What I Believe . . . Christ

I believe that Jesus is God incarnate, that he has always been God and always will be God. I believe that as the second member of the Trinity, that Jesus is ontologically equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I also believe that in his incarnation Jesus became functionally submissive to the Father. I believe that Jesus is the creator of this universe as well as its sustaining force (Col. 2:16-17).

I believe that during his incarnation Jesus recognized his divinity, although I am uncertain just when he fully recognized that. During his visit to the temple at twelve years old he surely recognized some part of who he was (Luke 2:49), and by the time of his baptism he had become fully aware that he was God in the flesh (Luke 3:22). Jesus disciples seemed not to fully appreciate who he was until after his resurrection (John 20:28) and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:36).

I believe that Jesus was as fully human as any other person (Heb. 2:17). Jesus had the same physical limitations as any human, being subject to hunger (Matt. 4:2) and thirst (John 19:28), to growing weary (John 4:6), and subject to human emotions (John 11:35). Jesus had the same desires and temptations as any other man, yet he was without sin (Heb. 4:15). Jesus also went through all of the same developmental stages that a human goes through, from conception to birth, childhood development, and adulthood.

I believe that Jesus was fully and completely human and God at the same time. I do not understand how this was possible, or just how his two natures functioned together, but do accept that it is possible for the infinite God to join himself to a finite human nature. In doing so, I believe that Jesus, for the length of his stay on earth, limited himself to what a human could know and do.

I believe that the Scriptures use many different models to describe Jesus’ work while here. Jesus death was a ransom payment (Mark 10:45). It was a propitiation (1 John 2:2), making God favorably inclined toward us. His death was the means of enacting reconciliation between God and humanity (Rom. 5:11). And he was an atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:25), paying the penalty for our sin. I believe all of these models give us a glimpse into the work of Christ, but none of them are complete in themselves. I believe there is mystery in the atoning work of Christ that is beyond our understanding.

I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was somehow substitutionary, that he died in my place. Jesus took the place of the goats of the Day of Atonement; one offered as atonement for sin, and the other bearing my sin into the wilderness (Lev. 16:7-10; Heb. 9:23-28). Jesus is also pictured as the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), whose blood turns away the wrath of God. I believe that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross dealt not just with my sin nature, but also with my actual sin, both past and future.

I believe that Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is available to all who respond to him in faith (Rom. 3:22). I do not believe that it is only applicable to a select few that God has chosen and who have no choice but to respond. Nor do I believe that it is universally applied to everyone throughout history. But all those who put their faith in his blood (Rom. 3:25) will be covered by his atoning work.

Rebuilt from the Ground Up! – Galatians 2:20

In an earlier life I was a computer programmer.  And I remember well one web site that a group of us put together.  The customer was very demanding, the requirements changed frequently and the deadlines were short.  And as a result the code behind the web site was hurriedly thrown together, patched, tweaked and modified until it was becoming a nightmare to work with.  While we managed to produce the site the customer wanted, it was pretty ugly behind the curtain, and hard to change.

Once the site was launched and the pressure was off, we were faced with a decision.  We could leave the code the way it was and struggle to make changes to it when needed.  Or we could throw out the old code and rewrite it from scratch now that we had a complete set of requirements from the customer, as well as the needed time.  Fortunately we opted for the second.  Fortunate because that site changed a lot over the next few years, and the clean code base made that much easier.  Without that, it would likely have been impossible to keep updating the site.

I find this process to be very similar to the approach many take when coming to Christ.  We have been busy with building our own lives, and are comfortable with where we are, even though our lives may be a mess with all the pieces cobbled together.  And when Christ comes we are tempted just to add in a few new features (like periodic Bible reading, occasional prayer, worship attendance, and maybe putting money in the offering plate if I have any extra) into the old existing code base.  And the result is not very satisfying.

The alternative is what Paul describes in the passage below, throwing out the old me, and allowing the master programmer to rebuild me into something that would be useful to him.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

Galatians 2:20 NIV

Crucified with Christ and no longer alive.  This sounds pretty drastic.  But it is what is needed if I am going to experience the life God has prepared for me.  Trying to hold on to my life with just a few upgrades just will not cut it.  Throw it all out and start over again.

Where once Paul was at the center of his life, now Christ occupies that position.  Talk about an upgrade.

Jesus, Lord and Christ – Acts 2:36

Who is Jesus?  If you were to ask a sampling of your non-church friends this question you would get a variety of answers, ranging from myth, to good teacher, to God.  But more important, who is he to you?  When Jesus asks his disciples this question, Peter quickly responds with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Peter later reaffirms this declaration at Pentecost, when the church explodes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  During his inaugural sermon Peter declares:

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” – Acts 2:36 NIV

The people of Jerusalem had rejected Jesus and had seen him crucified.  They had turned their backs on him and his claims over their lives.  But Peter boldly declares to them that God had taken the one they had crucified and made him both Lord and Messiah, or Christ.  Regardless the peoples response to Jesus, he was God’s anointed one, his chosen one, the one that God had promised for so long.  And, in spite of their rejection, he was lord, the one that God had put into a place of authority over them.

