Life “IN” Christ A One-ness Participation, Not an IMITATION
Chapter 7 Life “IN” Christ
A One-ness Participation, Not an IMITATION
Now that we understand more fully Who Christ is and Who we Are, we can finally begin to see more clearly what our Life purpose IN Christ is for. One cannot make a study of the New Testament without experiencing something of the nature of a shock, in view of the glaring difference between the Christian Life as we are living today, and the abundant Life promised by our Lord Christ Jesus. The disheartening incongruities and the grievous contradictions are so painfully evident, that even those who have only a superficial knowledge of the WORD – yea, one dare say, even those who have never looked into the pages of the New Testament – are shocked. What little faith they may have, is shaken.
When one holds up before the picture of the Christian life as set forth by the Apostles, that which today goes under that name, one staggers. The emaciated body of a dying friend -- not to say his corpse -- could not stand in more violent contrast with him who in the days of health and vigor walked at our side.
It is not my object to pick to pieces the modern church-goer. I have no quarrel with “the Church”. My only purpose, in calling attention to our failure as (supposed followers of Christ), is to point the way to the victorious life in Christ for those who are conscious of their spiritual poverty and Anorexia, and who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" but never seem to be able to find “righteousness”.
It is for the Christian who finds himself at the brink of despair, because of the gruesome picture he presents when all the while he longs to faithfully reflect the Master’s image, that I feel that I have a message. It is for the one whose thirst for the Waters of Life, far from being quenched, consumes him, and leaves him sick with yearnings, that I would unfold the secret of the Abundant Life -- the life of which Jesus spoke when He said that "Rivers of Living Water" would flow from the innermost being of those who believed. It is to the one who is wearied of hollow mockeries, sick of shams, who has become the victim of a secret self-loathing, -- one who feels that as a follower of Christ he should be free from the power of sin, and who, in spite of all his struggles is crushed by a sense of failure -- that I long to bring the real message of the Cross. It is to those who yearn for His Mighty change -- that power which is from God on High, to change our hearts of selfishness and pride into hearts of love for God and for all of creation. To those who long to have their life and service, ministering, and preaching, charged with the Spirit of the Living Christ, there is a Way which will not fail to usher in a new day – just Come unto Christ and Re-Ceive Him and put all of our trust and faith in Him, NOT in our egotistical Self!
When we actually read the scriptures, we find that we are entreated to walk as Jesus walked (I John 2:6). We are enticed to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). We are persuaded to forgive as Jesus forgave -- even as He who in the shame and anguish of the Cross looked down upon those who blasphemed Him, while they murdered Him, and forgave (Col. 3:13). He entreats us to be aggressively kind towards those who hate us, yea, to actually to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt. 5:44). We are enticed to be overcomers -- more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). We can give thanks in all things, believing that all things, even those which blast our fondest hopes, work together for our good (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 5:20).
We are invited to be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let our requests be made known unto God, so that the peace of God which surpasseth all understanding may abide in our hearts and minds (Phil. 4:6). We may rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). We are entreated to think on whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise (Phil. 4:8). We can be holy, (if we choose to abide in Christ), for He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Our Savior God said that if we believed in Him, then rivers of the Waters of life would flow from our innermost being (John 7:38). We are entreated to stand out in bold, unmistakable contrast from the crooked, perverse world, blameless and harmless, the sons/daughters of God, without rebuke, shining as lights (Phil. 2:15). We are positively to hate ourselves -- not to pamper, nor to caress, nor to seek, nor to love ourselves, but literally to renounce and to put off our own natural man selves, and that daily (Matt. 16:24). We are told that we cannot be Christ’s disciples without renouncing ourselves utterly and absolutely in all things, and at all times (Luke 14:26). Paul tells us that our affections are to be set on things above (Col. 3:1). As modern followers of Christ, like Isaiah we cry: "Woe is me, for I am undone."
Why does the Savior -- so tender and so understanding, so loving and so wise – (why did He give us this human nature)? Why does He seem, to our natural man brain, to be so unreasonable? Why does He bid us soar, yet we have no wings. Talk about the super-man; it is not so much a mere abundance of man effort that is required. It seems to be rather man-deified, if I may so speak, which the New Testament pronounces as the true type of worshipper of Christ. Why does our Savior go so far beyond the merely natural, and put Christian living on the basis of the supernatural? It is not natural to love our enemies; it is not natural to rejoice always; it is not natural to be thankful for the things that hurt; it is not natural to hate ourselves; it is not natural to walk as Jesus walked. Have we honestly faced this dilemma? Have we had the courage to face the implications of Christ’s words? Is anything gained by excuses and subterfuges, by pretending that the gulf between the humanly possible and the invitation of Christ can be bridged?
This is no new dilemma. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, makes no bones about his conviction that human nature, as such, can never attain the ideal of (becoming like) Christ. He does not minimize the overwhelming incongruity. He lets the glaring fact of the Law as an utterly unattainable ideal, as something to which human nature, as such, can never adapt itself, stand out in all its naked reality.
