Summary: This article was written and published July, ’17. In this article on Christian discipleship we attempt to make sense of some of the difficult sayings of Jesus on this topic. Our understanding must come from the Holy Spirit as the teacher of God’s word. Most of the time, the teachings of men are just human wisdom and reasoning, compromising and watering down the truth of God. These we must be able to recognize and resist, for such manipulations of scripture only serve to put us at ease, making us comfortable with the world. They are not the mind of Christ. We know by now Christian discipleship is a difficult road, and requires the highest form of commitment – in order to follow Christ we must take up a cross.
This teaching uses the truths found in the first article on discipleship (Post #75 – https://www.reintgenchristianbooks.com/christian-descipleship/What Precedes Christian Discipleship) and expands on this to show how we may better understand some of the difficult sayings of Jesus on this topic. From that article, we realize that all responsibility flows from whatever the existing relationship happens to be – with God, He is our Father, and as Christians, we are His sons through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). This is the relationship; our duties as disciples flow from it. But what we may not realize is the complete and absolute pre-eminence this relationship is to have over anything else in our lives, especially any other relationships we might have. Being content and comfortable with this relationship’s importance and its proper place is a crucial characteristic of Christian discipleship. It’s not just that God is in first place in comparison to others, as so many teachers are prone to saying – no, our relationship with God holds a vast pre-eminence over everything there is in our lives.
Luke 14:25-33 (NKJV)
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
What is your opinion about the Lord’s teaching of the disciple’s relationships with his natural family? – you must hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and your own life, or you cannot be His disciple. Count what true Christian discipleship will cost you. You must forsake everything, or you are not His disciple.
Hating one’s own life means you are willing to deny yourself; it also means you are willing to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake and His name. The law and Judaism speak of self-love, while Christianity and Christ speak of self-sacrificing love – where you love your Christian brother and are willing to give your life for him. As always, in this we have Jesus as our example.
John 15:12-13, 17
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends…These things I command you, that you love one another.
The self-sacrificing love commanded of Christian discipleship is the perfect example of denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him. This is a good example of how a Christian is to hate his own life – it is in denying yourself in self-sacrificing love to our brethren, just as Christ gave His life for us. It is one of the few commands He gives Christians to do. This is how we take up the cross and follow Christ.
With this in mind, let’s discuss the passage above at the beginning of the article and how we are to understand natural relationships as they relate to our practice of Christianity. All natural relationships may be categorized as “in the flesh” and of God’s first creation. They were instituted by God in the early chapters of the book of Genesis, soon after God created the world. The natural relationships prominent in most people’s lives are mentioned by Jesus in the passage from Luke – fathers, mothers, wife and husband, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. This may come as a surprise to some believers, but all these relationships existed long before Christianity and the church started on the day of Pentecost. Again, let me re-iterate, as a general category, all these relationships are natural and of the flesh – although it can’t be said of the others, in marriage, the husband and wife become one flesh.
The Christian believer has a new relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many New Testament scriptures which bring this truth to prominence, but I will only mention a few key verses here: (John 1:12-13) the Christian is born of God; (Gal. 3:26) the Christian is now a son of God; (II Cor. 5:17) the Christian is the new creation of God. This should be enough evidence from God’s word to establish the fact – if one is a genuine Christian, and the evidence of being genuine is found here (Rom. 8:9, 15-16), then he has a new and different relationship with God from what existed before.
It is interesting to speak of and compare our relationship with God before and after becoming a Christian, but doing so only from the teaching of Scripture. What was before is based on the first Adam. Originally man was created by God in a state of innocence and placed in paradise. God is the Creator, and man the creature – this is the basis of mankind’s relationship with God, regardless of the state or condition man is in. As we have said, at first Adam was in a state of innocence. But Adam’s disobedience to God’s one command brought upon him, and the entire human race for that matter, a change in his state – all men became fallen sinners, and this by nature, by birth, as well as by his works. The relationship stayed the same, while man’s condition changed.
