Mar 23, 2008

Death in the Garden: Physical or Spiritual?

Was God's Garden death sentence physical, spiritual or both? Answering this question is of extreme importance if we are to properly understand the death spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5:12ff. Consider the following statement from Jesus just before He raised Lazarus from his 4 day encounter with physical death. Was Lazarus' physical resurrection a shadow of things to come?

  • Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:24-26 (ESV)

Those who die "shall live" and those alive "shall never die". Both the living and those that have passed on are made alive in Christ. Jesus is most certainly speaking of spiritual life and therefore the common denomenator between the physically alive and dead, is "spiritual birth". With that as a background let's move to the sequence of events that brought us to the place of the cross.


What took place that fateful day in the Garden of Eden on,

April 15, 0081 A.M. (Anno Mundi—a running clock from the beginning) that forever plunged man into the abyss of oppressive wickedness, thus requiring this regeneration required to commune with God? Actually we truly have no clue as to the first transgression’s date or year but in honor of what may be the most despised day in the U.S., I thought it was only fitting to tie sin’s origination with income tax day. :-)

  • So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6 (ESV)

There is virtually no theological misunderstanding regarding Adam’s original edict-breaking decision (at least not that I am aware of), but there is a great deal of controversy relative to the nature of the death that was to befall Adam and Eve. It is this “death” that I will attempt to address. Was the nature of “the death” physical or spiritual? If we don’t correctly identify the precise consequence then we will incorrectly apply the solution.

There’s no doubt that the desire to make autonomous choices was at the heart of this original sin. That very special fruit that hung on the tree in the middle of the garden, apparently looked irresistible, tasted like the most heavenly desert and was promised to bring wisdom on par with the Creator. So what else is new? Aren’t these one in the same temptations we daily succumb to that evidence our link to Adam’s “sin nature”?

I used to wonder why the demonstration of our faith was so important to God. I’d say to myself, “Self, I thought God’s ultimate desire was for my obedience?” Even obedience outside the context of faith is apparently of little value to the Lord. We are told that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb 11:6a) The Apostle Paul wrote, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23b) I believe the reason God covets faith is because it violates the autonomous nature that feeds our fleshly desires.

Utter dependence on God, believing that He alone is sovereign, runs against every molecule of our Adamic nature. Becoming like a child, totally dependent upon God, mocks our seeming independence. Even the most popular soteriology of our day, arminianism, is consistent with the belief that we are self-sufficient determinative creatures. We say, how dare God tell us what to do! I can choose or not choose Him as I see fit! Ah, but this idea stems from a misunderstanding of the very nature of our condition. I’m forever writing a paper entitled, “Dead Men Can’t Jump”. It typifies the total depravity of the human race, launched by that notorious garden couple.

What were the immediate and ultimate consequences of Adam and Eve’s violation of God’s law? I believe a misstep in our understanding of the Garden crime’s commensurate punishment, has created a great deal of confusion resulting in some rather faulty presuppositions.

This heinous act was a willful and premeditated contravention of God’s only law. As a point of emphasis it should be recognized that man was created outside the lush surroundings of Eden.

  • The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15 (ESV)

At this juncture it is not my intention to deal with man’s mortality or the origination of evil but it should be duly noted that the both the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil predated Adam’s insertion into this paradise. I think this speaks to the very nature of man’s originally sinless longevity.

  • And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9 (ESV)

The Commandment

Let’s look at the composition of the entire body of law that existed during the first millennium of God’s creation. As opposed to the 612 laws that would eventually be instituted, there was but one command.

  • And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

Consider the details of this edict. It is here where I think an errant presupposition has been inserted—and as such it is not confirmed by the text. To properly understand the Scripture, I believe it’s an absolute necessity to learn to take out of (exegesis) and not read into (eisogesis) the text. Man need only obey one simple command and his disobedience produced a rather obvious result—death. Spiritual or physical?

The Punishment

What was the retribution for violating this decree? Was it physical death? The above passage clearly states that they were to “surely die”. Simple, right? This is where we need to check our assumptions at the cover of the Word.

