theology

My Next of Kin

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By Linda Rex
When I was growing up, I believed I had very few relatives. I vaguely remember meeting my grandparents when I was little and a couple aunts and uncles and cousins on occasion, but the first time I recall meeting any significant number of my relations was when I was thirteen. Even then, I had no grasp of what it meant to be a part of an extended family with all the relational dynamics that go with it.

It wasn’t until I began dating my husband to be and I married into his family that I began to experience what it is like to be a part of an extended family who lived within the confines of a small community. I remember on drives around the local area, they would point out a significant number of relations of theirs, whether near relations or shirt-tail relations, and they would tell me a little about each of these relatives’ particular story. I was amazed to see who was related to whom and found myself quite nervous about possibly saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and creating a relational and community disaster in the process.

This type of community and family situation is much like the one Jesus grew up in. In Nazareth, no doubt, everyone knew everyone else, and their relationships were all intertwined as children grew up together, married and had children who repeated the process. In his day the family and continuation of the family line were of paramount importance. As the elder son he had responsibilities to his family which he was expected to fulfill, and part of those involved having a sense of loyalty to his family and a commitment to their goals and expectations.

However, early on, beginning with his experience at the temple when he was twelve, we see Jesus beginning to differentiate between his relationship with his parents and his family, and his relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. He may have helped his mother with the wine supply issue at a local wedding, but he did so in such a way that reminded her and others of who he was as the Messiah. It must have been very hard for Mary to have her dear son draw this kind of a line in her relationship with him, but we see from early church history that eventually she understood and accepted the reality of who he really was.

Jesus’ family was not always supportive of his ministry. In fact, at one point they tried to force him to come with them and said, in effect, “You are out of your mind!” Then there was the time when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his family came to see him. Someone told him they were outside waiting to speak with him and he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Talk about a slap in the face!

But he wasn’t trying to be insulting. Instead, he was making a point about the centrality of relationships to the gospel—that we are all related to the Father through him in the Spirit. He is the Son of the heavenly Father, and those who live in the same perichoretic, mutually submissive, harmonic manner in which the Father and Son live in the Spirit, are his close relatives—his next of kin.

There are benefits to being Jesus’ next of kin, you know. One of the significant reasons this is a good thing is because Jesus, being our next of kin due to sharing in our humanity, has the right of redemption.

The people of Israel understood what it meant to be a close kinsman with the right of redemption. That meant that when a person lost property due to debt or lack of heirs, the kinsman could and often would buy it back for them—it was not supposed to be allowed to go into anyone else’s permanent possession—it was supposed to stay in the family. The story of Ruth gives a good description of what it was like to have a near relative redeem your land which you lost due to not having heirs to give it to.

God created you and me to bear the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. We chose instead to define our own image of God, and to follow our own way of being instead of reflecting the Being of the living God. In many ways we did, have and still do damage to our inheritance as God’s children, and have incurred tremendous physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual consequences we seem to only be making worse as time goes along. Our debts to God are impossible to pay, both collectively and individually, especially since we refuse to quit incurring them.

It is instructive that God’s way of entering into our impossible situation was to join us with himself by taking on our humanity. He became as closely related to us as he could possibly be. He became our nearest relative by sharing with us in our human existence—joining with his creation as a creature in human flesh (John 1:14; Heb. 2:11, 14-15, 17). He even did this to the extent that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:12). Now that is taking his kinship to us seriously!

Being fully human as we are human does not in any way diminish Jesus’ divinity. Rather, it is the tension of the two—that Jesus is both fully human and divine—that enables Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

As your closest kinsman and mine, Jesus bought back our inheritance as God’s adopted children. Running out to meet us as his prodigal children, in Jesus the Father welcomes us home and is throwing us a great celebration. All that he has is ours in the gift of the Spirit—the indwelling Christ lives the life in us by the Spirit we were created to live as we respond to him in faith.

Some of us were not blessed with big happy families to include us and to surround us with love. For many of us being a part of our family of origin has not been a blessing or a joyful experience. The miracle of God’s grace to us in Christ is that we are all included in God’s family.

And God meant for those who believe to live together in such a way that they reflect the divine life and love, and become a family of love and grace who embraces the lost, lonely, broken and needy people who are looking for a home. If God can embrace and welcome broken, sinful humanity into his family by sharing in our broken, sinful flesh, and living and dying for us, how can we do any less for others?

