating truth, truth for the heart, truth that means that we as believers always have a new beginning, that comes not from ourselves, but from having died with Christ and being given his life, to live in newness of life now. So it is something the calls for regular inclusion in the preaching and teaching of the church, based in careful exegesis of the scriptures, and presented as something for very serious consideration, as basis of our lives as believers now and forever.

The great educator Booker T. Washington recalled  in his autobiography how, as a child, he had heard a stranger made a little speech and then read a rather long paper to a himself and a number of other slaves. That man turned out to be an officer of the Union Army and that paper was the Emancipation Proclamation.  He wrote, “After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing she would never live to see.” And he went on to say that there then scenes of great rejoicing and thanksgiving, but that the next day then realization of the great responsibility of freedom took hold of them: “To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it.” And this is what I think that we would find from the scriptures, that the freedom from the power of sin that we have in Christ is a very, very serious thing, something that should change the direction and purpose of our lives on this earth forever, and something that calls for serious understanding of who we are in Christ.

So then, the freedom from the power of sin through Christ is truth that means freedom for the believer in Christ. It means freedom from the life of resolutions to do better, falling and asking forgiveness over and over Freedom from the power of sin in Christ is, moreover, critical to finding freedom from the past, from addictions, bitterness and abuse, to finding newness of life in Christ. And for the believer who may not be caught in spectacular life dominating sins of addiction and abuse, it also means freedom from a double life, from rampant hypocrisy, from rollercoaster Christian life. It means that as believers it is not necessary to to live as if we were spiritually having to dig ourselves out of a ditch again and again and again because of falling into habitual sins, but that we can live in freedom through understanding and embracing who we are in Christ.

The truth of who were are in Christ meant for our heart, to guide us in what newness of life is, but it does not stop there. THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH AND RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST CALLS US TO ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO GOD THROUGH CHRIST. The truth of who we are in Christ calls for a response from us; the truth of who we are in Christ needs to change our understanding of ourselves and the direction that we follow in life. It calls for a radical change in our lives that often becomes decisive and radical when we realize who we are in Christ.

Our new identity, as those who have died to sin but are alive to God in Christ, is to  be fundamental to our understanding of ourselves. Then this consideration of ourselves as not under the authority or compulsion of sin, as alive to God becomes the basis of our total consecration to the will of God.

The apostle explains and calls for the response to God appropriate to our new standing in Christ in verses 11-13: “In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus. Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

The word ‘consider’ is translated ‘reckon’ in the King James Version, and what it means is the serious and continued consideration and the taking up of the statement of the truth of the gospel concerning who we are in Christ to be who we consider ourselves to be now. It is taking up of the identity and standing into our hearts which God says is true of us now. This is the farthest thing from any kind of psychological self-esteem based on anything that we are in ourselves. Rather, our identification with Christ and our position in Christ is to become the new fundamental understanding of ourselves, all that we have and all that we are. But we need to be careful here – the apostle does not ascribe to our ‘reckoning’ in itself as having any power over sin  or granting us any power over sin – he does not use the phrase ‘make it real’ in our lives as many preachers and teachers in the past have explained it. He will, of course, later explain the source of power in the Holy Spirit in chapter 8 in the progression of scripture, after he has completed his explanation of our legal standing here.

But rather the apostle Paul explains  our standing in Christ, our having died with him and having been raised with him, as the reason for consecration to Christ, as those who are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. Thus his call is for our position in Christ to lead us to the refusal to surrender to the rule of sin over us. He calls us rather to the presentation of ourselves to God, each one of us,  as someone who is alive from the dead. This is the logical conclusion of our  incorporation into Christ, identification with Christ, the new standing in grace: it is to lead to that once for all consecration of oneself to God through Jesus Christ. The apostle’s teaching this shows how much he thought that this was lacking in the lives of believers in Rome, particularly those who seemed to be drawn into the paths of antinomian orthodoxy. And this was something he wanted to correct, both in a possible misunderstanding of his teaching and of the Christian life in general, now and for all eternity.

