The Passion, or Pascha, or Yeshua’s Pesach, or… easter

This weekend is commonly known in the West as Easter, a significant commemoration in Christianity of the crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) the jewish Messiah.  Elsewhere, particularly in Greek (Orthodox) or Latin (Roman) liturgy and practice it is referred to as Pascha (Πάσχα) from which comes the reference to these events as the Passion of Christ.  The origin of the term was the hebrew word Pesach, or Passover, as Yeshua was crucified during the Passover week.

In the West, in particular in the past few centuries, the Christian commemoration of the Passion has been blended and unfortunately eclipsed by the frenzy of chocolate eggs brought by a rabbit.  Yet this was not always so… from ancient times the egg has been synonymous with fertility and life, and the use of eggs, painted red to symbolize the sacrifice of the Christ, was adopted by early Christians as a visible reminder of the empty tomb and life through the resurrection of Yeshua.  Today the most famous of these eggs are the Ukrainian easter eggs, or pysanka (origin: Pascha).

As a disclaimer, this post will not wade into any of these controversies:

  • that Christians were nowhere in scripture commanded to commemorate either the crucifixion (Good Friday) or resurrection (Sunday)
  • that the anti-semitic early church as forced by the anti-semitic “christian” emperor Constantine, separated the commemoration of Pascha from the jewish Pesach
  • that the new date corresponded to a pagan festival celebrating the Babylonian/Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar from which the English word Easter is derived;
  • that much later, the Passion commemoration aligned with the pagan spring celebration of Eostre (April) or Ostara named for the anglo-saxon goddess of the same name
  • that the above reasons invalidate any christian commemoration of the Passion, because it is represents disobedience to God and amounts to pagan worship

These controversies, and more, rage around the internet, and elsewhere.  Of these, the one that definitely is true, and confirmed by reputable scholars, is that anti-semitism grew in the early church, with long-lasting effects. Repentance is needed on this front.

The unfortunate result of these controversies and conspiracy theories is that any discussion of the significance of the Passion events – crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection – get sidelined. We need to talk about and testify to these with our words and our very lives.

This post will instead focus on the more important significance of these Passion events…. and why we need to talk about them.

Historical Context

Prior to the first century, and not surprising for a people long under oppression and occupation, from Greek to Seleucid to Roman, hope for the promised for Messiah was heightened, and other messianic movements and would-be Messiahs had risen, most notably within the Maccabean period.   These movements were routinely crushed and their leaders killed, thereby ending that particular messianic movement.   Yet the yearning remained, and as the centuries passed under foreign rule, belief in the Messiah as a conquering hero to rescue ethnic and national Israel and throw out the goyim (non-jewish nation) invaders grew.

At the same time, in jewish eschatology (the Sadducees being an exception), the mainstream view was that at some future date there would be a corporate/mass resurrection in bodily form of Israelites who had died and would be raised at that future day.

Thus when Yeshua spoke of the kingdom of God, and in what we call the Lord’s prayer “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, his followers understood this to mean Yeshua as Messiah who would lead them into victory and a restoration of the promised land and the overthrow of the invader.  Instead, he was betrayed, beaten, scourged, condemned and killed in the most brutal fashion possible, in collusion between jewish religious authorities and the occupying and hated Roman goyim.  To the disciples, this represented the end.  The hoped for Messiah, and his movement, and all of their hopes for the future, were now dead.

Yeshua had also spoken of his own pending death and resurrection, but his disciples again did not understand: “destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up”.  Their understanding of the Messiah and of jewish eschatology simply had no room for a Messiah who would be beaten and killed, and no room for a Messiah who would rise back to life in bodily form before the expected corporate bodily resurrection of jews who had died waiting for the restoration.  This explains the disciples’ reaction to the empty tomb, and why they did not recognize him in resurrected form.  It was simply not expected.

This also explains why the disciples missed the reference “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.  They did not understand (how could they?) that as the Messiah, he had to die, he came to die, and what his absolutely necessary death would accomplish.

Compare these beliefs in Messiah and resurrection – and the disciples’ disillusionment and despair at what they saw as the end and the repudiation of all they had believed in – with what resulted days and weeks later.

They testify, as seen in the Book of Acts, to an empty tomb and to a bodily resurrected Messiah Yeshua, whose bodily resurrection has preceded the expected future event of the corporate bodily resurrection of the departed.  They testify to a kingdom already established, not in military or political terms to an ethnic national Israel, but as the beginning of heaven come to to earth, for all peoples and all nations.

This was a substantial paradigm shift for his followers, from believing in a dead jewish messiah whose death would have invalidated his movement and his teachings.  Something real, a foundational transformation, had occurred between Yeshua’s condemnation and crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb.

