In The Confessions, Augustine of Hippo will occasionally break out into spontaneous, lovely, uplifting prayers of personal gratitude. I so appreciate his modeling of how, right in the midst of telling a story, one may turn aside to a separate conversation with Heaven. Isn't that how we want to learn to live?
Here are a couple of my favorites of those:
"You are there to free us from the misery of error which leads us astray, to set us on your own path and to comfort us by saying, ‘Run on, for I shall hold you up. I shall lead you and carry you on to the end.’"
"Come, O Lord, and stir our hearts. Call us back to yourself. Kindle your fire in us and carry us away. Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let us love you and hasten to your side."
This week, for myself and you, I pray we run along His path, letting Him hold us up, being led by Him and carried by Him toward His own ends. And, as we live each day, that He'd personally stir our hearts: drawing us nearer, kindling a heavenly fire, giving us scents and tastes of Himself. Friends, let's use these days - fleeting as they are! - to learn to love Him more and to hasten into more experience of His nearness.
"Jeremiah heard God say that he would make a new covenant with the people, not like the covenant that he had once made with their fathers. This would be a covenant, not established by an externally imposed law, but written on their hearts and in their inward parts. It would be a covenant in which all men really and truly knew God. ‘I will forgive their iniquity,’ God said, ‘and I will remember their sin no more’ (Jer. 31.31-35). Two things stand out about this new covenant; it is a covenant based not on law but on the inward devotion of the heart, and there is no mention of sacrifice at all.
"Two things are to be noted in the words of Jesus, as Paul relates them—‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (I Cor. 11.25). Jeremiah also speaks of the new covenant (Jer. 31.31; LXX 38.31). Both in Paul and in the Greek of Jeremiah the word for ‘new’ is kainos. Greek has two words for ‘new.’ There is neos, which is new only in point of time; a thing which is neos may simply be the most recent example or specimen of something which has for long existed and which has for long been produced. But kainos means not only new in point of time, but also new in point of kind or quality. With a thing which is kainos a new quality has entered into life and the world. Since that is so, a new (kainos) covenant is not simply an old covenant which has been renewed or restated; it is a covenant of a new and different kind. Second, Jesus says of this new covenant that it is in his blood. The Greek word for in is en; en can and does translate the Hebrew word be, which means at the price of. It may, therefore, well be that Jesus said that this new and different kind of covenant is made possible only at the cost and at the price of his blood. When we put this together, we see that Jesus said that a new relationship between man and God has become possible through his blood, that is, through his life and death…
"What, then, was Jesus doing in his life and in his death? The answer must be that in his life and in his death Jesus was demonstrating to men the eternal, unchangeable, unconquerable love of God. He was demonstrating to men that God is the Father who loves undefeatably and whose one desire is that the lost son should come home. When Jesus entered the world, when he healed the sick, comforted the sad, fed the hungry, forgave his enemies, he was saying to men: ‘God loves you like that.’ When he died upon the cross, he was saying: ‘Nothing that men can ever do to God will stop God loving them. There is no limit to the love of God. There is no end beyond which that love will not go. God loves you like that.’ That is why nothing less than death on the Cross would do. If Jesus had refused or escaped the Cross, if he had not died, it would have meant that there was some point in suffering and sorrow at which the love of God stopped; there was some point beyond which forgiveness was impossible. But the Cross is God saying in Jesus: ‘There is no limit to which my love will not go and no sin which my love cannot forgive.’"
William Barclay, Crucified and Crowned
"And, while Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men, God condemned that sinful nature." Romans 8:3b
Did you know that, from the very beginning of the Church, all the way back to the Early Church days, up till now, there has never been one clear theology of the mechanics of the atonement? There are all kinds of opinions about how it all works - how our sin was covered by His blood, His death - but there has never been one overriding, agreed-upon "THIS IS EXACTLY HOW IT HAPPENED" sort of statement, even all the way back in the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
So I delight in the simplicity of Paul's statement - "Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men" - and its corollary - "God condemned that sinful nature." To put it in even simpler terms:
Our sin was put upon Jesus.
He died with it.
It died with Him.
You and I stand on the other side of history from the sinful nature; between us and it is Jesus, there, on the Cross.
