08 December 2009

Our Renewed Image

For John Calvin, the suffering and atoning death of Jesus the Messiah is the locus of God's reconciliatory plan for his creation (cf. Institutes 2.16.5; 3.11.23). He writes in his commentary on 1 Peter 2:24 that “the death of Christ is efficacious…for the mortification of the flesh.” What, in practical terms, might this look like in everyday life? Maybe 
the primary question is, how does the death of one actually give life to another? To understand this first may help us to see more easily how the mortified or sanctified life goes.

In Saint Peter’s own words: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). “Living to righteousness” means the same thing that Calvin meant when he wrote “mortification of the flesh.” To mortify, or destroy, the flesh (not the body, of course, but the sinful corruptions therein) is to live righteously (or with justice) and faithfully as God’s people (see Col. 3:1–11). This kind of life, as the apostles affirm and Calvin wisely concurs, finds its cause in the death of Jesus the Christ. Still, it is 
not any clearer as to how that is so.

Going back to Colossians 3, verses 9–10, the apostle Paul wrote that those who have been raised with Christ “have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed…after the image of its creator” (see also Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:22ff.). Something real, according to this apostle, has the power to affect our lives and the way we live them. That something, both Peter and Paul argue, is the crucifixion of our Lord (bearing our sins “in his body on the tree”).

This is possible because in reality, we humans have one of two people representing us. Thomas Goodwin, seventeenth-century puritan and president of Magdalen College, Oxford, once said, “In God’s sight there are two men — Adam and Christ — and these two men have all other men hanging at their girdle strings” (quoted in F.F. Bruce’s Tyndale commentary on Romans, p. 120). Or, to use Saint Paul’s own words in Romans: “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (5:18). The two men and their actions are universal: Adam’s led to condemnation for all; Christ’s, justification and life for all. Now, this is not an argument for universal salvation by the apostle; rather, his point is that Christ, and Christ alone, is the man in whom salvation is the way for all. Nor must we, at this point, discuss exactly the way in which Adam’s disobedience involves us, for the simple fact is, according to the apostle in Romans 5:12, that it does.

Thus, both the first Adam and the second Adam are unified with their own particular groups of people. They share the same interests with them, the same purposes, and the same sympathies. 
Even further, they share in the same personality, so that, by virtue of the relationship in which they stand with either Adam or Christ, they can be identified as one or the other — the “old” self or the “new” self. For this reason, the apostle Paul refers to Jesus and his people as the one seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), or, “though many,” as “one body of Christ” (Rom. 12:5). In fact, they are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Now, how does being one with Jesus and his death actually enable us to live faithfully? It does so because the “old self” was cast aside at Golgotha, on the cross (see again Col. 3:1ff). At an actual point in time and history, the old man, the way of Adam, was judged, cursed, and defeated. Each of us who were in Adam but are now in Christ had that old self crucified in the first century (see Rom. 6:6). While the benefits of this are not realized in us until we actually are given the gift of faith (read the Westminster Confession, 11.4), we nonetheless can look at the death of Jesus as the precise moment when his group of people put off the old man and put on the new one. Even though Jesus was sinless, we are told that he was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” unified with those of us who constitute his elect, that elect then being freed from the old self, which was condemned in his flesh (see Rom 8:3–4 and 7:4).

We can bear fruit for God because that old, hell-bent way of doing things was crucified in the flesh of Jesus, the Messiah. Life now has a new order, for the old chaos of Adam’s way has lost control. Only from and with this grace can our efforts of living rightly before God (or, crucifying the flesh, Gal. 5:24) meet with any success. Thus Calvin said, the death of Christ really does produce a desired effect, namely, the laying aside of a life riddled with a sinful, corrupted nature for the grandeur of being renewed after the image of God. In death, we are raised to life, because Jesus really was raised to life about two-thousand years ago.

We Christians, his group, his people, have been set free to live for righteousness, and thus we must actively pursue it. And pursuing it is simply this: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:3). If to live is Christ, the new covenant mediator, then that life must endeavor to mediate his justice and mercy to all, without distinction. The Word must be preached; the sacraments administered; compassion and forgiveness must be extended to those in need, if for no other reason than we ourselves have been shown it. This life, in short, knows “nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2.2).

