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14.  Paul

14-1 The Conversion Of Paul / Saul || 14-2-1 Paul And His Brethren || 14-2-2 The Weakness Of Paul || 14-2-3 Paul: A Character Study || 14-3 The Preaching Of Paul || 14-4 Saul Changed To Paul || 14-5 Paul's Relationship With Jesus || 14-6 Paul And Christ  (1) || 14-6-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels  || 14-6-2 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Statistics || 14-6-3-1 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Analysis And Implications || 14-6-3-2 Inspiration: The Human Factor || 14-6-3-3 The Enigma Of John's Gospel || 14-6-3-4 The Nature Of The Gospel Records || 14-6-3-5 Memorizing Scripture || 14-6-4 The Supremacy Of Christ || 14-7 Paul And Christ (2) || 14-7-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels: Further Observations || 14-7-2 Paul And The Parables || 14-7-3 Paul's Use Of The Sermon On The Mount (Mt. 5 - 7) || 14-7-4 Paul's Exposition Of Gethsemane || 14-7-5 Paul And The Characters In The Gospels || 14-7-6 Paul In The Gospels || 14-7-7 Paul And John The Baptist || 14-7-8 Saul, Paul And Stephen || 14-7-9 Following Elders || 14-7-10 Connections Between The Gospels And Epistles: Observations || 14-8 Paul's Heroes || 14-8-1 Paul And Moses || 14-8-2 Paul And King Saul || 14-9   Paul and Corinth || 14-10 Paul And His Weak Brethren || 14-11 Paul's Thorn In The Flesh || 14-12 Paul's Shipwreck  || 14-13 Paul’s Self-Perception || 14-14 Paul, Philemon and Onesimus || 14-15 Chronology of Paul’s Life

14.13 Paul’s Self-Perception

With nothing less than a touch of genius, one of our brethren wrote: “Identity holds the most strategic position in our minds, and will have more impact on our behaviour than any single belief or bit of information. We can think of ourselves as " a child of God," or " a disciple." Or, we can think of ourselves as " a loser," or as " a victim." Our identity shifts slowly, and is far more than the sum of what we do and where we do it. Someone once remarked, " We are human beings, not human doings." Whatever we think of ourselves will guide our lives. God sees us at this level, as He does not measure our behaviour or even our attitudes separately. He only sees a whole: a sheep or a goat. There’s no such thing, in God’s eyes, as " a pretty good goat," or a " not-so-good-sheep." He judges, completely and ineffably, at the identity level. Either we are disciples, or we are not. Identity is the most important force in determining our lives. Even more important, God’s assessment of our identity will determine our eternal destiny” (1).  

As an example, consider how we perceive baptism. Some will say ‘I became a Christian on [20.11.83]’, or ‘I became a member of the XYZ ecclesia on ...’. They mean, that’s when they were baptized. Others will perceive it as: ‘I was baptized into Christ on 20.11.83...I accepted the Truth on...I committed myself to the Lord’s service on...I came to Christ on...’. None of these are wrong. They are all true. My suggestion, and my own perception of my own baptism, is that it was a personal joining with the Lord Jesus Christ. This, it seems to me, must be the central perception which dominates our self-awareness. The human side of it- the name of the group or ecclesia- is true, and needs in some contexts to be ever remembered, but it is only the human side. The person who converted us, the ecclesia we joined...all these things will fade away, as time takes its course. But the essence will eternally remain: that we are in Christ, we share in His life and live it out, seeking to act as He would in every situation we face, and this is the life we will eternally live by His grace. 