I was reading this week (and perhaps you've already heard something like this before) where the writer very clearly made the following point: No matter how people explain their theology of the mechanics of the atonement, the important thing is that we all agree with the definition found within the spelling of that word in English:
What Jesus did on the Cross has forever set us free from sin and has given us opportunity to be "AT ONE" - in union - with God. The Cross re-bridges the divide started in Eden. For us, the Cross begins a new existence: a Union-Eden.
"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth..." (Matthew 9:9)
And imagine him sitting there in the early afternoon light, tallying the morning's takings, thinking of his later supper and a walk up into the hills after he's done for the day. And imagine, suddenly, the center of town stops. Everyone's holding their breath; ceasing what they're doing; they are all watching the walk of that Man, Jesus, toward the tax collector's table. Matthew glances up from what he's writing. His brow furrows. He is studying the Man who, likewise, studies him. The Stranger leans with both hands on the desk and then, with both love and power in His eyes, says: "Follow Me."
A lightning bolt runs through Matthew.
In that moment, the past and future consider each other.
Matthew knows the pattern of his days -- the way this is destined to continue -- and, in the eyes of this Man, he sees something else. He sees a choice. Sonship. Brotherhood. Righteousness. And splendor.
He just doesn't know yet that the choice of a son to be a righteous, splendid brother is the foredecided choice of God...of him. Of Matthew.
Matthew, now the former tax-collector. The one now rising to his feet to follow.
The one who'll finish this day by banqueting with Jesus with all the other tax-collectors and disreputable folk, before, tomorrow, leaving it all behind.
The one who'll, 30 years after this day, be killed for the sake of the Good News of Jesus, 2500 miles away in Ethiopia.
The one who, right now, is still at the banqueting table, forever with Jesus, enjoying the eternal "splendor of life as one of God's sons."
Remember: The call of Jesus, to you, on this Monday, is ever always the same original call that He gave to Matthew on that day:
This week, I was reminded of where C.S. Lewis took his book title, Surprised by Joy, from: a particularly mournful poem by William Wordsworth about the loss of his daughter; the way all present and future joys would be tempered by his sadness. In some ways, it is a perfect poem to describe the disciples' anguish on the Friday and Saturday of the Cross and waking to a dead-and-gone Jesus: give it a read:
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
But then came that Sunday--Jesus is alive! Then came the neverending realization that the human journey would never again be lived alone; that the life of God would always triumph over life, death, sin and the grave!
So, feeling a little poetical this week, I reimagined Wordsworth's words in the context of our new, never-to-be-forgotten Resurrection-Reality. Let's let this be our posture on this day:
Surprised by joy—inspirited by the Word
We turn again toward the the Living One—Oh! to Him,
To Thee, so briefly swaddled in the burial scrim,
Until your mortal ear heard Heaven's resurrection-word.
Love, faithful Love, recalls me to your heart--
You will never, ever forget me!—In your love,
Never for the least division of any part,
Have you been e'er distracted by your work above
To loose your eye from mine!—That knowledge's knowing
Is the greatest joy my heart forever wears,
My Lord, My God, forever, and ever, sowing,
And knowing my heart’s treasure I may always bear;
That in both present time, and those years unrolling,
Can my reborn sight to your heavenly face repair.
"God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son. Through the Son God made the whole universe, and to the Son he has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong. This Son, radiance of the glory of God, flawless expression of the nature of God, himself the upholding principle of all that is, effected in person the reconciliation between God and man and then took his seat at the right hand of the majesty on high..." Hebrews 1:1-3
* * *
"The new relationship between God and man which Jesus brought is summed up in the word Father. That is to say, the new relationship is based on love and not on law. In such a relationship God is no longer thought of as the judge who must condemn; he is thought of as the Father who cannot be happy until the family circle of his children is complete.
"But the almost necessary reaction to any such message is that it is too good to be true. How can I believe that? What possible guarantee have I that that is true? The guarantor of the new relationship is Jesus. He did not come only to tell in words that this is the case; he came in his own person to demonstrate that this is the case. ‘He who has seen me,’ he said, ‘has seen the Father’ (John 14.9). ‘The word became flesh’ (John 1:14), or, as we might paraphrase it: ‘The mind of God became a person.’ Jesus is the exact demonstration of what God is like, of the mind of God, of the attitude of God to man. In Jesus we see one who fed the hungry, healed the sick, comforted the sorrowing, was the friend of outcasts and sinners. And, because Jesus is one with God, he is the guarantee that God is like that. To put it at its very simplest, Jesus is the guarantor of the love of God. It is through him and him alone that we know what God is like; he lived and he died to show us the heart of God; he is the guarantor of the possibility of the new relationship with God, the relationship in which the old fear has become the new love."
