The Presence of God, part 12

This is the last of 12 articles in this series on the Presence of God. In the previous article, it was shown from Galatians 3 that the Holy Spirit was received by "the hearing of faith" (by incorporation into Christ through his death and resurrection, Galatians 3:26-29 ; Romans 6:3-6), not by "the works of the law" (3:1-5). The supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the community of believers was evidentiary proof of this (v.5). But the primary purpose in receiving the Spirit is drawn out in verses 13,14. Paul wrote, "Christ has redeemed us (Jews) from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we (Jew and Gentile without distinction, see vv.26-29) might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

In verse 14, Paul links the Holy Spirit with God’s promise to Abraham in Christ. It is not just the receiving of the Spirit, but the receiving of that which is through the "ministry of the Spirit", that Paul has in mind in speaking of "the promise of the Spirit". Contextually, Christ, not the Spirit, is the essence of the promise (3:16). The Spirit’s role, as seen in John 16:13-15, was to show "things to come." These things, Christ said, "are mine," received of the Father. They are the things of the promise God made to Abraham. Thus, in light of this connection of the Spirit with the promise in Christ, Paul can speak of it as "the promise of the Spirit" in the same sense that the Spirit is said to be "the Spirit of Christ."

From this standpoint the Spirit is the earnest, pledge, or guarantee of the promise (1 Cor.1:20-22), the inheritance (Eph.1:13,14), and immortality (2 Cor.5:5). His presence in the Christian community was the surety that what was begun in the Spirit in attaining unto the perfect state of the promise would be completed in the Spirit, not by a reversion to "the works of the law" for which the Judaizers contended.

In this fashion Paul is able to show the validity of the promise independently of the law, and at the same time uphold the integrity of the law with respect to the promise from the standpoint of its temporal, preparatory function (3:17). The law was not "against the promises of God" (Gal.3:21); it simply could not fulfill the things promised, such as "inheritance" (v.18), "life" (eternal/resurrection life), and "righteousness" (v.21). To the contrary, one of the powerful negative but preparatory functions of the law was to make the offense abound (Rom.5:20), to show sin’s exceeding sinfulness (Rom.7:13), and thus "confine all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal.3:22). To this end Christ died to redeem Israel from "the curse of the law" (3:13), that both Jew and Gentile "might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (v.14). The fact that the promise is "through the Spirit" (5:5) does not change its christological focus or centrality.

When the relevatory or disclosing function of the Spirit is linked to Christ and the Abrahamic promise, and when one considers that this work and its age-changing effect was not finished when Paul wrote his epistles, the "already" but "not yet" of promise fulfillment is illuminated. The more to come, of which the Spirit was the "guarantee", was not more of the Holy Spirit, but more of the fullness in Christ that stems from the Abrahamic promise (Col.l:19; Eph.l:22,23; 4:13).

In this connection Paul speaks of having the "firstfruits of the Spirit" (Rom.8:23); i.e., the already of the promise. This intensified the saint’s expectation of future fullness. Their "eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body" was linked to the coming of "the perfect" through the completed work of the Spirit (1 Cor.13:8-13). Likewise, the Old Testament creation held captive in the "bondage of corruption" was "eagerly waiting for the revelation of the sons of God" (Rom.8:19-22). They were waiting for the "glorious liberty" in Christ because under the law they "did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us" (Heb.11:40). The "us" here refers to the firstfruits of the gospel in Paul’s day.

In this same vein of "eagerly waiting" for the completed change through the Spirit, the writer of Hebrews exhorted the saints to stand fast and not return to Moses, "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise" (10:36). The promise here is the same promise in Galatians 3, and as was the case in Galatians (see 5:5, "For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith"), the focus in Hebrews is on the consummation of the promise at the "soon, very soon" coming of Christ" (verse 37). This crucial "not yet" dimension of the promise did not rule out "the already", for clearly the saints in Hebrews already were tasting "the heavenly gift" and "the powers of the age to come" (6:4,5), and all of this because they had become "partakers of the Holy Spirit"–the Spirit of the Abrahamic promise by faith in Jesus Christ. It is clear in 10:36 that the "not yet" of the promise is linked to the "soon" age-consummating coming of Christ (vv.25,37).

Thus, in view of the more to come, which was linked to the completed mission of the Spirit, Paul put forth the question to the Galatians, "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"–i.e., by embracing the works of the law? Paul’s point is clear and powerful in his countering the Judaizing movement. If the Spirit of Christ, and therefore of the promise, is received by "the hearing of faith" rather than by "the works of the law," if this is the way the Galatians had begun, in receiving the promise that predated the Law, it is necessarily the way for attaining unto the perfect state in Christ independently of the Law. Freedom from the curse of the Law meant freedom from the Law itself.

