~ More On Theology Versus Experience ~
Click Here for Part I, "Theology Versus Experience"
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Reading between the lines points to the many other scriptural assertions that the "old" self has been denied, crucified with Christ, leading to a literal rebirth as a new creation. This is not a self-improvement theology, wherein one becomes a "better person." The change is less like the obedience training that makes an undisciplined dog into one that is trusted to lead a blind person and more like the radical difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly, a new creation!
The shepherds of Jesus' day were social outcasts, thought of as being in the same league as highway robbers. Theirs was a lowly job despised by their society. Even after their occasional bath they smelled like a dirty stable. By law, they were not permitted to testify in court, their witness considered worthless. These shepherds who had no doctrine, creed or established beliefs were the first to be invited to experience the Christ. And they ran to Him with enthusiasm!
In Jesus' day, women were equivalent to property, unable to hold political office or authority. But it was to a woman, a new creation in Christ, that Jesus chose to appear first in His resurrected body. Her belief system didn't include a resurrected Christ. Her experience of Him caused her to gasp, "Teacher!"
Many secular and religious institutions require a profession or declaration of belief or creed for membership. Do you believe in Jesus Christ's resurrection? Do you believe He died for your sins? Do you believe He loves you and lives in you? Answering correctly gets you in. But suppose one was asked, what is your experience of Christ's resurrection? What is your experience of His death? How do you experience Him living in you? How are you a new creation in Him?
One's belief in freedom and one's experience of freedom are two different things. Do you believe in democracy? What is your experience of democracy? Do you believe in love? What is your experience of love? Different things, belief and experience. What is your experience of the "narrow gate" Jesus told us to enter?
Do you believe in the idea of slavery? It is a necessary experience: "You are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness…You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Romans 6:16b,18, NIV). Have we?
Like slaves, we were bought, by the sacrifice of Christ. A slave who was bought by another master wouldn't know it until it was told to him or her. And even if the slave believed he or she was bought by another, it would not make a difference in his or her life until the slave experience the new master.
The Scriptures teach us the master of sin has control only over the old self, which is now dead. So sin can order the old self to get to work, but the old self just lies there. You cannot make a dead person work. You have no power over the dead. The new creation has a new Master and is very responsive to Him. That is our theology, but is it our experience? If the old person is dead, some would wonder, why is he still walking around?
When a condemned man was walking down the hall to the execution chamber, it was the ritual custom for the escort to announce, "Dead man walking!" For the man who resigned or reckoned himself to his death, this was a strange experience. He, counting on dying, having already said good-bye to life, was indeed walking among the dead. He would not be expected to feel any of life's vigor or tests anymore during that short walk. The power of life lost its grasp and the voice of death has taken over and he follows it.
This is what St. Paul talks about as redemptive power. "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11, NIV). The word "count" has been also translated as consider, reckon, resign, experience. The Scriptures tell the truth: We have been bought and redeemed from death and sin by Christ "Who was made sin for us; by faith we are saved." Like slaves who have been bought by another master, we must be informed of this purchase for "faith comes by hearing." Then we must step out into that faith, like Peter stepping out of the boat onto the surface of the water toward his Master Jesus. Until Peter took his eyes off the Master, he experienced the wonder of walking on water. The others in the boat could have, but they remained safely in place.
How can we experience theology? How can we stop experiencing the old dead man's power and feel the power and life of being a new creation in Christ? Why does the dead man keep getting up and walking the old sinful way?
As we were born first physically and helpless, we are born into the Body of Christ by His grace. But we grew up and had choices to make. If we wanted a strong body, we needed to exercise and feed it well. Same with our minds and our skills and abilities. After spiritual birth, wherein our self-centered being is put to death with our crucified Lord, we must also walk in the faith of our being new creations in Christ. Paul provides the vital instruction: We must count, resign, consider, bank on, reckon ourselves dead to master sin and keep walking that narrow road of Christ, Who is the Way. The voice of master sin will still cry out behind us, "Hey, listen to me!" But our heavenly Escort will protectively respond in witness to our obedience to our Lord and Master, "Quiet! Dead man walking! He won't answer you! The new creation has a different Master, and he follows only My Voice!"
The new creation doesn't draw strength on life from himself. The slave of righteousness is "clothed with Christ," "and God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)!
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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