William Barclay, Jesus As They Saw Him
"Christianity is not a doctrine, but an existence communication. (This is the source of all the nuisances of orthodoxy, its quarrels about one thing and another, while existence remains totally unchanged.) Christianity is an existence communication and can only be presented – by existing..."
Søren Kierkegaard, from his journals
* * *
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son."
1 John 1:1-3, Phillips
* * *
Thought for this week: Our "witness" for Jesus is exactly equivalent to our experience of His existence. Nothing else - no "doctrine," no "orthodoxy," no "quarrel" - can stand against our first-hand, practical testimony to His living life. We must prove Him by our personal experience of His present existence.
"...live lives worthy of the God who has called you to share the splendour of his own kingdom."
1 Thessalonians 2:12
The Coronation of Alexander III and Maria Fedorovna, Georges Becker (1888)
If the painting above was only an infinitesimal sliver of the "splendour" of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom you are promised one day to "share" with your Savior, your Brother, the Lord Jesus...
if "in all which will one day belong to him we have been promised a share (since we were long ago destined for this by the one who achieves his purposes by his sovereign will)" (Eph. 1:11)...
if you really "are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Pet. 2:9)...
if all that He "claims as his will belong to all of us as well..." (Rom. 8:17)...
...then a question is immediately begged:
Today - and this week - and for the remainder of this month - and this year - and for remainder of the life allotted to you - as a true son or daughter of God, a splendid prince or princess of this Kingdom, an inheritor of His glory, a sharer in His purposes, a chosen one, a royal envoy, a person made holy by His very blood: His own special personal possession...
...what sort of life will you live?
If you listen to the Unionists podcast, then you've already heard this particular thought. But, recently, in my reading, I was reminded of the life and death of the Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke, and of his haunting WWI poem that seemed to foreshadow his approaching death:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rereading those words, I was struck by multiple parallels between Brooke's imagery and our Kingdom of Heaven-reality; how the spirit of Jesus lingers on in this world through us. So, imagining Jesus, the ultimate selfless Soldier, writing similar lines to us, I took a stab at an echoing sonnet:
When I ascend, remember only this of Me:
That there's a Spirit whispering in your soul
That is for ever Mine. There shall be
In that reborn life a richer life entirely whole:
A life which is My own, true, perfect in My Way,
Given, once, and always again, to point out Heaven;
The Spirit of My Body, breathing Heaven's ways,
Washed by My blood, enlivened with a higher leaven.
And know, My heart, all evil scorned fore'er,
My life, eternal, lessened not a mite
Will give you, everywhere, My mind and thoughts:
My wisdom, words; dreams joyous as the wind-fresh air;
And laughter, from My heart; and gentle might
Within peaceful hearts, whom Heaven hath bought.
If you've ever read much from Augustine, especially his autobiography of faith, The Confessions, then perhaps you already know of his breakthrough moment of beginning to believe. In concert with a group of friends, he encounters authentic experience of Jesus in the heart of a fellow North African, Ponticianus, while visiting a villa on the outskirts of Milan.
Read how Ponticianus described the difference between serving the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of the earth:
‘What do we hope to gain by all the efforts we make? What are we looking for? What is our purpose in serving the State? Can we hope for anything better at Court than to be the Emperor’s friends? Even so, surely our position would be precarious and exposed to much danger? We shall meet it at every turn, only to reach another danger which is greater still. And how long is it to be before we reach it? But if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment...’
No matter what sort of day you're expecting, or what sort of week you're in, I want us all to appreciate the grandeur of that thought: 'if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment.'
My friend, you are already a friend of God.
Or a daughter.
So, 'What are we looking for' today?
Only, ever, more of Him.
Jesus ministered out of His perfection (ie. His abandoned will; His will, now, to obey; His flawless obedience, moment to moment) and from His personal intimacy with His Father.
Therefore, we are learning to minister out of our discipleship (ie. our self-denial; our adherence, now, to His voice; our obedience to the Way, moment to moment) and from our personal intimacy with Jesus, our Brother.
Discipleship is nothing without intimacy.
And vice versa.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” …Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-4,6 ESV).
