The phrase “in Christ” is among the most frequently used expressions by the Apostle Paul. It is used at least 13 times in the book of Ephesians alone (and 5 times in just the first chapter!). The frequency of its appearance shows how central the idea is to the theology of the New Testament.
To be “in Christ” means having a vital union with Christ. It is a relationship whereby all that Christ accomplishes in his redemption is given to the one who is united. Thus, being “in Christ” means that one is the beneficiary of Christ’s atoning work because of his being so intimately related to Christ.
Let me illustrate it this way: My daughter recently was given a trophy because her team won her league’s tournament. What’s interesting is that my daughter wasn’t even there for the championship game. The final game was played on a Sunday and we do not allow her to participate in Sunday matches in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Nevertheless, she was given a trophy and is considered just as much a victor as those who were sweating it out at the game.
Why can she have this joy when she wasn’t even there? It is because she has a true and living relationship with her team members. She has been on the squad for a number of years and, despite her occasional absence, continues to be a part of the lineup.
This is how it is with everyone who puts their trust in Christ and recognizes his Lordship. The Spirit of God unites them to Christ in a living relationship and they become victors over sin and death because of what Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection.
Discuss: As Augustine begins his “confession” he starts at the very early days of adolescence. Why do you think he includes this in his account? Why does he devote a lengthy discussion to this period of his life?
To be sure, puberty is a developmental milestone. But Augustine sees this not primarily as a time of physical and mental development—though he mentions his father’s rather embarrassing
recognition of it in the bathhouse. To Augustine, the adolescence was a major developmental stage for his sinful life.
He does not gloss over it as a time when “boys will be boys” or a time when he can merely “sow his wild oats.” He sees this as a dark time; a crucial time where his descent down the path of wickedness began.
For this reason he begins the chapter by mentioning the vanity of the road he set upon: “I will attempt to give a coherent account of my disintegrated self, for when I turned away from you, the one God, and pursued a multitude of things, I went to pieces. There was a time in adolescence when I was afire to take my fill of hell.”
This is an echo of what he says in another place, “our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.” In sum, he declares that peace of mind/peace in life can only be achieved through peace with God. As we wonder further away from obedience to the Lord (and the revelation of absolute truth that he gives), we bring upon ourselves misery of mind/life.
The theme of lust is noted at the outset of the chapter. Augustine asks, “What was it that delighted me? Only loving and being loved.” He goes on to express that love and lust were two things that were profoundly confused, such that he could not distinguish the “calm light of love from the fog of lust.”
Discuss: Is there a legitimate distinction between love and lust? If so, what is it? How do we define or distinguish love and lust? What is the basis for such a distinction?
The lusts associated with Augustine’s youth may be categorized in the following ways:
1. Sexual intrigue.
Augustine starts by admitting that he was “in love with being in love.” This, at least at this time in his life, primarily means an unbiblical sexual proclivity. The number one sin of the adolescent years is that of lust so it is no surprise that he talks about this. However, the honesty of it and the expression of how vile it really was is interesting given the sexing of our culture and "free love" tendency.
Augustine notes that this yearning marriage would have curbed these desires, or at least put them to good use in propagating the race through children. There was no intention of this though. His parents cared more for his education than his chastity. His mother did admonish and instruct him on the evil of fornication, but he would not listen.
In the end, he admits that these exploits plunged him further away from God. Though sweet to the flesh they were bitter to the soul because the Lord would not bless them (he "sprinkled bitter disappointments over all my unlawful pleasures so that I might seek a pleasure free from all disappointment.")
The lust he had was not confined to that of women though. He yearned for acceptance with his male friends. This was fed by the idleness of being away from school for a time. He spent much time roaming with friends. To be recognized by them he made up stories about sexual exploits (“afraid of being reviled, I grew viler”)
3. Greater wickedness
Augustine says, “Throughout these experiences a dark fog cut me off from your bright truth, my God, and my sin grew sleek on my excesses.” Adolescence is a time marked by growth. We typically associate with it the developments that occur physically and mentally. Augie does not do this. The growth of his sin is what is in the foreground. This time of his life was marked by hardening in evil ways.
The more evil that is done, the more thirsty one becomes for more. Essentially Aug. says that there is a drug like effect of sin. You become addicted. Correspondingly, as you are attracted to more evil, your mind becomes more distant from the things of heaven and God. (The Bible talks about searing the conscience and being given a “reprobate mind.”)
Discuss: Much of the chapter is tied up with his discussion of the pear tree. What happens there? Why does Augustine deem this so important as to include it?
