The Deep Things of God
Through all eternity we shall never know what those hours meant when God was separated from God, the Son crying out to the Father, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But its glorious consequences we do know–that, having been "delivered for our offenses," He "was raised again for our justification." The resurrection was God’s witness that He had accepted the sacrifice. This was more than forgiveness. This was as if we had never sinned. God could now be just in justifying the believer in Jesus. We can leave the court without a stain on our character. Upon Another’s life, Another’s death, can we stake our whole eternity. The penalty of an eternal hell, the guilt, the stain, the rebel-lion, the broken law, the separation, all as if they had never been, for "Jesus paid it all."
The Solution to God’s Problem
This primary and fundamental aspect of the atonement is always represented in Scripture by the word "blood." "The precious blood of Christ." It is the first and necessary Godward side of the process of redemption. It was the solution, first, as we have said, of God’s problem. How could He be just and the justifier of the unjust? His wrath must first be propitiated: His holiness vindicated: the punishment of His broken law inflicted. Nothing in the Bible stands out more prominently than the sacrifice God appointed and declared to be the satisfaction of all those claims. It was His own outpoured life. God as Spirit cannot be seen of men. God the Word and the Son, as the express image of the Father, could take human form, so "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." We may know for certain that it cost the Father all and more than the Son to send Him to be the propitiation for our sins. The sacrifice was settled in heaven before the sin that necessitated it had appeared in history. The shedding of blood, representing the outpoured life of the victim, as Moses declared in Leviticus 17, runs like a reddened strand throughout all Bible history–from Abel to Israel, where the life of the nation centred around the sprinkling of the blood on the annual day of atonement: on through the prophets to the last of them, the Baptist, who pointed to the Lamb of destiny and called Him God’s Lamb "that taketh away the sin of the world": on through the great moment of the sacrifice itself hidden from all eyes in the three hours of darkness, proclaimed by the Saviour Himself to be His blood of the new covenant to be remembered at His table: expounded in fullness of revelation and understanding by the apostles: seen as presented and accepted by God Himself in the heavens in the letter to
the Hebrews, giving us our title to boldness of access to the holiest of all: and consummated in the final vision of eternity, with the throne occupied by "the Lamb as it had been slain."
No wonder the blood is holy and precious to all believers. No wonder it is the point of attack and derision by those who hate to own themselves as sinners. It represents the uniqueness of that holy sacrifice, the blood He shed alone, the winepress He trod alone. It is His atoning work which none other shares. The cross, the manward aspect of Calvary’s redeeming work, we share: the blood, the Godward aspect, is the sacred offering of the Son to the Father. And because He accepts it, we can do so. We need not question that sacrifice, nor its efficacy. He appointed it. He accepted it. He invites, He argues, He commands us to do the same. No sinner pleases the heart of God by remaining a penitent. No, if repentance is sincere, let us not add sin to sin by failing to believe in the blood. If good enough for Him, it is good enough for us. Nothing pleases the Father more than the faith of a sinner in the efficacy of the precious blood.
Man’s Basic Faculty
This groundwork of our salvation is received only by revelation. "Hereby know we the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." This, wrote John, is the revelation of revelations. Who could conceive of it, who could believe it? The proud human heart never can and never will, for it leaves man with no shred of self-justification. God alone could do for us what we could never do for ourselves, and God took flesh to do it. No one really believes this, although we may say we do, until the Spirit of God reveals it to us; and the Spirit can only reveal it, when He has first given us a glimpse of what we really are in the sight of God; and that also is by revelation. Means He uses–the Bible, preaching, personal witness, the lives of living Christians, sometimes disappointments, loss or sorrow; but the light has to shine, and we respond to it; and that very response is a conviction of the Spirit which we cannot escape. We at last realize what we are and admit it. That is what the Bible calls the gift of repentance, the change of mind concerning ourselves, such a change affecting conduct and producing what the Bible calls "works meet for repentance."
