Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Session

New words.  Old words.  New words are welcome words.  Old words are wealthy words.  In other words we want all words!

We’ve been discussing words of our faith that have fallen on hard times.  They have been passed over as passé.  They’ve been deemed old fashioned, obsolete, outdated, and outmoded.  Unfortunately we haven’t always found new words to carry the truth of the words we’ve left at the curb.

Here’s a word we don’t hear much anymore: session.  One reason we don’t hear the word much is that is a theological word rather than a biblical word.  That doesn’t mean the truth it conveys isn’t taught in the Bible, but rather that it is a word used by thinkers-about-God to describe what the Bible does in fact teach.  In that regard it is not unlike the word Trinity.  You won’t find it in your concordance, but you’ll find its truth throughout the Bible.

When we use the word session it refers to “the session of Christ.”  Or, to put it another way, it designates the fact that Christ currently is seated at the right hand of God the Father.  Our English word comes from an Old French word which in turn came from a Latin word which described, simply, “the act of sitting.”  We still say “the court is in session,” meaning the judge is in place, seated and conducting a trial.  Christ’s session was prophesied in the Old Testament (Psalm 110:1), predicted by Christ when on earth (Luke 20:41-43), and fulfilled in fact as recorded in the New Testament (Mark 16:19).  Having died, having been raised, and having ascended to heaven, Christ was seated by the Father at His right hand.  “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3b).  This great fact is marvelous for many reasons.

For one thing the truth of Christ’s session puts our efforts to gain God’s favor to rest.  The fact that Christ “sat down” indicates that His work is complete, entire, finished.  “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).  We can rest in Christ’s finished work of atonement for our sins.  Christ’s session proves He was correct when He cried from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

The truth of Christ’s session puts our hearts at restAll our enemies are defeated.  God’s own power was “exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph. 1:20-22).  Christ is He “who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand– with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet. 3:22).  Be at rest!  All our sins have been paid for“The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1).  Be at rest!  All accusations against us have been silenced!  “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).

The truth of Christ’s session directs our focus“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

The truth of Christ’s session enables our obedience.  Having been seated Christ joined the Father in sending the Holy Spirit.  “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33)

The truth of Christ’s session fuels our hope.  Jesus said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).

Christ our King is on His throne!  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.  All His enemies have been put under His feet.  And He is in place to assure the application of His salvation to you.  Christ sat down.  So be at rest!  Stop striving for acceptance.  Stop worrying.  Start looking.  Start obeying.  Start expecting.  The King is in session!

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Reckon

One of the wrecking balls that postmodernism has sent careening into our world is the notion that words have no objective meaning.  The postmodern says that words only contain meaning for the one using them (and of course they expect you to understand what they mean when they say that).  The speaker, it is insisted, may have a specific meaning in mind when articulating the word, but the hearer may have a different—and equally valid—meaning when he hears/reads the word spoken/written.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that in such a world meaningful and even functional communication is impossible.  In that world when I sit down at a restaurant and order baked rigatoni with meat sauce and the wait-staff bring me chicken parmesan I have no room to object.  My words had no inherent, objective meaning.  So shut up and eat your chicken!

So when we lose a word through disuse we must be certain that we don’t lose its meaning.  There may be truth that has been carried in the luggage-hold of that now-dated word that remains valuable.  Thus we’ve been searching for words of our faith that have fallen into disuse and we’ve been seeking to revive the truth which they carry.

One such word is reckon.  My dad used that word a lot.  “Dad, can I borrow the car tonight?” “I reckon,” he would say. I knew just what he meant, but I wonder if those younger or from other areas of the country might?

In the New Testament the word reckon translates the Greek word logizomai. This is the source of our English words logic and logical. One Greek language expert says it means to “think according to logical rules” (Friberg). Another says it means “to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over” and “to reckon inwardly, count up or weigh the reasons, to deliberate” (Thayer). I think you can see why it was a word used in the world of accounting.

The New Testament tells us there are some things God reckons to be true.  For example, he has reckoned the righteousness of Christ to our account (Rom. 4:3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24; Gal. 3:6). This is an act of His grace and is entered into by faith. As we believe God’s promise, He reckons us to be His children: “In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded [reckoned] as Abraham’s offspring” (Rom. 9:8).