In Genesis 2:17, did God say, “…the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for if you eat of it you shall surely die”? Read this statement again. It seems to be that most interpret the verse in the manner in which I restated it. As Michelangelo is credited as saying, “the devil is in the details”, and in this instance the details of God’s first law are of monumental significance.

What was the punishment for this atrocious crime of desiring to usurp God’s sovereignty and be a god unto themselves? I ask it again. Was the punishment physical death? I’m being redundant at this juncture because I think it is incumbent upon us not to be blinded by presupposition.

In the above reading of Genesis 2:17 did you miss anything? I did. Unlike our current penal system, God’s punishment was to be every bit as swift as it was certain. There was no trial. There was to be no appellate process. The verdict was final and the transgressors experienced the immediacy of the consequences. I ask again, did God say, “if you eat of it you shall surely die”? Absolutely not! If we add to or remove from God’s Word we end up in a world of chaos. I intentionally left out a key prepositional phrase that’s found in the passage quoted above.

For God said, “in the day” you eat you will “surely die”. Yes, they were to die but the death was to be “in the day”, not hundreds of years future. Retribution for eating the fruit of this special tree was not to be carried out at some future indeterminate time but was to be immediate—it was to happen the same day. Would you agree?

God did not say that man would die 800 or 900 years after the offense (we are told that Adam lived 930 years). This is absolutely crucial. God specifically told Adam and Eve that their death sentence for disobedience would be carried out the very day they ate from the forbidden tree. So at this point the question on the table is: was God faithful to this promised same-day judgment?

Keeping this query simmering, let’s move on to the interaction between the Mr. Ed of reptiles and the original first lady.

By contrast what did the serpent tell Eve?

  • But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. Genesis 3:4 (ESV)

As a sidebar, I think it’s rather interesting to note that the serpent’s plan of attack went through the woman who was not directly and specifically given the directive by God (at least that is recorded in Scripture). Clearly Adam must have passed down God’s command to Eve (she was obviously accountable) because with only a minor addition regarding touch, she quoted God’s command verbatim back to the rowdy reptile. As we know, the serpent attempted to use a little misdirection by including all the trees of the garden as part of God’s rule, but the key here is in the serpent’s reply to Eve. “You will not surely die”.

At this point we have an obvious challenge to God. This wicked creature told Eve that she would not die, while God had made it abundantly clear that she and Adam would not only die but their death would occur the very day they partook. This to me is the epicenter of this issue and it must be dealt with if we are to reach the heart of the sin problem.

The theological conclusions of many today unwittingly side with the serpent. On what basis do I make this claim? When Adam and Eve violated the law who correctly identified the consequences? Was it God or the conniving serpent? Asking this question may seem rather presumptuous but it’s entirely valid and germane to the issue at hand relative to the conclusions that many people have drawn. Certainly we know that God cannot be in error, so if our conclusions say that he is, then we must be forced to adjust our ill-conceived ideas.

We all know the outcome of this Peyton Place scene but let’s look at it more closely while attempting to discard presuppositional bias. I ask again. Was God’s death sentence immediate? Let’s look at the text. (I would consider reading Genesis 2 and 3 for context)

  • So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:6-7 (ESV)

  • The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. Genesis 3:14 (ESV)

Their eyes were opened and shame flooded their very being. The violation of God’s law was swift and it was sure but was it meted out by physical death? Did Adam or Eve breathe their last breath the day they ate?

According to the chronology below who was cursed first? The serpent was told of the enmity that would exist between him and Eve’s offspring. What were the specific and pertinent punishments for the human violators of God’s law or in the case of the cunning mercenary that challenged others to transgress?

  • I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." 16 To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." 17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:15-19 (ESV)

The Penalties:

  1. The Serpent: was to crawl on his belly and eat dust (doesn’t quite sound like the super-being assumed today—that’s another can of worms that should be addressed—it’s much less messy to blame all evil on some external dragon without considering the accountability of our own depraved condition)

  2. The Woman: would feel the utter pain in childbearing; and her husband was to rule over her. (Adam probably saw Eve’s 2nd punishment as the silver lining in the very ominous cloud! Just kidding…)

  3. The Man: God cursed the ground. Toil would be certain as man attempted to cultivate this new unhealthy thistle-laden work environment (a few verses later we find that the man was banished from the perfect Edenic conditions)

Was the “return to the ground” part of Adam and Eve’s punishment? Sure it was, or I should say most think that it was. Is this truly what the text implies? Without presupposition, I believe one would conclude that “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken” was part of the natural process. How can this be? Surely most of us assume that physical death is part of sin’s curse. This is something for a latter time but I think it is worth pondering.