Crucifixion and Death

Yeshua came in human flesh to fulfil messianic prophecy.  Messianic prophecy also predicted the suffering and death of the Messiah, for the transgressions of his people.  Yeshua came to die.  He did not come merely as a good man, and as the tender, gentle figure (typified in movies) who was unjustly beaten and slain by hateful oppressors and colluding jewish authorities. He also was not hated and rejected by the entire jewish nation.  He came to die. He came to be pierced for the transgressions of his people.  He came to bring about a new relationship between God and man, between God and all of creation, which could be made possible only by his death.

In the early centuries of the church, this essential truth was misconstrued or forgotten, and anti-semitism took root, viewing the entire jewish nation, now scattered, to be guilty as “Christ-killers” – even though Roman authorities had colluded, even though he was executed using a Roman method, even though not everyone rejected him, and even though he came for that express purpose.  This grew into efforts which cauterized jewishness out of the gospel and church practice, and into teaching that the church had somehow replaced Israel as God’s people.  Others, misunderstanding the significance of Yeshua’s death and his resurrection, have preferred to see him as a good man who set an example for us to follow, who was unjustly and unfairly killed.

The truth is… He came to die.  He did so willingly. He had to die.  And here is why.

The existing relationship between God and mankind was broken.  Sin and death had entered the world through the actions of mankind, identified in Genesis as Adam and Eve.  Repeated temporary blood sacrifice, of lambs and goats without blemish, brought atonement for sin before God, yet the brokenness and the bondage remained.  In essence, through sin, mankind had entered into a covenant of death with the Adversary (identified in scripture as Satan or Lucifer, a fallen archangel).

Yeshua’s death, as the perfect lamb of God, was the all-encompassing once-for-all blood sacrifice that replaced and did away with the temporary sacrificial system.  His death, in exchange, freed mankind, those who choose to believe, from the power and bondage of sin and death.  By taking this upon himself, our sin was paid for before God, and he in effect freed us from covenant with the Adversary and put himself into subjection, even unto death.  We could now enter God’s presence, being reconciled to him, because of the blood sacrifice of Yeshua.

His death, understood in terms of sacrifice, atoned for sin.  This was entirely consistent with first-century jewish thinking on atonement, blood sacrifice, covenant.  What was completely unexpected, in first-century context, was that the Messiah would die and be this sacrifice.

Yet his death was not enough.  As a result of his sacrifice, He was in death and bondage. Yet messianic hope, as confirmed by prophecy in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Zechariah and other places, was not just founded upon the suffering servant who took the transgressions of his people upon himself.  It was also founded upon the establishment of Messiah’s rule over his kingdom.  A dead messiah could not rule over anything.

To misunderstand or deny the significance of the death of Yeshua the Messiah is to miss the entire context of sin, separation, sacrifice, atonement, reconciliation and covenant.  His death broke the power of sin and death over you and me.

Resurrection and New Life

Hence the essential requirement for the resurrected Messiah and the empty tomb.  God the Father exerted his power and raised Messiah from the dead (impossible to do, if he wasn’t really dead), raising him back to life not just in spiritualized, disembodied, luminescent form, but in full bodily form, the firstborn from the dead.  This was absolutely necessary as well.  Yeshua’s death paid the sin sacrifice before God for all mankind, but with the Adversary, Yeshua exchanged himself for us, freeing us from the covenant of death and bondage to sin, and taking our place.  After the crucifixion, he was in a covenant of death and had in essence become sin.  We were freed, but he was not.

With his bodily resurrection, two things simultaneously occurred.  The Adversary became a defeated foe, and the covenant of death and sin was irrevocably broken.  God the Father had raised Yeshua to life and freedom from bondage.  The second thing that occurred is that Yeshua the Messiah assumed his kingship, and his role as the mediator of the new covenant.  His kingdom on earth was inaugurated in the very moment of resurrection, and began to be established on earth as it already was established in heaven.  Its full consummation – the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem – awaits his final return, the full consummation on earth as it is already fully consummated in heaven.

He is Risen. Because of this, He has taken possession of His kingdom. It is established.  Because of this, and by your faith in who He is and what He has done, you have now become a full-time servant and a full-time ambassador for the kingdom.

What Followed

This is why it is essential that both his death and his resurrection occurred.  This is why it matters, and why, no matter where or when or how we do it, that we commemorate the events of Passion, the Pascha, the Pesach, both the crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of the Messiah.

This is why these events come into powerful effect only for the one who believes when they believe.  This is why on profession of faith the one who believes has to repent of and renounce their sinful state, symbolic of crucifixion and death, and why the one who believes has new life, not just in spiritual terms, (resurrection) and should have such joy and thanksgiving that they daily shout from the rooftops about their new life in covenant with the Messiah.

