By Pastor Joe S. Leftwich
In Christ we were made "a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17). "Even when we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5). "And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 2:6). "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).
The Scriptures declare that the things above have already been done (past tense) to and for the believer in Christ! What part did we play in the above actions? Zero!
Not only are the above statements true, but there are many other descriptive elements in having been made new creatures in Christ. We died to sin (Rom. 6:2). We were "baptized into His death" (Rom. 6:3). We were "buried with Him" (Rom. 6:4). We were raised with Him in our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:4). Our "Old Man" was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). Our "body of sin" has been done away with (Rom. 6:6), so we should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Rom. 6:12).
We were washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor. 6:11). We were made "complete" in Him (Col. 2:10). Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We were made ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We reign in grace, in Christ and "in life" (Rom. 5:17). We reign! We can choose to offer our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1). We reign! We can choose "not to be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). We reign! We can choose to renew our minds that we might "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). We can take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
Does this list of things God has already done in and for every believer in Christ for eternity surprise you? Everything in Scripture from Genesis through mid-Acts has been leading up to this crowning of God's love for mankind and is now being revealed by His Apostle Paul, today, in this age of Grace.
God's chosen people, the Jews, had lived through many generations and several administrations (dispensations) in which God had been revealing Himself to His people in many ways: through His Law, for instance, given through Moses. But even while the Law was being delivered by God to Moses in the mountain, His chosen people were involved in gross sin down below. God had delivered them out of Egypt and had led them through the wilderness, by the supernatural pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. He also gave them supernaturally, manna from heaven and water out of the Rock.
The list could go on, but these things are not new to most people with a cursory knowledge of Scripture. God had promised His people a Messiah, and they looked for Him with great anticipation. It is recorded in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that God had sent their Messiah, Jesus Christ, into the world to be Savior of the world. It is stated simply but magnificently that, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11).
The four Gospels covered the administration of the old covenant under the Law. The New Covenant could not begin until the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which of course came at the end of the four Gospels. Therefore, one could argue that the choice of those translating and publishing the Bible arguably could have put the four Gospels as the last four books of the Old Testament.
The emphasis of this article will be on the importance of knowing Paul's message to both Jews and Gentiles during this age of Grace, with a special emphasis on the application of his message to the lives of believers. In this article we will be focusing on the Mystery which has been hidden from (past) ages and generations which God is now revealing through His Apostle Paul to His saints, and through His saints to the world, which is, "Christ in you" (Col. 1:26,27).
"Christ in you" is the seminal truth of our lives as Christians here on this earth; the root, stem, branches and fruit of this truth as it blossoms in our understanding of who we are, and this growing realization that there is a whole new you, created in Christ Jesus. This understanding of our new identity makes us capable of fulfilling all of His expectations of how He wants us to live in this world, in this present lifetime, as new creations in Christ dwelling in our old mortal body of flesh, well pleasing to Him.
We, as Christians, have a tendency to be negative about our ability to live our lives well pleasing to God. We tend to emphasize what we can not do. The enemy is just too powerful, it is said. Our "old nature," it is argued, has habits that are systemic and demand constant gratification, that are beyond our ability to control even if we are Christians. This, they say, is our dilemma.
The reasoning in this article assumes that the reader has believed the gospel and has been baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. This is essential because the "natural man" cannot understand the things of God.
How would you describe the average Christian's understanding of what it means to be "saved" and how he should live the Christian life in today's world? Who does he believe himself to be? How does he understand his relationship and responsibilities to God?
Most conservative Christians believe that they are saved, usually quoting John 3:16. Most believe that they should attend church, get involved in Bible classes, support missions and the local church in its endeavors to spread the gospel. And most have pastors who preach ninety-five percent of their Sunday messages with texts from the four Gospels. Their pastors probably cover the essential beliefs and activities as Christians until Jesus comes again to rapture His Church, His Body.
Now let us look at the contrast in messages as given by Paul in his epistles and those given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus was born under the Law. God's administration here on earth covered by the Gospels was a life under the Law. The Apostle John wrote in John 1:11: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." What gospel was being preached by Jesus? Mark 1:14,15: "Jesus came, into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." And in Matthew 4:17: "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"
Where, by whom, and to whom was this message of the kingdom of God to be preached? This is recorded in Matthew 10:1-8: "And when He had called unto Him His twelve disciples, He gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease....These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils...."
