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FACE OF GRACE AND THE PLACE OF PERFECTION
1. The Environment of Grace and the Features of His Face
In the end, it is obvious, is it not, that "grace should rule by righteousness". That is God's opinion, and His is the truth. It is written in Romans 5:21. It might be translated "that grace might rule through righteousness" - a subjunctive mood following "that" indicative of effort, seeking, thrust and purpose. This is the way it is to be, despite all contrariety, variety and indifference. It is involved in a setting of contrast.
"AS SIN ABOUNDED SO GRACE DID MUCH MORE ABOUND," (5:20). The LAW entered that SIN might ABOUND. Now, just as SIN has REIGNED to death, so should "GRACE REIGN THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS to ETERNAL LIFE by JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD."
The case is clear. There are no ambiguities. Law focussed sin, and grace focusses righteousness. Law showed the gross gaps in human righteousness, like rotten teeth, unsound in base and in place, in health and in efficiency. Grace provides the way to righteousness which the law so very correctly indicted, but as an X-ray revealing death. Grace enables health.
By that ONE MAN, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17), for just as Adam started the sin slide, so Christ ended it by letting the avalanche of snow, dirty snow, have its impact on Him; and, dying under its weight, He arose to displace it. Justice is served. Grace has prevailed. The strength and face that grace has, shown in Christ, is more than enough to conquer the guilt, the guile and the deviousness of sin. Its provocative, feisty, lusty power is humbled, and now the face of Christ and His Spirit within, His blood over the source of the sin, His life in the life of the redeemed, His law now written in their hearts, His book a constant reminder: this face is revealed. In the light of this, with the love of God as motivation, the action of His Spirit as activation, the desire of the nations as embrocation, man lives - IF he is redeemed.
Thus "they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ." Reigning is not another name for the rain of sin, the strangulation of righteousness or the indifference to its cause. GRACE shall reign THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS (5:21).
this, however, mean that we are arrogant and intransigeant to the
sinner, 'caught in the
act' ? No, as John 8:1ff. shows. As you there see, Christ was in no hurry to condemn. "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her!" He declared. Thus He gave the 'perfect' critics every chance to assert their own righteousness and then condemn the woman, if they could.
They could not. Lacking accusers, He did not. The testimony was clear, "for," in fact, "God did not sent His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). THAT IS THE PURPOSE. Anyone can condemn, for we are all sinners, yes even the most saintly, for - "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," I John 1:8, and that would mean that Christ was not in us (John 14:6). You CANNOT live a lie by means of the truth!
NOR is there room for despondency and defeatism BECAUSE we discover that we are not sinless, for "I write to you these things so that you should not sin. But if any man should sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins..." (I John 2:1-2). Indeed, as John proceeds to declare, this ready availability for propitiation through His atoning death, it is as broad as is the world. If therefore you are in it, and desire this advocacy, this divine barrister, this paying judge, and by faith receive Him as He is, then you are free, pardoned by faith, justified by faith (Romans 5:1). If you do not or do not trust Him, then where is your faith ? and without faith, quite clearly, you cannot be justified BY faith! That too is obvious.
fact, God IS GRACIOUS, and CHRIST IS THE FACE OF GRACE, and the PLACE of
grace; for in Him and through Him is pardon found, mercy and pity, compassion
and a ready repose for contrition which seeks righteousness through Him.
Thus - the everlasting Gospel having been in place long before it was paid
for (Revelation 14:3, Romans 4, Psalm 32, Barbs, Arrows and Balms 17),
the Psalmist speaks in this way:
But the face of grace is a face of righteousness in which tolerance is not another name for the denial of truth, which HE IS! If GRACE is to REIGN THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS, this cannot mean the opposite, that it is to reign through unrighteousness; and if we are to yield our members as instruments of righteousness through grace, this cannot mean that we are to do what is expressly there forbidden - that is, to yield them as instruments of unrighteousness! (Romans 6:16-18). "Servants of righteousness" cannot be the same as servants of sin. Thus Christ declared, "Whoever practises sin is the servant of sin ... If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed," (John 8:34-35). He does not mean by this that if He sets you free, you are really bound, does He!
Thus the case is clear, perfectly clear like a beautiful country pond in which its stillness and the purity of the air and ground alike make for a view of the depths both delightful and appealing, while surrounded with a living peace which grips.
Thus, for the Christian, the DYNAMIC of the Spirit (Romans 8:11ff.) suffuses your heart and mind, the longing for sin becomes puerile, if not infantile. Its power is great, but His is greater; His pardon displaces guilt and His power displaces that of the devil. There may be contest (Ephesians 6), but we who are His have this ineffable presence which is enabling, comforting, strengthening, illuminating, while love motivates and faithfulness calls. If soldiers in trenches could endure for years, how much more shall Christians in truth!