Scripture describes this fallen sinful state as being “in the flesh” (Rom. 7:5, 8:8). It should now be easy to understand how I may say this is man in the first Adam, because the first man was responsible for bringing this condition into the world and upon the entire human race. In Adam, all are born fallen sinners, with no exception. All mankind, by natural birth, may be categorized as being “in Adam” and “in the flesh”.
This new fallen and sinful state of man would be tested by God. He places mankind on probation, chasing him out of the garden, and in different ways He tests man’s obedience to Him. The first testing was man without the law (Rom. 5:13-14) – this essentially ended with the flood in Noah’s time. The second testing was man with the law, and the nation of Israel representing mankind as the testcase – this ended with the Syrian destroying the northern kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians, a little later in time, destroying the temple and Jerusalem, taking a remnant of Judah captive (the southern kingdom). The third testing of man was God sending His Son into the world, and His coming as Messiah, King of Israel – this officially ended with the temple and Jerusalem destroyed a second time, this by the Romans in 70 AD. The Jews were either killed or scattered into the Gentile nations at this time (Luke 21:20-24).
You can see that the last two testings specifically involved Israel representing the human race. All three periods ended in failure by man. God had proved man incapable of obeying Him. “Man in Adam” or “man in the flesh” could not please God in any way (Rom. 8:8). The probation of mankind was now over; before the cross God declares him fruitless (Matt. 21:19), lost (Luke 19:10), and irredeemable as to his own responsibility and power. God had proven man a fallen, lost sinner, in a condition of utter depravity (Rom. 3:9-19). Before the cross God declares the judgment of the entire fallen world (John 12:31).
As we mentioned above, the Christian believer has a new relationship with God – he is born of God as a son, and is a new creation. It isn’t that God is no longer the Creator and we are no longer His creation – this remains true as it always will be. Our relationship is new and different because we are no longer in the first Adam, but said by Scripture to be “in Christ”, the second Adam. By our redemption in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), God has removed us out of the first Adam, and placed us in the second Adam. This is a new existence, a new life; it is a new creation in Christ and the resurrection life of Christ given to us. Also, the divine nature morally is imparted to us (II Pet. 1:2-4), and we become the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21). The believer is said to be a “man in Christ” (II Cor. 12:2). The unbeliever is a man in the first Adam, and in the flesh; the Christian is in the second Adam, and in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9).
Adam was the first creation of God. All the natural relationships in Genesis are associated with Adam and that first creation. Man’s sin has tarnished everything in it, even the relationships which would be established by God. Adam’s disobedience has brought defilement in, and this also resulted in judgment from God. Scripture tells us not only did man fall under the dominion of sin and death (Rom. 5:12), but because Adam was the head of God’s creation, everything in it was touched by his disobedience. Creation was subjected to futility, having to groan and wait for a future redemptive time (Rom. 8:18-22). If we examine the words of God’s judgment in the garden after Adam’s fall, we clearly see that not only was his relationship with God and creation affected, but also that between himself and his wife (Gen. 3:16-19). In the bigger picture, it is proper to assume that all the relationships, as part of God’s first creation, would be negatively affected (even the ones which did not exist at the time of Adam’s judgment).
The only promise and hope God gives is in His judgment of the serpent – a second Adam He would send, the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:14-15) – the first Adam was passed by completely by God; there was nothing in fallen man that would be the means of his redemption; in the flesh, man could never please God; anything good for man would have to come from outside his sphere and world. Jesus Christ is the Man from heaven above (1 Cor. 15:47). Also, He is the second Adam, of which the first was just a type (Rom. 5:14).
It should be clear to us that genuine Christians now have a new, eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17-18) – a relationship based on eternal life, the resurrected life of Christ beyond death (Rom. 6:3-10). And it is a relationship associated with the new creation of God, of which the resurrected Christ, by virtue of His work on the cross, is the beginning and head (Rom. 8:29). It is not a relationship of this world – it is the first Adam who is associated with this present world under futility. Jesus, the second Adam, is not of this world (John 17:14-16). Neither are His Christian brethren. The Christian relationship with God is eternal, and it is not of the world, this earth, or of the first creation. In it, God is our God and Father, and in one sense, as the resurrected Man, Jesus is our brother. This is the understanding of what Jesus said to Mary, immediately after His resurrection (John 20:17) – He is speaking as the Son of Man raised from the dead; He has brethren, and He makes the point of including them in the same relationship which He has with God as a Man raised from the dead.