Present Salvation

It could appear that I am saying ‘It’s not so important what Christian group we belong to’. No, I don’t mean that at all. We should be proud of our brotherhood and of our little part in it. What I’m saying is that first and foremost, we are God’s children. The height and depth of who we are right now, and who we will be, is such that it makes all else, including whatever 'name' we bear in this world, of very much secondary importance. Many a town and village has its share of small time Protestant religions- JWs, Adventists, Baptists. May it not be that we perceive ourselves as just another such group, and nothing else; just another ordinary guy who wants God in his life, who has a religious conscience which is salved by baptism and attending church meetings. We are saved, in prospect, here and now. We have been translated into the Kingdom (Col. 1:13), we have been saved (2 Tim. 1:9), on account of being in Christ we not only died and resurrected with Him in baptism, but also afterwards ascended with Him and are as it were in heavenly places with Him (Eph. 2:5,6); our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). We are in the process of receiving a Kingdom (Heb. 12:28 Gk.). “We have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). We need to take a long, careful look at this question. You are in Christ; you will be there, in the Kingdom. In a sense, you are there. Me? Really me, I will be there? Yes, that’s what these verses teach. Perhaps you work such long hours you have little time to think, perhaps children demand all your attention. Perhaps the problems of your own personality grip your mind as you struggle with them subconsciously, every waking minute. But please. Make some time. Just 5 straight minutes alone. To think through the above verses. That because you were baptized into Christ and continue in Him, and have not rejected His grace, you will be there, and in a sense, you are there. We are constituted a Kingdom of priests now (Rev. 1:6; Ex. 19:6 cp. 1 Pet. 2:5,9). Take time to think it through, to the point that you feel that little gasp within you. Brethren, this is no philosophy we have believed, no piece of intellectual fascination we stumbled across along life’s way. This is the Truth, the eternal and saving Truth. A man cannot face these things and not have a deep impression of the absoluteness of the issues involved in faith and unbelief, in choosing to accept or reject the work of the struggling, gasping Man who hung on the stake to achieve it. It truly is a question of believe and be saved, or reject it and perish. And we have believed. We are not of them who draw back, who throw it all away and end in the gutter, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul by grace (Heb. 10:39). We perceive ourselves [as we walk down the street or play with our children] as winners, as more-than-conquerors, as those who will be there, as those who are there, those on the way there. 

The Lord bid us cut off the hand or foot that offends, and thus enter into life halt...blind, rather than be condemned in Gehenna (Mt. 18:8,9). It sounds as if ‘entering into life’ means entering into the Kingdom; and so it can do, for this clause is set as the antithesis for being condemned at the last day. Yet it is hard to imagine us entering the Kingdom somehow maimed, and in any case then we will not need to be without what causes temptation. The figure rings more true to our lives today; if we cut off our flesh now, we will live the rest of our mortal days somehow lacking what we could have had. In this case, we enter into life right now, insofar as we cut off the opportunities of the flesh. Jesus told another man that if he would enter into life, he must keep the commandments (Mt. 19:17). Insofar as he kept those commands, he would right now enter into life. We are entering into life, eternal life, right now! Likewise the camel must shed its load of riches and goods, so that it can pass through the gate into the Kingdom. But we are doing that right now! We will pass through the gate into the Kingdom when the Lord returns (Rev. 22:14), and yet through shedding our materialism, we do it now. John puts it more bluntly and yet more absolutely: now, through the life of faith, we have the eternal life, in that we begin to live now the type of life which we will eternally live. We receive the Kingdom of God here and now, in that we receive the Gospel of the Kingdom; and if we accept it as a little child, we begin to enter it, now- in that the lives we live determine whether or not we will enter it at the Lord’s coming. We are on our way into life! We have received the Kingdom, our names were written from the foundation of the world, and only our falling from grace can take that away. This is almost too good news to believe.  

Imputed Righteousness

How can it be? Throughout Romans, the point is made that the Lord counts as righteous those that believe; righteousness is imputed to us the unrighteous (Rom. 2:26; 4:3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,22,23,24; 8:36; 9:8). But the very same Greek word is used of our self-perception. We must count / impute ourselves as righteous men and women, and count each other as righteous on the basis of recognising each others’ faith rather than works: “Therefore we conclude [we count / impute / consider] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law... Likewise reckon [impute] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. (Rom. 3:28; 6:11). We should feel clean and righteous, and act accordingly, both in our own behaviour and in our feelings towards each other. Border-line language and expressions, clothing with worldly slogans, watching violence and pornography...these are not things which will be done by someone who feels and perceives him/herself to be clean and righteous, “in Christ”. The mind of love imputes no evil to others, as God doesn’t to us (1 Cor. 13:5; AV “thinketh no evil”, s.w. to count / impute in Romans). And again the word occurs in 2 Cor 3:5: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think [s.w. impute] any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God”. We are able to count / feel to ourselves as righteous; for God has counted us righteous. We are “in Christ” to the extent that we are Christ to this world. In this sense He has in this world no arms or legs or face than us. Paul was a placarding of Christ crucified before the Galatians (Gal. 3:1 Gk.); to the Corinthians he was “the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:10 RSV). There is a prophecy of the Lord Jesus preaching: “How beautiful are the feet of him that preaches the Gospel” (Nah. 1:15); but it is quoted in Rom. 10:15 with a subtle change of pronoun: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach”. We are the Lord Jesus to this world, because we are brethren in Him. This alone is a powerful imperative as to who we are, how we speak, the men and women we show ourselves to be. Imputed righteousness is given us on the basis of our faith. This means that insofar as we can believe all this is true, so it will be. In this sense “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom 8:16). We are His dear children (Eph. 5:1), the pride and joy of Almighty God, counted as wonderful and righteous by Him. 

