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CONCENTRIC CIRCLES WITHIN CHRISTIANITY
Christianity is a matter of Christ. He gives to it, its name. His is the redemption, He paid it; His is the salvation, there is no other name by which men must be saved (Acts 4:11-12, Galatians 1, Ephesians 1:10), now or ever.
How then can we conceive of one's part in it ? if indeed someone has a part (and if not, to get it, read That Magnificent Rock, Chs. 2-3, for example, or Spiritual Refreshings for the Digital Millenium Ch.6).
One way is this. Consider a tree with many growth rings, aligned concentrically around it, and within its texture. There must be a beginning, so this would be the core: Christ crucified and risen bodily, breaking death, bearing the penalty for sin, which leads to death, arising physically from the dead as the author of physical creation (as distinct from philosophers, who lack this particular feature, in their thoughts), and returning to His eternal Father, from whom He came at the appointed time, being as one SPOKEN, the Eternal Word of God incarnated (John 1:1-14, Ephesians 4:4,John 17:1ff., 5:19ff.).
That is the objective basis. It is not a matter of 'your faith' or 'your credentials' or 'your works' - and note Matthew 7:21 on this. It is a fatal mistake to imagine it is yourself who is your own foundation. There is, says the apostle Paul, NO OTHER FOUNDATION but Christ Jesus the Lord (I Cor. 3:10-11). There is, says the same apostle, NO OTHER GOSPEL than the one he had THEN preached (Galatians 1). You do not produce the Christ OR the Gospel. You receive both, if you are a Christian; and indeed, in that case, you already HAVE received BOTH. He is not a Christ divorced from His word, not a foundling divorced from His Father. God has spent and sent and this is the Saviour. That is all.
Around the core, is the ring, the growth ring which rings true: it is that you are CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST. What does this mean ? It signifies that you are NOT living for yourself (Matthew 16), for if you seek to save your life, you will most assuredly lose it, self-pre-occupation being disastrous. One remembers swimming in a friend's pool, and tending to find it a little chilly just at the first. Then he cut away some ivy creeper which had been rather rampant, and revealed what then became some delightful arches under a lattice, oval openings allowing one to see the distant and rather nearer view. Fixing on the view through the best of these, I found it quite simple to enter the pool. It was scarcely noticed, as one walked towards this appealing view through the botanically contrived arch.
The AFFLICTIONS (to apply the point) of the present to not seem to matter when your eye is fixed on the ATTRACTIONS of what you are working for, of the One for whom you are working and of the inestimable superiority which is His, over all things and all people. One does not then wince and winge (or not as a practice! and certainly not in principle), but proceeds AS IF really crucified, so that one is not even susceptible to remorse and pinching nerves, as it were, but dead TO THIS WORLD. It has no appeal in comparison; it does not attract, and cannot impose. Not only does it not attract through some sort of affiliation with one's soul or spirit or mind or all of these, because one has higher aspirations and better objectives - one is crucified to it; but its judgments and penalties show it in its own true colours, and it is crucified for its own part. One is dead to it; and it is dead towards one's spirit. It is dual and mutual.
THIS is what Paul states in that wonder of verses, Galatians 6:14: "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." Thus also in Galatians 5:24 he notes that "they who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." It is not problematic or possible; no, it is rather operational and practical. Of course temptations and tests come, and who fails in nothing at any time! But the Christian makes this an exception, and like a good driver, if he breaks the speed limit, it is neither his principle nor other than the odd failure to watch.
Concentric circle 3 is this. You ADD growth rings of : VIRTUE (II Peter 1:5). But what, you may ask, of FAITH, which is there mentioned FIRST. Yes, yet it is mentioned as a basis to which you add virtue. FAITH is inherent in ANY relationship with God. Notice for example Psalm 78 that monument of great beauty to Israel's wanderings and the Lord's mercies to it: in verse 8, it refers to
Indeed, they inherited wrath
THIS is first, and its OBJECT is Christ. But now we are turning to its RESULTS IN CHRIST, and when, reciprocally, the Spirit of the living Christ is IN YOU (Colossians 1:2;7), rather like a case of a branch abiding in a vine, and having the sap which comes to it by that means, so that it is livingly and vitally dynamised into action, and growth... as distinct from withering into the gloom and follies - to apply the parable, of philosophy.
