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vine2It's a question commonly posed among Christian ministers: Am I called more to faithfulness or fruitfulness?

When you realise that there can be great "ministry successes" based on "secret and shameful ways", you start to prize faithfulness all the more.

When you see dry-as-dust ministers making no impact but claiming a justification in their plodding "faithfulness", you might start to prize fruitfulness.

Which is it?

Three initial thoughts:

1. If the purpose of the discussion is to make ministers feel better or worse about themselves, it's almost certainly the wrong discussion. If it becomes about managing our own egos in ministry then we're already on the wrong footing. Too often we take sides on this one because we want to insulate ourselves from critique (if we're 'faithful' but fruitless) or to congratulate ourselves (if we're 'fruitful' but faithless).

2. The benefit of the "faithfulness" side is that it prioritises what God is doing in us before it considers what God is doing through us. This is good. God does not treat His children as means to an end, but as ends in themselves. The faithfulness crowd focus - or at least should focus - us on what God is up to in their own walk with Jesus before they ever consider "bums on pews."

3. The benefit of the "fruitfulness" side is that no-one can be fruitful without abiding in the Vine. It's possible to be a stone-hearted servant lacking any kind of vibrant relationship with Jesus. "Faithfulness" can become a cloak for "doing your duty" and all the sins of the prodigal's elder brother come into play. The fruitfulness crowd focus - or at least should focus - on an expectant and lively communion with Jesus that just does bear fruit. It's not the busyness of the builder, laying brick upon brick. It's the organic growth of the branch that will be fruitful in connection with the Vine,

So it seems like both sides have good points to make: faithfulness makes me think of God's work in me before all else. Fruitfulness makes me think of my position in Christ before all else. But in practice I find that both positions can unwittingly distract us from our true focus. The faithfulness minister can be too keen to protect their own ego when proper critique and hard questions may be in order. The fruitfulness minister can end up viewing "abiding in Christ" as a means to their real end - ministry "success".

But if John 15 is properly in view then the faithfulness minister is directed to the true nature of faithfulness - not bricklaying obedience, but intimate communion. They are also challenged on the issue of fruitlessness - not, notice, "numbers." But still, we should be asking about fruit. Galatians 5 fruit is a good place to start: love, joy, peace, etc... Jesus does not merely say "Plod along, the outcome is immaterial." He said "If you make your home in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (v5)

Does this fruit go beyond character formation? Well Jesus did say that the fruit itself will abide (John 15:16). It is people who abide in Christ - not simply your Christian character. Therefore it is appropriate to ask "Are others growing in the Vine through my ministry?" No? Then something's up. And Jesus tells you - abide in Him (v4), let His word abide in you (v7), pray (v16), love (v17) and you will bear fruit: promise. True faithfulness does result in fruitfulness.

And for the fruitfulness crowd - remember: the fruit is not the point. The Vine is. It's easy to get convicted about our lack of fruit in ministry and to make that the reason we return to the Lord. Well praise God that something reminds us to commune with Christ. But desire for results isn't the best motivation is it? Let's never seek fruit for the sake of fruitfulness. That would be like using your spouse simply to have children. The truly faithful do not seek first fruit - they seek first the Lord. In Him - and only there - they are fruitful and multiply.

WEST-Union-Slider

Do you know about Union Theology? It's a very exciting development offering theological resources and, soon, theological education too. Here's Mike Reeves explaining the rationale.

On their new website there are some wonderful resources, have a look around. I've also sneaked on with a paper about intimacy with God. Here are the headings and questions for consideration to give you a feel for the paper:

The God of Intimacy:

Do you see God as enjoyable; as worth knowing?

Does it help to know God as a Father pouring infinite Spiritual blessings onto his Son?

 

The Way of Intimacy

Is intimacy something you’re trying to achieve or receive?

How would your pursuit of intimacy change to know it’s a gift that is yours in Christ?

 

The Basis of Intimacy

Meditate on the various portraits of one-ness listed above – which speak to you most strongly?

Is it possible you’ve ever sought “intimacy” instead of Christ? What’s the difference?

 

The Purchase of Intimacy

Is Christ’s blood atonement at the heart of your idea of divine intimacy?

How is your approach to God changed, knowing that it comes through the death of Jesus?

 

The Shape of Intimacy

Have you known “fellowship in suffering”?

What might the God of intimacy be up to in the midst of your current sins, suffering and service?

 

The High Priest of our Intimacy

If you knew Christ was praying for you in the next room, how would it change your experience of intimacy?

