by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 2 - The Death of Christ: The Power of God
Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21; 4:11-13.
That with which we are occupied at this time is summed up and included in the words “Christ the power of God” 1 Cor. 1:24. Of course these are very familiar words, as familiar as any of the passages of the New Testament, but the content, fulness and meaning of them has never yet been unveiled to us, and we are believing that the Lord has something more to say as to His own meaning in these words: “Christ the power of God”. We are proceeding immediately, without any further retracing of our steps by way of review to look as the Lord enables us into the content of Christ crucified as an inward reality. The Lord Jesus (and this is where we finished our last message) has by the Holy Spirit been brought into the heart, the life of the believer, and He has come in in all the fulness of the work which He accomplished in and through His Cross. It is still, in effect, Christ crucified as the power of God. That is, Christ in relation to His Cross, and all the work of His Cross. That is also Christ risen, ascended, glorified, exalted. These are only aspects of the one Person, in virtue of the one Cross, and all these are gathered up into Christ the power of God, and Christ as the power of God is manifested in the believer in the outworking of those aspects. His death, the power of God in Christ; His resurrection, the power of God in Christ; His ascension, the power of God in Christ; His anointing, the power of God in Christ; His exaltation to the right hand of the Majesty on high, the power of God in Christ. These are phases, aspects of the one Person on the ground of the one Calvary work, which are to be made real in the believer by reason of Christ dwelling within. Now I think that is a very simple summing up of what is before us.
The Death of Christ - the Power of God
And so now immediately we have to think of the death of Christ as the power of God. I just want to add one passage to those which we have quoted, from Luke 9:30,31, “And behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Now that word “decease,” as probably your margin tells you, is the word “exodus” “...which spake of His exodus, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” And that gives an altogether new idea as to the death of the Lord Jesus. It first of all says that it was a way - and a going - out. A way out and a going out; and then it says that it was an accomplishment on His part. An accomplishment, something achieved, something which He did and when we recognise that to be the nature of the death of Christ we get a different conception from His just being killed or just being crucified by men. It was His way out, it was His achievement. I want you to get the picture of that. See Him hemmed in by everything that the Scriptures make us to know as the things of human bondage, man’s slavery, man’s limitations, man’s enthralment, sin, the flesh, the power of the world. Only believers understand what that is: all the forces of darkness, of hell, the limitations of spirit and of soul and of body. Not merely geographical limitations, but the limitation by reason of nature and the conditions which obtained through the fall, everything that holds man within its grip to limit him and prevent him from reaching God’s thought for him, which is a great thought, a wonderful thought, a vast thought. The Lord Jesus came into those limitations, came into that world, accepted voluntarily that bondage, allowed Himself, by His own will to enter into every phase and aspect of that thraldom (excepting inherent sin). Not only allowed Himself to come in it and know it, but drew it on Himself in His Cross, and then with all those forces of every kind, natural and supernatural, shutting Him in, pressing upon Him, compassing Him about like bees, He broke through and accomplished a way out, by His death. So that the death of Christ was a way out of everything here, and that is the thing that I want to say here this afternoon. The death of Christ is a way out, a way out from everything here. If that breaks upon us as a revelation we shall be different people, there will be big changes. Let us say it again. The death of Christ is the way out from everything here.
Now first of all, do we realise that judgment was upon everything here? Judgment passed upon everything here. There is nothing in this whole creation, this whole realm of nature, which was not under judgment. Death passed upon all. That is the Word of God, and judgment, therefore, rested upon everything. It rested upon man, it rested upon the world, it rested upon nature, it rested upon man’s soul and body, body and soul; judgment universal upon everything because of sin. And the death of the Lord Jesus was the entering by Him into that judgment, and in His death accepting to its full all the judgment that rested upon everything here, so that where He is concerned there can be no more judgment. Judgment has been finished in the Person of Christ by His death. All the waves and the billows of God’s wrath have gone over Him and He has therefore left judgment without any more power, by His death; that death was a gateway through which He passed bearing the judgment of God out to the place where no more judgment exists. And so He made His exodus, He accomplished His exodus out from a representatively sinful state, not an inherently sinful state, but a representatively sinful state when He was made sin. Out from a judged world, a world upon which judgment rested. He accomplished the way out from the scene and sphere of Divine judgment, through death, went out from it, and out from everything else that was under judgment through death. Now of course, comprehensively we see that in Christ Jesus we too have gone out from all that. Our being made to sit with Him in the heavenlies includes all that.