So as we approach this scripture, it has called for careful understanding of the scripture, what it says, in the order and manner that it says, and thus we have come to a place where we can avoid the hoary formulas that make it say more or less than what it says and more or less than what is necessary to understand what this means for us to know and do now. What the apostle is calling for is not something that would be called an ‘inward crucifixion’ and it is not a ‘reckoning’ that ‘makes it real’ in our experience. The real point is the continuing realization of who we are now in Christ calls for us to make a complete consecration to God through Christ in this life. Though the King James uses the word ‘yield,’ what the apostle calls for is not a passive ‘surrender’, but rather a positive refusal to let sin rule over us and actually to present ourselves to God. It is a positive, active presentation of ourselves to God, as  conscious act. So the scriptural terminology is crucial to understand and put into practice the new realization, the new direction of the new life in Christ. And the correction of the terminology that we’ve often heard in our songs and some of our holiness literature from the past gives a new appreciation of who we are in Christ and often forms the basis of a fresh consecration (the crisis experience of sanctification) into an new life of holiness (experiential sanctification).

This is what we have often enough sung about in the past, such as in this verse by Isaac Watts:

“Lord, we have long abused thy love,
Our e’en bled to see
What rebels we have been.
No more, ye lusts, shall ye command,
No more will we obey . . .”

The power of identity as determining what a person will live for something is extremely important, and too often far too little understood from the standpoint of scripture. So unscriptural understanding of oneself, even after salvation, will mean surrendering one’s life to the wrong things. But even more, the power of a new identity in Christ, means understanding that Christlikeness is not up to us. Becoming like him and living like him in this life is not about trying harder, learning more rules and regulations. Rather the understanding of what freedom from sin, from careful examination of the explanation of scripture, means freedom to look beyond ourselves, our abilities and liabilities, to consider ourselves as God in scripture has defined us. We are now those who have died to sin and are alive to God in Christ. And the real revolution in this world happens when believers consecrate themselves to god as those who are dead to sin and alive to God and then step out to live in the newness of life which Christ provides for us now.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THEREFORE PROMISES MORE THAN JUST THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. BY OUR UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF SIN HAS ALREADY BEEN BROKEN FOR US. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS BASED IN WHO WE ARE IN OURSELVES BUT ON WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US AND WHO WE ARE IN HIM. AND THIS MEANS THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED IN CHRIST AN ENTRANCE INTO A SUBSTANTIAL FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN IN OUR LIVES NOW. A NEW LIFE IN THE WILL OF GOD HAS BEEN MADE AVAILABLE FOR US IN CHRIST; IT IS OUR POSSESSION AND PRIVILEGE IN CHRIST NOW, AND HE CALLS US TO UNDERSTAND IT AND LIVE IT OUT.

So the first step is the freedom from the guilt of sin by his faith and resurrection through faith in him; to receive eternal life in the first place. This message  so far is for believers who have already received eternal life by faith in Christ primarily. And it does answer the question of why some professed believers are hypocrites. It is not a problem with the gospel, but what they have taken the gospel to mean. And it can allay any fear you may have of being a hypocrite if you receive eternal life by faith in Christ. The full gospel of Jesus is that that Christ provides freedom from the consequences and power of sin, so that forgiven people can live with victory over sin in Christ. this means that God has provided the power in Christ for you not to have ever to live as a hypocrite if you turn to Christ.  So then, have you received the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and been born again of his Spirit through faith in Christ?

So, if you have put your faith in Christ for your eternal salvation, have you sealed your commitment to Jesus Christ by water baptism? Look beyond the traditions and opinions of others, but rather to the Word of God, as the only rule of what we believe, what we do as believers. Follow through with whatever the Word calls you to do.

Finally, have you consecrated your entire life to Christ? Make a conscious decision before God against the rule of sin in your life, as the scripture calls you to do. Turn from the dominion of sin and self-indulgence and decide for entire obedience to God Present yourself to God as a conscious act before him, upon the basis of who you are in Jesus Christ – someone who has die to sin and who is alive to God.

