By Linda Rex
PEACE—I awoke this morning to negative news. Apparently last night the law-abiding citizens of this city were put in danger by the exploits of those who defy the law as our law officers sought to bring them to justice. Then I read that some friends of the family lost a loved one—another loss in my list of recent losses. There are times when it seems like it’s safer to be in bed than out of it.
Seeing and experiencing the evil and pain in this world can really weigh us down. Though I would never want to grow indifferent to suffering and loss, there are times when I wish I could always keep an eternal perspective about such things. It would be nice to be able to only focus on the benefits of such things rather than on the pain and grief they bring with them.
This morning my daughter called up the stairs to let me know her almost grown kitten had found a new toy. She was tossing it around and hiding it under things and playing with it. She was really having fun. But what disturbed my daughter was that it wasn’t her favorite mouse toy—it was the real thing.
There was absolutely nothing evil or bloodthirsty in what the kitten was doing. She was just enjoying her new toy—embracing the joy of play. But the poor mouse, on the other hand—it had an entirely different perspective. It had merely been doing its thing—finding a warm place to hide during the winter—when suddenly, its life was over and it had become an object of delight.
In this instance we can see two completely different perspectives as to what has happened and to what is currently going on in a situation. Perhaps this can help us to understand a little better what it means for us as human beings to live in a world where we are constantly experiencing the results of our human brokenness while at the same time we are participants in the entering of God’s kingdom into this broken world. We may only feel pain, suffering and grief, but we are actually participating in God’s joyful dance of love, grace, and peace.
Loss, separation, pain, evil—these cause suffering, anxiety, fear, and grief, and a host of other feelings and consequences we were not originally intended to experience. We were created for joy, peace, hope, and to share in the love of our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. This is the “way of peace” we were created for.
C.S. Lewis, in “The Problem of Pain,” talks about how human beings were created to live in joyful obedience to and full dependency upon God. We were meant to be and were masters of our flesh and our world, as we drew upon God for our life and our strength of will. But we decided in Adam that we would take to ourselves the prerogatives which were solely God’s. We became self-sufficient, self-centered, self-directed. And rather than walking in the garden to commune with our Creator, we walked away from the garden and began to establish for ourselves a new way of being.
The problem is, we chose a way of being which was non-sustainable. We do not have the capacity within ourselves apart from God to properly manage ourselves or our world, much less to live in harmony with one another or to continue our existence. What the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmastime, means is that God took our plight seriously, took on our humanity, and reformed it in himself. As God in human flesh, Jesus lived a human existence which was fully dependent upon his Abba and completely and joyfully obedient to his Father’s will. He redeemed us, forging for us “a way of peace.”
The enemy of our soul has always sought to destroy us by the incessant lie that we do not need God and we most certainly do not need one another. He deceives us into believing that our human perspective about everything is the true reality—that our experience of what is occurring is what is actually at work in this world. He tells us there is no life beyond this life, or that what we do now does not affect what comes after, or that if we work hard enough and achieve a high enough standard, we’ll receive abundant rewards in the hereafter.
Notice how all these lies we are bombarded with us tell us we are sufficient within ourselves for whatever is needed in every situation. To live in full dependency upon God and in joyful obedience to his will is something contrary to our broken human way of being. We resist this, and seek a multitude of methods to avoid having to surrender to the reality God is God and we are not. And we experience suffering, grief, pain, and sorrow as a result.
Christ has come. He has reconciled all things with God and has brought humanity up into the love and life of the Trinity—by faith we participate with Jesus in his perfect relationship with his Father in the Spirit. As we participate with Jesus, we find ourselves walking in the “way of peace” he forged for us, and we find by the Spirit we have the capacity for self-control, other-centered living, and joyful obedience to God we would not otherwise have.
In Christ, we are new creatures—experiencing a new way of being—Christ in us, the hope of glory. We find as we die with Christ to ourselves and our old way of being that Christ’s new “way of peace” finds greater and greater expression in us and through us. And we begin to experience real peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationships and in our communities.
As we turn to God in real dependency upon him in every situation, heeding the Word which tells us to “cast all our cares upon him” (1 Pet. 5:6), we begin to experience that peace “which surpasses understanding” (Phil. 4:6-7). We find a deep joy even in the midst of our sorrow and grief. This is the blessing of the amazing gift of God in his Son Jesus Christ we celebrate during the Advent season.
