Much Deeper Than the Body
by Linda Rex
February 12, 2023, 6th Sunday in Epiphany—One of the readings for my recent coursework at Grace Communion Seminary talks about the way in which God does who God is. What I mean by that is, who God is in his being is what he does in his actions. God is a Redeemer, and so he redeems us. God is Savior, and so he saves us. When Jesus says to his disciples, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, he is saying that the love and grace of his Father was in that moment being expressed in the person and life of his Son Jesus. And it was fully expressed in Jesus’ self-offering on the cross.
The reason I am bringing this up is because of how the gospel reading for today, Matthew 5:21–37, resonates with this. Jesus pointed out that our human way of doing things just will not work in the economy of the Triune life or kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to go much deeper than just putting on an outer show of religiosity. He was “meddling”—telling people that going through the motions was not enough. The way we live and act needs to go much deeper than just the externals—it must involve the heart and soul of a person. And it has to do with our passions, desires, impulses, and motivations.
But there is even more going on here than just that. Who we are drives what we do. In this passage, we can see that Jesus is so much more than just the words he was speaking. In his life, death, and resurrection Jesus was in many ways all of these things in action. Who he was as God in human flesh was an expression of these very things in a real and tangible way as a human, fleshly person led by and filled with the Holy Spirit.
For example, when we think of God, we often think of a being who is mad at us for being such awful sinners, to the point that he had to kill his Son for us. But consider the way God in Christ really does approach our evil and sin, and our broken relationship with himself. He doesn’t despise us for our failure to measure up to our obligations to him and one another. Rather, he recognizes our inadequacy and lack of even desiring to do what is right at times. Because he knows this about us, he comes, takes on our human flesh, and forges within us a new away of being—giving us his own desire to do what is right and holy. And then he dies and rises, and sends the Spirit so we can live in right relationship with him now and forever.
Going further, consider how Jesus deals with the reality of our offenses against him. In his own self-offering, the Son of God set aside his need for revenge or self-gratification when we became his opponents, and instead, laid down his own life. He came to us in our human flesh, to live our life and die our death, for our salvation and redemption. We had something in our hearts against God, and Jesus came to us and made things right, reconciling us to God in himself and calling us to be reconciled in that same way to God and each other.
Notice how Jesus used hyperbole to express our need to get rid of those parts of ourselves which cause us to sin. Truth be told, he never meant us to actually physically cut off or remove these parts of our body. What he did demonstrate to us in his life and death was that he was willing to do for us what we could not do in this regard. None of us is capable of eliminating those parts of us that cause us to sin—which is why Jesus took our human flesh to the cross and allowed us to crucify it so that our human flesh would die once and for all to evil, sin, and death. And in the resurrection, Jesus gave our human flesh new life—a new way of being grounded within himself. As Paul wrote, we don’t look at people through the lens of their sinful human flesh any longer because in Christ they are new creations (2 Cor. 5:16-17).
Going on, even when Jesus is talking about the topic of divorce and adultery, he takes us into the realm of committed or covenant relationship. The religious leaders of his day had added and subtracted so much to the law that it was possible to divorce for any reason, and women were being left without anyone to care for them because of the selfish choices of the men who had give them a promise of fidelity and then had broken it.
When we look at the history of the ancient nation of Israel, God’s covenant people, we see that the prophets often spoke of this nation’s relationship with God as a marriage or covenant relationship. Even though this nation was repeatedly unfaithful to God, he was always faithful to her. The prophet Hosea, in a living parable, showed God’s willingness to go the extra mile by faithfully loving and caring for his unfaithful spouse. Jesus, in his person, was the fulfillment of this beautiful picture, coming to his people in God’s faithfulness to them, so that he could bring home to his Father his beloved bride, his covenant people, which in his life, death, resurrection, and the giving of the Spirit, were the newly forged, redeemed and restored body of Christ, the church.
And in this way, we see that God is what God does. He is a God of his word. When he says “yes”, that is what he means. And when he says “no”, he means no. When he said that he would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), he did so, as God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for our salvation. When God said he would send the Suffering Servant Messiah to his people to redeem not only them, but the whole world—that is what he did. God has kept his word to us and will keep his word to us. He is trustworthy, faithful, and true.