There is a sense in which this tale parallels the biblical story of Adam and Eve. In the Genesis 3 story we read of the initial sin that plunged mankind into sin. Here, we see Augustine’s revelry in sin. He confesses that he would not have done it if he were alone, nor were the pears of great desire (there were better ones to be had). It was purely “sin for sin’s sake;” the pleasure of ruin and destruction. (“The malice was loathsome, and I loved it.”)
Augustine insinuates that the sin of Adam had left its mark. The corruption of the heart was such that he took great delight in the evil.
Discuss: Augie also says that his friends had something to do with the whole event. Do you think that this was essentially your everyday act of peer pressure?
Augustine also remarks that the raping of the pear tree corresponded to the sin of our first parents in motivation. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve by saying, “when you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Augustine says (II.14), “All those who wander far away and set themselves up against you are imitating you, but in a perverse way.” That is to say, in seeking to be a law unto oneself they copy the work of the Lawgiver himself. Augustine admits, “I was…trying to simulate a crippled sort of freedom, attempting a shady parody of omnipotence by getting away with something forbidden.”
Augustine ends by essentially saying, “So began my course.” While he might have had some happy moments, he lacked true joy & satisfaction because he lacked the Lord. We might hear in his concluding remarks something of what King Solomon said in the book of Eccl.: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them."
I was recently asked about the "hardening of Pharaoh's heart" in the book of Exodus. To many this sounds incredibly horrid. How can God be said to be pure when he is responsible for making Pharaoh ever determined to sin?
Let us remember first that Pharaoh was no saint. He was dead set against the Lord and His people. Long before the account says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, it repeatedly says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
Secondly, let us understand what it means to harden the heart. The idea of hardening of the heart is a metaphor. It parallels the bricks that the Israelites were making while in the bondage of their slavery.
The process was to take the ingredients of mud and straw and combine them while they were in a wet state. Then they would leave them to bake in the sun all day. The hardening would be effected as they removed themselves from the bricks. While they worked on them, the items were moist. When the stepped away, they allowed the natural process of hardening to take place.
Such is the way with the hardening of Pharaoh. Men by nature are inclined towards evil. The heart is inflamed with sin. The only way a person is kept from being even more vile than they already are is because the Lord, by his mercy, restrains them. God holds their sin in check and keeps people from being as bad as they potentially could be.
Thus, when it comes to Pharaoh, the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart by stepping away from Pharaoh and allowing the natural effects of his sin yearning to take place. God hardened him, not by causing him to be more evil, but by releasing him to his own desires.
The Apostle Paul gives something of a commentary on this in the opening of the book of Romans. There he talks about God "giving man over" to his sin. The essence of his argument is this: If you do not want to serve God, fine. God will gradually give you over to your desires and allow you to continue the downward spiral of ever increasing levels of sin.
One of the questions that I am often asked has to do with calamities and natural disasters. People wonder if these can be interpreted as signs of God's judgment upon America.
My answer to that is yes and no. On the one hand, we should acknowledge that we can never have an infallible understanding of God's providence. We are not prophets who can peer into the mind of God and determine whether or not God is using this event as a way of testing us (as in the case of Job) or if it is a direct expression of his wrath (as in the case of the Moabites attacking Israel during the time of the Judges).
However, that being said, every calamity ought to give us pause. If we treat it with a sort of atheistic complacence and never give a single thought to the sins of our community / nation / state / church, we may only be incurring more guilt. It is only right that such times of calamity would cause us to bow before the Lord to humbly petition his mercy.
It may be that such a catastrophe may have nothing to do with communal guilt. But it would be foolish not to take time to reflect as a corporate body and/or ask the Lord to reveal our misdeeds if there be any to which we are blind.
[For more on this, I would recommend James Henley Thornwell's famous sermon, "Judgments: A Call to Repentance."]
We might be more particular here and ask whether or not the recent hurricanes, wildfires, and attacks by enemies indications of God's wrath. To this I would respond, "Perhaps so." Yet this I can definitely say: God is not on America's side.
We do not need any specific national tragedy to assure us of this. The fact that we have gross and appalling deeds should be all the indication we need.
We are a nation that is embroiled in sin. We have a staggering amount of blood on our hands due to abortion, a debased currency coupled with debt proportions that are almost astronomical, and an all round attitude of giving God the finger every chance we can. These are just a few of our corporate offenses.
That we are not escaping the clutches of this downward spiral is judgment enough. God has said he would give people over to their sins, and this is what he seems to be doing.
It should be safe to say that America, though once a shining city on a hill, will no doubt go the way of all nations if Christ should tarry. And while God may very well send us warnings, it is safe to say that we are tightening the noose of our destruction quite well enough on our own.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.