This gift of repentance is really the reverse side of that one fundamental response God quickens in us–faith. It is the quickening or re-directing of the one automatic faculty with which the creation is endowed, as well as being the most elementary and utterly simple–the faculty of reception. We have sought to make it clear from the beginning that the Creator-creature relationship is in the nature of things of one kind only, that of giving and receiving. The Creator gives all by giving Himself, the creature receives all; and the faculty of receiving is so simple, obvious, natural, automatic, that it can hardly be called an action at A. It is the first activity of a newborn babe, receiving air, receiving nourishment. It is the continued activity which sustains all life. And that is faith. The repentance side of faith is in essence the breaking down and giving up of a false faith which we have received from Adam, a faith in our own self-righteousness, our own religion, our own philosophy; the receiving of a false self-reliance as a basis of living; Thus it is the negative side of faith, the saying no to an illusory faith.
Positive faith, which Paul speaks of as "the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8), is now the further glorious revelation by the Spirit of the shed blood of Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the world, attested to by the Scriptures, and the consequent simple reception of Jesus as crucified and living Saviour, and our acceptance with God through Him. The receptive faculty which has spued out what it used to drink in, its own righteousness, now with simple delight receives in its place and drinks in the living waters of salvation through Christ. What is called faith can hardly be called a work, because it is so automatic that we humans hardly realize we are exercising it. In the normal activities of life we do not think of ourselves as exercising faith when we receive something; we are more occupied with the object we are receiving; and if we want it, we just take it; the act of taking is so simple and obvious it hardly counts in our consciousness. Whether it be air or food or sitting on a chair or receiving a present, if we want a thing and it is available to us, the taking of it is automatic: and that is faith. So also in the realities of the Spirit. They are gifts indeed, because they are beyond the reach of fallen reason, beyond the sight of blinded eyes. They are direct revelations from another world, mediated to us through the Word made flesh and the Word written; but as they penetrate our consciousness by the power of the Spirit, negative and positive faith go into automatic action, rejecting the former false assumptions, and accepting their glorious replacement–the righteousness of Christ by faith, acceptance in the Beloved, adoption into the family of God. We are "born from above."
In thus seeking to outline the primary operations of the Spirit, and man’s response, I have deliberately aimed at keeping clearly before us the fundamental fact that God acts for ever according to His eternal nature, and man according to his, and that this must be invariable in both. God for ever gives, man for ever receives. In the glory of His grace, that is what God never ceased to do: "He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again." Therefore salvation, just as much as creation, is every iota a gift. And man, of whom is said concerning his creation. What hast thou that thou hast not received?, can never experience the ABC of his re-creation in Christ until he is brought back to the act of simple reception. As Jesus said, "Except ye become converted and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." Every iota of works, of self-effort, has to disappear. Faith, so far from being works, is really only the flash of recognition of what is: in this case, already redeemed, if we only knew it. I hope I have made this clear, because it is the first infant experience of the lost secret of humanity, a secret we shall never outgrow and never replace, for it is humanity’s sole basic capacity.