The Promise And The Eschatological Future
If one follows Paul’s train of thought on the work of the Holy Spirit in promise fulfillment, it is apparent that the basic mistake made today in promise interpretation is that of breaking off the "not yet" from the "already", giving it a different meaning and separate time frame of fulfillment. In short, two widely separated end times are made out of one, with partial fulfillment assigned to the end of the Jewish age and the rest at the end of the Christian age. Even worse is the practice of some to dichotomize man, having his spirit redeemed now, and his body redeemed later. In either case there is an inexplicable extension of total fulfillment beyond the range of the Spirit’s work in "the last days." The gospel becomes merely a half-step between the Law and the receiving of the promise in fullness in Christ.

The problem is the failure to see that the "not yet" (from Paul’s standpoint) represents nothing other than that which completes the "already." Because Paul was living and writing in the transition period, he could speak, for example, of past, present, and future salvation and have the same salvation in mind. The hope of salvation (1 Thess.5:8) does not, in Paul’s thinking, denote a salvation that differs in kind from the salvation already present (Eph.2:8). In the same context Paul can speak of "having obtained an inheritance" (Eph.1:11) and of the Spirit as "the guarantee of our inheritance" (v.14), and have the same inheritance in mind. On one hand he speaks of present sonship
through adoption (Gal.4:4-6), and on the other hand he speaks of "waiting for adoption" (Rom.8:23), but two different, separate adoptions is the farthest thing from Paul’s mind. He can speak of having "attained to righteousness" (Rom.9:30) and of "eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness by faith (Gal.5:5), and in both cases he is referring to the one and only saving righteousness of the gospel. Such is the case with almost every aspect of the one promise by faith in Christ, which calls for some observations at this point on the widespread faulty reasoning about "two kinds of resurrections"–one now and one later, one spiritual and one physical.

The "One Life" Of The "One Promise": Present And Future
The common understanding of two resurrections (spiritual and physical) to totally redeem man is a classic example of separating the "not yet" from the "already" of life in Christ through the Spirit. In giving fullness of life, Jesus never claimed to be more than "one resurrection" and "one life. He said to Martha,-"I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Later, he said that he was "the way" (John 14:6). We are sticklers for "the way" meaning one way, not two or more. Why become unglued with respect to the singularity of the resurrection and the life?

In a context of dying and rising with Christ through baptism, Paul speaks of being united with him in the "likeness" of his death, and of being raised in the "likeness" of his resurrection (Rom.6:3-6). If two separate resurrections (spiritual and physical) are required in man’s total redemption, this text raises an important question. Which one does Paul have in mind here in his "likeness" polemic? Look at the text. There are no qualifiers here, or anywhere else, to the effect that "in the likeness of" does not encompass the full scope, meaning, and gospel application of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul says nothing about a need for TWO deaths and two resurrections in order to fully die and rise "in the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection."

But if full redemption hinges on more death and more resurrection with Christ than the one in Romans 6, where is it taught in scripture? Does one’s physical demise due to natural causes or fatal accidents qualify as dying in the likeness of Christ’s physical death? Does Paul have biological death with Christ in mind in writing, "And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin…" (Rom.8:10)? Note that Paul says "the body is dead." Who would claim that this is physical death? But if the dead body in verse 10 is not a reference to physical death, neither is such death the backdrop in verse 11 for the quickening or the giving of life "to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Read the verse. It contains Paul’s answer to the dead body in verse 10. And it is clear that the quickening of the "mortal body" through the indwelling of the Spirit in verse 11 gives bodily life that is correspondent to the life received by Christ in his being raised from the dead by the Spirit of God.

It is the presence of "the body" in Romans 6:6; 7:24; and particularly 8:10,11, that is the killer. It absolutely destroys a spiritual-physical dichotomizing of Christ’s death and resurrection as an answer to the "already" but "not yet" of gospel resurrection. Such a view as this would have Paul getting his "already" and "not yet" mixed up, putting "physical body" death and resurrection in a resurrection text where one would expect to find a "spiritual" (bodiless) resurrection. Paul would be rushing things a bit in telling the saints at Rome that already they were dead (biologically), and that the quickening through the indwelling of the Spirit is set in motion. That should have arrested their attention–if, indeed, Paul dichotomized the promise of life, and the resurrection that fulfills it.