Abba, thank you for not leaving us in our brokenness and our stubborn resistance to your will. Thank you, Jesus, for forging for us “a way of peace” which we have not known and which we desperately need. Holy Spirit, enable us to turn away from ourselves and to Christ, trusting in his perfect relationship with Abba, and enable us to walk in the “way of peace” we were created for through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,/For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, … To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,/Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. … To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,/To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:68, 75, 79 NASB
A video of this blog may be accessed here.
By Linda Rex
This week I had to take my car to the dealer to get some work done. While I was sitting in the waiting room, I took out “Crossroads” by W. Paul Young and started to read it for the second time. I wasn’t making much progress because I kept being distracted by messages on my phone and conversations around me.
After a while, a man and his elderly father came and sat nearby. They were taking a rest after looking around at the cars. They sat and talked while they had a snack and a drink. It was interesting to watch their comfortable relationship with one another. I have not often seen a father and son living in relationship in this way.
After a while, the older man got up and walked behind me toward the other end of the room. He paused for a moment as he went by and asked whether I liked to read. I said, “Yes, I do. I always have.” We chatted for a moment about our common love of books and then he moved on. This prompted a conversation with his son about books in general which lasted until they were ready to leave.
Later I reflected on this event, and was most caught by the inner relation between the father and the son. It was not until my dad retired that I began to have this kind of relationship with my own father. I remember on several occasions standing in the woods near my dad’s house talking with him about different things—there was a quiet knowing and being between us that I am so grateful to have experienced. Our relationship was not always that pleasant, but as every relationship does, it ebbed and flowed, and over time, grew deeper and more accepting.
Whatever my relationship with my own father might have been or this man with his father, they are only a weak reflection of the inner relations between Abba and Jesus in the Spirit. In the Trinity there is a face-to-face relational oneness which has always been and always will be. Nothing can or will ever separate the Father, Son, and Spirit from one another. Satan gave it his best shot with the crucifixion, but even then, the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit was undivided, with the Father in Christ by the Spirit experiencing all of Jesus’ suffering and death. God was one in our salvation, and undivided.
When Jesus quoted Psalm 22, saying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 16:34), he was not saying that his Father had left him, but was putting into his followers’ minds the rest of this psalm. If you were to read the rest of this psalm, which the disciples would have known from having heard it over and over in the synagogue, you would know that Jesus was trusting his Abba not to leave him or forsake him, no matter how he may have felt at that moment in his flesh. In fact, Jesus trusted so much that his Abba had not left him and was not separated from him, that he entrusted his Spirit to his Abba as he breathed his last breath.
The marvel of this reality, of the oneness of God in the crucifixion as well as the resurrection, is that we are included in Christ in this oneness. We are accepted in the Beloved. Our acceptance is not based on our performance, but rather in the acceptance of Jesus Christ—we are elect in the Elect One, the One chosen before the foundation of the world. He became sin for us so we would share in his right relationship with his Abba (his righteousness.)
Our acceptance in Christ does not mean we are free to do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want, but rather that we are free to be the people we were created to be as image-bearers of God to reflect his likeness. We are free to treat others as we wish to be treated. We are free to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. We are free to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and beings, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Acceptance has to do with relationship, not with how well we meet a particular standard. I find the hardest thing to do as a child of God is to base acceptance on relationship rather than on performance. The world around me bases acceptance upon culture, religion, race, wealth, looks, success, performance, and many other things. But God bases acceptance in relationship. He bases it in his unbreakable relations between the Father, Son, and Spirit which we have been included in via the hypostatic union between God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
Our failures to live in the truth of our redeemed humanity do not estrange us from God, but rather cause us to believe we are estranged from God. They do not in reality separate us from God, but rather convince us that there is something we have to do to get ourselves back in God’s good graces. The truth is that Jesus already, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, did whatever might be needed to reconcile us with his Abba. The truth is that we are reconciled, therefore we are to be reconciled—to live in the truth of our complete acceptance in Christ and in the truth of who we are as image-bearers of God, to turn back into the face-to-face relationship we have with Jesus in the Spirit.
