Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/15/1998
. . . God's power "which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and seated him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above every principality and power and might and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in the one to come."
We learned last week what the Christian's hope is: not wishful thinking but a confident expectation of God's goodnes, an anchor that keeps the soul. We learned what the Christian hopes in: the fact that he who called us is faithful and he will bring it to pass. We learned what the Christian hopes for: the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. And we learned what makes that hope firm and certain: the faithfulness of God and the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. We also saw why the Christian's hope is discussed here: that we might stand firm against the assaults of the Enemy who does not wish us to walk worthily of our calling. The passage before us today is an illustration of the power behind this hope, but it deserves exposition in its own right, for the illustration provides a further reason for hope beyond the power itself.
This foundation is poured in two stages. First, the realization that God's power is God's ability to do what must be done if we are to fulfill our calling in Christ. Can he make guilty men innocent? Yes, for he considers Christ as guilty of our sin and us as possessing Christ's innocence as a result of Christ's work on the cross. Can he make sinful men holy, setting them free from the power as well as the guilt of sin? Yes, for Christ's positive obedience is also imputed to our account, and his holy life lives in and through us. Can he make dead men live? Yes, for the resurrection of Christ is the focal point that stands for the whole package. In summary, we may say that Christ is a test case. He proves that God has the power, the ability, to do what is necessary for all of us.
But there is a second facet too. When we contemplate Jesus Christ condemned, crucified, forsaken, dead, buried, raised, and exalted, we see not just an object lesson of what God CAN DO for sinners; we see the the accomplishment of what God HAS DONE for us! This is so because Christ died as our Representative. The "new Adam" language of Rom. 5 means that just as Adam's sin committed the whole human race to rebellion, counting as if it were ours personally because Adam was the Head of the Race, so Christ's obedience counts for believers in the same way because he is the Head of the Church. In Gal. 3:13, Christ was cursed for sin instead of you, i.e., in your place. In Col. 2:13-14, because Jesus was punished your debt was paid in full. In other words, what God did in Christ on Calvary does not just make salvation possible for us; it already counts as true of us.
In the same way, Christ also ROSE as our Representative (Rom. 6:5, 8, Gal. 2:20). When he died, you died, and therefore there is no condemnation. And when he rose, you rose, and therefore there is eternal life. But don't miss the next step: he was also EXALTED as our Representative (Eph. 1:3, 2:6). In other words, it is not just that you may legitimately hope that someday you will go to Heaven. If you have received Christ by faith, you are already there, represented by and in him at the right hand of the Throne. What God has done in Christ is just as true of you as it was of him, though the full manifestation of that truth awaits his return. But it is nonetheless, in a sense, true already.
What this means is that if we have been crucified with Christ, so that his crucifixion is the guarantee that our sins have been punished already in full; if we have been raised with Christ, so that his resurrection is the guarantee that we too will enjoy eternal life; if we have been exalted to Heaven with Christ, so that his presence there brings us also into the presence of the Father; then we have also CONQUERED with Christ! What does the Scripture say? "We ARE more than conquerors through him who loved us so" (Rom. 8:37).
What have we conquered? V. 21 gives an impressive list. It basically means that we have conquered all things. The list is intended not to give a specific rundown but rather the general idea that everything is covered without exception. Whatever it is, wherever you find it, whenever it comes, whatever you call it--Christ has overcome it and the Father has placed it under his feet--and therefore, in him, under yours.
Specifically, Christ has been set above spiritual beings, principalities and powers, including Satan. That most powerful and most majestic of all created beings, second only in might to God himself, that Prince of Darkness, that Father of Lies, that roaring lion seeking whom he may devour has been defeated, defanged, devastated, ruined, and laid low. He has been "hurled headlong flaming from the etherial sky / In hideous ruin and combustion down / To bottomless perdition, there to dwell / In adamantine chains and penal fire / Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms."
Christ has been explicitly set over earthly and natural powers ("this world") as well. Marcus Barth explains it well: "Man is in the grip of the powers of nature and history. Though he seems able with the help of science to exert an ever-increasing technological control over nature, he is still vicitm to the powers of environment, tradition, heredity, and the rule of majorities and minorities. When Paul speaks of the risen Christ's dominion over the "powers," he thinks of the relevance of God's work for everything that shapes man's life in the created world."
Believer, what is it that holds you in bondage? Tobacco? Alcohol? Marijuana? Greed? A standard of living? The opinions of others? Laziness? Gluttony? Depression? The Lord Jesus Christ has already conquered it! You are allowing yourself to be enslaved by a defeated enemy, a power weaker than the One within you.
How then are we to experience this victory? Without struggle? No. The Lord came through suffering to glory, and we follow him on that path. What was the experience of this victory like for Paul? Labors, stripes, prisons, stoning, shipwreck, perils, betrayal (2 Cor. 11:23-30). It was also "tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword" (Rom. 8:35). But none of those things could separate him from the love of Christ (v. 34); and in them--IN them, not apart from them--he was more than conqueror (v. 37). None of those things could enslave him or defeat him, because they could not do so to Christ.
Why don't we experience more of this victory which is already ours in Christ? Because we do not understand the greatness of our salvation, our position, his victory. Because we have been falsely and cruelly taught to expect the victory to take the form of health and wealth, a form it took for not one major New Testament figure. Because we do not really believe. Because we get our eyes off of Christ and on to the waves around us, like Peter a few steps from the boat.
Let us fix our gaze upon Jesus Christ and contemplate him at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, already enjoying as our Representative and Head all the blessings of the Kingdom, all the joy and bliss of uninterrupted and perfect communion with the Father--and already experiencing as our Representative and Head a position of dominion and victory and sovereignty over all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, whether in this world or in the world to come. In him we have forgiveness, in him we have life, in him we have victory--we have all this in him if we have his life in us. Have you received him? If so let us praise him together. If not, why not bow before him and accept him as your Lord and Savior today?
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams