Mon, March 1, 2010 6:32:05 PM


Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you. Had a busy few days… The two pieces you sent me by Rob are definitely more reasonable than the stuff you sent from Neil. He's actually making a case for his position and a decent one at that. You can pass this on to him if you want.

A key statement he made is, "you seem to separating what cannot be separated," and then he goes on to discuss Gal 2:20 and the passage in John 12. I think he has put his finger on the heart of the issue with that statement. The question is one of whether we should or shouldn't make that separation in this and in other passages where we are making some kind of identification with Christ. From my vantage point, I’d state it the opposite way, “you seem to be joining (or equating) what cannot be joined (equated).”

Starting with Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Standing on its own and even more so, in the context, this verse has nothing to say at all about our suffering and its possible effect on anything. The whole book of Galatians is about law, works, grace and justification. One question clears it up. If Paul “has been crucified with Christ and he no longer lives,” how can he engage in any more suffering? He says he no longer lives and then he says, “the life I now [do] live, I live by faith…” That almost sounds like a contradiction but to resolve it one is forced into a limited number of possible meanings (I think only 1): That Paul is talking about how his “old man” has been put to death and a new man has taken his place. He is pointing to the very atonement that we are talking about and basically saying that Jesus died on his behalf and in doing so, “took down the old man.” Paul also talks about the legal demands of the Law being nailed to the cross ( Col 2:14). Let’s just stick with that one for a moment. In saying that the legal demands of the law were nailed to the cross, there is no implication that the legal demands of the law atone for our sins by suffering. The point is that an identification took place – the demands of the law were satisfied in that Jesus bore their penalty when he was nailed to the cross. He took sin down by taking the punishment that was demanded by the law (the justice of God). My point is that talking about something or someone being crucified doesn’t mean they did what Jesus did when he died. It means that Jesus did something and that thing or person was impacted by His death. God’s justice was impacted (it was satisfied), the whole world was impacted (Col 1:20), we were impacted in many ways: our sins were paid for and our old nature disposed of. That is what Paul means when he says he was crucified with Christ. His old man died with Christ. That is part of the symbolism of baptism – we die to our old self and are raised to a new life in Christ Col 2:12. When Jesus died for me, my old man died with him so that I could have a new life. Note that Paul speaks in the past tense – he HAS BEEN crucified with Christ – he was crucified when Christ was crucified. As far as his discussion in Galatians goes – that is done and past.

The following passage explains it pretty clearly and note there is nothing in this about our suffering or death having an effect on another – us being crucified means that our old nature is dying so that we can live the new life:

(Rom 6:1-11) "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? {2} By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? {3} Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? {4} We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. {5} For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. {6} We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. {7} For he who has died is freed from sin. {8} But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. {9} For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. {10} The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. {11} So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."

Paul directly says here that the old self was “crucified with him.” This CANNOT relate to actions I now take as a Christian to, in love, suffer for the sake of another. The former are referring to an undesirable aspect of my nature that “died with Christ.” Jesus died to take this part away from me. He “became sin” he somehow so radically identified with my sinful nature, that he was able to die for it and so IT DIED. By saying “died FOR it” we don’t mean, “did a loving thing for it.” The “for” doesn’t mean he did it a favor. He died so it could die. He took it on and died so it would die with him. If I now follow in Jesus’ steps and serve and sacrifice for others, I do that by the New Man. So scriptures that show me or some part of me “dying with Christ” are not talking about me choosing now to take part in his atoning work – rather they are actually describing his atoning work on my behalf. And of course, verse 10 says that his death did it ALL – no need for anyone else to do the same work of atonement.

Here’s how it works, based on the model of 1 John 4:19 (“we love because he first loved us.”)

1. He FIRST identifies with us

2. In RESPONSE, we identify with him (by following him).

His incarnation was his first act of identification – he became one of us.

His baptism was another act of identification (that is what baptism is – an act of identifying with someone and their teaching). In Jesus’ case, it is odd that he would be baptized (and John says so). The synoptic record John the Baptist having issues with baptizing Jesus and the Gospel of John sort of “explains it” by recording instead that John TB says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” instead of recording the whole “I should be baptized by you.” I think they both mean the same thing – At least one reason Jesus got baptized was that he was identifying with sinners. It was also a foreshadowing of the cross (as baptism also symbolizes death and resurrection) and that in dying he was dying as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. From baptism he goes out into the wilderness – looks a lot like the scapegoat taking the sins of the people out into the wilderness (that may be a stretch).

