Understanding Paul

The apostle Peter wrote that the apostle Paul had written some things “hard to be understood” (2 Pt. 3:16). An old friend of mine once observed that he found in Peter’s epistles some things hard to be understood as well.  I agree with my friend.  And I agree with Peter, too.  Paul has certainly written some things that are hard to understand.  For example, have you ever wondered why Paul, after saying we are dead with Christ (Col. 2:20, 3:3), exhorts us to mortify (put to death) our members that are upon the earth?  Why, if I am already dead with Christ… why do I need to put my members to death?

Let’s see if we can find out. Come with me for a ride in my new vehicle—a Heavenrod, Model BTS Traveller.  (The BTS, I am told, stands for Beyond Time and Space, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you how it works; I never was much for understanding what goes on under a hood.)  But anyway, please step inside.  Wait a minute, first I need to see your ID.  Okay, you’re a baptized believer.  Now that we’re in with seat belts buckled and the doors shut, I just press this button, and… lo and behold, immediately we are in Heaven!  Yes, I knew you’d find it amazing.

And what do we see now that we are here? Or rather, who do we  see?  Here is our Lord Jesus Christ seated on a great throne!   And we see that, although He was once dead (He shows us His hands and His feet), raised from the dead He dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him.  For, He died to the cause of death—sin—and now is alive forevermore unto God.  How amazing is that.  What is more (and this is even more amazing) we see that we too, having been baptized into Him, are as dead to sin and alive to God as He is.  We see, in fact, that we are entirely new creatures over whom the law of sin and death no longer reigns, new creatures in whom eternal life now reigns—His own eternal life.

There is more. This throne we see Jesus seated in…  we too are seated with Him, reigning with Him, even over all orders of angels whether dark or light.

You are awestruck, I know.   So am I.  Truly, He is a wonderful person, and this is truly a wonderful place!

But this is just a sneak preview; now we must go back to earth. No need to sigh, we don’t need to go back reluctantly.  For—the most amazing thing of all—God has made provision for us to live on this sin-broken earth in the very reality of Christ and Heaven that we have just visited.

That provision is a facet of the Spirit of God called faith.

What does it mean to live by faith?  It means walking in this earthly realm according to an invisible heavenly reality.  It means knowing by faith that what Christ accomplished in Himself is our salvation.  He died to sin?  In Him we are dead to sin.  He rose from the dead?  In Him we too are risen.  He is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenlies?  We too are seated in the heavenlies.  Although we do not see this yet (for, “we walk by faith, not by sight”) our walk of faith with the help of the Spirit here on earth is a walk of alignment with the heavenly reality that is in Christ.  By faith we seek, and are enabled, to conform to what is true in Him, are enabled to live the very life of Christ here on earth.  For, “The just shall live by faith.”

You mean living by faith is just a sort of “pretending” we do here on earth till some day in Heaven we enter into the reality?   No, that misses the mark.  Faith is an appropriation of the heavenly reality so that it is just as real here as there.

And since that is so, this reveals to us the nature of faith: to live by faith is to cease from our own strivings.  By faith, the rest of faith, we abide in a heavenly reality that has already been accomplished in Christ rather than by working toward this reality.  It is not by our own endeavours that we accomplish the death or the Life; it is by faith that we walk, God’s objective being to conform us fully to the image of His Son while here on earth so that as He is—dead to sin and alive to God, and therefore walking in love—so are we in this world.

And so, it is because we who have been baptized into Christ are dead to sin (Christ having died to sin) that we, by the Spirit, mortify our members which are upon the earth; it is because we are risen (Christ being risen) that we “seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  It is by the operation of faith—the faith of the operation of God—that we who are yet on earth in mortal flesh align ourselves with the heavenly reality.

Again in Romans Six Paul states the eternal fact that since Christ died to sin, we too are to reckon (account) ourselves “dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).  But then he goes on to say, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…”  Here again, why, if I am dead to sin, must I refuse to allow sin to reign in my mortal body?  It is because, once again, God has made provision for the reality of what is in Christ at the right hand of God to be our experience while yet on earth in mortal flesh.   The Christian, the one who has been baptized into Christ, is free from sin the moment he is baptized into Christ.  For in Christ he is dead to sin.  “Being then made free from sin…” (Rom. 6:18).  And once having received the Spirit of the risen Christ, he is now enabled to obey a different Master—righteousness.  It is by faith that this is accomplished.  For, faith is an operation of the Spirit of God.  “Buried with Him in (the) baptism wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation (working) of God who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).

See what Paul is saying? Faith is the divine enablement, the operation of God, to walk according to the invisible (or unseen) reality of Christ—His death and resurrection and ascension—while yet in mortal flesh.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

This is why Paul in another place said he pressed toward the mark, while yet in mortal flesh, if by any means he might attain to the resurrection from among the dead (Phil. 3:11).  He knew the resurrection was coming.  By faith he meant to appropriate it now.

“Not having my own righteousness, which is of the law,” says Paul in that same passage, “but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith…” It is a ceasing from one’s own works, and, by faith, aligning with the truth of Christ, the truth as it is in Jesus.  The walk and warfare of faith in mortal flesh corresponds with the heavenly reality.

So this puts us in the place of needing to “work out our own salvation.” Not that we are not saved, on the contrary.   We are saved; therefore let us walk in that salvation, work it out, here and now.  It is the work of faith. Although our old man was crucified with Christ, it is necessary to walk in the Spirit by faith, and not in the flesh, in order to experience the fullness of that salvation.  If we walk in the flesh we alienate ourselves from what is ours in Christ.   We must walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, in order for the heavenly reality of His resurrection life to be our experience here in the earth.

…And the heavenly reality of His death as well.  Job in his misery longed for death.  “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.  There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.  The small and the great are there, and the servant is free from his master” (Job 3.17-19).  Beautiful release.  But those in Christ need not wait for that day of release; baptized into the death of Christ they are already there; in the cross of Christ, who was crucified to the world, they too are dead to the world, and are at rest, and cannot be troubled by the wicked.  As A.W. Tozer once said, “The Christian’s grave is behind him.”

In other words, the reality of the powerful death of Christ and the beautiful life of Christ… it’s so elusive, who shall descend into the deep to bring that death up?  Or who shall ascend  into Heaven to bring that life down?  But that kind of travel is not necessary.

 The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith that we proclaim…” (Rom. 10:8).

Paul is talking about the living word of the Gospel, which when it goes forth, enables the responsive ear to lay hold of what it hears and bring it nigh– right into the mouth and into the heart… where, since it is alive, it begins to grow, and grow, and grow.  And the fruit of this living word of faith is that when Christ our life Himself appears,  and we see Him as He is, we discover that our obedience to the word, the obedience of faith, has resulted in our being conformed to His image; we are just like Him.  For we have received the end of our faith—the salvation of our souls.

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