Friday, October 16, 2015

The Keswick Christ-life-other alleged Scriptural support: part 4 of 4 in Does Christ live the Christian Life for the Christian? The Keswick View of Galatians 2:20 Examined

            A few other passages can be employed to attempt to support the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ lives the Christian life instead of the believer.  However, no text in Scripture actually affirms such a proposition.  2 Corinthians 4:10-11 refers to “the life . . . of Jesus.”  However, the reference is to spiritual life produced by and sourced in the Lord Jesus, not to the Lord Jesus Himself personally living the Christian life instead of the Christian.  Paul speaks of the spiritual life produced by the Lord Jesus in him in connection with the renewing of his inner man (2 Corinthians 4:16)[1] and associated with the physical suffering and persecution through which he was troubled, distressed, and persecuted (4:8-9), was being always delivered to death (4:11), had his outward man perishing because of affliction (4:16-17), and thus bore in his body “the dying of the Lord Jesus” (4:10).[2]  The believer’s spiritual life is unquestionably produced, sustained, and increased by Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus, and the entire Godhead, alone receive the glory for all the believer’s spiritual life and growth, as the Author and Sustainer of all; “the excellency of the power [is] of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).  This fact is weighty and wondrous truth.  It differs, however, from the unscriptural affirmation that the Lord Jesus Christ actually lives the Christian life instead of the Christian living the Christian life.
            Colossians 3:4 speaks of “Christ, who is our life.”  Again, the passage makes no reference whatsoever to Christ living the Christian life instead of the Christian living the Christian life.  The verse indicates that all believers, not a minority only that have found a secret Higher Life, but all who will “appear with Him in glory” (3:4),[3] are in union with and identified with Christ, have their lives hid with Christ in God (3:1-3), and will consequently be with Him when He returns to bring in the Kingdom.  The Lord Jesus is the One who guarantees them eternal life, and is the Author of all spiritual life and blessings to them, and, indeed, the One who gives them all blessings and good things of every kind whatsoever.  However, Colossians 3:4 does not teach that Jesus Christ lives the Christian life instead of the believer, much less that Christ lives the Christian life for an elite minority of believers that have discovered a Higher Life. 
Parallel passages illustrate the sort of eisegesis required to make Colossians 3:4 teach the doctrine that Christ lives the Christian life while the Christian does not.  Deuteronomy 30:20 states:   “The LORD thy God . . . is thy life, and the length of thy days, that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers.”  Does this passage affirm that the Lord lived the Jewish life instead of the children of Israel, and that He also lived out the length of their days in Canaan instead of them (whatever that could possibly mean)?  Or does the passage rather teach the obvious truth that God was the One who gave the children of Israel life and length of days?  Deuteronomy 32:46-47 commands:  “Set your hearts unto all the words which I [Moses] testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land.”  Does this passage mean that the children of Israel did not live the Jewish life, but the law lived the Jewish life instead of them, because the text says “this law . . . is your life”?  Does it prove that the Jew cannot and must not live the Jewish life, but only the Pentateuch can live the Jewish life?  Or does the text, rather, obviously mean that obedience to the Law of God would lead Israel to live a long time in the land of Canaan?  What exegesis fits the obvious meaning of texts such as Psalm 27:1 (“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”) and Psalm 42:8 (“Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.”)?  The ideas read into—not out of—Colossians 3:4 about Christ living the Christian life are impossible in other Biblical texts that contain similar phraseology.
It is an inexpressibly glorious truth that Christ, as God, possesses self-existent life, and that He as the God-Man[4] is the fountain and source of the believer’s derived eternal spiritual life.[5] Life supplied by Christ and in union with Him (Colossians 3:1-4) is the basis for the mortification of indwelling sin (Colossians 3:5).  It is certainly true that the Lord Jesus is the Author, Preserver, Upholder, and Finisher of the Christian’s spiritual life.  Such life is communicated to the believer by Christ, with whom the saint has come into an intimate mystical union.  Furthermore, the believer must trust in and obey Christ if he wishes to grow in grace.  However, it is false and dangerous to pure doctrine and a holy life to teach that Christ lives the Christian life instead of the believer.  Benjamin B. Warfield correctly wrote: 
[T]he believer . . . is made alive in Christ—and it is he that is made alive. It is not only that he has Christ in him and Christ is living, but it is he himself that is living, for Christ has made him alive:  yes, he has life in himself (John 6:53). It is not true that [t]he believer is portrayed as a man in himself spiritually dead, indwelt through the Spirit by Jesus Christ, who is his spiritual life[.] [Rather, he] is portrayed as a man who is spiritually alive, in whom Jesus Christ the source of all his life, dwells by His Spirit. The man himself is saved, and his new holiness is his holiness. It is a grave error to suppose that the living Christ can dwell within us without imparting life to us. He quickens whom He will: and he whom He quickens, lives.”[6]
Biblical and historic Baptist truth recognizes the glorious fact of union with Christ and the need to seek strength from Him by faith.  The Christian grows in personal holiness as he is quickened by that Divine-human Savior with whom he has been united.  Such truth must not be corrupted by unscriptural additions or subtractions, such as the idea that the believer does not personally become holy as he lives for God, but that Christ Himself actually lives the Christian life instead of the believer.[7]

See here for this entire study.