Life And Righteousness
Returning to "the promise" in Galatians Three, life and righteousness are so closely linked that Paul uses them interchangeably in verse 21. "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law." Life here is no ordinary life, it is "resurrection life" identical in meaning to "the resurrection" and "the life" that Christ said he is in John 11:25. Bear in mind that Paul is dealing with the life of the promise in Galatians 3, and Christ, the promise, life, and righteousness are inseparable, possessing redemptive fullness. If, therefore, the gospel framework for present/future Righteousness can be nailed down, one has the framework for present/future Life. They go hand in hand.

We have seen the "already" and "not yet" of righteousness. In Romans 9:30 Paul said the Gentiles "have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith." In Gal.5:5 he said, "For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." In both texts it’s the same righteousness–"righteousness by faith."

How can it be both present and future, both "attained to" but "eagerly awaited"? Should we resort to a dichotomizing hermeneutic? Are there two kinds of righteousness "by faith in Christ"? Does the solution lie in dichotomizing man–a righteousness for the soul/spirit of man now and a righteousness for the body later? That’s how some deal with present/future life (resurrection life), so why not follow suit with present/future righteousness?

The key for identifying the destination of the "hope of righteousness," which equally is applicable to the "hope of eternal life," is found in Gal.3:21. Paul’s objective in showing that "the Law" could not give life or righteousness was to show what could. What is it that does what the Law could not do? Who would deny that the gospel (the faith of Christ) has Paul’s exclusive attention in this regard? And such should be the case today with every interpreter of "the promise."

If, however, life and righteousness are only partially fulfilled by the gospel, if "hope" or "not yet" represent a future that must be "eagerly awaited" beyond the gospel age, Paul’s argument in Gal.3:21 about the inability of the law to give life must be amended to further read, "and if there had been a gospel given which could have given fullness of life and righteousness, truly fullness of life and righteousness would have been by the gospel."

In this view of future fullness a situation is created where Christ must return to establish another "age" because the one he died to establish (the everlasting New Covenant age) could not give fullness of life and righteousness. Hence, the "eager waiting" would be for the gospel age to end in order to receive in fullness the salvation foretold by the Old Testament prophets, "who prophesied of the grace that would come to you…at the revelation of Christ" (1 Pet.1:5-13).

Such is not only the inevitable conclusion of a dichotomized promise, but it has opened the door for the widespread view that the hope or not yet of the Abrahamic promise in Paul’s time remains to be fulfilled today, and that it pertains to a literal restoration of Abraham’s physical lineage to Palestine with all the Old Testament trimmings. That makes no sense at all from the standpoint of Paul’s "Law versus Gospel" polemic in Galatians 3, not to mention the whole volume of scripture on gospel fullness and perfection within the end-time framework of Paul’s day. The same is true of the dichotomized, partial fulfillment treatment of the promise. In either case the efficacy of the Cross and the purpose, power
, and perfection of the Gospel are mitigated.

Where have we gone astray? What is being overlooked in scripture that is imperative for capturing the destination of gospel hope relative to "the promise"? Again, it is simply a matter of observing the context and keeping the gospel’s "already" but "not yet" message tied to its historical setting. We need to stick with Paul and the other apostles who consistently preached Christ and the promise against the background of Israel’s Old Testament redemptive history. Paul, for example, was "separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Rom.1:1,2). In preaching the hope of salvation, of righteousness, and of eternal life, he remained within the boundary of "the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers" (Acts 26:6), "saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come" (verse 22). It logically follows that the full end of the Jewish economy, which, in God’s design is coincident with the completed work of the Holy Spirit, is the point of promise fullness "eagerly awaited" in apostolic time. Regardless of what state or standing one ascribes to Israel and the law from the point of Christ’s death, the clearly delineated future consummation in Matthew 24, and numerous other texts (see, for example, Heb.12:18-29) cannot be set aside as having no bearing on the "not yet" of the promise. This rings out clearly in Philippians 3.

Attaining Righteousness and Life in Philippians 3
This entire chapter is Paul’s defense of righteousness and life by the gospel (by faith in Christ) as opposed to the Law of Moses. His polemic addresses past, present, and future attainment, and is structured to rule out the law from the total process. His need to do this says something about the continued presence of the Mosaic order, and its threat to gospel righteousness and life from the standpoint of the Judaizer’s abuse or misuse of it.