Our being in Christ Jesus includes all that, our faith in Christ makes all that good for us.
Out from Condemnation
It means, beloved, simply that you and I if we are in Christ have gone by His way out, through His death, from that upon which judgment rests, and there is no more judgment because the ground of judgment has been fully dealt with by Him. Everything into which we were born by nature, upon which the judgment of God rested universally, we have escaped from in Christ through His death. That is the great objective fact of Christ’s death for us. FOR US. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Judgment is passed for ever, exhausted on Him. The way out has become our way. I know that that is almost too elementary to provoke in you any fresh appreciation, but that is one side, a blessed reality in which, I trust, we are all rejoicing. That has been done for us. There is a way out from all condemnation, from all judgment, and from all that state of things which was under judgment, and still is under judgment if not in Christ. But beloved, there is the other side, and that is the thing we have perhaps more especially and particularly to look at at this time.
There is such a thing as being in Christ, as making good objectively for us all that [is] in Him, but then there is the complement of that which is Christ in us by the Holy Spirit working that out experimentally, and it is just there that we begin our experimental Christian life, that what is true in Him has to be made true in us, and that we have got to be “planted together in the likeness of His death.” The death was for us, now there is our side: “planted together with Him in the likeness of His death,” so that the teaching of Christ, or Christ crucified, has got to come into our lives and be wrought in us by the Holy Spirit to bring us out unto God, and that is the experimental application of the Cross as a way out for us.
Out from Sin
How are we to be actually, experimentally delivered from sin, which is a state upon which judgment rests? And judgment rests as much upon sin in the believer as it does in the unbeliever. “If we sin...” and that phrase is not mine but is inspired Scripture through the Apostle John, “IF we sin we have an advocate.” But “If we sin” admits of the possibility; the sin of the believer is no less sin than the sin of the unbeliever, and therefore, no less under Divine judgment than that of the unbeliever. How are we to escape, therefore, from the bondage of sin which brings us under judgment? Only by death-union with the Lord Jesus, on the one hand appropriated, accepted by faith, as something that He has done for us; on the other hand, entered into by our own reckoning of ourselves as dead in His death. And what has happened in the life of the believer by the operation of the Holy Spirit? Is it not just this, that He, the Spirit, is applying the Cross, or Christ crucified, as a power, as an active thing, as a reality, applying Christ crucified to us on the sinful side of our nature, to the sins of the flesh, applying that Cross to deliver us, to give us the way out.
There is another way of putting this: “If we, through the Spirit, do put to death the doings of the flesh.” How do you put to death the doings of the flesh? You do not try and strangle them, and you do not try and struggle them down into non-existence; you do not take hold of them and wrestle with them; if you do, you have the kind of Christian life of which we have spoken in our first message, which is a Christian life of constant struggle, and more failure than success. What you do is to hand over to the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, those doings of the flesh that He might bring upon them the power of Christ crucified. That is how you put them to death. You co-operate with the Holy Spirit, you bring in the Holy Spirit Who was the mighty energy of Christ’s death, you bring in the Holy Spirit and count on Him in this matter to work Calvary upon this thing and the other thing, handing it up to the Cross in the power of the Holy Spirit. If that sounds difficult and far away, let us try and get nearer to it.