This is why the distinctive character of new covenant (“christian”) belief developed, with a bodily resurrected Messiah, king of an already established, but not yet fully consummated, kingdom here on earth and throughout all creation.  This is why we are to live now, not for ourselves or to accumulate kingdom benefits for ourselves, but to go out and establish his kingdom now, to be fully established and consummated when he returns, with part of that future event including the fully bodily resurrection of all of the departed (waiting) saints.

For All of Us Now

It is essential for us to recognize, because of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), that our lives belong to Him.  We are free from the covenant of death and bondage of sin, but we are not free.  We are His.

Also, it will change our perspective on the role we now play as his covenant disciples and followers.

We are called to more than to just blend in with our culture.  We are called to more than just be against things that we don’t like.  We are called to more than to be afraid of “the world” around us, pulling back and abandoning a corrupt and dying place that many believe will destructively end and which we will escape from.  We are called to be more than just passive bystanders.

Instead, we are called to be active participants in every facet of our own lives and in every facet of the world around us.

His kingdom was inaugurated on the day of His resurrection, here on earth.  And we were charged, through His teachings such as the parables and what we call the Lord’s prayer, and through His commandments such as the great commission, to be His ambassadors of His kingdom sharing in His inheritance (the peoples of all nations and renewed creation itself).

As His kingdom representatives through the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are to establish his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven as far as we are able, while we wait for His promised return and the full consummation of His kingdom here.  We are to bring the attributes of heaven into every area of life where we have influence, to go change our world.

This is far more than just the spiritual saving of souls to be in personal relationship to a loving Saviour… it is a commitment to transformation inwardly (holiness – “be holy even as I am holy”), and to transformation outwardly (extend the kingdom of God, not through legislation or military might, but through kingdom living and Godly character – grace and lovingkindness and the fruit of the Spirit).  “You will do greater things than I am doing”.

Today and Every Day

This weekend is the special time that we remember the Passion of Yeshua (the Christ).

Commemorate. Celebrate.  Know who He is.  Know who you are.  Daily shout it from the rooftops.  Live with visible evidence the attributes of heaven.

And go change your world!

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Your Born Identity – Part 5.

It happened again.

This time it happened when my connecting flight was cancelled on my way back home from a conference.  My initial reaction was frustration, but as I approached the counter, I reminded myself once again that I could choose my reaction to this waste of my valuable time, and choose how I would use this “wasted” time. I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who I am?”, and take my irritation out on the flight attendant; or I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who He is? Let me show you.”

This is Part 5 (the final part – for now) of a series on Your Born Identity – who you were designed to be, and who, now restored by covenant faith, God has called you to be.  In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  In theological terms this is called justification.  In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life.  In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work.  Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow.  Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  In Part 4, we discussed the need for an essential shift in focus away from yourself as the main event, and toward God and His purposes – on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation.  This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom, to make Him known.

Why you are here is for so much MORE than your personal salvation and personal blessing and gratification.  A shallow interpretation of the gospel leaves one to conclude God’s favour means blessing, and the presence of suffering can be hard to understand.  Yet the uncomfortable truth, rarely spoken of but appearing through the scriptures, such as Hebrews, is that we have been baptized into both the Messiah’s resurrection and the Messiah’s suffering.  Through both – the resurrection and the suffering – we are called to the Great Commission, the working of the harvest, to make Him known and to glorify Him.  He blesses us that we might bless others. He sustains us through the challenges we endure for His sake.  And both the blessing and the hardship – and our response to them – are not about us but about Him.

I have just returned from a pentecostal studies conference that focused on holiness.  The roots of pentecostalism go back to Wesleyan methodism of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Holiness Movement of the 19th century.  Both of these stressed the subsequent sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just for ourselves, but so we could go out and change our world and reach people with the practical good news of the new creation in Christ.

Today, even in pentecostal circles, this emphasis on holiness and its inward and outward manifestations is not adequately spoken of or acted upon, at least in North America.  In certain branches, christian faith has descended into a kingdom-now, personal blessing-based, corruption of the gospel message which has re-shaped the Saviour into a personal manufactured Jesus blended with the American dream.  In other branches, the imperative to change the world for the better has become separated from the truth and spiritual foundation of the gospel, so the engagement in social issues contains no gospel at all.

To neither of these descents have we been called.  We have been called to so much more.

We need to return to basics, to a firm foundation, to a covenantal relationship with God made possible through the saving work of the Messiah, to an on-going process of sanctification both inwardly and outwardly.  Like the Wesleyans and the Holiness movement, we need to commit to holiness and to go out and change our world, in this time of already, in-process, not yet of kingdom living as we prepare for His return and the full consummation of the kingdom.  This is a far more accurate depiction of the great commission.

