What it Means to be "in Christ" -- Part II
The words "in Christ" and "in Him" appear in the New Testament over 200 times. In Part I (http://ldolphin.org/inchrist.html) I suggested that what it means to be "in Christ" is a wonderful reality worth vigorously building into one's daily meditation life. For me, it is not merely the theology of being "in Christ" that has gripped me in recent months. God and I are Persons; knowing God personally is what Jesus is seeking from us. Instead of impersonal meditation, I now often stop to think and pray about how to apply the reality of my union with Christ here-and-now to situations in front of me. This is not something new. Bringing Jesus with us into everything we do is known as "walking with God." (see "Put on the New" http://www.raystedman.org/colossians/4028.html).
Love your Enemies
One important situation for me is that parcel in the Law of Moses amplified by our Lord which asks of us,
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
Some of the people who dislike me intensely have good reason to do so. I was a wimp and a coward as boy so I avoided confrontations by hiding in the library. To this day I don't like confrontations. When the inevitable does occur I remind myself that it is Jesus in me who loves my enemy and Jesus alone who knows both me and my enemy -- thoroughly. I can safely trust Jesus-in-me to resolve a long-standing feud, with my enemy when Jesus has my full permission to manage my fears, anger, resentment -- or my failures to repent beforehand. One early and lasting lesson I discovered is that "A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good." (Proverbs 15:1-3) When I feel anger at the road-rage level towards someone, the root source of my anger is often that I am seeing in my opponent something I don't want to deal with in myself first. When I allow Jesus to deal with my heart, I'll invariably see my enemy in a much clearer light. Despite my denials, I may have been in the "chief among sinners" category all along, without realizing it.
On the other hand, a great deal of animosity towards Christians from outsiders is just because we follow the most hated man who has ever lived, namely Jesus. (John 15:18-23).
"Tempted as we are yet without sin."
Recently I was talking to a brother about how Jesus understood every conceivable human temptation and failure, "...tempted as we are yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) A related passage is, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13) My friend immediately commented that each of us was "in Christ" at the time Christ went to the cross for us. "...He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21) On the cross Jesus traded places with us, He was punished for every one of our sins. Therefore the deepest secrets of our blackest sins are completely known to Jesus--and all have been dealt with--"paid in full." Of course, as our Creator, Jesus knows all the good things He designed us to be; He knows how to fix us and get on the path leading to our ultimate wholeness.
<<For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.>>
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.
17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.
19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20 For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.
Healing Past Hurts
Each of us became Christians at the point in time in our life where we first surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord. Then and there, all of our sins were forgiven and "removed" from us forever, extending back in time to the day we were born, and also forward in time to the hour of our death. Most of us carry deeply buried fears, guilt, and shame with us for a long time after our conversion. We may not feel forgiven and the people we'd like to go apologize to, or make things right with, may be long gone. A big task remains for us to do, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:1213)
Some of our sins may have taken place before we were converted. Other sins we shamefully fell into after conversion. Here is where knowing that I am in Christ has been a big help to me. Jesus was present every time I sinned; part of the whole issue of my sin was that I excluded Jesus from the situation on each occasion. ("Whatever is not of faith is sin." Rom. 14:23 ) Now that I am in Christ, Jesus and I relate to one another "in the Spirit." I can invite Him to revisit those past guilty experiences I haven't been able to let go of. I can face up to the pain I caused Jesus (and others) and allow Him to do damage control. All sin is forgivable of course, but all sin leaves consequences. (See "The Scars of Sin" http://ldolphin.org/scars.html). But in my experience, repentance includes the review of my guilt-ridden past. This is a powerful redemptive assignment for us, but our indwelling compassionate Mediator and Healer, Jesus, changes everything. The shame and guilt will inevitably drop a huge amount. Seeing first hand the harm we caused Jesus, ourselves and others, by reviewing these troublesome memories in direct conversation with Jesus, makes the cleansing of sin real and vivid -- no longer something merely hypothetical or theoretical. "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5)
One Day in the Life of Jesus: "Sufficient Unto the Day is the Evil Thereof..."