What difference does it make to know that, in heaven, Jesus prays for you now?

 

The Experience of Intimacy

What place does church have in your relationship with God?

How can you enjoy God and serve others in your local church family?

 

The Promise of Intimacy

What place does Christ's return have in your pursuit of intimacy?

How can you cultivate more of that future hope?

 

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024

On The Evangelists' Podcast we're in a series looking at 321

INTRODUCTION

THREE

TWO

ONE...

 

Here we ask...

Why speak of union with Christ in evangelism? Isn't that a truth for discipleship?

What happens when we don't have a category for 'oneness with Jesus'?

How does union with Christ help the evangelist?

How should we go about explaining it in evangelism?

 

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13

TFTEmma's written a great post on what people look for in conversion experiences.  It reminded me of this wonderful sermon by Tom Torrance on John 3.

Here he lays into the modern (20th century) notion of defining the new birth psychologically. Instead we must see regeneration - along with every other aspect of the Christian life - as something found in Christ.

We all know that our forgiveness, adoption, righteousness, election, holiness and redemption are found in Jesus. We ought to know that our new birth is found there too.  It is not a prior experience outside of Jesus which then brings us to Christ. It is the new life which Christ pioneered through His life, death and resurrection.  It is the begotten life of the Spirit which Christ eternally possessed and now shares with those who are His.

Therefore we do not find our conversion in ourselves but in Him. And we do not offer a conversion experience but a Christ who converts.

The implications of this for our discipleship and evangelism are far-reaching - perhaps I'll tease out more later - but for now let's just hear TFT...

 

Behind all that Jesus has been saying there lies the fact of His own birth and incarnation. All that Jesus has said in fact about the new birth refers ultimately to His own birth. He is the only begotten Son of God, and it is in Him that our humanity... is born again out of the old Adam into the new. In other words it is in Christ and through Christ only that we are born again.

...This is not very easy for us to understand today, because we have turned the new birth or conversion into a carnal experience of the soul, and have identified it with a psychological event in our lives. This makes it all the more imperative for us to listen carefully to Jesus here, and to look above and beyond our own historical or psychological experience and find the significance of our new birth in Christ Himself. Christ is the only one, strictly speaking, who is born of the Spirit from above, but He gives the right to all who receive and believe in Him or are baptised in His name to become sons of God - that is, not in their own name but in Christ's Name. Christ Himself is the truth and reality of our new birth...

We must learn to take refuge even from our experiences of conversion, or of new birth, in Christ and find in His birth and in His resurrection the truth and reality of ours...

...In Jesus Christ, from His birth to His death and resurrection, there took place the great "conversion" of our humanity, and its destiny, back to God.

...If we look into our hearts and lives we see how corrupt they still are, how desperately wicked we are, and indeed the nearer we get to Christ the more sinful we feel and know ourselves to be. No, we cannot see our new birth by examining our spiritual experience psychologically, by looking within. We must learn to look away from ourselves to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, for we are dead, as St Paul says, and our life is hid with Christ in God.

This habit that modern people often have of thinking and speaking of the new birth as if it could be perceived in the soul and is something to be possessed in themselves is a great snare to many humble and earnest believers; it drives them to despair or turns them into hypocrites, for though they try to live up to "born again and converted" lived, they know secretly how sinful they are, and that considered in their deepest selves they are not new creatures. That is not the way of Jesus but the way of the Pharisees.
-- When Christ Comes, and Comes Again.

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Here's a sermon of mine on John 3 which tries to make some of the same points in a more law-gospel kind of way. I.e. We must have this new birth. We can't conjure it up. But Jesus brings it down as a gift.

 

 

 

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One-Forever

Union with Christ is "everywhere in Paul's letters but almost nowhere in our churches." Rory Shiner wants to fix that and "One Forever" is a terrific tool for the job.

In 77 - count em - 77 pages of crystal clear, garden fresh prose Shiner takes us from creation to new creation, demonstrating the centrality of union with Christ.

The material began life as a series of talks to students (see here **) and that origin shows in its relaxed tone and lively humour. He manages to quote from (among others)  Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Karl Barth and John Owen while maintaining a light touch and a simplicity of delivery.

The chapters are as follows:

1. Glory be to God for dappled things: creation
2. Into the far country: incarnation
3. In Christ you are a new creation: salvation
4. Before the throne of God above: justification
5. In which we face some playground bullies: union and sin
6. United to the body of Christ: church
7. Union with Christ, resurrection and the end of the world

Time and again Shiner returns to an illustration I'll be nicking forthwith - the airplane. See here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7AKATss18s]

At various points the plane illustration helps him explain salvation, assurance and justification in such helpful ways.