It should be equally clear that the relationships “of the flesh” are the relationships associated with the first Adam, and are of this world and first creation. There is defilement associated with them, as there is with everything that is part of the first creation. These relationships are not eternal, but will all pass away and come to an end. Also, our life associated with this world will end. This may be difficult to see and distinguish, but the Christian believer is “in Christ” and no longer “in the first Adam” as to his relationship with God, and as to the life he now has. The old man – that is, what we were in Adam and in the first creation – has passed away (Rom. 6:6).
This redemptive truth is a key understanding in our walk of faith and Christian discipleship – knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him (with Jesus Christ – Rom. 6:6). How are we to understand this? It starts with comprehending, from God’s perspective, the full extent of our redemption in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). Yes, all our sins are forgiven and gone forever – this is what this verse means by saying we are freely justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Blessed truth this is, and peace with God comes from the knowledge that we, through Christ as Christians, are fully justified from all our sins (Rom. 5:1). Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24). But that isn’t the full extent of what God has done for us; it is not the full measure or scope of our redemption. Forgiveness for all our sins and our justification from them is how God dealt with the bad fruit (our sins we were producing). This isn’t the same as how God dealt with the bad tree (our fallen state “in Adam” and “in the flesh”). Sins could be forgiven, the bad fruit taken away. But this does not address the bad tree that remains. Our fallen state “in Adam” and “in the flesh” would remain if our redemption was only forgiveness and justification from sins. And how did God have to deal with our nature and fallen state? He had to condemn it to death. Our redemption provides forgiveness for the bad fruit, but condemnation and death for the bad tree. God’s sentence for our fallen nature “in Adam” and “in the flesh” is to condemn it to death – essentially ending its existence.
Rom. 8:3 (NKJV)
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.”
Jesus was our substitute in everything. Not only did He bear our sins away on the cross, but also, He was made to be “sin” while hanging there (II Cor. 5:21). Being made sin by God, He was condemned to death. This is what the above passage is referring to – God condemned “sin in the flesh” by condemning to death His own Son. As a general outline, how God dealt with our sins is taught in the earlier portion of Romans (Rom. 1:18 – 5:11), while how He dealt with our state and nature is found in the second portion of the epistle (Rom. 5:12 – 8:39). When used in this later portion, the word “sin” most often refers to man’s fallen state in Adam – in Rom. 5:12, sin enters the world; in Rom. 6:12, do not let sin reign in your mortal body; in Rom. 6:14, for sin shall not have dominion over you; in Rom. 6:22, now having been set free from sin; in Rom. 6:23, for the wages of sin is death; in Rom. 7:8, but sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire; in Rom. 7:13, but sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me; in Rom. 7:17-18, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; etc. Sin entered the world through the disobedience of the first man, and through natural birth, it was passed on to all mankind. Sin brought the judgment of death with it, and so from Adam on, mortality passed on to all men. Sin took up residence in man’s body, in his members, in the flesh (Rom. 7:5), and the works of the flesh were its fruit (Gal. 5:19-21).
In the above verse quoted from Romans eight, our state “in Adam” and “in the flesh” is just as easily referred to by the Scriptural phrase “sin in the flesh.” These phrases describe what we were as unbelievers. God dealt with our state by condemning it to death. This was meant for us, for all mankind in Adam, as our own personal judgment and condemnation. But Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh and submitted, in obedience to God, to this penalty and wrath for us. While on the cross, God made Him to be sin for us (II Cor. 5:21). Therefore, He had to die in order to satisfy and honor God’s righteousness and justice concerning sin. As a consequence of His work on the cross, the believer is made “in Christ” to be the righteousness of God. Not only that, but God sees us as having died with Christ – our old man was crucified with Him (Rom. 6:6). This also is a different Scriptural phrase referring to a similar thing – our old man is our previous life and existence “in Adam” and “in the flesh.” And it is similar to the phrase we are considering in Romans eight – “sin in the flesh.” All these reference our previous life and existence in the first man, which as far as God is concerned, has ended with the believer being united together with Christ in His death (Rom. 6:1-7). It is death, our death with Christ, that ends our previous life in Adam. If the believer lives, it is not him, but Christ living in him (Gal. 2:20). What is so important to comprehend is that our new life is beyond the death of our former life and existence – the old man in the first Adam has been crucified with Christ. What new life the believer has is a result of being united to a Christ raised from the dead.