Perhaps it is time that we stop the “us and them” way of thinking, and start practicing the reality formed in Christ that we are all “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25) We are all brothers, sisters and mothers in Christ, children of the Father, bound together in the Spirit. We are all kinfolk. Perhaps if we believed and behaved according to the truth of who we really are as God’s beloved, adopted and redeemed children, we might find the world becoming an entirely different place in which to live.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us your Son to share in our humanity and to redeem us and bring us back into the right relationship with you which you foreordained for us to have before time began. Forgive us that too often we ignore and hide ourselves away from you and from each other. Grant us the grace to live according to the truth that we are your beloved, redeemed children made to reflect your image, and that we are all joined to one another in Jesus Christ. May we love others as you have loved us, through Christ and in your Spirit. Amen.

“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:46–50 NASB

The Battle Against Despair

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FOR ADVENT: Hope
By Linda Rex

I recall a conversation I had a while back with a beautiful lady who has seen the struggles and difficulties of life. She had recently experienced the cruelty of unjustly losing her livelihood after having worked very hard to finally have her own home and to pay off all her bills. When she was finally starting to see some light in her dark life, she was knocked down again.

In the midst of this situation, the one thing she needed, she said, was to have some glimmer of hope. She needed to be able to believe that there was a good reason to go through another day, to try one more time to do things in a way that was honorable and ethical in the midst of a culture that told her to take the easy route of dependency, addiction and sloth.

To tell her to keep believing, to insist that she try one more time, was not enough. She had reached the end of her resources—there wasn’t anything left inside to carry her, and there wasn’t anything left outside in her life to lift her up. She felt all alone, forgotten, unloved, and unwanted. She felt a deep sense of despair. Nothing could help her.

Or so she thought. It was in the midst of this place that she encountered the living Lord.

How Christ comes to meet us in the midst of our despair and darkness is unique to each of us. He met his people Israel in a time when they despaired of ever hearing from God again—a time when they were held in the grip of a pagan government which disrespected their heritage and their God. And he came to them in a form they never expected—a tiny, helpless infant lain in a manger by a common carpenter and his bride.

One of the ways Christ came to this lady in despair was in the people of faith he began to place in her life. These particular people began to share life with her, expressing God’s love for her in various ways.

They did not always do what she expected. They did not pay her bills or take care of her problems the way she wanted them to. But they did provide her with love and concern and prayer. They did provide her with the means to better her life and to grow as a human being into greater Christlikeness. It turns out that through them and through the Word of God, they gave her what she needed most—hope in the midst of her despair. They introduced her to Jesus Christ.

Christ is our hope in the midst of despair. He is that divine Word from the Father of Lights who entered our humanity and joined us in the midst of our human depravity and our broken world. He even “became sin for us,” taking on that very thing that keeps us in our despair and brokenness. And he died our death and rose from the dead, giving each of us a new life, a hope in the midst of despair.

In sending the Holy Spirit, God through Christ, made a way for us to begin to experience the kingdom life even now in the midst of our broken and sinful world. We are able to interact with God in a real way through our union with God in Christ and our communion with God and one another in the Spirit. Through Christ and by the Spirit we are able to experience a living, ongoing relationship with God himself, coming to hear and understand the living Word of God personally, and having God’s way of being written on our hearts and minds.

This means that Christ becomes and is a real part of our day-to-day existence. As we respond to his nudges by the Holy Spirit, we come to experience healing, hope and change in our lives. Things don’t always get better immediately as far as our circumstances may go, but somehow that doesn’t matter so much to us anymore.

In the midst of our struggles and dark places, God begins to shed his light. We begin to have a new perspective. We begin to see and experience possibilities when there were none before. God brings us into relationships that are healing, helpful and restorative. He begins to work change in our lives.

But God doesn’t do this all by himself. He calls us to participate with him in this transformation. We can continue to wallow in despair if we wish, and deny the real grace God offers us in the midst of our suffering and grief. We can cling to our darkness if we wish—God allows us to do that. But he calls us out of it and offers us himself, through Christ and by his Spirit, as a means of lifting us up and transferring us from darkness and despair into light and life.

As participants in God’s light and life, we need to be sensitive to the work the Spirit is doing to draw others out of despair and darkness. We are called by God to share with others the Word of life we have been given. We can give them a real hope in the midst of despair when we introduce them to Jesus Christ and show them God’s real love and compassion.