What Really Happens at Regeneration
And now, what really happens at the new birth? It is most important to understand. Remember again that the creature has no other end to his existence than to be a manifestor of the Creator–God in man, and God through man; and that therefore a human being is not a true human until he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can function except by the laws of its being; a car won’t go unless its machinery works aright; and a man can never be a man unless he is a Godindwelt, God-controlled man, because men are not made to "work" any other way. That is why life is a jigsaw puzzle until the Masterhand pieces it together; that is why "there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked," because the wicked are all of us who still have a dethroned God and an enthroned self at our centre, and "the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest." Nor can there be any possible purpose in a redemption for man, unless it is to restore his humanity to the only condition in which it slips into gear. Remember God CANNOT create a creature except, in its measure, to contain and shew Him forth: "God is seen God in the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod." Of the lower forms of creation, animate and inanimate, who are without choice in the mater, it is written, "The whole earth is full of His glory." Man, how-ever, in the height of his privilege, made in the similitude of God, with faculties like His though not with the incommunicable attributes of His Godhead, has had the awful responsibility of intelligent choice. Created free to choose his glorious destiny of being the conscious container and transmitter of God, he could and did refuse, and thus became the child of the devil, the original rebel. There can, then, be only one possible purpose in God’s grace in salvation–to restore man to his sole and original destiny–"Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Forms of Life: The True and False
We stress this again because the only infallible, inexorable consequence of a sinner receiving salvation is not always made plain by Gospel preachers. It is often easy to get the impression that it is certainly necessary to have our sins forgiven, to be delivered from the wrath to come, to receive an assured entrance into heaven; but to submit to the total control of Christ is something which may and should follow, but does not necessarily do so; and even that it is possible to enjoy the former without the latter. Nothing could be more false or absurd. There is no salvation conceivable, possible or actual, other than God’s way in infinite grace of destroying the false form of life in which man lives, and replacing it by the true. The false form of life is that which has self in the centre, which is the sin in which my mother conceived me, which is the false god. The true form of life is that which has God at its centre–Christ living in me.
It is for that reason Paul used the striking expression in Gal. 1:17 to describe his conversion–"when it pleased God…to reveal His son in me." The startling fact is that on the road to Damascus it was the exalted Christ who spoke to him from heaven; yet he writes years afterwards that the out-come of God’s dealings with him those three eventful days was not an external revelation of an ascended Christ, but an internal revelation of the Indwelling Son. The eternal life which had begun in Paul was not some "thing" received in a detached sense as a gift from the Heavenly Father; but the start of an eternal union. One more human soul, a deluded, blinded captive of the great egoist, Satan, impregnated from birth with his evil spirit of egoism, had now been led captive by Him who "leads captivity captive"; which meant that with Paul’s deliverance from that Satanic spirit of egoism at the cross, another Ego, the Great I Am, Jesus the Son of God, had begun to live His life within the little, emptied ego of Paul.
The Gateway to Life
In other words, and let us get this clear, the atoning work of Christ, which makes it possible for a lost sinner to stand in the sight of God as one who had never sinned, is only the gate-way to life, not the life itself. The life itself is, and can never be anything but, Jesus Himself, "that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us," coming into the cleansed vessel, occupying His holy temple, being the life of the branch now attached to the Vine, the life of the member of the body now attached to the Head.
Do we see the point? Salvation is only salvation when it is God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–returning to live in the personality created for Him, but exiled from Him through the fall. This is the inner reality of such parables as the prodigal returning to his Father. Therefore salvation is only salvation to any individual believer when the Spirit has given the inner witness of the presence of the Indwelling Christ. It is certainly true that a new born babe in Christ might not be able to interpret his new living experience in these exact terms; but it must be true that he has not merely an external faith in a Christ crucified 2000 years ago, but also, as the inevitable result of the heavenly gift of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, the inner revelation of "Christ in me", my Saviour, my Lord, evidenced by an inner witness that is both incomprehensible to the world, and indescribable. That is the sole and only purpose of the atonement, and the inevitable effect of true repentance and faith, which neither man nor devil can prevent.
The Root is Dealt With
But in actual fact, something much more radical has taken place than a convert is often either taught or realizes; and the failure to realize the true meaning of God’s dealings with us results in a weak birth or stunted growth. Our real problem has never been the sins we have committed, but the sinner who commits them. It is this infected ego, this defined self in me, of which my sins are only an outward expression. If I lose my temper, if I hate or resent, if I lie or respond to a lust, it is my infected "I" which has done it because it likes to–that is my basic trouble. It is this "I" which has been the hateful false god in the usurped temple of my personality. It is this "I" which all men really worship, unless it has been exchanged for the great I AM. It can be a most respectable "I," for a certain amount of respectability is a pleasant clothing for it and only seats it all the more firmly on its false throne. Love for one’s own family, class, or nation, morality, religion can all be its clothes. It has its unpleasant side, for it is a slave to its own lusts, passions, ambitions, and shoulders other selves out of its way to obtain them; but on the whole it can progress very well, if it can preserve the eleventh commandment, "thou shalt not be found out!"