Acceptance of one another, then, is also about relationship rather than performance. Another human being may be living apart from the truth of who they are in Christ, but we can still embrace their broken humanity in Christ, offering his forgiveness and acceptance as well as our own, while at the same time calling them up into the truth of their redeemed humanity. Our GCI (Grace Communion International) leadership will express this as “High Challenge, High Support—Grace Always.”
A husband whose wife is battling an addiction with prescription drugs can tell her, “My relationship with you is solid and secure—I love you and I accept you. But I love you enough to not allow you to continue to destroy yourself and your family.” And he can move on into the process of helping his wife face and deal with her addiction, while he keeps himself and his family safe and healthy. The commitment he made with her isn’t dissolved by her addiction—he can accept her, while at the same time not accept her destructive behavior and help her get well. Ideally, she will turn away from her addiction and toward relationship, but these are difficult and complicated situations.
It’s easy to talk about the ideal world we could live in if we were true to our being as image-bearers of God. But obviously, we are not today living out that truth. It is obvious we live in a broken world with millions of broken people, living under broken governments, in so many different broken circumstances. Our brokenness does not estrange us from God or one another, but it does affect how we experience our world and what the future will look like for ourselves and our friends and families. God is ever and always calling us back into the relationship he has secured for us in Christ—calling us to leave behind our stubborn resistance to him and turn back into that face-to-face relationship he created us for.
We have an election coming up. And we have some very difficult situations we are facing in our world. Evil is always seeking to create separation in some form or another—separation by death, separation of people and nations, separation by destroying our relationships with God and one another. God seeks by his Spirit to create community or communion, while Satan seeks to create division, hostility, suspicion, accusation, and so on. What we participate in is up to us—separation or communion. Our world will be affected by our participation—which is why we fulfill our responsibility as citizens to vote. But we also rest in the assurance that our failures in this or any area of life are taken up in Christ and redeemed. There is hope in spite of us—and we live in gratefully and humbly in response.
Thank you, Abba, for accepting us in your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for not rejecting us because of our failures to love or our stubborn resistance to your love and grace. Thank you, that in spite of all we see going on around us you are still at work in this world, accomplishing your deeper purpose, which is to make all things new in Christ. Our failures to love and to accept one another are destroying us and our world, and we desperately need your renewal. We want our world to be a better place now—so continue to transform our hearts by faith. Spirit, breathe anew your spiritual renewal and healing in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches, and most of all, in our governments. Open our eyes and our hearts to see what you are already at work doing and move us to participate in your redemption, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” Romans 15:5-7 NASB
by Linda Rex
Yesterday I began my section of the service by reading portions of some news stories about mass murders both here in American and in the world outside our borders. These stories effectively illustrate the brokenness of our humanity—the natural inclination of the human heart towards evil. One of the hardest things for us to admit as human beings is our proclivity toward harming ourselves and others.
It is easy to read these stories and say to ourselves, “I would never do anything like that! Not ever!” And yet, we find ourselves yelling at our children, crucifying their self-esteem, because they leave the milk out all night, or drop our favorite dishes and break them.
Listening to these stories may awaken a lot of feelings inside of us—feelings we often do our best to ignore, bury or dismiss by the flurry of a busy life. These feelings of devastation or grief at such great loss, or raging anger at such injustice can overwhelm us so much we find refuge in our addictions, or bury ourselves in endlessly new forms of entertainment. Or we may lash out in a violent rage, thereby perpetuating injustice and evil rather than ending it. Facing the reality of our broken humanity, and our own proclivity to harm others and to be unjust is hard work and requires a lot of fortitude.
I believe it would be a good thing if we each could learn and practice what is essentially a spiritual discipline. We need to learn to lament—to learn how to listen to the cry of our heart against evil, pain, and destruction, to allow it to speak to us about who God is and who we are in the midst of our brokenness, and to motivate us to participate in God’s work in the world to right such wrongs. Learning to lament can teach us how to encounter God and his Light in the midst of the very darkness which seeks to destroy us.
When we are made aware of or experience a devastating loss, a horrendous injustice, or a crushing inhumanity, we need to pause and pay attention to what is happening in our hearts. We need to lament. We need to stay in this place long enough to ask God—”How do you feel about this? Holy Spirit, enable me to see, to hear and to know your heart about this right now.”
The reason we lament is to come to a realization of what is going in our own hearts and how it mirrors what is going on in the heart of God. What you feel about these losses, injustices, and inhumane events—your pain, your sorrow, your anger, your desire to avenge the wrongs—this is a reflection of God’s heart.