Of course the final and most important act of identification was the cross itself where he took on our sins. 2 Cor 5:21 "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

And that verse indicates the transition to our identification back to him (which He made possible by dying for us). So now we become God’s righteousness.

Now this raises an important question about just how closely we can identify back with Christ. Just how “joined” can we get. If we don’t answer that question right we can get all kinds of crazy answers. Rob has really only hit on one possibility (somehow doing atoning work as Jesus did). There is a lot more…

For example, many verses talk about sharing in his glory. In what sense do we “share” his glory when God says, “my glory I will share with no other.” So which is it? Do we share his glory or not? For another, Jesus prays that we may be one as He and the Father are One (John 17). Peter talks about becoming “partakers in the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4). From these verses, the Eastern Orthodox conclude that we one day become deity. The Mormons make the same conclusion. And of course the Mormons also use the John 17 passage to minimize the oneness of the Son with the Father – they think our oneness with the Father can be the SAME as Jesus has, and so it cannot mean an identify with the Father as God. They believe in many gods and say we can become Gods. The Roman Catholics also hold to this notion that God’s people carry on the atoning work of the cross (which is why they somewhat glorify suffering).

The answer to these tough questions is to get straight that God is God and we are not. This goes back again to what I said in the other e-mail – we imitate God, but we are not deity. So we share in God’s glory in the sense that he “shares the blessings of his glory with us.” But we don’t share in it in the sense that we somehow possess that glory the way he does.

I have to say, in name of finding common ground, that I am with you most of the way on this, just not the final step. Yes, we are called to “die to self,” and “take up our cross” and “fall into the earth and die” in order to bear much fruit. The bible has a strong theology of suffering being redemptive that is very neglected in the American church. The cross is first and foremost a symbol of death. It’s all pretty simple: No greater love has a man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. We must die to our selfishness if we are going to fulfill the two great commands. So I have to “crucify my flesh” (meaning kill my sinful nature) so that I can love another, NOT have my sinful nature suffer so another’s sins can be atoned for.

I believe the mistake being made here is the confusion of the principle with the actual thing being done.

The general principle (which applies to all) is that if you are going to love and love fruitfully, it is going to entail sacrifice which often means suffering (“no greater love has a man than this, but to lay down his life for his friends”). So if I throw myself on a grenade to save my buddies, I suffered death so they might live. That act EQUALS Jesus’ definition of love; it is as much love as Jesus dying on the cross is love, but that act does NOT EQUAL Jesus’ act of love on the cross. Saving my buddies’ physical lives is not the same as taking away their sins so they can have eternal life. But both are loving acts and so they “look the same or similar.” Or, even closer, when Corrie Ten Boom’s family gave up their lives to save Jews, they showed the love of God and some people ended up getting saved because of their testimony. Was that because the actual giving of their lives produced that salvation? No. But that kind of love is the EXACT SAME THING that brought Jesus to the cross to pay the price of separation from the Father so that our sins could be taken away.

Does that make sense? When you look at the Ten Booms laying down their lives for their Jewish neighbors and Jesus dying on the cross, in one sense you are looking at the same thing and in another sense you are looking at different things. They are both love, but they are different acts that accomplish different (though very related) purposes. The Ten Boom’s act saved physical lives AND persuaded some to come to Jesus’ act of love to get their eternal life saved. So our love IS redemptive but not atoning – only Jesus can accomplish that.

Another way to understand it is that anyone can love, but only with the resources they have. I can tell you to give your all, but I can’t tell you to give what you don’t have. If you have $10,000 in the bank for you to “give it all” means giving $10,000. But just because a millionaire can give a million doesn’t mean that that is the standard of love. The widow “gave all she had.” We do not have the resources to provide for atonement – even as the redeemed. To atone for another’s sins, I have to be sinless and then be able to take their sins on and then allow God to punish me for them – yes, if I COULD do that, it would entail suffering, but I just can’t. This was never the plan and never part of our mission. That (atonement) was accomplished by God through God (and I explained that in my other email).

Bottom line is this… In this identification with Christ, I think Rob is confusing what Jesus shares with us with what he has actually done for us. For example – we get to share his glory not because we actually did anything worthy of that glory, but because he did. ALL of the New Orleans Saints get to bask in the glory of being Super Bowl champions, even all the bench sitters – a bunch of guys never set foot on the field, but they get a ring and get to say, “WE won the Superbowl.” But who did the work? To use a Biblical example (which ends up relating to Christ), in David Israel had a champion to fight Goliath. In a certain sense, Israel is “in David” as David fights Goliath and has victory. His victory is their victory, even though they didn’t lift a finger. In that sense, David foreshadows Jesus as our champion who vanquished Satan. But we are on his “team”; we are His people and so “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” We are called conquerors, because of HIS loving sacrifice that actually did the conquering. We didn’t do it. That is how we are to understand the way Paul talks about our identification with Christ.