Humanity’s Shackles: God’s Remedy
Now this is the nerve-center of the trouble which must be eliminated. It must be destroyed; nothing short of that will do. It is not the original self which must be destroyed. That would be absurd; God made that to be His dwelling place, His co-operator, His fellow. It is the spirit of independence in the self, the virus in the self, producing a self that lives unto itself and by itself, the self that has turned in on itself. In other words, it is not the self which must be destroyed, but the Satanic spirit of egoism in the self. It is like an iron cage in which all humanity is confined: it is like iron shackles which none can break. All the religions of the world try to break it; but the prisoner cannot release himself. All they can exhort man to do is to free himself by his own efforts, good resolutions, religious observances, good works, service to others. But helpless human self is always a slave (Rom. 6:16), and can never deliver itself: it was not created capable of doing so.
Only the living God has given the remedy, and it comes from outside, down from above. It can neither be known, nor conceived of, nor experienced, except from without, for from within it would be still fallen self. But God Himself, the primal Self, who from eternity the selfless Self, the wholly Other from the fallen self, the outgoing Self, He who is love, took flesh and became man. He entered into the closed circle of this perverted world, a real man born of woman, measuring up to the plumbline of His own perfect law from which He never deviated a fraction, overcoming not by that will-o’-the-wisp of man’s vain imaginations–self-effort–but by knowing His human nothingness and the allness of His indwelling Father (John 14:10). He was then in a condition to be what none but the Sovereign Creator could be–the end of the old and the beginning of the new. Coming as God’s representative man, to whose coming that former representative man, the first Adam, had pointed in his failure (Rom. 5:14), coming as God’s last Adam to end the old grace and found the new and final one, He did the only thing that the New Founder could do, the thing which had been foreshadowed through the blood sacrifices and burnt offerings of history. As representative of all humanity, just as much as an ambassador represents his whole nation in what he says and does, He died a representative death, and rose to a representative new life. The Scripture says He was "made sin for us" (II Cor. 5:21), and that touches bottom. In other places it says He bore our sins, but here, He was "made sin," made the very thing in itself. But what is sin? Self- centered egoism, of course. Sin appeared when Lucifer said "I will" in defiance of the "I will" of God; when he chose to be his own self-sufficient god in place of containing the living God. That independent "I" was sin. Sin in essence is not a thing, not a taint, but a person, the evil spirit of independent selfhood, just as holiness is not a thing, but The Person, the Holy Spirit. And when Jesus was "made sin," the thing-in-itself, He, representing us all, became egotistic humanity, infected with that satanic spirit. All that abominable, rebellious, hateful independent self clothed Him there, and He was made it. Why? Because the human self must die to the false, if the true is to replace it. And it died to it in Jesus, died utterly, died absolutely. When that holy body was buried as a corpse, and that same body was "raised again," "this same Jesus" had died to sin (Rom. 6:10), as well as died for sins; the same Person, representing us all, had become once and for all separated in death from that evil spirit of independent self, and had risen possessed by another Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God.
–From Once Caught, No Escape
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 11 No 4
- The Deep Things of God
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- A Strange Army!
- Irish Summer Conference
- The Letter to the Romans
- Isaiah 45:20-25
- Men’s Conference
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- A Look at a Book
- It’s a Wonderful Thing…
- Questions & Answers
- Marching On
- Hopekinsville Fellowship
- God’s Promises
- To Think About
- The Mailbox
- New Light on the Twelve Steps
- No Excuses for Failure
- Tape Talk
- Words to Live By