What it Means to be "in Christ" -- Part I
"I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." (Colossians 2:24-29)
The Epistle to the Ephesians, on the other hand, sheds light on the equally profound mystery of what it means for the individual Christian to be "in Christ." In both illustrations we are assured of God's desire for intimacy with each of us. He is close at hand and we are safe. When we choose to relate openly to, and more often with our indwelling Lord we are changed little by little in the direction of our each becoming more self-giving like God.
"I beg you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your logical service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [in experience] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:1,2)
Sanctification, (Romans 8:29), has to do God's work in taking sinful, selfish, broken people and healing us. Sanctification is not automatic: our full cooperation is required. Our obedience to Jesus, our being disciplined by Him, our transparently honesty with Him are not optional. The end result is wholeness, often called holiness.
"Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.." (Hebrews 12:12-14)
In recent years I can't help but notice that not many Christians seem to have a clue about the basics of radical process of sanctification. Sadly, professing to be a Christian doesn’t seem to make any real difference to many people. "Christians" live, fornicate, marry, divorce, lie, get drunk and cheat at about the same rates one sees among our culture's secular-minded non-Christians. Christians who apparently faithfully participate in church don't shine more brightly than isolated solo believers -- though they certainly should. These days one meets professing Christians who seem to drive others people away from Jesus because they live such dull, unattractive, fossilized lives.
A handful of ordinary First-Century Christians turned the Roman Empire upside down, but not lately, and not around here.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. "Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king--Jesus." And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there." (Acts 17:1-14)
The Sermon on the Mount closes with Jesus rejecting from His kingdom great numbers of people who thought they were serving Him well but were summarily sent away in the end,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Throughout the 1500 year history of Israel in the Old Testament, God tells us through the prophets that His heart has been broken repeatedly by His adulterous wife, Israel.
Another cosmic wedding lies just ahead for God's people today. For two thousand years Jesus has been waiting for His wedding day. His spotless, immaculate bride will be us -- His true church, called out from among the false.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Ephesians 5:15-33)
Marriages and friendships will only stay healthy when both parties continually work on renewing the relationship and making appropriate changes in their side of things, especially not allowing fear, guilt, doubt, distrust, jealousy or selfishness to spoil the communication. Dysfunctional relationships between any two human beings soon show that both parties are flawed and both need to change.
In the past year I have been meditating on the events in the gospels that show how our Lord dealt with people and with circumstances. I have been imagining living these experiences with Jesus -- since the New Testament says that I am in Christ and Christ is in me.
Total Dependence on Another
"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." (John 10:37-38)
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." (John 14:9-12)
The immediate and obvious application for me is that my life is not my own. First thing in the morning I need to remind myself that the normal Christian life is lived by Jesus in me. He needs my permission to do this. I have been called and the one who calls expects my prompt and total response.
A Very Difficult Life Style
The daily life style of Jesus was often tough and demanding. He had no money, only one set of clothes. He was often pressed all day long by hurting people who wanted him to heal them. Most were not willing to follow him afterwards. On one occasion he healed ten lepers. Only one of them bothered to return to thank Jesus and to take the trouble to know Jesus by faith -- and thus to be saved. (Luke 17:12-19)
There were no motels in ancient Israel, all travel was on foot. The disciples often stayed in the homes of friends along the way; Jesus was often left alone at the end of the day. His life style was usually neither easy nor comfortable.
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet." Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee? "Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" So there was a division among the people because of Him. Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?" The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived? "Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? "But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed." Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?" They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee." And everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives." (John 7:37-8:1)
"For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them." And they went to another village. Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:56-62)
The Fellowship of His Sufferings
A vast subject, ignored by many, is that being a Christ involves suffering. Setting aside for now our own personal sufferings which may be minor or grave, the suffering of Jesus in His identification with mankind is enormous, and largely takes place outside of time in the eternal dimension of things.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:7-14)
Since we are in Christ and He is in us, we eventually will feel differently about people and situations that at last indicate we are in coming into tune with the sufferings of Jesus. We thus become capable of comforting others.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." (2 Corinthians 1:2-5)
It took Jesus "only" six hours to die on a Roman cross for justice to be paid in full for every human being who has ever lived. You and I were not even born then, we know next to nothing about justice and God's holiness. We have forgotten that we live in time, whereas the Son of God inhabits eternity, (See http://ldolphin.org/sixhours.html).