I believe it is of value to draw a distinct contrast between God’s command and what the serpent told Eve. God said, “the day you eat of it you shall surely die” while the serpent said, “you will surely not die”. If the current theological paradigm (punishment equating physical death) is allowed to stand, who was telling the truth—God or the serpent? Did Adam and Eve physically die the very day they ate of the forbidden fruit? Do you see the problem? Physical death was not realized for hundreds of years after the transgression.

At this point the ensuing argument usually resides in the proposition that they “began to die” that day. This is not what the text says or even implies. This conclusion is assumption driven. The text does not say, “the day you eat of it you shall surely begin to die”. We must be precise with God’s Word.

Adam lived at least 800 years after this supposed immediate death sentence. A year after his conviction, had his death decree been carried out incrementally by 1/930th? With each passing year was he that much closer to realizing the full weight of God’s punishment or was God’s vengeance to be realized immediately?

Back in the late 70’s I worked at the Reception Medical Center (RMC), a prison intake facility in north Florida. I flipped the switch that night that allowed Ted Bundy to shuffle through the iron-barred doors of RMC. This notorious murderer was quickly classified and in a short while was shipped out to Florida State Prison’s infamous death row, where Bundy would live out the remaining years of his life.

At 7:06 a.m. local time on January 24, 1989, Ted Bundy was electrocuted in FSP’s “Old Sparky”, after being sentenced almost 10 years prior. Stay after stay, many were outraged that this sadistic sexual deviant’s execution was so long coming after his initial death sentence.

Here’s the point. Let’s compare Bundy’s “swift and certain” (at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be) death sentence with Adam’s. Bundy lived 10 years after sentencing while Adam lived more than 800 years! As slow as our justice system is in executing those who await their final rest, how does that stack up against God’s punishment of Adam, if in fact physical death was the death that God spoke of in Genesis 2:17. And if physical death was the intended consequence why didn’t God make a salt statue out of each of them the day they realized their nakedness?

Consider this. If the serpent had been given the opportunity to speak with the women he deceived, what would have been his unequivocal statement had physical death been God’s expected method of punishment? “See I told you, you weren’t going to die and you clearly didn’t die, did you? God is the liar I told you He was”. Clearly this conversation never took place nor could it have because I do not believe physical death was the anticipated punishment.

After Adam realized that his physical life was spared, wouldn’t Adam have thought, “I guess God wasn’t all that serious about ‘the day you eat of it you shall surely die’.” Isn’t this like telling one of our children, “If you do that one more time I’m going to send you to your room for the rest of your natural born life!” It's only going to take 2 or 3 times before little Johnny begins to suspect that we don't really mean what we say?

Adam and Eve each received the immediate and expected punishment which included something not yet mentioned in the Scripture passages quoted above—banishment from the garden. God “drove man out of the garden”. Why? Because in it was the tree of life. His removal was the evidence that he was forever separated from His Creator.

  • Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (ESV)

Punishment was spiritual

The sin problem created by Adam was not physical but spiritual. And without the miraculous intervention of God through Christ, Adam’s sin could never have been atoned for. God knew from the beginning that the blood of bulls and goats would never be enough. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:4 (NASB) One physical act of disobedience (which was calculated and volitional) led to spiritual death—not physical death. Adam and Eve were separated from God the very day they ate of the fruit. They were forever banished from the garden. As per verse 24 above, in its midst was the tree of life which was basically a fountain of youth. Apparently in it was immortality and that’s why God was forced to guard the tree with a special detail of angelic beings—the fleshly state of Adam was overtly mortal.