What Paul had counted loss in verse 7, and must continue to count loss in verse 8, is clear in verses 4-8. His aim in departing from his mode of life under the Law was to "win Christ" (v.8) and "be found in him" (v.9), having "the righteousness which is from God by faith" as opposed to a righteousness of his own, "which is from the law." The difference would be in his being found at the age-consummating coming of Christ "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white" (Rev.19:8) as opposed to the "filthy rags" of his own righteousness (Isa.64:6).

But Paul does not break off his train of thought here. He makes his aim of righteousness commensurate with "knowing Christ, and the power of his resurrection" (verse 10). It is noteworthy that he equates his sufferings (which were "dying-to-the-Law" sufferings) with the sufferings of Christ. In this manner he was "being made conformable unto Christ’s death", hence, dying "in the likeness of his death." The reverse side of his dying with Christ was his "attaining unto the resurrection from the dead" (verse 11).

The point is, Paul’s striving to be found in Christ with "righteousness by faith" (as opposed to Law righteousness) is tied to his "knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection." For the outworking of this, Paul is not looking away from the historical setting of his day to a far distant future at some alleged end of the gospel age. To the contrary, already he was "being made conformable unto Christ’s death" and the fact that he considers this as already on the way to "resurrection from the dead" is crystal clear in the following verses, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected…Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind" (vv.12,16).

Had Paul had "physical death and resurrection" in mind, it would have been pointless, even senseless, to tell the Philippians that he had not already attained it, and even worse to claim partial attainment in writing, "to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule…." (v.16). But it would make a lot of sense if he was addressing the resurrection life of the promise in Christ–the resurrection that some were saying "is already past", i.e., is fully attained. The already of the Spirit was being turned by some into eschatological perfection in advance of the end that brings consummated change. The effect of this from the standpoint of Paul’s time, and particularly the Judaizing movement, would be the retention of the still standing Mosaic order as a necessary part of gospel perfection in Christ. That would have a "faith destroying" effect that Paul would not tolerate "even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal.2:5).

It’s clear that righteousness and life (resurrection life) in Philippians 3 is identical to that in Galatians 3, and is rooted in the Abrahamic promise. In both texts the "already" (having begun in the Spirit) and the "not yet" that brings fullness or perfection through the Spirit’s completed work extend no further than the consummation of the Jewish age, the historical setting for the gospel’s eschatological message. This was the focal point in Daniel 9:24-27 with respect to "bringing in everlasting righteousness." The end time that Daniel saw is linked with "the things to come" through the Spirit of Christ (hence, of the promise) that constitute the promised "new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells" (Isa.66:22; 2 Pet.3:13). In this manner "the hope of righteousness" (Gal.5:5) and of "eternal life" (Titus 1:2) is realized by the coming in of "the perfect" New Covenant creation in Christ. Because of the "already" and the nearness of the "not yet", John could boldly proclaim, "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:11). Likewise, Peter, knowing that "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet.4:7), counters the scoffer’s denial of Christ’s age-changing coming in his appeal to God’s unfailing promise to Israel of a new creation "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet.3:1-13).

Those who have "ears to hear" what the Spirit said to the "seven churches of Asia" about "The Revelation of Jesus Christ", and eyes to see the historical setting (the fall of Babylon, the "bondage" city "where our Lord was crucified", 11:8), cannot miss the consummation that brings to fullness the promise in Christ through the Spirit. Neither can one fail to see the link between the world and city in 21:1,2 and God’s promise to Abraham that moved him by faith to look beyond earthly Canaan and Jerusalem to the heavenly country and city (Heb.11:13-16). And Abraham’s faith in the "heavenly things to come" corresponds precisely to "the faith of Christ" (the gospel) that fulfills these heavenly things. "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom.4:13).

Furthermore, for those who believe that the testimony of Christ through the Spirit is true and trustworthy, the historical setting for the "Revelation of Jesus Christ" (the consummation of the Jewish age as taught by Christ in his Olivet discourse), is confirmed by the clear, indisputable "nearness" affirmations at the beginning and the end of Revelation. The purpose for John’s writing the message to the churches in Asia was for Christ "to show His servants things which must shortly take place" (1:1), and from this standpoint the churches were urged to read and keep "those things w
hich are written in it; for the time is near" (1:3). And this is reiterated in an impressive fashion at the end of the book (22:6-20).

