Showing posts with label Inclusion in Christ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inclusion in Christ. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Who Follow the Way

There are many who profess to be Christian, to be “born again,” to know Christ, who may even do many things in the name of Christ, yet do not follow him or do what he says. They are putting forth a false self that Christ does not recognize.

Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:22-27)
On the other hand, there may be many who have never heard of Jesus Christ, but who follow the way of Christ, obey the truth of Christ, and experience something of the life of Christ at work in them. For Christ is the Light of the World, the True Light who gives Light to everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9). And, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12-13 NET).

In Romans 2, Paul speaks of those who possessed the Law of Moses but did not obey it, and also of those who, though they did not know the Law of Moses, yet they lived by its precepts, written in their hearts. Who was in a better condition?

Likewise, there may be many who respond to what Light they have been given by our Lord Jesus, even though they do not understand who he is — but how well do any of us understand who he is? They somehow hear his voice and follow him, even if they have no explicit knowledge of him. I have more hope for them than I do for those who profess to belong to Christ yet do not follow him.

My continual prayer is that God lead all to see, know, love, trust and follow Lord Jesus. How that comes about, and in what order, is in God’s hands, and I am content to leave it with him to do according to his mercy and wisdom. My confidence is that, whatever happens in the meantime, in the end, God will be “All in All” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

There may be many who
Follow the Way of Christ,
Live the Truth of Christ,
Experience the Life of Christ,
And so know Him, though they
Do not yet know His name.
Then let us look for Christ
In everyone we meet.

Christ is the only
Way to the Father,
But there are many
Ways to Christ. And
There is no road
He won’t come down
To find you and me.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Body of Christ, the Whole of Humanity

Now the body of Christ,
as I often have said,
is the whole of humanity.
St. Gregory of Nyssa

It is a truth of the Incarnation, in which Christ has united himself with all of humanity, that the body of Christ is the whole of humanity. For there is only one humanity in which we all share, and Jesus shares in it with us. That one humanity is thus united with God. It violates no logic. It is no redefinition except inasmuch as the coming of Christ into the world changes everything. This truth was well defined in the early Church, as Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-395) demonstrates. He was no theological hack, and orthodox Christian understanding today owes much to him.

We find the Incarnation in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14). This and many other passages shows the intimate connection between Christ and all humankind. He did not become human in a different humanity but in the only one there is. We are all and united in it, and Christ shares in it with us.

So thoroughly united is all humankind with Christ, Paul can say that, just as Adam’s disobedience resulted in condemnation for all humankind, so also Christ’s righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (Romans 5:18). And that, just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Because all humankind is united with and in Christ, and Christ is united with and in all humankind, there can be no situation where only some are the body of Christ while others are not. For Christ would have to be disunited with that part of humanity which is not his body, and that would be the undoing of the Incarnation. And the undoing of the Incarnation would be the undoing of salvation not just for some but for everyone.

This Incarnational union and embodiment does not at all do away with divine judgment but is precisely the means of that judgment — and it happens through the Cross and Resurrection. This is how God sets everything right in the world, making all things new.

Inasmuch as in Christ all will be made alive in the end, then all humankind, eschatologically understood, is the body of Christ. And inasmuch as humankind is inextricably bound with creation, and Christ is inextricably bound with humankind, so Christ is inextricably bound with creation. All creation is in him, as Paul tells us in Colossians 1, and Christ is in all creation — Christ is all and in all. Just as all of humankind, eschatologically understood, is the body of Christ, so also, all of creation, eschatologically understood, is the body of Christ.

There is no place in creation where Christ is not present. Not one part, not one cell, not one atom. But Christ is in all of creation, every bit of it. This means that Christ is embodied throughout all creation, so thoroughly united with all creation that all in heaven and on earth are brought to unity in Christ, headed up in Christ. 

God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10).

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Freedom of Will

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. (Philippians 2:12-13 NET)

People usually think of freedom of will as the ability to choose, a deliberative action by which we select from among competing options. But in recent years, I have come to think of freedom of will as the ability to live according to our true, inherent nature; which is to say, according to who we really are — and who we really are is beings created in the image of God and to be like God (Genesis 1:27).

St. Maximus the Confessor, a very interesting Christian theologian from the 7th century, spoke about this distinction. There is the “gnomic” will, which is the deliberative will, choosing among the perceived options. But there is also the “natural” will, by which we act according to our inherent, created nature.

The problem has never been that human beings have free will and must deliberate between moving toward God or away from God, and therefore must somehow be persuaded to choose the former rather than the latter. The problem has been precisely the opposite: human will in bondage, leaving us incapable of acting according to our true, inherent nature, our natural selves, as God created us to be. Human will needed to be redeemed and set free.

God delivers us from that bondage of will through the Incarnation, in which Christ became one with us, not only revealing God’s faithfulness toward us but also becoming our faithful response to God. But more than that, and as the manifestation of that, Christ delivers us through the crucifixion, in which he destroyed death and all the powers that kept our human will in bondage.

Now we are in the process of the outworking of that deliverance, for it is God himself who is at work in us, bringing forth in us what he desires (Philippians 2:12-13). In other words, God’s work in us is to free our wills from bondage so that we may naturally be what God created us to be from the beginning: the image of God, created to be like God.