Whenever I think of the return of Jesus—of that Beginning of the Beginning and the End of Ends—my mind often goes to a man whose story lies at the very opening of this whole glorious drama. His name is Enoch, and this is what we’re told of him:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:21-24 NIV).
Naturally, it’s that last sentence that grabs one’s attention. The idea of “walking faithfully with God” we can readily understand; but we tend to sit up in our chairs when we hear of a heavenly disappearing act that is borne from that faithfulness—an evasion of death because of God whisking someone away in His wondrous train. I’ve often imagined that, while walking faithfully with God one afternoon enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, Enoch just suddenly found himself in Heaven! And looking around, getting his bearings, seeing the God who he’d so faithfully walked with so long, he could only laugh and say, with a shake of his head, “You!”
So, why am I talking about Enoch with this final post of 2020?
Because the only way to live with untroubled hearts, believing in God, believing in Jesus; the only way to wait upon our eventual placement in the place He has for us in Heaven; the only way to be watchful for His coming again—His great taking of us to Himself, to His Father, to Heaven—is to walk faithfully with Him today. To rise out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, get ready, get fed, get out the door to work, get home, get in your routine, get back in bed--all with Him. To let every hour of your day be one in fellowship with Him. To let Him become the rhythm of your days. To finally, firmly understand that there’s absolutely nothing higher for your human life than to walk in intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth. And to so do, just like Enoch did.
When Jesus earlier described the times of His return, He put it this way:
“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth there will be dismay among the nations and bewilderment at the roar of the surging sea. Men’s courage will fail completely as they realise what is threatening the world, for the very powers of heaven will be shaken. Then men will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and splendour! But when these things begin to happen, look up, hold your heads high, for you will soon be free” (Luke 21:25-28 Phillips).
My friend, the reality of the mystery of the Return of Jesus is that, being totally unknown in its timing, it could be today! We might be going about the business of our mundane little routine this afternoon and—looking up--it’s happening! Jesus Himself, descending in the same glory in which He once ascended, coming again to take us away, as He promised!
How would He find you?
How would He find me?
With “heads held high” and “free”?
His best friend, the apostle John, writing many years after the Ascension, captured the spirit I would like to see in myself that day. This is how I’d want to be if Jesus happened to decide to return during this particular afternoon:
…Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 3:2 Phillips)
What a thought! That, today, being a son of God, not entirely knowing where my life is going, I can rest assured that, “if reality were to break through” this very afternoon, He would recognize me and I would finally, fully see Him!
The highest prayer I can pray for your life—and the reason I’ve chosen to end the year with these words—is that you’d begin to see your individual life as the place of Jesus’ greatest joy, and that Jesus Himself would overtake everything for you. That perhaps, someday, the following might be written of you:
When they had lived a certain number of years, they became, fully and consciously, a child of God. And after they became this son or daughter of God, they walked faithfully with God every day of their life and helped others to become children of God. Altogether, they walked with God every remaining year of their life, all 365 days of each one. They walked faithfully with God; then they were no more--or Jesus returned--and God took them away.
One day, while “walking faithfully with God,” enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, either Jesus will return, or you will suddenly find yourself in Heaven! And looking around, getting your bearings, seeing the God who you’ve so enjoyed walking with for so long, you’ll laugh and start to say, “You!”
But, even better, Jesus will beat you to the punch.
With that love in His glorious eyes, brimming over with tears of joy that you’re finally, eternally together forever, He’ll whisper, “You!”
Jesus, we await You today (and in this New Year) in the joy of Your presence. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
"All our persuading of men, then, is with this solemn fear of God in our minds. What we are is utterly plain to God—and I hope to your consciences as well. (No, we are not recommending ourselves to you again, but we can give you grounds for legitimate pride in us—if that is what you need to meet those who are so proud of the outward rather than the inward qualification). If we have been “mad” it was for God’s glory; if we are perfectly sane it is for your benefit. At any rate there has been no selfish motive. The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:11-14a)
That last sentence ties this whole chapter together; it is the tie that binds: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." The love of Jesus is a never-ending, bubbling, flowing fountain in the inner life that both satisfies our souls and compels us in our outward, others-focused activities. Think of it these ways: the more you drink, the further it overflows; the deeper you swim, the further it spreads out.