We come into their lives the way God in Christ entered ours—humble, insignificant, and truly human. We share the mundane parts of our existence with them, along with the relationship we have with our heavenly Father through Christ his Son and by his Spirit. We give what we can to help them become the children of God they were created to be, so they can also be full participants in God’s love and life. This is our participation in what Jesus is doing in the world today.

Offering someone just a little bit of hope may seem trivial. We may think we have to accomplish great things in the world or become well known for our Christian faith and piety. But the simple gift of hope can be life-transforming and healing in more ways than we could ever imagine. Just ask someone who has received it.

Lord, thank you for coming into our world and joining us in our humanity and our brokenness, and for healing us from the inside out. Thank you that you offer each of us hope in the midst of our despair. Do not leave us here in our dark places, but please come to us and lift us up into your arms of love and life. Make us compassionate to others who need the gift of hope. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, …” Psalm 146:5 NASB

Harmony in the Home

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Colorful pumpkins and mums--fall's here!
Colorful pumpkins and mums–fall’s here!

By Linda Rex

When my children were little, I was looking for a way to guide them into healthy ways of thinking and being without being punitive or constantly having to scream at them. I began to read about parenting with grace and found lots of different ideas on how to go about participating with Christ in my children’s growth and maturity.

It was a struggle because I was a single mom. I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Just wait till your father gets home!” I was the one who had to call the shots and draw the lines in my home if I wanted my children to have the benefits of living in unity with who they are in Christ. I have two strong-willed children who are very intelligent and gifted in their own way. It was a challenge to keep ahead of them on so many levels.

I’ve tried a lot of different tactics over the years, but for a while one of the practices I came upon was that of a family charter. I sat my children down and together we came up with a list of rules for the house that had to do with respect. It was important to me that my children learn to respect God, themselves, each other, the authorities in the world around them, and their belongings.

These house rules were pretty simple and had consequences that the children picked out themselves. Once we had agreed on the important things to bring peace, kindness and harmony to the family, we would each sign the charter.

If I felt things were getting out of hand at home, we would meet again to discuss the charter. Occasionally we might make some changes. The consequences might very from one family meeting to the next, but most just stayed the same.

One of the things we agreed upon was that we would guard our tongues. We agreed that we would not use foul language in our home, or say things that were nasty and hurtful to each other. My children decided the appropriate consequence for violating another family member’s ears and heart with unkind words or foul language was to clean the toilet. My children would take great delight in catching me using a mild expletive because then I would have to do toilet duty. Of course, they didn’t have equal delight in being caught themselves.

After a while my children became frustrated with the family charter and no longer seemed to need it to guide their everyday behavior. So I did not use it in the same way, though I left it up for a while as a way of reminding us of what we valued as a family.

But I have often reflected on the whole idea of joining together as a family to agree to live together in harmony, peace and kindness. Is not this the definition of “koinonia”—of the “perichoresis” that God calls us to live in with the Father, Son and Spirit?

To teach my children to live in harmony with others in a way that involves love in unity, diversity and equality is to teach them to live within the truth of who they are as children of God. This is to teach them to live in agreement with who they are as God’s children, made in his image, redeemed by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. To live in harmony with who we are as God’s children is to live in the truth of God’s kingdom here on earth even now through Christ and in the Spirit.

So when we begin to turn the air blue around us with foul expletives, or we begin to slide into some other form of hurtful behavior, we need to reconsider just who we are affecting with our words and behavior. Jesus said that what we do to one another, we do to him.

If indeed we sit in heavenly places in Christ right now, as Paul said, and we already have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, then everything we say and do is somehow bound up in Christ. For in God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being.

Changing the way we act and talk is not a simple thing we can do if we just try hard enough. It is much more effective to begin to grow in awareness of Christ in us and in others, and to come to realize and live in accordance with the reality of the Spirit’s constant presence in us and with us. This is the spiritual discipline some people call “practicing the presence.”

This discipline involves being sensitive to God’s real, abiding presence with us each and every moment of every day, and engaging God in constant conversation as we go about our daily activities. The mundane activities of life begin to have a different tone when we do them in God’s presence, knowing he is aware of every nuance of thought, feeling and desire.

We also become more and more aware of the real presence of God in one another. We begin to see Christ in our neighbor and the Spirit of God at work in people we didn’t used to consider being “good” people. We begin to experience the real presence of God in everyday experiences and conversations. This is the kingdom life.

This is living in the reality that we are already participants in the kingdom of God. We already share in God’s kingdom life with one another—unless we choose to continue to participate in the kingdom of darkness. And we all know the consequences of continuing to live in the darkness of sin and death—because we see them being realized all around us, and even in our own lives. And we know the pain and horror that goes with them.

