Saturday, April 21, 2007

mac on intimacy with christ

True to his nature, John MacArthur does both an excellent and a horrible job with his recent post at Pulpit Magazine, Intimacy with Christ. The excellent part of his analysis is exposition of Scripture. MacArthur identifies five elements in relationship to intimacy with Christ - faith, worship, prayer, obedience, and suffering.

The Intimacy of Faith - from Phil 3, MacArthur teaches that Paul had sought to earn God’s favor by legal obedience. But he came to realize that the law sets a standard he could never meet. And so he scrapped all his own works of righteousness as if they were filthy rags (cf. Isa. 64:6). This does not mean that he ceased doing good works, of course, but that he gave up trusting in those works for his salvation. Instead, he put all his faith in Christ—and was clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness instead of his own imperfect works.

This is the doctrine known as justification by faith. Scripture teaches that our sins were imputed to Christ, and He paid the full penalty for them in His death. Now Christ’s own righteousness is imputed to us, and we receive the full merit of it. Without this reality we could enjoy no relationship whatsoever with a holy God.

Moreover, justification by faith—because it means we are clothed in Christ’s own righteousness—establishes the most intimate imaginable relationship between the believer and his Lord. It is an inviolable spiritual union. That’s why Paul often described believers as those who are “in Christ.”

In other words, all true intimacy with Christ has its basis in faith. In fact, no relationship with Him whatsoever is possible apart from faith (Heb. 1:1). As the apostle Peter points out, we love Him by faith, even though we have not seen Him (1 Pet. 1:8).

The Intimacy of True Worship - In Hos 6:6 the Lord says, “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” That verse means we should not imagine that worship consists of rote acts of religious ritual—like sacrifices, burnt offerings, and other ceremonies. Instead, we need to realize that real worship is grounded in the true knowledge of God.

If we want God to delight in our worship, we must think rightly about Him. The very essence of idolatry consists in wrong thoughts about God. And conversely, true knowledge of God means knowing Him as He is revealed in Scripture.

To put it another way, sound doctrine, not liturgy and ritual, is the litmus test of whether our worship is acceptable.

Right thinking about God is therefore essential to true intimacy with Him. Anyone who would know Him intimately must know what He has revealed about Himself. And again, this does not mean we should seek some mystical knowledge about God. All we can know with any certainty about God is what is revealed in Scripture. Those who would know the true God in the true way must therefore seek to be thoroughly familiar with His Word.

The Intimacy of Prayer - Jesus himself taught us to seek intimacy with God through private prayer. Prayer is where the worshiper pours out his heart to God. And Jesus Himself stressed the importance of private prayer: “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matt. 6:6).

He was confronting the practice of the Pharisees, who loved to pray publicly, for show. Jesus was not teaching that prayers should never be offered publicly, for there are obviously times when Scripture calls us to corporate prayer.

But the true Christian seeking intimacy with God will pray most often, and most fervently, in private. The true audience of all our prayers is God Himself. And if we understood what an incomprehensible privilege it is to be invited to come boldly before His throne of grace, we would surely spend more time there, pouring out our most intimate thoughts, fears, desires, and expressions of love to Him.

The Intimacy of Obedience - Jesus said to the disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (Jn. 15:14). Thus Christ Himself made obedience to Him an absolute requirement for true spiritual intimacy.

Let no one claim intimacy with Christ whose life is marked by disobedience rather than submission to Him. Those who refuse to obey Christ as Lord cannot claim to know Him as a friend. Scripture plainly declares that He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36), and He is therefore entitled to demand our allegiance to His Lordship.

As a matter of fact, those who withhold that allegiance are His enemies, not His intimates (cf. Jas. 4:4). That’s why true intimacy with Him is utterly impossible without unconditional surrender to His divine authority.

The Intimacy of Suffering - Returning to Phi 3:10, we note once again what kind of intimacy with Christ Paul was seeking: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Of course, we easily understand why Paul wanted a share in the power of Christ’s resurrection. But why did the apostle desire to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and be conformed to His death?

We can be certain that Paul had no perverse love of pain and suffering. Elsewhere he testified how he repeatedly besought the Lord to deliver him from a “messenger of Satan” that was like a thorn under his skin (2 Cor. 12:7).

In the midst of that experience Paul discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to see us through all our sufferings. Moreover, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (v. 9).

But - throughout this article, and per his pattern, MacArthur insists on deviating from exposition. He somehow concludes that in the knowing of Christ, Christ is not allowed to speak to us and to desire such is to desire the mystical and prove that one does not truly know Christ. MacArthur missing the whole point of Scripture and of what it means to know Christ. He outlines the basis perfectly but fails in the result. To know Him is to commune with Him. Scripture illustrates how God interacts in space, time, history. God hasn't stopped. The canon is closed but God is not.

I thank God that as His sheep, I know Him, He knows me, I hear His voice, and I follow Him - Jesus, John 10.27 and I thank God for good exposition of His Word by men like John MacArthur to help provide a basis for this "knowing".

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