This is why we can rest in the reality that God will finish what he has begun in us. In the New Testament reading, 1 Corinthians 3:1–9, the apostle Paul points out that there is a difference between living in the truth of what Christ has done in our place on our behalf or living in our unredeemed flesh. Are we walking as mere human beings, or are we walking as spiritual people, those who are filled with and led by God’s Spirit, Christ in us? Our belief isn’t what makes us different people. Cutting off parts of our body or trying to make radical changes to our behavior doesn’t change us. What is life-transforming is Christ—the indwelling presence of God by the Holy Spirit. We are God’s field, God’s building, and he is at work in us, as we respond to him in faith. And we participate in his work in this world as we are led by the Spirit to love and serve others as we are gifted and called by God. It is a comfort to know it is all up to him, not all up to us—we just get to be a part of what he is doing!
Thank you, Abba, for allowing us to be a part of what you are doing in this world. Thank you, Jesus, for giving yourself so freely to us and for including us in your own relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to live and walk so that all that we do is a true expression of who we are in you, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:1–9 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitmuch-deeper-than-the-body.pdf ]
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Children of Light
By Linda Rex
November 24, 2019, Christ the King or Reign of Christ—Yesterday I was catching up on a few emails when I noticed one from a publisher. They were wanting to market my book “Making Room” and were telling me how wonderful it was and how it could reach millions of people if only I would sign up with them for their marketing services. When the email reached the place where it said that my book was being considered for being made into a film, I started laughing. Well, I thought to myself, it is pretty obvious that this person never even read my book.
What I found out with a little research on my part was this particular group makes a practice of plagiarizing people’s writing. What appeared to be a wonderful opportunity to share my writing turned out to be a ploy to steal what I worked so hard to put together for the benefit of my readers. Just another case where what appeared to be glorious on the outside turned out to be like the tombs Jesus described—outwardly whitewashed and beautiful, but filled with death and decay on the inside.
It seems that our broken human existence is often like this. Remember the old saying, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch?” We tend to assume that free means free, but more often than not there is a catch of some kind. We end up paying in some crazy way for that thing we thought was a generous and delightful freebie. Because of this, we find it difficult to get our minds around the reality that God has offered us salvation as a free gift in his Son Jesus Christ.
First, the darkness of our human brokenness blinds us to our need for deliverance. We prefer to buy a few cans of whitewash and put a new layer on our evil, sin, and death rather than submitting ourselves to the truth of our humanity—we need Christ. We need to be changed from the inside out—we need a new existence, one in which we are reconciled with God and made whole. The fact that Jesus came in our stead, on our behalf means we were in need of him doing so. In other words, we are sinners in desperate need of rescue. We are, as Israel was, incapable of and unwilling to live in union and communion with our covenant God, and so the Word of God came into our humanity to do what we could not and would not do.
Secondly, submitting ourselves to the transforming power of God’s grace given to us in Jesus Christ means we are submitting to God as Lord over our existence. Jesus lived our life and died our death, rising again and carrying our humanity into the presence of our Father. Our human existence isn’t defined by our self-determination, our self-will, and self-preservation any longer, but by the self-giving, self-sacrificing, and other-centered being of Jesus Christ. Jesus defines us—he is our identity as adopted children of our heavenly Father. We are called to faith, to trust in him fully, to receive our identity as full participants in the majestic love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.
And this is what we resist—Jesus as our King. What we need to come to grips with is our need to surrender to the all-encompassing love and grace of our ever-living Lord. We are so much more comfortable with our fear, our anxiety, and our human efforts to liberate ourselves than we are simply trusting in him, in his goodness, kindness and mercy—that as our Lord and King, he wants only the best for us and is always working things for our good as we trust in him.
As soon as things start to go wrong in our lives, we are tempted to believe that God doesn’t care, that he doesn’t love us, and that he is indifferent to our concerns and needs. We may be dealing with an endless struggle with pain or loss, and wonder why God won’t take it away—how can he really love us when we have to go through this day after day after day? We like to make up our own rules for our existence and don’t like the idea of anyone but us deciding how things ought to be. Why should I listen to God and do things his way, since his way is so hard and difficult? And look at all those people who say they are Christians—what’s the point of following Jesus when it doesn’t change anything?
These are really good questions, and I do believe we need to be asking them. But I also believe we have to be very careful in our search for answers not to ignore the reality of what God has done already in giving his Son Jesus Christ, and what he is doing in each moment right now by the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus’ resurrected life into effect in our human existence as we trust in him.