When you are confronted with the fact of something in your heart, in your life, in your nature, which is wrong, which should not be, which in all honesty you have to call sin, and which has been touched by the Lord and you recognise that judgment stands over that until it is dealt with - and we all know that kind of thing - when we are so confronted with a thing there are two courses to be adopted. One is to say, “Well I am going to wrestle with that thing until I get the better of it.” You can adopt that course if you like, but if you take the experience of the majority of people you will not. That is not a very successful line of operation, and when you have it down in one place it will come up in another. You need something more than yourself to keep that under. A lot of people are trying that. They say, “I realise this is one of my failings, weaknesses, shortcomings, I am going to stop that, I am going to get the better of that.” The enemy can keep you very busy on that line and you will never have anything else to do but that, for if you have ninety-nine down and there is - you think - only one more left, ten thousand more will come up and you have to start further back. That is true to experience.
Another course is, “Lord, that thing was dealt with by You in the Cross. There is nothing that is possible in this fallen humanity but that You dealt with it in the Cross, You triumphed over it, You broke its power and broke Your way through it, having met the judgment of God upon that, and exhausted that judgment, You did it. Now You have given the Holy Spirit to them that believe, as the Spirit of Your victory, of Your triumph, of Your conquest, the Spirit Who has come in virtue of Your Calvary work to make that Calvary work actual in the believer. I definitely now, taking my position upon the ground of all Calvary’s victory, claim in Christ the energy and power of the Holy Spirit to bring this where Christ brought it at Calvary, into subjection. I cannot do it, and if I could I cannot keep it under, but You have done it and You can deal with it permanently.” That is another course to take. “And Lord, seeing that You died to that and went out from that very thing, I reckon myself as having died in Your death, and gone out from that thing in Your exodus. I claim my exodus.” You see, that is another course of action, and the results are very different. What has happened? You have not come merely into the light of some doctrine, you have come into the power of a Person, and it makes all the difference whether you are trying to deal with things doctrinally or in the power of the Person. This matter is related to the Person of Christ. It is Christ crucified, Christ the power of God, the power of God in the matter of sin. A way out and no judgment. Now you see we have started at the first principles of the Gospel. You and I are not too old in the faith to still benefit by such a contemplation. We want to know more and more of what this death of Christ means to us.
Before we take the next step let us say this. That while it does give us the glorious and joyful hope of assurance of a way out, for our comfort, our consolation, it also says most emphatically that it was a way OUT and you must not stay in. That is, you must not trifle with sin. You are supposed to be out of that realm, in Christ; you are supposed to be right out of that; do not trifle with sin, do not tolerate, do not play with sin. Be careful that you do not get into that realm by the slightest contact voluntarily. Get out of it as far as you can and keep out as far as you can because the believer can come under the present judgment by tampering with sin. It is a way out, that is a blessed assurance for those who want it. But it is a way out, and that is a tremendous warning for those who trifle with sin and think of sin lightly. Christ, with all that He went through of all the judgments of God, went through to give us a way out, and we must not make light of what He suffered by nullifying it by any tampering with sin. Tampering with sin is making as though Christ had never borne that judgment and made that way out. It is undoing all Christ’s work and making little of His terrible suffering, and God can never hold us guiltless if we do that. Now suffer the strong word, the word that has a frown in it as well as the other word. We delight and glory in the good things, but that must never cause us to refrain from pointing out the responsibility that rests upon us in view of the blood of our Lord Jesus.
Out from Law
“Now,” says the Apostle, “the strength of sin is the law,” and as we know, Christ’s death is seen in Galatians to be the way out from the law. Now just one brief word upon this. The matter of the law is not very often interesting to people, probably because they do not understand it very much and mentally they almost invariably swing back to the Ten Commandments and think of that as the law. Now this matter does concern us in a very practical way, as it should, and do you know beloved that one dislikes more than most things just giving doctrine. If there is one thing against which my whole being revolts, it is just giving out teaching as teaching; the practical value of a thing is paramount with me, so that I am not trying to touch on anything without real practical value.
