Mystical Union: The Only Alternative to Legalism

In conversation with a couple of friends this week on these things, I happened more or less by accident on a truth that surprised me, and sharpens the mysticism issue for me a great deal.

Here’s how it happened: in discussing the ongoing person/proposition controversy, we were considering how poorly the Saving Proposition/Content Of Saving Faith positions fare when faced with the burden of addressing a person’s present experience of death.  However well they might do at addressing truths regarding the second death (not well, actually, but that’s another discussion), these positions utterly fail to bring God’s saving power to bear on death right now. Jesus came to save His people from their sins — not just from the Lake of Fire, but from drunkenness, adultery, theft, lying, murder, addiction, and so on.

An eternally secure heroin addict who will certainly go to heaven when he dies has not yet been saved from his sin.  No proposition suggested in the Content of Saving Faith debate will help him.  He needs more than propositions; he needs rescue.

If you insist on sticking to the truth-is-a-proposition approach, then you find yourself stuck in a two-tiered view of the Christian life, in which one needs this proposition to guarantee passage to heaven, and then those propositions to experience life here and now.  In principle, this is the Galatian heresy all over again, and as long as you confine yourself to thinking of truth in terms of propositions, it’s absolutely unavoidable.

Which is why you ought to consider the living Christ instead of just propositions about Him, however true.  A propositional view of receiving eternal life not only fails to meet the real human need for life now, it can’t help lapsing into legalism.  You can refer to a person in a proposition, but you can’t contain a person in a proposition, or transmit a relationship with a person via a proposition.  All you can contain and transmit in a proposition is an idea.  Living by ideas — even the most noble of ideas — is living by Law.  We already know how well that works, and anyhow if Sinai had been all we needed, whence Jesus?

The solution?  Actual relationship with the living Christ, which is to say, mystical union.  Either you live in real relationship with God or you’re just another legalist, living by ideas in your head.

75 Responses to Mystical Union: The Only Alternative to Legalism

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    Yup. It’s the “saved” heroin [sex, power, alcohol, work, family, pornography, politics, religion] addict that Paul has in view in Romans 5:1-11. It is these idolatrous people of God who are not “revealing the righteousness of God” (1:17). And the “wrath to come” is God’s inevitable cleansing of all “unrighteousness and ungodliness of men” (1:18), especially those who are supposed to look and smell like Jesus. It’s the death of Jesus that saves you from eternal separation from God (thus, 5:1), but that doesn’t save us from present or (dare I say it?) Bema “death.” The latter deliverance can only come from “his life”, which is to say, our present mystical union with the living Christ (4:25b-5:11).

    For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

  2. Tony L Smith says:

    Really enjoy your veiws. Those who walk by the Spirit are above the law. Jesus not only attoned for our sins, He gave us His relationship with His Father. He released it at Calvary ‘Fathe father,why has thou forsaken me’.
    The intimatcy He enjoyed He gave to us, as one would let go of a gift to give it to another.
    One seed of corn produces many, many other cobs of the same seeds.
    To me the purpose of the blood was for Holy Spirit to abide with us without physicaly killing us.
    thanks Tony

  3. Jim says:

    Jim/Tim,

    What I’m hearing you say is that we who are declared righteous by faith, enter and stay (Paul used the word stand) into this mystical union by grace? We were reconciled by the death of Christ and then Paul goes on to say we are “saved by His life”, is this not true that this is a reference to the the mystical union?

    And if this is true, currently in His role as High Priest, that mystical union is maintained by confession of sin? To add to that question the result of confession being the equivalent of being “in Christ” (Jesus Christ said it best in John 15:1-17) and obeying His commandment to love one another?

    This makes sense to me as without that living union, I’m nothing, dead, empty. No wonder that Paul said that Christ is his life.

    Am I reading you both right or am I barking up the wrong tree again…LOL.

  4. Tim said:

    “…these positions utterly fail to bring God’s saving power to bear on death right now. Jesus came to save His people from their sins — not just from the Lake of Fire, but from drunkenness, adultery, theft, lying, murder, addiction, and so on…The solution?  Actual relationship with the living Christ, which is to say, mystical union.  Either you live in real relationship with God or you’re just another legalist, living by ideas in your head.”
    ———————————————–

    Oh…is this “idea” in Zane’s head what you’re talking about Tim?

    Acting on Our Union with Christ: 
Romans 6:12-23
    Zane C. Hodges1

    Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey it with its lusts, neither turn over your body’s members as instruments for unrighteousness, but turn yourselves over to God as people who are alive from the dead, and turn over your body’s members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin shall not have authority over you, because you are not under the Law but under grace (Rom 6:12-14).2

    In view of the spiritual reality expressed in the previous verse (v 11), believers should not only consider themselves to be “alive to God,” they should actively reorient their behavior in the light of that truth. Whereas formerly, in their unregenerate days, they had allowed sin to reign in their mortal body so that they obeyed it with its lusts, they are to do so no longer.

    This previous obedience to sin’s lusts had been put into effect by their turning over their body’s members as instruments for doing unrighteousness. The body’s members (that is, its eyes, arms, legs, etc.) had been used in the pursuit and enjoyment of sinful aims and activities. This kind of behavior should now cease.

    The new lifestyle is to be marked by conscious commitment to God and to His will. Now they are to turn themselves over to God as people who are alive from the dead. They are not to think of themselves any longer as subjects reigned over by sin and death. Instead they should see themselves as people who have been raised from the dead to walk in newness of life (see 6:4). Their attitude of heart should be, “Here I am, Lord, alive from the dead and prepared to live for you.”

    The Greek verb rendered here by turn over (parastēsate), the same basic word as in the earlier part of v 13 (paristanete), signifies that something is made available for some purpose, that is, it is “put at someone’s disposal” (see BDAG, p. 778, 1.a.). Paul’s point is that, although they previously put the members of their body at sin’s disposal, they should stop doing so. Now they should put themselves and their bodies at God’s disposal.

    The attitude expressed when they turn themselves over to God, should be followed by appropriate actions. They are to turn over their body’s members to Him as instruments for righteousness. That means, of course, that they are to employ the members of their body for the will of God. They are to use them as instruments for (that is, they are actually to do) righteousness. When both the attitude and the actions cohere, Christian living is experienced.

    In addition, both the new attitude and the new behavior are appropriate and possible precisely because sin has lost its capacity to have authority over them. The future tense in the phrase shall not have authority (ou kurieusei) should be understood as an imperatival future (like: you shall not kill). Paul is saying, “You must not allow sin to rule you.”

    Why not? Because, Paul insists, you are not under the Law but under grace. With these words Paul introduces the dominant theme of the discussion to follow (6:15–8:13). Although grace was referred to in 6:1, it has not been directly mentioned since then, and the Law has not been referred to in this chapter at all. The ineffectual nature of the Law figures prominently in the discussion that follows.

    Contrary to the opinion held even by many Christians in Paul’s day (see Acts 15:5) the Mosaic Law was no more an effective instrument for Christian living than it was an instrument for justification (see 3:19-20). Those who lived under it could not truly escape the authority of sin in their lives. In contrast to this, freedom from sin’s authority can be experienced by Christian people precisely because they are not under the Law but under grace.

    Paul now wishes to make this truth completely clear.

    What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace? Far from it! Don’t you know that to whom you turn yourselves over as slaves in obedience, you are slaves of the one you obey, whether of sin producing death, or of obedience producing righteousness? (Rom 6:15-16).

    The first question to be raised is whether the fact that we are not under the Law but under grace gives us a license to sin. The words far from it emphatically deny that it does. The underlying Greek (mē genoito) is idiomatic and the phrase is to be translated as best suits each context. Here the words “that’s unthinkable” might equally well be used to express Paul’s idea.

    Indeed, why should such an option even be considered? The question (Shall we sin?) was functionally equivalent, Paul goes on to suggest, to asking whether we should be the slaves of sin. Thus, after dismissing the suggestion categorically (far from it), he asks rhetorically, Don’t you know you are slaves of the one you obey? “Don’t you realize,” he says, “that sinning entails slavery to your sinful practices?”

    Paul, of course, is not implying that anyone in the Roman congregation didn’t really know this. The question is treated as hypothetical and this barbed response is rhetorical, highlighting the absurdity of any suggestion that we should sin. The fact was that to whomever they might turn themselves over as slaves in obedience, they were slaves of the one they obeyed. They could therefore either become slaves to sin or to its opposite, righteousness (cf. v 18).
    We should note that in Paul’s discussion here, the meaning expressed by the Greek verb paristēmi (to turn over) clearly denotes the idea of actually doing something. This might be either committing sin and thus producing (eis) death or it might be obedience (to God) and thus producing (eis) righteousness. Stated this way, the only reasonable choice was the obedience that produced righteousness, since who would wish to produce death?

    But praise is due to God that you were the slaves of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of teaching in which you were instructed. And having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness (Rom 6:17-18).
    Paul is grateful to God for the Christian experience of the Roman believers. In their unconverted days they had been slaves of sin, but after their conversion they had obeyed from the heart (i.e., sincerely) the form of teaching in which they had been instructed. That is to say, they had responded obediently to the Christian teaching they had received.

    The Greek underlying the phrase in which you were instructed (eis hon paradothēte) is at first surprising. The verb paradidōmi can mean “to pass on to another what one knows of oral or written tradition” (BDAG, pp. 762-63), but it is also often used as a technical term for turning someone over to the custody of the police or courts (BDAG, p. 762). Here Paul employs it as a kind of word play, though the literal sense is something like “to which you were handed over.” On the one hand, Christian teaching has been “passed on” to the Roman Christians. On the other, however, in accordance with the metaphor about slavery, they have been “turned over” to the authority of that teaching for their lives.

    For the sake of clarity, my translation is a paraphrase, since the word play in question cannot really be communicated by a simple rendering. The NKJV translation (“to which you were delivered”) is not very meaningful in English. My rendering is also reflected in the Jerusalem Bible which translates: “you submitted without reservation to the creed you were taught.”

    The phrase that form of teaching suggests that the content of what they were taught followed a particular pattern. The Greek word rendered form is tupos, which is properly assigned here by BDAG (p. 1020) to the meaning category: “a kind, class, or thing that suggests a model or pattern.” Paul is no doubt thinking of the general format in which Christian instruction was generally given to converts to Christianity. This Christian instruction and exhortation is sometimes referred to in technical literature by the term paraenesis.

    The Roman Christians were not total strangers to Paul (see 16:1-20) and he even states that their “obedience” (hupakoē) has become widely known (16:19). Since they had obeyed the Christian teaching in which they were instructed, their personal experience had been one of being liberated from sin and of being enslaved to righteousness. In other words they had turned away from sin to do what was right in God’s sight. Their servitude was now to Him and not to sin.
    (I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you have turned over your body’s members as slaves to uncleanness and to wickedness producing wickedness, so now turn over your body’s members as slaves to righteousness producing holiness (Rom 6:19).

    Paul is not altogether comfortable with describing their Christian obedience as being “enslaved to righteousness” (v 18). He has only adopted such human terminology due to the weakness of their flesh.

    His concern is for their comprehension of the truth. A more abstract description—even if accurate—would have failed due to their limitations as human beings. The following words in the verse show he is working with an analogy, moving from the familiar (slavery to sin) to the unfamiliar (slavery to righteousness).