Think about salvation... when you're in - what happens to the plane, happens to you.
Think about assurance... if you're in the plane it doesn't matter how full of confidence or doubts you are, you're gonna get home.
Think about justification... we're not interested in some legal fiction of imputed 'air miles' -  if you're "in" you've actually arrived!

The book is rich and warm and my only criticism is it's over far too quickly. Please can we have more of such books that grapple with the core of our faith in fresh and engaging ways!

10ofthose are doing a special deal on One Forever until Sunday night (thanks Jonathan!). Get it NOW for the special price of £4.49: CLICK HERE.

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** I know what every cricket fan will say... yes he does bear a striking resemblance to Ricky Ponting. But try to get over that, ok? Let's be grownups please.

6

Dali CrossContinued from here.

Christ’s Work

“But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

As we speak about intimacy with God we must never forget the way into divine fellowship. Ever since humanity rejected the LORD Christ and trusted Satan instead, the way back to fellowship has been blocked by fiery judgement (Genesis 3:24).  This fallen flesh and blood cannot participate in the life of God (1 Cor 15:50).  Only 'the Man out of the Heavens' could ever belong in the inner circle of God’s life (1 Cor 15:15:47-49).

Yet, with infinite grace and condescension, this Man came out of the heavens.  He took the very flesh and blood of our humanity and He redeemed it.  Where we had failed, He succeeded, where we had sinned, He obeyed, where we had fled, He stood tall, where we had hated, He loved, where we had erred, He taught, where we were enslaved, He set free, where we were ashamed, He gave dignity, where we grasped at glory, He gave freely, where we clung to life, He poured it out.

On the cross, God’s Man took on Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of this fallen humanity.  He endured the divine fury at sin, passing through that fiery judgement which bars the way into God.  And now, in His glorious resurrection body, Christ, the True Man, sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is beyond death and judgement.  Our Brother is now in the inner circle of the life of God.  We, in ourselves, would be swept away by God’s righteous anger at sin.  Yet Christ is the Way to the Father and in Him, Who "quenched the wrath of hostile heaven", we have obtained access.

Why do I recount these gospel truths? A) Because they are glorious!  B) Because sometimes people (and I'm sure I'm guilty of this too), manage to speak of  "union with Christ"  as a warm 'n' fuzzy truth. Often the Fatherhood of God, adoption into His family, one-ness with Jesus can be articulated without the blood and fire of the Bible's presentation.  But we desperately need the grit and grime - the sweat and tears - of Christ's atonement if we're going to experience true intimacy with God.  A toothless, bloodless message about a heavenly Father-figure doesn't connect with people who live in the midst of suffering and sin.  It can't connect, because the only real point of connection is a Bleeding Sacrifice choking to death on a cross.  But He's who we really need if we want intimacy with God.  Because He actually meets us in the godforsakeness of life as we know it.

If all our talk of intimacy with God is not dripping in the blood of Christ we're just holding out "a nice idea" to people who are burdened by shame and guilt and who will never connect with our words of "divine participation" - no matter how warm or inviting we sound.  More than this, if our talk of divine intimacy is not utterly cross-shaped then people will play off "taking up our cross" against enjoying life in God. Which would be absurd - yet it happens all the time!  But no, triune glory is cruciform glory. Therefore participating in God means participating in the cross. The way to God is through Christ and Him crucified.

Christ's Priesthood

Our Great High Priest, Jesus, does not simply bring God's life down to us. He also offers our life up to God. He is not just God-for-us, He is also Man-for-God.  Thus, from Christ’s representative humanity (for us) there is a presentation to the Father.  This is Christ’s Priestly work – again a work done for us.

By the Spirit, Christ has made the perfect offering to the Father:

‘Christ, through the eternal Spirit… offered Himself unblemished to God.’ (Hebrews 9:14)

Christ’s worship constitutes the fullness of all acceptable worship to God.  Without participation in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice and His perfect Priesthood, there is no worship worthy of the name.  To offer true sacrifice to the Father we must be in Christ.  Only then do we have a share in acceptable worship.  Yet, in Him, we are pure, spotless and holy – as acceptable as Christ Himself (Colossians 1:22).

What place does our worship have?

If Christ is our Great High Priest, where does my worship fit in?