Jesus Christ is the gate to the kingdom of God, and his Spirit of life flows through us all. May we all live in this truth of our being, in grace, peace and harmony with one another. May God’s kingdom be fully realized here on earth as it is in heaven. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Thank you, Holy Father, for binding us together with you in love through Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of our being, in the harmony, grace and peace you bought for us in your Son. May we live in warm fellowship and love with you and one another forever, through Jesus Christ our brother and by your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–7 NASB

Leaving Behind the Ignorance of Prejudice

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Serene lake
Serene lake

by Linda Rex

Yesterday I was watching with interest the speech given by Pope Francis to Congress. I was impressed by his finesse in taking the stories of four Americans and drawing from them positive principles by which our leaders and our people could move forward into the uncertain future.

As he was speaking, someone said to me, “Well, there’s our enemy.” It took me aback for a moment, but then I remembered how for centuries some Protestants have seen the pope and the Roman Catholic church as being exactly that—as being the anti-Christ spoken about in the Bible. Of course, this requires a misinterpretation of Scripture, but it has been assumed to be true by many and is still believed to be so by some today.

I’m a little ashamed to say today that I used to be one of those people who believed the pope and the Roman Catholic Church were the enemy of all that is truly Christian. This was born out of ignorance and false teaching I had adopted as a child. But God was not content to leave me in my ignorance.

One of the first things he did was to place me in a relationship in high school where I grew to know and respect a teen who was the daughter of Polish immigrants. She had attended Catholic school in her youth and was a devout believer. She had a crucifix on the door to her room and she would cross herself every time she passed it to go in and out. I saw a devotion to Christ that was different from mine but equally, or perhaps even more, genuine. Although I had other friends in school who were Catholic, she left an impression on me that was not easily forgotten.

As time passed, I had a family member who married someone who was Catholic. I still remember the beautiful ceremony in her church. I could feel the presence and power of God there in a way that amazed me. The song that invited the believers to communion with Christ was inspiring and captured my heart. God was slowly and surely destroying the arrogance in me that kept me believing my faith was superior to and more real than these Catholic believers.

In the years since then, God placed me in the position of coming to know more and more people of the Catholic faith. Many of them were devout, and some were actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure, there were an equal number who were merely nominal Christians, whose faith was just something they adopted as part of their family heritage. But what God did over the years was to bring me to a repentance, a change in my mind and heart and in my beliefs, about the Roman Catholic Church and its followers.

The way God changed my mind and heart was by placing me in relationships with people in which I was forced to reevaluate what I believed and why I believed it. I could have been stubborn and refused to acknowledge and repent of my prejudice. But my personal integrity would not allow me to do that. The truth was—I was wrong—and I needed to admit it and change accordingly.

I have found as time has gone by that God keeps me in a continual state of needing to reevaluate, repent and change when it comes to what I believe about certain people, their beliefs and cultures.

Technology is making our world smaller by bringing together people and cultures that would probably otherwise never interact. We are being forced to build relationships with people of all faiths and political, economic backgrounds. We are being forced to reevaluate what we believe about them and how we should interact with them.

This is actually a good thing. Because one day, in our future, lies a time when all peoples of all nations and all cultures will be joined together in a world that has no political, religious, cultural boundaries. In this place, what will matter most will not be what clothes we wear, how much money we make, or what kind of foods we prefer to eat. Rather what will really matter will be our relationships with one another and with God. What will really count is how well we love and care for one another.

This is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To have these heavenly values is more important than seeking the earthly values that are transitory and passing. We look beyond the human designations that separate us into the heavenly qualities that unite us. We are all one in Jesus Christ—he is our humanity—our unity, our equality, our diversity. He joins us together in such a way that all these other things we count as important become truly insignificant in the long run.

Our challenge is to remain in an attitude of a willingness to see and admit to our prejudices, and to consciously make an effort to change when we see we are wrong. When we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit as he brings us together with others we may feel uncomfortable with, we will find an amazing harmony and healing that can only be explained as divine.

God wants his children to be joined together with him in Christ, and when we respond to that, miracles happen in our relationships. We experience his divine life and love in a multitude of ways as we yield to the Spirit’s work to bind us all together as one in Christ. May we always respond in faithful obedience to him.