    In the past they had turned over their body’s members as slaves to uncleanness and to wickedness (anomia). The result of this servitude to sinful practices was, of course, simply wickedness. (The phrase producing wickedness translates the Greek words eis anomian.) Your former slavery, Paul states, was negative in its effects. It was unclean and wicked and productive of nothing other than an experience of evil.

    [In my translation, I have rendered the Greek word anomia by the more general word wickedness. An examination of its uses in the Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint) shows that it had become a very general word for what is evil. The modern tendency to interpret it in terms of its derivation ("lawlessness") is most likely an example of the so-called "root fallacy." A word's actual meaning at any given time is determined by usage, not by the meaning of its root.]

    This past experience in wickedness is the backdrop for understanding Paul’s reference to being enslaved to righteousness. As believers, the Roman Christians are now to turn over their body’s members as slaves to righteousness. What was once done in submission to sin should now be done in submission to righteousness. The result of this new form of active obedience will be the production of holiness. Thus the evil result of the former servitude can be replaced by the good result of a new servitude.

    The phrase producing holiness translates eis hagiasmon. BDAG (p. 10) reminds us that outside of Biblical literature the word hagiasmos frequently signals “personal dedication to the interests of the deity.” In the NT it has come to mean especially “the state of being made holy.” In this context, however, an element of the basic meaning seems implicit in the context of being slaves to righteousness. The Greco-Roman world was familiar with the concept of someone who was permanently attached to a pagan temple as a servant of the god who was worshipped there.

    For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. So what fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the result of those things is death (Rom 6:20-21).

    Paul continues to expand his analogy between the old servitude and the new one. As slaves of sin they had been free from righteousness. That is to say, righteousness was “powerless” in their lives. It had no control over what they did. It was not their “master.”

    There could be no positive outcome or result from such a life. It could bear no constructive fruit, and in retrospect, it was a life that now made them feel ashamed. The rhetorical question, So what fruit did you have then…? assumes that there was none at all. How could there be, since the result [telos, end] of those things could only be death?

    In speaking of death here, the Apostle no doubt had physical death in mind, but his concept of death is much broader than that. This becomes plain in his subsequent discussion, especially in 7:8-13 and in 8:6-13. For Paul, death is not the mere cessation of physical existence but is also an experience that is qualitatively distinct from true life.

    As Paul puts it in Eph 4:18, the unregenerate are “alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them.” But as he will show clearly in the following two chapters, such “alienation” from God’s life is experienced also by the Christian when he submits to the desires of his spiritually-dead physical body.

    But now, since you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your fruit producing holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:22-23).

    Despite their unproductive past, however, now the Roman Christians are in a position to bear real fruit that actually produces (or, consists of) holiness. This is due to the transforming fact of their union with Christ that Paul had emphasized earlier in the chapter (see especially 6:1-11). This union has resulted in their being freed from sin and enslaved to God. As the Apostle expresses it in 6:7, “the one who has died [with Christ] is justified [freed] from sin.” Thus the believer is now to regard himself as “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:11 emphasis added).

    A new lifestyle is therefore made possible in which the believer can “walk in newness of life” (6:4). This “newness of life,” of course, is nothing less than eternal life. The believer’s “walk” in this new life is the outcome of possessing that life in Christ. Thus the end result [telos] of producing holiness is nothing less than an experience of eternal life itself. This idea is already implicit in the biblical quotation that Paul cites as part of his thematic statement for the entire book: “Now the one who is righteous by faith shall live” (Rom 1:17; emphasis added).

    Paul can now wrap up the fundamental truths on which the entire unit (6:1-23) is based. On the one hand, death in all its aspects is the “pay-off” (the wages) of sin. The word rendered wages (opsōnia) is not essentially different from its counterpart in English and refers in ordinary use to “pay” or “compensation.” Obviously a statement like this is deliberately broad enough to embrace all the various aspects in which death is the “compensation” for sin. In other words, it states a principle, and should not be narrowed to an exclusive reference to the “second death,” or hell (Rev 20:14).3 Paul will later say to these believers that “if you live in relation to the flesh, you will die” (Rom 8:13) and that concept is one specific aspect of the principle he states here.

    With sin, therefore, one receives what one has earned (wages). But eternal life is an unearned experience because, at its core, eternal life is the gift of God that is given in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is to say, by virtue of our being in Christ (see 6:3,4) we possess this gift. When we produce holiness, therefore, we are living out the gift that God gave us when we were justified by faith.4

    The word used here for gift (charisma) is picked up from 5:15, 16 where its occurrences are the first ones in the body of Paul’s argument. (It is used in another connection in 1:11.) As is clear from 5:12-21, for Paul righteousness and life are part of one and the same charisma. As a result, “those who receive the abundance of the grace and of the gift (dōreas) of righteousness shall reign in life through one Man, Jesus Christ” (5:17). The whole gracious bestowal can be described as a “justification sourced in life.” (For the Pauline link between regeneration and justification, see also Titus 3:5-7).

    The closing words of v 23, in Christ Jesus our Lord, are identical in Greek to the words that close v 11 (en Christō Iēsou tō Kuriō hēmōn [MT]). Thus they form an inclusio with v 11 and mark the present sub-unit (vv 12-23) as complete. The repeated words also serve to emphasize the truth that the eternal life which is given to us as a gift (by virtue of which we are “alive” [v 11]) is our possession in union with the Savior in whom we died and in whom we have been raised to walk in God’s paths.
     

    1 Zane Hodges was working on a commentary on Romans when he died in November of 2008. He had completed the commentary through Rom 14:15. This material is from that commentary. GES plans to publish Zane’s commentary on Romans (with Rom 14:16–16:27 written by Bob Wilkin) by the end of 2010, Deo Volente.

    2 All translations in this article (and in the entire commentary) are the author’s personal translation, based on the Majority Text (MT) readings.
    3 Zane has written elsewhere that Rev 20:15 shows that the basis of the second death is unbelief, not sin, which Jesus already paid for at the cross (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). Apart from the cross the second death would be one of the wages of sin. But because of Calvary no one will experience the second death because of his sins (cf. John 3:18).

    4 Editor’s note: Zane does not understand Rom 6:23 as an evangelistic verse. A careful reading of his comments here shows that he sees this verse as uncovering the power of eternal life that is resident within every believer. The believer is capable of living a holy life because of his union with Christ. However, the believer still has the flesh and is also able to live an unholy life and to experience the wages of his sin, which is physical death. He comments on this much more in his discussion of Romans 8, especially Rom 8:13.

  5. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim J,
    I’ll let Jim R speak for himself, but you’re reading me right. You can frame it in terms of abiding (John) or mutual indwelling — “Christ in me” and me “in Christ” (Paul/John 17) or a number of other ways, but it’s the same reality regardless.

    You enter the union by grace through faith, and continue in the same manner. The key is understanding it as a relationship. Relationships have protocols — things you need to be, believe, and do to keep the relationship healthy — but the relationship is not reducible to a set of protocols, as many a baffled husband has discovered. Also many a baffled Pharisee.

    Tony,

    Wouldn’t want to say “above the Law,” myself. It turns out that walking by the Spirit fulfills the righteousness of the Law in any case, and Paul uses aspects of the Law as alarm bells to reveal when men are not walking by the Spirit.

    Gary,

    I too look forward to Zane’s commentary, when Bob and Niemela are done with it. They’re actually getting pretty close now — I’m hoping it will be out by conference time.
    I certainly wasn’t setting out to attack Zane’s views on Romans, and I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with the lengthy quote. I was just pointing out that there’s a difference between having Romans in one’s head and actually walking in living relationship with God.

  6. Jim Reitman says:

    Jim J.,

    Yes. What he said.

    . . . “saved by his life” is a concept that begins with Rom. 4:25b and continues throughout the rest of the book. The notion of justification/imputation in Romans is concluded in 4:25a as the foundation for identity in Christ, but “salvation” in Romans from then on is virtually all about living in/out that identity through union (abiding) in the living Christ: Unless one lives (abides) “in” one’s identity in Christ one cannot experience an “eternal life” kind of life in the present (5:17, 21), and unless one lives “out” one’s identity in Christ one cannot possibly “reveal the righteousness of God” (1:17), which is the “gospel of God” (1:1).

  7. Gary says:

    Tim & Jim, et al:

    Interesting thread. Interesting enough to set some time aside from this morning’s studies to think about what you’re discussing.

    A few things come to mind on the articles & postings on & related to this topic. I’m one of those who will be guarded on it, but I’m guarded on any theological discussion. When we start talking about things like “hearing God” I think some degree of caution is necessary. I do, however, try to keep my guard at a level where truth, be it propositional or a Person, is able to bypass it.

    I certainly have no opposition to the concept of a mystical union, be it positional or dynamic, & you have chosen some good Scriptures to proof-text the issue. But, if I’m reading you correctly, I do question whether or not you can so easily go to mystical union without first coming to pistis in propositional truths. IOW, are we not first confronted with propositions, do we not receive these propositions about Christ and then as time and sanctification proceed develop this relationship you speak of? Our Father & the Spirit are doing work to teach unbelievers about our Lord & convict of things about our condition & the reality of the state of things. This seems to be propositionally presenting to us the Truth/truth. It seems to be an introduction. But as time goes on the introduction can advance through a process to a developed personal relationship with the Son & through the Son we come to develop a relationship with the Father who introduced us to the Son.

    The more I watch from afar & periodically participate in theological discussions the more I end up wanting to tell both sides, Stop you’re both right. I’m wondering if this is another one of those instances. But I will acknowledge that I’m not certain I’m addressing the issue pointedly.

    In regards to the statement about protocols as they have to do with relationship, one thing comes to mind right away. When it comes to acknowledging sin, such protocol can become very mechanical & not seem like much of a personal relationship interaction, even though it is. But one protocol that is not as often discussed in the process of coming to sin that afterward needs to be confessed, is the fact that we are able to approach our Great High Priest & personally ask Him in a dynamic situation for help in a time of need. Where confession after the fact can seem somewhat detached, the ability to ask our living Lord for help right now is, at least for me, much more dynamic and personal and the often immediate results are indicative of a living & very alive relationship in living time. In this regard, the more Believers use protocols & abilities like this one, the more living & dynamic the relationship can become.

    Another thing that immediately came to mind is a verse that I have often gone back to that has many times seemed so simple that it certainly must be trying to say something much more profound or difficult to understand is John 17:3. It seems the entire matter of eternal life can be summed up in coming to know (not, know “about”) Him. This certainly seems to be much more relational than propositional. But, I think it takes time & the advance in faith to come to.

    Bottom line for me at this point of the discussion is that a mystical union vs. a proposition may just be a matter of developed awareness. IOW, the truth is the Truth even if we have not yet come to understand this.

  8. Tim,

    I never said you specifically set out out to attack Zane’s views on Romans. But it’s quite clear that you DID set out to construct and attack yet another Straw Man you’ve called “proposition worshipper(s)”. As you make clear from the very beginning of your article, your main point is that the “Saving Proposition/COSF position…utterly fails to bring God’s saving power to bear on death right now.” Well, that’s what happens when you mix apples and oranges, Tim. The “Saving Proposition/COSF position” is about how to be born again–it has nothing whatsoever to do with the experiential sanctification of a heroin addict, etc. If you want to talk about justification issues, talk about it. If you want to talk sanctification issues , talk about that. But please stop it with the rhetorical sleight of hand you seem so adept at. Furthermore, since the criticism of your article was unequivocally directed at the “Proposition/COSF position”, that would necessarily include Zane as you well know–hence the article I posted by him. I only thought it fair to expose your Straw Man and sleight of hand for what it truly is by giving his views on the issue of sanctification from his own pen.