The fixed truth that we cannot violate is that Jesus is the ONLY begotten Son of the Father… That Jesus is God and we are not, that Jesus, as God, can do things that we cannot do. We need to be clear which things created beings are capable of and what things they are not capable of. We can know, but we can’t be all-knowing; we can be present but not omni-present. Only God, in Christ, can atone for sins. I said it before and I’ll say it again - let’s not, in the name of imitating our Father, claim to “be like God.” That has been the temptation since the beginning.

The following is said exclusively of Jesus as the ONLY one found worthy to open the scrolls. Why was ONLY he worthy? Because he and only he was slain in order to ransom men to God: Rev 5:9-12 "and they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, {10} and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth." {11} Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, {12} saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!""

Compare this to the “suffering” of the saints in the book of revelation:

(Rev 12:11 RSV) "And they have conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."

So the saints also give up their lives and are also called conquerors, but they are not ransoming other men’s lives – they conquer first of all by the blood of the lamb (Jesus’ death) and by the word of their testimony (testimony of what? That the Lamb saved them by his blood). And so they give up their lives for this. Because, “they are not their own, they were bought with a price” so they glorify God with their body, even if it means giving up their bodies to death.

That’s enough for now… I’ll comment on Col 1:24 later (“complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”)


From: Michael Montoya [] 
Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2010 7:28 AM
To: Dave Montoya
Cc: Dave Montoya
Subject: Complete what is Lacking

Mon, March 1, 2010 7:30:04 PM

And now, Col. 1:24…

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,"

While this is an odd verse, there are definitely odder ones in the Bible. In previous e-mails I attempted to rule out possible meanings of this verse, specifically that it could mean that we somehow atone for people’s sins. I can strengthen that further, even looking at this verse. The problem with talking the position that this means we too can suffer to bring about atonement is that it implies that Jesus’ death was lacking in this regarding. That somehow, he didn’t atone for all sin. That is clearly contradicted in the rest of scripture. Jesus himself declared on the cross, “it is finished.” Verse after verse talks about the completed work of atonement.

(Heb 9:11-14 RSV) "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) {12} he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. {13} For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, {14} how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."

We are a “kingdom of priests” (little mediators) but he is the High Priest and ONLY the high priest can enter the Holy of Holies to deal with sin. It’s his blood only that does that. Do I really need to list all the verses that say this, none of which give ANY indication that our blood can do anything similar?

So what does this verse mean? How could Christ’s afflictions be lacking? The simple answer is that he suffered for one main purpose – to atone for sins, but since that was accomplished, now there is a whole other work to be done which is the “making of disciples” (Matt 28), bringing of that message and building up the body of Christ. That work is a work of love and love always entails sacrifice and sacrifice almost always means suffering. So the atonement was accomplished but the work of redemption goes on until the “day of completion” This work of salvation which was initiated with the death and resurrection of Jesus is not finished until the “Gospel of the kingdom is preached to all nations and then the end comes.” It is a Gospel that goes forth in the same way that it was started, by love and sacrifice. We don’t just go around and “tell people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life.” We go out and lay our lives down for the world and for one another, demonstrating the very message we preach. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “We shared with you not only the Gospel but our very lives.” So it makes sense that if “they persecuted Him they will persecute us also.” As we bring the Gospel, we will live the Gospel which means we will suffer on His behalf.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” was an expression in the early church. It was said that for every Christian the Romans killed, two more took his place. It is not suffering for suffering’s sake. Crazy Muslim’s also give their life for their cause. But they don’t lay their lives down for their friends; they die to kill their enemies. They don’t do it in love but in hatred and falsehood. We are actually called to love and love entails suffering and in the process, people are drawn to the Christ who loved to the point of death and other believers are built up. This is the work of the church, Christ’s body.

Christ is not lacking in love, but there is more love he has to show, through his people as he reaches the world through us. And as we go and as we love, we will suffer because we will make sacrifices and through that sacrificial love, other will be drawn to Jesus and believers will be built up.

I think I am starting to repeat myself. No NT scripture that talks about our suffering as Christians talks at all about atonement, about suffering in place of another’s punishment.



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