I often think of one day in the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. The demands on His time and energy were often severe. He was not able to heal everyone who called out to Him. He had many important priorities to accomplish in his three-year ministry, including training his disciples to carry his work forward after He had left them for the last time--(they were often dense and slow to learn). Jesus had to arrive in Jerusalem to be put to death at the exact time prescribed by the prophet Daniel 500+ years earlier. To stay in tune with the Father all day long and to fight every temptation thrown at Him by the Evil One required that He pay attention to everything going on around Him. The weather in Israel ranges from rain and even snow in winter and baking hot days in summer. There were no motels to rest up in, no showers and few hot meals. He had no van for moving His entourage around the land of Israel. It was all on foot. Several times a year He went to Jerusalem.
Time and time again I have stopped to realize Jesus asks me to live the same way He lived--by total dependence on Another. We each live life one day at a time. So far I have lived in luxury, but many of my fellow Christians don't, and probably never will. Still, we can let tomorrow take care of itself,
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:24-34)
"...and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." (Colossians 2:10)
From the moment we believe till the time we die, Jesus contributes to our inner life, supplying whatever is needed and lacking so that we are enabled to live holy (whole) lives every day. Sin retards our emotional development and makes us lopsided in our relationships with others. Perhaps we are ill at ease, apprehensive or self-conscious around certain people. Can our indwelling Friend, Jesus make a difference? Try it and see.
Changing the Impossible
Before Christ, we were all self-centered, proud and resistant to paying even slight attention to the decrees of God. Here is where being "in Christ" has been especially helpful to me. We can talk to Jesus honestly, for example in admitting that we like things the way they are, and we don't want to change. It is OK for us to admit that what we want in life is contrary to the requirements for living in harmony with our Creator as set forth, for instance, in the Law of Moses. Be honest with God about your unwillingness to changed, to be healed or to change. But, still, give Jesus as much permission as you can to change you anyway. "Make me willing to be made willing," is an effectual prayer. He will! People who claim to be Christians but who persist in a sinful life style will find the doors to heaven are shut when it's time to die. On certain basic matters of life-style not-changing how we live will exclude us from a future in heaven with God and God's people. Half a dozen times the time New Testament speaks plainly on the fact that being a Christ requires a series of radical changes in how we live,
"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." (Ephesians 5:3-6)
Regardless of how deep seated our root sinful desires may be, our indwelling Lord and Healer, Jesus will always make it possible for us live in alignment with the wholeness (holiness) specified by the Law. Many are the warnings in the Bible addressed to people who think they are Christians but who find out too late that they weren't.
"For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing." (1 Thessalonians 4:7-12)
The New Covenant
Surprisingly, many professing Christians today set out to live the Christian life by giving their time and energy to good works, and better behavior -- but in the energy of the flesh, which is our old natural life inherited from Adam. Trying harder, self-improvement programs, and giving our best efforts do not count with God! In short we can not live the Christian life by our natural energy resources. Our natural life inherited from Adam is called "the flesh" in the New Testament (http://raystedman.org/leadership/newcovstewart.html).
Jesus came to earth not to show us what God is like, but to show us what man in relationship to God is like. What God asks of us is that we give our indwelling Lord Jesus permission to quietly take up residence and live His life through us. Surprisingly this does not nullify our uniqueness, our personality and our giftedness, but instead unlocks who we really are as unique creations of God. We can't be the persons God made us to be, and we can not go to heaven if our flesh shoves Jesus aside, marginalizing Him. It comes as a wonderful surprise to most of us when we first experience that real life of Christ living our lives for us, giving us more of our real selves then we ever had before.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Galatians 2:20-21)
The New Covenant works because we are changed from the inside by Jesus, as we grant Him permission to remodel us and rebuild us from the ground floor up:
"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:17-23).