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The Wood Between the Worlds

Back in February, 1979, I heard the Christian singer and songwriter Bob Ayala in concert. He told of being enthralled with the picture of the Wood Between the Worlds in C. S. Lewis’s book The Magician’s Nephew (one of the volumes in The Chronicles of Narnia series). The Wood Between the Worlds was how C. S. Lewis described a place of transition, like a forest glade, between the our world and other worlds such as Narnia. He mentioned how he said, in a conversation with a friend how much he wanted to do a song on the Wood Between the Worlds. His friend,who hadn’t read the book, asked, “What do you mean – the cross?”

Bob Ayala realized then that this turn of phrase was was even more descriptive of the cross of Jesus Christ. And this little turn of phrase describes how the cross itself stands between the believer in Christ and between the world as it is now. That piece of wood now stands between the person who has come to Christ and the world as it is now, and circumstances will never be the same for either of them.

This is what the apostle Paul declared in Galatians 6:14, of the eternal and irrevocable separation that the cross of Christ has laid down, between himself and the way things are now. And this is what is true of the believer in Christ, who has passed from death to life by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ: “May I never boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  

For the believer in Jesus Christ, ultimately, the cross of Christ is what matters most. This means that the highest joy will be in the cross of Christ, and that the cross will undercut and contradict whatever someone might have otherwise considered to his or her credit in this world. Above all, the cross of Christ cancels any joy in outward religious attainments; the religion of this world, of human effort, pride and self reliance, is turned upside down by the reality of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps less than twenty years after the death of Jesus on the cross Paul and Barnabas went to the area of Galatia – Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium and several of the other cities described in Acts 13 and 14. A problem cropped up when they had returned to their missionary base in Antioch in Syria. Supposedly converted Jews pounced upon the Gentile converts of Paul and Barnabas and told them that faith in Christ had to be supplemented with Jewish religiosity, namely, the initiation of circumcision and following Jewish commands, customs and traditions. So, at some time before Paul and Barnabas went to the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, to decide the question once for all in conjunction with Peter, John and James, Paul dashed off this letter to the Galatians to set the matter straight – therefore Galatians may well be the first written book in the New Testament.

So the problem in Galatia demonstrated the folly of attempting to live by human rules and regulations as a way of salvation, even if someone can seem to provide some scriptural justification for the rules. In the Galatian churches the rules were even based upon the Old Testament revelation of God, but they missed the whole point of the coming of Christ and the crucifixion of Christ. So perhaps even for those who came up with the rules, there was the good motive of attempting to protect the Galatian Christians from going back to their immoral past ways, but their rules distorted the truth of the power of the grace of God through the cross of Christ to deliver from the power of this world.  So, after dealing with the whole system of rules, Paul comes down to this sentence in the conclusion to the letter, which deals with his finding his glory in the cross of Christ.

This is what the apostle Paul started out with: “May I never boast . . .” His intended contrast is what he finds joy in compared with the joy of the apostle with that of the Judaizers. Paul stated in verse 13 that their goal in pushing initiation into Judaism was mere outward show and bragging rights over those who had come to Christ through the efforts and ministry of others. His assertion is that their goal in ministry was not from genuine love for Christ and zeal for the gospel, but rather to gain religious reputation while they were avoiding the rejection of those who did not serve Christ. So their motivation was an example of true worldliness. This was not worldliness not in doing or not doing certain specified actions, even where they might find some kind of support in the scriptures, but the unified rejection of God’s ways and the power of the gospel. This is characteristic of those who are under the sway of their own fallen human nature and not the power of the Spirit of Christ.