The Body Of Christ

We are the body of Christ. We are counted righteous because we are baptized into Him. We are counted as Him; and we are parts of His body, hands, feet, eyes, internal organs. As such, we are inextricably linked in with the other members of the body. We cannot operate in isolation from them. “We are members one of another...we are members of his body” (Eph. 4:25; 5:30). Only insofar as we belong to each other do we belong to Him. We must perceive ourselves not so much as individual believers but as members of one body, both over space and over time. We must soberly ‘think of ourselves’ as someone who has something to contribute to the rest of the body, even if first of all we are not sure what it is (Rom. 15:3-8). We feel their weaknesses as if they are our own. Self interest must die; their wellbeing becomes all consuming. This is why men like Daniel and Nehemiah could feel that “we have sinned...”- not ‘they have sinned’. Ezra said that because we have sinned, we cannot lift up ourselves before Yahweh. And he cast himself down before Yahweh in demonstration of how much he was with his people in this (Ezra 9:15; 10:1)! Esther, in an eloquent type of the Lord’s mediation for us, risked her life because she felt that “we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed” (Es. 7:4). If she’d have kept her mouth shut, she wouldn’t have been destroyed. But she fought and won the same battle as we have daily or weekly before us: to identify ourselves with our weaker and more suffering brethren. The Lord Jesus didn’t sin Himself but He took upon Himself our sins- to the extent that He felt a sinner, even though He wasn’t. Our response to this utter and saving grace is to likewise take upon ourselves the infirmities and sins of our brethren. If one is offended, we burn too; if one is weak, we are weak; we bear the infirmities of the weak (Rom. 15:1). But in the context of that passage, Paul is quoting from Is. 53:11, about how the Lord Jesus bore our sins on the cross. We live out the spirit of His cross, not in just bearing with our difficulties in isolation, but in feeling for our weak brethren.  

If we believe that we are counted righteous, we must likewise assume that all those properly baptized are equally righteous, and will be saved along with us. We cannot condemn each other; therefore we must assume each other will be saved. If we have a positive attitude to our own salvation, we will likewise perceive our whole community. And the reverse is true; if we cannot believe that God sees us positively, we will tend towards a negative outlook upon ourselves. My sense is that many of us fail in this area. Paul had many reasons to think negatively of his converts; and yet he writes to the Thessalonians as if ‘we all’, all his readership, would be saved (1 Thess. 4:17). And likewise to dodgy Corinth, he writes as if they would all be accepted at the Lord’s return (1 Cor. 15:52); he saw them all as innocent Eve in danger of being beguiled (2 Cor. 11:3).  

The Two Pauls

But we are real life men and women, only too aware that although yes, we are in Christ, we are also all too human still. We still sin the sins and think the thoughts and feel the feelings of those around us. We are only who we are, born in such a town, living in such a city, doing a job, trying to provide for a family. In our minds eye we see the spotless lamb of God, moving around Galilee 2000 years ago, doing good, healing the sick. But He was there, and we are here now, today, in all our weakness and worldly distraction. He was as He was, but we are as we are. Reading through his letters, it is apparent that Paul saw himself as two people: a natural man, a Jew from Tarsus, a Roman citizen living in the Mediterranean world...and also, a man in Christ. This is why in an autobiographical passage in 2 Cor. 12, he says of himself: “I knew a man in Christ”, who had great visions 14 years previously (at the council of Jerusalem of Acts 15), and who was subsequently given a “thorn in the flesh”. “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory”, he writes (2 Cor 12:5), as if separating himself from this more spiritually exalted man who saw these visions. Paul is surely telling us that he sees himself as two people. He makes the point clearly: “I will not be a fool...I am become a fool” (:6,11). He was the greatest apostle; although he was nothing (:11). This language comes to a crisis in 12:10: “When I [i.e. the natural Paul] am weak, then am I [the spiritual Paul] strong”. Consider how this dualism is to be found in many other places:  

The Natural Paul

The Spiritual Paul

Paul could say: “I am a Pharisee...I am a man which am a Jew” (Acts 23:6; 21:13,39; 22:3; 2 Cor. 11:22)  Circumcision and being Jewish has ‘much advantage’ (Rom. 3:1,2). “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel” (Phil. 3:5). He argues that all Jews are “the seed of Abraham”, including himself, by birth (2 Cor. 11:22).