God is at work in the world through Jesus in the Spirit. He has, in Jesus, delivered all humanity out of the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. But our participation is critical. What we believe about Jesus, who he is, what he has done and is doing, is important. Who is Jesus Christ? Who is Jesus to you? Are you in agreement with the spiritual reality that Jesus is your Lord and your Savior? If so, how does this affect the way you live your life?
If we expect it to be all up to us to make the Christian life work, we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult place. God will not allow us to endlessly continue in the false belief that if we do everything “just so” then everything will turn out all right. He will allow us to experience the reality that our rightness is solely dependent upon Jesus Christ. He alone is the sovereign Lord over our whole human existence.
It was our heavenly Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of the Godhead to dwell in Christ and through him to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth with himself. There is nothing left between us and God—we are fully free to be the adoring adopted children of God we were always meant to be (Col. 1:11–20).
We have been brought out of darkness into the light, so the truth of our existence is that we are children of light. This gift of grace so freely given is meant to be received with gratitude and praise demonstrated by a life lived as those who reflect the glorious image of our loving sovereign King who is Father, Son and Spirit. Let us live and walk in the truth of that, both now and forever.
Abba, thank you for loving us so much that you would not allow anything to come between us and you. Thank you for delivering from the kingdom of darkness and setting us by your Son Jesus Christ in your kingdom of light. Grant us the grace to admit our need for redemption and forgiveness, and to submit to you as the Lord over all things, through Jesus our Lord and Savior. Enable us to serve you faithfully and obediently from now on with gratitude and praise as your beloved children. Amen.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely | And do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, | And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’” Jeremiah 23:5–6
“The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’ Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:36–43 NASB
Consequences and the Final Cure
By Linda Rex
I remember when my children were toddlers how difficult it was to help them to understand not to touch the oven door on the stove when I was baking something. I would explain that it was hot. I would tell them “No!” when they reached toward it. And I would tell them they would hurt themselves if they touched it.
Even with all the explaining, instructions, and prohibitions, invariably they would reach out and touch the door of the oven. Then I would have to deal with sore fingers and tears and all the ramifications of their disobedience. I did not want them to get their fingers burned and took every precaution so they wouldn’t, but because of their stubborn willfulness they experienced pain and suffering as a consequence of their decision to touch the hot stove.
At no point, though, did my relationship with them change. They were still my beloved children and I was still committed to their well-being and health. I still did my best to guard and protect them and provide for them in spite of their disobedience and resistance to my will. They may have felt my anger and concern regarding the danger they were facing and the harm their disobedience was causing. But on my side, my love and care and gracious compassion, were unaltered.
There is something about the human heart that leads us into trouble and causes us to do things which in the end cause pain, heartache, and suffering. I don’t believe God has to go around punishing us all the time for “being bad” because most of the time we and those around us already suffer the consequences of the unhealthy and unloving things we say and do. God can quite easily give to us “according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” without lifting a finger. Life deals us all the blows we need and more, and if it doesn’t, we can trust in due time God will see that all is made right.
We know this because of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who stands in our place and on our behalf, experienced the consequences of our sick hearts as humans who turned away from their Creator and Lord and turned toward themselves and the works of their hands. It seems that God was willing to let us be stubborn and willful and to do things our own way even if it meant the Son he gave us died at our hands.
It’s not like God didn’t give us any guidance or instruction. God went to the effort to create a nation whom he bound himself to in a covenant relationship. He taught this people, and in them the world, how to live in loving relationship with him and with one another. We look at the law as being prescriptive—something we’re supposed to do. Rather, the law was meant to be descriptive—it describes what it looks like when people live in loving relationship with God and one another and how gracious God is when we fall short.
This means that God told us what it looks like to participate in the loving relationship he has existed within for all eternity—in perichoretic oneness, in mutual submission, in interpenetrating unity of being—three Persons in one Being. This is the image of God we were created to reflect. This is the image we were made to bear in our own relationships with God and each other.