And yet, how God deals with these things and has dealt with them is different than how we as humans believe things should be handled. And so we do not recognize God is at work in these situations. He is at work—he does not ignore any of this. But how do we know this is true?
First, I believe we have an answer in the prophetic word of Isaiah where he spoke about the Suffering Servant who was to come and who did come in the person of Jesus Christ. Look at what he wrote:
“He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isa 53:2b-4 NASB)
We hear Isaiah telling us about the Anointed One, who was just like you and me, but was despised by the people around him. Often people say that God is the one who inflicted pain and suffering on his Son, but in reality it was we as human beings, who tortured and crucified Jesus Christ unjustly. Going on:
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?” (Is 53:5–8 NASB).
The Creator and Sustainer of all life and every human being took on our humanity and allowed us to pour out on him all our prejudice, anger, hate, fear, rebellion, and all those inner drives which divide us. Jesus walked as a lamb to the slaughter, silent, with no refusal to anything done to him. He took on himself God’s passion against sin by receiving from us all our hate, anger, fear, prejudice and rebellion and becoming sin for us, in our place.
God’s heart about all these things we are talking about is compassion—he enters into our brokenness and sin and suffering and shares it. He became the Word in human flesh (sarx), the broken part of us, and became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him, righteousness meaning we are brought into right relationship with God and one another.
The meeting place between every human being on earth is Christ, the One who is fully God and fully man, who tore down every wall between us in his incarnational life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. God has forged a oneness between all of us in his Son which is unbreakable—yet we experience none of it as long as we deny this reality.
God has already entered into our darkness, fully received our rage against him in his rejection, crucifixion and death, and has already translated us, taken us out of that darkness into his marvelous light, into his kingdom of light. God has already paved the way to our healing and wholeness as human beings by pouring out his passion against all that mars our true humanity, all our divisions, all those things which separate us by taking it upon himself in his Son.
One of the basic lies of the evil one since the beginning has been, you are separated from God and each other. And unfortunately, we believe him. God is one—a unity, a whole, in which each are equal yet diverse. God is love—dwells in perichoretic relationship of mutual indwelling. This is the God in whose image we were created. We were created to live in this way—to love God and to love our neighbor—this is who we are.
God knew beforehand in our humanity alone, we could and never would live together in this way, even though it was what we were created for. Abba planned from before time to send his Son to enter our humanity, knowing his Son would take upon himself the worst of all we are as humans, but in doing so his Son would by the love and grace of all he is, perfect and transform our humanity.
All that Christ forged into our humanity in his life on earth, his suffering, his crucifixion, death and resurrection, and ascension, is ours today and is being worked out in this world by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is at work right now bringing this perfected humanity and the kingdom life of God into real expression in the world. We see the Spirit most active in the universal body of Christ where there is true perichoretic love—we know Christ’s disciples by their love for one another.
You and I participate in the Spirit’s transforming work in the world as we respond in faith to his work in our hearts and lives. If you know what God’s heart is about all these things which are happening today—that God’s heart is full of compassion and concern and a desire to bring people together, and to help heal relationships—then you know how to participate in what God is doing in the world today by his Spirit to make things better.
God doesn’t do everything alone—he includes us in what he’s doing.
The reason things aren’t getting better but are getting worse may be because we are quenching the Spirit of God, we are closing our hearts to God’s power and will being activated in our circumstances. Sometimes we don’t listen to and obey the promptings of the Spirit to pray, or to say a kind word, or to help those in need, or to encourage those who are suffering. Sometimes we refuse to listen to the prompting of the Spirit who is asking us to forgive a wrong, to go make things right with someone we are estranged from. Sometimes we refuse to hear God’s call on our heart to intervene in a difficult situation and to act as a mediator.
And sometimes we refuse to set aside our own prejudices and expectations, and our own animosity against someone of a different culture, race, ethnic group, or belief system. We hold onto our grudges, our resentments, our anger, our sense of injustice instead of obeying God’s command to forgive. We feel we are owed something better.