I do believe that this verse forms the foundation of what we see take place in the book of Acts, as the apostles accept Jesus as God’s anointed, and their Lord, and in doing so are used to transform the Roman world.  That transformation did not happen overnight, but it did begin there, and quickly spread out to the rest of the known world.

Today, I call Jesus Lord.  But is he?  When I am honest with myself, I must admit that too often that is just lip service, and I am still in control.  I follow and obey when it is convenient, and ignore his claims when they are inconvenient.  What would my world be like if only I would let go of self and truly embrace Jesus as Lord?  Someday I hope to be brave enough to find out.

Maintaining a Proper Focus – Colossians 3:1-4

At the end of the second chapter of Colossians, Paul talks about the futility of being able to control our passions with law or rules.  No matter how comprehensive the rule set, they do not change a person, and have minimal value in restraining our sensual natures.  Fortunately he does go on from there to share with us how we can be transformed: and it’s a matter of focus.

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4 NIV

In this passage Paul tells us two very important things.  The first deals with our position: we have died and then been raised with Christ and are now hidden with Christ in God.  While I physically continue to live on this earth, and am subject to all of its pleasures, temptations and struggles, there is another part of me.  That part is tightly connected to Christ, and where he is, I am also.  Christ is described as seated at the right hand of God.  And my life is hidden with Christ in God.  While my flesh is still here, my spirit is already with God in heaven.

The second thing Paul has to tell us in this passage is possible because of the first, my position in Christ.  Paul tells me that, because I am raised and seated with Christ, I need to set my heart and mind on things above, where Christ is, and where I am.  Rather than thinking about how to get ahead in this world and valuing the things of this life, I should be thinking about life in the kingdom and valuing the things of God.

And if I will do that, focusing my heart and mind on things above, the appeal of the things in this life will be diminished.  I will have no need of the legalistic rule list to tell me what I should or should not do.  Instead I will begin to naturally live in a way that honors God, loving him as well as those around me.  Changing my focus from this temporary world to the real one, the world that is eternal and is my real home, will make a dramatic difference in who I am and in how I live.

All In the Family – Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9

In Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9, Paul deals with some specific family type relationships.  Some of these are very challenging to 21st century westerners and are often the most controversial passages in Ephesians.  Wives submitting to their husbands as well as instructions for slaves and their masters just don’t seem to sit well with a lot of people.  But before sharing some thoughts on these passages, it might be useful to examine another issue first.

Does the Bible define an ‘ideal’ family relationship?  Or does it provide guidance for dealing with the family situation in the day that it was written in?  While there may be some element of truth to the first possibility, I believe the second is more realistic.  When Paul gives instructions to families in Ephesians, I believe he is recognizing the current socially accepted family life and is providing guidance to Christians who find themselves in any of those family relationships.  And if that is the case, then as the socially accepted family life changes over time, we may need to be a bit more careful how we apply the guidance provided.

So what was the family like in the 1st century Roman world?  While it consisted of a married man and woman along with their children, the resemblance to modern families in the western world ends there.  This was a very male dominated society where women and children are little more than property.  Marriages were most commonly arranged by the parents, for reasons other than love.  The oldest living male in an extended family had overall control, even over grown sons with families of their own.  Slavery was an accepted part of society and slaves were often considered part of the extended family.

To the believers in this type of family Paul gave the following directions:

  • Wives, submit to your husbands.
  • Husbands (man), love your wives like you do yourself.
  • Children, obey your parents.
  • Fathers (man), train your children in the Lord.
  • Slaves, respect and serve your masters wholeheartedly.
  • Masters (man), respect your slaves.

Notice here that wives, children and slaves and told only to do what they are already expected to do; submit, obey and serve.  But for all three they are to do it as if their husband, father or master was Christ himself.  Treat that one who is authority over you in the same way you would if Jesus was the one in that place.

It is when Paul turns to the man that things get dramatically turned around.  Rather than treat the other three groups in the family as property, we are to love as ourselves, train rather than frustrate, and treat with respect.  This is a pretty radical set of directions that, if followed, would work to transform the family life.

The onus of this passage is really on the man, the head of the family.  He was the dominate member of the family, and only as he changed could the family really become something different.  The others are encouraged to cooperate with him and make his task easier.

So how does this relate to family life today?  For most of us slavery is considered as barbarian with no place in our society.  And, while the western world still has some element of male dominance, it is no longer anything like it was in the first century.  So can we ignore the admonitions that seem at odds to our families today?  Or is it possible that there is something that we can still learn from them?