But he also stresses that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” because only “the children of the promise”, those baptized into Christ, are counted as the seed (Gal. 3:16,27-29; Rom. 9:8). The spiritual Paul is neither Jew nor Gentile.  The ‘gain’ of being personally Jewish Paul counted as loss (Phil. 3:3-7). His circumcision meant nothing (Rom. 2:29; 1 Cor. 7:19). “We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit...and have no confidence in the flesh [i.e. the fact of literal circumcision, see context]” (Phil. 3:7)

“We who are Jews by nature and not sinners of the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:15). Paul makes the frequent distinction between Jews and Gentiles, saying that he addresses “the first, but the Greek also”.

This contrasts sharply with Paul’s whole message that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and both groups are all equally sinners (Rom. 3:9,23). He speaks of “theirs is the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship…theirs are the patriarchs” (Rom. 9:4,5). He clearly dissociates himself from Jewry. He had to become like a Jew in order to save them, although he was Jewish (2 Cor. 9:20). He carefully kept parts of the law (Acts 18:18; 21:26; 1 Cor. 8:13). To the Jew he became [again] as a Jew; and to the Gentiles he became as a Gentile (1 Cor. 9:20).      He acted “To them that are without law, as without law...”. He was “dead to the law” (Gal. 2:19)  He was a Jew but considered he had renounced it, but he became as a Jew to them to help them. He saw no difference between Jew and Gentile (Gal. 3:27-29) but he consciously acted in a Jewish or Gentile way to help those who still perceived themselves after the flesh. “...(being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ)” (1 Cor 9:21).

I am carnal (Rom. 7:14)

But in Christ he was not carnal (1 Cor. 3:1 s.w.)

No flesh may glory before God (1 Cor. 1:29)

Paul, in his spiritual man, as counted righteous before God, could glory (Rom. 15:17).

“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect”

“Let us therefore, as many as be perfect…” (Phil. 3:12,15). In 1 Cor. 13:10, he considers he is ‘perfect’, and has put away the things of childhood. Thus he saw his spiritual maturity only on account of his being in Christ; for he himself was not “already perfect”, he admitted.

“ I laboured more abundantly than they all...

... yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor 15:10)

God set the apostles first in the ecclesia (1 Cor. 12:28)

God set the apostles last in the ecclesia (1 Cor. 4:9)

“I live...

... yet not I, but Christ liveth in me [the new ‘me’]... I [the old ‘me’] am crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20) (2)

“I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Rom. 11:13). He considered himself rightfully amongst the very chiefest apostles (2 Cor. 12:11).

He “supposed”, the same word translated “impute” as in ‘imputed righteousness’, that he was amongst the chiefest apostles (2 Cor. 11:5). He knew this was how his Lord counted him. But he felt himself as less than the least of all saints (Eph. 3:8). “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:9-10).

This all shows that Paul wasn’t so heavenly that he was no earthly good. He saw himself from outside himself, as a Jew, as a Pharisee from Tarsus. And he used that self-understanding to get his message over to ordinary people. He could turn it on and he could turn it off; to the Jew he acted as a Jew, to the Gentiles as a Gentile. But most importantly, his own internal self-perception was that he was neither Jew nor Gentile but in Christ; a citizen of Heavenly Jerusalem, far more than earthly Rome (although he used that Roman citizenship at times). We too cannot obliterate who we are or where we came from. But superimposed upon this must be the realisation than now, we are in Christ. Likewise the record of the Lord’s wilderness temptations is almost certainly a reflection of His self-perception; He spoke to the ‘devil’ / personification of sin which was within Him, He saw Himself as two people, and His spiritual man triumphed gloriously against the man of the flesh. Lk. 4:8 records how “Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve”. He understood that we can only serve two masters: God or the flesh (“mammon” is another personification of the flesh, similar to ‘satan’). He saw His own flesh, His own internal thoughts, as a master begging to be served which he must totally reject. His words are a quotation from Dt. 6:13, which warns Israel to serve Yahweh alone and not idols. He perceived His own natural mind and desire as an idol calling to be served. When the Lord explained what had happened in the wilderness to the disciples and thereby to the Gospel writers, He opened His heart to them. He gave us all a window on how He perceived Himself, as He sought to explain to men the internal struggles of the Son of God. Bringing it all back home, I must ask firstly how much we even struggle with temptation? And as and when we do, would we not be helped by the Lord’s example of talking to ourselves, and personalising Scripture as He did? ‘You don’t want to do that! Give up your place in the Kingdom, for that...drug, that girl, that job? Of course not! Come on! There is a way of escape; Paul told me God won’t try me beyond my strength, He will make me a way of escape’. The Lord in the wilderness was representative of us all. He was led of the Spirit at that time (Mt. 4:1); and Paul uses just those words of us in our present experience of trial (Rom. 8:14).  