But I ask you: What could anyone possibly owe us which would even come close to what we owe Abba after all we did to his Son when Jesus came to offer us life and we killed him? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Thankfully, though, God does not leave us in our pain, our brokenness, anger, resentment and sorrow. No, he meets us there. Our failure to live in love with God and each other is the very place God entered into in Christ. He meets us in our failure to live in love and says to you and to me: I am yours and you are mine.
It is God’s nature in our humanity by the Spirit which brings us together and joins us at our core humanity. Abba has declared his Word to us: “My adopted children, the whole human race, are diverse, yet equal, and are to live united, as a whole, as one body. They are never separated from me or each other.” Abba has sent his Son, the living Word, into our humanity to join us with himself and one another—this is our union with God and man. We are always united with God and man through Jesus Christ.
Abba has poured out his Spirit on all flesh so we might live together in holy communion both now and forever. The Spirit works out into all our relationships with God and one another this true reality of our union with God in Christ. This is the true reality of who you are and who I am. You are an adopted child of Abba, the Father, and he has bound you to himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to one another. The person next to you is also an adopted child. And the person you just can’t stand is also an adopted child, whether you like it or not, and whether they know it or not.
The Spirit’s work is to bring each person to an understanding and awareness of this reality of who they really are. You and I participate in that work as we respond to the Spirit’s inspiration to bring healing, renewal, restoration, forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, for he has reconciled all things to himself in Christ Jesus. And by the Spirit we participate in that ministry in the world.
Let us through lamenting face the truth of our brokenness and the horror of our depravity. May we see Jesus meets us there in that place with his mercy and grace. May we understand Jesus has bound us together with God in himself so we are never to be separated ever again—we live in union with God and one another forever. And may we indeed find by the Spirit who dwells in us, we are reconciled to God and one another, so we have the heart of Abba and Jesus to make amends, to create community, to restore relationships with God and each other, and so we are able to experience true spiritual communion with God and one another.
The power of lament is the power of the gospel. The power of lament is the power of the Spirit to call us back to the truth of who we are in Christ, and the reality of our reconciliation to God and one another in the finished work of Christ. Let us respond to God’s call upon our hearts to be reconciled. As we live in this reality of who we really are, as God’s adopted children, in our diversity, our equality and our unity in Christ, we will find our world being transformed, healed and renewed.
Thank you, Abba, for your heart of love and grace which you share with us through your Son and by your Spirit. May your heart of love and grace which you place within us find full expression in every area of our lives, and in the world in which we live. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, we pray and we work to participate fully in all you are doing to bring healing, renewal, reconciliation and transformation to this world. Amen.
by Linda Rex
There are two final goodbyes that are on my mind this morning. They are completely different one from one another, and yet they are in many ways one and the same. Saying goodbye for the last time to two people who played such an integral part in forming me as a person has truly stretched me and forced me to rethink many things about what really matters in life.
Etched in my mind is the day when I received a frantic phone call at work from my mom that my dad had collapsed outside at home while trying to meet the UPS delivery man to receive a package. An ordinary snowy day turned into a crisis at the hospital with Mom and I watching as the emergency room personnel frantically tried to shock my dad’s heart back to life. When it became obvious that their efforts were fruitless, we saw the life ebb from his body as Dad passed from this life to the next.
Night before last as I sat with my Mom, holding her hand and watching her taking her last breaths, I thought about how different these scenarios were. Dad had passed so quickly, not making any effort to hang on to life but rather having life pass from him so rapidly that it could not be clung to. But here Mom was sucking in each breath as though it was an elixir. Her life did not pass away without a difficult struggle.
But in each case there came a time when there was just no life left in the human body. My parents exited this life and went on into the next. What their life looks like now, I’m not totally sure. I just know that the life they have now is much better than what they had here on earth.
A little while ago I wandered into the room where Mom spent her last moments. In my mind’s eye, I could still see her lying in the hospital bed and I felt again the hush that came with trying to keep the house quiet so she could rest in peace. Even though she is gone, I still feel her presence here with me.
Is it mystical to believe that somehow she and I are still connected? That Dad is somehow still a part of my life today?
I cannot grieve with deep, wrenching sorrow because I have such a comfort in knowing they aren’t gone forever but are still living, each held in Christ’s love for all eternity. Jesus, in taking on our humanity, has connected us all in himself, holding fast to each of us in himself in such a way that we do not fade back into nothingness when we die, but rather transition into a new life he created for us when he rose from the dead so many millenia ago.