In particular, what about the direction for a wife to submit to her husband; something many men dream about and their wives laugh about?  Take a look at 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This is a general guideline for relations between believers and would seem to include telling husbands to submit to their wives as much as wives to their husbands.  In submitting to each other as believers, as members of the body of Christ, we are putting each other’s interests ahead of our own; something that is challenging, but needful if we are to live in community as a body.  How much more important in the context of a marriage that the two put each other’s interests above their own?

In Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus responds to a request for prominence by two of his disciples with some direction concerning kingdom greatness: “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”  To live life as a disciple of Jesus, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, is to live as a servant.  Even Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve.”  Do you think it might be then that believing husbands might also reasonably be expected to serve their believing wives?

And that is really the instruction that Paul gives to us, to love our wives as Christ loved the church, and as we love our own bodies.  What a radical thought for a first century man; rather than be lord of his home, he is to love and care for his wife, as well as the other members of his family.  While our wives may be uncomfortable with this passage today, I would bet it was the men who were when Paul wrote it.  Regardless the social mores of your day and place, choose to submit to and serve each other within your marriage.  Work together for each other’s enrichment and for the strengthening of your marriage.

Before leaving this section on marriage, I believe it is worth noting that Paul’s instruction to the wife to submit is not the same thing as instruction to the husband to force submission.  Those who would seek to use this passage as an excuse to subjugate their wives, or women in general, are seriously misusing this passage.

In regards to slavery, are not the guidelines Paul gives useful in the employee/employer relationship?  As an employee, should I not try to be pleasing to my boss, not just when he is watching, but all the time; serving him as though I were serving God?  And as a manager, should I not treat my employees with respect and help them to be successful?

I believe it is OK, and actually preferably, if our home life does not model the first century home life that Paul is addressing.  But the direction he gives to those homes still has application to us today.  Treat each other with love and respect and seek the advancement of your family, even if it costs you personally.

 

Imitators of God – Ephesians 5:1-6

The fifth chapter of Ephesians starts off with an interesting directive: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children“.  If you are like me, your initial response to this might be something along the line of “Huh!  How could I possibly imitate the creator of this universe and all that’s in it?  I have a hard enough time managing my own life without attempting to manage a universe.”  But fortunately that’s not really what Paul meant, and he goes on to give us better instruction in the process of being a God imitator.

Live a life of love

The first clue in how to imitate God comes in verse 2; live a life of sacrificial Christ-like love.  If we are to imitate God, then our best example to follow is that of Jesus, who was God incarnate.  God loved me and gave himself for me.  If I am going to imitate him then I need to love those around me and be willing to give myself for them.

Sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, and greed are out.  And not only are these things to be avoided, we should not even give people a cause to suspect them in us.  They are improper for God’s holy people.  Paul goes so far as to warn us that if these things characterize our life, then we have no place in the kingdom of God.  We cannot be like God and be immoral, impure or greedy.  And note the connection Paul established between greed and idolatry.  Greed, the desire for more and more, is a form of idol worship; you are worshiping the god of materialism.

In verses 4 & 6 Paul again returns to our speech.  He has already told us that only things that are helpful to others should come out of our mouth.  And now he expands unwholesome talk (4:29) to include obscenity, foolish talking and coarse joking.  My mouth oftentimes seems to have a mind of its own, and I really need to guard against letting it run unattended.  Rather than speech that is hurtful or vulgar, focus on helpful and thanksgiving.  Paul also warns us against those who would come with deceitful and empty words.  Don’t be taken in by those would try to lead us astray (4:14).

Live as children of light

We used to live in darkness, separated from the light of Christ.  But that is our past and we should no longer live like that.  Instead we should shine the light of Christ into the darkness and expose those actions for what they really are.  Where the light shines, there is no place for the darkness.

Now we are light, children of light, and should live accordingly.  Imitate God, find out what pleases him, and do that.  If it is truly good, righteous, or true, then we can embrace it and know that it pleases God.  In any situation, we should be able to do what is right, what is good, hold to what is true.  If I am indeed a child of the light, then it will be clear to me what is right, good and true.  I should not be deceived about that by those who would draw me away from God to follow their own agenda.

Live with wisdom

While some will claim that our technological and societal advances are ushering in a new age of enlightenment and growth for humanity, Paul paints an entirely different picture; the days are evil.  Much of the so called advancements that we have made have come at the cost of leaving behind the supposedly old and outdated images of God that have tied us down for so long; a return to darkness.

Be wise and make the most of every opportunity.  Look for ways to allow the light of Christ to shine into the dark world around us.  Do not foolishly follow the ways of the world in its wisdom.  Rather know and understand the will of God and choose to follow it instead.

Be filled with the Spirit of God, and allow the Spirit to speak out through you.  Let’s sing together in praise of God, and give thanks to him, regardless what is going on around us.

How does one imitate God?  By living a life of love, by living as a child of the light, and by living with wisdom.

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