Monday, November 16, 2009

More on the essence of life in Christ

In a sense, it would seem that this post is a follow up to my last post, Love and Grace, the foundation and essence of Life. But in actuality, all of what is below was my response to a friend's comments on a Facebook link that I had posted.  My response became longer than usual so I decided to post it as a blog post as well.

I used to see grace as merely the means by which I'm forgiven when I sin, and as God's help to me to help me overcome sin. In other words, the Christian life was, in essence, all about “not sinning,” or at least about “living right.” It was about right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. I “especially” relied upon grace when I saw that I had fallen short of His standards.

But I've come to see grace as so much deeper than that. Whereas the law-based life that the Jews were under was about living up to God's standards, the Christian life is no longer about that. Rather, the Christian life is about the fact that while all of mankind fell short, Christ came to redeem and restore, and the believer stands complete in Him in this regenerated life. I've come to see grace as the very essence of the Christian life. The foundation of the Christian life is not about avoiding evil and doing good. Those things are the fruit of growing in grace, but not the essence of the Christian life. The very essence and foundation of the Christian life is a union with God that has absolutely nothing to do with our behavior, good or evil. It's a union in which we, by grace alone, have become a new creation – being able to freely partake in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). We are fully accepted (Eph 1:6), fully complete in Him (Col 2:10), fully perfected in God (Heb 10:14) because of this gift of life and the union that we have with Him. We have died and we no longer live, but our life is now Christ-in-us (Gal 2:19-20).

I'm bringing it all up for a reason, to get to what I'm wanting to say here. Our identity – our spiritual identification with God – our union with Him – His life in us – is the essence of our life and is the foundation of our life. The essence of our life is not rules and commands, or principles and admonitions. The essence and foundation of our life is not “not sinning” and it's not “right living.” It's not trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong so that we know how to live. The foundation of the Christian life is not morality. ANY religion can set forth rules of morality, and most of them do!

I say all of this to lay the foundation of what I believe life in Christ is about. Again, it's union. It's Christ-in-me. It's sonship. It's grace and agape-love. All of this is what life in Christ is. It's the gift of righteousness and holiness. And it's what we have and experience freely, by grace alone. Our behavior didn't earn any of this and our behavior doesn't take away from any of this.

And so that is the foundation and essence of life in Christ. From this essence comes fruit. From this essence comes action, and not passivity. From this union comes a response to God's life in us. And this fruit, these works, this response – is all actually His working that He Himself does in and through us! We are able to respond to Him because He Himself is at work in and through us.

And so... I'm not at all saying that we ignore the various New Covenant principles. What I'm saying is that we live by the very life of Christ in us. We don't live “by the Bible.” We live by the actual life of Jesus Christ who indwells us. It may very well be that Christ-in-us directs us individually or corporately to various biblical passages to guide us in our union with Him. I love when He does that! I love when the written word comes alive like that. And yet so many more times God speaks to us and guides us in ways that have nothing to do with Bible verses! In general, I don't see the Bible as a general “guidebook” or as “basic instructions before leaving earth.”

My main point here is that Christ Himself – the living Person inside of us – is our life and is our 'compass' and is our navigator. He Himself will never lead us down the wrong path. And indeed, He has created us as a body that is also a union – with Him and with one another. I don't believe that the purpose of Christians meeting together regularly is so they can find out all the stuff to “do” and “not do.” I think the purpose is to build one another up in Jesus Christ Himself – the Person – and to encourage one another in Him. In doing so, we can most certainly “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” And it's a result of having our hearts established in grace (Heb 13:9), not a result of teaching 6-point “how to live the Christian life” sermons each week.

And so, what about a woman who is thinking about having an abortion, or a man who is having an affair? It's very easy to tell them the “rules.” It's very easy to say “don't do that” or “stop doing that.” There may on rare occasions be a place for that. There may be that rare occasion in which those words hit them in such a way that they're reminded of who they really are. But virtually 100% of the time there are underlying, foundational issues that need to be addressed, and I believe it's all rooted in our true identity in Christ, not in “right vs. wrong.” And all of this takes time! And it takes relationship. It takes a no-condemnation approach. Among closely bonded friends, there may indeed be a place for speaking stronger words, as Paul did in a few circumstances. And again, in general there may be a place for sharing principles with one another. But overall, I don't believe our daily lives in Christ are about that at all.

As for the issue of feeling guilt – I don't believe that that's God's way of showing us that we're heading in the wrong direction. Christ came to take the guilt of our sin away from us. Apart from Him, we were guilty. But because of Him, our guilt and shame has been taken away completely. The 'gut' reaction of many people is, “won't that just cause people to go out and sin, if they know they won't have to feel guilt for it?” To the contrary, if a person is truly built up in the unconditional love and grace of God, they're not going to want to keep on sinning, they're going to have a built-in desire for righteousness, since that's their true identity.

If the focus continues to be on guilt and sin, it's hard for our minds to be renewed daily in the truth of our new, true identity of holiness and righteousness. And here's the point I'd really like to make in all this. God Himself is not depending upon us feeling guilty in order to get us to live according to our righteous nature. Rather, He's depending upon His very own life that is at work in us! In my personal experience and in my understanding of New Covenant life according to the scriptures, feelings of guilt and shame have never been a good catalyst for righteous living. But as I'm built up in my solid and true identification and union with God Himself, who is love and grace Personified, then I'm much more able to live from that union, which again, will never lead anyone down the wrong road.


  1. By the way, I don't recall seeing your pic before. Did you just put that up? (Or have I just been blind?). Either way, it's good to put a face with the name. :)

  2. It's been up for a few weeks, but I sometimes am signed in with a pic-less account or just my name. :)

  3. Great post, Joel!

    “I don't believe that the purpose of Christians meeting together regularly is so they can find out all the stuff to “do” and “not do.” I think the purpose is to build one another up in Jesus Christ Himself – the Person – and to encourage one another in Him. In doing so, we can most certainly “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

    This comment really stood out. Also, I don’t believe the purpose of gathering together is for corporate worship as I’ve heard it said. Corporate worship is not a NT requirement. However, encouraging one another is a very important part of our lives together as believers.

    This journey is a very difficult one when we feel like we’re alone so the purpose of our gathering together should always be for mutual encouragement. If we’re not doing that, then it’s not a real gathering in the New Testament sense as described in the Bible.

  4. Aida, I agree with you... The purpose of gathering together is not for corporate worship. So much of today's church is built upon that (aside from the other main thing - the sermon - and a bunch of other stuff that's gotten thrown in over the years). The one thing for sure that we all need is ongoing encouragement, and that's definitely one of the things I like best about us all getting together, whether it's in person or online!

  5. It is all about our relationship with the Lord. It isn't about our religious activity. Grace is expressed in the fact the the infinite Lord is even willing to have relationship with us.

  6. Yep, Walt, it's all about our relationship with the Lord. We are His treasure... so much so that He emptied Himself and became a man and bore our sin... and indeed that is a biggest expression of love and grace that I can imagine!