Even Moses understood that the human heart resists living in this way. He knew that what was needed for the nation of Israel was a change of heart, because their natural human response to God was resistance, rejection, and disobedience. The human heart, our human flesh, when left to itself seeks only its own pleasure and will, not God’s. We, quite naturally, give ourselves over to the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
God never intended for us to live in this way. He knew we would choose this way of being, so he planned from before time began to provide us with a new heart and mind, a new way of being. Jesus voluntarily offered himself so we could one day be freed from our carnal humanity and be given a new heart and mind grounded in God himself.
Our very act of resistance toward God in crucifying Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, in dying our death in our place and on our behalf and at our hands, Jesus crucified once and for all our human proclivity towards rebellion, disobedience, and stubborn willfulness. Our sick human heart was regrounded in Christ’s perfect heart of obedience, submission, and service. In Christ, we died to sin and death, and rose to new life. We have been given Christ’s new heart of love—in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit God has, through Christ, given us new hearts and minds.
So the apostle Paul says things like, “put on the new self (Eph. 4:24)”, or “since you’ve been raised with Christ, keep seeking things above (Col. 3:1)”, “put on a heart of compassion, kindness… (Col. 3:9)”. We are “being transformed … from glory to glory… (2 Cor. 3:18)”, as we turn to Christ in faith and the Spirit reforms us in the image of Christ. Who we really are—those perfected in Christ as imagebearers of God—is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). There might not be a whole lot of outward evidence of change, but God’s still at work. On his end it’s a done deal, while on ours it’s a work in progress.
In Christ, God wrote his law, his way of being, on human hearts. As we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves living in the truth of who we are—God’s beloved children who reflect his likeness, who have his heart and mind. We have been given a new heart and God has written on it through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension a new way of being, which includes a desire to live in loving relationship with God and one another.
There is a new existence we participate in through Jesus in the Spirit. What we struggle with is, we believe we are still slaves to sin. We believe we are evil at our core and so God is opposed to us and against us. This is the lie we have been taught in so many ways. But the truth is, we have always been upheld by God in our human existence, and we have been rescued and redeemed by Christ. Any barrier we or the evil one may have placed between us and God has been removed by Jesus Christ. We have been made, are being made, and will be made one with God through Christ in the Spirit.
We have been given the ultimate cure for the sick human heart—Jesus Christ—and he is written there by the Holy Spirit. We are blessed as we live in the truth of this and so, as we participate in Christ’s perfect relationship with his Abba in the Spirit, we experience all the benefits of having a new heart and mind. The beauty of all this is the love God puts in our heart for him and one another. He empowers us to live in loving relationships and to do what is kind, compassionate, and truthful. He inspires heartfelt obedience and genuine humility as we turn to him in faith.
In all things, then, he receives the glory and praise. He is the divine Physician—the One who has provided and does provide the ultimate cure to our diseased human heart. If we never acknowledge our illness, it will be difficult for us to experience the cure. We may as well admit to the truth of our need for his transforming work in us. We can participate in his healing work by keeping a daily appointment with him and allowing him to do what is needed to transform our hearts by faith.
Dear Abba, thank you for doing all you can to keep us from unnecessary suffering, pain, and sorrow. We know we are so often the cause of this in our lives. Thank you for giving us your Son so we could be healed of our sick hearts and be given your own heart and mind. May your Spirit continue to transform our hearts by faith and bring us fully into the fullness of Christ. We praise and thank you for your goodness to us and your faithful love through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 NASB
He Knows Me?
By Linda Rex
One of the prophecies in the Old Testament which I find to be most interesting is in the book of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Cyrus years before he became the conquering king written about in the history books.
Ironically, even though he played a type of messianic role for the Jewish people, he was not a Jew. It speaks volumes that God would work through and with a non-Jewish king to rescue his people. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God says through Isaiah that even though Cyrus didn’t even know God, God still singled him out, called him by name, and gave him a special job to do. And it wasn’t for Cyrus’ sake God did this, but for the sake of God’s relationship with his covenant people, the Israelites.
Even though Cyrus was not acquainted with the God of Israel and worshiped gods who were not real gods, he was still equipped by God for this special mission and blessed by God as he performed it.
Cyrus was indeed responsible for conquering and killing a lot of people as he took power and invaded nations. I’m sure such bloodshed was not in God’s heart—it was something in Cyrus’ heart and was his way of doing things. Yet God chose to work in and through Cyrus in the midst of all this so that he, the God of Israel, would be made known as the one and only true God, who creates and sustains all there is in heaven and on earth, and his people would be returned to their promised land to prepare the way for the real messiah.