The message, the messengers, and the ones to whom the message was given were all a different administration than what one finds in Paul's epistles to "the Church which is His Body." Surely this is enough material to make the case that the four Gospels were written to the Jews, and purposely excluded the Gentiles when Jesus said specifically, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles." Another clear indication of the difference between the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament was the whole way of life at that time.
Let's review the period of the Gospels: The Law, the Temple, and the offerings were in full operation during all of the life of Jesus on this earth. God made His offering of The Lamb of God, His Son, "without blemish and without spot" for the sins of Israel.
Through past ages and generations the prophets spoke of the coming Messiah, who would be the Great Deliverer of the Jews; Jesus was that Messiah. He was born under the Law. He came to His own while under the Law and His own received Him not. There are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The Father's giving of His Son as an offering for sins through Israel and the Son's coming to give Himself are recorded in John 1:1-14. John wrote in Verse one, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;" and in Verse 14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory...."
Jesus, to fulfill the requirements of the Law concerning His being offered by God as "The Lamb of God" for sin, must be observed for the required period of time to be declared that He was without blemish. Jesus fulfilled this requirement by living among them for thirty-three years and was declared to be without blemish. He was the only acceptable offering for the sins of the world. He lived His life and ministered among His people right up until it was time for Him to be offered by His Father for the sins of all mankind, from Adam and Eve to every man, woman and child who will ever be born into this world, which was ultimately revealed "in due time" through Paul's gospel (1 Tim. 2:3-7).
So the four Gospels were all about God's coming to His own as their Messiah. He loved them and had a feast prepared for them but they would not come to the table. He came to His own and His own received Him not. The Son also gave Himself up as an offering for us Gentiles. The offer is still open.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have recorded for all eternity the coming of the Son of God into the world as a baby born to Mary and Joseph, His life as a child, His ministry to "His own," the Jews, reaching, teaching, healing, and performing miracles. I don't know of any references in the Gospels about Christ coming to the Gentiles. Therefore, I urge that we understand and accept the obvious purpose of the Gospels.
I believe it is a grievous mistake for Gentiles to claim the Gospels as their guide for being born into the Body of Christ. The writings of the Apostle Paul contain God's invitation to the Gentiles: I Corinthians 15:1-4: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved....For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
The four Gospels on the other hand record Jesus, born under the Law, coming to His own (the Jews), preaching to them day after day, demonstrating His Messiahship, and proclaiming His love for them and giving Himself as an offering for sins, first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles. God's gospel, given to Nicodemus, is John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This was the message of John to his people, the Jews, that they might enter the kingdom of God.
Why am I emphasizing that the Gospels were written primarily to the Jews? Because there are a great number of Christians, including many pastors, who live in the Gospels with John 3:16 as their salvation verse and missionary programs patterned after them. The missionary program Paul proclaims is that of every believer having been appointed as a living ambassador for Christ, permeating the world as messengers for Christ. God sent another message and another messenger to the Gentiles: the message of Grace through His messenger, the Apostle Paul.
So hopefully, we have proved that the four Gospels are not the source of God's message for this age for which Paul has been chosen as God's apostle to reveal His message to the Gentiles. Hopefully, we have also proved that the four Gospels, precious as they are, do not reveal this mystery that the Apostle Paul has been divinely chosen to reveal. So let us seek to understand this great revelation of God's Mystery: Christ in you the hope of glory.
I see Romans 5:9,10 as being the transition statement of God from life under the law of sin and death to life under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. So, my fellow believers in Christ, reason with me as we look at these two verses that describe this transition: "Much more, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" and "much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
Think with me for a minute, why does Paul use the phrase "much more"? Notice where he uses it. He uses it just before "having been justified and saved by His blood from the wrath of God." What could possibly be "much more" than being saved from the wrath of God? I thought this was what being saved was all about! But Paul tells us there is something "much more" than being saved from the wrath of God. What is it, Paul? Paul answers briefly and succinctly, "We shall be saved by His life."
"We shall be saved by His life." This is really what all the rest of our study is about. It is about our being in Christ, new creatures in Christ, and we will find that this is what it means to be "saved by His life." Before you were saved from the wrath of God, you were dead in trespasses and sin. But when you believed the gospel you were made alive in Christ! You were dead in trespasses and sin but now you are being saved by His life.
We are going to learn together what this life in Christ and being saved by His life is all about. The Christian is unique, he is a "new man" in Christ! This is what is meant by being "saved by His life;" "Christ in you, the hope of glory"! We can understand being saved by His death, burial, and resurrection, but then we must discover an adequate meaning for our "being saved by His life."