If someone falls, however, it is no time for self-righteousness. It is time to RESTORE such a person in the spirit of humility, for we are ALL sinners. If our bad temper, irritability, superior posturing or self-righteous pride are our faults when someone else has his/her sin perceived, does this make hypocrisy more delightful when we haughtily condemn ? Hardly. It is in any case forbidden, and is not the way to go (I Peter 5:5, Galatians 6:1):
But then, for his own part, having sinned, the man arises (see Psalm 51), as if he had just exploded an atomic bomb, created a canyon, appalled, horrified, and in a short time is expected to find in the power of God, the pardon of His grace and the presence of His Spirit, the enablement to arise and sheering off the face of sin, to walk with Him who is worthy, washing the stained garment and abhorring whatever was the cause of the tumble.
You do not however become athletes by making a practice of tumbling, a mode of stumbling or a procedure of falling off your bike near the finish line, as happened to one famous Australian cyclist in a sprint in the tour de France. It may not have been his fault at all, or chiefly his, but whatever be the case, he fell. You have to find a way of handling even provocation to win a race.
In all this, the illuminating, revealing, strengthening power of the Lord to whom the Christian finds a constant movement to conform, not merely as an example, or even exemplar, but as a transformingly drawing resource, attraction and dynamic,
is quite useless to seek to make a man who cannot hear, to understand the
subtleties and finesse, the moving power and passionate appeal of great
music, at the level of experience.
A non-Christian in whom Christ does NOT dwell, whose Spirit does NOT propel, draw, illuminate and reinforce, whose mind does not attune his/her own will, may find all this "words, words, words...," just as someone who has never cut up a body may find the considerations of a surgeon a little odd to digest. (You may care here to read the parable in The Kingdom of Heaven ... Ch.10, Section 1, cf. That Magnificent Rock, Ch.3.)
When however you do the thing, know the procedure, follow the phases, are experienced in it, then it is perceived that the words in fact characterise the reality, and the descriptions apply to what is to be seen. As Peter and John told the high priestly party which, for all their religion, were OBVIOUS AND EXPRESS enemies of Christ, even refusing the preaching of the resurrection (Acts 4:2,17-20),
2. Looking Where It is - SURVEY
But let us look at the form of the injunction, the exhortation of Paul in Philippians 3:7-13. There you see the heights and depths, the thrust and the energy, the dynamic and the drive, the motivation and the activation, the life in Christ in progressing, purifying and in power, in grace and in desire and in tenderness.
1. LOSS LEADER - The Passionate Division and the Decisive Criterion (3:7-8)
2. FOUND LOCATION - to WIN CHRIST, then be FOUND IN HIM, and then HOW to do so (3:9)
PRESENT KNOWLEDGE - (3:10)
a) Know Him
b) Power of His resurrection
c) Fellowship of His sufferings
c) conformity to His death.
4. On to PERFECTION and RESURRECTION (3:11-13)
1. a bundling out of what does not belong (3:7-8); while
2. a resting in the Lord (3:9), and
3. a living in the presence of the Master (3:10) and
the vast design with its 4 noted phases (3:11-13):
a) Participation before Perfection -
eager delight in moving to the ultimate and assured quest (cf. 3:20-21)
b) Polish in the Light - the race with colours flying, involving the performance of the commission, - but there are no medallions - there is goodness with grace but no protested glory, THAT is HIS!
c) Grace with Vigour - the piloted arrow
d) Rest with Rigour (3:11 with 3:20-21).
3. Lifting up the Eyes (1-3)
Thus Paul in Philippians 3:7-8 sees passionately the cleavage, the things conducive and those contrary to Christ. The one is to be followed and found, the other is to be turfed out, decimated, destroyed, cast away. The one is valued and prized, the other despised as useless. Multitudes of things go, but the criterion is ONE: CHRIST. That stays.
In 3:9, it is seen to be no mere change of household stuff: for it affects the fabric of the mind, the recesses of memory; though it is not less than this (cf. Philippians 3:13). He wants to "WIN CHRIST". How, then, since he has Him already, resident by the Holy Spirit in his heart ? (Romans 8:8-12). That is the point.
it is impossible to understand these things EXPERIENTIALLY if they are
not yours, yet it is possible to explain. There is the desire for
fulfilment, consummation, for the exhibition in toto of the whole
grandeur and glory of Christ, to be an active ingredient in His kingdom,
because it is good, and He is goodness. This thrust is NOT some selfish
little snarl of desire for ME; that is the point, or for my party or cause.
It is the desire for HIM. It is HIS GLORY which is paramount, which propels,
which occasions zeal, evokes delight. Thus as a Christian by faith, though
you are His and sure to remain so (Philippians 3:20-21 is eloquent here).
Yet the cry and call for more of Him, desiring more for Him and more of
His outreach is as much now NATURAL to you, as is the penetrating power
of the fragrance of a bush normal for it. It is not enough for it
that it has a perfume... HAS it; as if to say, It is mine!
There is more: It disseminates it, diffuses it with a will and a vigour! That is the nature of perfume (cf. II Cor. 2:14!).
Paul wants to 'win Christ', then; but also to "BE FOUND IN HIM". This is positional as distinct from functional. Both apply. You are blessed in place by His grace and in function by His power: both. Life is like that. It has its status, its reality of being what it is; and it has also its function, its capabilities to show what it is by what it does. It is not an option; it is a synthesis to the mind, a duality to the being. Power is not foolish posturing, but performance oriented; and structure has power when it has life.
HOW shall he be found in Him ? here it is justification by faith. It is negatively like this: NOT having his own righteousness, as if some compilation of his curriculum vitae, some aggregation of his performances could induce the gate-keeper to swing wide in sheer admiration, for the kingdom of heaven. He is, after all, already in it, begotten by faith (John 3, Matthew 5:3, Philippians 3:20) and with His seed in him (I John 3:9). Rather, positively, the righteousness which comes through faith, like the raging torrential waters of a vast reservoir through the conduit, is His through grace from Christ, whose the reservoir is, for in His righteousness there is no limit to the depth, or to the purity.... Its needful waters are all assigned to him, and to its title he has access (II Cor. 5:19-21).
3:10 then shows us the focus: "that I MAY
Living with the living, acting
with the active, resting with the sufficiency which is His, Paul experiences
as a branch in the vine, the movement of the sap, the expulsive force of
its input, the enablement of its actions in the branch as he abides in
its stable structure. He is alive, and given life. Hence when he sets out,
he will suffer, for all who are godly do this, for our milieu, the environment
of this world is contrary; but he will also know the necessary power, for
as he declares, "Our sufficiency is of God!"
Cor. 3:5, 2:16, 12:9). What the Father plants, endures, and what is merely
a sport, an opportunistic resemblance to a branch, is cut off (Matthew
15:13, I John 3:9). Fiction has no place, but through faith is reality
conferred (Ephesians 1:11,14).
4. Finding All in Christ
Now in Philippians 3:11-13 we find the magnificent feature which is a quality of spiritual life, because it is HIS which He bestows, and HIS qualities inspire, reinforce and propel it. If you do not know God you CANNOT know this in experience; and if you do, you will realise it. Electricity not in the wires does not work, overcome obstructions and deploy power; it does not, because it is not there. When it is there, it acts as it is. So it is here.
RESURRECTION therefore appears like a vast goal, like the end of the race,
the tape at last on which the thrusting breast will meet, the touch of
delight, the craved result. Yet it is perfectly certain to come and that
with blessing at the very same time (cf. II Cor. 4:16-5:5), as we shall
consider in more detail shortly (Philippians 3:20-21). How COULD this be
? Again, you could not know it in your understanding, though you could
see the meaning of it, if you do not have it.
In outline, however, the case is this: You are DRAWN as if by a magnet to this as your heritage, your place, your belonging, the expression and outward form of an inward grace, rather of Him whose it is, which He is pleased to bestow; yet at the same time, it is the irresistible drawing which nothing can interrupt, deep calling to deep, like to like, fulfilment to process, consummation to consuming zeal. The two, like right and left hands, so far from being mutually exclusive, belong together*1.
This brings us into the vast design as seen in Philippians 3:11-13. First, we have Participation before Perfection (as noted above). There is suffering and power, the rebuff and the overcoming, and all this is empathy, found through existence in and with Christ, sharing in His humiliation and drawing from His resources as we present the gospel, the word of God and extend His kingdom. Perhaps it is in rejection like a Jeremiah, or in joy with many, as with David, but always there is a finding of both these elements, in whatever mixture!
Then there is the Race with Colours Flying, as in 3:12. It involves an acute realisation that you are not there yet, and this is part of the future feeling for the resurrection. You are not in the least in any danger of being perfect yet! Why when you conquer your weaknesses, there is more to be found, and when you overcome your temptations there is quality to be gained, work to be done, growth to be made. When you succeed, pride must be outfaced, and when you fail, depression must be dismissed: you must live, not mope or gloat. You must forget the unprofitable past things and reach forward to the things of prize.