Thank you, God, for the amazing ways you bring healing and restoration in our broken relationships. Grant each of us the heart and mind to repent of our prejudices and to open ourselves to making room for others in the divine fellowship. We have so far to go! May we always turn to you for the love and grace we need so that we may love and forgive others. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 NASB

Leaving it All for Love

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Fall in Arkansas
Fall in Arkansas

by Linda Rex

Many years ago I packed everything I owned in a U-Haul truck and left my southern California bungalow for the hills of rural southeast Iowa. It was quite a cultural shock for someone who had grown up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Over the years people have often asked me what in the world made me do this.

At the time, it just seemed the logical and right thing to do. I was in love and had married an Iowa farmer. To leave my home, my family, my friends, my job, and all that was familiar to me seemed to be only a little thing in the face of building a new life based on love.

One of the stories many of us had to read in high school was Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. In this classic story of love and tragedy, we find the age-old question asked, “What would I do for love?” It is a question many of us face in our day-to-day lives as we interact with family, friends and our community. What exactly are we willing to do in the name of love?

Throughout his ministry, Jesus engaged his disciples in conversations that challenged them with this very same question. He walked up to Matthew as he collected the taxes and said to him, “Follow me.” And he dropped everything and followed him. He went to John and James and said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they left it all and followed him.

Throughout this ministry, the disciples kept being faced with the question: Am I really ready and willing to leave all behind and follow Jesus? At one point they reminded Jesus of all they had given up to follow him, and asked what they were going to get out of the deal. Jesus said they would receive abundantly in the world to come as well as receive some rewards now. But the greatest gift they would receive through it all would be eternal life, in relationship with the God who loved and cared for them.

In his book “The Call to Discipleship”, Karl Barth writes about our tendency to adopt Christianity like we join a fraternal organization—it’s a nice thing to do and it fits in beautifully with our life plans. Sadly, we can tend to treat our call to faith with an indifference borne out of our jaded human experience where we’ve seen it all, done it all and this is just one more thing to do to guarantee a healthy, happy life.

But the call to discipleship is a call to leave all behind and follow Christ. It means letting go of all that has gone before in such a way that we hold loosely to the things of this world and we hold tightly to Jesus Christ, our new humanity. God calls us to let go of all of the things in our life that we identify ourselves by, for our new identity is in Jesus Christ alone.

This can be very difficult, especially when what we need to leave behind is something we have built our whole life around, thinking that it defines us and our humanity. Just what exactly are we willing to do for love? Just what are we willing to leave behind to follow Christ?

Perhaps if we were willing to look at this question from the other way around we might find some compelling reason to leave everything behind.

We need to look intently at Jesus Christ—who is he? Here is One who lived eternally in a relationship of love and companionship in which he was content, fulfilled and complete. He had no need of anyone or anything else. He did not need us, nor did God have any reason to create us other than as an expression of his overflowing, abundant love.

Yet this God, who was rich in every way, set all the privileges and dignity of his divinity aside, and joined us in our humanity. He left everything that was familiar and comfortable, and took up residence in a human body. He allowed himself to be carried about and mothered by Mary, and to be instructed in the temple by the rabbis. He walked about on earth, getting his feet dusty and dirty like every other human being. And he did it all for love.

And that wasn’t enough for him. He even allowed himself to be insulted, abused, shamed and crucified by us. He died an ignoble death with a word of forgiveness and compassion on his lips. Isn’t that the truest expression of love?

Taking all this into account then, how can there be anything we are not willing to give up for him? Love and gratitude for this amazing act of love compels us to drop everything and to do whatever it takes to follow him, even if it means leaving everything we value behind.

It will not always be easy to follow Christ. We will be faced with the decision at some point in our lives—do I cling to what is comfortable and convenient, or do I hold fast to Christ? Is this relationship I’m in more important to me than living in agreement with the One who gave it all up for me? Do I hold fast to my integrity or to the job I desperately need so I can keep my house? Will I hold on to my pride or be willing to eat humble pie and admit to my spouse that I am wrong?

What are we willing to give up for love? Jesus gave it all up for you and for me—perhaps what we need to give up really isn’t that significant after all.

Lord, thank you for leaving everything behind and joining us in our humanity. Thank you for loving us so much that you were willing to give it all up for love. Grant us the grace to give ourselves fully to you and to others in the same way you have given yourself to us. In your name, Jesus, amen.

“Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.’” Luke 18:28–30 NASB

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:12–14 NASB

Over My Dead Body

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Honeysuckle on the fence
Honeysuckle on the fence

By Linda Rex
I was reflecting the other day on some of my experiences out on the farm. When you live with and interact daily with animals of any kind, you experience the realities of life and death. Death of humans and animals is inevitable and can happen at the most inopportune times, creating the unpleasant task of finding a place for burial.