Serious Sinners

We shouldn’t be discouraged if in our self perception we see ourselves as serious sinners. We must say of ourselves that “we are unprofitable servants” (Lk. 17:10)- i.e. condemned, for this is how the phrase is used elsewhere in the Lord’s thinking (Mt. 25:30). This is the finest paradox of all. If we perceive ourselves as worthy of  condemnation, we will be saved. If we would judge [i.e. condemn] ourselves, we will not be judged / condemned (1 Cor. 11:31). This is written in the context of the breaking of bread. When we examine ourselves then, and at other times, do we get to the point where we truly feel through and through our condemnation? If this is how we perceive our natural selves, then surely we will be saved- if we also believe with joy that God’s righteousness is counted to us. Over time, Paul’s perception of his own sinfulness increased. The following quotes are in chronological sequence:

“I am the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9);

“Less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8)

“Chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). 

There is a tension between the fact we are saved and absolutely assured of a place in the Kingdom, and the evident awareness we must have of our own inadequacy and condemnation; that sense of the future we might miss. In the age to come, we will no doubt realise that this is how it had to be. But for now, we are left with that almost irresolvable tension.  

Christ Centredness

If we believe that we are counted righteous, we will with joy and gratitude be people who are centred upon another man- the Lord Jesus, the Saviour who made this great salvation possible. We run the risk, it seems to me, of being Bible centred rather than Christ centred; a community of Bible students, a kind of learned society that has more Biblical learning and erudition than most other ‘Christian’ communities; but precious little else. The man Christ Jesus must dominate our individual and collective consciousness, and the true doctrines we are blessed to know must enable this the more powerfully in practice. We must see in that Man who had fingernails, hair, who needed to shave, who sneezed and blinked, the very Son of God; the Man who should dominate our thinking and being. And we must grasp the wonder of the fact that from the larynx of a Palestinian Jew came the words of Almighty God. All that was true of natural Israel becomes a warning for us, Israel after the spirit. The tension between the following of Jesus and merely studying the pages of the Bible for academic truth is brought out in the Lord’s encounter with the Jews in Jn. 5:39: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: [but] ye will not come to me that ye might have life”. Surely the Lord is using irony here: as if to say, ‘Go on searching through the scrolls, thinking as you do that finding true exposition will bring you eternal life. But you must come to me, the word-made-flesh, the living and eternal life, if you wish to find it’.  

God Manifestation

We bear the Name of Yahweh / Jehovah, by reason of our baptism into it. His Name is declared as His character- merciful, truthful, judging sin, patient etc (Ex. 34:5-7). He who will be who He will be, manifesting His characteristics as He does so, must have His way in us too. Babylon and Nineveh were condemned for having the attitude that “I am, and there is none beside me” (Is. 47:8; Zeph. 2:15). Their self-perception was a parody on the Name and being of Yahweh: He alone can say “I am, and there is none else” (Is. 43:11; 44:6; 45:6,21) and seek to be who He is. He alone can seek to articulate the characteristics that make up His Name onto the lives of others, and onto the things that comprise His Kingdom. We are not to be who we are; to ‘just be yourself’; to ‘just do it’, as foolish slogans and adverts encourage us. We are here to show forth His mercy, truth, judgment of sin, patient saving of the weak etc., not our own personality. We are, in the very end, Yahweh manifested to this world, through our imitation of the Lord Jesus. Paul was alluding to the Yahweh Name (as he often does) when he wrote: “ the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10). ‘Yahweh’ means all of three things: I am who I am, I was who I was, and I will be who I will be. It doesn’t only mean ‘I will be manifested in the future’ in a prophetic sense; that manifestation has been ongoing, and most importantly it is going on through us here and now. Paul felt Yahweh’s insistent manifestation of the principles of His Name through and in himself and his life’s work. We are right now, in who we are, Yahweh’s witnesses to Himself unto this world, just as Israel were meant to have been. Thus he felt “jealous with the jealousy of God” over his converts (2 Cor. 11:2); jealousy is a characteristic of the Yahweh Name, and Paul felt it, in that the Name was being expressed through him and his feelings. His threat that “I will not spare” (2 Cor. 13:2) is full of allusion to Yahweh’s similar final threats to an apostate Israel. “As he is [another reference to the Name] so are we in this world” (1 Jn. 4:17). Appreciating this means that our witness is to be more centred around who we essentially are than what we do