Another way of saying this is how the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is not about us deliberating among the options and choosing “good works” but about our inherent nature as beings created and redeemed in Christ Jesus being manifested through “good works.” What we receive in and through Christ’s union with us is true freedom of will, which is to say, freedom of being — for it is Christ who is ever and always the source of our being.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

God’s Judgment is Always for Our Good


The judgment of God is never against us, to condemn us, but is always for our good, to save us. That is a stunningly beautiful truth, though one that some Christians balk at. It means that God never gives up on us. For God is love, and love never fails. Even in hell — whatever such hell may be — God’s love endures. What God has purposed in Christ will be fulfilled.

Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s being, in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form, so that whoever has seen him has seen the Father. Scripture has much to say about God’s purpose in Christ — and God has no other purpose for the world apart from the one he has purposed in Christ.
  • In John 3:17, we see that God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world but to save the world. God has no purpose to condemn the world.
  • In 2 Peter 3:9, we see that God has not purposed that any should perish but that all should repent.
  • In 2 Corinthians 5:19, we see that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us. Christ, the perfect expression of God’s being, came reconciling everyone to God, not condemning anyone.
  • In Ephesians 1:9-10, we see that God has purposed to bring all things in heaven and on earth together in unity, headed up in Christ.
  • In Colossians 1:19-20, we see God’s purpose to reconcile to himself all things in heaven and on earth, through Christ, having made peace by the blood of the cross.
God’s plan and purpose in Christ, as found in Scripture, is to save the world, to reconcile all in heaven and on earth to himself through Christ by the blood of the cross, so that all are brought to unity, being headed up in Christ. There is no Plan B, no plan to condemn anyone in case Plan A does not work out.

Even in Matthew 25:46, often cited in support of Plan B thinking, we find a very interesting thing. It comes at the end of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, and it speaks of “punishment” in the age to come. The Greek word is kolasin and is rooted in an agricultural term that refers to pruning. Pruning is not done in order to destroy a plant but to restore it to health and productivity. In this passage, kolasin is used metaphorically and refers to chastisement. It is not retributive; the Greek word for that sort of punishment would be timoria — but that is not the one we find here. The difference is this: retribution is for the benefit of the one exacting it; chastisement is for the benefit of the one receiving it.

What Jesus speaks of here is chastening, not condemnation. It is for the purpose of restoration, not retribution — for God is love, and love is not retributive. Clearly, it is divine judgment, and it may not be pleasant to endure, for it strips away whatever does not belong so that whatever does may come to fruition. This may be very painful if we try to hold on to what God is working to purge from us. Yet, it is not intended for harm but for healing and for good, to bring one finally to know their salvation and completion in Christ.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Paradox of Descending and Ascending



In my last post, we looked at the Cross as Ascension, particularly in the Gospel of John. There we saw Jesus speaking of his death on the cross as being “lifted up.” The Greek word is hypsoo, which means to be elevated, and can even mean exalted. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” Jesus said (John 3:14). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

It is at the cross that Christ, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, is“lifted up” from the earth; it is there also that he “draws” all to himself — surely this describes his exaltation. Is this not what the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians 2:5-11, the paradox of descending and ascending?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here we see the descent: Christ, thoroughly divine, “made himself nothing” or “emptied himself” (NET) — the Greek word is kenoo, to make empty — taking the very nature of a servant, participating fully in human nature. As humankind was created in the image and likeness of God, now God in Christ took on human likeness, to become what God intended for humankind to be. This is the Incarnation.

Thus joining himself with humankind, subject to mortality, it was necessary that he should “humble himself” (make himself low) and become obedient to death, so to deliver humankind from death. And it was necessary that he be put to death by the hands of wicked men, so to deliver humankind from wickedness and sin. Christ became obedient even to death on the cross, and by that was “lifted up.”

Here we see also the ascent of Christ: God “exalted him to the highest place.” The Greek word is hyperypsoo, a compound of hyper and hypsoo, the latter being the word Christ used of his crucifixion — this is Christ highly exalted. Further, God gave Christ the “name that is above every name.” As Theodoret of Cyrus observed, Christ “did not receive what he did not have before but received as a man what he possessed as God.”

Jesus was given the highest name so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Is this not what Jesus said would happen? “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We tend to think of the descent and ascent of Christ as two different things. First, he goes down, down, down, then subsequent to that is raised up, up, up — two movements with a u-turn in between. But I don’t think that is necessarily what Paul is describing here, because he is exhorting us to have the same mind toward each other as Christ has toward us. Is that so we may one day be glorified, with servant humility as but a means to that glory? Surely not.

Christ’s humility was not a means to glory but the very expression of divine glory. For God is love, and it is the nature of love to give and serve. God loved the world by giving us the Son; the Son did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life for us. When we see the humility of Christ in his deep descent, we are not seeing the divine glory in recess but, rather, most fully revealed. The lower Christ descended into the depths of the world, to redeem it, the more his glory was made manifest, and in that way, Christ was seen to be highly exalted.