  • For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NKJV)

  • So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul [nephesh-Gen 2:9]." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:45 (NASB)

In Adam all that are dead spiritually will return to the dust of the earth and forever be separated from God. But how glorious it is that through Christ we are alive! Born dead spiritually in the condition of Adam but made alive through Christ. We are born again. Though alive in the flesh we are born in the spirit. And that which is made alive shall never die.

What physical death accomplishes for the believer is to pass Christ-followers directly into the presence of God. Death has no sting because our spirit has already been raised with Christ. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that his physical birthright was of no eternal consequence. His physical Jewishness was of no value because although alive physically he was dead spiritually.

  • Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3 (ESV)

The issue for Nicodemus, and for that matter all men, is that we are all still-born spiritually. As in the Princess Bride classic (one of my all-time favorites), men are not “mostly dead” but “all dead”. As Paul points out, it’s rather preposterous to think that a dead man can seek God. To me this is what the entire plan of redemption is about. Though we are alive physically we are dead spiritually, not to be raised out of our Adamic bondage apart from a saving faith initiated by Christ. Being physically alive does not constitute spiritual life and being spiritually alive does not preclude one from dying physically. The beating of the human heart tells us nothing about our eternal spiritual condition. Following is a rather dismal commentary on the reality of man’s condition apart from Christ.

  • as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:10-18 (ESV)

  • The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (ESV)

  • The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)

Adam, and all that will continue to forever follow, are at enmity with God from their very birth. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are born sinners. Yes, we are free moral agents. We can choose to sin or we can choose to sin. This is the Baskin Robbins of only one flavor. However, through justification by faith the walls of separation are torn down and we are freed from the chains of sin. This is God-initiated grace where we finally have peace with God. (Rom 5:1).

The following passage contains some exquisitely clear language regarding justification. By the one (Adam) we are all condemned, but by the ONE (Christ) we are made righteous. There are only two states of being. We are either in Adam or in Christ.

  • If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.Romans 5:17-21 (ESV)

Concluding Thoughts

Looking back to the garden we must know that God’s righteous punishment for Adam and Eve was immediate and it was certain. We know that God was in fact telling the truth and that the serpent was a deceitful desperate liar. The day Adam ate of the fruit he died. He didn’t begin to die. It was a spiritual death and the gravestone read, “Today you transgressed My law. Today you died forever.” It was separation from the Creator because with this sin barrier in place God could no longer fellowship with man as He once did. On that very day God’s rather laborious eschatological plan of redemption was launched and was to be consummated at the end of the “last days”.

We know that the serpent was found wanting. For if the consequential death prescribed by God had been physical, the serpent would have been truthful—because Adam and Eve didn’t physically die the day they ate but yet remained alive on earth for at least 800 years after the entrance of sin. Adam lived under his spiritual death sentence for the bulk of his 930 years, knowing that the day he breathed his last would in fact be his last—never to see God again.

How did I miss the difference between Adam’s physical and spiritual death for 33 years? Presupposition. I assumed by what I had been told, that physical death was the ultimate enemy that must be conquered. However, physical death merely finalizes our eternal state—either eternal life with God for the believer or eternal separation from God for those who do not by faith choose Christ. I believe this seemingly small issue has caused innumerable interpretational problems.

Physical death is not the enemy of those that know Christ. However, for those who have not yet believed in the name of Jesus Christ, physical death seals their eternal doom. Every human being will eventually be put to rest. "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." Hebrews 9:27-28 (ESV) It is the unseen removal of sin that is of eternal value. Matter of fact, the New Covenant blessings are spiritual in nature only "seen" through the faith of our spiritual eyes.

  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

  • For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 1 Peter 3:18 (ESV)

We know that Christ enjoyed a resurrection of both body and spirit. Hundreds witnessed the physical results of His resurrection. Was Thomas so unlike us all?

  • So the other disciples told him [Thomas], "We have seen the Lord." But he [Thomas] said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." John 20:25 (ESV)

How much more though is it of value to God for those who daily trust Christ without physical eyes? For those who recognize that His return was not intended to be physical--for the Kingdom did not come "with signs to be observed"...nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." (Luke 17:20-21)

  • Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:27-29 (ESV)

Christ accommodates our spiritual weakness but yet extols the virtue of those that live lives propelled by faith.

