Monday, November 4, 2013

In Christ

There's a period of time between when we come to a "head" knowledge of God and a "heart" knowledge.  The head knowledge is when we "get it," when we actually figure out that it's all true, that there is a God and that the Bible's representation of him is true.  I came to this head knowledge through the works of C.S. Lewis, and I devoured everything I could find about theology and about living a Christian life.  But I didn't have the heart knowledge.  To get this heart knowledge, God himself actually picks you up from the place you are, and he places you in a new place, a place where you begin to grow into a child of God.  This place is "in Christ."

I want to define two terms.  The first is "in Christ."  This is an actual place where God puts Christians.  Many professing Christians still belong to the "head knowledge" category, but being in Christ is something only God does, and it is defined Biblically as being "elected."  The elect are the group of professing Christians who are being supernaturally transformed into the image of Christ.  Hence, this is why they are in Christ.

Another word we hear is "saint."  What is a saint?  Is a saint a special, noteworthy Christian who performs miracles on earth after death, and so is written into a pantheon of saints in some book in a palace?  No, according to Paul, the elect are saints.  He wrote to the saints in Ephesus.  These aren't the leaders but the whole body of elect, of people who God has picked up and placed in Christ.

What does a saint look like?  We usually call each other saints under two circumstances.  One is derogatory.  When we rebuke someone, they may respond, "oh, well, you're such a SAINT," being ironic.  Essentially it's like calling someone a hypocrite. The other is when we witness someone persevering through horrible trials, someone who is able to withstand the onslaught of hostile words or actions.  We watch them go through hell on earth and the term is used during the ordeal, "you are SUCH a saint."  The implication is that the speaker would NEVER be able to hold out the way the saint is holding out.  "I'm astonished that you are able to put up with that."  This way saint is used is closer to what a saint looks like.

When I was in my period of head knowledge, in between understanding the Christian worldview and being put "in Christ," I had tried to evangelize the unbelieving people in my workplace.  As being born in America, living through the prosperous 80s decade, and being steeped in individualism, I interpreted the scriptures that talked about living the Christian life for all to see in a distinctly American way.  To hear that my new Christian life will actually draw unbelievers toward me and compel them to investigate my life, I took that to mean that I needed to look PROSPEROUS.  I needed to demonstrate that my life was BETTER than it had been, since I became a Christian.  So, that meant that I needed to be the best worker, the one that brought in the most clients, the one that solved all the problems, the one that never got sick or missed a day of work, the one that had the shining family, that one that had the happiest marriage, the one who had it ALL TOGETHER.

How did this work in practice?  I wasn't the best worker.  When there was no work to be had, I goofed off with the rest of them.  I didn't bring in the most clients.  Convincing people to give you a chance is hard stuff.  I'm living that now, trying to grow a church.  I didn't have the complete knowledge necessary to solve the company's problems or to make each individual project work smoothly.  I got sick, my family got sick.  I missed days of work due to sickness or family emergencies.  Sometimes I'd get into arguments with friends and family, and then I'd try to PRETEND that nothing was wrong. What I was broadcasting to the unbelievers in my office that there was NO change in my life, and worse, it was obvious that I was trying to cover it up and be deceitful in regards to my level of prosperity.  I was pushing people AWAY from Jesus.

What is the change then?  What is it that people are supposed to notice about you?  How are you supposed to be different now that you are a Christian?  Because we're Americans we expect God to weave a miracle about us, so that people will say, "wow," but the truth is that the miracle God provides is unexpected.  God doesn't fix our circumstances or solve our problems; God changes our hearts so that we can persevere through our problems.  We have the same problems as the ungodly, but all the ungodly have in response is despair.  We have hope in Jesus Christ.

Look at this passage from Luke:

Luke 6:20-31
6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

6:27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

We have hope, because no matter what happens to us in this world, we have inherited the next, simply by being "in Christ."  We can be poor, we can be hungry, we can be sad, we can be hated, excluded, reviled and defamed.  None of that matters, because by being in Christ, all of that will be undone in the next world.  Our knowledge of the truth of that promise from our Lord provides a hope that shines through all of the hardships, all of the trials and tribulations we face.  People SEE that.  People see how we react and that makes them curious.  God doesn't change our circumstances, he changes how we RESPOND to our circumstances.  People see THAT, and that is what makes them unsettled and intrigued about us.

In fact, if things are going our way, we should be worried.  Why?  Because it is when we are at our lowest that God is working in our lives the most.  It is at rock bottom where God is really touching our lives.  This is a place--a place of trial and tribulation--that we should be embracing, even though we don't want to, because it goes up against our American sensibilities.  See the list of actions Jesus demands we take in the passage above.

Love your enemies, 
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, 
pray for those who abuse you.

We steel ourselves up and say to God, "ok, I get it.  If ever I have an enemy, I will try to love him.  If ever someone hates me, I will try to do good to them.  If I am ever cursed, I will bless in response.  If ever I'm abused, I will try to pray for the abuser."  The change God has done in us involves much more than trying, it even involves more than doing.  If ever I have an enemy?  How about, "LORD, SEND ME AN ENEMY SO THAT I WILL LOVE HIM."  Lord, make me hated, so that I can do good in return.  Lord, make someone curse me so that I can bless him.  Can we pray those?  Our brains won't let us.  How about, "Lord, send me an ABUSER so that I will pray for him."  Only God can bring those prayers out of us.  We can only pray such things if we are IN CHRIST.

It is when we feel God the LEAST, then he is working the MOST in our lives.  Have you ever felt that God was far away and that things were empty in your life?  Guess what.  That's when God is building you up.  We don't like this sort of gospel; it's an unsettling gospel; but it is the true gospel.  When God seems furthest away, that is when he is nearest.

Jesus died on the cross, and at one point, when all the sins of the world were being heaped upon him, he lifted his head and cried out, "Lord, why have you forsaken me?"  For the first time ever, our sins had separated the Son from the Father, and Jesus could no longer feel the Father's presence.  Was the Father really gone?  No, that was when he was working the hardest.  That was when the salvation of the world was taking place.

Pray that God will pick you up from where you are and place you in Christ.  Pray that he will bring you low, so that he will sanctify you.  Pray that you will be poor, hungry, grieved, hated, excluded, reviled and defamed.  Those are the qualities of the saints.  Consider those qualities joy.  The joyous saints are the ones who draw the attention of the ungodly world.  The joyous saints are the ones who inherit the kingdom of God.