The great commission is not just about personal spiritual salvation, rescue from death and the promise of living in God’s kingdom some day in the future, which we hope will come soon…  It is far more than that.  In short, it is about the restoration of God’s original design and the establishment of his kingdom.  Hesed (lovingkindness) which is at the core of God’s character, which undergirds His kingdom and which is the essence of the gospel, has been extended in covenant faithfulness to you and me as His people.  It needs to be at work through you as you extend and establish His kingdom.

Understanding this – that the great commission is about, but not limited to, “sharing” the good news and saving souls from hell – requires a change of perspective to see the great commission as a greater more encompassing commission than we have realized.  Being about our Father’s work – the great commission – is actually being an ambassador for, and the living embodiment of, the kingdom of God.  This de-mystifies the great commission, and excludes no one, either from working the harvest, or of being part of the harvest. We are all workers in His kingdom, working His inheritance, blessed by Him to do His will, no matter what comes.

So this brings me back to my story of the delayed flight… and giving visible evidence of the kingdom of God.

Many years ago, I found myself stuck in a checkout line at a grocery store, and it was supposed to be the express line.  As time passed, I became inwardly somewhat frustrated, as patience hasn’t always been my best feature. As I waited though, I became aware of the conversations around me, particularly between the cashier and the person at the checkout.  The cashier had made a mistake and was being roundly criticized by the patron.  The next person in line, just in front of me, was abrupt to the cashier, taking out his impatience on her, probably expressing what I inwardly felt.  As I watched and listened though, my impatience vanished and I had compassion on the cashier.  I realized that my inward frustration was wrong and that I was capable of (and expected to be) so much more.  When I approached the cashier with my so important purchase, she was visibly crushed from the previous 2 customers, not crying but close to it, and she wouldn’t even look up at me.  I thought to myself, “I’m going to talk to her… I’m going to make her talk to me and make her smile”…  which I proceeded to do.  At first she responded in only one word answers, but gradually my banter began to have an impact, and she looked up and engaged in a full conversation.  And then she smiled and laughed at something I said.  As I left, she said “Have a great day!”… and then greeted the next customer with a smile.

Something clicked in my mind at that point… getting stuck in a line-up was not optional, but I could choose how to respond, and how to use the time while I was stuck in line.  Routinely now I will engage people in conversation, in line ahead of me or behind me, and always the cashier.  I don’t quote John 3:16 but I give visible tangible evidence of the kingdom of God at work through me, and it changes someone’s world.  Oh yes… the next time I went to that store and that cashier was on duty, she spotted me 3 places back in the line-up and smiled at me.  She remembered.

I did the same thing with the airline attendant who was re-booking my delayed flight.  She had been having a rough day – in her words, “a day like I’ve never had before”, with other delayed flights, and the 3 people in front of me had vented their frustrations on her.  When it was my turn, I was reasonable, friendly, asking questions, and got her to smile and let her guard down a bit.  I thanked her and told her she was doing a great job.  What a visible response, surprised but pleased, I got to that!  Then, 3 hours later and 4 boarded flights at the gate, as we prepared to board our delayed flight, her co-attendant at the desk was checking my flight itinerary, and the woman who had re-booked my flight stopped what she was doing, leaned across, and told her co-worker that everything was fine, as she had “verified Mr. Ambrose’s itinerary personally”.  She remembered!  And my inward reaction was not “Thank you God for favour! She knew who I am!”.  Instead it was “Thank you God.  I hope she caught a glimpse of You and Your kingdom.  I hope You send others of your people across her path.”

Somewhere at some time, there will be the right time for someone to water the seed I planted and share with her John 3:16.  That needs to happen.  Maybe it will be you or me who gets that opportunity.  But every day you and I get opportunities to be  the visible evidence of the kingdom, the tangible manifestation of practical holiness, which you need to extend into your world and into peoples’ lives.  Otherwise the words of the gospel, without its works, will be dismissed by those who are perishing and thrown out for lack of evidence.

As you carry out the great commission, let it be evident to everyone at all times through your words and actions as a covenant member of the kingdom of God.  This is who you are.  This is your born identity as a new creation in the Christ.  To this you have been called!

Your Born Identity – Part 4.

One of my all-time favorite movies (at least the first half of it) is Fiddler on the Roof, a musical about a rural jewish village in Russia as it copes with religious persecution and the social upheaval brought on by a rapidly changing world.  In the midst of this, Tevye, a poor farmer who daily wrestles with God, says to Him: “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Sometimes, as we live our lives as believers and followers of the Christ, it can feel very much like this.  Christians can face ridicule in the news and the workplace.  We face many challenges, and if we are honest, it is difficult to walk out our calling as believers and followers, and a daily struggle to purify ourselves.  Combined with a lot of shallow theology these days that equates faith and obedience in the Christ with a smooth road and blessing in every area of your life, you can wonder what you are doing wrong, or grow discouraged or disillusioned in trying.  “Lord, I’ve tried so hard and it seems like I can’t get ahead.  Why me? Can’t you choose somebody else?  I’m done here.”