The New Testament also tells us that there are some things that we must reckon to be true. For starters we must reckon that God’s reckoning is true: “For we maintain [reckon] that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Rom. 3:28)! When He declares us righteous by grace (transferring the record of Christ’s righteousness to our account in heaven) through faith, we need to calculate that it is indeed true. We are also called upon to reckon ourselves dead to sin with Christ: “In the same way, count [“reckon,” KJV] yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

Here are some other passages to explore which use the word and demand that we rightly calculate the reality of things (Rom. 8:18; 1 Cor. 13:5; 2 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 4:8). You won’t find the English word “reckon” in the translation, but logizomai is there. We are often required to think “factually” rather than “emotionally.” We may feel one thing is true, but we must reckon that what is true. Do you see how desperately we need this word? Postmodernism says that such thinking is dangerous, because truth is only true if it’s in you. Truth has no objective meaning outside of whether it feels right to you. Just think how much of God’s love, grace and truth we’d miss out on if we didn’t reckon that Postmodernism has gotten it wrong!

What we discover is that God reckons in grace.  His reckoning is based upon His determined will.  On the other hand we reckon in faith which is based upon His declared Word.

When we reckon, we, by an act of our will, choose our thinking. We choose to believe what God says and decisively determine to calculate everything based upon His valuation of reality. Fact is that anyone who does not reckon as God reckons is a fool. Such a person is living in a make-believe world that may feel like reality, but one day the fuller view of reality will dawn upon them and they will see how they have wasted both their years and fears. As my dad would say, “I reckon I don’t want to live that way.”

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Propitiation

Words are carriers of meaning. When words change we must make certain that the old meaning isn’t mislaid. When words are lost we must either recover them or find new ways of making certain that the truth they conveyed lives on in a new day. For this reason we’ve been considering words of our faith that perhaps we’ve forgotten—not because the sequencing of letters in a certain order is the important thing, but because those words carry truth about our faith which must not be lost in the metamorphosis of words over time.

To that end I set before you today the word propitiation. I am guessing you haven’t used that word in conversation recently. But it is an important, vital word. A generation or two ago the word came under attack because some people wanted to change the way we look at God. They felt that the word was freighted with meaning that cast God in a bad light. The result was not merely the jettisoning of the word, but a morphing of the image of God and the way He deals with us in salvation.

Jesus Christ is He “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:25, NASB). Instead of “propitiation” some translations/paraphrases choose the following: “expiation” (RSV), “a sacrifice of atonement” (NIV, NRSV) or “the sacrifice for sin” (NLT). This was done originally, not because the old word no longer carried its original meaning and translators were looking for clarity. Rather, at least for some, it appears to have been done with a theological agenda. The word’s meaning was all too clear and some did not appreciate its connotation.

The Greek word was well known in non-Christian writings of the New Testament era. It regularly referred to not merely forgiving or removal of sins, but to the appeasement of wrath over those sins so that forgiveness could indeed be offered. The use of the word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament demonstrates that this meaning was understood by God’s people even then (e.g. Exodus 32:14; Psalm 78:38). But some people didn’t think it a good idea to picture God as having wrath which needed to be appeased. They wanted rather to emphasize the love of God. How could a loving God possibly express wrath against sin?

The context of Romans 3:25 makes the answer abundantly clear. The Apostle Paul took pains in his letter to the Romans to demonstrate that all people everywhere are naturally born into this world under the wrath of the holy, righteous God because of their sin. This, he demonstrates, is true for pagan Gentiles (Rom. 1:18-32), religious Gentiles (Rom. 2:1-16), and Jews (2:17-3:8) alike. Read the breathtaking summary statement of Paul regarding all humanity being found under the wrath of God: Romans 3:9-20! Paul was about as clear as one can be: “The wrath of God is revealed …” (1:18). “… both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (3:9b). “Now we know that … every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God” (3:19).