The paradox of the descent and ascent of Christ, then, is this: It is not two different things but the same thing. His descent into the earth is simultaneously his ascent into heaven — and us with him.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Cross As Ascension


We often think of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension as three events instead of  one. They seem to be separate in time; each is given its own day within the space of forty-something days. But Christ is eternal, and in the Incarnation, not only is humanity joined with divinity but time is joined with eternity, and what appears separately in time is one in eternity. In the Gospel of John, Cross, Resurrection and Ascension are one continuous movement. (See also, Cross and Resurrection As Singular Event.)
In John, being lifted up refers to one continuous action of ascent, beginning with the cross but ending at the right hand of the Father. Step 1 is Jesus’ death; step 2 is his resurrection; and step 3 is the ascension back to heaven. It is the upward swing of the “pendulum” which began with the incarnation, the descent of the Word become flesh from heaven to earth. (NET Bible, study note at John 4:13)
We can find several references to ascension in John’s Gospel, but they cast it as crucifixion. We see this early, in John 3:
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:13-15 NET)
Jesus speaks of descension from heaven and ascension into heaven — a downward movement (katabaino) followed by upward movement (anabaino). We may think of the descension as the Incarnation, the Logos of John 1 becoming flesh and dwelling among us — God condescending to join in union with humankind — and the humiliating death of the cross, with the descent from the cross into the grave.

But when we come to ascension, we find something unexpected. It does not begin with the resurrection but with the cross. In John 3, Jesus, understanding the Scriptures as speaking of himself, refers to the story of Moses “lifting up” the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) and makes a comparison (indicated by “just as”). The point of comparison is lifting up: Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; Christ must be lifted up. The Greek word is hypsoo and means to elevate or exalt.

In the Numbers 21 account, when the people turned away from the LORD, venomous snakes passed through the people, killing many. When the people turned back to the LORD, Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten would look upon that serpent, they would be healed and saved from death.

Just as Moses elevated the bronze serpent on the pole, Jesus says, so the Son of Man must be elevated, and the instrument of that elevation would be the cross. Jesus had just been talking about descension and ascension? Which one was he now speaking of by this comparison of himself with the lifting up of the serpent? Well, we can say it is descension; is it not the cross to which he is referring? Indeed it is. Yet Jesus speaks of it as ascension, being lifted up, elevated, exalted. In John 12, Jesus again speaks of it as exaltation:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)
Is this descension, or ascension? By his words, Jesus showed the kind of death he was going to die, death by crucifixion. And yet those very words speak of him as being “lifted up,” elevated, exalted. For the world was about to be judged, which is to say, there was about to be a world-changing crisis (the Greek word for “judge” here is krisis) that would set things right. The old death-dealing way of the world was about to be condemned, and the living, life-giving Christ would prevail. The “prince of this world” was about to be driven out, exorcised.

The cross is the exaltation of Christ because it is his judgment on the world, casting out darkness and death and the devil. It is his rule and reign that is exercised, and in a singular way, dramatically changing the world forever. It is ascension, and humankind, joined with Christ through the Incarnation, is ascended with him — to the Cross, to the Resurrection and to the right hand of the Father.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Mercy of God Rescues Us All


Through the Incarnation, Christ participates in humanity, the only humanity there is and in which we all participate. Christ participates in it with us; we participate in it with him. This is how Christ is able to save us, because he participates with us in our humanity.

This is why Paul can say, “Just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18), and “Just as in Adam all dies, so in Christ all with live” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Humankind, formerly headed up in Adam is now headed up in Christ — because of the Incarnation, and through the Cross.

The mercy of God rescues us from very real consequences, namely, the death that resulted from Adam’s sin, and the bondage to sin that death entailed. That death was never a penalty but a consequence. When God warned Adam (whose name means Man) about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God did not say, “For on the day you eat of it I will kill you,” but, “On the day you eat of it you will die.”

It is death that is the real problem, and it is death from which Christ delivers us. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

At the cross, Christ broke the power of death, breaking the power of the devil, and the fear of death that enslaved us — and so the power of sin.

This does not mean, however, that sin can be winked at or simply waved off. No, sin has no place anywhere in God’s creation or in God’s creatures. It must be completely destroyed, not merely sequestered in some dark corner of creation for eternity. For sin is corruptive, destroying the lives of all in whom it exists and defiling God’s creation. That is why it must be thoroughly dealt with and purged from everyone.

God is doing this through Jesus Christ. For it is God’s purpose to bring all in heaven and on earth to unity in Christ, under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). It is God’s will to reconcile to himself all in heaven and on, through Christ, having made peace by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).

All the enemies of God’s creation will be destroyed. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. As it is the last enemy, when it is destroyed, there will be no more enemies of God anywhere in Creation. All will be made subject to Christ, and Christ will be made subject to God, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:26-28).

Oh, hear and believe the good news of the gospel, what God has done in Jesus Christ. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Monday, May 4, 2020

Christ is Our True Nature


We are already in Christ as much as we are ever going to be, and Christ is already in us as much as he is ever going to be — which is 100%! It is irrevocably so because to undo it would require undoing the Incarnation, in which Christ has united with all humankind. Indeed, it would require the dissolution of creation itself, for all things are created in Christ and hold together in him.

Our salvation in Christ is settled from the beginning. For Christ is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, and we are chosen in him from the beginning (Ephesians 1:4).

But there is a sense in which our salvation is progressive as we continue to be transformed, by the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us, in our experience of salvation and the redeemed nature we have in Christ.

And there is a sense in which our salvation is future, for we have yet to experience the transformation of our mortal, corruptible bodies into immortal, incorruptible bodies, like that of Christ in his resurrection.