It was the resurrection of Jesus’ spirit that forever conquered the bondage of sin. However, had Jesus not been raised bodily there would have been no proof that He had been raised spiritually. Lazarus was raised as well but yet we can reasonably assume that he eventually returned to the earth. In his case the conquering of physical death was temporal, for from the dust we come to the dust we will return. Paul tells us that our carbon-based bodies cannot exist in the life hereafter. Therefore the corruptible must put on the incorruptible. (1Cor 15:35-49)

The ultimate resurrection is of the spirit, for we know that we have been translated from death into the Kingdom (Col 1:13) through the blood of Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world (1Pet 1:19; Rev 3:8). By faith Lazarus looked forward to the parousia, which was the resurrection on the last day. As Paul was proclaiming the Gospel to Felix we are struck by the nearness of the resurrection which was to occur at the shattering of the holy people. (Dan 12:2;7) By presupposition most translators omit the impact of the little Greek word, “Mello” which means “about to be”. It’s a word of imminence but sadly quite often its impact is neutered from the text. Occasionally the Young’s Literal Translation gets it right and we gain a glimpse of what we may have missed.

  • having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, [that] there is about to be [mello] a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous; Acts 24:15 (YLT)

  • Elders who [are] among you, I exhort, who [am] a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, and of the glory about to be [mello] revealed a partaker, 1Peter 5:1 (YLT)

It is not the intent of this study but should you like to learn more about the impact this word should have click Greek: Mello. When I’m reading the NT I can smell a “mello” a mile away!

And so it was, although God’s plan of redemption was conceived before the foundation of the world, it was initiated and inaugurated at the cross and consummated 40 years later at His parousia. Through faith in the finished work of Christ the Adamic problem was forever remedied for those who put their trust in Christ and Christ alone. He truly is THE way, THE truth and THE life and no man can come to the Father apart from the shed blood of Christ. With confidence we look back at the cross as the greatest day in human history, for without it our Adamic sin-laden body of death could never be raised to life. The New Covenant of Christ’s death and resurrection forever solved man’s utterly depraved and abundantly miserable state.

Let’s close with this from these wonderful words from the Apostle Paul:

  • There is, then, now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit; 2for the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus did set me free from the law of the sin and of the death; 3for what the law was not able to do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, His own Son having sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, did condemn the sin in the flesh,that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 5For those who are according to the flesh, the things of the flesh do mind; and those according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit; 6for the mind of the flesh [is] death, and the mind of the Spirit -- life and peace;

  • because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity to God, for to the law of God it doth not subject itself, 8for neither is it able; and those who are in the flesh are not able to please God. 9And ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God doth dwell in you; and if any one hath not the Spirit of Christ -- this one is not His;

  • 10and if Christ [is] in you, the body, indeed, [is] dead because of sin, and the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness, 11and if the Spirit of Him who did raise up Jesus out of the dead doth dwell in you, He who did raise up the Christ out of the dead shall quicken also your dying bodies, through His Spirit dwelling in you.

  • 12So, then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; 13for if according to the flesh ye do live, ye are about to [mello] die; and if, by the Spirit, the deeds of the body ye put to death, ye shall live; 14for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God; 15for ye did not receive a spirit of bondage again for fear, but ye did receive a spirit of adoption in which we cry, `Abba -- Father.
  • 16The Spirit himself doth testify with our spirit, that we are children of God; 17and if children, also heirs, heirs, indeed, of God, and heirs together of Christ -- if, indeed, we suffer together, that we may also be glorified together. 18For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory about to be [mello] revealed in us; Romans 8:1-18 (YLT)

What was lost in Adam has been retrieved in Christ. We who are “in Christ” have become Abraham’s seed according to the promise. (Gal 3:16;28) Once we were at enmity with God, dead in our transgressions (alive physically), yet Christ plucked us out of the bondage of the law of sin and death. Does this New Covenant freedom give us license to violate the law of Christ? May it never be! For in verse 12 we read, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:12-13 (NASB)

Adam lived the majority of his 930 year stay on earth in the deadness of his separation from the God who created him. He died the very moment he took that infamous crunchy chomp. His physical death only sealed that which had already been determined by his spiritual departure.