“Lord both of the dead and living”

There are some passages which appear to teach [misread] that we go on living after death. It has been observed that Rom. 14:8,9 implies that Jesus is our Lord after death as well as in life: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living”. We are the Lord’s after death, in the same way as Abraham lives unto Him (Lk. 20:38). We are still with Him. He doesn’t forget us when we die, just as I will remember my mother till the day of my death, regardless of when she dies. But if the Lord doesn’t come, I will die, and my memory, my love, my fondness, will perish (for a small moment). But God doesn’t die, His memory doesn’t fade and distort as ours does; images of us don’t come in and out of His mind with greater intensity and insistence at some times than at others;  He remembers us constantly and will remember us after our death, right up until when the Lord comes. Because of this, He is the God of Abraham; Abraham is alive in the mind of God, He remembers his faith and his offering of Isaac, just as much as He was aware of it in Abraham’s lifetime. The works of the dead follow them, in the sense that once they finish their labours their works are still in the memory of the Father (Rev. 14:13); for what father would not remember his dead child’s ways and deeds? This is why Rom. 14:8,9 says that Jesus is our Lord after death just as much as He was and is during our lifetimes. Why? Because we are “the Lord’s”, because we were “added to the Lord” through baptism (Acts 2:41,47; 5:14; 11:24), because we are true brothers-in-Christ. From God’s perspective, the dead believers are cheering us on as we run the race to the end; He remembers them as they were, and knows how they would behave if they were alive today, looking down upon us as we run the race (Heb. 12:1). Or in another figure, the blood of the dead believers cries out from under the altar, demanding vengeance on this world: on the Catholic, Protestant, Babylonian, Roman, Nazi, Soviet systems that slew them for their faith (Rev. 6:9). To God, their blood is a voice, just as real as the voice of Abel, which cried out (in a figure) for judgment against Cain (Gen. 4:10). After their death, those who had already died are spoken of as being given “white robes” and being told to rest a bit longer (Rev. 6:11). Yet the white robe is given at baptism; a man may cast off Christ, but the prodigal is given again the robe if he returns (Lk. 15:22 s.w.); we are given white robes in this life through our acceptance of the blood of Christ and living in response to that redemption (Rev. 7:13,14; 22:14 Gk.). God giving believers white robes after their death can surely only be understood as His remembrance of how in their lives they had put on those robes. But His view of time is different, and He sees them as doing it again and again, as He considers how they had died for His cause and how thereby He will surely raise them. This is just as we would relive in our own minds the baptism of a child who has died. We know of course that there is no immortal soul, and that we personally feel nothing in death. But there is an immortal spirit, in that who we essentially are, our personality, lives on in the memory of a loving Father.  

In the end

In the end, we are all only ordinary men, nothing-special women, who have somehow been called by Almighty God to know the ultimately true faith, to have the hope of eternity with Him- life with His nature, with His Son, for ever and ever and ever... And yet we can treat this relationship, this essential being, as just something ordinary. For those brought up in the faith, it can just be an unthinking following of the faith of our fathers. Or just a church to attend which we got to know from our work colleague, our distant relative, because it seemed like the logical way at the time. Or just...mere religion, with its traditions and simple ceremonies of baptism and breaking of bread, with its meetings, with its psychology of religious feeling just like anything else. Brethren, this ought not so to be for us. This is the Truth, and the things we stand for stretch on into the spectre of utter infinity; they are the one and only Truth for our whole and eternal existence. It isn’t just a crutch to help us through this life, which is all the religion of this world amounts to. It isn’t mere Christianity, a badge to wear just as everyone else says ‘I’m a Catholic...a Hindu...a Baptist’. It’s infinitely and essentially more than that; so much much more.  


(1) David Levin, ‘A New Wineskin’, Tidings, Dec. 1999.

(2)  Gal. 2:20 and 1 Cor. 15:10 show Paul using the phrase “yet not I but....” to differentiate between his natural and spiritual self. Perhaps he does the same in the only other occurrence of the phrase, in 1 Cor 7:10: “And unto the married I command, yet not I [the natural Paul], but the Lord [the man Christ Jesus in the spiritual Paul], Let not the wife depart from her husband”.