VIRTUE, then, is an ADDED GROWTH RING. It refers to the integrity and strength, the native good quality of something, so that it really works and does what it is supposed to do, with might and main, understanding and application.
To this is added, Peter continues in II Peter 1: KNOWLEDGE. This is not merely the growth of factual awareness, though this may not at all hurt! It is knowledge of God, the illumination of understanding from the word of God, by the Spirit of God and the riches wisdom (Ephesians 1:17ff., Proverbs 8). In this, consider II Peter 3:18, where he exhorts us all who ARE Christ's (and it is self-exclusion if you reject Him, is it not!): "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever . Amen."
Then comes the growth ring of : SELF-CONTROL. Without this, you are like a piece of flotsam and jetsam. You drift, carried away with every wind of doctrine, or desire (cf. Ephesians 4:14, 24).
To this is added: PERSEVERANCE and GODLINESS.
This will mean that having been born of God (I John 3:9), you are an inheritor of His kingdom (Ephesians 1:11), and NOTHING can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). Indeed you persevere with your SPIRITUAL GENES, just as your PHYSICAL ONES persevere in your body. It is now constitutive of your being, a new person in Christ (II Cor. 5:17ff.). It is because you now gain GODLINESS, that almost forgotten virtue, that inherent and intrinsic result of BEING IN HIS COMPANY with His SALVATION and LORDSHIP being imbued into you, received and relished, His streams of comfort, strengthening, chastening winds, enlivening dissertations, increasing groundings continuing, so that your very being begins to take some of His glow, His power and His grace: BUT ONLY IN AND THROUGH THAT ABIDING PRESENCE WHICH IS ... HIS. It is called a TRANSFORMATION by His Spirit, in II Cor.3:18, and it is processive.
GODLINESS ? Forget about dishonesty, concessions to the flesh, connivings, unfaithfulnesses. THIS is something exquisite. It is the natural inheritance of the saints, so do not short-circuit it like the generation of Israel of which we saw God speak in Psalm 78!
To this, you adjoin the next growth RING: it is - BROTHERLY KINDNESS, LOVE. Since, as Paul says in I Cor. 13, WITHOUT LOVE YOU ARE NOTHING, have nothing, it is essential to consider this.
Chuck this out, or leave it somewhere else and not in your own heart, and forget the rest. IF, says Paul, you have ALL the knowledge and faith and self-sacrifice imaginable, as it were, and lack this, you are JUST LIKE A CLANGING SOUND. That, it is not to be desired! Empty sounds abound in parliaments and councils of nations. Let them not be found ever in the mind and heart of the saint. Ensure therefore that in all your doings, THIS is motivating you, THIS is accompanying you. It REJOICES IN THE TRUTH, so it is nothing to do with that sleazy disloyalty to Christ which says this: Because I am a nice Christian, I will BE Christian and agree with everyone about everything in every religion. In Biblical terms, THAT is rather like saying: Because I am nicely married, I will nicely fornicate with every nice woman who would like that, and it will all be so cosy.
If there is one thing the Lord spends much time in dismissing with maximal detestation (cf. the entire prophecy of Hosea), it is playing the fool with gods, having new ones, adding to the list; and uxorious companions do not always appreciate being BETRAYED in this way, sexually, any more than the Lord loves having His love prostituted in other terms, with other lords, for other purposes. Christianity requires a PURE HEART, not a piggish disposition of slutty gluttony with various poisons added to pure food of heaven (cf. John 6:47ff.).
It DOES mean having a desire to be constructive, to bear with what must be borne, to achieve in gracious continuity the needed objective, to consider those with whom you work, to allay their fears if you may, to add to their comfort if this is within you and to live, as far as lies within you, at peace with all men; it does mean to love your enemies, and not to be so incensed by what they do, that THEIR welfare is forgotten. It does mean a community in Christ in which a team congregates for work, service and worship, and makes thoughtful and sensitive allowances for each other, without failing to be to the point when something really serious arises, which could be perilous to any.
