Blood on the Table — Eternal, Resurrection Life — Part 2

Eternal life needs closer definition. Most of us think of eternal life as living forever in the presence of God. That is a true and valid concept, but it is not the essence of what eternal life is. The standard classical Greek lexicon derives the word from a word that means “age,” and thus defines the adjective as “lasting for an age.”

Years ago, I heard a Jehovah’s Witness speak on the idea, and he made the same point. I bristled at what he was saying. Long after, I have come to accept his point of view, with severe qualifications. [If you have not canceled your subscription yet, keep reading; it comes out well in the end.]

Eternal life, I am now convinced, should be defined as “the life characterized by a certain age.” But what age? Given the connections that we identified in the previous post, from Mark 10, we should identify the age as the age of the Kingdom. Since the Kingdom is endless (Isa 9.7), then the life characterized by the Kingdom is endless. So, eternal, or better, everlasting life is the right way to think.

We can, however, say more. In Romans 5.21 Paul reintroduces the phrase that first appears in the book in 2.7. He explains it in Romans 6. The chapter has inherent difficulties in interpretation, but on this point it is clear. Grace does not and cannot foster sin, because by God’s grace we have been united with Christ in His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection life. Paul is very careful to avoid associating resurrection with our present condition (finally making that connection in chapter 8).

Then, what is “everlasting life”? It is the life of the Kingdom. As God’s children we have the privilege and enablement to to live the life of the Kingdom now. This is not merely, or even particularly, an individual privilege. It has corporate dimensions. One goal of church life is to implement Kingdom living, the kingdom quality of life, in the community of the King’s people.

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Blood on the Table — Eternal, Resurrection Life

Two effects of the blood of Christ we take up together because they occur together: eternal life and resurrection (John 6.53-56). Because we partake in the shocking sacrifice of God’s Messiah, by the power of His sacrifice and the mighty effects of the shedding of His blood, we secure to ourselves benefits that are beyond all expectation. First, we begin to partake of eternal life now!

John has already alerted us to the “presentness” of eternal life. Our beloved verse, John 3.16, teaches this when it says, “so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” For early Judaism, eternal life was what one hoped for when God’s kingdom should come. Mark 10 contains the story of the “rich young ruler.” He approached Jesus very genuinely hoping to satisfy his own mind about how to inherit eternal life. The story is well-known. However, in response to His disciples’ surprised questions, Jesus said, “‘I assure you, … there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel,
who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come” (Mark 10.29-30). The work of Jesus that we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper has provided for us NOW what Jewish people in Jesus’ day only hoped for, longingly, at the establishment of the Kingdom. All of which suggests that eternal life is not merely the ability to avoid death and maintain life interminably. Eternal life is the quality of life that God grants to those who belong to His Kingdom. Thus, Paul, in Romans 5.21 introduces the term and then describes it in Romans 6.4, “Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.” It is our privilege and birthright now to live the life of the age to come.

As I write this, my mother may be facing imminent death, that old enemy and ravager of all of life. Yet, because she is a child of God, one who has walked with Him for years of her long and well-lived life, she, in the face of death, is blessed with eternal life. In the providence of God, I will be going to see her this afternoon. I will see the aging and diseased form that she now has. But she enjoys, and I will rejoice in, her eternal life even as she potentially faces death. Death for us means separation. If this is her appointed time, though, she will not be ravaged by death. That will be over and done. She will not be away from home. She will be going home. I weep as I write these words, but partly because death means going to see the Savior who loved her and gave Himself for her. She will be home, for wherever the Savior is is home. Those of us who remain are away from home. I have tears for my own pending loneliness, but not for her home going. This is what she has longed for for years. Her eternal life is not beginning. It is taking over! In that, through the shocking death of our Savior, through the blood that He has given for us and to us, we rejoice. This may all be premature. God may yet give her years with all of us in the family, but that does not change the realities of eternal life gained by the blood of Jesus!

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Seminary Education

I would like to join others in directing attention to a blog on the future of seminary education. It is written by Frederick Schmidt of SMU, who gives some important comments that bear on the nature and goals of seminary work. Why, after all, should anyone attend a seminary? Is it worth the time, effort, and money required to either offer or pursue a seminary education? Much of what Schmidt says is congenial to my own views, and I commend his thought to others. To read his work, go to http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Is-It-Time-to-Write-the-Eulogy-Frederick-Schmidt-03-21-2011?offset=0&max=1

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Delays

Once again an unforeseen delay has hit. I had surgery on my right ankle yesterday. Reading is difficult and typing is a problem. I have five or six drafts started, but it’s going to be a while till I get to them. Sorry for the delays.

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Blood on the Table — Sanctification

Four more effects of the blood of Christ remain: sanctification (Heb 13.12); eternal life (John 6.53-56); resurrection (John 6.53-56); and final victory (Rev 12.11). Here we take up the first, sanctification.