So then, worldliness is an attitude which can underlie human religion, even that which claims the name of Christian. It is demonstrated in an attitude which looks for self satisfaction and reputation among other people through the use of religious words and actions, and it is  demonstrated in the rejection of the full scriptural revelation of the gospel of God in the cross of Christ. It comes with an elevation of human religious traditions and actions above God’s way of salvation, which begins, continues and completes through the cross of Christ. So this is what can be called both unregenerate and backslidden religion based in the attitudes of fallen human nature, where it means taking pride in one’s own accomplishments in efforts rather than what God has accomplished through the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ.

Certainly many church people have this idea;  Catherine Marshall, wife of the onetime Senate chaplain Peter Marshall, and a considerable writer in her own right, once wrote about the misconception that many church people have that with Christ’s help they are to become ‘nice people,’ and that this means that with our self-effort and human endeavor we will be ‘man’s best with God’s help.’ And this may well be the impression that many, many are under who are in our evangelical churches have of what it means to be a Christian and what God expects of them.

So then, the joy of the believer in the cross is contrary to worldly joys; it’s contrary to what human nature would by itself normally find pride and self satisfaction in. God’s way of salvation through the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus is something contradictory to the human way of salvation, but it is the source of joy to the person who has received that salvation.

So the apostle continued to say the only thing that he would find glory in: ” . . except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. But the cross itself is a skandalon, a stumbling block to the people of this world, as the apostle found throughout his own preaching and teaching ministry. Yet he was finding joy in something that symbolized a curse to the Jews, the people of the Old Testament. They found only confusion of the Messiah conquering through his apparent weakness, shame and defeat by his suffering and death on the cross. Still the apostle was finding joy in something that exposed the utter sin and hopelessness of the world and the real need of each sinfully self reliant person. He was finding his pride and joy in the cross that declared the inability of each person to save himself. This was something so contrary to the way of this world that it demonstrates that the person who acts in this fashion is living by the standards of another world, and under the sway of a power greater than that of himself, namely, that of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

In every generation, then, the cross of Christ is in some sense a stumbling block to religion that comes from the fallen and prideful human heart. It is a stumbling block to all the religion that says that self improvement and not death is the answer to sin.  The cross of Christ is the ultimate conquest of worldliness at its most subtle place, of its defilement of the capacity of human beings for worship of the one true God to a trust in oneself and self congratulation for one’s own religious efforts and attainments. But the person in every generation that finds the cross to be the power of God for salvation will find no need for the religion of this world, but rather find his satisfaction and enjoyment in what God has done through Jesus Christ.

This then is the kind of joy that will lead people to sing such hymns as, “In Christ Alone,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed,” “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” and “The Old Rugged Cross” with joy, even if some may think that the subject matter is morbid and needs to be warmed and lightened up for the present generation. This is the kind of joy that can bring someone like Charles Wesley, on the day of his conversion, to write words like,

“His dying crimson like a robe
Spreads o’er his body on the Tree,
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.”

(This is what had been originally the 4th verse to the once well known hymn, “And Can It Be?” Many churches used to sing that at least once a quarter, but I must honestly say that it’s been years since I’ve sung it in a church service. I don’t remember where I found this verse; it’s in no hymnal that I’ve ever owned or used.)

Worldliness is therefore first of all a matter of love and affection. So abstention from certain socially and religiously disapproved actions may only be a mask for a heart still filled with self love, self reliance and self righteousness, and at the bottom disdainful of the salvation of God through the cross of Christ.  But the demonstration of the understanding and full appreciation of the cross of Jesus Christ brings his freedom from the bondage to self centered religion and the heart sold out to this world, to self satisfaction and pride, and a genuine, deep and lifelong appreciation and satisfaction in what God has done through the cross, and the cancellation of pride in human achievement and religion. But this separation from the world is not only a matter of a center of different affections and religious concern, though; it is a matter of a new identity and standing before God.

The cross of Christ separates a believer in Christ from the world through an impenetrable and irrevocable wall of death. This separation comes by a death and a judgment not that has nothing to do with anything that the believer can or has done on his or her own efforts or attainments. The judgment of God that decreed death meant separation, so the cross is the declaration of the legal standing of the world of mankind and the believer in Christ, of a wall of death between them.

