c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: The "Crucial" Issue in Spiritual Formation

Friday, July 6, 2012

The "Crucial" Issue in Spiritual Formation

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:12-17 ESV

Christianity is a vastly different religion from all others and even the one that came just before it, Judaism, based on the Law of Moses.  The Faith of Jesus Christ is vastly different because it is based on philosophical dualism, flesh vs. spirit.  Ours is a spiritual religion.

In the beginning God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV).

Then in the salvation historical scheme of things he rescued a covenant people from slavery in Egypt and gave them a law, saying, in effect, that they must choose to obey or perish (Deuteronomy 30:11-20).

Now in the Christian dispensation the Lord raises the stakes; he tells us that if we live according to the flesh we will die.

With the new religion comes a new understanding of God himself.  The Old Testament, for instance, says that Abraham saw the Lord (Genesis 17 and 18), and that Moses saw God’s back from the cleft in the rock (Exodus 33:23), and spoke to him face to face in the tabernacle as God dictated to him the legal code of the Hebrews (Numbers 12:68).

But the New Testament says, in support of the new dualistic religion, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46, and 1 Timothy 6:15-16).  One cannot see spirit.

Of course, it does not stop there but the unseen spirit-nature of God is a critical piece of information to absorb if we ever want to understand the radically new religion that came into the world with Jesus, who died on the cross.

The cross is the key to understanding Christianity and our call to discipleship.

The traditional evangelical answer as to why Jesus died is that he paid for our sins on the cross vicariously as the Lamb of God.  The good and holy Biblical word for it is "propitiation."  That is true as the apostolic witness attests in full:  Without Jesus we Gentiles do not have a sacrifice for past sins because we were not given the temple sacrifices like the Jews were given.  It is the sins of "the world” that Jesus takes away.  But that is not the whole story.  If we stop there then we might miss the whole counsel of God.  He calls us to join him on the cross against the flesh, which is required to die in order that our soul may live, “for if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live.”

The paradox is this: if we live according to the flesh we will die spiritually; but if in the name of Jesus we put the flesh to death, figuratively speaking, then the spirit lives.  In other words, we gladly and willingly submit to the sentence of death already passed upon our carnal existence.  That is the strange and unusual way that we live as Christians, in self-denial, making us a peculiar people, because it seems to go against the survive and thrive instinct.

So, the cross is not an altar per se.  It is an instrument of execution.  The Romans executed malefactors on their crosses.  Spiritually speaking, that is, from the perspective of the Spirit, the flesh is the crooked thing about us that has committed crimes against the spirit.  Jesus came for two reasons, “for sin” and to “condemn sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  The first instance is the cultic, propitiatory sacrifice but the second is how we appropriate it in the way of the cross.  The way of the cross is the condemnation of sin in the flesh because it is mortification of the flesh itself, which houses sin.  No flesh, no sin.  Get rid of carnal desires and you get rid of reasons to sin.

Can we have the one without the other?  Can we have Jesus’ sacrifice for us without presenting our bodies a living sacrifice for him (Romans 12:1-3)?

New Testament probably does not split between judicial pardon and death to self.  The very heart and nature of our religion is at issue in answer to this question.

We may see the answer in Jesus himself, the author and pioneer of our Faith.  Jesus needed no judicial pardon or sacrifice because he was without sin.  But the commandment of the New Dispensation, to live according to the Sprit, applied to him and so he became obedient with his flesh unto death.  Why?  If he had not he could not have been “saved” because salvation, as defined by New Testament dualism, is to be delivered from “this body of death” in the dualistic understanding (Romans 7:24).  That is why Jesus is the “way, truth, and life” and we cannot get to the Father without him, that is, by his cleansing blood and his example of the “way” of the cross.  Early on Christianity was called the “Way” precisely because it was a way to live and find salvation (Acts 9:2, 18:25-26, 19:9 & 23, and 24:22), not a belief system only.

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