Rom. 6:5-8 (NKJV)
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
We see that the old man, our previous life in Adam, was sold under sin, a slave to sin. That previous state and life was put to death by God – God condemned Jesus to death; He bore our sins and was made to be sin for us on the cross. In essence, God put our old life to death when He condemned Jesus – our old man was crucified with Christ, ending our previous existence and association with Adam. The new life we have as believers is of the character of such that is united together in the likeness of His resurrection.
The believer has the Son of God, and therefore has eternal life (I John 5:11-12). This life and state of being a Christian is an entirely new existence. It is beyond the death and end of the old man. It is a new creation of God, in which all things about it are of God. The true Christian is born of God – no longer considered by God as born of the flesh and having natural descent or associated with the first Adam. The believer is the workmanship of God, created by God in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). The eternal life given to us is in the likeness of His resurrection – it is life in the power of resurrection. Here is a wonderful, yet difficult truth to comprehend in its fullness – our association as Christians is not with a Jesus in the flesh, sent from God to Israel as their Messiah. No, the believer’s life, given to him by God, has no other association except with the Son of Man raised from the dead and glorified, and now sitting at the right hand of God (John 12:23-24, 13:31-32, Eph. 1:17-23, Heb. 10:5-14). Please consider the following passage as it is applied to Christ, and then associated with us:
Rom. 6:8-13 (NKJV)
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
The state of the Christian is not considered any longer as “in the flesh” (Rom. 7:5, 8:8-9), but rather, a state described by scripture as being “in the Spirit.” The true Christian has a heavenly calling and a heavenly citizenship. Our destiny as sons of God is to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and to be taken to our Father’s house (I Thess. 4:13-18, John 14:1-3). The catching-up involves a change through the power of God (Eph. 1:19-20), either by resurrection from the dead or mortality being swallowed up by life (Rom. 8:29). The Father’s house is the rightful, eternal habitation into which all the sons of God are privileged to live and remain. Beginning with this event – the rapture of the church – we will never again be residents of this earth and world. “In Christ” we really aren’t residents even now, but just pilgrims and strangers here.
Everything in this article, all its previous teaching, was for the purpose of reaching this point and truth – the Christian believer’s relationship with God is of far greater importance than any natural relationship can or should be. Yet, in our efforts to categorize and qualify our relationships, we invariably slight and diminish the one we have with God. However, our relationship with God is the only relationship which is eternal. Oh, we do our best to talk a good game with all the right words, but the true affections of our heart are so often elsewhere.
It is difficult to walk by faith (II Cor. 5:6-7). What I mean by saying this is that our relationship with God is a relationship with someone we can’t see and have never seen (Heb. 11:6). The Christian’s relationship with God is through Jesus Christ, and we haven’t seen Him either (John 20:29, I Pet. 1:8). This relationship is a matter of faith, because faith is always the evidence of what is unseen (Heb. 11:1, 6). The most important and prominent relationship we will ever have is by faith in things unseen, yet this is what makes it eternal and invaluable (II Cor. 4:18). However, walking by faith is the difficulty. Father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, son, daughter, and friends – the relationships of the flesh and the first creation are not matters of faith in things or in persons unseen. Nor are they eternal and invaluable.
Please do not misunderstand what I’m saying. All the relationships of the first creation were instituted by God. When we become Christian disciples, we do not divorce our spouses and disown our parents and children (I Cor. 7:10-11). We honor God by honoring all the relationships He established before Christianity began. Actually, the presence of the believer in these relationships has a sanctifying effect on them (I Cor. 7:12-14). As a Christian, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25-26). There is similar instruction for Christian wives, parents, and children (I Cor. 7:3, Eph. 5:22-24, 33, 6:1-4).