This is Part 4 in a 5 part series called Your Born Identity.  In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  In theological terms this is called justification.  In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life.  In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work.  Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow.  Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.

During this maturing process, the character of God will grow within you and manifest toward people and situations (also toward yourself!) One key characteristic of God is hesed, meaning “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action”.  This will begin to manifest in a maturing believer actively engaged in covenant sanctification.

Some of the questions we ask, as we face challenges, result from not really understanding our new covenant identity, why we are here, what blessings are for, who this is really all about, and what “already, in process, not yet” kingdom living looks like.

Would it shock you to learn that you are not the main reason or the end result of Christ on the cross? Or that His blessing is not about you, and may involve suffering and death?

This is what some might call an “inconvenient truth”.  Uncomfortable even.  But still truth.  “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” 

The truth is, God loves you and me.  He has set us free from the death-grip of sin and reconciled us to Himself.  But now we are not our own and there is a much bigger picture.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is growing within us, that He desires to be extended to all people, this Kingdom already established, in process, yet waiting for its complete fulfillment upon His return.  We are workers in His fields, over His creation, to make Him known. Your life belongs to Him.  You serve the Most High.

What this does, of course, is shift our focus.  It shifts our focus away from ourselves and on to Him and His purposes, and what HE would have each of US do. It shifts your focus on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation.  This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom.

This shift in focus to Him and away from yourself leads to other changes.  

First, If we realize who we really are, and what our role really is, it will accelerate the sanctification process and our active participation in it.

Second, it will change how we pray and what we pray for.  If you are like most believers in this generation, most of your prayers focus around yourself and your own concerns.  How would this change if your focus changed and you embraced your covenant identity?

Third, the shift in focus to God and His purposes changes our notion of blessing and of suffering.  God still desires to bless you, but as a co-inheritor of an already established but in process and not yet consummated Kingdom of God, the focal point of the blessing is not your comfort or reward, but rather that you might bless others, that you might better accomplish His purposes and establish His Kingdom and make Him known to others.  This also might change how and what you pray for blessing.

Fourth, changing your focus in this way to the correct focus on Him can change your perspective on the challenges you face.  Understanding that the Kingdom of God is in process, and not yet fully consummated, will alter your perspective:  like the battle of sanctification within you, there is a war going on in the fields you are working on assignment in His Kingdom, and the adversary is the enemy.  The presence of challenge and hardship in your life (and understand that the challenge and hardship discussed here is not that which results from your own past decisions, but the challenge and hardship because of who you are as a member of God’s covenant family, involved in a war) is actually a good sign that His kingdom is advancing.  It is still never pleasant to face hardship! But having the correct perspective on it helps… while these things are unpleasant, and may even demand your life, the presence of challenge and hardship does not mean that you have angered God, it means that you have aggravated an already defeated adversary and irritated those under his sway who have not yet heard the good news of the kingdom.

Fifth, having our focus upon Him and not upon yourself can actually make it easier to follow His commandments and display His character.  For instance, with this change of perspective, it can be easier to forgive, because the real offense is against God, and not you, and eternal separation from God is not something you would wish on even your worst enemy.  Enter the character of God, and the reason for sanctification, because that character trait of hesed – “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action” – needs to be well and truly on display, to everyone, because you are God’s ambassador with the good news of His Kingdom.  His Kingdom is not advanced through the fruits of the old nature, but the new.  

Finally, as we will get into in greater depth in Part 5, the reason why you are here, why you face trials of many kinds, why you are blessed, why you need to sanctify yourself, is so much more than your personal salvation and right standing before God.  There is a bigger picture than just you, and in this sanctification process within you, and in this Kingdom work you have been given to do, the fruit of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.

Your Born Identity – Part 3.

You will have heard the oft-used phrase “I am a work in progress.” Perhaps you have used it yourself.  For myself, when I have used this phrase in the past, it has been a self-deprecating way to explain away my flaws or less-than-perfect behaviours.

It is ok to use this phrase about yourself, as long as it is a positive declaration about what changes are yet to come, and you are actively participating in the transformation process!  

This is Part 3 in a series on your new identity as a believer and disciple of the Christ.

As we discussed in Part 1, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within. God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.

In Part 2, we discussed the nature of covenant relationship, and in particular, the new covenant and your place in it.  You have now entered, and are under the unconditional terms of, a covenant relationship between you and the Lord. A covenant relationship always has 2 participants: under the new covenant, these are the Holy Spirit and you.