{This originally appeared in Tabletalk 29.5 (May 2005): 25–26.}


Anonymous said...

Would you say that we have not yet completely put aside the old man until we have died physically or are translated upon the return of Christ? Even though we are saved (past tense), we are not yet with the Lord as we look to our faith becoming sight. I got into this dialog with someone in a Sunday school class once. Any thoughts would be great.
Thanks, Brandon Phillips

Chris Donato said...

Hi, Brandon.

Yes, without a doubt I affirm Luther's simul iustus et peccator. I'd only render it thus: "Simultaneously just and sinful. This is because "sinner," in its full import and usage in Scripture, does not describe he who is in Christ. We who are in Christ are no longer "slaves to sin," in the words of St. Paul. Of course, this is not say that we do not continue to struggle with sin. We do. We are sinful creatures. Yet the tension for us in this time between the times is that we've been set free from the tyranny of sin. It is no longer our master. Rather, we are slaves to righteousness.

Really, this has to do with not putting the imperatives before the indicatives. I heard Sinclair Ferguson once say that if we keep that order in line, most everything else will fall into the right place.

In other words, we Christians have been set free from sin, for we are in Christ (the indicative, which states who and whose we are). Yet, being sinful and fallen creatures in this present age, we have yet to be made non posse peccare, and so our struggle with sin continues—we are therefore to strive to not sin (the imperative, or the command to do what we are/promised to be).

That's why I started out this post belaboring what we are in Christ and then finished with what we need to be doing as a result.

I hope this helps. Thanks again for stopping by.

Teri said...

Hello Chris,

Saw your comment at our friend, Taylor's blogspot and thought I would "drop by" and see how you've been.

Missed you commenting at CTC, but it's become a bit bogged down with the "solo scriptura and sola scriptura" argument that has been going on for quite a long time.

Hope you are having a wonderful Advent. I'm not sure if your group of P's does Advent or not...but Happy Holidays anyway.
Well unless you are the group of P's like my brother in law who don't do Christmas.

I get confused! So happy something or other..:-)

p.s. I believe that one of your writers at Tabletalk lives quite near me in these "hills". Why anyone would choose to is beyond me :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris,

That was very good, thanks. I particularly like the quote by Luther.

It seemed when I was teaching this in a SS class, I was sharply disagreed with by one gentleman in the class. When I opened it up for a debate in the context of this class one week later, this same gentleman was using, for the most part, the same passages of scripture that I was going to use, to prove his point. Which astonished me because he went to Romans 7. It's reassuring to get some back-up from the greats.

It also seems to be implied that, by the fact that we do not have physical, open access to God the way we did back in the garden, our sin still keeps us from the perfect fellowship that is yet to come. Man was restricted (forcefully) from eating of the tree of life after sin entered. I do believe this was an act of mercy and grace of God to keep sin from enduring immortally.

Now, I was very intrigued by your post on October 14, 2009. Specifically the last two paragraphs dealing with the tree of life and the inauguration of death as a result of sin:

— But what about Rom 5:12 and death? The verse only talks about how death came to humanity, not
death in general, but to us (100). But death in general was all over before the fall (insects
eating plants; birds eating insects; seeds dying and sprouting; skin cells dying, etc.).

— Humans were not subject to death b/c the tree of life gave them life—an antidote to their
natural mortality. The punishment for disobedience was to be “doomed to death” (Gen 2:17, being
kept from the tree of life). Without access to the tree, humans would be subject to the
mortality of their bodies—from dust we were made and to dust we shall return. And so it was
that “death came through sin.”

Since we have been discussing a 'renewed image' we have now that we are in Christ. We see in the book of Revelation the reemergence of the tree of life. How do we view this in its proper context when we read 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, stating essentially we will not be mortal or corruptible? I guess my question is, What use is the tree of life for us after we are perfected? Does the tree of life have some symbolism beyond what it seems?

Thanks, Brandon

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