    Either you’re very confused or you’re being outright disingenuous. I would prefer to think you’re confused, but I’m honestly not sure anymore. The idea that the people to whom you direct your disdain in your article would believe in or advocate sanctification purely by learning and believing more propositions is preposterous–and you know it right well.

  9. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary L,

    I see what you’re saying about progressing from propositions to more personal relationship. I’d nuance it a little bit. The encounter is personal from the outset, and Rom. 10:14 is important here — akouw takes genitive direct objects, so what it says is “How will they believe on Him Whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Which is to say that in the faithful preaching of the gospel, the unbeliever doesn’t just hear about Christ, he hears Christ.
    Now, the preacher is delivering propositions, of course. But through the propositions he is introducing the unbeliever to a Person whom he loves. The unbeliever, in that preaching, meets that Person.

    Which is to say that the propositional truth is a window through which we’re meant to see the Person, and encounter the Person. This starts right at the beginning, and then continues right on through the Christian life.

  10. Tim,

    As far as it goes, and if I’m understanding what you’re saying to Gary L, I don’t see anything to disagree with you about here. In fact, I think what you say in your last paragraph would be a fine way of explaining the purpose of John’s Gospel:

    “Which is to say that the propositional truth is a window through which we’re meant to see the Person, and encounter the Person. This starts right at the beginning, and then continues right on through the Christian life.”

    That is very well said.

    John wants to illuminate for his readers the fundamental truth of the Christian
    faith through the window of propositional truth so they will “see” (understand) it (Him) and believe it (Him) (Jn 20:31; 1 Jn 5:1; cf 2 Cor 4:3-6; Matt 16:13-17).

  11. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (Jn 5:24)

  12. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary E.,

    Glad we’re getting somewhere. And yes, this is a VERY Johannine point. The whole book is fairly exploding with it, but it’s particularly notable in the upper room discourse.

    My misplaced comment from the other thread is below; I apologize. It was in response to “it’s quite clear that you DID set out to construct and attack yet another Straw Man you’ve called “proposition worshipper(s)”” and the following sentences in your earlier comments.

    ***

    You’re making my point for me, brother, if only you knew it. I am honestly not sure I can say this in a way that will get through, but let me try:

    There’s no straw man here; the fact that the people we’re talking about will approach sanctification in a different way than the new birth is exactly the point of indictment. The fact that they need to do that is what exposes the emptiness of their position. A genuinely biblical take on justification and sanctification need not do that — see Gal. 3, Col. 2:6, and so on. John’s gospel offers life that extends to every aspect of the human experience; SavProp/COSFers offer fire insurance and then have to switch horses in midstream to offer anything else. That need to switch horses is the demonstration that the approach is sub-biblical, out of harmony with John and everything else.

    Am I getting through?

    ***

    I hope those comments make more sense in this context than the other. And I really do want to know if this is making sense to you or not. I’m genuinely not setting out to straw-man anyone, and I don’t think I am doing so by inadvertence either — we’re talking past each other, somehow, and I’d like to remedy that.

  13. Jim Reitman says:

    In response to Gary L’s comment above, and continuing in light of the more recent exchange between Gary E. and Tim:

    Gary L: Bottom line for me at this point of the discussion is that a mystical union vs. a proposition may just be a matter of developed awareness. IOW, the truth is the Truth even if we have not yet come to understand this.

    Yes, I completely agree and would go further to point out what I feel is a common prejudice among FGers that goes too far in the opposite direction. This is the idea that faith must always follow facts and not feelings. Well, yes and no.

    If we hold faith hostage to facts (propositional truth) alone, then the testimonies of countless devoted Christians, including myself, are thrown completely out the window. (This was the subject of an intense and prolonged debate between Gary E., myself, and several others a few years ago on another blog.) It can go two ways:

    1) People like myself can believe plenty of facts about Jesus yet refuse to receive the Person until emotions rooted in a vague but profound sense of utter inadequacy finally shove me off the “faith” cliff.

    2) Others can be emotionally front-loaded with lifetimes of abuse that have ripped them apart, and these emotions can absolutely predispose them to faith before they have any facts—in these cases, all they need is a ["light"-verified] promise of life in the simplest possible form, and they are already there. (And you’d be surprised how little “light” this can take.)

    One might say in these cases that emotions were no longer the “caboose” in the “train” of Watchman Nee’s famous illustration that has now been adopted by so many evangelistic organizations. In fact, I have come to believe that the “encounter” with Jesus is far more holistic than just figuring out which came first: We all have a God-implanted intuitive awareness of our sin and impending judgment that may be entirely non-propositional (Rom. 2:14-16) and we all have God-implanted intuitive awareness of the existence of eternal life that is entirely non-propositional (Eccl. 3:10-11).

    All we need under these circumstances is the promise in the true Seed of ransom from death—in all its forms and dimensions—that we may have life. When one receives enough light to identify the true Seed, the person in example (2) above is “already there.”

    Tim’s point is that this “transaction” really never stops in this life. Ask a person if they have the Son (1 Jn 5:11-12). Every new day for those who say “yes,” we can either try to atone for our own sins or be washed in his blood. Every new day we can choose to get “life” from the resurrected Person or try to get it from someone or something else.

  14. Tim,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “switching horses in midstream…”. I think you and I agree that a person is born again by faith alone don’t we? So, if the fundamental truth of the Christian faith is “Jesus is the Christ” ( a proposition); and if the purpose of John’s Gospel is to illuminate the meaning of that (propositional) truth to the reader through the window of other propositional truth about Jesus so that they might both “see”(understand) and be persuaded of that truth, then that truth and their faith in that truth become the foundation for the rest of their spiritual life subsequent to being born again. They have been “introduced” to the Person of Christ, so to speak (Rom 5:1), but they still don’t “know” Him intimately. As Jesus told His disciples in the upper room discourse, in order to experience the “abundance” of eternal life (Jn 10:10–which entails more intimate knowledge and fellowship with Christ) faith alone is not enough—there are other conditions that must be met and ADDED to their faith–e.g. “if you LOVE me, KEEP my commandments, ABIDE in Me”, etc..

    This is what Peter also says in 2 Pet 1:5-9:

    “But also for this very reason, giving all DILIGENCE, ADD to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.”

    So it doesn’t seem to me to be an issue of “switching horses”, but just the simple fact that while “faith alone” is enough for justification and always remains the foundation for sanctification/spiritual growth, it is NOT enough by itself for sanctification/spiritual growth–there are additional conditions which must be met, and it’s not automatic or inevitable that all believers will meet those conditions, or meet those conditions to the same degree–hence, the Bema.

  15. I meant Rom 5:1-2, not just Rom 5:1

    Jim, I would never deny that emotions or volition have a part in the dynamics of a person’s relationship with God, I just don’t think any case can be made or ever has been made that they are part of the definition of “pisteuo”.

  16. Jim,

    Nor would I deny the reality of “intuitive awareness.”

  17. Jim Reitman says:

    Gary,

    Thanks, man. Here’s my dilemma:

    “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    Faith is “something” inside of us that “connects” with the promise of life. What “part” of the human person is the “place” where the “substance” of faith “resides”? And what “part” of the person is where the “heart” or “conscience” (Rom 2:14-16; Eccl 3:11) resides? I would argue that whatever “faith” or “conscience” are in “substance,” they cannot be cleanly separated from intellect, emotion, or will. They are certainly ontologically distinct, but I can’t see how you can separate them biblically.

    As much as anything else, these are considerations that make me believe faith is a more “holistic” enterprise than simple persuasion of truth, though it certainly must have persuasion at its core.

    True mysticism doesn’t claim that truth is relative; we’re not talking “pop” concepts here, exactly the opposite, in fact: True mysticism fleshes out the truth beyond what mere facts are able to do, it sharpens the truth presented (incompletely) by facts, but it allows the human person to participate more completely in the Person of Christ when facts can’t get you any further. This is the province of the Spirit.

  18. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary E and Jim,

    Following on this: “I would argue that whatever “faith” or “conscience” are in “substance,” they cannot be cleanly separated from intellect, emotion, or will.”

    The whole concept of “intellect” is a Greek philosophical construct necessitated by Platonic idealism that finds no clear basis in Scripture to start with. Plato had Forms, and he needed a calculator in the human head to deal with the Forms. The biblical worldview was never anything like that, and has never posited, or needed to posit, a sterile “part” of the human being that deals strictly in facts and propositions. Nothing that clean is even remotely true about real human beings, and this is the real problem with the whole concept of “intellectual assent” whether you’re sneering at it or applauding it. There’s no such thing to start with. One believes with the heart (Rom.10:9-10).

  19. David Wyatt says:

    I can be quiet no longer. I have been following this with keenness of spirit & appreciate much of what has been said. Many of you know that I have been & still am to a degree, wrestling with this issue for awhile. It has been painful in many ways but also helpful, & I believe according to God’s Word that it will eventually prove a path to growth in grace & knowledge of Christ. Something that bro. Jim R. said really resonated with me & I am so thankful that a believer of his caliber said it. He said, “If we hold faith hostage to facts (propositional truth) alone, then the testimonies of countless devoted Christians, including myself, are thrown completely out the window.” I know that my brothers & sisters at GES, especially bro. Wilkin would advocate throwing the testimony out & starting over if it does not clearly accentuate a time when we believed the promise of Christ, but I find this much like the legalistic sermons I used to hear that caused me so much confusion in the first place. I had heard so much preaching on the fact that one must have repented adequately & be willing to confess Christ publicly & forsake all to be saved, & now with the propositional truth side, we are to have come to Christ by believing in a certain way & to have done it “right” by believing Jesus is the Christ & believing His promise of eternal life at the point of faith, or one must then do so now & forget all that has gone before & how Christ has worked in my life. I agree that if a person’s testimony is they felt a warmth & saw a light or something to that effect, then surely this is suspect. But I know what Christ has done & continues to do in my life, & it began when I trusted Him, even though it may not have been as per GES or bro. Zane Hodges’ teaching (though I love & respect them both). If I am misrepresenting anyone I sincerely apologize, but this is what I have seen & am thankful for a forum amongst brothers & sisters in Christ that we can express ourselves. As you also know, I am not a debater & am not all that good at expressing myself but I appreciate the opportunity to think out loud together with you!

  20. Tim Nichols says:

    Brother David,
    Thanks for weighing in. I agree; the concern for “doing it right” is exactly the problem, no matter what “doing it right” is supposed to look like. It’s the same problem Luther had before his conversion, and it’s appalling that so many Protestants continue to suffer from exactly the same problem.

    Jesus hasn’t hidden the formula under a rock somewhere; He is not secretly looking on in delight that nobody can quite figure it out, and therefore, He won’t really have to save very many people. Any time we begin to paint heaven as a particularly exclusive country club for the few who really “get it,” and the Holy Trinity as the membership committee that specializes in turning down applications, we’ve completely lost the God of the Bible.