But despite our abiding state under the impending wrath of God, He has made a way for us to escape punishment and to be accepted at His throne. He has done this in a way that allows His holiness and righteousness to remain intact and for His love to win the day! God has made a way that we may be “justified as a gift by His grace” (3:24a). This was done as God the Father sent Christ whom He “displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood” (3:25).

That is to say, God for long ages did not immediately pour out His wrath against the sin of mankind. Rather “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (v.26). This is not to say God winked at sin. Rather He held back His wrath for the day He had already appointed, the day in which He would display His Son on a cross and upon Him pour out His holy, just, necessary wrath against all the sins of His people for all time (including mine and yours) upon His only Son.

Is this a denial of the love of God? No! “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

In this way God was able “to demonstrate His righteousness” (v.25) by doing what His holy, just nature demanded—judge sin. And yet He was able in His love to also forgive us our sins. Thus, because of Christ’s propitiation, God the Father is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v.26).

We do neither God nor ourselves any favor when we attempt to primp His image for better marketing of His “product.” Rather we find ourselves at the empty altar of a God who does not exist. We find ourselves still in our sins and facing the wrath of the true God. As the truth of the full character of God and the atoning work of Christ is embraced we find that “He is … just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9) and that we actually have “fellowship with Him” (v.6). And all this is true because Christ “Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (2:2a).

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Conversation

Turn with me again to the world of lost words. I’ve been contemplating words of our faith which have fallen into disuse. My assertion is that with the changing of language—and thus the rise of new words and the disappearance of others—we must be careful that we do not also experience a loss of meaning. Language is always in flux. New words are wonderful for they can open nuances of meaning which we may not have considered before. But when old words flame out the new words that rise in their place may not shine with the same precise meaning. This can be hazardous to our faith. We should welcome the new while remembering the old.

In that vein, consider the word conversation. Here is an example of a word which has not fallen out of use entirely, for we use it frequently to refer to verbal communication, but one aspect of its original meaning now is foreign to us.

The English word traces its roots ultimately to the Latin word conversationem, which literally means “turn about with.” Thus the word described the “act of living with” and meant “to live with, keep company with.” It originally had the connotation of “having dealings with others” and the manner in which one conducted himself in the world. Our friends at Merriam-Webster now list this as an “obsolete” meaning of the word.

Things might clear up as you consider the following Scriptures.

2 Corinthians 1:12b

KJV: “… in simplicity and godly sincerity … we have had our conversation in the world.”

NASB: “… in holiness and godly sincerity … we have conducted ourselves in the world.”

Galatians 1:13

KJV: “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God …”

NASB: “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure …”

Philippians 1:27a

KJV: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.”

ESV: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Hebrews 13:5a

KJV: “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

NET: “Your conduct must be free from the love of money.”

Scanning these verses, you may well be glad we don’t use the word conversation in this sense any longer. I’m with you. But, given its original meaning and background, you may be wondering how the word came to even be used as it is today. Apparently the word did not come to have the specific sense of “talking” until about 1580. How did the meaning move from how one behaves among or lives with others to one’s communication with others via speech? Does the transformation of this word’s meaning say more about my behavior (original meaning) or about my speech (current, popular meaning)?

As I contemplate this transformation of usage, I wonder if it doesn’t say something significant in both directions–about both how I live my life and use my words.

On the one hand, this means my behavior (i.e., manner of life) says something. My actions communicate. My manner of life declares and makes a statement.

About what?

About me!  About who and what I am.  About whose I am. My behavior declares something about my character, essence, core, and nature. It speaks volumes about my ultimate allegiances, the bedrock foundation of my life, was well as my hopes and dreams. All that I do is a statement–the question is, of course, what am I saying?

On the other hand, this means our words are more powerful that we may realize. They shape and define the nature of our relationships. They determine the tenor and flavor of our interactions with the world in which God has placed us. They possess the power to give life or to inflict death (Prov. 18:21). Words are not simply sounds made into vacuous space; not mere sound waves riding upon the winds of time. Our words do something. They are interpersonal connections. They are conduits of life and shappers of lives.

