Change: Moving from God to Man

November 15, 2008 — 2 Comments

[This post is part of the Change series]

This particular entry comes directly from a paper I just finished entitled “A Christian Philosophy of Change.” And you thought I just blogged for the fun of it. Actually, to the contrary I do blog for the fun of it, but I also blog wisely and pick classes wisely so the material for this particular series fits the purposes of a paper for not one but two classes. This part is from the paper for the sanctification class and after establishing a properly Christian view of change, it should be readily seen that the approach of most non-Biblical counseling techniques is not only misguided but is fundamentally incongruous with the nature of both man the universe within which God created and placed him. We’ll get to that eventually, but noting where we left off in the last post, the transition should not be too rough.

Having established a Christian view of God, a Christian view of man in his natural state is now possible, although it will be quickly noticed it is a rather dismal one. Man, although initially created in a state of perfection, disobeyed God’s instructions and as warned by God proceeded to die (Gen 2:17). Not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual one. Sin had entered the world through one man’s actions, and death came by sin and spread to all people for all people sin (Rom. 5:12). This death results in an outlook on life that is not only hostile to God and keeping His law, but renders man completely unable to change, and completely unable to please God (Rom. 8:7,8). While within naturalism, change is precluded because of its violation of naturalistic principles of reality, within the Christian worldview, change is excluded apart from the initial act of God, as man is completely dead in his transgressions (Eph 2:1ff). This fall of man into spiritual death has resulted in a natural state that negatively affects his entire being, including the mental faculties to the extent he cannot see himself as he really is, nor could he even do anything about it were it possible to make an accurate assessment.[1]

The glorious truth of the Christian worldview is that the picture does not end here. Ephesians 2 probably best describes the scene:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)

Having painted the bleakest picture imaginable, we see that as the Apostle Paul speaks to the Ephesians believers in verse 1-3 and describes their natural state in purely past terms, he is building up to something remarkable. Immediately, the beginning of the phrase “But God…” signals that the intervention that is going to take place is performed solely by God on behalf of man. Because the Triune God of the universe is rich in mercy and loves those whom He chooses for His own, He makes them alive together with Christ by the process of regeneration, by creating something new within man. As noted by Paul, this is the essence of saving grace; that God makes alive one who is dead in an unchangeable state (v.5). As Edwards would note, “True saving grace is no other than the very love of God-that is God in one of the persons of the Trinity, uniting Himself to the soul of the creature.”[2] Elsewhere Edwards will essentially recognize this impartation to be the divine nature dwelling in the soul of man and becoming the principle of life and action.[3] In this sense, it is more understandable what Paul is trying to explain elsewhere when he speaks of believers being filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19), as they really are partaking of the divine nature by having it communicated directly to their inner being by the Holy Spirit. The best understanding then of this process of conversion is that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by communicating the fullness of God thus completes human nature[4] and by a radical transformation starts the ultimate process of change. Indeed anyone who has been made alive in Christ (Eph 2:5) is a new creature and the old slowly starts passing away (2 Cor. 5:17).

At this point we have left out many soteriological concerns, mainly what constitutes saving faith on the part of the person involved, the nature of justification and the imputation of righteousness, and some of the means by which one comes to have faith. Not that these are not important concepts to clearly articulate, but for the purposes of this paper [blog series], the focus has been on change. Having discussed the agent of change (God) and the beginning of change (conversion), it is now possible to explore the purpose of change. In doing so, one is asking why God would bother with extending His grace to miserable sinners.

As Scripture bears out constantly, the whole world obtains meaning because it has been created for God’s glory.[5] So for an easy answer, one could go with that, however, the question that follows would be how one most can bring glory to God. This is the crux of the matter and fortunately, Scripture is not silent here either. Peter urges believers to walk in holiness as God who has called them is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Paul echoes this in numerous places, most notably in 2 Corinthians where he speaks of believers being transformed into the image of the Lord, moving from one degree of glory to another (3:18). The issue then it seems is growing in Christ’s image, or growing in Christ-likeness. Paul had in a sense already confirmed this to the Corinthians in his earlier letter where he urged them to imitate him as he was imitating Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Seeing this as the purpose of God reaching down into in a sin stained person’s soul and imparting Himself directly to their nature can help to reframe both the purpose of change and the direction it takes to which the discussion will now turn.

God, in choosing to regenerate men for the purpose of making them more like Himself, is both the initiator of change and the agent of continual change by virtue of the direct communication of Himself to man’s inner being. Returning to Edwards again, he found what appeared to be a designed resemblance between the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit and the subsequent conception of Christ in the soul of the believer.[6] Paul echoes some of this imagery to the Galatians when he exclaims that he is undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in them (4:19). Christ as a seed is implanted in the heart of the believers where He dwells by faith (Eph 3:17). Through the process of change accomplished by God in the life of the believer, Christ grows within man in such a way that the new personality that emerges displaces the old by growing at its expense.[7] Change is accomplished from within, not from without. All of the ways in which the Bible speaks of the inner man (mind, emotions, spirit, soul, will) are summed up in term heart, and it is the heart that is the locus of change in a person’s life as the heart’s desires shape and control what every individual does. [8] For this reason, Christ is implanted in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God the Father. By placing Christ in our hearts where He can dwell by faith, growth and change can occur as the inner man is properly nourished.

This is the essence of the sanctification process, that while man can of his own do nothing to change, God in His grace accomplishes the change for him. It should be noted however that while man do nothing to grow Christ within himself, he can be a hindrance to that growth by not properly yielding Himself to the Holy Spirit who works to grow Christ within him.[9] By a creative act of God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, Christ has been planted as a living entity in the soil of the believer’s innermost being to grow into fullness.[10] In a metaphorical sense, the believer’s job could be looked at as tending to the garden of his soul by removing the weeds in order to allow more room for Christ to grow and displace the old. Indeed, as the heart is the wellspring from which all life flows (Prov. 4:23) one must tend to the fountain in order to remove the dirt and debris that could dirty the waters, but it is Christ who causes the living water to flow forth from within (Jn. 4:14).

These ideas really set the stage for what we hopefully will really talk about in the coming posts which should get increasing more practical to either those considering counseling as an option for ministry, those simply pursuing a life of ministry, or those who just want to grow more in Christ. What appears here in limited form will be brought out more and more pronounced as we continue.


[1] Arthur C. Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, vol. III, The Doorway Papers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 45. For an excellent discussion of the fall of man and its prevalent effects in society and culture, see pgs. 10-44

[2] Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm (Cambridge: James Clark, 1971), 72.

[3] Danaher Jr., The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards, 17.

[4] Ibid., 51.

[5] Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 58. Also, Revelation 4:11

[6] Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, vol. 2, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John Smith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), 347.

[7] Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, 173.

[8] Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change, (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2006), 14.

[9] This seems to be the emphasis of such passages as Ephesians 5:18 and Galatians 5:16.

[10] Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, 168, 73. The following garden analogy is drawn from here as well.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

2 responses to Change: Moving from God to Man

  1. This is good…all you have written is good. Awesome!! I’m proud of you and proud to be your mom. Love you, Mom

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