    Jesus is not reluctant to save; He saves those who call on Him, and He sees our hearts. The thief on the cross didn’t say anything like what any modern evangelist would want to induce him to say — Billy Graham or Bob Wilkin or John MacArthur or anyone else. “Imperfect” as it was, Jesus knew what he was driving at, and saved him — because it was always about relationship, not about getting the words just so.

  21. David Wyatt says:

    Thanks bro. Tim. There’s a party going on in my spirit right now, thank you for those words. I couldn’t agree more!

  22. David,

    I hear you brother and completely understand why it would bother you. But the more I listen to some who object to the way the GES teaches the “saving message”, the more I’m convinced that it’s not what the GES really teaches about believing the promise that is “legalistic” or “rigid”, but rather that to many people it sometimes sounds that way because they’re misunderstanding the main point of what the GES is trying to make clear to people. Zane and Bob have often said that a person does not have to “believe the promise” is some kind of rigidly precise or explicit way as long as what they are believing is the some kind of essentially equivalent concept or idea. Yes, they believe that the “promise” is the most clear and precise way of expressing it, and apparently Jesus did too since that’s the way He chose to express it, but that doesn’t mean someone has to know and believe those same precise words. There are other ways of presenting the gospel that may not explicitly present the promise or call on the person to specifically believe the promise, but the same essential truth of the promise is still implicit in other equivalent words or ideas whether they realize it or not.. Zane and Bob have said many times that they would NOT discount the testimonies of such people as this who have come to faith in Christ in some way that doesn’t line up exactly the way they teach it. The kinds of testimonies that Zane or Bob would be likely to “discount” are ones where the person indicates that they have ALWAYS believed in some kind of faith+ works kind of “gospel”, not someone who at sometime believed an essentially Free Grace understanding of the gospel that doesn’t line up with the GES version.

    Anyway, David, I understand how GES teaches the “saving message” and I also know something of your testimony and how you view the Gospel, and I certainly don’t think you need to “discount” your testimony and I’m sure neither Zane nor Bob would either. You might be misunderstanding something about what they’re teaching or you might be confused by what someone else has said on a blog about what they teach. I sure hope it wasn’t me because I would never intend to make you doubt or discount your testimony.

  23. One more thing. Zane and Bob have also often said that it’s not really possible for any of us to know for sure whether another person is saved or not REGARDLESS of what their testimony is–not even a professing atheist or self-professed apostate!

    Zane and Bob had a heart for helping people gain clarity about their salvation, whether they were saved or not saved. They were never in the business of judging the salvation of other people.

  24. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary,

    Re. “changing horses in midstream”: I’m still thinking about how to respond. I’m a little frustrated; we’re missing each other there, I think. I’m gonna sleep on it and see what I can come up with.

    Meanwhile, I had a ‘light bulb moment’ reading your last post. You and I talk past each other at several points, I think, but this is one of the key ones. A large part of our disagreement revolves around this:

    Zane and Bob had a heart for helping people gain clarity about their salvation, whether they were saved or not saved. They were never in the business of judging the salvation of other people.

    I dispute the second sentence. I maintain that you are factually wrong about that, and I do so from a position of considerable knowledge. I knew Zane, although not overly well, but we spent some time together in meetings, dinners, and discussions. One of his heirs apparent, John Niemela, was my mentor, and I know him very well indeed — that’s how I got to spend the time with Zane that I did.
    I do know Bob pretty well. We’ve eaten together, talked and taught together, debated long hours into the night on occasion, exchanged countless emails, articles, phone calls. I once heard Zane question the salvation of a man that champions salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, on the grounds that the fellow had always been a Calvinist; I was in the room and I heard it with my own ears, as well as an hour of conversation on either side of the remark. I didn’t mis-hear, nor did I hear out of context. I repeat: I was there.
    I have heard Bob breezily question the salvation of countless people who don’t get the formula exactly right, and on occasions too numerous to count. Remarks like “Surely you don’t think the people in your local Methodist church are saved” trip lightly off his tongue. You need only listen to the audio of last year’s conference to hear similar comments for yourself.

    Zane and Bob did and do have a heart for people gaining clarity about their salvation, no doubt. But I contend their execution was/is badly marred by their own set of extrabiblical shibboleths. You disagree with me, and that’s okay. But you have in the past accused me of being disingenuous, lying about them, etc. Brother, that dog just won’t hunt; I know these guys, and I know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t heard the things I have, that’s fine; you don’t know ‘em as well as I do. But don’t tell me I didn’t hear them; I was there.

  25. Gary Lincoln says:

    I’ve hopefully posted my last name to make this a bit simpler for us.

    I want to address the Faith issue a bit. For the past several years since the FG Gospel debates heated up, I’ve spent quite a bit of study time delving into the issue for myself. One thing that became very apparent in the pursuit was the necessity, for me at least, to do some work on pistis & cognates. We keep talking about content but not so much faith itself.

    That study has turned into a fairly massive file that I have to set aside to keep my mind intact & then come back to periodically. Let me just says a few things about Faith.

    Firstly, I became aware at a point that it seems virtually impossible to separate it from obedience when it’s related to our response to God. They simply seem like 2 sides of the same coin & as more related word studies attach, faith, obedience, agape, & other vital biblical words seem to become facets on the same gem.

    Secondly, I see that if we pay attention to the prepositions used with pistis & deal with them simply, as we first learn them in basic Greek (recall the spatial chart), it looks to me like we can build ourselves a flow chart that essentially shows how faith as a system may work & how Christ is truly the mediator in the flow of things like righteousness between God & Believers.

    Without going into too much more on this at this point, I want to say that Faith is far from a simple matter of how it may function in our person. I’ve begun to see that it may well be a structured, dare I say piece of law that God has established to work with the functional design of our kardia & the information He has made available to it.

    Thus when G.E. brought up the concept of adding things to faith in order to experience abundance of eternal life, this “adding” to concept caught my eye. I’m going to posit to you that obedience is directly correlated with faith. As our faith in the sanctification process grows, so does our obedience & vice versa. If we tie this into your discussion on propositions & relationship, it all becomes so interwoven that a proposition becomes a part of our faith, which is a part of knowing God, which is a part of orienting in obedience to God, which is a part of loving God, and so on. It’s all vitally interconnected & it all grows, or is meant to.

    Re: Jim’s 4:16, I would agree with faith & conscience not being cleanly separated from the other functions of kardia. I would include f&c in the functions just as I would include the others. However, the “substance” translation of Heb11:1 is problematic & vague for me, & seemingly for translators over the years, & the whole typical translation of 11:1 leaves me unsatisfied for meaning & constantly having to fend off unbelievers with Bibles who ridicule us as having a blind faith. Without going into my to-date conclusions, I guess I’m asking Jim & Tim to elaborate on what “substance of faith” means because 11:1 says pistis IS hupostasis & elegchos. If there’s something in 11:1 that helps to define or describe faith for us I think it’s more in the 2nd clause than the 1st.

    Now, this may have brought up more to debate over, but, if I’m seeing what I think is some agreement on how propositions & relationship are associated, then suffice it to say that Heb11:1b seems to tell us that Faith is (supply your own rendition of elegchos) something having to do with unseen pragmatwn. It would be my current opinion that these unseens are telling us some things about our God. I still say that through coming to see these unseens about Him, we come to know Him & thus propositions become part of knowing Him personally & this puts us back into all the faith/obedience/agape/… interweaving I mentioned above.

    I almost hate to say this but I’ve already mentioned hereinabove the matter of an intact mind. Sometimes at the point of saturation in studies I come to a place where the Text just seems like one big synonym to me & I come to face another example of how our God accommodates us with all these words & categories we work so hard to separate in order to gain understanding of Him & how He may think & work. So, once again, I’m not certain propositions & mystical union are really that different.

    One more thought & I apologize for taking up so much space. In regards to this Gospel issue & all the discussion re: content, the more I study the Good News, the more I think we should be expanding our content & not be narrowing it down. If we find ourselves on a cross next to a man who needs something quick, then let Jesus again acknowledge to Him through us that He is the eternal King of the eternal Kingdom that the man will enter immediately by believing & not rejecting Him & find himself in upon his last breath. Other than that, I’d like to ask the proponents of GJohn to do a little exercise & just pick out all we’re told about Jesus in the early chapters of this Gospel. It is hardly a limited description but a vast reservoir of propositional truths about the Truth. I know we have focused on some important signs, but have we read all that is said about the Person in this one writing? It’s really quite staggering. I think & feel like I know Him better & better every time I go through it again.

  26. By the way, David, just so you know that I understand your struggle, maybe I should tell you that I actually DID discount my old testimony a couple of years ago and was re-baptized– and if I’m not mistaken Bob did the same many years ago. Zane and Bob are correct in that regard–sometimes it’s just the right and honest thing to do. But I’m not suggesting that you should do the same. That’s a matter that is strictly between you and the Lord–as it is for all of us. On that, I’m certain Zane and Bob would agree. God bless you brother.

  27. Diane says:

    Dear Friends,

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment here. I really don’t have much to contribute, but as I read through some of the comments I just felt I wanted to say something that’s heavy on my heart.

    Zane and Bob confirmed what I always knew to be true long before I ever heard of either one of them. They have taught me much since I’ve met them, but their fundamental COSF message is something I’ve known for many years…. from the first day I was saved. I just didn’t know to call it that.

    I’ll never forget that “light” going on for me when for the first time I realized WHY Jesus died. It was so that He would give me everlasting life with Him just by believing in Him for it. For me it was the simple and beautiful verse of John 3:16. I have NEVER doubted my salvation in all these years because I KNEW God made a promise…… “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
    Because of that simple promise, I have had peace about my eternal salvation for over 50 years now, never to doubt it.
    That was true even when one of my favorite radio Bible teachers *(at the time)* said that you’re not saved by just believing, but by committing to follow Him, and having a willingness to obey Him, etc., etc. He called what Ryrie and Chafer taught “easy believism.” I was shocked. How could my favorite radio Bible teacher be saying such a thing? After all, I trusted him. I supported him financially and even went to one of his Pastors Conferences when he visited a Bible College in KC. It was nice that it wasn’t ONLY for pastors. :-)
    But even that didn’t make me doubt my salvation. I had God’s promise and that settled it for me.

    Whatever Zane said to make you think he was judging whether another person wasn’t saved must have been because he suspected that this person wasn’t believing in Jesus Christ ALONE to save him based on something he either heard or read. Zane would never draw a conclusion against a person’s salvation apart from that. There’s no other explanation that would lead either him or Bob to say what you heard them say. Words are what identifies for us what a person believes. Zane or Bob would NEVER judge a person’s salvation without knowing what they believed…. or at least heard them say something that testified that their faith wasn’t in Jesus Christ alone. These people you mention must have said something that lead Zane and Bob to think they were trusting in something else besides Jesus alone. I judge people all the time who I know are not believing in Jesus alone. They “love” Jesus, but they’re working their way to heaven. They must endure unto the end to make it. I do allow, though, for the HOPE that they did at one time believe in Jesus alone. I also know that Zane and Bob HOPE for that, too. They love people, and they want them to know the truth. The simple truth is found in a verse like John 3:16.

    I, too, have been in many, many conversations with Zane and Bob. I love their character, and I just think that you have misunderstood WHY they said what they did about whether a person is saved or not.

    Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my heart here. I do appreciate it. I wish you all God’s very best as you journey daily with Him with the desire to know Him deeper.

    In Jesus’ love,
    Diane :-)

  28. David Wyatt says:

    Bro. Gary E.

    It would be difficult to put into words what our friendship in Christ means to me. In a hurry now, more later! God Bless you all.

  29. I feel the same about you too, David. You’ve been such a blessing from Jesus.

  30. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary E,

    Re. the “changing horses in midstream” bit:

    “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” If we haven’t given the heroin addict Jesus, then he will neither go to heaven nor be delivered from his addiction in this life. If we have given him Jesus, what more could we give him? There’s either continuity between the beginning and the rest of his life, or we got something wrong at the very start. “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.”

    Faith believes commands as well as statements; there are things to be believed, and faith believes them; things to be done, and faith does them. The exodus generation perished because the word which they heard was not mixed with faith in those who heard it — which is, in context, saying that they were disobedient. Faith without works may have been alive once upon a time, but it’s dead now.

    What is called for, right from the beginning, is faith in Jesus. A person who believes in Him has eternal life, and a person who continues believing in Him keeps His commandments. The beginning of faith in Jesus brings a person into the family; God doesn’t ask for that faith to develop into mature obedience before the new birth. But that faith is not something different from what later develops into mature obedience, after all. And when a believer later in life becomes a disobedient child, it is, in fact, a failure to believe in Jesus that leads him to disobedience.

    My concern with the SavProp/COSF position is that for fear of confusing works and faith, it introduces a Jesus who offers nothing more than fire insurance, a Jesus who is not interested in or able to deliver from the many deaths that plague us in our present experience. I grant that this impression is conveyed by simple failure to mention what else Jesus is offering, i.e., that nobody in that camp would say “Jesus just offers fire insurance.” Nonetheless, by omission, I believe they create the impression all the same. Moreover, although you disagree, I do believe that at its worst, this ultimately boils down to proposition-worship – and I would submit the term “Saving Proposition” as Exhibit A. A proposition didn’t die on the cross and rise from the grave; anything that didn’t do that, can’t save.

  31. Gary Lincoln says:

    To All:

    Is there a command to believe in Jesus for initial salvation?

  32. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary L,

    John 10:38 and 12:36 would seem to be two examples.

  33. Gary Lincoln says:

    Tim:

    OK. And would you read 1J1:3:23 as simply to Believers or a command that would also take in unbelievers? IOW a command that would take in & ultimately be applicable to all?

  34. Gary Lincoln says:

    Sorry Tim, 1J3:23

  35. Tim Nichols says:

    Jesus issued the command to the unbelievers of His own day and commissioned us to disciple the nations, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Paul obeyed that commission on Mars’ Hill by preaching that God now calls for repentance by “all men everywhere.” And so on.

    1Jn. 3:23 is clearly aimed at believers in that particular context, but there are plenty of places that take in unbelievers explicitly.

  36. Tim Nichols says:

    Diane,

    Thank you for weighing in, sister. I appreciate your testimony, and the assurance you found through the ministry of GES.

    I realize that Zane, Bob, and the other GES folk would never question someone’s salvation unless they were genuinely concerned that the person had failed to understand the gospel. Of course. However, I find much of that concern is born of a conception of the gospel message so narrow that it can’t even make sense of Jesus’ evangelism in John 9, let alone the evangelism of Peter and Paul in Acts or the conversion of the thief on the cross.

    Out of that unbiblically narrow conception of the gospel comes concern for souls that issues in challenging the salvation of people who are, by every biblical measure, genuine believers. In practice, this causes division, and it causes division because we’re willing to insist on sub-biblical shibboleths instead of attending to the Bible. The fact that we’re honestly mistaken, and concerned for souls, is nice, but it’s not an all-purpose moral solvent that dissolves our guilt for unnecessarily dividing the Body of Christ. Nestorius was concerned for souls too, but he was still a heretic.

    This is the Great Sin of the FG movement, and make no mistake, it is a doctrinal defection as well as a practical sin. Christian unity is a cardinal doctrine; guarding it is a hallmark of the worthy walk (Eph. 4), violating it entails a failure to be straightforward about the gospel (Gal. 1-2), and it is the sign for which Jesus prayed (John 17). Falling down on that particular job is a major, major issue, and frankly, I think it is the issue of the present time. I believe that if FG in general, and GES in particular, fails to repent on this issue, it will die.

  37. Gary Lincoln says:

    Tim:

    From your 12:10. Good for now. Now I submit for consideration:

    Initial faith in Jesus is obedience to God. Continued faith in Jesus is obedience to God. We cannot believe in Jesus without being obedient to God. Nor can we love without being obedient to God.

    I think Christians have become very Mishnaic. We build many fences to protect God & theological points. I think we’ve done that & are still doing it with works. Not that we don’t do it for reason to some degree, but we do it & at some point it becomes too much.

    Faith at initial salvation is God’s work & not ours (Eph & John6:29, 45; 16:8). Why is initial salvation not a work of man? Because God says it’s not. Because it is God’s work. Whatever we DO at initial salvation, God does not classify or reward it as a human work.

    Why is obedience to God not a work of man at initial salvation? God has commanded that we believe in His Son. When we believe in His Son we are being obedient to Him. This faith & obedience is not a work of man because God defines what is & is not a work & He has said that belief in His Son at initial salvation is His work & not ours. Like it or not, what our attitude should be is that it is simply our duty to obey God & such is not a work that we’re going to be paid for (Luke17:10).

    We’re building to many fences around this works thing & all it does is cause confusion.

    When we enter into life, we enter into it by faith which is an act of obedience whether we know it or not. We have in fact submitted to a commandment of God. We have shown Him a small piece of love for Him. We have reversed in a required, initial way the sin of Adam.

    If we knew this maybe we would better understand that this small responsive activity on our part is the same one that God has provisioned to grow over time. Our first step is one of many to follow & the first step is no different than the rest of them. Faithful obedience to God which He ends up calling agape.

    I think the Church is lost in the trees & not seeing the forest.

    I can hit this from several ways. Here’s one attempt.

    We, like Israel was, are awaiting the certain coming of the King, the King to whom all knees shall bow. We bow (spiritually) to this King at initial salvation even though we don’t typically know it because we’re not normally told. When we bow to Him we’re transferred to His Kingdom. The thief on the cross knew it to whatever degree, acknowledged it & Jesus granted him life. The Great Commission covers it & Paul’s commission to the nations covers it (Rom1:5, 16:26 bookends). Teach the nations what the King commands & teach faithful obedience.

    Jesus’ titles, “Christ” & “Son of God” are titles of Kingship. Jesus favorite Son of Man title proclaims His coming world rulership, or dare I say dictatorship, & more. I love how Jude1:4 calls Him, “the only Despot” (in Greek).

    As you can probably tell, I have not kept up on GES or anyone else lately so I don’t know what the latest proposition is, or isn’t.

    From what I gather from this thread, Zane & Bob have had, as so many others have had, concerns about whether or not some or many are actually saved. The more I have interacted with Christendom, the more I fully appreciate this. I have come to the opinion that we are seeing many people in what I have come to refer to as being in various stages of God consciousness. I also think we’re simply seeing, as all Christian generations have & will, living examples of what will eventuate per Matt 7.

    As more of a teacher than an evangelist, I have come to check people’s foundations (1Cor3). A builder can’t build upon a bad foundation. Are you saved? Why? I inspect for the only foundation, Jesus Christ (the Christ = a title). Who is He? What does His name, His title mean to you? How are you oriented to Him? What can you explain from understanding in your soul, not just quote to me from memory?

    Frankly, if there’s little to no orientation to Him for who He really is, not just what He’s done for me (which may or may not include any understanding of how His person fits into this), then I’m at work on a solid foundation. I frankly want to start a person out on an orientation to faith that includes obedience & I think we can do this without confusing the sacred faith+ barrier we may be overly preoccupied with.

    There’s much, much more to this. But not now other than my expanding what I said before re: growth in relationship. God has commanded that we believe in His Son. When we so believe, we obey God. As we learn more of God’s will by faith we obey & we grow. No faith, no obedience. No obedience, no faith.

    Jesus said His friends are those who obey whatever He commands & associates this with having been able to teach them much (John15:14-15). John 14 tells us we won’t get much of Him if we don’t obey Him. This is the process. It starts, continues, & eventuates in various stages, aspects, or levels of relationship.

    I think we do disservice to unbelievers by trying to make things too propositionally simple for them if the propositions do not include orienting them right away to faith AND obedience to the Truth – who Jesus is – & how we thus orient to Him.

    I also think we do disservice by any type of orienting unbelievers & even Believers to a concept that Jesus is immediately their good friend. On the one hand He is the Majesty who loves them beyond comprehension & is able to do vast things for them. On the other hand, He is God, He is King, He is to be respected, listened to, faithfully obeyed, bowed to, reverenced. He demands our loyalty & is not just our buddy, as our Abba is not just our Daddy, but also our Father. IF (3rd class) you get this & endure in it, there is companionship (Heb) & friendship (John) (intimate relationship) available with the Absolute Ruler of the universe.

    This attitude should be oriented from the first step. A study of the word, “salvation” will show that it most often has to do with the end game, who we end up being in the Kingdom after evaluation, rather than where we’re going when we die, however ethereal & even obtuse this death to heaven concept is. We’re expending too much effort on a Phase 1 evangelism with little to nothing said about Phase 3.

    The first step in P1 CONTINUES into walking in P2 & eventuates in potential great riches in P3. It’s a process in continuity from the 1st step on. It is propositional, mystical & reality. Faith in & obedience to our Lord God are virtually synonymous. Our salvation message should cover this & our true unity is based in it.

  38. Tim,

    I expressed the hope on your other thread ( http://fullcontactchristianity.org/2011/01/22/gordon-clark-refuted-in-three-sentences/ ) that we possibly had a rational basis or starting point for a discussion on the issue of what a person must do to be born again, that is to say, I thought maybe you had given me an answer to the question I posed to you earlier in that thread. Then we carried on that discussion on this thread. It’s disappointing that the discussion so quickly turned into nothing more than an argumentum ad hominem directed at Zane, Bob and the GES as a springboard for again trying to lead us back into the realm of subjective mysticism as a context and basis for explaining your concept of what constitutes true saving faith—this “idea that’s in your head.”

    Why is it that I’m not surprised?

    It looks to me like my dog DOES hunt, Tim.

  39. A little background music would nice. How about Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”?

  40. Diane says:

    Hi Tim,

    I just wanted to correct something that you said in your 1st paragraph to me above. I don’t think you meant anything misleading at all. In fact, you were very kind to me and I appreciate it. But the point I wanted to make is an important one. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to clarify.

    You said…..
    “I appreciate your testimony, and the assurance you found through the ministry of GES.”*

    I never said that GES is where I found by assurance. In fact, I said just the opposite. I ALREADY knew I was saved (HAD ASSURANCE) based on God’s promise as found in John 3:16 BEFORE I ever heard of GES or Zane Hodges. But many years later I came to know about GES and Zane, and I have been learning much from them ever since. What they taught fits what happened to me many years ago…… (the COSF… Content Of Saving Faith). I believed in Jesus Christ for everlasting life WHEN I came to understand WHY He died. I always believed He died and rose, but it never dawned on me WHY until John 3:16 came alive to me……. “that whosoever believeth in HIM should not perish but HAVE everlasting life.”
    That was the turning point for me. God said if I would believe in Him He would give me everlasting life. He promised, and I’ve always believed it. I knew that the condition was to believe in Him for what He said in that verse. That fits exactly with the COSF that Zane taught before I ever heard of him. GES’s teaching just verified exactly what happened to me. And of course I’ve been learning much from them for many years now and can’t thank God enough for bringing them across my path. Praise God for GES and Zane Hodges~!!!