And death normally isn’t a very pleasant experience. After a day or two, the dead body will begin to bloat and stink, and the scavengers will begin to make a meal off of it. The stench of a rotting corpse, to me, is quite nauseating and disgusting, even though it is the normal process of decomposition. I prefer to get as far as I can from any dead body.

It’s interesting that the apostle Paul uses this stench of death as a way of describing how those who reject Christ see the lives of those who are living in communion with God. In one way we are seen as a fragrance—a lovely scent—of Christ rising to God. In the other, we are seen as a “dreadful smell of death and doom”. How can we be both at the same time?

Really it comes down to perception. What is real about each of us is not readily apparent to everyone all at once. Our new life in Christ—which is true for each and every person—is hidden with God in Christ. This means that it is a spiritual reality, an objective truth that may or may not be subjectively evident in each of our lives. In Jesus Christ each and every person lived, died and rose and again. God sent the Spirit to all. But what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and by sending the Spirit is not necessarily immediately obvious because not everyone believes or receives the gift of God in Christ and lives it out.

When a person meets and comes to know well someone who is actively participating in a new life in Christ, they are faced with the truth of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus, in which we are all included, means that Jesus, and all of us in him, died. There was a time when Jesus’ body was a corpse—he died—and so we each died. And we all rose from the grave in him.

The thing is—if we died in Christ—what we used to be is now, dead. That scripture that says “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9) no longer applies. Sure, it can certainly look as though this old way of living and being is still alive. We can live and act and talk in a way that implies this is still the case. But God has declared in Jesus Christ a definite “No” to this being our nature any longer. He has given us the new heart he promised his people.

But what if we don’t want a new heart? What if we think the heart we have is just fine? What if we don’t see any problem with the way we are living now? What if we don’t believe that God has done any of this for us?

If this is the case, we will perceive this way of being—of living a new life in Christ—as something it is not. We will see it as being a lie, or as being something offensive that we want no part of, and so we will resist and reject the Spirit and his work of renewal. To us it will be a stinking, rotting mess. Because the evidence of this new life in Jesus tells us that without Jesus, a smelly, rotten corpse is just what we are.

We don’t like to be told the truth about ourselves. If we concede that in Jesus Christ we are made new, that means we have to die to our old ways of being and doing. If we agree that Jesus Christ defines our new humanity, that means we have to give up being lord of our lives and submit to his ways of being and doing. And that just stinks!

Jesus pounded out the importance of death and resurrection over and over in his ministry. We die with Christ and we rise with Christ—he is our life. Apart from him we have no hope. We are just old rotting corpses that God never meant for us to be.

God created beautiful things when he created human beings and he didn’t create humans to be the mess we are today. This is not who we are. In God’s purpose we are made to reflect and bear his image. When others look at us, God intends for them to see a reflection of his perichoretic nature of unity, diversity and equality. God’s purpose is for us to be creatures in whom and with whom he will dwell, who will participate with him in a relationship full of love and grace.

But because evil and sin and death has entered our cosmos, God sent his Son to take it all on himself and in the process create a new humanity with God’s nature hidden within. Then he sent his Spirit to awaken each of us to faith in Christ, so that we can participate in this new humanity. God has replaced all the dead corpses with vibrantly alive beloved children—but not everyone is willing to make the exchange. Some still want to hang on to their old dead bodies.

Personally, I’m more than happy to participate with God in the process of replacing the old with the new. The old me, which is dead, was not a very pleasant person to be around. She was pretty stinky and disgusting. As far as I’m concerned, this new life he has given me is what I want to be a part of and share with others, even if to them I am a reminder of the death of their old selves in Christ.

To a culture enamored with old ways of living and being I may be offensive and disturbing, like an old rotting corpse that stinks. But in the end, this old rotting corpse will dissolve into the ground from which it was made, and I will shine, like so many others who share Christ’s new life, as the stars in the heaven. To me, that seems to be the better, more satisfying choice.

Thank you, Father, for the gift you have given us of new life in your Son and by your Spirit. Awaken each of us to the new life that is ours. Grant us the grace to participate with you in your divine life and love as your beloved children, and to leave all that died with Christ buried with him in the tomb. Through Jesus, our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” 2 Co 2:14–16 NLT

Our Response to God and his Grace

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Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex
Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex

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