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:7-17)
A Deeper, Different Way to Love
Jesus said to His disciples at the Last Supper, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34)
How does this commandment differ from what was already written in the Law of Moses -- an old commandment and not a new one?
In English we use the word love to cover all the bases. Our ordinary kind of love is often lust in disguise, or selfishly motivated "need love," or sentimental romantic emotion arising from the flesh. Which of us has not used love to manipulate or control or to get something we want?
Not only does God ask His followers to love their neighbor as they love themselves, Jesus asks that our loving should be like His. To do this we need to take time to see how it was that Jesus loved the individuals we meet in the gospels. Once we agree to loving and giving, the law reminds us we don't have what it takes, so we call on our indwelling Friend Jesus. He is all too glad to love others through the least of us.
My Long List
For a year or more now I have been reflecting on incidents in the life of Jesus and allowing myself to be "there" with Jesus (and "in Him" as it were).
I have also found that I can tell Jesus frankly that what I feel or believe runs contrary to what He asks of me. For example, I meet people I don't like whom Jesus loves. It is helpful to tell Jesus very frankly how I feel. How deep are the roots of sin in my life? Jesus knows and I won't be healed unless I ask Him to cut deeply or cauterize with a hot iron or a burning coal from the altar.
I understand from the Bible that each true Christian is being changed from totally self-centered to completely self-giving like Christ. C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain) said that is no wonder that non-believers would not want live in the heaven which is being prepared for us.
Only a few people in the world really "know Jesus." Let's find ways to be more genuine, more authentic. It is entirely possible we aren't doing nearly as well as we imagine. This short life is all too brief, let's not waste it.
I find Tim Keller's books and sermons helpful and inspiring. I strongly recommend his book The Prodigal God. Yes, it is about the parable of the prodigal sons (Luke 15:11-32). But pastors usually don't talk much about the well-behaved older brother who stayed at home while the younger son partied away the family's resources in "riotous living." Keller shows that the father's overwhelming desire in life is to know both sons and with the second son he seems to have failed so far. Next Keller shows us that sin usually shows up in the world either as an open rebellious life style of sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, or in a performance-driven life of self-righteous, prudish conduct. The father is overjoyed when the wayward son came home begging for mercy much to the annoyance of the older son. The older son is never challenged, but often praised. He may grow up to be a moral pillar in the community, a stalwart churchman or member of the clergy, but without ever knowing the father heart of God. Jesus is the teller of the parable and the message is that God our Father is all about intimate, quality relationships. No wonder the Sermon on the Mount ends with the stern warning to the moral majority, "Depart from me you evil doers, I never knew you." Keller's previous book, The Reason for God, is about the best recent book on apologetics and theology I've seen in a long time, so you may want a copy or two to circulate among the sophisticated modern atheistically inclined.
I have just concluded teaching a ten-week series on the minor prophets, http://ldolphin.org/obscure/. We found these short Old Testament books are very relevant for the times: Israel is in the news as never before this summer. Sure enough the ancient prophets of Israel tell us all about the past, present and certain future of God's special nation, Israel. The Middle East situation will only be solved by the personal return of Israel's King, Jesus Christ. This will probably happen soon.
My health has been quite good this summer. It's obvious to me this is answered prayer! During the week I spend lots of one-on-one times with individuals, usually in Bible study. Together with my friends from the Paraclete Forum web site we answer a large volume of email for several web sites, including the Ray Stedman Library, http://raystedman.org/. See http://paracleteforum.org/
My Finances are very tight right now. A number of great friends sent in extra help when I mentioned this need in my May newsletter. I have considered selling my home but so far there seem to be no suitable rentals in this area. Quite a few good Christian friends of mine are out of work now, so our cries to the Lord for help are becoming more extensive. I am very grateful for contributions sent to me directly via my PayPal account, or by check mailed to Peninsula Bible Church, 3505 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94306. (Please indicate your contribution is for my account). God bless you all.
August 15, 2009