    Thank you again for giving me the privilege to comment.

    All because of His wonderful grace,
    Diane :-)

  41. Gary Lincoln says:

    Gary E.

    Is 9:51 supposed to be meaningful in some way?

  42. There IS no meaning on the Dark Side Gary L.–just nothingness.

  43. Gary Lincoln says:

    Gary E.

    Once again, what’s your point?

    Sounds like you might just be spent on this one.

  44. Tim Nichols says:

    Diane,

    You’re right, that is exactly what you said the first time; thank you for the correction. I ought to have said, “I appreciate your testimony and the ministry of GES in your continuing learning.” And I do mean it; I am thankful.

  45. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary E,

    I’m truly sorry you feel that way, brother. I also thought maybe we were getting somewhere this time.

    To be honest, I’m frustrated. I don’t know what it will take to connect with you on this. I feel like when I point up the sin in general terms, you say nobody’s doing it, and I’m just manufacturing a straw man. But when I name names and supply enough evidence to make it stick, you accuse me of ad hominem argument. I don’t know where to go from there. “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not weep.”

    Regarding your question, I would want to say that I started to answer it here. Aside from the above difficulty, as best I can tell our communication problem is that the answer I’m supplying just doesn’t fit into the only categories in which you’re prepared to hear an answer. You want something “objective,” and I sympathize, but there’s a basic epistemological problem. Let me see if I can illustrate:

    Person A was born blind.
    Person B can see, but lives in the Sahara, and has never seen or heard about a rainbow.
    Person C can see and also lives in the Sahara. He’s heard of rainbows but never seen one.
    Person D has seen rainbows, but never heard the term.
    Person E has seen rainbows and knows the term.

    Is it possible to give an explanation of a rainbow in such a way that all five of these people will understand the same message? Will making the answer more “objective” make any difference?

    My read of our communication problem is this: you assume that if the wording is objective enough, then the meaning will become clear. But if a person doesn’t have a basis of common experience to work from, the words just won’t mean the same thing to them. C. S. Lewis once wrote a poem about this very problem. I don’t know your testimony very well, but from what I know of you I expect that you have a basis of experience that would allow us to communicate. But I don’t know you well enough; I don’t know the events of your life that I could grab and shake and say “This right here — this is what I’m talking about.” Meanwhile, you’re busy deciding I’ve nothing meaningful to say. Again, I’m not sure how to proceed at this point.

  46. Jim Reitman says:

    Gary E,

    I too am sorry you feel that way. Obviously, Zane and Bob, and GES have done wonderful things. But they have also (perhaps inadvertently; perhaps not) laid a foundation for exclusivism that David Wyatt immediately—and non-cognitively/propositionally, I might add—picked up on.

    Here’s the kind of thing that Tim and I are talking about: Remember that exchange a couple years ago on Rose’s with “Daniel,” the 5-pointer? Alvin tried to rip him a new one and convince everyone he couldn’t possibly be saved because of the propositions he now affirmed that add works to faith. The problem is, Daniel’s testimony had nothing to do with propositions. It was a Damascus road encounter with the living God that he could not explain. He wasn’t a Calvinist when he had that experience, he was an atheist. He never darkened the door of Rose’s again, and Alvin smirked “Good riddance.”

    Tim’s point is that if we paint those folks as the enemy, the body suffers. In fact, however, they are victims of the enemy, and impugning their salvation experience only compounds the problem, because it removes the very source of their assurance which is based in faith in the Messiah, properly identified by the message he heard but resulting in a transformation he can’t explain, other than by affirming “I once was lost but now I’m saved; don’t ask me to explain.”

    Zane and Bob have also painted those folks, at one time or another, as the enemy. And so have all the other FG groups. Anyone who commits to exterminating one or another segment of the body of Christ is also condemned to a failure to participate in the promise of John 17.

    We need to repent and ask what God is up to, not simply dismiss others who may well have a genuine identity in Christ, theologically astray, and at least slightly interested in maintaining dialogue.

    You can’t dismiss Tim, because he’s not being disingenuous and truly wants relationship. You say he’s confused. I’m not so sure. When you use a term like “subjective mysticism,” I would submit to you that is every bit as much a “theological cuss word” to him and me as “intellectual assent” was to you. The mysticism Tim is talking about has an absolutely objective basis in Scripture, and Tim’s point is that those are the large swaths of Scripture that FGers have generally ignored because they don’t lend themselves to soteriological distinctions.

    Most of the Bible is made up of those picture/story-images like the rainbow that can’t be reduced so simply to propositions but, yes, are entirely “objective” pictures of the God who saves 3-dimensionally.

  47. Jim says:

    Jim/Tim,

    I agree with the idea of not bashing someone’s faith or what they understand at a point in time. I can say this because I have repented of exactly that in the recent past.

    And I can tell everyone here that when I switched from a pure FG view of scripture (and it was painful to ditch my theology and non-scriptural ideas) and came to the Messiah like a little child, I had peace and joy that I can’t explain. There was also a clarity around the word of God that I have never had.

    Tim, thanks for the suggestion on reading Deep Exegesis, its been more of a confirmation point for me that the narrative is more than what we have given credit for in the past generations.

    Your brother,

    Jim

  48. Oto says:

    “Living by ideas — even the most noble of ideas — is living by Law.”

    Is that an idea you live by?

  49. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    “Is that an idea you live by?”

    I no longer live; Christ lives in me.

  50. Oto says:

    [[I no longer live; Christ lives in me.]]

    Is *that* an idea you live by?

    As Cole (Tyndale NTC) says in his commentary regarding Galatians 2:20: “Again, the context does not justify us in seeing this as an account of a mystical experience.”

  51. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    I’m interested in what Cole does think the verse means. I haven’t got that particular commentary handy; care to share?

    And to be a little more precise, it’s not that ideas are nothing; it’s that they’re not the only thing. The Christian’s relation to ideas should be Christ’s relation to ideas. Christ didn’t spurn the ideas in the Law; He fulfilled them. But He also didn’t simply live by the Law; He walked with the Father, and in walking with the Father, He fulfilled the Law.

  52. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    Thanks for that! I’ll read it tonight/early tomorrow and get back to you.

  53. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    We may be miscommunicating. The bit of Cole you quoted is using “mystical” in a much narrower way than I meant it.

    Cole is saying that Gal. 2:20 is not a reference to some sort of ecstatic vision — that Paul did have them, but this is not talking about that. I quite agree.

    The thing I am talking about is not necessarily esctatic experience. One could have a genuine ecstatic mystical experience of God, and some saints have — Isaiah, Paul, Daniel, etc. come to mind — but I’m using “mystical” in a much broader way.

    I am saying that when Paul speaks in Galatians 2:20, he is not simply speaking in metaphor. When he says “Christ lives in me,” that is not a clever word-game; he means it. There is another person — the risen Christ — living in him, and it is by the supply of this other person that he lives a life pleasing to God. He really experiences this.

    This is not a difficult idea, once we accept that God is a real Person, and really present. You can daydream about getting a hug from your wife all you like, but when she gives you one, it’s a different experience from daydreaming about it. So when I talk about mystical experience of God, I am talking about experiencing God as a Person. Not a concept or construct or fantasy, but a real Person other than oneself, who is present and interacting.

    For example, when I cry out to God for comfort, it is not enough to have the concept that the Holy Spirit is a Comforter. That is nice to know, and it is because I know it that I can confidently cry to God for comfort. But the concept is not the comfort itself. I don’t need anyone else to be able to think of a concept in my own head — any fleshly man can construct a fantasy, theological or otherwise, quite on his own (it’s common grace, of course, but you see what I’m saying). But when the Holy Spirit rises up within me and comforts me in trial, He is doing for me something well beyond my own fantasy, something much more than I could accomplish for myself. Rather than me trying to comfort myself with the idea of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit Himself is present, and is actually comforting me. I can’t see Him, but I know Him, and I experience the comfort that He gives. It’s real.

    That’s mystical experience of God, and without it, we are lost.

  54. Gary Lincoln says:

    I would also use the dynamic relationship we have with our Lord to approach Him in time of need per Heb4 to go along with what Tim says at 433 next to last paragraph. The more I take advantage of this piece of grace when in need at the level of thought, the more I have experienced the truth of Christ in me at the level only He is capable of dealing with & doeing so immediately.

  55. Gary Lincoln says:

    hate typos.

  56. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary L,

    the more I have experienced the truth of Christ in me at the level only He is capable of dealing with

    Amen.

  57. Bobby Grow says:

    Wow, see what I get for not checking your blog for awhile :-) .

  58. David Wyatt says:

    Hey bros. Tim/Jim & all,

    I appreciate everyone in this discussion, & that is why it is a little difficult to address, but I’d like to posit a question here if I may. For whatever reason, & I fully admit that it is probably something faulty in me, yet for whatever reason, since about the time GES came up with the “bare minimum” saving message concept, I have been very uncomfortable, to say the least, with this line of thought, & had been kinda thrown off kilter in my walk for awhile. Again, I place no blame on anyone, it’s just what it is. But that said, my question is this, would it be right to say, as one of my favorite Bible teachers, now with the Lord, Dave Breese put it, that we may have an imperfect faith in a perfect Savior? The reason I bring this up, is Dr. Breese just before his Homegoing, produced an excellent article on Commitment Salvation, commonly known as “Lordship salvation” titled “Danger.” He spoke of those who fear their faith may not be “just right” but then said we may have an imperfect faith in a perfect Savior. That really blessed my heart when he wrote that, but it was about that same time that the issue of “Bare Minimum” came up at GES. Also on another side-note, GES published that same article, but edited that one statement out! I’ve genuinely attempted to prayerfully see what it may be in me that has caused such turmoil, & I must say at this point, though I know I’m far from perfect, I don’t know what should cause the inward turmoil I had experienced, & even still pops up at times due to this. I do not mean to cause confusion or division, I truly appreciate everyone here. Bro. Jim’s statement earlier concerning how I had picked up on a certain exclusivism non-cognitively really resonated with me. That was helpful bro. Jim & I appreciate it. I do not want anyone from GES to think I am saying your view is wrong & you shouldn’t have it, & all of you that I have encountered, esp. bro. Gary E., & Diane, have been nothing short of gentle & kind & I want you to know I thank you. Yet this was my struggle & through God’s grace He is bringing me through it. I believe it will eventuate in growth in grace & knowledge of Christ & that is what it is all about. But my question as to Dr. Breese’s statement stands. What do you think? God Bless you all.

  59. Bro. David,

    Thank you for your kind remarks and your thoughtful question. I think you and I are much alike because I’m familiar with the kind of inner struggle and confusion you describe, having experienced many years of it myself–and occasionally experience to some degree still. I think it’s called being human?

    Here is a statement by Zane from his article “Assurance is of the Essence of Saving Faith” that I think expresses essentially the same thought you quoted from Dave Breese:

    “I need to add one proviso (i.e., about assurance being of the essence of saving faith). I do not mean by any of this that a believer can never doubt his or her salvation. Nor do I mean that one’s faith cannot be lost… I do not hold to the doctrine of the indefectibility of faith, as Reformed theologians do, or even as John Calvin did. I do hold to the indefectibility of God’s saving work in the believer.