At the point of your faith in the completed work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him, in Christ.  In other words, He has extended His righteous garments over you.  This declaration is as in a court of law:  all charges have been dismissed and your guilt and sentence of death removed.  In legal terms only, you have been declared to have righteous standing before Him.  The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of this declaration, and as an agent of change within you.  In theological terms, this is called justification.

From the point of faith onward, the Holy Spirit works with you in active partnership to put the new covenant into full effect within you, putting to death the things that don’t belong in your life any longer, and cultivating and growing moral righteousness – the full implementation of the gospel – into every area of your life, and also equipping you to effectively share the new covenant good news with everyone.  You cannot put the old nature to death on your own, and the Holy Spirit cannot work in you without your full active participation and consent.  In theological terms, this is called sanctification.

The process of sanctification within you is NOT optional.  In real terms, this is the response to God’s command from Leviticus 20:26, re-stated in 1 Peter 1:16:  “Be holy, because I am holy”.  The new covenant has not just saved your soul from death and hell, and fitted you for a heavenly dwelling place some day… it has restored and reinstated the image and glory of God within you that was present at creation before mankind sinned against God.  Under the new covenant, through the covenant (2-sided) process of sanctification, your life needs to progressively display more visible evidence of the glory of God.  In effect, sanctification is extending the kingdom of God within you.

In part this is about you, but only part… God loves you, and wanted to set you free from the bondage and death-grip of sin. Moreover, He loves you too much just to leave you as a newborn babe… having new life, but remaining there, with no growth or transformation.

But it is actually ALL about Him, about His design for creation, and mankind’s role (including your role) in His design to extend His glory throughout (and over) all creation.  That is the real purpose of the gospel… your new identity is not just about you, but about God and the work of His kingdom.  Through His new covenant relationship with you, the moral righteousness of the gospel is being extended through every part of you, transforming you to reflect the glory of God. But He also works this transformation within you to extend his kingdom outward into every area of creation, preparing the world and its people (His people) for Messiah’s return.  There will be more on this in Part 5.

This is why your new identity under the new covenant demands a covenant response.  Your life is not your own.  It belongs to Him – all of it.  The continual process of sanctification is the new covenant relationship at work within you – and it is hard work. The Holy Spirit is in partnership with you – as an active participant – to put into effect the gospel in all its fullness within you.  This does not enhance your declared righteous standing before Him, but it is reclaiming you as a representative and ambassador of God.

The process of sanctification extends morally righteous character into every area of your life, with your consent and involvement in continual choices.  As this morally righteous character grows within you, and the old nature is progressively put to death, (and it MUST be put to death), it is possible for your new identity, the morally righteous character, to become your normative response instead of your old way of doing things.

What is the litmus test of this covenant process of sanctification within you?  Obviously it is the evidence of change and growth in your life, to increasingly reflect God’s character in your thoughts, words and actions.

We like to work from lists and rules as evidence of our adherence to a standard of behaviour, (in this case “holiness”), but at best, lists and rules are not exhaustive but only illustrative of deeper principles and attitudes.  It is to these deeper principles and attitudes that we must go.

I have already referred to God’s instruction to “be holy, because I am holy”.  This is an underlying principle, but in God (and in those He considered righteous) it manifested itself not just in holiness, and justice, and righteousness, but in an attribute called “hesed“.  Hesed, translated in one bible version as “lovingkindness”, has a much deeper nuanced meaning which could be stated as “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and as “covenant faithfulness and love in action”.  This is a foundational character trait of God, evident in his behaviour toward His people.  Through the new covenant, hesed has been planted within us as part of our new identity.

This is identified by the Messiah when He summed up the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength”, and “love your neighbour as yourself”. Paul in Corinthians 13 identifies love as the foundational characteristic of the new covenant Spirit-filled life.  And in Galatians, Colossians and Ephesians, and in other places, the characteristics of the indwelling Holy Spirit are listed as visible evidence in your life (the “litmus” test) of the glory of God: “be kind to each other, tenderhearted; and forgive each other, just as in the Messiah God has also forgiven you.  So imitate God, as his dear children;  and live a life of love, just as also the Messiah loved us, indeed, on our behalf gave himself up as an offering…” (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2)

This then, is the litmus test, which we can apply to ourselves, of the state of growth within us of His moral righteousness.  It is in the fruit that we are producing, both seen and unseen, and in the extension of His kingdom both within us and through us, that His moral righteousness, our kingdom effectiveness, is demonstrated – or not.

This self-test involves realistic self-examination and required course correction, asking yourself such questions as: “What is my focus?” “What is my response to people and situations?” “What are my desires?” “What thoughts, words, and behaviours in my life do not honour or bring glory to God, and must therefore be removed (put to death).?” Ask the Lord what HE wants YOU to do.

