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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Reformed (Not That Kind)

Yes, I know. "When Stan uses that word, 'Reformed', he means 'Calvinism'." Well, perhaps sometimes. Not this time. Not the topic. Those of you who might tune out any conversation on the topic of Reformed doctrines can keep reading.

There is a strong perception in the world certainly but also among Christians that the purpose of God on earth is largely to make bad people into good people. We get stuck in this "moralistic" kind of thinking where the important thing is that we be good. The important thing is that we be reformed, made nice, stop being bad. Funny thing ... I can't find that stated purpose in the Bible. Oh, maybe it's there. I just can't find it. What I do find is quite different.

In the introduction to John's Gospel we read this: "To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12) Now, I suppose to the 21st century mind this doesn't bring up any questions or anything. I mean, "We're all God's children", right? To the Jewish mind, that wasn't true. And, in fact, to the biblical mind it just isn't so. Oh, no. Jesus said, for instance, that the Pharisees were "of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires." (John 8:44) (He was a silver-tongued sort, wasn't He?) Biblically we are sons of God or sons of Satan. Paul wrote, "He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will." (Eph 1:5) That is, God's foreordained plan was to make us suitable "for adoption as sons". Not "good boys and girls", but adopted children. "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Gal 4:4-5)

See? That's not "good little boys and girls". That's children of God. How are we made suitable for adoption? By being good? (See? Maybe we can slip it back in there.) No. "Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8:29) God's predestined plan was to conform us to the image of His Son. To make us Christ's brothers!

Okay, so to recap thus far. God's plan was to not make us good, but make us His children. He would do so by conforming us to the image of His Son. Not reform. Not "good". Adoption.

God had another issue address to achieve this plan. It is expressed simply in Paul's epistle to the church at Ephesus. "You were dead in the trespasses and sins." (Eph 2:1) Adopting dead people isn't a feasible plan. There had to be a remedy to our spiritually-dead condition. So, "you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses." (Col 2:13) Sins needed to be forgiven, certainly, but we also need to be made alive. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

God, then, in His plan to make children out of His creation, sent His Son to die for our sins and rise from the dead (critical to the plan) so that we could be "made alive in the Spirit." That is, not "bad people into good people" (reform), but dead people into live people (Life).

Jesus had more to say on this life. "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) You see? That was His purpose. (It wasn't a side effect.) About the life He came to give He said in His High Priestly prayer, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him." (John 17:1-2) In order to glorify the Father He came to give eternal life. He went on to say, "And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

I see a three-fold purpose statement here. God's business is that of 1) making dead people into live people in order to 2) conform them to Christ's image and adopt them as sons to 3) put them in relationship with God.

I do not see "make bad people into good people." Reform is the singular focus of most when it comes to religion, but the approach of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) is to make dead people into living people, adopt them, and give them a relationship with God. Now, if that does not change behavior, it isn't real, but a change in behavior is not the point. Intimacy with God via regeneration and adoption is.


Bob said...

i have noted over the past few years the emphasis placed upon the book of James. it seems that the church is very concerned about the behavior of the believers. so they say , see in the book of James it says that faith without works is dead. so we must exercise more works to prove our faith is genuine. again the cart is before the horse. i believe that James is only describing that which already exist. the symptom of the condition points to the origin. that is to say, people filled with the spirit look like this... but instead, we try to do the opposite , change our behavior to change our nature. i feel that we would do well to avoid the book of James until we have a firm grasp upon the book of Romans and the Gospel of John.
this is because James is arguing from the negative to make a comparison. most do not understand this form of argument and get stuck in the works mode.

Stan said...

Jesus said, "Wisdom is justified by her children" (Luke 7:35) by which He meant that wisdom is proven to be right ("justified") by her results ("children"). James says, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone," (James 2:24) which is either a contradiction to Paul (Eph 2:8-9) or an agreement with Jesus's approach, saying that a person is shown to be right ("justified") on the basis of faith that is demonstrated in works. Or, "Like you said, Bob." Genuine faith necessarily produces works (1 John 3:9).

Having agreed, however, I think the church ought to be very concerned about the behavior of the believer, not because it will produce a benefit for the believer (which it will), but because it can indicate a "tare" among the wheat, so to speak (as Jesus indicates in Matt 7:16).

David said...

I often call salvation a side effect because Jesus' purpose was to display God's glory. That is accomplished by our salvation, so it's true that His goal was to save us, but I fear the danger of saying that as making us feel more important than we are. Which leads to a diminishing of His glorious work.