You can have Christian law as much as you can have Mosaic law. You can be in bondage in Christianity just as much as in Judaism. Christianity can be an imposed system with “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” just as much as the Mosaic law, and there are just as many Christians today who are afraid of Christianity, so to speak, as there were Jews who were conscious of the dead-weight of the law imposed upon them. How many there are in bondage to Christian law, whose consciences are an awful bug-bear to them in Christianity. It is very blessed to sing “Free from the law, oh happy condition” when you are thinking back into Judaism, but it is infinitely better to be free to sing it in relation to Christianity. That wants explaining. Is Christianity to us in any degree a matter of what we must do and what we must not do, and if we do not do what we should do, and if we do what we should not do, we lose our peace of conscience, our peace of mind? Is it that? It means this: I can take this Bible and I can say, here is God’s standard for your life; it is all here, Old Testament and New Testament, God’s standard for your life. It is a very exhaustive one, a very thorough one, and you will not find that any point of your life remains untouched by it. It has something to say about it all - take that, God expects you to live up to that! What is your reaction to that? Try it, and a lot of people are trying it. They are trying to live up to the New Testament and it cannot be done. It cannot be done that way. I tell you, beloved, that if you are going to take this Book and try to live up to it you will be far better advised to leave it alone, don’t you make the attempt. You will come back very sorry people in a little while if that is your line; and yet multitudes of Christians are trying it. That is one way of preaching God’s standard. I have given you the Book and told you God’s standard and you have tried it and found that it condemns, condemns, condemns more than anything else; the one effect it has upon you is to make you feel what a wretched miserable thing you are, and how impossible you are, that is the effect of it from that standpoint.
What is the other? I bring you, not a Book but a Person, and that Person has lived up to that standard, absolutely fulfilled every minute demand with the most absolute success, satisfied God to the full under our conditions of life. “Tempted in all points like as we are,” submitted to all the trials, in spirit, in soul, in body; tried under all conditions inwardly and outwardly, and passed through what you and I will never have to pass through. We shall never know the depth of His temptations, of His soul-sufferings, of that which tried Him to get Him to swerve from the path of obedience; we shall never know the same measure, but in a far greater measure than we can ever know. He has been subjected to the ultimate test of all God’s perfect will, and has triumphed, succeeded, satisfied God, and has, therefore, gone out from the realm of the law. He has substituted the law, the way out He made through His death, the law had no power over Him, has no more power over Him, He is far above law as law now. That Person, that living Person in all the virtue and content, the power, of that complete triumph, I bring to you and I say, God in His great grace and wisdom and love has offered to allow that Person to live in your heart by the Holy Spirit in all the virtue of His Cross. He is there, in the Holy Spirit, He is there with all that accomplishment in His possession, living within, and I say, if you will utterly yield your will, your heart, your mind to Him, if you will allow that Cross on its death-side to be planted in the realm of your mind with all its independent thoughts and judgments; your heart with all its desires and affections; your entire nature; your will with all its choices, its ways; if you will allow the Cross to be planted there to cut you off from yourself unto Him, and you will yield and obey and go on with Him, and co-operate with Him as He witnesses in you to His will, you need not worry about the Book any longer.
(There is one little point that needs safeguarding. I was conscious that after I had said the above, more ought to be said, and I discovered later that others recognised the dangerous possibility of the inadequacy. I want to put that right at once.
I said that if the Lord, as the perfect embodiment of the will of God was resident within, and we were in living fellowship with Him by the Spirit as within, we need not worry about the Book. Now you see the possibility of that, that it might be construed that I was saying you can ignore the Scriptures. I did not say that, and I did not mean that. I meant this, that you need not worry about the Book. That is, if the Lord is speaking His will in you, you will come up to the Book, you will not be contrary to the Book, and one was really trying to contrast all the difference between taking the Book on from the outside and struggling to live up to it rather than having the Lord of the Book inside and helping you to live up to it.
There are things which are not wrong in themselves, but at times they might be wrong because of a brother with a tender conscience. There is no written law about this, but the Holy Spirit should speak in us as to the Lord's will at the moment. This is what Paul wrote about to the Corinthians in connection with meats and drinks.)