Yet our identity in Christ remains the same throughout. We neither increase nor decrease in him, and he neither increases nor decreases in us. What increases is our awareness and experience of him and our awakening response to him. Our true nature in Christ remains constant, created in the image of God and to be like God, to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

There is only one human nature, of which we all partake, and it is redeemed in Christ, by his participation in this nature with us. And though we do agree with God about sin, the things that do not belong in us and in our life (this is called confession), we do not agree with any false idea that we are of a sinful nature. For Christ is now our life (Galatians 2:20) and through the Incarnation, he shares with us in the only human nature there is and has healed it, so that Christ is our true nature. So instead of agreeing with the false idea that we have a sinful nature, we agree with the gospel, and with the Incarnation, which is foundational to the gospel.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Humanity As the Likeness of God


From the beginning, the purpose and project of creation was to make Man in God’s image and to be like God (compare Genesis 1:26 with Genesis 1:27). It is important to understand that God’s plan was not just to make us in the image of God but also in the likeness of God. Before that happened, though, humankind fell to sin and mortality.

But in the Incarnation, Christ came and joined himself with humankind, uniting with us even in all our brokenness and mortality. Being life, when he finally met death on the cross, he destroyed it, not only for himself but for all humankind. For even at the cross, Christ was joined with all of us.

That is the glory of the Incarnation; it means that Christ did not die on the cross instead of us but as us. His death is not merely counted as ours (a legal reckoning), but his death truly is our death (an ontological reality), so that his resurrection likewise truly becomes our resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Christ restores us to the image of God, as we are conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Through him, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). That is, through Christ, we become like God, becoming through grace what Christ is by divine nature.

Some have wondered what might have happened if man had not sinned, and the Fall, however we think of it, had not occurred. But we have not been given to know that; we have only been given what actually happened in the economy of God. Whatever happened and however it happened, it happened. Yet God used it to fulfill his divine purpose in Christ, to bring all things in heaven and in earth to unity under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

The cross, then, was not a waste of any kind. Nor was it God’s Plan B, a contingency in case Plan A failed. For it is precisely at the cross that we see the full glory of God revealed as other-centered, self-giving, co-suffering love. There also — and for the same reason — we see the full glory of humanity as both the image and likeness of God.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

God Suffers With Us


At the Cross, Jesus, in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, suffered for us, with us and as us — this is the truth of the Incarnation. God suffers with us.

Through the cross and resurrection, Christ has not only delivered us but has redeemed all the suffering we experience — even the sufferings of our present crises. It is all eternally redeemed by the cross and resurrection, from the beginning of time. For, in Christ, time and eternity are irrevocably joined together, and to undo this union would require undoing the Incarnation. So, even as we experience suffering in our time, it is already redeemed by the faithfulness of Christ through the cross and resurrection.

Notice, it is the crucified and risen Lord Jesus who encounters Saul on the road to Damascus and says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” It was not, “Why do you persecute Christians,” or “Why do you persecute the Church,” but “Why do you persecute me?” Crucified and risen, yet Christ was nonetheless suffering persecution in and with his body, the Church.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Final Word on Hell

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrowing_of_Hell#/media/File:Bischheim_Temple38.JPG
When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)
Whatever happens in the meantime, in the end, God will be all in all. This is Christian universalism in a nutshell. This does not deny that there is some sort of hell or torment. It only means that in the end — whatever hell there may be in the meantime, whatever its intensity or duration — God will finally be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

God being “all in all” cannot be anything less than universal without it meaning that Christ’s atonement was less than successful and God’s victory less than complete. It would leave the condemnation that resulted from Adam’s transgression finally greater and actually more encompassing than redemption and reconciliation through Christ’s act of obedience. And the apostle Paul would have been mistaken, in Romans 5:15-21, in supposing that the result of Christ’s obedience, and the grace of God, was so much more extensive than was the result Adam’s transgression.

In Romans 5:20, Paul says, “but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more.” He did not say, “grace multiplied almost as much” or that it was almost as effective. But if God is not finally “all in all,” in its plainly universal sense, then the redemptive act of Christ and the grace of God will have been not quite as effective as was Adam’s transgression. Almost as much, perhaps, but not fully and completely, and certainly not “all the more.”

The devil has taken an awful toll on earth, my friend tells me; and, yes, that is true. Who has not experienced that in one way or another; and perhaps many people may experience it even beyond this present life. But all of that is only in the meantime. However, if in the end, God is not all in all, then the devil will have ultimately taken an awful toll on the victory of God.

To whatever extent that toll finally endures (if any), by just that much will God’s plan of reconciliation through Christ have failed. The result of Adam’s transgression will have proven to be more effective and pervasive than Christ’s faithful act of obedience. The lie of the deceiver will have been more persuasive than the love of God. And Paul would only be able to say, “Where sin increased, grace multiplied a little.” Or perhaps, “grace multiplied almost as much.” But not, “grace multiplied all the more.”

Imagine all you want, then, about what happens in the meantime — about hell and judgment and suffering, and people shaking their fists at God — but that is not the final word on anyone or anything. The final word belongs to God. It is a word of love, because God is love. The final word is that God, who is love, will be all in all.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

There is Only One Humanity

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
There is only one human nature, one humanity, of which we all partake. The Incarnation, God becoming man and dwelling among us (John 1:14), was not about creating a new and different humanity — that would have been a species alien to us — but it was Christ partaking of the one and only humanity there is. It means that Christ participates with us in our humanity, even as broken as it is, so to make us whole.

So, the cross saves us in a very ontological way. That is, Christ did not die as one whose humanity was similar to but quite other than our humanity, dying instead of us in a different humanity, and somehow creating a legal fiction to satisfy a legal debt. There is no real connection in that between Christ and humanity.

No, Christ died as one with whom we participate together in the same humanity, dying as us, so that his death was our death, too, because his being shares in our being, in our nature as human beings. His death was our death, so that his risen life is ours, as well. This cannot be reduced to some sentimental way of thinking; is the objective reality of our own being participating together in the resurrected human being of Christ.