In this process of continual self-examination, listen to the Holy Spirit within you… and do so together with the Word of God open before you, which you need to be reading every day, to ensure that what you are hearing is from the Holy Spirit.  Look at the fruits in your life. Course correct and repent.  And then act on what you hear.

In doing so, beware of your own attempts to rationalize, justify, make excuses for, or explain away behaviours that are not ok.  This is equivalent to self-deception and a refusal to be an active participant along with the Holy Spirit in your sanctification for His glory.  Also, this process will be painful at times.  This is normal and necessary.

The litmus test is best administered through Galatians 5:13-21.  What fruits are being produced in your life?

If, for any reason, your thoughts, your words, or your behaviours illustrate the fruits of the old nature (the “flesh”), then they do not bring glory to God, no matter what you think your reasons or motivation might be.  In this case, recognize it, renounce it, and submit to actively participating in the Holy Spirit’s course correction.

In all circumstances, your thoughts, your words and your behaviours must illustrate the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit: if they do, you are bringing glory to God and giving evidence of His kingdom at work.

As a refresher, here are the lists from Galatians 5:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:
immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:19-26)

2 last thoughts…

First, the fruit of the Spirit need to be evident in all of your responses, unconditionally.. i.e. your actions, thoughts, words, etc. are not dependent upon circumstances, or upon the actions, thoughts, words, etc. of anyone else.  This is a process in sanctification.

Second, as we will discuss more in Part 5, the fruits of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.

In Part 4, we will look at your place and responsibility in the kingdom of God (why the covenant process of sanctification is necessary), and also provide kingdom perspective on blessing and suffering that we face.

Your Born Identity – Part 2.

There is a figure in greek mythology named Prometheus, who is punished by the gods and chained to a rock, where an eagle came and subjected him to the torment of eating his liver away, only to have it grow back again and be eaten again the next day.

Too often this has become a picture of how we view God and how we live our lives… God as somehow distant and harsh and unconcerned with the suffering we face in our lives that we cannot escape from.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth for a believer and disciple of the Christ.

As we discussed in Part 1, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within.

God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.

Yet many of us who wear the label “Christian” seemingly give no evidence of this amazing fact.  We live “lives of quiet desperation” and have come to settle for so much less than what we have been made to be.

WHY IS THIS?

The problem lies in a misunderstanding of what was accomplished when you first believed, and what is at work within you now: the fundamental nature of your relationship with the Lord.  You have now entered, and are under the unconditional terms of, a covenant relationship between you and the Lord.

What is a “Covenant”?

First, a covenant relationship has 2 sides.  In a covenant, each party in the covenant agrees or commits to certain things, unconditionally.  Under the new covenant, there are things that the Lord alone can and will do… and there are things that you alone as a believer, and then a follower of the Christ, must do.  Initial belief or receiving Christ is itself an example of covenant:  He alone could have paid the once-for-all sacrifice to break the power of sin and death over you and reconcile you to God the Father, but it will have no effect upon you until you agree by faith.  The initial steps of the new covenant illustrate the covenant principle of two sides.

Second, a covenant relationship is not a contract.  Under a contract, if one of the parties or signatories to the contract violates their side of the agreement, then the contract is broken and both parties are released from their obligations.  By contrast, under a covenant, if one party violates their side of the covenant, the other party is NOT released from their commitments.  Commitments under covenant are unconditional, and not dependent on the actions of any other party.
Marriage was designed as a covenant, but unfortunately these days we often treat it as a contract instead.
The new covenant illustrates this unconditional and two-sided nature.  God has promised never to leave or forsake you, no matter what.  Yet you can choose to leave and forsake him for a time.  Hopefully you will not do so, but your actions will never cause Him to change his mind or his covenant commitment.

Third, a covenant relationship requires active participation.  Under covenant, both parties commit to active and on-going participation and fulfilment of their roles until the covenant is completed.  For instance, using the analogy of marriage, husband and wife partner together to put their commitments into full effect for the duration of the marriage, growing closer together.  The marriage would not grow or be healthy if one or both spouses checked out or took a passive stance in regard to the relationship.
The new covenant is like that.  Through the Christ, God has effected our freedom from sin and accomplished our reconciliation to Himself, should we choose to receive Him.  But that is only the beginning… To those who believe, He gives the indwelling Holy Spirit to partner with you to put the truth of the gospel into full effect in every area of your life, with your committed active partnership.  God has not checked out and left you on your own; nor can you check out of the process and expect Him to transform you with you as a passive participant.  The new covenant relationship, like marriage, is not an armchair sport.