It becomes apparent from certain passages of Scripture that God has given the Christian believer, by his redemption in Christ Jesus, access to His power and grace in order to live godly before Him (Rom. 5:1-2, 6:22, Heb. 4:15-16, Eph. 1:19); this includes the natural relationships he may be involved in. It is the only sound explanation for this passage in Matthew nineteen (Matt. 19:3-12) – here the difference between Judaism and Christianity is contrasted by the Lord, as it involves either marriage or living single in service to God, in the kingdom of heaven (Christianity). Christ’s command concerning marriage would be different than what was permitted for the Jews under Moses and the law – Jesus goes back to the original relationship as it was instituted by God in the garden. Moses allowed the Jewish husband to divorce his wife for any reason, and this God accepted for the time because of man’s depravity. But it is obvious that Christianity has a power and grace from God for the believer to be able to fulfill and abide by God’s original intent for marriage. The passage assumes the power of Christianity to do something different and better than the compromises God acquiesced to under Judaism.
This is equally true when we consider the gift of celibacy from God in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:10-12) – it is a gift of divine power and grace from God for service, peculiar to some individuals in Christianity. Judaism’s dependence on natural descent and physical birth (having families and children) made no room for such a commitment in a life of service. I am not aware of this lifestyle ever being encouraged by God in the law and under the practice of Judaism. It seems obvious that it is a special gift given by God to some in Christianity and during the Christian dispensation. Following Christ as a Christian disciple, especially in service and ministry for the kingdom of heaven (Christendom) which this gift implies, is completely independent of marriage and family. But the point remains from the passage – Christianity holds a divine power available for true Christians to live as disciples; this is a power in grace from God which wasn’t available in Judaism, and therefore shows a great contrast and difference between the two religions and two dispensations.
We should use a similar understanding in view of the Lord’s words in Luke’s gospel (Luke 14:25-35). Both passages (that in Matthew nineteen and Luke fourteen) have Jesus setting up a contrast between Judaism and Christianity; this passage in Luke also assumes the availability of divine power and grace for the Christian disciple to live a godly life in accordance to the new instructions given by the Lord. Again (sorry to be repeating), this divine power and grace was never available through Judaism and the law. It is only available to those “in Christ” with this new and eternal relationship with God through Him. This divine power and grace is only available in Christianity, only for true Christians who have been given a new life and existence in accordance to the likeness of His resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5). Potentially then, every believer in his pilgrimage here below, may be able to present every member of his body to God as slaves of righteousness for holiness (Rom. 6:19, 16-22). The key to this life of holiness is comprehending the principle or law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which has set the believer free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). I emphasize the word “potentially” – not every believer commits to walking according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). However, there should be no doubt that every true Christian, by redemption, is given a new state “in Christ,” and is introduced to a new divine power by which he may walk in this world after the example of Christ. Every Christian has a new state referred to as “in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9); but every Christian doesn’t necessarily commit to walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). If we commit to walking free from the law of sin and death, God will supply His grace and power – the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:2).
In the passage from Luke’s gospel quoted at the beginning of the article (Luke 14:25-35), if we want to follow Jesus as a Christian disciple, He instructs us to hate father, mother…etc. What is He saying? Is He contradicting what Paul teaches later in his epistles? Although this seems like an obvious contradiction of Scripture, it only is so for the carnal mind (Rom. 8:5-6). The spiritual mind of the believer should know that a contradiction in Scripture is an impossibility – God’s word is from God, and He cannot make mistakes. But we do have to be careful not to water-down what Jesus is saying. The disciple is taught the prominence of his new and eternal relationship with God – that nothing compares to it; no other relationship, regardless of what it is, can rival it. It isn’t simply that God is first and my spouse is second, children are third, and so on… – all natural relationships, whatever you may have, cannot approximate your relationship with God through Christ. They are meant to be a far distant second, and then they are all grouped together as Jesus did in this passage. Whatever natural relationships the Christian believer may have, they only presently exist under the prominence and dominance of the believer’s relationship with God. “In Christ,” we have a new life, a new existence; we are a new creation of God. This is a new and different realm of influence, one that has to have a profound effect on us, and everything about us. Now that we are followers of Christ, the natural relationships we possess, gain in time, and continue to maintain in our lives, must be subservient to the principles and duties of this new Christian life.