Frankly, my mind is settled on the question. I have been made alive in Christ and I have been made a new creature in Christ; my life in this mortal body, this body of flesh, is being saved by my being in Christ. "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life"!
We have looked at the message, now let us look at the messenger. The designated messenger to the Gentiles is the Apostle Paul. In Acts 9:15,16, the Lord sent Ananias to minister to Saul, telling him, "Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel."
Conclusion: it was Paul and Paul alone that was called to go to the Gentiles. I am a Gentile, so I reason that God would have me go to the writings of Paul for instructions about who I am, what God expects of me and what provisions He has given for my being able to carry out His instructions. Why do we Christians who believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ go to the Gospels, which were written to the Jews who were under the Law, for instructions about how we are to live our lives under Grace? 1
God's gospel to the Gentiles now includes the resurrection of Christ, and is proclaimed by Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth in I Corinthians 15:3-4: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures: And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
Paul's salvation message includes Christ's resurrection and adds the fact that the believer is baptized into Christ. This baptism is not symbolic. We believers have been placed into the body of Christ. There are about 55 phrases using the phrase "in Christ." We can now say that Paul teaches that every believer in the gospel, as he has given it, is a new creature, or creation, in Christ.
I submit that today's popular mixing of these messages given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to the Jews and that of the Apostle Paul to the Gentiles is a confusion of God's administrations of Law and Grace. Those living under the Law could, as Jesus told Nicodemus, be "born again" and have eternal life; but nothing is said to Nicodemus about being "new creatures in Christ." If one understands even a little bit about what God has done for the believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, he will not confuse these messages.
As a new creature in Christ, God can now reveal spiritual truths to you about His will for your life. A part of this revelation to us is found in Colossians 1:27: "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Stop in some of these places and just memorize and meditate. These are majestic statements. Think about it! God willed, God exercised His will to make known the "riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles" defined as "Christ in you the hope of glory"! If we are to attempt to understand a revelation of this magnitude, we must study the Scriptures in which it is revealed.
Paul has defined the core meaning of this revelation as being "Christ in you." Think about it! God through Paul is revealing this "Mystery" to "His saints," you and me who have believed His gospel. Ask yourself, what fits this explanation better than what we are now studying? It fits exactly this extraordinary truth of God taking us, who were dead in trespasses and sin, and making us alive in Jesus Christ, and making us new creatures in Christ.
With this in mind, read this benediction from Paul: "Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:25-26).
God has prepared us with power and promises to carry out any instructions He gives, so that we can live our lives in the flesh, in this world, well pleasing to Him. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. He wants us, you and me, to act in our own lives to carry out His will. For example, look at something God asks you to do that would have been impossible before becoming a new creature in Christ. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian Christians in II Corinthians 7:1.
Given our preparation by God as explained in the list of things God has done in every believer to prepare us to live a life well pleasing to Him, what should your response be to His request? How about, "Yes Father, I know that You would not ask me to do something that I could not do. I will start identifying those things in my life that are contrary to Your will and do some cleansing of myself from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
We know that we will never "perfect" holiness; we will never do a complete cleansing of ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit while we are living here on this earth in this mortal body of flesh, which has a nature of strong desires it wants satisfied, but we can be "perfecting" (working on) it. So let us take a look at what we are faced with in regard to our flesh. Our flesh has appetites and is constantly suggesting to our minds that we fulfill these appetites whether or not they are moral, legal, or healthy.
Even though we are "renewing our minds," we will still have old memories of the things we did in the flesh that were contrary to God's will, but were very pleasing, and our flesh, calling on these memories, constantly suggests that we do those same things we enjoyed so much. This is a lifetime battle, "for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:17).
The Scriptures list three sources of temptations: the lust of the eyes (coveting); the lust of the flesh (food, sex, etc.), and the pride of life (vanity, arrogance: Look at who I am, or what I have, or what I have done!). Are you able to distinguish between lust and the natural healthy desires one has, to succeed and enjoy the good things of life? One difference is that lust will lead you to break God's laws. The natural enjoyment of our desires that are in accordance with God's will is what life is all about. Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy gratification of the natural desires that God had given them for food, beauty, sexual relations and having children.