In the same way, we are righteous before God, not because of some legal accounting (imputed righteousness), or by receiving it from a source outside of us (imparted righteousness), but through Christ’s very real participation in human being, our mutual participation with Christ in the only humanity there ever was or shall be. This one and only humanity, which was once headed up in Adam is now headed up in Christ, which is why the apostle Paul can make the Adam/Christ comparison so extensively, in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)
The Byzantine icon of the Resurrection, above, shows Christ, with the shattered gates of hell* beneath his feet, reaching his hands to Adam and Eve, and raising them from the grave. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

*Hades, the realm of the dead.

Friday, August 16, 2019

All-Encompassing, All-Redeeming Christ


(adapted from Colossians 1:15-20)

Christ is all-encompassing,
In every dimension and every degree.
The fullness of Christ in all things,
the fullness of all things in Christ,
with nothing left out at any point.

All things and everything.
Christ is the firstborn over all creation.
Not some,
not most,
but all.

All things have been created in Christ
and through Christ
and for Christ.
Not some,
not most,
but all.

Christ is before all things.
Not some,
not most,
but all.

And in Christ all things hold together.
Not some,
not most,
but all.

Christ is the head of the body,
the Church.

Christ the beginning,
and the new beginning,
the firstborn from
among the dead,
so that in all things
Christ might have
the supremacy.
Not some,
Not most,
but all.

For it was pleasing to God to have
all fullness dwell in Christ.
Not some,
not most,
but all.

And through Christ
to reconcile to himself all things.
Whether things on earth
or things in heaven,
by making peace
through his blood,
shed on the cross.

Not some,
not most,
but all.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Unwillingness of God


There are some things God is not willing to do, and this is marvelously portrayed in the three parables that comprise Luke 15. Jesus told them in response to the Pharisees and teachers of Jewish law who were offended that tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus, and were even more offended because Jesus welcomed them and ate with them. The parables are about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.

The Parable the Lost Sheep
In Luke 15:3-7, Jesus tells of a shepherd who has a hundred sheep, but one has strayed. He puts it to the Pharisees directly:
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Clearly, the answer is, Yes, the Pharisees, if they were shepherds, would go out and find that lost sheep. They would not be content with the ninety-nine while one was still out in the wild. The stray was just as valuable to them as the ones that did not stray.

Of course, we think immediately of Jesus in this story, not simply because he is the one telling it but because we recognize him as the Good Shepherd who lays down his lie for his sheep (John 10:11). He is the one the psalm writer cries out for: “Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever” (Psalm 28:9). He is the one the prophet foretold: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).

If the Pharisees would not be content with 99% of their flock, if they would not be willing to leave one sheep behind, why should we expect that Jesus would be. More to the point, because Jesus is the perfect image of God, why should we expect that God would be satisfied with only 99%? But Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes out searching for the least one, the last one, lost one until he finds it. He simply does not give up. And when he finds it, he carries it home on his shoulders, and there is great rejoicing. (See also Until All Are Home)

The Parable of the Lost Coin
The second parable, in Luke 15:8-10, tells of the woman and the lost coin. Like the first parable, it is very brief, but just as powerful.
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Imagine this woman with ten silver coins. They are likely her dowry and so would be very precious to her. But she has somehow lost one. Perhaps it fell into the cracks between the stones in the floor. She still has nine coins left, but she is not content to leave it at that. She is unwilling to let that tenth one go. So, she turns the house upside down searching diligently for it, shining a light into every dark corner, sweeping the floor in case she might hear it clinking in some crevice. She will not give up. She will not even think of giving up but will keep searching for it until she has found it. And then how great will be her rejoicing.

If the shepherd in the first parable points us to Christ the Son, and the father in the third parable, which we will come to next, is like God the Father, it seems only natural that the woman in this middle parable may perhaps be likened to the Holy Spirit. We would not be alone in thinking that. St. Ambrose, back in the 4th century understood it that way.

The Holy Spirit is always bearing witness to of us Christ, taking the things that are his and revealing them to us. How shall we suppose that the Spirit of God would ever stop before every dark corner has been made light, every crevice has been swept clean, and that which is lost has been found?

The Parable of the Lost Sons
Now we come to the longest of the three parables, too long to quote in full here but found in Luke 15:11-32. In this tale, there is a man, a father who has two sons. One day, the younger son comes to his father and asks that his share of the inheritance be given to him. This is terribly dishonoring to his father, tantamount to saying that all he wants from his father is his wealth and that his father might as well be dead. Nonetheless, the father loves his son. Indeed, he loves both of his sons greatly and he gives them both their inheritance.

The younger son takes it and goes off to a distant land, as distant as his heart is from his father. There he wastes away all he has received, squandering it in reprehensible ways. But then there is a catastrophe: a terrible famine comes upon the land, and the younger son, his wealth now gone, must hire himself out to a farmer who has him feed the pigs — quite a lowly job to begin with, but especially shameful work for a Jewish boy.

After a time, the younger son comes to his senses and realizes the terrible state he is in and how much better life had been for him at home. He decides to go to his father and beg to come back home, not as a son but as a servant.