Now we have taken two at once here. Brotherly KINDNESS and LOVE. The love is beyond the brethren as we saw, but in KINDNESS and compassion and gentle patient graces, it is bestowed on the team, on the brethren.
LOVE: it is to your GOD. The FIRST commandment is to love Him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Reflect: there is a love which holds back and is sentiment. THIS is for all, from all the components and the depths of the spirit of man. It is tender, it is watchful, it is like a dog waiting for the Master's all to hunt (cf. Psalm 123). It appreciative, it reciprocates the love of God. You see it in the tender relations of Christ to the failings and failure of Peter (as in Matthew 16 and John 21). It can lead to rebuke; it can be so indirect as to be poignant but it is love. Human beings can often sense when they are loved, and ... love it.
ADD these things in a sort of concentric Christianity and you do well. You see the EXPERIMENTAL PRODUCTS of Christ, this time not in the laboratory of history, but in the LABORATORY OF THE PERSONALITY, of life. His word is constantly, indeed, continually verified.
You are then becoming like a massive oak, weighted with branches grown with self-control and patience, weathering all storms, reliable for shelter, and beautiful in Spring, with flowing tassels and tender green leaves, contrasting with the rugged majesty of the bark and the resolute sturdiness of the whole beautiful tree. THEN give glory to God, for it is HIS creation, for it is He who works within you, both to will and to do (Philippians 2:12-13). THIS is the work of the one whose old body WILL BE transformed by the power of Him who is able to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21), and this is the way for the citizens of heaven.
Now mark: it is NOT because of this; THIS is because of that. If you keep your eyes on HIM (Hebrews 12:1ff.), such things as these result. It is an abiding matter, and a beautiful one. It is one of constant refreshing in its seasons, like the Spring of the oak, but far less predictable. The results are however wonderful, and the work of Him whose NAME is WONDERFUL is glorious. It is in one sense almost FUN to be worked on as a sculpture by a sculptor. As Browning put it, Look up, for uses of a cup, the last of life for which the first was formed.
With Christ, it is refreshing just to know that He is there, and to be able to resort to Him as a High Tower, a Deliverer and a person of deep beauty. And He is so refreshing in little things as well.
Just yesterday, the author was coming from the city, after rather heavy stresses on the physical body, and wanting to avoid the carrying of the load home from the shopping centre. A call home led to nil answer. Meanwhile, Margaret my wife, was wishing one could be with here, for she was unable to start the car in the heat and did not want to spoil the battery. At the unanswering telephone, a prayer went up: Lord if you will, could you somehow let me NOT have to walk back lest there be something heavy to pay for the exercise later, in this case. Out of the building one went, saying - Well, it looks as if I shall have to pay!
That is how it looked. The mercy was to appear however in ANSWER to prayer, one of the most stimulating features of the Christian life.
Moving into the parking area to be traversed on the way home, itself home of hundreds of car, what did one find ? Behold: there was the tail-light of my car, clearly visible, shining evidently because someone was in it. It was not I who had brought it. But there it was. Yes, on discernment, one saw that it was precisely that sea colour with white roof. It was... a car at my disposal.
MEANWHILE, my wife, having had a
sort of presentiment of my presence, saw just what she wanted. Entering
the delightfully available car, with the experience of many years of its
ways, one quickly started it, saving the battery. Together we sailed home.
Little things ... but then, in one sense, we are all rather little, like
little children in the presence of the God whose power and knowledge is
so great, that compared with Him, Einstein does not rate kindergarten.
To KNOW HIM IS REFRESHING. To work with Him, it is strengthening and amazing,
a thing of enormous privilege. His SEASONS of refreshing are, like sea
holidays, inexpressibly delightful, and the more so because they are not
MERE experiences, but as with paintings studied in the Art Gallery, experiences
of SOMETHING which IS beautiful in itself: the beauty of holiness, and
the beauty of the Lord.
You may wish to examine VIRTUE, Biblically, in particular, as a specialty. If so, turn to Spiritual Refreshings for the Digital Millenium Ch. 7.