Friday, January 28, 2011

Spiritual Death

    Spiritual death is a term used by evangelical Christians.  What do we mean however by that term?  Morris Ashcraft gives a good definition,.
    "With reference to sin, death means much more than that which the coroner certifies. It means separation from life because it is separation from God.  Physical death is a separation from life, in one sense; but in the case of Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead, the separation was not ultimate.  Biblical faith posits the fearful possibility of an ultimate separation from God and life which is called "the second death" [Morris Ashcraft, Christian faith and Beliefs (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1984) 199.]
 Separation from God is appropriate.  When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, they were separated from Paradise.  They could no longer walk with God in the cool of the day.  They were under a curse.

    The Hebrew word used in Gen. 2:17 is "mooth" which is a primitive root meaning "to die (literally or figuratively)" [James Strong, Strongs Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers,) 63].  The idea is that of a condemned prisoner; someone they schedule to die but is awaiting execution.  Adam was a dead man by decree, but was still awaiting the carrying out of the sentence.  The apostle Paul expressed it this way, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins," [Eph. 2:1].  God was giving Adam solemn warning that to disobey would bring cessation of immortality.  This is evident in Jewish thought also.  Adrien Janis Bledstein wrote "eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," or "be doomed to death""[Adrien Janis Bledstein,"The Genesis of Humans: The Garden of Eden Revisited." Judaism 26, no. 2 (Spring77 1977): 187. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 25, 2011).] Christianity's root is in Judaism.  The early Christians would have placed all the teachings of Christ in the framework of Judaism. So Morris and Bledstein agree with the meaning of Genesis 2:17.  The Presbyterian commentator Matthew Henry also echoed the thought, "Thou shalt become obnoxious to death, like a condemned malefactor that is dead in the law"" [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume 1 Hendrickson Publishers, 1991 14]

    So what died that day as God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden?  The soul of man died.  Man was now separated from God, he has been cast from God's presence and cursed for his disobedience.  Physically man died also.  Adam did not drop dead, but he was under a death sentence.  Adam now had the fearful awaiting of that death.  For the remainder of his life he would wonder when death would come and what it would mean.  The same is true of all people today.  Everyone knows that death is coming and fears what it will bring.  The Apostle Paul understood that Adam's death was a curse to all people when he wrote "as in Adam all die" (1 Cor. 15:22).  How God transfers sin and death through the generations is much debated.  There is no doubt from everyday observation however that it is true.

    This brings to the forefront the question what would have happened had Adam and Even not sinned?  One can only speculate.  It is clear that as long as Adam remained in obedience he would have preserved his immortality.  Then what if an offspring had disobeyed?  Would Adam have  remained in paradise and immortal while his offspring was cast out?  What if Eve only had disobeyed?  Would she alone have been cast out?  These are irrelevant questions because Adam and Eve both ate of the fruit and brought condemnation.  Sin has entered the world and so death by sin.  The whole matter is summed up in Romans 10:13, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Surprising Find

In the readings for my church history class at Luther Rice I came across this quote. "Pentecost was indeed a day of the Lord; and through hardly to be called the birthday of the church, for that had its beginnings in Jesus' association with the disciples, it marked an epoch in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the disciples' conviction of Christ's presence, and in the increase of adherents to the new faith." (Italics mine) (Walker, Williston, A History of the Christian Church, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1918).  Old-fashioned, traditional Baptists have long asserted that the birth of the Church did not occur on Pentecost, but rather during the personal ministry of Jesus.  I was thrilled to see this quote from a professor at Yale, which was founded as a Congregationalist school, upholding the traditional Baptist position.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Freedom in Christ

            A few years ago, I was speaking with a woman.  In the course of our conversation, I paid a compliment to a church in Oklahoma.  The church was growing and was reaching people for Christ.  The complement was that their music minister had done a wonderful job of blending traditional hymns with contemporary praise choruses in their worship services.  Her face immediately turned dark and she warned me to avoid that church.  Her reasoning was that the church obviously was trying to please everyone and so could not be of the Lord.
Worship music is one of the most divisive issues in the church today.  We pit Traditional hymns against praise choruses, organs against electronic keyboards, guitars against pianos.  Nothing is specified in scripture regarding worship music except that we are to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” Christian legalism has created the whole issue of worship music.  The kind of music used in worship is not the subject of this essay.  The choice between legalism and grace is.  The Jews in the first century had laws in great number.  Jesus frequently faced the accusation of breaking Jewish law.  The only rules that Jesus ever broke were foolish rules made by man.  Jesus kept the rules given by God, all 10 of them.  Not one of Gods laws have anything to say about whether we should sing Amazing Grace or Shout to the Lord.
Music is however only one issue that man created legalistic rules covering.  There are laws regarding everything from what we wear to church, to the color of the carpet.  The truth is Christ has freed us from Law, both Jewish and Christian.  Christ has redeemed us and set us free to obey him, not because of a rule, but because of love, not out of obligation, but out of thankfulness.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3:10-13 “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”
            Lets examine how law enslaves people, how Christ has set us free, and how the just are to live by faith.