In fact, if you read the whole of 2 Corinthians 5, you get a litany of phrases that point out how the love of Jesus is and operates: it is our "permanent house in Heaven," the "full cover...that will be ours," "the life that is eternal," "power"; the love of Jesus is "His Spirit"; it is "our persuading of men," our "inward qualification," our sanity, our "motive": "the very spring of our actions."
So, if I may, I'd like to discourage you and encourage you.
I would discourage you from attempting any form of the "Christian life" where you're not practically becoming familiar with the inward, outward-flowing, personal, personalized, actual love of Jesus of Nazareth. Don't have anything to do with any such disconnected approach.
But, I would encourage you -- today and everyday -- to make the full focus of your day experience and delight-in just how very much He loves you.
Drink deep... that it may overflow.
Swim deeper and deeper... that it may spread further and further.
Remember: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ."
Our actions will always manifest in the pattern of their truest source.
This letter comes to you from Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as a messenger and appointed for the service of that Gospel of God which was long ago promised by the prophets in the holy scriptures. The Gospel is centred in God’s Son, a descendant of David by human genealogy and patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead. He is our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom we received grace and our commission in his name to forward obedience to the faith in all nations. And of this great number you at Rome are also called to belong to him. To you all then, loved of God and called to be Christ’s men and women, grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
It strikes you, as you read the very first words of this wondrous epistle, what Paul is up to in this opening: he wants the fellowship at Rome—and all of us—so inextricably tied up and tied into the Name and Person of Jesus that there’s nowhere else for us to go. Consider his preamble in this way:
Jesus… whose servant Paul is… as an appointed messenger of the Gospel… which, for ages past, had been promised by the prophets, in the holy scriptures, who were all of them looking only to--
Jesus… who is God’s Son… and the very center of the Gospel’s good news. Really, the Gospel itself is--
Jesus… that descendant of King David… clearly marked as the Son of God--how? By the power of the Holy Spirit, who, seeing Him dead in our sins, raised Him up to life again--
Jesus… who is our Lord… and who personally brought us grace…and who commissioned us each, personally, to bear His name and His Way to all the nations.
Friends, our belongingness, our position as those beloved by God, our calling as men and women, the grace and peace of God the Father all come from--
Let’s go see what He would have us do this day!
"For the Son of God did not come from above to add an external form of worship to the several ways of life that are in the world, and so to leave people to live as they did before, in such tempers and enjoyments as the fashion and spirit of the world approves; but as He came down from Heaven altogether Divine and heavenly in His own nature, so it was to call mankind to a Divine and heavenly life; to the highest change of their own nature and temper; to be born again of the Holy Spirit; to walk in the wisdom and light and love of God, and to be like Him to the utmost of their power; to renounce all the most plausible ways of the world, whether of greatness, business, or pleasure; to a mortification of all their most agreeable passions; and to live in such wisdom, and purity, and holiness, as might fit them to be glorious in the enjoyment of God to all eternity."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
"If I imagined two kingdoms bordering each other, one of which I knew rather well and the other not at all, and if however much I desired it I was not allowed to enter the unknown kingdom, I would still be able to form some idea of it. I would go to the border of the kingdom known to me and follow it all the way, and in doing so I would by my movements describe the outline of that unknown land and thus have a general idea of it, although I had never set foot in it. And if this was a labor that occupied me very much, if I was unflaggingly scrupulous, it presumably would sometimes happen that as I stood with sadness at the border of my kingdom and gazed longingly into that unknown country that was so near and yet so far, I would be granted an occasional little disclosure."
Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
* * *
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)
But the gift of God through Christ is a very different matter from the “account rendered” through the sin of Adam. For while as a result of one man’s sin death by natural consequence became the common lot of men, it was by the generosity of God, the free giving of the grace of one man Jesus Christ, that the love of God overflowed for the benefit of all men. (Romans 5:15)
You see, it was the reintroduction, as a gift, of all that Adam was meant to be and receive -- all that he had lost as a consequence of the Fall -- that Jesus came to re-invite us into:
Rather than continuing the generational, earthly curse of sin and death, Jesus came to reinstitute our showcasing the full glory of God within the earthly life of man.
Rather than settling for our broken family systems and human-centered understandings of the past and the present, Jesus came to invite us into the Family of God.
Rather than being ruled over by creation -- being defined ourselves by the economies of this world, the evil one, sin, death -- Jesus came (as the new-firstborn, perfectly chosen Son of God) to restart the whole process between God and man.