So even though I feel the separation and miss the daily conversations, I have such peace in knowing they are so much better off now without the restraints of this temporary existence. There was so much about this life and this culture that grieved them—they longed for the day when Christ would come and deliver them from this evil world. And now they are free from it all. How can I wish they were back here with me?
Even though in those last moments it seemed as though all of heaven and earth paused and held its breath, time moved on and my parents are no longer with me. The sun still came up in the morning and went down at night as the earth rotated on its axis. The universe doesn’t cease to continue on its path when someone passes on.
I’d like to hold on to my loved ones, but I can’t stay here in this place forever. Now decisions need to be made—where do we go on from here? How do we move on? I know that my parents would not want us to stay stuck here in our grief, but to take instead the next meaningful steps in our lives. What’s that going to look like? I don’t know. But I face the future with some anticipation and with a hint of sorrow on the side.
I just know that after all we’ve been through in caring for Mom in her last days and in saying goodbye to her and Dad, I will never be the same again. Everything they ever said and did is somehow a part of who I am today. And as I go through life, it will continue to influence my choices and decisions as I participate in their humanity through my memories of them, and the genetics and personality that we have in common.
The apostle Paul wrote that we do not grieve as those who have no hope because we know that death is not the end. We will see our loved ones again.
And it is also true that we share in a real way through Christ in their life even now. We have been bound together with them in so many ways. Death cannot and does not separate us from one another.
For me, saying goodbye in this transition from life into death is more like saying, “I’ll see you in the morning.” There is a new morning where we will see each other again. So rather than there being an end to our relationship, there is an anticipation and expectancy of seeing each other and sharing life in a new way in a new place. And that is something to look forward to rather than looking backward with regret.
So in saying goodbye to my parents, I am sad, yes. I miss them both terribly. But I want to focus on the time when I will see them again. And I want to experience the comfort and real presence of having them with me now through Jesus and our connection in the Spirit. In this way by God’s grace I can find peace in the midst of great loss. And I thank God for making this possible in Jesus and by his Spirit.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in the midst of loss and grief we still have hope. Thank you for connecting us to one another and with you through your Son Jesus Christ and in the Spirit so that when we experience death we can know that there is still a day ahead of us when we can be with our loved ones again. You are so compassionate and understanding! We praise and thank you in Jesus. Amen.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 NA
by Linda Rex
At our last group meeting in Hermitage we talked about the concept of inclusion. We in Grace Communion International have been accused of being universalists due to our belief that God has brought all humanity into union with himself through Jesus Christ and has made his transforming Spirit available to all. The key element to this discussion is humanity’s individual response to the gift of salvation he is offering us in Jesus Christ. (For an excellent discussion of inclusion and our acceptance in Christ, see this article on the Grace Communion International website: https://www.gci.org/jesus/acceptance.)
So, how does a person respond to this gift of grace? As I was asked earlier this week: “How is the response to Jesus different from someone saying the sinner’s prayer? I thought that the sinner’s prayer was you making the decision to accept Christ and you bridging the gap between yourself and God. How is the response to Jesus’s acceptance different?”
This is a very important question and it speaks to the whole understanding of separation vs union with Christ. Saying the sinner’s prayer is indeed seen as bridging the gap between you and God, with the idea of repentance and faith bringing about a change in our position–from separation into union. It requires the process of repentance, faith, baptism, new behavior in order to be valid. Dr. Wauchope in his series on “God, the Who and Why” (there is a link for it on my blog site), explains how this method of bridging the gap between the spiritual world and our human world actually has its roots in Aristotle and the philosophers. It is as though we change the heavenly realities by our human efforts–which we know is a falsehood. Only God can change God.
So what does it mean that we respond to Jesus? Do we need to say the sinner’s prayer? I don’t believe that a particular prayer is necessary–the Ethiopian merely asked whether and where he could be baptized, and Philip baptized him. I think that is significant.
Baptism isn’t done in order to change our status with God. It is done as a sharing in Christ’s baptism, a sharing in his life and death. Peter called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins–what Jesus did when he was baptized for us in our place. He was calling them to receive the gift already given to them in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus–to participate in what Christ had already done for them.