Whenever sets of rules are set up and become the gauge of godliness, those rules eventually enslave.  There was a time that if a woman dared to wear a dress that came above her ankles she would be branded a hussy and a loose woman.  Should a man choose to let his grow long enough to touch his collar the church looked upon him as effeminate.  In addition, iniquity abounded if he dared to have a ponytail.
Now of course a world without rules would be a world of chaos.  However whenever a system of rules of our own making, no matter how well meaning, becomes more important than the God who we serve, we have become enslaved by the rules.
We read in Colossians 2:20-22  “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”
The very issue that Paul addresses here in Colossians is anything that overrides the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives and only serves to please others, binds us and eventually enslaves us.
Paul also wrote in Romans 7:5 “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”  Enslavement eventually brings death; death to love, death to hope, death to vitally, and death to real relationship.  Should the law serve as a substitute for Christ it also brings death, death of the soul.


          The hope that we have is Christ has redeemed us from all law.  To redeem means to fulfill or to purchase back something of value. To accomplish this Christ had to do two things, fulfill all of God’s laws so that He would be worthy to pay our price, and then He had to pay the price that each of us owes for our failure to fulfill Gods law, death.
          The Apostle John wrote in the 19th chapter and the sixth verse of his gospel “When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him”.
          Even Pilate recognized that Christ was without sin. Jesus did what no one else could; he lived without sin and so fulfilled all of God’s law.
          In Galatians 3:13 Scripture says “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” Jesus having fulfilled every requirement of God then did the unimaginable, He chose to suffer and die in our place that we might be able to live. Live not just bound into the slavery of more rules that we cannot ever hope to satisfy, but live freely in Christ, because Christ has paid all our penalties.  Christ has paid all our debt. Christ has set us free. Set us free to follow Him in Love and Joy.  He has done this because God has decried “The Just shall live by faith.”


     Living by faith is the opposite of law.  Living by faith requires that we trust God and ask him to supply and guide.  Law demands that we do everything ourselves, hoping to some how please God.  Law call for mans ability. Grace calls for God’s ability.
            Law asks man to live out of his own strength and power. We are however told in Isaiah 64:6  “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”  Living by law is the pure reflection of sin, which is turning away from God and toward self.  We believe that we somehow can satisfy God and do not need His help.  That’s why God says three times in the New Testament alone “the just shall live by faith”“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  You see Faith calls for God’s ability. and in Hebrews 11:6 scripture says
God is asking us to understand that we can do nothing. He can do everything. Our pride, our sin, our setting up ourselves as God only enslaves us with failure, enslaves us with bitterness, enslaves us with strife and draws us further from the one who created us out of dirt. We are being asked by our creator, to come back to Him in faith. To come back to him trusting that in Christ Jesus all our sin and rebellion is paid for. That Jesus meant what He said on the cross “It is finished.” Jesus has fulfilled the law and has redeemed us from its curse and set us free. In Christ we are free to follow Christ and obey Him, not out of obligation and law, but out of love and thankfulness. Faith demands that we be as Abraham and believe God, and allow God to credit that as righteousness. Not the righteousness of ourselves, but the righteousness of Christ, which Christ has given us. For if we could follow rules and get to heaven, why did Christ die? He died because rules will not do it, it must be by and through His redemption on the cross of Calvary.


            You can see that Law, any manmade system of rules, only enslaves us and blinds us to the forgiveness and redemption of Christ. Law brings death.  May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the wonderful freedom we have in Christ by faith.  Christ has paid for all our sin, all our debt, and given us hope in His cross.  Rules regarding what we wear, what we sing, or how we wear our hair only distract from Christ.  Therefore, if we have any hope we must live by faith.  We must turn to Jesus who is our redemption, we must trust Him and Him alone.  We must strive to follow Christ Knowing that he has paid it all, and all to Him we owe.  So “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1