[1]              Similarly, the “life of God” (Ephesians 4:18) for the believer is freedom from the sins of the unregenerate (4:16-18), putting off the old man and putting on the new man, having God renew the spirit of his mind, living a holy and righteous life, telling the truth and having holy speech instead of lying and having ungodly speech, and so on (4:20ff.).  The believer does not have the personal life of the eternal Trinity living the Christian life instead of him.

[2]              Note that one who wished to make “the life . . . of Jesus” (4:10-11) into the personal life of the Lord Jesus Christ would have great difficulty in making Paul’s experience of “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:10) into the Apostle enduring the physical and personal death of the Lord Jesus.

[3]              None of the texts that indicate that the believer’s spiritual life is derived from the Lord Jesus, and abused to affirm that Christ Himself lives the Christian life, support the notion that a certain higher class of Christians lives a “Christ-life” at a higher plane, while another mass that have not learned the alleged spiritual secret live a life at a lower plane.  Colossians 3:4 and Galatians 2:20 are true for all believers, not a special few.  It is true that only some believers experience the kind of persecution that the Apostle Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4, but this fact provides no assistance to those who affirm that Christ lives the Christian life, as they generally study devotional literature promulgating their theological notions to leap to the higher plane of the “Christ-life” rather than seeking to be persecuted.
                It is also noteworthy that Colossians 3 also says nothing about a single faith decision whereby certain believers allegedly access Christ to live the Christian life for them.  Rather, the truth of Colossians 3:4 produces commands to think on heavenly things (3:2), put sin to death (3:5), cease from anger and dishonesty (3:8-9), practice holy deeds (3:12), forgive (3:13), love (3:14), be thankful (3:15), fill oneself up with Scripture (3:16), and so on.

[4]              Compare John 6:57; 14:19; the Theanthropic life of Christ as Mediator is derived from the Father, and, as the Theanthropos, He communicates life to His own.

[5]              “When our Lord said, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:5), He certainly meant that the vital union between Him and his people is something more than that which may subsist between disciples and their master, — a union including merely trust, congeniality, and affection. The influence to which the fruitfulness of the believer is attributed is something more than the influence of the truth which He taught; however that truth may be applied or enforced. Their abiding in Him, and He in them, is something more than abiding in the profession and belief of the truth. Christ is the head of the Church not merely as its ruler, but as the source of its life. It is not I, says the Apostle, that live, ‘but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20). ‘Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?’ (2 Corinthians 13:5). It is from Him, as the same Apostle teaches us, that the whole body derives those supplies by which it lives and grows (Ephesians 4:16). ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). ‘I am the resurrection, and the life’ (John 11:25). ‘I am that bread of life’ (John 6:48). ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him’ (John 6:56). ‘This is that bread which came down from heaven: … he that eateth of this bread shall live forever’ (John 6:58). ‘We shall be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:10). ‘The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). ‘As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). ‘Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him’ (John 17:2). ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’ (Colossians 3:3, 4). The Scriptures, therefore, plainly teach that there is a vital union between Christ and his people; that they have a common life analogous to that which exists between the vine and its branches, and between the head and members of the body. The believer is truly partaker of the life of Christ” (Systematic Theology, by Charles Hodge, part. 3, Soteriology. Chapter 14, “Vocation.”).

[6]           pg. 557, Perfectionism, vol. 2, Chapter 4, “The ‘Higher Life’ Movement.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003; reprint of 1932 Oxford ed.

[7]              The idea that Christ’s own personal holiness is imparted to Christians has properly been rejected by Baptists as unbiblical.  In the words of the London Baptist Association in 1704, “It is the opinion of this Assembly that the doctrine of sanctification by the impartation of the holiness of Christ’s nature does, in its consequences, render inherent holiness by the Holy Spirit unnecessary, and tends to overthrow natural, as well as revealed religion” (pg. 171, Chapter 8, Bye-Paths in Baptist History, J. J. Goadby.  Elec. acc. Baptist History Collection CD, ver. 1. Paris, AK: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2005).


KJB1611 said...

I have noticed people employing the Keswick Christ-life language in comments on this blog in the past that were not about the Higher Life. Am I the only one who has heard the view of Gal 2:20 I have exposed here, or is it that nobody wants to defend it with exegesis, since that is impossible, or that nobody who holds it is willing to go public and admit he is reading these posts?

Anonymous said...


I certainly have heard this (Keswick) teaching on Galatians 2:20 before, but I don't agree with it. One idea that I have heard that I think is, perhaps, a variation of this, is the idea that Christ (or God) works through us. I have heard that so many times, and I know I have said it myself in the past, but there is one place that I don't think I have ever seen it and that is the Bible. Am I the only one that disagrees with this?

I'd like to get your thoughts on this idea (God working through us). Is there somewhere in the Bible that teaches this? I see time and time again where the Bible says that God works in us (Phil. 2:13), and I see in the Bible that "I can do all things through Christ..."(Phil 4:13), but this idea of God working through us I cannot seem to find. Is this similar to what you are writing about here, Thomas? It seems to correspond with the Keswick "Let go and Let God" mantra.


KJB1611 said...

Dear Mat,

Thanks for the question. Since Jesus Christ is God, even the Phil 4:13 verse would demonstrate that God works through us. For that matter, since God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), He certainly is working as the ultimate agent through us (and even working to produce His providential goals through unbelievers). Isaiah, for example, indicates that God was working to deliver His people as king Cyrus let them return to the land from exile. Thus, I definitely have no problem with saying God works through us, with our active agency but His ultimate agency.

Thanks again for the question.