Now, while he is still a good way off, his father sees him on the horizon, for he has never stopped watching for his son, being unwilling to give up on him. Then the father, in a culturally undignified act, girds up his robe and runs to embrace his son. The son is hardly able to get a word out of his mouth about how unworthy he is to be a son before the father cuts him off, commanding his servants that the best robe be put on his son, a ring placed on his hand and the bests sandals put on his feet — all of them signs that the father fully accepts him as his son.

“Bring the fattened calf and kill it,” the father says, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So, they all celebrate and are very merry.

End of story. Or not. Remember, there is also an older son — an older brother. He finally becomes aware of all the commotion and asks his servant about it. “Your brother has come home,” the servant says, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” The older brother becomes enraged and refuses to join in the celebration.

But the father loves both of his sons, so he goes out to find the older one, who has distanced himself not only from his younger brother but from his father as well. The older son pours out his fury, about how he has always obeyed and slaved for his father but was never given even a young goat to celebrate with his friends; about how the younger son, “this son of yours,” has whored everything away — and now here is the father welcoming him home with the greatest of feasts!

The father pours out his love: “My son,” he said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The father has two sons and loves them both very much, and he is unwilling to give up on either one of them; unwilling to have the older but lose the younger, and just as unwilling to have the younger but lose the older. He will not be satisfied until both are reconciled and safely home. (See also The Lifter of Our Shame)

God is Unwilling
This is how God is. God is like the shepherd who is unwilling for even one of his sheep to remain lost. God is like the woman who is unwilling to let even one precious coin remain missing. And God is like the father who is not willing to let either of his sons remain unreconciled.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness,” we read in 2 Peter 3:9, “but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

See, it is not God’s will that anyone perish but that everyone come to repentance. There is never a point at which God gives up on anyone. Never. God’s love always perseveres, and not even death can finally keep God’s love or God’s will from prevailing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Random Thoughts


Thoughts culled from my random file, gathered from my Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and Instagrams. About love, forgiveness, divine grace, and finding our lives in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of prayer and quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • We are united with Christ not by reason of our faith but by reason of His Incarnation. What we do with that is a matter of faith. We can rebel against it, but we cannot undo it.
  • Funny thing. The more I consider Christ, the more my theology changes in conformity to Him ... and that seems to be confusing for some people.
  • The judgment of God does not come to condemn us but to restore us. Not to enslave us but to set us free.
  • Christ is God’s Yes to us. Faith echoes Amen.
  • The Resurrection of Christ shows that the love of God is truly unconditional, for not even death can stop it.
  • Eternal life. Eternal love. Same thing.
  • We live continually in the presence of Divine Love.
  • Whatever it is for which you would be rewarded, that you must beware.
  • The confession that Jesus is Lord is a form of anarchy, for it means that Caesar is not.
  • If you would see the kingdom of God, forgive one another.
  • God always gets the last word, and it is a good word: Love.
  • If ever there was a time when God hated anyone, even for a moment, it would be His undoing, for God is love.
  • If you are seeking Christ, you will find Him in the middle of your mess and at the bottom of your ditch.
  • Faith is not about certainty but about trust.
  • Lord, keep me from being part of the strife but make me a part of the peace. Amen.
  • Thank God, nothing depends on our certainty.
  • Christ is God’s elect who, by the Incarnation, has become one with all of humanity.
  • Believe the life of Christ in you.
  • Christ is our only true reality. In Him we live and move and have our being, and in Him all things hold together. Everything that moves away from Him moves towards nothing.
  • Christ inhabits every broken story until all the world is mended.
  • Christian theology does not begin with philosophy or theological abstraction but with the concrete revelation of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
  • Christ is not only God’s Yes to us, He is also our Yes to God.
  • Christ did not come to institute a new moralism but to give us New Life.
  • When the brokenness of sin meets the faithfulness of Christ? No contest. When the power of death meets the life of Christ? No contest. Sin and death were doomed by the Incarnation, when God became one with us.
  • The Incarnation means that whatever is true of Christ in his humanity is true of us in ours. But it also means that we partake of his divinity and become by grace what Christ is by nature.
  • Christ is God’s humanity and our divinity.
  • Christ is the image of the invisible God, in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, and in whom we are made complete and become partakers of the divine nature.
  • Christ is the True Light who gives light to everyone in the world. Faith is an awakening to the light of Christ within us.
  • Sometimes my failures all gang up and fool me about who I am. Sometimes my successes do, too.
  • Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ... for we are all in the same boat.
  • We are holy not by keeping a moral code but because God has chosen us in Christ through the Incarnation. It is by faith that we embrace this holiness.
  • If it comes down to a choice between prayer and politics, I’ve seen what both can do. I will choose prayer. Every time.
  • The gospel means there is nothing so broken that it cannot be mended, for Christ is making all things new.
  • Prayer is not a way of escaping the reality of the world but of becoming more deeply aligned with it.
More random thoughts …

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What Does It Mean to be “In Christ”?


We hear it a lot — I say it a lot — but what does it mean? Simply put, to be “in Christ” is to be in union with Christ, one with Christ. To be in union with Christ is to be in union with God, one with God, because Christ is God become human. He did not become merely one like us — he became one with us. Christ is fully human, as well as fully divine, and participates fully with us in our humanity, so that we may share in his divinity, sharing by grace what Christ is by nature.

In the modern Western world, we are used to thinking of ourselves and others very individualistically: You are you and I am me, and apart from close biological relationships, we recognize no real connection to each other, only whatever social or psychological associations we decide to have with one another.