Worship is the gracious invitation which the LORD makes to us to share in His own worshipping life.  Just as Christ is the Righteous One (for us) and yet invites us to share in His holy life, just as Christ is the Great Sufferer (for us) and yet allows us to share in His sufferings, so we, His people are to share in His worship.

Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ our Leitourgos – ‘the leader of our worship’. Calvin, following Psalm 22:22, called Christ ‘the great choirmaster’, tuning our hearts to sing the Father’s praises.  Worship is the participation in Christ’s perfect worship.  As James Torrance says,

“Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.” 

Every act of worship or devotion that we perform is grounded in and surrounded by Christ’s prior and perfect offering.  Thus we do not worship as those attempting to gain intimacy with God, but as those who have been gifted it. And the ‘direction’ of the activity is the gracious movement of God coming to us in Christ.  Any ‘upward’ movement is that done by Christ and we participate by faith.  Thus, the focus of all worship must be on the LORD Jesus.  In other words:

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by me. (John 14:6)

Next post...

4

union-with-christContinued from here.

Participating in the Divine Nature

The God who is an eternal communion is a God who wills to share.  He does this through creation and maintains His offer in redemption.

The Father, by the Spirit, has created a love-gift through and for the Son – the creation (Col 1:16).  His desire is that the Son be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29).  The Father wants many brought into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit (Gal 4:4-7).  This is the goal of all His creating and redeeming purposes.

As Christ says Himself:

 ‘Father, I want those You have given me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world… I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me will be in them, and that I myself may be in them.’  (John 17:24-26)

The glory of our Triune God expresses itself in His will to share His divine life with us.  The love of the Father for the Son – that which defines both God and the creation – cascades over to His people when they are united, by His Spirit, to the Son.

By our union with Christ (discussed below), we are thus adopted as sons and daughters in the same Family.  In this way, we do not simply share in a favoured status external to the LORD, we share in the Father-Son relationship which is constitutive of the divine life itself.  To know and appropriate the love of God is to participate in that which forms the very being of God.

2 Corinthians 1 tells us that God bellows an exultant YES towards His Son (v19).  The incarnate Son answers with a mighty AMEN on our behalf (v20). By the Spirit we are sealed into Jesus and find ourselves responding to God with Christ's own AMEN (v21-22).  In the Bible, we do not simply admire the LORD from afar, we participate in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Union with Christ

The way in to this divine participation is the Son.  As John Owen says in his classic book "Communion with God":

‘Scripture shows us that we hold communion with the Lord Jesus in grace by a marriage relationship…  This spiritual relationship is accompanied with mutual love, and so in this fellowship with Christ we experience and enjoy all the excellent things which are in Him.’

Christ is the Bridegroom, we (the Church) are His Bride.  In this union we enjoy all His benefits as though they were ours by right.  Not least of these is His status as the Father’s beloved Son.  Therefore Christ can say to His Father, ‘the love You have for Me will be in them.’  In this way we are caught up into God.

The bible speaks of our union with Christ at different levels.  In one sense, we share in Jesus’ benefits as co-beneficiaries:

As Christ is the Son, we can be called sons (Galatians 4:4-7)

While Christ is Heir, we are co-heirs (Romans 8:17)

While Christ is the Living Stone, we are living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5)

In this way we are graciously allowed to come alongside Jesus, to be treated to His blessings on the same level.

Yet, at times, Scripture tells of a higher level of identification.  Often we are said (in the plural) to be exactly what Jesus is in the singular:

While Christ is the Seed, we are the seed (Galatians 3:16 <=>3:29)

While Christ is the Light of the world, we are the light of the world (John 8:12 <=> Matthew 5:14)

While He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:5)

Note that, with this last example, it is not that Christ is the root structure and we are the branches.  Rather we form part of the Vine Himself!  The Vine is One, we are others, but in this organic relationship that He creates and sustains, we become part of Him.

This leads naturally to a third category by which the bible speaks of our union.  That is, in the sense of a symbiotic relationship.

Thus, Christ is the Head, we are the Body (Colossians 1:18)

Christ is the Groom, we are the Bride (Isaiah 54:5; Ezekiel 16; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 19:6-9)

When the bible speaks in these kinds of terms, we are on hallowed ground indeed.  Christ unites His Church to Himself that our union might redound to His greater glory.  As He says in John 17:10, He is glorified in us.