    Several years ago I was in Dr. Charles Ryrie’s apartment with a friend. My friend asked Dr. Ryrie, “Can a believer stop believing?” As usual, Dr. Ryrie was crisp and concise. His answer was: ‘Of course’.”

    It seems to me that this statement –”I do not hold to the doctrine of the indefectibility of faith, as Reformed theologians do, or even as John Calvin did. I do hold to the indefectibility of God’s saving work in the believer”– is the equivalent of “Imperfect faith in a perfect Saviour”–is it not?

    Hope this helps a little.

  60. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary E.,

    Thanks very much for turning up that quote. It helps very much with one application of Dr. Breese’s statement — the duration of a believer’s faith over time. In fact, I think Zane does a better job of hitting that angle.

    I’m not sure it does as much for addressing concerns about the caliber or content of initial faith. (Caliber wouldn’t be an issue for Zane, of course; he addressed that concern many, many times.)

  61. David Wyatt says:

    Bro. Gary,

    That was very helpful & I appreciate it. I really resonated with the part about the indefectibility of the Savior’s work in the believer. Again you’ve been very helpful. You’re right, it does come with being human! You’re a blessing to me. God Bless.

  62. Tim Nichols says:

    Brother David,

    It may prove quite difficult for you to isolate the causes of your unease in your own heart. A little further thought may reveal something to you, or in fellowship with other believers someone may say something and you suddenly realize “That’s it! That’s the problem!” This clarity may come tomorrow, or in ten years — or never. God doesn’t promise us insight into every recess of our own struggles, theological or otherwise.

    It may be that God’s call to you, now, is simply to rely on Him. Though the theologians rage, and the academics plot a vain thing; in spite of the slings and arrows of outrageous contorsions — beyond it all, Yahweh has set His King on His holy hill. You know Yahweh, and you know His Son. You know you can trust them. So do. Work beside the Captain of our salvation, and rest in the hands of your loving Father. Victory is already certain; trust Him, and partake in it.

    When the work is hard, and it carries you into the theological valley of death, He is with you. Take comfort in His rod and staff, and look forward to the day when you eat and drink at His table in the presence of all our enemies, and His.

  63. David Wyatt says:

    Bro. Tim,

    I believe that is good advice. You know, it is amazing to me, though it shouldn’t be, that as I pass through certain “episodes” such as this, that it seems that God often does help me to see certain weak areas of my faith, or to help me to see, as you said, that I just need to learn to trust Him more. I take comfort in 1 Peter 5:8-10, as I remember a few times in my earlier walk with the Lord that He used these very same texts to establish, strengthen & settle me then as well. The Body of Christ is so wonderful. I plan to just enjoy the walk til I see Him with my physical eyes, & not another! (Jb.19:25-27). Thanks for your patience with me everyone. Now on with our walk!

  64. Tim Nichols says:

    Brother David,

    After sleeping on it for one more night, I have something to add here: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Note that this passage is not simply about things where there is no right answer; Paul takes sides at one point (14:2) and still tells them to just leave the issue alone. There’s no reason this shouldn’t apply to theology as well as to praxis — not that there’s a neat division between the two anyhow.

    It’s all right to say “You know, I can’t put my finger on it, but something about this seems really wrong to me, so I’m going to just steer clear.” I have a friend who’s done that with FG theology for years, to my continual frustration. When we met more than 10 years ago, she was willing to interact on a few specific passages that were causing her to question her salvation. We got those cleared up, and then she just backed away. Something seemed wrong to her; I wanted to discuss it more, and she wouldn’t. She couldn’t engage it in good conscience at that point in her walk with God. Over time, we’ve talked about specific aspects of FG theology, briefly. Each time, I thought maybe this would be the big talk where she finally comes around and buys the whole package — but it wasn’t. However, each time we interacted on some small point or some particular passage, I was able to bring peace and comfort and further her walk with God. Over the course of a decade — and especially over the course of my last six years of pastoral experience — I have grown in patience with her, and with God’s way of working in her life.

    Whether the theology in question is right or wrong may be immaterial. If God is leading you to dive in and sort it out, and you can do that with joy and faith, giving God thanks, then by all means, do. But if you can’t engage it in faith, giving God thanks, then wait. If it’s important for your walk with God, He will lead you to it in due time.

  65. Oto says:

    Tim,

    I’ll briefly respond to a few sections of your reply to me.

    [[We may be miscommunicating. The bit of Cole you quoted is using “mystical” in a much narrower way than I meant it.]]

    Since Cole interprets the passage in a non-mystical way, his explanation about the context not justifying seeing this as an account of a mystical experience is equally applicable to your broader understanding. If you prefer, here is Cheung, “But to consider our identification with Christ—or this union, if you will—as mystical is often premature, if not false altogether.”

    [[I am saying that when Paul speaks in Galatians 2:20, he is not simply speaking in metaphor. When he says “Christ lives in me,” that is not a clever word-game; he means it.]]

    Of course “he means it.” The question is in what way he means it.

    [[There is another person — the risen Christ — living in him, and it is by the supply of this other person that he lives a life pleasing to God. He really experiences this.]]

    Which begs the question of how he means it. You have, as far as I can tell, given no support of why you think we should understand Paul in some sort of mystical way, but I’m game for a good argument. You’ve read how Cole understands it. Here is Cheung,

    Rather, once we cease to think of this “in Christ” relationship in almost physical or spatial terms, the mystical aspects are lessened, if not eliminated. It is a relationship in which our federal head represents his chosen ones (those whom God has placed “in” him) in his humiliation, obedience, crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification (Romans 5:12-19). And this relationship is maintained, not by a co-occupation of space, whether in the spatial or mystical sense, but by faith, which is a sovereign gift from God. By this same relationship, Christ is said to be “in” us, that is, directing and enabling us to live for God in holiness, boldness, and obedience by his Spirit (1 John 3:24). Let us not call mystical what is rather easily understood and believed. (Galatians [online], p. 69)

    [[This is not a difficult idea, once we accept that God is a real Person, and really present. You can daydream about getting a hug from your wife all you like, but when she gives you one, it’s a different experience from daydreaming about it. So when I talk about mystical experience of God, I am talking about experiencing God as a Person. Not a concept or construct or fantasy, but a real Person other than oneself, who is present and interacting.]]

    Our knowledge of God is not like our knowledge of a spouse.

    [[For example, when I cry out to God for comfort, it is not enough to have the concept that the Holy Spirit is a Comforter. That is nice to know, and it is because I know it that I can confidently cry to God for comfort. But the concept is not the comfort itself.]]

    Why can’t we be comforted by believing a concept?

    [[But when the Holy Spirit rises up within me and comforts me in trial, He is doing for me something well beyond my own fantasy, something much more than I could accomplish for myself. Rather than me trying to comfort myself with the idea of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit Himself is present, and is actually comforting me. I can’t see Him, but I know Him, and I experience the comfort that He gives. It’s real.]]

    And how exactly is the Holy Spirit rising up within you and comforting you? Does He use truth conveyed by propositional language that you believe?

  66. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate the time and thought you’re putting into this.

    Since Cole interprets the passage in a non-mystical way, his explanation about the context not justifying seeing this as an account of a mystical experience is equally applicable to your broader understanding.

    Not so at all, and I probably could have been clearer. Cole is arguing against the passage referring to an ecstatic experience, and I never thought (or said) that it was. The mystical experience I have in mind wouldn’t necessarily exclude the ecstatic, but the direct reference of the passage is something else, as I said before.

    You have, as far as I can tell, given no support of why you think we should understand Paul in some sort of mystical way, but I’m game for a good argument.

    I wonder if I’m not still failing to convey to you what I mean by “mystical.” The case for my “mystical” interpretation inheres in my contention that Paul is talking about actual experience of another person that is not himself acting within him. In other words, he is not merely saying that he meditates upon the life of Christ, or that he uses a Christian conceptual scheme to interpret his life. He is saying that the living Christ acts within him.

    You quoted Cheung: “Rather, once we cease to think of this ‘in Christ’ relationship in almost physical or spatial terms, the mystical aspects are lessened, if not eliminated.”

    I agree entirely with that statement. But note that the New Testament repeatedly encourages us to think of the “in Christ” relationship in exactly that manner. Cheung can’t even use the basic biblical “in Christ” language straight — he has to put “in” in scare quotes in order to drive his readers away from the meaning of the word. Never mind the rest of the biblical discussion: He is the vine and we are the branches; He indwells us and we Him; He is our Head, and we are His Body. The language is almost exclusively physical/spatial, and doesn’t seem to be accompanied by a caveat “but don’t think of it this way.” Which means — corollary to Cheung’s point — that the NT repeatedly encourages us toward a mystical understanding of our relationship with Christ.

    I would like very much to know what you mean by “Our knowledge of God is not like our knowledge of a spouse.” Surely you don’t mean that it is in every way dissimilar. In what ways do you see the dissimilarity, such that the analogy I’m using would not apply? Pending your answer, I hope you won’t mind if I extend the analogy to address another of your concerns. One can be comforted by believing a concept. I overstated myself; thank you for catching me. When I am attacked and hated, the knowledge that I have a wife who loves me is a comfort, and I need not be in her presence to be comforted in that way. But being actually present with her is far more comforting, and offers a deeper level of relief and healing than is otherwise possible. When I talk about mystical experience, I am talking about the latter. (In truth, the former is only possible because the latter is a reality. The idea of a loving wife would be merely a cruel joke if I didn’t actually have one. So I’m giving some ground on the matter of propositions, but probably not as much as you’ll initially think. Unless the proposition has a real referent, the whole thing’s just pointless fantasy.)

    As to how the Holy Spirit comforts me, certainly the words of Scripture (and therefore propositional truth which I believe) play a part. But there’s more to it than that. I am angry and quite unable to forgive, and I call out to the Lord. My heart is suddenly softened, and I am able to forgive. I am in despair, and feel utterly unable to live with the situation in which I find myself. I call to the Lord, and He lifts my spirits, and what an hour ago seemed unbearable now does not. My propositional knowledge has changed not a whit; yet I am changed. This is not a matter of principles so much as it is a rescue, an immediate and personal interaction.

    Suppose you are walking down an alley late at night and are ambushed by petty criminals with knives. You are in danger. Further suppose my friends and I happen along at that moment, and drawing our own weapons, we drive your attackers away. What happened to you was a matter of more than propositions. You could, of course, describe it in propositions, but you would have taken little enough comfort, moments before, in the mere proposition “Someone might come to my aid.” No, it is not the proposition, but the accomplished fact of the rescue, that is the crucial element. The NT describes Christ entering the lives of His own in just this way.

  67. Oto says:

    Tim,

    A few brief replies:

    [[The language is almost exclusively physical/spatial, and doesn’t seem to be accompanied by a caveat “but don’t think of it this way.”]]

    What does it even mean to be “in Christ” in a physical/spatial way?

    [[I would like very much to know what you mean by “Our knowledge of God is not like our knowledge of a spouse.”]]

    God is an object of faith. We know Him by how He has revealed Himself. God’s self-revelation is the source of our knowledge of God. We can see a spouse. We can touch a spouse. We can read his/her body language.