For a moment let us look at our new existence “in Christ” from a somewhat direct and technical viewpoint, always referencing scripture for our thoughts. (Warning; some thoughts here in this technical part are biblical truths repeated from above, but applied in a slightly different way) The believing Christian is a new creation of God – this really is a new existence, an entirely new life from what he had before. Formerly, as an unbeliever, he was in Adam, the first man. Now, as a Christian, he is “in Christ,” the second or last Adam. Scripture makes the point that the unbeliever’s state in Adam is one of being “in the flesh” (Rom. 7:5, 8:8-9). Also, scripture tells us that “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50). Do you think the natural relationships of the flesh will continue on at this future time when the Christian inherits the kingdom of God? Jesus directly answers this question concerning marriage (Matt. 22:23-32, Mark 12:18-27) – we may safely assume that all natural relationships will not continue. But there are other scriptures which imply the same thoughts and principles:
Gal. 3:26-28 (NKJV)
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ, the natural relationships of the first creation do not exist. Jesus, as a Man raised from the dead, is the beginning of the new creation of God. While we remain in this world the natural relationships we have continue, and we honor God by keeping them as best we can, as believers. Because we are now Christians, all these relationships are influenced and affected by our Christianity; to whatever degree possible, these relationships have been Christianized. But never forget that the only eternal relationship the believer has is the one we have with God and our Father through and in Christ Jesus (John 20:17). This eternal relationship is the priority, and in a sense the only priority. This verse above shows us God’s counsels concerning all those “in Christ,” all those who are Christians. Whether their bodies lay in the grave and they, spirit and soul, are with the Lord now, or like us, remain living on the earth, the believer’s natural relationships of this world and the first creation simply no longer exist.
This is the difficulty: In the counsels of God we who are “in Christ” have a new relationship with God which titles us to many different things, most of which at present we do not fully possess and enjoy. Below I list just a few of many examples of this in scripture:
- In Christ Jesus, Christians have been raised up and made to sit together in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) – this is past-tense as already accomplished in God’s counsels. Yet all believers know that this isn’t an accomplished physical reality at this time. We patiently wait for it, which can only take place after God has glorified us (Rom. 8:23-25). Again, the counsels of God found in scripture has God viewing every Christian as already glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). But the reality is that only four out of five of these past-tense verbs has been accomplished – we have been foreknown, predestined, called and justified. We wait to be glorified by God.
- Scripture speaks of Christians as having already been saved (Eph. 2:5, 8-9). But scripture also speaks of believers having the hope of salvation (I Thess. 5:8), and salvation as being a future thing (I Pet. 1:7-9).
There are many other examples of blessings and privileges “in Christ” we possess in title, yet we must wait for their physical fulfillment beyond the Christian dispensation. This is true of the verse quoted above from Galatians three (Gal. 3:26-28). In Christ, and therefore in His body the church, the relationships of the first creation no longer exist – there is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is neither male or female, but all are one and the same in Him. But we are not there yet, and He hasn’t finished gathering the church, and the true church is not glorified. These things have been paid for by the shed blood of Christ, yet not as yet fully realized.
All these understandings about relationships, even the biblically technical arguments I presented in this article, I believe, must be part of the explanation of Jesus’ instructions about Christian discipleship in Luke fourteen (Luke 14:25-35). Scripture never contradicts scripture, so Jesus isn’t contradicting Paul. We honor God by keeping the natural relationships we have, while we are left down here to sojourn on this earth. We are to bring a Christian influence and impression on them, knowing this, that our eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ now dictates everything about them. Christian discipleship takes precedence over marriage and family, even over your own life and self.