But the truth is that there is only one humanity, and we all partake of it. This means that we are all vitally and deeply connected to one another. Whatever happens with one of us ultimately affects all of us, and the loss of one of us diminishes all of us. There is no “us” and “them,” there is only us.

The apostle Paul recognized this profound connection when he compared Christ with Adam. We can see this, for example, in Romans 5:18, where he says, “Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people.” And again in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Just as Adam’s act of disobedience affected all humankind, bringing mortality upon all, so the faithful obedience of Christ resulted in justification and life for all. In both instances, this could only be because the humanity in which we all share is a deep and abiding connection, a union we all have with one another. So, when Christ became human, it was not a union with only some of us but with all of us.

The great mystery of the gospel is that the God who created this one humanity has joined with us in it by the Incarnation of the Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is our union with God. This is not something we must strive for — or even can strive for. But through the Incarnation, we now have this union with Christ, and so with God, purely by the love, will and desire of God. It is not even our faith that puts us “in Christ” or in union with God, but it is solely the grace of God, the faithfulness of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit that has done this.

What this means for us is that we are “accepted in the Beloved,” as the old King James Version puts it in Ephesians 1:6. The Greek word behind that means that we are fully graced and highly favored by God, and this is though Christ’s union with us. Our faith did not bring this about; the faithfulness of Christ has done it. But it is by faith that we begin to understand and live out the truth of what Christ has already done for us.

So, when we read in Paul’s letters about being “in Christ,” it has nothing to do with what we have done or ever could do, not even our faith, but has everything to do with what Christ has done. It is about the union with God every human being has because of Christ, the Incarnation, and the victory of the cross and resurrection that inevitably resulted from that union.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Gospel Changes How We See Each Other

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nkpl/5345125854/
From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:16)
The gospel changes how we view every human being. The cross certainly does, for Christ died for all of us. And referring to the cross, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” That being so, we can no longer look at each other through the lens of “us” and “them.” That lens is a “worldly” point of view, how the world determines things. But it is a failed way of seeing each other, and the cross of Christ puts the lie to it. There is no “us” and “them,” but only those for whom Christ died, which is everyone.

Along with the cross, we must also consider the Incarnation, through which the death of Christ could be effective for any of us and, by the same reason, was effective for all of us. For it is through the Incarnation that God joined himself with all humankind; in Jesus Christ, divinity and humanity became one. All the fullness of divinity dwells in Christ in bodily form, in whom also all the fullness of humanity dwells, so that, in Christ, we are made complete and become partakers of the divine nature.

In the Incarnation, Christ did not just become one of us, or even just one like us, but he became one with us. This union does not depend upon anything we have done or ever could do; it does not even depend upon our faith. Rather, it depends upon Christ and his faithfulness, who is completely faithful. It is this union that made the cross of Christ effective for every one of us, so that Paul could say, “one died for all, and therefore all died.”
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
Christ died, therefore all died. This could only have been possible because of the Incarnation. Indeed, the Incarnation made the cross inevitable, because the one who has joined himself to us is Life and would therefore confront the human mortality to which we are all subject. And in confronting death, he overcame it, even as light overcomes darkness. The death of Christ is our death and his victory, our victory, so that his life has now become our life. This is true of every one of us because of the inclusive nature of the Incarnation.

This is why Paul could say, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” Paul had once considered Christ from a death-bound point of view, but then having met the living Christ on the way to Damascus, he could no longer see him that way. Christ, who died for all, had been raised from the dead for all, and the death-bound perspective of the world no longer made any sense.

“Therefore,” Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Elsewhere, Paul calls Christ the “firstborn over all creation” and the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:15,18). Christ, by whom, for whom and through whom all things were created, and in whom all things consist, became part of his creation, joining himself to us through the Incarnation. When Christ died, all creation died; when Christ was raised from the dead, all creation was raised to new life with him. The new creation has come!

When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ,” he is not suggesting that there are two groups: those who are in Christ (“us”), and those who are not (“them”). That is the old, worldly point of view that has been done away by the gospel. Rather, all are in Christ, for when Christ died, all died. Paul could not have asserted that all died when Christ died unless all were in Christ. But the “if” in Paul’s statement makes a logical connection and shows what it means that we are in Christ, that we have new life and are part of the new creation.

We see this same dynamic at work elsewhere in Paul’s letters. In Romans 5:18, for example, he says, “Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” The one trespass was Adam’s, and it resulted in condemnation for all, because all were in Adam. The one righteous act was Christ’s and resulted in justification and life for all people, because all are in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul says, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Paul sees everyone as being in Christ, as having died with Christ, as having been raised to new life with Christ, and even as having been seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 2:4-6).

So, for those who are in Christ, which is all of us, the new creation has come, and we are part of it. This is why we can no longer view each other through the old way of the world.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
In Christ, the whole world has been reconciled to God, and God has not counted our sins against any of us. All are forgiven, and this has been demonstrated at the cross. The good news of the gospel is the announcement of that reconciliation and forgiveness — our at-one-ment, as the word “atonement” literally means.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
This reconciliation is objectively true, but clearly, not all have known it or experienced it. Our subjective response to it is a matter of faith, but our faith does not make it true, nor does our lack of faith undo the truth of it. It is objectively true of us that we are in Christ and reconciled to God whether or not we have any subjective sense of it or response to it. The work of evangelism, of bringing that message of reconciliation, is so that others may begin to know and experience what has been done for us in Christ and live in the truth of our fellowship with God.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
God was in Christ, and Christ became sin for us. This happened in the Incarnation. In Christ, God became a human being (though no less God), joining himself with all humankind, even at our very worst, taking all our darkness, all our brokenness, all our shame into himself. For whatever in us he did not join himself to, he could not deliver us from.