One lust is the desire for sexual fulfillment outside of God's will. Enjoying God's gifts is wonderful. Lust is disastrous. Lust is never satisfied! Lust knows not logic; it knows only: "but I want it." But you can now say, "You can't have it!" It may take many repetitions and a period of time to put to death these deeds of the flesh, but we are directed to make this a lifetime quest. Lust begins in the brain as a thought that enters the ear gate or the eye gate. This is an extremely important subject and is worthy of more time than we have in this basic core study of Scriptural observations about lust. Lust is a strong desire for something that will bring immediate personal, sensual gratification without regard as to whether it is moral or lawful. Biblical lust carries the idea that it has gone beyond just being tempted. Lust cares not a whit about what damage is done or who it offends or hurts.
You, believer in Christ, are living in and ruling from, your brain. This is made clear from such instructions from Paul as Romans 6:12-13: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." One's brain is the only part of who we are in which information is taken in, thought about, and in which decisions are made and sent out as commands to the members of our body to carry out.
These are direct instructions to Christians in this verse, "let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." Can you refuse to obey your lusts? God says you not only can, but that you should. God does not ask you to do something that you cannot do. As we discovered earlier, we can be using Romans 8:13: "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Let's highlight this last half of this last sentence, "But if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
Satan tempts by bringing thoughts to one's mind. The thought itself is not sin. What one does with that thought determines whether it becomes sin. Is the thought entertained, encouraged and enjoyed, or recognized for what it is and rejected? Satan put some thoughts into the mind of Jesus that if they had been entertained and acted on would have been sin. But Jesus, knowing His enemy's strategy, immediately answered with quotations from the Scriptures. Satan can put thoughts, terribly wrong thoughts, into our minds, but if they are immediately recognized for what they are and rejected, it is a victory of our new man's battle with the flesh.
The natural man doesn't have concern about such things. To him they are just natural appetites to be satisfied any way they can. I Corinthians 2:14: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The Christian, on the other hand, has guidelines to follow. Under Law or under Grace, it is still wrong to lie, commit adultery, cheat, or steal. In fact, the believer has a higher standard, he is not to commit adultery in his heart.
While we are doing battle, it is comforting to know that as believers under Grace our actions do not determine our eternal destiny. That has already been settled for eternity. The believer has already been seated at the right hand of God in Christ Jesus in heavenly places. He wants us to know that we are secure in Him, and God never changes His mind!
The law has no power to change a man's heart. It can only reveal trespasses: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). Because of what God has done, even though we now walk according to the flesh, God has made it possible for us to walk according to the Spirit!
Remember, "they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit," and "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Rom. 8:5-6). What kind of a "mind-set" do we have?
Romans 8:9: "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
This tells us that the believer is "in Christ." We, as spirit beings, were dead in trespasses and sin, but now have been made alive in Christ and raised up with Him and seated with Him at the right hand of God in heavenly places in Christ. This is our eternal position.
To affirm the obvious, the Scriptures say that we are right now seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places in Christ. And yet experientially we are alive in our old mortal body of flesh here on earth; here on the battlefield of this world, living our new lives in Christ as ambassadors for Christ in our old body of flesh with all its old natural desires and appetites. This, from a natural point of view, seems to be an untenable position, but from a spiritual point of view we have already been assured of the victory.
These spiritual truths cannot be proven by science and are not experienced by natural man's senses: thinking, seeing, feeling, hearing, or tasting. The things we learn from God are learned only through faith, believing what the Spirit of God has said to us through the Holy Scriptures.
I pray that you have a good grasp of this situation because it is from this description of who we are in Christ that we are going to study Paul's epistles, discovering, interpreting and implementing his instructions as to how we can and should live our lives in a manner well pleasing to God.
We are called "His workmanship": "For we are His workmanship, created in Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
Please see this: that God has made it possible for you, a believer in Christ, to partake and participate in your own spiritual growth and development. We, being who we are "in Christ," can "by the Spirit of God" be putting to death the deeds of the body, thereby "perfecting holiness"; not "PERFECT holiness" but "PERFECTING holiness." These are God's words not mine!
Paul, by the Holy Spirit has asked us to "cleanse ourselves": "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). Why would Paul ask us to do this? Do you think he really wants us to cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit? Absolutely! Will we be completely successful? Absolutely not! But we can constantly be applying ourselves to the concept of putting to death the deeds of the flesh in the spirit of obedience to His Word.
Do you agree that Romans 8:13, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live," is a good verse to implement 2 Corinthians 7:1: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God"? This is an ongoing perfecting of holiness in our lives that we can and should be doing for the balance of our lives here on earth in our flesh.
If you would like to drop Brother Leftwich a note of encouragement you can contact him at: 217 W. Miami Street, Broken Arrow, OK 74011.