You need not worry about the law any longer, you are free from the law, you are above the law, you have got the law of God written in your heart, “not with pen upon tables of stone but by the Holy Spirit upon the fleshly tables of your heart”; the law of God written there, and you know the mind of the Lord about things, and what is more the power is there to do it. It is inward: you see the difference between a Book and a Person, between Christianity as something to be lived up to, and Christ living within. Free from the law. Oh, but you have got to go through that open way with Christ from the law. I trust you will be able to understand what I am going to say. For a believer it is never a question of what others think you ought to do, or ought not to do; of accepted standards of things; it is never a matter of you ought to do this and you ought not to do that, you ought not to ride in a vehicle on a Sunday, you ought not to do this and that and a lot of other things.
That whole system of things ought to have passed for you and for me. Beloved, the question of riding on the Lord’s day and all these other legal questions ought to have been wiped out as legal factors. What is the law for us? “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” That is the Lord speaking in our hearts, not law imposed upon us from the outside, but the Lord making known in our hearts what we should do. We have got the law in our hearts. I want you to see this. The Lord Jesus embraced all the will of God on every point, on every matter, and perfected it in His own Person. Now He, as the perfected will of God, comes to reside in us in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to work out that perfected will of God, not to ask us to struggle towards some thing, but to work it out in us as a power, not as a binding imposition of something upon our lives, but as a living force within. The difference between the Old and New Testament truth is just this, that in the Old Testament it was something presented and people groaned under the weight of it to try and fulfil it; in the New Testament it is Someone resident within Who is perfectly capable of living up to the will of God, and bringing us up to that standard by working within us to will and to do of His good pleasure. All very simple and elementary again, but oh for the Lord’s people to get out through the death of Christ because through His death we see Him out from the law, and that may be, as I have said, Christian as much as Jewish. It is life, not legality.
Out from the Flesh
Now what is true of sin and the law is true also of the flesh. The death of Christ was a way out from the flesh, that is, as I understand the word in the New Testament, the whole body of nature, the whole body of the old Adam nature, that is the flesh. It is one thing, of course, to be free from sin in its guilt and in its judgment, it is something more to be free from the flesh, the body of nature, and the Cross of Christ was a way out from that, His death was a way out from that. If you look at Galatians again you will see how this was so. Galatians 5:19, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings and such like.” Now just break those up. Here you have firstly, gross physical sins; fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness; then you have evil dispositions, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath and strife; then you have religious forms of intrigues: divisions, sectarian parties; then you have evil supernatural elements, Satan in idolatry and witchcraft; and then fifthly you have self-indulgence in drunkenness and revellings. Now of course all these are easily recognised, and most believers imagine that they are wholly free from walking after the flesh because they think of the flesh as here in the grosser forms, but I do not know that even here there is not some challenge. We may not fall under the first category of gross, fleshly or physical sin, fornication or uncleanness, but I wonder if “strife” finds us out? I wonder about “jealousies,” “wrath,” (that is a better word than bad temper, isn’t it?) When we, “in our moral integrity,” say we were very wroth, we do not mean that we got into a bad temper, but very often it is the same thing. The works of the flesh are strife, not getting on with one another, and if you track it down there are fleshly reasons for not getting on with one another, and that applies to believers. And bad temper, wrath, it is in the plural here, bad tempers, works of the flesh. We will let it sink in. “Jealousy”. We might not call it by that name, we should hate to hear that name applied.