I am just beginning to “see” with spiritual eyes because it is only by the spirit that we communicate with God. (John 4:21-24) It seems to me that we put such a premium on the literal/natural when Jesus was constantly moving His sometimes faithful followers forever to the spiritual. Hopefully this short study will open your eyes (as it did mine) to see which death Paul was referring to in 1Cor 15, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”. We must constantly change our gaze from the physical to the spiritual.

However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 1 Corinthians 15:46 (NASB) My challenge is to be forever mindful of God’s order. This is why it is absolutely absurd to believe that Jesus again will leave Heaven, return to earth and set up some sort of utopian physical Kingdom. But that’s yet another story for another time.

I’ll leave you with this parting thought. Resurrection takes place the day you enter the Kingdom. Just as Adam died the very day he violated God’s law, we are raised with Christ the very day we partake of His life-giving spirit.

  • But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (NASB)

Mar 11, 2008

Call Them Heretics So You Don't Have to Dialogue

Too often the heretical label is used as a huge wrecking ball cascading down upon all who dare stand in its path. We act as though the non-essentials of the faith such as eschatological positions can damn us to hell. With brothers fighting brothers who needs a devil? I truly never dreamed of the day when the greatest persecution of believers would come from within the church. To be constantly crammed into the same theological den as the JW’s is rather disconcerting and completely unjustified.

As many of you know, the late David Chilton, a rather prolific author and brilliant Christian scholar, converted from postmillennialism to preterism near the end of his abbreviated life. He’d had a massive heart attack prior to his commitment to preterism, and many of his detractors attributed a loss of mental clarity with his departure from “orthodoxy”—therefore rather unabashedly crowning him as a de facto heretic. Gary North, writing about his former friend David Chilton's "conversion" to preterism, made the following comments. (For those that make a living taking every line out of context, by Chilton’s “conversion” it is presupposed that his faith-initiated “conversion to Christ” [that came many years earlier] is the one and only “conversion” of eternal significance) You be the judge as to the appropriateness of North’s tenor.

GARY NORTH: "As the publisher of Days of Vengeance and Paradise Restored, let me say, without hesitation, that the post-1994 David Chilton is indeed a heretic who has denied the Church's historic creeds and confessions on the question of the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment. [CWC note: Sounds like hyper-credalism to me. Since when were the creeds canonized?]

It is always sad when a defender of the faith abandons orthodoxy on any point. When he abandons it on the very point on which he had made his intellectual reputation, it is double sad. In Chilton's case, it is pathetic, for no matter what he writes on this topic from now on, his critics will be able to say, justifiably: "His heart attack disrupted his ability to think clearly. It distorted his judgment.”

NORTH continues: “We can and should pray for the restoration of his mind, but to debate with him publicly will almost certainly drive him deeper into this heresy. He will feel compelled to defend himself in public. Let him go in peace. It is not our God-given task to confront him at this point. That is for his local church to do. It is not as though he were some unknown church member who has stumbled into this heresy unknowingly. He is self-conscious, to the extent of a victim of a massive, brain-affecting heart attack can be self-conscious. He is not the man we used to know, as he has admitted here. That man died in 1994, he says. I agree. So, let us say now, David Chilton, RIP.”

Shortly after North’s public flogging, Chilton finally did rest in peace and by faith I’m certain he found himself in the arms of Christ. How sad is it that he went to his grave disfellowshipped by those he faithfully stood by for so many years. Eschatological Phariseeism at it’s best!

I struggled with this for many years and only recently came to realize that no theological camp had a monopoly on being bigoted, narrow-minded and nasty. What’s so sad is these vitriolic types truly think they are doing God’s work—but then again so did Paul when he was persecuting and killing Christians.

I have no problem with those that want to engage in theological debate—matter of fact that’s what we should be doing. Tim Martin kindly sent me his latest co-authored book, “Beyond Creation Science”. Very cool cover I might add! Jim Kessler ought to be proud. There has been quite a bit of acrimony surrounding the underlying views of this book but in my opinion none of the nastiness was necessary. I trust the future will be bright in that regard.

