Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alive, Part 1 of 2

When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, Jesus challenged Nicodemus’ soteriology. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jhn 3:3).” Nicodemus, wondering how a man could produce this for himself asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born (Jhn 3:4)?” Jesus confronts Nicodemus’ works-righteousness by declaring, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (Jhn 3:6).” Nicodemus wondered how a man could make himself be born again, and Jesus taught him that only the Spirit can convey spiritual life.

Though Paul was not present during Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, he was nevertheless very aware of this concept and used it frequently in his writings. Yet there is particular one passage where Paul explains the means by which God has makes man alive. After Paul pointedly reminds his readers in Col 2:13-14 of their sin induced state of spiritual death, he makes it clear that because sin is the cause of death, the only way to bring life is to remove sin. Therefore when God produces spiritual life in a person, he forgives that sinner’s trespasses; not by means of averting His eyes to sin, rather by accepting the payment made on the cross.

The grammatical structure in Col 2:13-14 is such that v. 13 contains the two primary clauses: (1) “you who were dead”, and (2) “God made [you] alive together with.” This essay will focus on the second clause which is followed by supporting clauses in vv. 13-14 which the answer two questions: (1) in what way did God make “you” alive, and (2) what means did God use. Of first importance is to understand what Paul meant by God “made alive together with” which is based on a single Greek word συζωοποιέω.

Paul coined a new term to describe the believer’s relationship with Christ. συζωοποιέω which is translated “made alive together with,” has only one other use in Eph 2:5 which is virtually an exact parallel. This form of the word συζωοποιέωis found nowhere else in Greek literature, which testifies to its unique soteriological significance (see next paragraph). The prefix συ emphasizes our “identification with the risen Christ.” In examining ζωοποιέω without the prefix, we find that the giving of life is a Trinitarian activity. In Jhn 5:21 we find that the Father and the Son give life to whomever they will. Implicitly Rom. 8:11 teaches that the Father (“he who raised Jesus from the dead”) gives life. Finally, 2 Cor 3:6 teaches us that the Spirit gives life. We know that the Father is the one who gives life in Col 2:13 because the surrounded context (2:8-15) portrays Christ as a participant, not as the initiator. It is important to note that “God initiates the salvation process, because spiritually dead people cannot make themselves alive (MacArthur, 109).” When Jesus resurrected the dead to life during His earthly ministry there was no initiative coming from the corpse. Lazarus was totally incapable of doing anything until Jesus commanded him to “come out (Jhn 11:43).” A corpse has no cognitive ability to even think about doing anything. Therefore God always takes the initiative when He gives life to a dead sinner.