In this connection, since the Law was to bring Israel (and consequently the Gentiles) to Christ, and since the Law was a shadow of "things to come" relative to the promise, and since the Spirit was sent to "disclose" those things during the closing period (last days) of the Mosaic economy, it is sheer folly to ascribe the consummating events in Revelation–the very framework of Christ’s "revelation" or "second appearing"–to the fall of Rome, or some other period of history, past or future, that is completely foreign to that of Old Testament Israel and its design to lead fallen man to Christ. It’s time for interpreters of scripture to "awake to righteousness" and cease dichotomizing, literalizing, and futurizing the promise by faith in Christ Jesus. The paradise of God’s peace, life, and righteousness has been restored fully in Christ through the Spirit. That is the message of the Spirit in Revelation. To this end He was sent to do a work that terminated the "absence of Christ" (i.e., his absence from the world that could not give "life and righteousness") by disclosing the world of Christ’s second presence (the world or age to come) that fulfills the promise by faith in Christ.

This concludes the twelve-part series on man’s return through Christ to the Presence of the Living God. In summarizing briefly, we have learned that:

1. The need, the promise, and the nature of life spring from the fall of Adam. He suffered death (separation from God) in the day that he sinned. That death is the backdrop for the restored life in Christ.

2. The Genesis 3:15 promise of victory over Satan and the dominion of sin and death are taken up in God’s promise to Abraham confirmed in Christ (Gen.12:1-3; Gal.3:16).

3. The intermediate Mosaic dispensation (the world of Abraham’s physical lineage through Isaac and Jacob) bore witness to the promise in Christ through it’s typical earthly ordinances, and also serving to "confine all under sin", thus in this manner leading to Christ (see Rom.7), "that the promise by faith in Christ Jesus" might be received through the Spirit independently of the "works of the law" (Galatians 3).

4. Christ entered the world of his brethren under the law, and departed from it by death and resurrection in order to bring to an end the "ministry of death, written and engraved on stones", and bring in through the Spirit the "ministry of life and righteousness" (2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 3).

5. The changing of the covenant ages is the framework for understanding Christ’s absence (his going away to prepare a place for his disciples), for understanding his sending the Spirit, whose work is identical to that of Christ’s in his preparing a place, and for identifying the world of Christ’s second appearing–the heavenly world or "world above" of God’s promise to Abraham in Christ that fulfills the "gathering together of the elect" at the consummation of the age (Matt.24:3,13,31; Eph.1:10; 2 Thess.2:1).

6. We have shown that this futuristic consummation (from Paul’s standpoint) is the historical setting for realizing the coordinate "hope of righteousness" (Gal.5:5), and "hope of eternal life" (Titus 1:2), which Paul connects with "knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection" (Phil.3:10-16). In this same connection it is important to see the presence of "hope" in Paul’s polemic on the change from "the ministry of death" to "the ministry of righteousness" (2 Cor.3:12). If the present tense "is passing away" isn’t convincing of present action in Paul’s day, maybe "hope" in verse 12 will be persuasive! It’s no less futuristic with respect to completed change than is "hope" in Gal.5:5 and Titus 1:2 with respect to fullness of righteousness and life, a fullness that hinges on reaching the goal of Paul’s hope in 2 Cor.3:12.

7. Finally, we have shown that the passing of the earthly, typical Mosaic economy is the biblical setting for John’s "Revelation of Jesus Christ" in connection with the coming in of the "all things made new" (21:1-5). Everything in both Testaments pertaining to consummated salvation in Christ points to this end. The emphasis on "nearness" is indisputable, leaving one with no other framework of events in John’s time that could come close to matching the magnitude of this end time, and its christological centrality. The Old Testament background for the signs, symbols, and figures, the Jewishness of the terminology, of the contrasting "old" and "new" things, the remarkable parallel with Christ’s Olivet discourse, to mention a few, lead to no other end except that for which Old Testament Israel was chosen of God. In the words of Jesus, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near…For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20,22). This is the consummation that fulfills the "restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21).

The journey from Adam to Christ by way of Israel’s Old Testament redemptive history is clearly mapped out in scripture. From this standpoint, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22) in the fullest sense. There is no other historical backdrop for the consummation of God’s scheme of redemption; no other end time for "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" in his world–the heavenly world of the Abrahamic promise. The imagery of "the throne of God and of the Lamb" in the new Jerusalem, where there is "no more curse" (22:3), makes precious the invitation of the Spirit and the bride, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (22:17). This invitation is not about coming to "the tree of life" and drinking freely of "the water of life" sometime in our future. The city of God’s Presence, Life, and Righteousness is a present reality for all today who would "Come." It is unfortunate that many extend the invitation to come while denying the fulfillment and presence of that to which thirsty souls are invited. May God help us get his act in Christ through the Spirit together.