Unlike the Jews in the Old Testament (whose access to the place of deepest intimacy with God, the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, was only possible indirectly through faulty mediators), those of us who yield the control and the operation of our lives to Jesus may come freely into that innermost presence of God the Father, into the Holy of Holies of God's temple in heaven.
"He who has been me has seen the Father." (John 15:9)
I believe that one of the most serious, chronic problems in our lives today is the shortage of fathers--godly fathers. Marriage between one man and one woman was the standard built into the universe during creation week. Families are the necessary for building a balanced community and preserving the structure of family which dates back to creation. Children growing up need good role models in a father, a mother and the example of godly parents protecting, molding and shaping their children into godly offspring. (see "God our Father," http://ldolphin.org/Father.html).
But It is Not an Easy Journey
Each of us Christians becomes comfortable with Jesus a little at a time. I am amazed at how long it too me to believe Jesus could run my entire life better than I could. That human beings should be so vain and so distrustful of that magnificent Intelligence who created us, is just one more confirmation of how badly turned up side down and inside out original sin has made us. We can begin to love Jesus as soon as we start trusting Him. But it makes an order of magnitude difference to trust Him fully, surrendering all we know of ourselves to Him, unconditionally.
What is wrong with us as sinners can't be fixed with a simple tune-up, we are damaged beyond repair. So is the entire universe (the "old creation"). God fixes us by killing us -- not alone but in partnership with Jesus on a cross. We are asked to consent to this, (it sounds like madness the first time we hear it of course; see "How God Saves Us," http://ldolphin.org/howsaved.html). God saves us without destroying us and considering the fact that we have to be die in order to be made all new, the pain is surely far less than we imagine. As we die, our old natural life, known as "the flesh" inherited from Adam begins to go away and is replaced by resurrection life from Jesus transmitted directly into our hearts, minds and souls. Soon we are able to trust Jesus more fully. We find we are then living in the "promised land" of the Spirit-filled life.
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:7-11)
Symbolically, crossing the Red Sea illustrates our redemption out of Egypt (the world) and being baptized into Christ--which is identification with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection. Before us lies the wilderness of living in the energy of the flesh until we agree to cross the Jordon River (dying to self) and thereby entering the Spirit-Filled life. (See "The Saving Life of Christ", by Major Ian Thomas).
Paul says in Romans that "there is none righteousness, no not one." (3:10). He is talking about us--every member of our race. In analyzing the long-standing alienation of the nation of Israel from their God, the Apostle gives the following summary,
"For I bear them [Israel] witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, "The man who does those things shall live by them." But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’" (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or," ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." (Romans 10:2-13)
The only righteous human being known to us in all of history is Jesus. If we allow Jesus to live and through us, the righteousness of Jesus is imputed, or credited to our account. If we fail to call on Jesus for His provision for us, it follows that the default is that we are self-righteousness. No matter how good we appear to be, or how carefully crafted our behavior is, we are not living in accord with God's standards for conduct that is harmonious before Him. Ray Stedman says, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes,
Be not righteous overmuch, and do not make yourself overwise; why should you destroy yourself? Be not wicked overmuch, neither be a fool; why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand; for he who fears God shall come forth from them all. Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers that are in a city. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-19 RSV)
That must be the favorite Scripture of many, because it seems to advocate moderation in both good and evil. The Searcher seems to be saying, "Do not be too righteous, and do not be too wicked either, but a little of both does not hurt." We have all heard somebody say. "Religion is all right in its place, but don't let it interfere with your pleasure." Moderation in all things, in other words.
In trying to understand this, however, we must notice very carefully what the Searcher is saying. The second verb of Verse 16, "Do not make yourself overwise," is the key to understanding the verse. In grammar this is called a reflexive verb; that is why the word yourself is included there. What the Searcher is really saying is, "Do not be wise to yourself; do not be wise in your own eyes, in regard to your righteousness."