Why did God do this? So that in Christ we would become the righteousness of God. In Christ, we have, and are, God’s own righteousness. Not by imputation, nor by impartation, but by Incarnation. That is, this righteousness is not a legal fiction, or something that is merely reckoned to our account (imputation). Nor is it merely something imparted to us, as if it were some discrete substance delivered to us from the outside. But we have it by the Incarnation, in which we participate in Christ and Christ participates in us. By that participation, then, we participate in God’s righteousness. We share in it because we share in Christ and Christ shares in us.

Because we are in Christ, chosen in him from before the creation of world (Ephesians 1:3), and have been reconciled in him, have died with him, have been raised with him and seated with him in the heavenlies, and share with him in the righteousness of God, we can no longer see each other through the old eyes of the world. The gospel changes that, giving us new eyes to see.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Contractual View of the Gospel

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mulad/5061213382/

Many evangelicals have a contract mentality about salvation, that salvation is a matter of quid pro quo, of this for that. They have simply exchanged the contract of works for the contract of faith. In the works contract, God says, “If you do this (works), I will save you; if you do not, I will send you to hell.” In the faith contract, God says, “If you do this (faith), I will save you; if you do not, I will send you to hell.”

Some have tried to simplify this contract as much as possible, and it becomes all-important to them that they get the terms of the contract right (terms such as “repentance” and “faith”), that they are understood correctly, because heaven and hell are seen to hang in the balance. In that context, the idea of certainty becomes paramount for them. Or in the parlance of my former tribe, it is “knowing for sure that you will go to heaven when you die.” And if you are not certain, it is likely that you have not properly understood the terms of the contract, and your soul may be in great danger.

The problem with this whole way of thinking is that it remains nonetheless about a contract. But the truth of the gospel is that God does not deal with us according to any contract, neither one of works nor even one of faith. God deals with us according to Christ, and our inclusion in him through his Incarnation. But when we make the gospel about contract, or about the certainty of going to heaven, we have displaced Christ. And instead of seeing him as our desired end, we have made him merely the means to our desired end, a ticket to our destination of choice — and that is an idolatry.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mary’s Yes Changes the Whole World

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The angel Gabriel came to the little village of Nazareth, in Galilee, to a young girl named Mary. He had a wondrous announcement for her: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?” It was not a question of doubt but of wonder, for Mary was a ponderer and thought deeply about things.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you,” Gabriel answered, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary said Yes. She said Yes to the angel and his announcement, of course, but more than that, she said Yes to God the Father, who had sent the angel and shown her such favor. She said Yes to the Son, who would be conceived in her womb and to whom she would give birth. And she said Yes to the Holy Spirit, by whom this great miracle would happen.

Mary’s was a very powerful Yes , one that changes the whole world. For it is in her Yes — her faith-filled response to God’s Yes — that Christ received his humanity, so that God became flesh and dwelt among us. And it is by the humanity the Lord Jesus received from Mary that he has joined himself to us in our humanity — becoming not only one of us but one with us. It is through Mary’s Yes, then, that God has chosen us in Christ. That changes all of us and is what all creation is longing for.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 9:19-22)
Through her Yes to God, Mary became the pathway for the God who became Man and who rescues the world through the cross and the resurrection. Because of Mary’s Yes to giving birth to the Lord of heaven and earth in a lowly stable, the birth-pangs of all creation will be fulfilled.

Merry Christmas to all creation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How God Chose Us in Christ

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
God chose us in Christ, Paul says. He chose us in him from before the world began. He chose us so that we could be his holy people, his special treasure, and blameless in his sight. He decided in advance (at least from our perspective) that in Christ he would adopt us as his very own children. This has always been his pleasure and purpose, his gracious and glory-revealing gift to us in Jesus Christ, so that, as the NKJV puts it, we are “accepted in the Beloved.” And in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. This is the exceedingly great reality God has given to us in Christ. (See, Chosen in Christ for the Unity of All Things.)

But how did it happen? How has God chosen us in Christ? By what means? It has nothing to do with what we have done. There is nothing we could ever have possibly done to make it so. It is purely something God has done for us, a gift of God’s grace, and it is this that we particularly celebrate at Christmastime. I am speaking of the Incarnation, which the gospel according to John puts this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus Christ is the Word — God himself — who became flesh. He did not just come and reveal himself to humanity, he became a human being. In becoming a human being, Christ did not become just one of us, he became one with us, for we are all connected in our humanity. In becoming a human being, then, God joined himself to all of humanity.

It is precisely because of this connection we share with each other that Paul could say, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). And, “Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18).

This is the good news of the gospel. In the Incarnation, Christ has joined himself to us, and this changes everything. It means that when Christ died on the cross, we died there, too. Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

The cross was the inevitable consequence of the Incarnation. When he who is infinite life joined himself to a humanity bent toward death, it could only ever result in resurrection. Christ’s connection to humanity also means that when he was raised from the dead, we were born again through his resurrection. The apostle Peter said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

In Jesus Christ, God has become human. How can this not but transform all of humanity, like leaven in bread? That is how the kingdom of God works, and the leaven of God’s love.

Christ has irrevocably, inextricably entangled himself with all humanity — the Incarnation cannot be undone. O Glorious Entanglement that saves the whole world!

This is the joyful anticipation of Christmas.