Sanctification is a concept that plays a large part in evangelical thought about life before God. Chafer gives this definition of one of three categories of the usage of the word: it designates that “by the power of the Holy Spirit operating inside the child of God that one is energized both to be delivered from sin and to be effective in every right attitude and service” (Systematic Theology, 6:46). Berkhof adds three characteristics of this idea: “It differs from justification in that it takes place in the inner life of man, is not a legal but a recreative act, is usually a lengthy process, and never reaches perfection in this life” (Systematic Theology, Accordance Version). Yet, it seems clear that these ideas do not fit our passage in Hebrews 13. Indeed, I find at least five different senses for this idea in the New Testament. What, then, does sanctification mean in Hebrews 13.12?

Westcott, in a comment on Hebrews 9.13, says, “The idea is that of the ceremonial purity which enabled the Jew to enjoy the full privileges of his covenant worship and fellowship with the external Church of God” (The Epistle to the Hebrews with Notes and Essays, Accordance version).

In the one work of Christ on the cross, He has made it possible for all His people to be fit participants int he New Covenant, for it is the sacrifice of the New Covenant that is in view in the context. We are fit for God, fitted for His service (cp. the discussions of Access to God earlier in these posts), and acceptable in God’s presence. But it is by the work of Christ. The blood on the table at the Lord’s Supper, the cup of Jesus that we drink, declares us, because of His work alone, to be to be acceptable to God!

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Cleansing the Conscience — Guilt and Cleansing — Conclusion

So what is the conclusion of all that we have been saying? Cleansing of the conscience is the solution to the problem of guilt. The cross delivers us from the penalty of sin (from objective guilt). But the problem of our personal sense of guilt remains unless God has made other provisions; and He has. The blood of Christ, that is, an effect of the work of Christ on the cross, is to cleanse our conscience. He removes the sense of blameworthiness that assails us in the wake of our sins. Of particular interest in our studies on the Lord’s supper is the role of the cup in this ministry of cleansing. Through the cup, in symbol, Jesus applies His blood to our inner person. The symbolism, drawn from Exodus 24, means that He has fitted us for fellowship with and ministry to the living God.

The issue for us, then, is that we must decide what to believe. When praying about our sin, or when participating in the Supper, we must decide whether to trust the conscience (which is formed and determined by our culture, though it is a gift from God) or the Work of Christ. We must determine whether to believe our sin or Jesus.

The effect of the cleansing is that we know our sin. We have not forgotten the sin that has blighted our life. But sin no longer defines our life. Jesus, His work and righteousness, defines us. In fact, we can and must calm our souls before Him. I may rightly deny to myself the “luxury” (sick as this is) of wallowing in guilt and allowing guilt and sin to keep me from the joy that Jesus ministers, and the joy of ministry to and for Him. This is the point of Hebrews 9.14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ … cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

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Cleansing the Conscience — Forgiveness — Red Heifers — Part 10

I grew up in the largest cow town in America, but I’m still essentially a city boy. So I had to ask what a red heifer would be. The word has two elements, in the Bible. First, a heifer is a young female cow (don’t blame me; that’s how the New Oxford American Dictionary said it!) that has not born a calf. The second element is clear from Numbers 19.2: “on which no yoke has ever come.” The animal, finally, had to be red, having red hair. In later Jewish practice, the animal had to have no more than two black hairs growing out of the same follicle. Recently, in 1999, Israel thought that a valid red heifer had been born in the country, but later it was disqualified (I did not hear the reason for the disqualification).

The law required that the priesthood burn the animal completely to ash. They then gathered the ash and preserved it for important cleansing rituals (explained in Num 19.11-22). Ritual purity was the presupposition of the entire Law of Moses. This ritual purity concerned matters, generally, such as physical conditions (childbirth, for example), but especially physical contact with death. This is the particular concern in Numbers 19. There are, then, two types of impurity: minor impurities that do not require sacrificial remedies, and major impurities that require sacrifice (as in Lev 14, the ritual for purifying someone who has had leprosy). The chief impurity is death. Contracting the impurity of death threatened severing the Israelite from his people (Num 19.20). So, going through the ritual of the red heifer made one fit to participate in the public worship of God.

If these things are true, Hebrews 9.13-14 says, then it is all the more true that one who is clean because of the blood of Christ is fit for the worship of God. Our problem, then, becomes a problem of faith, not one of sin. Is the blood of Christ more powerful than my sin? Is it more powerful and authoritative than my conscience? If not, then we really are not fit for the service of God. If so, then no amount of grieving is needed. No amount of pleading is needed. Only the blood of Christ satisfies God. Or else, my conscience is more righteous, powerful, holy, than God is.

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