Monday, July 18, 2016

All God's Children

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 provides a clear statement of the representative nature of biblical governance, "by a
man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection" (1 Corinthians 15:21). Death and resurrection are dispensed to the whole of humanity through a covenantal head who serves as a representative, who represents the people to God and who represents God to the people. The Greek "dia" is a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act, and literally means "through." So a man, a covenantal head or representative -- Adam, then Christ -- is the channel through which either death or resurrection has come to ... who? Verse 22 tells us that "in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." "All" (Greek: pas) here means all as in everyone and suggests a whole or undivided measure. The question is, all of what? All of who? All of some portion, or all of a whole? Calvinists understand the issues surrounding the word "all." And yet we know that God does not stutter or misspeak His mind. There is no problem with understanding that all have died in Adam, that use of the word "all" means every single person who has been or ever will be born this side of Christ's return in glory (Christ excepted, of course). But we must be careful not to fall into the apostasy of Universalism as we try to understand what is meant by "in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). We must be careful to read Scripture, particularly sections like this one, in the light of the whole of Scripture. We must keep in mind the Westminster Confession 1:7, "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them." Understanding all of the riches of Scripture is not easy because some ideas are balanced and nuanced by others. And yet, all of God's people can attain a sufficient understanding of Scripture. Sufficient for what? Sufficient to continue in faithfulness and to grow in sanctification. Many of the issues that are dealt with in this section of First Corinthians are deep and complex, and we need to take care to not close our minds before we consider everything that Scripture says about a particular concern. However, my purpose here is not to be comprehensive, but to be suggestive, to sketch some of the broad outlines of God's concerns and invite you to further consideration under the guidance of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27). Let's look to Romans for help. Read (Romans 5:12-18). The same Greek word for "all" is used in both occurrences in Romans 5:18. Paul's meaning is that Adam's sin has condemned all of humanity, all who are under Adam as a covenantal head. And in a like manner Christ's propitiation on the cross provides sufficient justification for all of humanity, all who are under Christ as a covenantal head. This issue of the meaning and extent of the word "all" and its use in various places in Scripture has a very long and bloody history in the church. And it is not easily resolved. But it is not an error or a misspeaking by the Holy Spirit. Rather, God has given us this issue to wrestle with because through our wrestling with it we must wrestle with the Holy Spirit Himself. The point is that we are changed by the struggle, as we wrestle with God. And that is its purpose. The result of the struggle, of coming to grips with this issue, is the confirmation of our individual covenantal head, whether it remains Adam unto condemnation or becomes Christ unto salvation. All in Adam will receive condemnation, and all in Christ will receive salvation. The primary question anyone should have concerning the word "all" this is: am I still under Adam or am I now under Christ? God knows your ultimate status. Do you? If you don't, you need to wrestle through it. Be prepared for it to take longer than a night, and be advised that you will come away with a limp. (Jacob the patriarch wrestled with God one night - and won! But Jacob's hip was put out of joint. It's not that Jacob defeated God, but that Jacob won salvation. He emerged a changed man. In honor of that change God renamed him Israel, and from that day forward Israel limped. See Genesis 32. I contend that the only significant answer to this theological conundrum regarding the word "all" is the answer you give about your own inclusion in or exclusion from this "all" of Christ's people. You can answer for no one else, and no one else can answer for you.) "But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:23). The sense of our "own order" is that each individual will have a specific place or position in resurrection (in heaven and on earth). This lobbies against the idea that those in heaven will all occupy the same place or position. Do all Christians occupy the same position in Christ? No. There is, of course, the watershed issue of justification and the new position the justified person occupies under the headship of Christ. But beyond that initial justification, there is the matter of the identification and development of God's gifts. The idea that Paul is suggesting is that God's order is hierarchical on earth just as it is hierarchical in heaven, and consequently, each resurrected individual will have a specific position in God's order, on earth and in heaven. Each individual will be uniquely positioned in God's hierarchy. God is working to make it "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Paul had previously discussed the unity of the body of Christ on earth as being a function of individual giftedness, and that each individual has a specific role as well as unique position in Christ's body (the church) on earth. Here he suggests that Christ's body is not limited to its earthy manifestation as His church, but that Christ's body spans (or bridges, or includes) heaven and earth. While gold and silver -- worldly riches -- do not translate into heaven, our new character in Christ does. There is a continuity of character in Christ through regeneration and resurrection into eternity. Christians are changed upon regeneration, grafted into Christ (Romans 11:17-24), which means that our spiritual gifts, our individual endowments of character, interests and abilities, will continue to grow and develop and be used in heaven as well as on earth. Heaven will not be a grand retirement center where the saints sit in rocking chairs and reminisce about the good old days. Rather, in heaven the saints will actively engage their gifts in the work of praise (Revelation 19:4-10). Christ has lead the way in resurrection. Paul describes Christ as the firstfruits. The reason that firstfruits is plural is that the Greek word means a beginning of sacrifice, and is an allusion to Old Testament worship:: "The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God" (Exodus 23:19). It is also plural because Paul understands that Jesus is Trinitarian, and always includes three Persons. It is also plural because the multitude of saints are grafted into Christ. Paul continues, "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:24). The word "end" in view is the Greek word "teleios," which means end, purpose, or goal. God's purpose is not to destroy the world, but to reboot it. God is not out to destroy the world -- He loves it (John 3:16)! However, God is out to destroy something. Here we see that He is out to destroy "every rule and every authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:24). Yet, neither is God out to establish anarchy. He is not out to destroy authority itself, but rather to establish it rightly, to establish all authority in Christ (Matthew 28:18).

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