Paul’s Spiritual Vision 3

Rodney Reeves’ new book, Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, contends that the way to beat the flesh in this life is to see ourselves as temples, temples of the living God, wherein sacrifices of ourselves are offered to God. The upside of this idea is that Reeves avoids both legalism’s reduction of self-denial to laws and rules as well as the liberty-drivers’ desire to tell us that all things are good so live it up.

But the problem is more than how to frame this stuff: the problem is the glory of God. Well, that’s not the problem; the problem is that we want that glory. We want to rob God of glory because getting glory is so dadgummed delightful — for the moment. We love it when we are the center of attention. God has made the world full of good things, and his focus is food and sex, but neither is “done” right until they are pointers to God and we use them for the good of others. In other words, food and sex are where we either act with idolatry or with sacrifice. When we use them to bring us pleasure, we gain the glory; when they are for the good of another, they bring glory to God.

Context: Reeves’ book beautifully baptizes the Christian life into the gospel of the death of Christ, the burial of Christ and the resurrection. At work in death is sacrifice, and that is why he uses the image of our being a temple where sacrifice occurs in order to comprehend how to deal with sin.

If the gospel shapes the Christian life, is the death of Jesus — or our victory — the first word? What is the solution to church problems? What is the solution to personal problems? Does “sacrifice” play an important role? Why are we tempted to beat the flesh with legalism? Or with extreme bouts of self-denial in asceticism?

So here’s the problem: we can’t capture God’s glory in our own image. Take a look at that picture of a table mountain in Cape Town — if you’ve been there and seen it, the picture never takes you far enough, and if you’ve lived it for your life a picture can never do it justice — the picture can be a sacrament or an icon but it can never be the fullness. And that’s what we do when we decide to grab the glory: we can’t get enough of it and we rob the fullness of its glory.

We turn food and sex into idols at seek glory in them — it’s clear, I hope, that Reeves is focusing on Romans 1. And he turns as well to 1 Corinthians 3. In our culture both food and sex are worshiped, and they turn us inside out into self-gratifying and ultimately self-glorifying beastly humans.

Paul’s idea is that we have to see ourselves as temples of God: as Christ offered the perfect sacrifice to bring God’s glory, so we sacrifice ourselves in order to glorify God. The key, then, to overcoming sin is to sacrifice. It’s about the presence of God, which is like a fire that consumes sin. Reeves tells the story of a person who said a service felt like God was present, and Reeves said back: “I don’t think we really want God to show up … it might not be a pretty picture.”

When he was pastoring in Jonesboro Arkansas there was a notorious set of murder by two young men, and everyone began finding whom to blame … parents, neighbors … and Reeves said it all became clear when “we” were the problem and that resolutions and healings began to occur when people one by one began to sacrifice to one another.

“Sin feeds on selfishness; sacrifice brings God’s glory” (68). “Whether you eat drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” — apostle Paul (1 Cor 10:31).

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  • Peter

    Your review of this book has really intrigued me. Thank you. I hope to use it for a weekend retreat scheduled in January. Sound appropriate?

  • Susan N.

    Hi Scot, I’m processing the idea of eating, drinking, and s*x as idols; vehicles for self-seeking glory. I tend to wonder if these three done in excessive, indiscriminate fashion are more indicative of a sense of unrecognized emptiness, or to numb out from aforementioned pain?

    “Sin feeds on selfishness; sacrifice brings God’s glory” (68). “Whether you eat, drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” — apostle Paul (1 Cor 10:31). — Is it offending God’s holy presence by polluting the earthen temple that is the greater sin, or failing to consider how our practices affect others adversely?

    This post causes me to remember and appreciate Chapter 10 in ‘One.Life.’ I felt it to be one of the most compelling expositions for handling s*x as a sacred aspect of our being, against the tide of culture in this regard. Excellent for discussing with my teen daughter…

    God as consuming fire — well, no discipline is pleasant (at the time), but God is perfect love. Fear not! Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him 🙂

  • I appreciate how (istm) that Reeves has shifted the focus of his book from analyzing Paul’s words and contexts to imitating him as he imitated Christ, then allowing the context and analysis to inform our understanding of how he acted in pastoring the churches. I recall my heart-to-heart “conversation” with Paul as I began my Greek exegesis course on 1 Corinthians. I admitted to him that his words had been used against me so many times that I had a hard time hearing him as a brother in Christ, but that I was going to do everything I could to listen fully and try not to prejudge or to be defensive, since I knew he loved and served the same Lord as I did. The Holy Spirit blessed my learning in ways I’d never anticipated and confirmed that Paul was a faithful imitator of Christ, who loved God and all members of the Body of Christ!