The world has been separated from the believer by the cross of Christ. This is something stupendous that many never realize, but it is true in the declaration of God himself. The cross is itself where the judgment upon fallen mankind, of deserving death, shows the world of fallen humanity in its true light before God .

The apostle declares then one half of the truth of the separation of the believer from the world through death:  ” . . . through which the world has been crucified to me . .”. But the world is still alive, someone may say; but the world has been declared judicially dead to the believer through the reality of the cross, and the judicial death of the world separates the believer in Christ from the world. Again, the crucifixion of the world here is not its actual physical destruction. Paul was smart enough to know that the final judgment of the world and its transformation at the coming of Christ had not yet arrived. Rather, this is the crucifixion of his world rather as a power hostile to God and as a power that holds with dominion over those not in Christ. So the world, the corporation of sinful mankind in its self reliance and rebellion against God, has already ben judged and conquered in the cross.  (Here the world would be comparable to the term ‘the old Man’ of Romans 6:6, of referring to the legal entity of mankind as represented in Adam). So the conquest of the world for the believer comes through the cross of Christ, and it is conquered not by the imposition of rules and regulations with the threat of judgment but upon the basis of the judgment already demonstrated in the cross of Jesus Christ.

And certainly this is comparable to what Paul’s brother in Christ and personal acquaintance (Galatians 2:9 describes their acquaintance and handshake), the apostle John, wrote about the world (a passage rarely heard nowadays, when we hear more about David’s adultery, the woman at the well from the Gospel of  John chapter 4 and more recently the rich young ruler): “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything that is in the world, the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the boastful pride of human existence, is not from the Father but from the world. And the world passes away and the desire for it, but the one who does the will of God remains forever” (I John 2:15-17). 

So then, the judgment upon this world and its ways declared in the cross is the source of the believer’s lack of love and affection for this world and its ways.  The cross is the demonstration that God holds the ways of sinful mankind under his judgment. So the believer in Christ can cheerfully part with the ways of this world, its pride, self righteousness and self reliance, since there is absolutely no need to have one’s heart entangled with what is under judgment and is passing away. This reality of death bringing separation even in a previously affectionate relationship  underlies the true separation of the believer in Christ from the atmosphere and influence of this world. This world previously loved separated by a new relationship and a greater love that imposes the wall of death between the believer and this world.

Nathaniel Hawthorne described in one of his novels (The Blithedale Romance, one of his lesser known novels) the breaking of a relationship in terms of death. He described his character’s alienation from a charismatic leader of their 19th century commune like this: “On the doorstep I met Hollingsworth. I had a momentary impulse to hold out my hand, or at least to give a parting nod, but resisted both. When a real and strong affection has come to an end, it is not well to mock the past with any show of those commonplace civilities which belong to ordinary [human contact]. Being dead henceforth to him, and he to me, there could be no propriety in our chilling one another with the touch of two corpse-like hands or playing at looks of courtesy with eyes that were impenetrable beneath the glaze and the film. We passed, therefore, as if invisible.”

The believer has likewise been separated from the world through the cross of Christ. The separation of one, by that irrevocable and impenetrable wall, means the separation of the other. So the death of the believer with Christ has also imposed the barrier of judicial death between him and the world.

The apostle Paul then concluded this remarkable sentence: ” . . . and I to the world”.  His release from dominion and influence was not through anything that he had done, through an agonizing self effort of personal adherence to any set of rules or regulations, but through the separation of his judicial death with Christ. The believer in Christ is now part of another world, part of the corporation of the new Man (the new Mankind, rather) as represented in Christ. This separation had already been achieved through Christ, because apart from being in Christ, all people are part of the world are part of a corporate power in opposition to God through being in the flesh and therefore under the dominion of fallen human nature. The deliverance of the believer from the world comes first of all through being included in the death of Christ in the legal reckoning of God, and this has already been accomplished if the believer has come to faith in Christ.