A lot of times we differentiate between good people and bad people, assuming God only works with, in, and through good people. We figure if God is going to do something significant in this world, he’s going to do it through people who are moral, righteous people or who are people who share a particular faith or belief system.
God is a Being who can and will work out his plans to love and care for his covenant people and to accomplish his purposes in the world by whatever means he feels are necessary. He can do and sometimes does do this all on his own. But it seems more often than not he includes human beings in the process. He likes to have us participate with him in what he’s doing in the world.
Our participation in what God is doing in the world often looks much different than what we assume it should look like. Sometimes humans do evil and horrible things. But God takes these things and in spite of them, or by transforming and redeeming them, he draws us all deeper into real relationship in and with him, into life eternal within the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
And those of us who participate with him in his work in this world are not always aware of the significance of how we are participating with God while he works out what he is trying to do. Many times, we go through life like little children, believing it is all about us, about what we are trying to accomplish, and what we are wanting to do or what we believe is important. We can be quite narcissistic in how we approach life and living. But that doesn’t keep God from finding ways to include us in what he is doing.
I don’t know how many times in my life I have realized after the fact something I said or did turned out to be a significant event in another person’s life. It may have been to me a simple, unimportant thing I did. It may have actually been a thoughtless word or deed. It could have just been an offhand comment. But in some way, it impacted another person or impacted some situation in such a way it completely altered the direction it was headed. And really, I was unaware of it at the time—I was just doing what I was doing, being me, and this amazing thing happened in spite of me.
For those of us who are trying to live good Christian lives it may be a challenge to take our focus off our efforts to do good and be good. It is easy to get caught up in whether or not we are being good people, and whether or not we are pleasing God. We can get so focused on how well we are living our lives we miss the real point of it all—that God knows us and loves us completely and thoroughly, and calls us into relationship with himself in and through Jesus Christ. God wants us to know him and love him, and to come to the place we really know and love one another as well. There is a relational focus to life in Christ which is a far cry above just being good, moral people.
Instead of being focused on how well we are performing, or whether or not we are achieving success in some enterprise or conquering some country, maybe we need to be focused on getting to know the real God—the One who made all things and sustains all things by the Word of his power. Maybe this has more to do with growing in our relationships of love and grace with God and our fellow human beings than about exactly what we are doing in a specific moment. Maybe what is really significant is living each moment of our lives in the presence of and in real relationship with our God, and acknowledging the truth of who he is and who we are in Christ.
I don’t think any of us truly understand the significance of Jesus sharing in our humanity. There is something about him as God being here in human flesh which is important to our day to day existence. He shares in our particular profession or human activity, and we can participate in some way in what God is doing in the world while we are doing it.
Yes, we need to consider whether or not it is a real participation in what God is doing in the world. Is Jesus in the midst of it and does it reflect his nature and way of being? Is it life-giving and life-sustaining? What does it mean to have real life in and with the Father, Son, and Spirit—and how is doing this particular thing a sharing in God’s life?
But we also need to remember it’s always more about our relationship with God and with those around us than it is a matter of perfect behavior, abundant production, and material success. It’s learning to walk through life knowing and believing God is in you and with you in the midst of whatever you are doing in every moment.
We live in and with our God, and he is always at work in us and in our world, and he invites us to come along and participate in what he’s doing. We may not know him fully yet, but he knows us thoroughly and completely, and loves us, and calls us to live in and with him both now and forever, and we can do this in and through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit.
Dear Abba, thank you for inviting us to share life with you in and through your Son Jesus Christ and by the gift of your Holy Spirit. Enable us to focus less on our material success and physical accomplishments and more on living in loving, gracious relationships with you and all those we encounter day to day. Enable us to do all things in a way which is a real participation in your love and life through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“God’s Message to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand to give the task of taming the nations, of terrifying their kings—He gave him free rein, no restrictions: “I’ll go ahead of you, clearing and paving the road. I’ll break down bronze city gates, smash padlocks, kick down barred entrances. I’ll lead you to buried treasures, secret caches of valuables—confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. It’s because of my dear servant Jacob, Israel my chosen, that I’ve singled you out, called you by name, and given you this privileged work. And you don’t even know me! I am God, the only God there is. Besides me there are no real gods. I’m the one who armed you for this work, though you don’t even know me, so that everyone, from east to west, will know that I have no god-rivals. I am God, the only God there is. I form light and create darkness, I make harmonies and create discords. I, God, do all these things. Open up, heavens, and rain. Clouds, pour out buckets of my goodness! Loosen up, earth, and bloom salvation; sprout right living. I, God, generate all this.” Isaiah 45:1-8 MSG
Growing on the Journey
By Linda Rex
Five years ago, when I first arrived in Tennessee, I was visiting with people after services during our Community Café free meal when I noticed a lady who seemed to be in tears on the other side of the room. I remember going over to her and asking her if I could help. We had a long conversation that day about all the struggles she was having in her life. I prayed for her, and hoped in my heart she would experience God comfort and peace in the midst of her struggles.