I’m not lobbying to return to the word “conversation” instead of “manner of life” or “conduct.” I am, however, reminding myself that both what I do and what I say (and how I do and say them) are the major connectors and conduits of Christ’s life within me to the people He has placed me among.

Actions speak louder than words.

Words do more than we know.

For this reason Christ has commandeered both our words and our actions for His divine purposes. We are not our own; we’ve been bought with a price–and Christ secured the rights to both our words and our works as part of the deal.

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Mortification

We’ve begun considering words of the faith that have been discarded as passé (see here).  We return to the verbal bone yard to scrounge about in the pile of discarded words that at one time were filled with meaning for previous generations of believers. The broom of trendy theology has swept some of these words under a rug of embarrassment or obsolescence. I am suggesting that in so doing we may have actually impoverished ourselves.

I want to bring before you the word mortification. Our English word came, through Old French, from a Latin compound word: mors (“death”) + the root of facere (“to make”). Thus the basic connotation of mortification is to make dead.

I reached to my bookshelves and laid hold of seven heavy systematic theology works which I’ve used often over the years. I found that not one of them listed mortification in their subject index. The word is not to be found in my newest Bible encyclopedia. I finally found a brief reference in the older, “dated” Bible encyclopedia that the publishers have since abandoned and entirely rewritten. Why has this word been ignored and what are we missing in its absence?

I realize the word is somewhat archaic, yet it represents clear teaching of Scripture.  Paul wrote, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).  Similarly, he commanded, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  The Apostle told the Galatian believers, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Sadly, some have misused and abused this word in the Name of Christ. Some have taught that we must inflict our bodies with pain through abuse, hoping to break the power of “the flesh” and to put us in touch with our spirit. Wrong. That is pagan thinking, not Christian truth. Paul dealt with such folks and their thinking: “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:  ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’ [regulations and rules designed to inflict pain to make us “holy”]? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).  Such rules know nothing of Biblical mortification. Indeed, Paul says it is precisely because “you died with Christ” (v.20) that you don’t have to resort to such tactics. Others use self-inflicted pain in an attempt to drown out a guilty or wounded conscience. Neither is this what God had in mind, for it is only the blood of Christ that can deliver from such a plague (Heb. 9:14).

The most concise way I know to explain mortification is this:

  1. You must KNOW a fact that is true: When Christ died, you [the old you, the unredeemed, sin-enslaved you] died as well. Read Romans 6:1-10 and note the word “know” (vv.3, 6, 9).
  2. You must COUNT this fact to be true for you personally (Romans 6:11).
  3. You must OFFER yourself entirely in submission to Jesus Christ (Romans 6:12-14, note the word “offer” 2x in v.13).
  4. You must now, as a slave of Christ, rise and OBEY God’s commands by faith. (Romans 6:15-23, note the words “obey” twice in v.16 and “obeyed” in v.17).

Romans 6 describes victory over sin’s power. But Romans 7 chronicles ongoing struggle with indwelling sin. How can we possibly obey, even in light of the steps of Romans 6? Romans 8 provides the answer. We obey through the provision of the Holy Spirit. Look carefully again at what Paul says: “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).

What is mortification?  It is, by the strength God’s indwelling Spirit provides, counting as true for you what He says is true—the old unredeemed you has died with Christ and the power of your sinful nature has been broken (Rom. 6:6). It is, in light of this fact now reckoned to be true for you, offering yourself entirely to Jesus Christ as His slave and then rising, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and doing whatever it is you know to be the will of God. In this the Holy Spirit will enable you to “put to death” all that relates to your sinful nature. Now you will “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). Now you will “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly” (Col. 3:16). Now you will have the power to say “No!” when temptation comes (1 Cor. 10:13).

It will not be easy, but it is now possible! It will not be immediate; it is a growth process. You won’t be instantly perfect. But as you, in this way, walk in faith, you mortify the power and works of your sinful nature. And in this way you will begin—one step at a time, day-by-day, moment-by-moment—to live a different quality of life.

If you’d like to consider the matter of mortification further, perhaps the most recognizable work on the subject is Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by the Puritan John Owen (1616-1683). You may download the book in its entirety for free here.

You could do worse for some new reading material. After all, it won’t kill you.

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