I will review this book to the best of my ability while attempting to read it with as open a mind as I can muster. Granted, I do have a paradigm that does not at this point fit well with what I’ve “heard” to be the book's conclusions, nonetheless I realize that at one time neither did my preteristic conclusions fit well within my then current futurist presuppositions. Times can change and we all need to be given space to be effective Bereans.

At any rate, this is what it should be all about. Engaging one another in dialogue and when not coming to a meeting of the minds on non-essential doctrinal issues, agreeing to continue to love one another in the bond of peace. Some have snarled at this notion as though I am suggesting that we engage in a sort of doctrinally deprived lovefest. Hogwash! I think we should be forever mindful that the greatest theologian of all times was also the author of the "love chapter". Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 to the most morally decrepit church in existence. He chided them to attain to sound doctrine and righteous living but not in the absence of brotherly love.

There are foundational principles regarding Christ that set all Christians apart from the cults and they are the unifying positions that should be the basis for our love one to another. But the cowardice of name calling and audacity of deliberate doctrinal distortions should be put away as we mature in Christ. I think some of the most aggressive "heretic-hunters" are those who hail under the reformed label. Reformed and always reforming? Great motto but rarely employed.

I will say that we have good reason to adhere to the doctrines of our forefathers and only through painful toil, careful exegetical study and much prayer, should we ever consider departing from them. I’m not bound by creeds but I am guided by them.

It’s sheer folly that preterism is blamed for lascivious living and a disdain for orthodoxy. That’s utter nonsense and what I find rather curious is those making these outrageous claims, although avowedly committed to preterism for many years, did not lapse into this supposedly guaranteed formula for antinomianism. The free exercise of sin is not a respecter of eschatological positions. Show me an adulterous preterist and I’ll show you 10 adulterous futurists (simply because there are more futurists).

The largest churches in my home town have endured a number of cataclysmic events over the past 3-5 years. Each has lost its pastor due to adultery and each of the pastors shared the typical premillennial dispensational paradigm. Should I come to the silly conclusion that eschatology was at the root of their spiritual failing? Of course not. It was merely a matter of James’ warnings coming to fruition. They didn’t guard themselves from themselves. The devil didn't make them do it. They were carried away by their own lusts and none of us are immune from the worst kinds of unrighteous behavior. Surely we aren't naive enough to believe that eschatological positions automatically placed them in moral jeopardy.

  • Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:13-15 (ESV)

I’m sick and tired of this nonsense of being told that preterism generates antinomianism. Some have even gone so far as trying to create some sort of a deprogramming for those who are “snared by preterism”. If they lapsed into willful sin then they need look no further than their walk with God. It is only a moment by moment faith walk with Christ that shields any of us from the snare of sin.

I am a bondservant of Christ Jesus and it is unadulterated rubbish to believe that preterism will automatically yield lives of lawlessness. I am committed to the law of Christ which supersedes all other laws last I checked. If some still want to live in the bondage of the Old Covenant, avoiding picking up sticks on the Sabbath, believing that this is somehow going to win them favor with God, then that's their prerogative.
  • Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 1 Peter 2:16-18 (ESV)
Freedom is never a license to live lives of debauchery. How dare those tell me that preterism will force me down that road. Shame on them! They ought to speak for themselves and stop transferring their own sinful leanings to all preterists. No one should be ignorant enough to think that believing that the Lord is faithful to do exactly as He planned in the time that it was prophesied, is obligated to deviate from the spiritual path that leads to maturity in Christ. Believing that our Lord faithfully returned in 70 AD does not give anyone the freedom to live a life contrary to His teaching any more than it does those who choose not to take Jesus at His word. No one who calls themselves a Christian is given the moral license to willfully violate the teachings and commands of Christ. Those who fully recognize His miraculous coming in real time should be ones dedicated to walking that very narrow road.
  • I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:12-15 (ESV)
Very powerful language indeed! No one can doubt the Apostle Paul's clarity. No one should trifle with our freedom in Christ but no one should use their freedom to abuse the grace of God. We live lives pleasing to God out of gratitude not from compulsion.

Some want to continue “to bite and devour one another” over doctrines that are not foundational. I’m quite frankly sick of it. Thanks Paul for that admonition!