This is a warning against self-righteousness, and properly so. Self-righteousness is the attitude of people who regard themselves as righteous because of the things they do not do. That is, in my judgment, the curse of the church today. The New Testament calls this Pharisaism; the Searcher rightly labels it wickedness. In our studies in the book of Job we learned that wickedness is expressed not only by murder, thievery and sexual misconduct, but also by bigotry, racism, pompousness, cold disdain; by critical, judgmental attitudes, by harsh, sarcastic words, by vengeful and vindictive actions. The evangelical prig, male or female, is a wicked person! (http://www.raystedman.org/eccles/3811.html)
In his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller describes how many self-righteous people end up seeking refuge in the church or in the supposed safety of going into the ministry as a mere profession.
There are some wonderful examples in the gospels showing how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day. He sometimes turned up the intensity of his rhetoric to white hot when speaking to them. But this was because He loved them. The result was that a good number of them actually did turn and were saved.
How does a genuine Christian deal with the arrogant and self-righteous, who insist they are Christians in good standing when it seems as if they are not? First we must be very sure that we have arrived at our conclusions with the help of our indwelling Teacher, Jesus. Do other humble Christians share the same opinion as we do? Sometimes half of a congregation can plainly see that the pastor standing before them has no clothes on.
We never arrive at the point where we know ourselves and are beyond sin. The closer we walk in the Light and the more intimate our relationship with Jesus is, the more our own sins will become glaringly evident. Conversely if we have a high opinion of ourselves when we judge ourselves to be better than a brother we are already in trouble.
"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." And He spoke a parable to them: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye." (Luke 6:37-42)
Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord...
Jesus asks some very difficult things of us. We grow up living in a world populated by mostly experienced anarchists who don't care too much who is right or wrong as long as they win. Never mind that God has all the facts on both sides and infinite wisdom, we all tend to want to get things fixed here and now, that is, fixed in our favor.
If we are planning on living with Jesus forever, the sooner we yield to His way of doing things the better.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:19-21)
In giving the above few short examples I hope my readers will see that being "in Christ" is immensely practical, the way of living God intends for us. We must not forget that Jesus is also living in our fellow Christians (of all denominations). We must not treat Jesus as merely our best Friend. He is that, but He is also our Lord, the ruler of all those who know Him and those who don't. He is the Judge of all and the heir of all things. He will have the Final Word.
Afraid, Lonely, Depressed
Jesus said to His own, "I will never ever fail you nor forsake you." The Apostle John reminds us, "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." (1 John 4:17-18)
The 23rd Psalm has never lost it's power to life my spirits
My list of what it means to be "in Christ" goes on and on. I have picked a handful of topics where my own relationship with the Lord Jesus has been especially meaningful.
Paul gives us a firm but living reminder of this, which he adds to his closing encouraging remarks on 2 Corinthians,
"Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified." (2 Cor. 13:5-3)
Catch up with the Times: Hal Lindsey this week called attention to the acronym TEOTWAWKI which stands for "The End of the World as We Know it." If you don't believe that angst about the current state of the world is rampant and that grave uncertainties possess all manner of men in the world today, (not merely a few Christians) type key words such as "The End of the World" into a google.com search window and you'll be amazed.
Books: "Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament," by Richard M. Davidson and "Sacred Sex," by Tim Alan Gardner are great studies on how marriage (one man, one woman) were an integral part of the creation of the universe and God's intent for all of mankind. Secular society keeps barraging us with crazy notions that sex is for everyone, anytime, anywhere, but apparently not necessarily for marriage. These two books are very straightforward commentaries on how and why God created marriage and the family as absolutely normative patterns for marriage and the family in every generation.
My Finances continue to be very tight right now. [Quite a few good Christian friends of mine are out of work now, so apparently I am in good company]. I am very grateful for contributions sent to me directly via my PayPal account, or by check mailed to Peninsula Bible Church, 3505 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94306. (Please indicate your contribution is for my account). Thank you very much.
Contact Me. My disorganized collection of articles is found on this page: http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml. Previous newsletters are here: http://ldolphin.org/news/. To ask a question to our email team at the Paraclete Forum, write mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. As much as I'm able I answer all my email, mailto:email@example.com.
August 29, 2009