This is not to say that we sinners complete Christ in the sense of contributing our worth to the equation.  In ourselves we could only bring shame to Jesus.  Yet Christ redeems and cleanses a Bride and then (Eph 5:26) presents her to Himself.  In this way Christ becomes more truly who He is because of His union with us.  After all, must not the Head have a Body?  Should not the Vine have branches?  Ought not the Bridegroom to have a Bride? If He did not have a Bride, would He not have to give up the glory of being Bridegroom?  Therefore Christ is very committed to His covenant partner – His own Person and glory is bound up in the fate of His Church.

Christ takes His own marriage advice and loves Himself by loving His Bride (Eph 5:28).  Thus when the infinite powers of the Father have been committed to the Son, He employs them solely ‘for the church’. (Eph 1:22).  All divine power in heaven and earth is employed for the good of Christ’s Bride. Thus the Church has its immeasurable status both conferred by divine right but also under-girded by divine commitment even to death.  No wonder Paul can ask ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’  This is more than impossible.

Our union with Christ could not be closer.  The Apostle Paul can speak of our history and identity as entirely bound up in Jesus: ‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.’ (Col 3:1-4) The believer is in fact seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and has not actually appeared yet.  We are hidden with Christ in God.

In this way, we are more united to Christ than we are to ourselves.  Certainly His identity and not our own determines our standing in God’s eyes both now and in eternity.

Next post...

2

prodigal son3It's important to rightly relate these truths - 'I am in Christ' and 'Christ is in me' (see this older post and this one).

If I put "Christ in me" first then I fall for a Catholic doctrine of infusion.  God infuses His grace into me so that I begin to live the righteous life.  Eventually I might be declared righteous.  If a person gives priority to "Christ in me" they may have Personalised the grace which God gives (which is an improvement on the Catholic doctrine) but we're still travelling along the same route.

The gospel is "I in Christ" - that is, through a gracious marriage union with Christ I immediately have His name.  Therefore righteousness is a status instantly imputed to me as a gift in Jesus. 

The phrase "in Christ" is used 150 times by Paul. I haven't counted them, but I'm guessing the teaching of "Jesus in me" occurs significantly less frequently!

The rest of my Christian life involves a communion with Jesus in which I gradually exhibit more and more of His nature.  But that is not my hope.  My hope is not me living Christ's life (even if it's by His power within me).  My hope is Christ living my life (with me hidden in Him).

The sacraments teach this fundamental truth.  I am baptised into Christ.  This is the beginning and foundation of my Christian life - I in Christ.  But regularly I am fed by Christ and take Him into myself - Christ in me.

To put it in Passover terms, I am saved once and for all by the Lamb's blood applied externally - I'm hidden in the Lamb.  But I am nourished for the journey out of Egypt by the Lamb's flesh - the Lamb in me.

And incidentally this is the basis of the Christian sexual ethic too.  The once-for-all one-flesh union first, the regular one-flesh communion afterwards - the two utterly united and the former given absolute priority.

Mix them up and you get into all sorts of trouble, in all areas of life!

rowlanddLanguage slightly updated...

“Christ took our nature upon him that he might sympathise with us.  Almost every creature is sympathetic to its own kind, however ferocious to others. The bear will not be deprived of its cubs without resistance: she will tear the aggressor to pieces if she can. But how great the jealousy of the Lord Jesus for his people! He will not lose any of them. He has taken them as members of himself, and as such watches over them with fondest care. How much will a man do for one of the members of his body (like a hand or an eye) before he suffers it to be cut off? Think not O man, that you would do more for your members than the Son of God. To think so would be blasphemy, for the pre-eminence in all things belongs to him.

Yes, he is acquainted with all your temptations, because he was in all things tempted as you are. Are you tempted to deny God? So was he. Are you tempted to kill yourself? So was he. Are you tempted by the vanities of the world? So was he. Are you tempted to idolatry? So was he; yes even to worship the devil. He was tempted from the manger to the cross. He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. The head in heaven is sympathizing with the feet that are pinched and pressed on earth, and says , ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’"

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Where are all the union with Christ songs?  Well Dominic White's done us all a big favour with "All the Promises of God."

Sweet as a nut, insanely catchy with a beautiful simplicity to the words:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xkt16pTblJw]

We are chosen in the Chosen One
Blessed in the Blessed One
We are loved in the Loved One
And adopted in God's only Son

CHORUS
For all of the promises of God
Find their "yes" in Him. (repeat)

We're made holy in the Holy One
We're made righteous in the Righteous One
We are strong in the Mighty One
And anointed in the Anointed One

CHORUS

BRIDGE
The Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ
In whom we have eternal life (repeat)

We have died in the Pierced One
We are raised in the Living One
We're set free in the Free One
And we'll reign in the Reigning One

CHORUS

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