These religious things too. Factions, divisions, parties; works of the flesh. Is that true? Does that account for all this? May it be after all that in sectarian parties the flesh is at the root? Of course that is not always true, but we ought to be very honest with ourselves to see that on no ground whatever before God but the ground of the purest, most transparent, crystal clear spiritual principle do we stand where we stand. It must not be because we cannot get on with other people that we separate from them; not because of some wretched element of disaffection: that if we cannot get on with people we will separate from them instead of dealing with the reason why we cannot get on with them, and having the Cross brought in there. It is the easiest thing in the world, if you cannot get on with people, to separate from them. Some personal interest perhaps there, some wish or want of our own, because we could not have our own way. This Word says these are the works of the flesh, issuing in factions, sectarian parties and divisions, the flesh! Now the word that is here in Galatians is this, that the death of Christ was a way out from all that, and that means that, blessed be God, we can be delivered from it all, but it means that we are contradicting the death of Christ if there is any of that. We are denying the Cross if there is any of that. We are working against all Christ’s Calvary work if there is any of that. If it can be said in any one of these, or in any other respect, the flesh is there, the flesh prompted that, we do not know Christ; beloved, we do not know Christ if that is true. Christ has brought us in Himself out from that; out from it all and we must not go back and live there. Oh that we saw what a mighty thing this death of Christ is to bring us out of the whole body of the flesh, to bring us right out by the Cross. Now Christ in us by the Holy Spirit means that all those things of the flesh must be smitten, must be brought consciously as under judgment, they must be revealed as judged of God and being revealed as judged, we must see that our union with Christ in death is our union with Him in getting out from all that. If then, these things are there, any one of them, we have simply to say that we are still inside and we ought to be outside. We still have not apprehended Christ, we have not seen the Lord.
Out from the World
Now one closing word, for what is true in these three respects is true with regard to the world. Out from the world; and Paul here in this Galatian letter cries, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus by which I have been crucified unto the world and the world unto me.” Out from the world! Do you catch the note in Paul’s shout? “God forbid that I should glory” - glory in what? That by the Cross of Christ I have been brought clean out of the world; it is a dead world to me. What is the attitude that seems to hold with so many, even Christians? That they just hold on to as much of the world as they can without losing their peace of mind, without having their conscience disturbed. If they can have this and not be compelled to give up that, and if the other thing does not involve some disturbance of their inward peace, well, they would like to keep it, they would like to stay there. But Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross by which the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” Glorying, not so much in the fact that he can have so much of the world with peace of conscience, but that he has gone out of the world. Christ, by His death, delivers us from it, and it all comes back to this main inclusive question, what is Christ to us? I rejoice that I have got a very good answer here this afternoon in this company! A lovely bank holiday, the world out on the spree seeking its pleasures, you are here shut up in a crowded hall. Why are you here, beloved? Why are you not out there, why in all the world haven't you gone out to enjoy (?) yourself? Because you are not in the world, the Lord Jesus is your attraction, you are satisfied, you are here because He is more to you than all the world. He has proved to be our way out. Yes, we would like to have a motor ride, to get out in the sunshine and enjoy that, but when we come to face it deliberately and frankly, and say, “Shall I go to the conference or shall I go off to the country and open air?” we find our hearts will not let us go; the verdict is here for deeper reasons than nature. By His death we are out, but remember that this is the only way of living in the world.
The only possible way of staying in this world for believers is that they are out of it! You see the meaning of that. We cannot stay here on this earth except if we have got something more than this earth, this world. If we had not, well, with things getting as they are getting just now in the world, beloved, with the suicide mania, the pressure, men’s hearts failing them for fear of the things that are coming upon the earth; the only way to live in this world is to be out of it, to be delivered from it; we can live here then. We can come back to it in a sense, when we are not of it and our destiny is not bound up in it, we have been delivered! Are you out? So out that you are perfectly satisfied with the Lord Jesus? We said this morning that everything in the Christian life is bound up with the Person of Christ, and power is related to the Person, not to truth, doctrine, or knowing laws in Christianity, but the Person; and it comes back to there, what is Christ to us? Has He proved to be our way out from sin, its bondage, its judgment, out from the law. Is that calculated to destroy all our peace of conscience, to bring us under a burden? Out from the body of the flesh, which spoils everything. Out from the world? Well, now, Christ in us is for this one thing, that what is true positively in Him shall be true continually in us. The application of the Cross by the Holy Spirit of Christ crucified is just to get us out beloved, right out from all that upon which death and judgment rests. May we enter into His accomplished exodus by fellowship with Him in His death. We have still to see much more, both of what the death means, and then the resurrection and ascension. The Lord make this, at any rate, very real to us.
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