    [[But being actually present with her is far more comforting, and offers a deeper level of relief and healing than is otherwise possible.]]

    You know you are with your wife because you can physically see, hear, or touch your wife.

    [[As to how the Holy Spirit comforts me, certainly the words of Scripture (and therefore propositional truth which I believe) play a part. But there’s more to it than that. I am angry and quite unable to forgive, and I call out to the Lord. My heart is suddenly softened, and I am able to forgive.]]

    What does it mean to have your heart softened? Doesn’t it mean that your mind has changed about how you view a matter? Behavior follows belief.

    [[I am in despair, and feel utterly unable to live with the situation in which I find myself. I call to the Lord, and He lifts my spirits, and what an hour ago seemed unbearable now does not.]]

    And why is the situation now not unbearable? Isn’t it because you are thinking differently about the matter?

    [[My propositional knowledge has changed not a whit; yet I am changed. This is not a matter of principles so much as it is a rescue, an immediate and personal interaction.]]

    If your propositional knowledge hadn’t changed, you wouldn’t now think that it was appropriate to forgive. You would still believe the situation to be unbearable.

    [[You could, of course, describe it in propositions, but you would have taken little enough comfort, moments before, in the mere proposition “Someone might come to my aid.”]]

    Believing the proposition, “someone *might* come to my aid,” is not especially comforting. Believing the proposition, “someone *will* come to my aid,” is very comforting.

  68. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    It seemed better to respond a bit out of order. Hope you don’t mind.

    What does it even mean to be “in Christ” in a physical/spatial way?

    It means that Christ is a container and you are inside that container, as, for example, you are a container inside which one might find your stomach, your gall bladder, and other parts of your body. Sound familiar?

    Believing the proposition, “someone *might* come to my aid,” is not especially comforting. Believing the proposition, “someone *will* come to my aid,” is very comforting.

    Point taken, but let’s extend the analogy a bit. Suppose the thugs have begun to beat you. You may believe with absolute certainty that you will be rescued, and that belief may make the pain of the beating more bearable. But surely there is a difference between the comfort of believing “I will be rescued” while being beaten and the comfort that comes when the attackers are driven away, and you are no longer being beaten.
    The first sort of comfort is certainly real, but purely anticipatory. The second is the reality which the first anticipates, and without it the first is merely a cruel joke. The major point here, for you, is that the two are, in fact, different things.

    What does it mean to have your heart softened? Doesn’t it mean that your mind has changed about how you view a matter? Behavior follows belief….And why is the situation now not unbearable? Isn’t it because you are thinking differently about the matter?…If your propositional knowledge hadn’t changed, you wouldn’t now think that it was appropriate to forgive. You would still believe the situation to be unbearable.

    You’re assuming an anthropology that you’ll need to demonstrate.

    Short answer: no, because it’s not all about thinking. Being unable to forgive someone is independent of what you think about it. You can think you’re able to forgive and not be; you can even think you have forgiven, but in reality still be harboring a grudge in your heart. Gaining the ability to let the thing go is not simply a proposition-bobble. Likewise for comfort; see the example above.

    Long answer: the next post will go up Sunday next, and will address the anthropology more deeply. Hope you’ll stick around for it; I’d love to discuss it with you.

  69. Oto says:

    Tim,

    A few replies:

    [[It means that Christ is a container and you are inside that container, as, for example, you are a container inside which one might find your stomach, your gall bladder, and other parts of your body. Sound familiar?]]

    Yes, it is reminiscent of the way Roman Catholics describe Christ’s presence in the wafer and the wine.

    [[The major point here, for you, is that the two are, in fact, different things.]]

    You’re conflating our physical environment with how we interpret our physical environment. Believing the proposition, “I am no longer being beaten,” is also very comforting.

    [[You’re assuming an anthropology that you’ll need to demonstrate.]]

    No need to reinvent the wheel. According to Christian anthropology, there is such a thing as human consciousness. Do you deny that you are conscious?

    [[Short answer: no, because it’s not all about thinking. Being unable to forgive someone is independent of what you think about it. You can think you’re able to forgive and not be; you can even think you have forgiven, but in reality still be harboring a grudge in your heart.]]

    You can’t think you have forgiven somebody and not think you have forgiven somebody in the same way at the same time.

  70. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    Glad you’re hanging in.

    Yes, it is reminiscent of the way Roman Catholics describe Christ’s presence in the wafer and the wine.

    Oh, snap!

    The Rome card? Seriously? That description comes from Eph. 4:11-16, not Aquinas.

    You’re conflating our physical environment with how we interpret our physical environment.

    I’m not the one conflating them. You’re acting like inside your head and outside it are both very much like inside your head. I am trying to say that the inside of your head and the outside are two different places. Comforting yourself with an idea inside your head, however true, is not the same thing as being comforted from outside your head by another person. I’m not sure why you’re working so hard to thwart me on the point.

    Believing the proposition, “I am no longer being beaten,” is also very comforting.

    Sure. And you might take comfort in it even if it’s false. But you’re going to get lacerations and broken bones all the same, and in the real world, someone driving your assailant away would be helping you, even if you believed you needed no help.

    According to Christian anthropology, there is such a thing as human consciousness.

    Consciousness, yes. Intellect, no.

    You can’t think you have forgiven somebody and not think you have forgiven somebody in the same way at the same time.

    So? My point was that you can think you have forgiven somebody, but not actually have forgiven him. You can think that you should, but be unable, in point of fact, to actually do it. And that when God then makes you able to do it, that is another person acting on you from the outside, not merely a rearrangement of propositions in your head that you could have done yourself.

  71. Oto says:

    Tim,

    A few replies:

    [[The Rome card? Seriously? That description comes from Eph. 4:11-16, not Aquinas.]]

    Which does nothing to explain how your mystical “container” explanation is not reminiscent of Rome’s explanation of the wafer and the wine.

    [[Comforting yourself with an idea inside your head, however true, is not the same thing as being comforted from outside your head by another person.]]

    You cannot be comforted “outside your head.” I can only be comforted by how I interpret what is happening to me. There’s a difference between being physically delivered from danger and being comforted.

    [[I’m not sure why you’re working so hard to thwart me on the point.]]

    I’m not sure why you’re working so hard to thwart me on the point.

    [[Sure. And you might take comfort in it even if it’s false.]]

    Yes, it’s possible to be self-deceived. You may believe that you are physically safe when in fact you are not physically safe.

    [[So? My point was that you can think you have forgiven somebody, but not actually have forgiven him.]]

    What does that even mean? That’s like saying, “I don’t think I like ice cream, but I actually like ice cream.” If you think you have forgiven somebody, you have forgiven them (at least at that moment in time). It is possible for resentful thoughts to come back. You can be reminded of the pain somebody has caused you. Anger and bitterness can return. You can realize that you no longer forgive a person.

    [[You can think that you should, but be unable, in point of fact, to actually do it.]]

    Thinking that you *should* forgive a person is different than believing you *do* forgive him.

    [[And that when God then makes you able to do it, that is another person acting on you from the outside, not merely a rearrangement of propositions in your head that you could have done yourself.]]

    Believing God’s truth is something *we* do. We forgive somebody because we think differently about him. Propositions we once believed about him, we no longer believe.

  72. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    Which does nothing to explain how your mystical “container” explanation is not reminiscent of Rome’s explanation of the wafer and the wine.

    Well, shucks, if you’re conceding that it’s one of the things that St. Paul and Aquinas have in common, I’ll consider the point defended and move on. I care that it’s biblical; I don’t give two figs and a broken lollipop if Rome is using it for something. Or did you mean to say it’s not biblical?

    You cannot be comforted “outside your head.”

    Not what I said. I said “from outside your head”. The fact that in the end you have to experience the comfort internally doesn’t mean that you are the source, or can be the source, of all comfort to yourself. And this is pretty much my whole point: there’s a difference between fantasy and real relationship with a person external to you. Fantasy about a person external to you is no substitute for a real relationship with that person. This applies to God as to every other person — only more so. C’mon dude, failure to grasp this is the stuff that restraining orders are made of; it’s not that complicated.

    Regarding whether one can think he’s forgiven someone, but really hasn’t, I’d like to quote you to yourself. On the one hand, you said:

    If you think you have forgiven somebody, you have forgiven them (at least at that moment in time).

    And on the other:

    Yes, it’s possible to be self-deceived.

    Well then, why are you assuming that a person is always a good judge of his own internal state? Why can’t he have convinced himself that he’s forgiven the other person, when in fact he’s still holding a grudge, and his grudge is motivating his behavior, even though he’s not aware of it? Happens all the time. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

    Believing God’s truth is something *we* do. We forgive somebody because we think differently about him. Propositions we once believed about him, we no longer believe.

    Be a lot easier if that was all there was to it. But if that was all there was to it, then Sinai is sufficient; whence Jesus?

  73. Oto says:

    Tim,

    A few replies:

    [[The fact that in the end you have to experience the comfort internally doesn’t mean that you are the source, or can be the source, of all comfort to yourself.]]

    Comfort is a mental state. It is how you think about a situation. One person’s source of discomfort can be another person’s source of comfort. The sight of an immunization needle in the hand of doctor is a source of discomfort for a child but a source of comfort for a parent. You can be comforted in a dream.

    [[Well then, why are you assuming that a person is always a good judge of his own internal state? Why can’t he have convinced himself that he’s forgiven the other person, when in fact he’s still holding a grudge, and his grudge is motivating his behavior, even though he’s not aware of it? Happens all the time. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”]]

    You are confusing a person being deceived about his physical environment with a person being deceived about his own mental states. Leaving aside the mentally ill, we are cognizant of our mental states, our thinking. Do you know what you’re thinking or don’t you?

    You keep using the word “grudge” like it is some creature that we are not mentally aware of, like a troll under the bridge waiting to jump on an unsuspecting victim and force them to do something they don’t want to do.

    If you are not mentally aware of a grudge, then you don’t currently have a grudge. At any given moment, you can know if you forgive someone. You don’t have to keep waiting to see if a grudge is hiding in the bushes.

  74. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    The view of the inner man that you’re espousing contradicts both Scripture and experience. People are just a lot deeper and more complex than you think. Jer. 17:9 and other passages address these issues and give evidence for them, but you insist on reading the biblical evidence through ‘simplisticizing’ lenses that flatten out all the depth.

    Bottom line: not everything is cognitive, dude. Comfort is an emotional state as well as (perhaps) a cognitive one, and the emotional and cognitive can and often do contradict one another.

    Even within the cognitive realm, you flatten things out unnecessarily. I’d commend to your attention Greg Bahnsen’s dissertation on self-deception, or at least his WTJ article on same. There’s also a popular-level audio presentation available. Listening to the two lectures will only take a couple of hours, and may clarify for you how a person can be deceived about his inner state.

    And you need to come to terms with that point, because the Bible requires it of you. Romans 1 explicitly says that everyone knew God, and suppressed that truth because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. There’s no simple one-level cognitive explanation for that, Oto, which is why self-deception has troubled philosophers for time out of mind. And you’ll find people on the street who can not only tell you there’s no God, but do so with utmost sincerity. You somehow have to square that with Scripture.

    I’m not married to Bahnsen’s way of explaining the phenomenon — if you have another you prefer, so be it — but the existence of the phenomenon is beyond question, and you have to account for it somehow.

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