And, finally, rather than walking in broken, disconnected misunderstanding, disobedience, and imperfect not-doing of the will of the Father, Jesus came to teach us how to walk with God again, just like He'd Himself once walked in Eden with that unFallen first man named Adam.
More "Amplification" in Romans 5, this time in vv. 1,2...
Since then it is by faith that we are justified, “since then”: the language of an accomplished fact. And the fact of the matter is that, by faith, aligning our lives with the life and death of Jesus, we have already been justified: made right. We have been reset to our Garden of Eden, first-creation, new-creation factory setting and there’s nothing we can do to lose that. So…
let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ll reiterate: “have peace.” Not “had for a minute at the moment of your prayer of salvation,” nor “will have at the moment when you breathe your last earthly breath.” No, by faith, and because of faith, and in faith, we are justified--right now—and at peace with God--right now. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the Prince of Peace, came to impart eternal peace to all creation with the victory of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every battle of the great cosmic war is over. Peace is declared. We have peace with God now. And:
Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, Everything we’re doing is meant to be new. It is not by works, not with terror and trepidation, not nebulous in its meaning and practice, not old, not joyless, sterile, or bland. It is through Jesus—that wonderful bearded Man from the Galilee—it is meant to be confident, a solid spiritual construct we can live inside, new, and relational in both grace and joy. We are each of us meant to show the world Jesus…by our confidence…as we enter further and further into the newness of this grace. And how will it look?
and here we take our stand, It is solid. Consequential. Even geographical. It is a place (the Kingdom of Heaven) where we (individually and together) may solidly stand (in the security and surety of all that Jesus has done.) Every single inch of the earth’s surface is able to be inhabited with His goodness--in us: we may take this stand anywhere. And it is not a stand of division, mankind against mankind. It is a stand of spiritual flag-planting that claims all mankind—and the earth—for the Kingdom…which has forever, already, arrived.
An amplification of Romans 5:5-8, with the verses in bold and my words in regular text:
Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. The Holy Spirit of God, the atmosphere of Heaven itself, the communion-point of the Father and Son, the animating force of all the greatest deeds of the Old Testament, has been given, without reserve, without end, without any restraint to every believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is within you--now. He is the exact point on earth--within you—where the “love of God”—the life of Heaven—is choosing to express itself. Your inward experience of, your union with, this Holy Spirit is the way in which you meet and experience the incarnate life and love of Jesus. And what is that love like?
And we can see that it was while we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. The love of Jesus is powerful…for the powerless. It is the perfect help of Heaven, sent to earth, for all the people of earth--everyone!—who are unable to help themselves. In fact, that is the best definition of the love of Jesus: that it is heavenly; that it cost His life; that it’s for the powerless, ie. all of us. The love of Jesus is the greatest universal, all-encompassing force that has ever swept across the face of this earth. Listen:
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. And, by the way, it was while we were sinners that He also lived His life for us—just ask Matthew the tax-collector. Or the woman caught in adultery and hauled into the Temple. Or, for that matter, any of His disciples. And, maybe most notably, while He was in the midst of giving His life for the sake of sinners, the criminal who met Him in death—and then met Him again in Paradise. “God’s amazing love” is amazing because of how relentless it is—even beyond the bounds of life and death—in pursuing the sinner. All human history before Jesus was a record of the seeming wrath of God; everything after is a catalogue of the immensity of His love.
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
"Now if a man works his wages are not counted as a gift but as a fair reward. But if a man, irrespective of his work, has faith in him who justifies the sinful, then that man’s faith is counted as righteousness, and that is the gift of God." Romans 4:4,5
This is so important - let's extrapolate it out a bit:
There is a God: the I AM.
His very living essence is goodness, love: righteousness.
When a man or woman - fallen, fleshly, broken and sinful by their very definition - begins to believe in God, they do something. They align their life with the goodness, love, the righteousness, of God, and they begin a different journey through their human existence.
When they believe in God, when they trust in God's ways and means, they begin choosing against all forms of self-righteousness. It is not their works - the sweat of their spiritual brow - that will justify them: it is the gift of God who, by belief, lines up His Way (His goodness, love: His righteousness) with this new, redeemed human being.
The whole thing is perfectly natural and perfectly supernatural.
It is "the gift of God" to the individual who, simply, believes.