Fourth, covenant requires sacrifice and exertion.  If you have been taught that life as a believer and follower of the Christ is going to be easy and comfortable, you have been sold a false product.  Any covenant, in part because of its unconditional nature,  is filled with challenge and hard work, to put into effect the covenant’s commitments. Under the new covenant, as a believer, the initial declaration of faith is the easy part. The subsequent implementation of the new covenant into every aspect of your life, for the entire remaining time of this temporal existence, is far more difficult.  It requires sacrifice, surrender, strength and steadiness on your part…in covenant partnership with the Holy Spirit, the fullness of Him that indwells you to work out your salvation to its completion.  You do not do this alone.

Fifth, covenant demands your very life.  Under covenant, you are bound to another in unconditional terms until the covenant is completed, and you cannot be part way in.  Just as God the Father did not spare His own Son, and just as He has given the Holy Spirit in all His fullness to you, your covenant response is your very life, in all areas at all times, to do His will and to bring Him glory.  Your life is no longer your own.

Sixth, the payoff of covenant is huge.  This is true of any covenant, and particularly true of the new covenant.  Also, while the covenant participants walk out the covenant to its completion, there are benefits along the way.  The best way to describe the nature of the new covenant is “already, in process, not yet” … Through the completed work of the cross, and one’s faith in Him and this completed work, the new covenant is already established in the believer; the Holy Spirit indwells the believer as a deposit and active covenant partner, working with the believer each day to extend the completed work into every area of the believer’s life in process; and awaiting the full completion of the covenant, not yet here, upon His return for His covenant people.

————————————————

At the point of your faith in the completed work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him, in Christ.  In other words, He has extended His righteous garments over you.  This declaration is as in a court of law:  all charges have been dismissed and your guilt and sentence of death removed.  In legal terms only, you have been declared to have righteous standing before Him.  The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of this declaration, and as an agent of change within you.

From the point of faith onward, the Holy Spirit works with you in active partnership to put the new covenant into full effect within you, putting to death the things that don’t belong in your life any longer, and cultivating and growing moral righteousness – the full implementation of the gospel – into every area of your life, and also equipping you to effectively share the new covenant good news with everyone.  You cannot put the old nature to death on your own, and the Holy Spirit cannot work in you without your full active participation and consent.

————————————————————-

Commit to the fullness of the new covenant today… be prepared for hard work, but in partnership with the Holy Spirit, be prepared for victory as well. Press through to become the righteousness of God in all His fullness as a completed work and an effective disciple!

In Part 3, we will look at the litmus test of which nature – the old or the new – is being cultivated in your life and mine.

Your Born Identity – Part 1.

I am becoming more like my father every day.

One of the minor ways in which this is true is in all of the trivia that is stored in my mind.  An enduring memory is of him playing Trivial Pursuit (and beating all of us) through his recall of a vast array of seemingly random bits of information.

Yesterday, I had three seemingly random movie clips running through my brain.  The first was a clip from Hook, when Granny Wendy says to Peter Banning, “Peter… don’t you know who you are?  The stories are true!”  The second was from The Lion King, when the spirit of Mufasa speaks to Simba from the heavens “Simba, you have forgotten me… You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me!”  The third was from the Bourne Identity series, the story of a man who has twice lost his identity… the first time deliberately choosing to forget his former self, and the second time, after trauma, waking up to having no idea who he really was.

These all have a theme.  They came to mind after I had a conversation with a Christian man the other day who had no idea, or he had deliberately forgotten, or he had never been taught, who he really was.  He was living in fear, doubt, and frustration, and his life to all appearances looked no different than his friends who did not carry the label “Christian”.  “Don’t you know who you are?” “You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten Me.”

The distressing part of this story is that he isn’t alone.  There is an entire generation of believers in the Christ today who have no idea who they really are, and because of whose they are, how they are to live.

In Part 2 I will get into the actual nature of your new identity, and its consequences, but for now, there is an amazing fact you need to know:
“I pray that he will give light to the eyes of your hearts, so that you will understand the hope to which he has called you, what rich glories there are in the inheritance he has promised his people, and how surpassingly great is his power working in us who trust him. It works with the same mighty strength he used when he worked in the Messiah to raise him from the dead and seat him at his right hand in heaven…” (Ephesians 1:18-20)

Did you hear that?  Did you know that?  God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.

That is the huge change that has taken place because, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within.

You are different.  You must live differently.  You life is not your own. You belong to Him.  You have been empowered to live differently, to be light to this world.  That is your new born identity.  You have just forgotten, or you never really knew, who you really are in the Christ.  You have been made new!  You have been empowered to be made new in every part of your life, and you must put it into effect 🙂

You and I are called to become more like our heavenly Father every day.

Check out Part 2  on the nature of your new identity and why it matters.