As time passed, I and the members of Good News Fellowship began to get to know this woman better. And as we watched, she grew in her relationship with Jesus and her love for God and his ways. She still had struggles as she continued her journey of growing up in Christ, but she was learning to live and walk daily in a relationship of love and grace with God and others. It was wonderful for me and my spiritual family at Good News Fellowship to see her blossom and grow as time went by.
This journey she was taking was the journey of faith, of developing a deeper relationship with the God who made each of us in his image and who is growing each of us up into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ by the Spirit. I like to use the image of a journey because when a person comes to faith in Christ, turning away from all other idols and distractions and turning towards Jesus in face-to-face relationship, God doesn’t suddenly make that person perfect. Rather, their perfection is hidden with Christ in God and the Spirit works it out in them as they walk through life and respond to Jesus’ work by the Spirit in their hearts and lives.
Growing up in Christ takes time. And it takes experiences in which we engage in relationships with other people and in circumstances in life in which we are challenged to live out the truth of who God is and who we are in him. We sometimes do a great job of responding to the work of the Spirit, but other times it seems as if we are the same as we always have been. Even to those closest to us it may look in some ways as if nothing has changed, while in others, we are not the same at all.
This is the work of the Spirit. He seems to have his own agenda as he goes to work in our lives. And the more I learn from God’s Word, the more I see it’s a whole lot more about interacting with our Abba and Jesus on the journey than it is about reaching some impossible ideal in this life. There is a life for us, eternal life, which involves an ongoing conversation and interaction as we go through our everyday circumstances. We learn to trust and we grow in faith as we walk with God in the Spirit.
As people of faith, we have the opportunity to share our relational journey with others. We can share with them how we struggle, what we have learned, and how we have encountered the living God in our life situations and difficulties. We can learn things about ourselves and God on this journey, and then share what we have learned with the significant people in our lives. And we can include them in our journey with the Triune God through prayer for them and with them.
At different times and at the perfect moment, God puts people in our lives with whom he wants us to share our journey of faith. He creates opportunities for us to share with these people what we have learned about Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit, and what we have learned about ourselves. He puts us in situations where the only answer we can give to another person is Jesus Christ, and so we respond to this reality by praying in his name for the blessing of God upon this person in the midst of their troubles or their joy.
And so we find ourselves interconnected in relationships of compassion, grace, and love. We grow close to each other, and our differences in personalities and preferences come into play, causing us to have to wrestle with and work them out with one another. What we are doing is growing up in Christ—growing up into the type of persons who can and will live together in eternity with one another in a oneness in which each is able to be distinctly themselves, and yet in which each is found to be equal in person and being with the others. This is a true reflection of the being of the God who is Abba, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
Yes, this life is but the beginning of a relational journey which will last for all eternity. If we insist on living independently of others, or on preying on others, or on creating division and suffering in our relationships, we will find ourselves isolated, alone, and uncomfortable in a place where God’s goodness, love and grace reign. Missing those material goods and temporal values we clung to in this life, we will feel lost and devastated—something God never meant for us to have to experience.
It’s not easy to open ourselves up to God or others, but it’s what we were created to be—relational beings. When we make room for God and others in our lives, and we acknowledge our utter dependence upon God in each moment, living in the truth of who we are in Christ, we will find ourselves not only filled with God’s peace and joy, but also held by God in the midst of the struggles and griefs of this life. And we will want to tell others about what God has done and is doing in our lives.