The separation of the believer from the world through death thus places him or her in a new relationship and association, that of being in Christ and therefore as part of a new Mankind and a new world as summed up in Christ. The believer is there not by a change of address but by a new relationship and by the declaration of the Word of God. This separation by death, by God having declared the believer in Christ to have been legally considered to have been crucified with Christ, means entrance into a new life in Christ. This means a separation from the world, and a new identity in Christ, and this new identity provides more than sufficient motivation and power to part with the ways and attitudes of this world.

In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer described the spiritual crisis in his own life which came in 1951-1952. He became deeply troubled by the lack of spiritual reality in lives of others, and himself. He spent some time alone and reviewed all the reasons for being a Christian, and found that it was totally intellectually satisfying to believe in the God of the Bible and the reality of Jesus in all he said and did. But he then realized that the reason for his trouble and dissatisfaction was that he had heard little about what the Bible says about the finished work of Christ for his ongoing life as a Christian. He found the basis of going away from the presence or absence of a list of do’s and don’ts for being a believer is not the rightness of wrongness of the taboos, but the place of the heart. He found that the scriptural way not because of social pressure, but in the inward reality of new life and affections through what Christ had done for him on the cross.

I think that there may be many in our churches who are in the same place as Francis Schaeffer was then. They’re being faithful in attendance, but it’s become a religious treadmill. They may have heard about the struggle of the believer with the world, the flesh and the devil, but they have been pretty much at peace with all three for quite a while. They may have heard a lot of do’s and don’ts over their lifetimes – though I think that this was much more characteristic of believers who grew up in churches from the 1920s through the 1960s. But those who have come through our churches since the 1980s may not have heard much about what it means for them to be in Christ – but they hear a lot about the grace of God, and it’s in such a loosey-goosey manner that antinomianism – the fruit of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, ‘cheap grace’, without the cross of Christ — is much more of a problem among them.  So I think that there are many who are still waiting to hear and to understand the truth of who they are in Christ, of what it means to have been crucified with Christ – but they are not receiving it from our current preaching and teaching, and certainly not from so many of the current praise and worship songs.

The cross of Jesus Christ, then, cleaves a separation of the believer in from this world and of the world from the believer in Christ. The realization of the new standing in Christ makes the separation in practice more consistent and real. It means that doing or not doing certain things is not a matter of the fear of man or of threatened judgments, but of a judgment already demonstrated and a new relationship to God through the cross of Christ.

The true conquest of this world by the believer in Christ does not begin in anything that he or she does or does not do, but through what God has already done for him or her through the cross of Jesus Christ. This is how a believer in Christ can be, as Jesus once expressed it, in the world but not of the world. This is how a believer can avoid being squeezed into the spiritual and emotional bondage of this world, from the wonderful realization that God has already made you free through the cross of Christ. This is not something that comes from your own feelings or circumstances, but simply from realizing who you are in Christ upon the declaration of the Word of God.

The understanding of the true nature of separation from this world and the true nature of worldliness would end the self righteousness and shallow sense of personal sinfulness among many professed believers in Christ. This means that they would no longer live in complacency or in adherence to a certain list socially approved prohibitions — some of which may not even be legitimate temptations. Rather, it means living in truth, in the awareness of the truth of what one is apart from Christ — namely, the utter lack of righteousness apart from Christ, and being in with the wrong crowd of this world in the first place – and the utter necessity of Christ to be right before God, and the satisfaction in who one is through Jesus Christ.

Even more, the realization of the true nature of worldliness and the true basis of separation from this world through Christ would free believers from the fear of this world to become stronger and more forthright witnesses in this world. I think that many fear to engage this world with the gospel because of fear of the temptations of this world or that others will see them engaging the world with the gospel and judge them as having become worldly. Rather, they would come to this world with the news of its judgment in a loving fashion without a harsh and condemning attitude, because the judgment of this world through Christ means the opportunity for the redemption of those in this world through Christ. Understanding this would provide a tremendous freedom to have redemptive contact with the sinners of this world without fear of being entangled in the sins of this world.