Here no medallions adhere to your panting chest, and no glory is found in your vital thrust. It is but your duty (Luke 17:16). Yours is no Grand Viziership, or Grand Master's post; and to you is the realisation given that "what is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). Nevertheless, you trim your sails, use the spinnaker, turn the pitch of things and lean this way and that, that your yacht should glorify Christ in its going, its bearing and its sitting upon the sea of life. You reach toward the end of the race with desire, to His service and good pleasure.
Then like a piloted arrow, you press, you thrust, you move in the air (3:14), you adjust your trim, you move in the face of the headwind this way and that, constantly adjusting always with the same end in view and according to the same PRINCIPLES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS which grace is achieving in and through you, as your fatherland and heartland. GOD IS RIGHTEOUS and "the righteous Lord loves righteousness," (Psalm 11:7), and "He loves him who follows righteousness," just as, for that matter, in those whom He imbues with His grace, on whom He shines with His face: "it is joy to the just to do judgment," (Proverbs 21:15).
"Be PERFECT," (in this sense, complete and without deviation), "even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect," echoes in your ears, as Christ exhorted us. And this, it is not a question of being sinful as He is NOT! (cf. Matthew 5:10,48).
Thus you proceed, BECAUSE with grace, THEREFORE with rigour and vigour. There is no craven fear, for there is the assurance that He is able to keep you from falling, and that His sheep do not perish (Jude, John 10:27-28). There is no presumptuous folly (cf. Psalm 19:13), because you are clothed with humility as is just for one saved "BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, AND THAT NOT OF YOURSELVES: IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD!" (Ephesians 2:8).
Thus there is grace with vigour and rest with rigour. You do not become sloppy because of certainty, or fearful because of the beauty of the sailing and the dynamic of the wind. All this is irrelevant, except in the moment of stress or the impact of squall. Quickly fear subsides and zeal proceeds. You are living a life donated in the presence of a Prince resurrected and there is no balking at that! You are looking to the end, but not as one who does not have Him on board as you go! Yet this is a spiritual pilgrimage, and that end, it is the substance of heaven. Not for the Christian the plight of this kind, "whose end is destruction" (Ph. 3:19), but this: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (3:20-21).
There is no dubiety about this. It will happen. Its principles of righteousness and zeal are those which He has imbued in the Christian heart on the way. His righteousness and faithfulness are still more than phenomenal, not less: the whole world of phenomena is His and He made it, and His is the over-arching power that made the skies and the empyrean of our own minds, the scope of our spirits and the delight of life. We soar to His heights as under licence, and are met by His condescension as a friend, as He proceeds to our level, yet in truth - and with the beauty of holiness. These things are experimentally verified now in the sanctifying of our spirits, by His dynamic developments. Those things are authoritatively attested then: with the triple warrant of His physical resurrection, His predictive perfection constantly verified, and His current presence in our lives. To these, the demonstrable truth of the Bible is added like an elixir of life.
These present things in the lives of His flock, they are like the bud: they have the savour of the bloom, and in these things, already expressed in the past resurrection of Christ to perfection, is the thrust of the consummation shortly to enter the scene in the brilliance of His power. These things the bud can scarcely contain; but it grows with the savour of development sketched on its sculptured face.
Christ is our resource, recourse and source. As it is written of the Messiah in Psalm 45: "You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, You God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions" - verse 7. Indeed, there is a simple factual certainty that this outward garment of protoplasm, of flesh, shall be "fashioned" to the format of His own resurrected body (I John 3). Thus the WORKING by which He is able to SUBDUE all things to Himself, which was exhibited first in the creation of such powers that even their misuse is appalling, and then after the remedy was paid for in redemption, in His own bodily resurrection, fitting for the sovereign whose death penalty is for sin, which He bore and broke: this will act in us also. He is the first-fruits, we who believe, the harvest (I Cor. 15:23, 50-58).
therefore in Him, wait patiently for Him; delight yourself in the Lord
and HE will GIVE you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:3-7). COMMIT,
roll your way onto Him, trust also in Him, and HE WILL BRING IT TO PASS.
You have precisely this complementarity of ardent seeking, and secure certainty, in II Cor. 4:16-5:8, from which we now quote.
"we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are
not seen... For we KNOW that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed,
we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the
heavens. For in this WE GROAN, EARNESTLY DESIRING to be clothed with our
habitation, which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall
not be found naked ... Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is
God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. SO WE ARE ALWAYS
CONFIDENT ... We are confident, yes, well pleased, rather to be absent
form the body and to be present with the Lord."
(Capitalisation of words, added.)
Parallel again with the certainty is II Cor. 4:14:
that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up, with Jesus."
Then in I Cor.54 fulfilled:
"So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' "
such challenging certainties is growth made by faith, this current pilgrimage
the bud that bursts in Christ into the declarative fragrance of eternal
bloom, when He comes (cf. Matthew 13:43).