In other words, at some point God is going to bring each of us to the point where we see that apart from Jesus, we have no hope–that without Jesus we are lost. Jesus said in his preaching–repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (ie. I’m the Messiah and I’m here bringing in God’s kingdom), and he told his disciples to preach the Word, teach the Word and to baptize and disciple. That means there is a point of turning away from ourselves and our world and our way of living and being and a turning to Christ (ie. repent and believe, and receive the gift of life in him), at which point, symbolically through baptism, we identify with Christ, acknowledging that our life is in him.
This is why when someone comes to me and says, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to be a Christian, I ask them, “Have you talked with God about this?” And then I will pray with them and encourage them to pray about their commitment to Christ and his will. And I will then talk with them about baptism as a sign of their commitment, as an acknowledgement of their participation in Christ’s finished work.
But Barth and the Torrance’s are real clear that there is a definite turning away from oneself and a turning to Christ at some point. It’s a point in time and a process where a person acknowledges their need for and reliance upon Christ and a turning away from themselves and their ways, and a turning to Christ, and a submission to him as Lord of their life. This can take some time with people and may occur well after their initial understanding at baptism.
This is why discipleship of new believers is so important. They need to come to know and rely on Jesus and to begin to live their life in him. It is his life they are participating in–the new life they live is defined by Christ’s life, not by them. A person’s response to Jesus is, therefore, not just an event in time, but a whole turning of their life and being away from themselves and to Christ throughout the rest of their life–as Jesus said, a dying to self and a living in him.
As you can see, the latter approach does not at any point bring up some form of separation, but rather says that Jesus is our life. In God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being. Christ did for us in our place all that is needed–so believe it and receive it, and then live it out. It’s all in terms of participating in the life Christ made for us in our humanity as a sharing in his divinity. I think this is a much more hopeful and joyful word of life.
The following is a response to a related question, “Does the Holy Spirit work on each person individually at some level continually or is God not working with everyone yet?”:
Sometimes our inclusive language can be a little too free. Yes, we need to keep the concept of inclusion in our language. All are included in God’s life and love. That is a given. All are united with God in Christ.
But our calling and full participation in that is something the Spirit does in a unique time and way for each of us. The communion of the Spirit is a different story from our union with God in Christ. The communion of the Spirit is experienced by the body of Christ through whom God is bearing witness to the world about Jesus in the Spirit today.
It does not mean that all do not have the Spirit but rather that there is an awakening of some to the calling to bear witness to Jesus Christ as a community of faith. We want to let all people know they are included in God’s love and life. But the thing is–if a person is living and being in a way that does not coincide with how God is and how Christ is for them, then how can they fully participate in God’s love and life? There is a call to repentance–to a change of mind and heart in how we look at God and who we think he is and a turning away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting in him for life and godliness rather than in anything else. The Holy Spirit does a work in a person’s heart, mind and life that is transformational–it is real.
My friend Bob likes to say, “all are included, they just don’t know it yet.” That’s not really a bad thing to say–but there is still the call to repent and believe. Barth and Torrance say the best way to present the gospel is to say, “God loves you so much he sent his Son to live, die, rise again in your place. He’s done all that is needed for you to be reconciled to God and redeemed. Jesus Christ stands in your place, interceding for you with the Father, and he gives you his Spirit so you can share in God’s life and love. You are loved and forgiven. [ie you are included] Therefore, repent and believe.”
The gospel continues to require a call to repent and believe, even when all are included. The thing is, this repentance and this faith is taken up in Jesus Christ just like everything else–it comes as a gift from God through Christ in the Spirit. It’s not on us as humans to find something within ourselves to be able to repent and believe. Christ gives us his own repentance and faith as a gift of God through the Spirit. So it’s not all up to us–it’s all of grace. Really the only response left for us gratitude or grateful obedience, and even that we participate in with Christ. It’s all of grace.
When we think of the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of inclusion, we see that because the Spirit is poured out on all, he is available to all. He is working even now in and with each person. But as far as the transformational work the Spirit does in bringing someone to faith in Christ and into the body of Christ and into the obedience that comes with faith, that is something that is unique–it is a setting apart of certain persons for the purpose of bearing witness to Jesus Christ and to share the gospel. All are included in the kingdom of God, but not all are willing and obedient participants.
Father, I thank you for including all in your life and love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive and fully participate in your precious gift. Through Jesus our Lord, amen.
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mk 1:14–15 NIV