Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dead Just Ain’t Enough

There’s a striking verse in 1 Corinthians 15, in a section in which the apostle Paul writes about the Resurrection of Christ:  “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in

your sins” (v. 17, NET Bible). What’s striking, at least to me, is that  for a long time I thought and believed as if the death of Christ were the most important thing in his Incarnation and in my experience. I would have said that the death of Christ was what brought us salvation and made us new.

But that’s not what Paul would have said. It’s not what he did say. You could say, if you were a theologian, that I had a very unPauline and incomplete soteriology. Which, being interpreted, means I didn’t understand salvation the way Paul did. My idea of salvation wasn’t big enough.

What was the problem? Where did I go wrong? Here’s one way of putting it:  When it came to salvation, I could see a negative but I couldn’t see a positive. I understood the importance of dying with Christ but I missed the part about being risen in Christ. I could understand what I wasn’t, but I was missing out on what I was.

In Christian theology, there’s the concept of identification. It’s basic to our faith, whatever our denomination. In short, it means that “what happened to Christ happened to me (or to us, who confess him as Lord).” I understood this in terms of how God deals with my flesh—the “sinful nature,” as the NIV puts it; the teaching of Watchman Nee was the biggest influence here. I understood that all I once had been had died at the cross in Christ Jesus. This was how God resolved the problem of inherent sin in me. He made me dead; when I confessed faith in Christ, I received that death or entered into it.

But there’s more. Christ Jesus died and rose. Identification means that I also receive from his resurrection, from his glorification, from his place now at the right hand of the Father. There’s more than death here. And there’s more than death in salvation. This is what Paul means when he tells the Christians in Rome that they are to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11, ESV).  There’s the negative:  Sin has no power over me, because I am dead to its pull. There’s the positive:  I am alive to God, brought into his Kingdom and able to discern his will. I have been given the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. I am given power through that Spirit to live a Christ-shaped, Christ-centered and Christ-like life.

Most Christians I’ve known are living life out of the negative. We are fully aware of what we’re doing wrong. We don’t like it. We struggle hard to get out of it. What we miss is that Christ Jesus has taken us out of it already and put us into a new place.

What would a positive life look like for you? What if you knew that the habits and attitudes that keep you from being that person were done away with? How would your life change? Being alive to God means becoming just that person. “Alive to God” means that I respond to God knowing that the roadblocks that keep me from God have all been thrown down.