This is the life God created for us in Christ and is calling us to share in. This is the eternal life which is ours and we can participate in even now when we turn to Jesus Christ. My prayer is that each of us will begin to see more clearly Abba’s face in the face of his Son Jesus by his Spirit, and that our hearts and lives will be transformed in the process. There is such joy, peace, and personal blessing available to each of us, and God wants us to experience them both now and forever, and so do I.
Thank you, Abba. You are always at work revealing yourself to each of us in your Son and by your Spirit. Thank you for transforming our hearts by faith as we turn to Jesus and surrender to your ways of living and being. May you finish what you have begun in us so we may spend both now and eternity growing in our relationship with you and all those you place in our lives, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NASB)
The Battle Against Despair
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
The Idol of Perfectionism
by Linda Rex
Over the years since I came to see the dangers of legalism, I have come to see the harm that such a belief system can do to relationships. When people focus on moral perfection, they tend to become very critical of themselves and others. Every little fault or imperfection is picked at and fussed over. And in spite of intense efforts to self-transform, this way of thinking and living not only causes a spirit of condemnation, but also harms the way we look at ourselves and at others.
In Matthew 5:48 (NASB) we read: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” According to HarperCollins Bible dictionary, the term “perfect” is an English word sometimes used to translate Hebrew and Greek words with a range of meaning (“completeness,” “wholeness,” “blamelessness,” “maturity”) We often read this passage as though Jesus was telling us something we should do and have to do in order to be acceptable to God.
In reality, when we read it that way, we are reading it backwards. We are doing a dyslexic flip of the meaning of that passage. In this passage, Jesus intentionally showed that human beings could not and would not be perfect like God is perfect. There is something missing that they need. They are incomplete without this, and cannot be perfect or whole without it. We are made in God’s image, to reflect his glory, but we are imperfect reflections and our human carnality causes us to reflect darkness rather than light.
It is our human proclivity to try to attain perfection on our own. We want ourselves and others to attain perfect standards under our own efforts. Jesus was pointing out that this is an impossible task, because only God is perfect.
This is the whole reason that Jesus was standing there, preaching to them. Because the Father wants us to be wholly, completely all that he created us to be, he gave us himself in Christ. God took on our human flesh and moment by moment lived the life we should have lived and ought to live. In Christ, God breathed our breath, cried our tears, grieved our sorrows and shared our joys. Down to the last detail, Jesus Christ perfected, or made whole and complete, our humanity.
This is because God knew exactly what we needed in order to be all he created us to be. God didn’t create us to try to become perfect ourselves. He created us for a relationship with himself and others—to love God, love your neighbor.
Trying to perfect ourselves and others only destroys relationships. Nothing is more destructive to love than the constant nitpicking about every little fault or failure of someone to be what you think they should be. There is no room for creativity, personality, or ingenuity. Everyone has to fit a human expectation of what they think God or perfection is like. And they can’t do it.
How do we become perfect as God is perfect? Only in Christ. He is our perfection. The writer of Hebrews says “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14 NASB). Once and for all, each of us were perfected in Christ, and we are being perfected in him as Christ is being formed in us through the Spirit.
God is the one with the responsibility to perfect us, because he is the perfect one. As we participate in his perfection by living in intimate relationship with him day by day, we are transformed. We focus on the relationship, on coming to know God intimately, and in his presence we are, in time, renewed in his image, to be all he created us to be.
God makes us into a new creation in Christ through the Spirit. Only God is perfect and he holds our perfection in himself in Christ. And he is working out that wholeness and completeness of his nature in us moment by moment in the Spirit. We participate in this work God is doing by growing in our relationship with him and by living in a relationship with others that reflects the perichoresis or “making room for one another” in which the Father, Son and Spirit live.
We make room for one another in the same way that God makes room for us in his life and love—through grace. We offer one another grace—forgiveness for being less than perfect. We allow each other room to grow, to have different ways of thinking and acting and living that are unique to ourselves and yet in harmony with the nature and character of God. Just as there is diversity and unity and equality in the Trinity, there is diversity, unity and equality in our humanity. And we respect and embrace that. To do any less than this would be to embrace imperfection.
Thank you, Holy Father, for seeking our perfection by giving us yourself in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your Spirit, who ceaselessly works for our perfection by forming Christ in us. Thank you for your gift of grace—grant that we may offer it as freely to one another as you offer it to us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (NASB)
“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 NASB)