Romans 7 is witness to that fact. Here we have the Apostle’s confession of failure, his cry of despair, his bitter regret upon finding the Pharisees view of the law unattainable, his groanings over what he found to be a heart-rending dilemma, his honest admission that he actually believes that the requirements of Christ’s law are something to which human nature, as such, struggle as you will, agonize as you will, can never be achieved. Lest I be misunderstood -- lest my readers be shocked by something apparently so unorthodox -- I quote Paul’s own words: "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do... I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but, I see another law in my members" (aye, there’s the rub) "warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7). Paul struggles. He agonizes. He weeps. He strives as only this moral giant, one of the greatest of all time, could strive -- all to no avail. The law of sin, he confesses, like the onrush of a mighty stream, sweeps everything before it.
This is all clarified by Christ’s declaration in 3 Nephi 12 that: “I AM the Law, and the Light that ye shall hold up”. The Pharisees have everything upside down, as if our eternal life is dependent on our own achievement of perfection, rather than the often extended Gifts of Salvation and Eternal Life through the Grace and Mercy of Christ (Alma 11:40, D&C 14:7, D&C 6:13).
As Moroni points out: (Moroni 10:32-33) If we choose to deny His Power to make us Holy and without spot and Perfect us by HIS Grace ALONE, then we are refusing His Gift of Perfection and Eternal Life by His Grace. Denying His Grace and His Many Gifts is like spitting in His face and Crucifying Christ afresh, and agreeing to His innocent blood to be shed for no reason. To deny His Power to save us from our foolish egotistical nature, along with the foolish idea that we can make ourselves like Him, is the very Abomination that maketh us Desolate that Daniel and Abinadi bore witness of. (Desolate means “Barren and Unfruitful as one called to BE the Bride of Christ” (Ezra, and The Prophet Joseph spoke several times about “Ephraim His desolate wife”). Both Paul and Lehi make it clear that the Law is given to make us all guilty and cause us to shut our big prideful mouths about our supposed achievements, and to cut us off and make us miserable forever (See Romans 3 and 2 Nephi 2:5 and Hebrews 7 and Ephesians and Galatians 5 (The law justifies NOTHING and The Law perfects Nothing). The bare fact is that ONLY Christ can justify us and make us perfect - in and by His Perfect LOVE.
We do well to face squarely all the shocking aspects of this dilemma. Paul did. He did not throw up any smoke screen over either his own incapacity on the one hand, or the unattainable character of the law on the other. He is astonishingly frank over the fact that in himself (that is, in his flesh, Rom. 7:18) he can find no good thing. He candidly acknowledges that he delights in God’s law, loves it, but finds it something to which human natural man can never attain. If we will be honest about these things, we will find ourselves led all unconsciously to take certain steps which will most assuredly usher us into a glorious new day. It led Paul to a great discovery. It will lead us also.
It was not that Paul, when he wrote Romans 7, was still willfully disobedient, as in the days prior to the Damascan road crisis. He did love Jesus. He was a soldier of the Cross. He was totally consecrated to Christ. It was only that he was now seeing himself in a new light -- in the blinding light of the Cross of Christ. What before, as a strict disciple of Moses, would have been excusable, now overwhelms him with its magnitude. Innocent little things, attitudes comparatively harmless, insignificant little sins which under the Mosaic carnal law would pass unnoticed if they did not appear to be actual virtues, now break his heart. They are repulsive. They are unbearable. They seem to burn with the fire of hell. They sting like the bite of a scorpion. They stink like a decaying carcass in some slimy pool.
Paul and Nephi both yearn to be released from this seemingly inescapable bondage to sin. It is no longer a question of mere ethics. It is no longer a question of right or wrong. That is the burning question. Paul yearns to be free of his old man of sin. Self-love even in its secret forms, its harmless gestures, nauseates him. He would be like Jesus in all the loveliness of his humility, and of his compassion. He would love God with a pure love and serve Him with that utter singleness of eye which characterized the "only-begotten of the Father". In a paroxysm of self-loathing, and in the anguish of self-despair, the Apostle cries out for deliverance (Rom. 7:24). Is there a way out? (Is there a better way)? Yes, there is. Paul found it--we can all find it.
We have been proceeding upon a false basis. Our concept of what the Church (the Bride of Christ) is to do in this life has been radically mis-taught. We have been taught that our life should be an Imitation of Christ. We have attempted to bring Christ back down to earth to be a man like us, (only perfect in every way). We teach that He is our brother - a man - who came down to do a good deed for us (to pay for our sins), rather than that He is our Creator, our God, Our Bridegroom, and our Lord Omnipotent. We teach that we must become righteous and perfect just like our elder brother. We have taken God and made Him in to a man just like us. We have even been taught that we are becoming our own Christ and that we must save our departed dead. In Alma 34, Alma and Amulek point out very clearly that an Infinite At-ONE-ment can NOT be made by a man!
In reality, our life must not be an Imitation of Christ. It is to be a relationship and Participation in Christ. "For we are made partakers of Christ" (Heb. 3:14). There are good things in Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, but the basic idea is utterly false to the principles that underlie our life IN Christ. To proceed on the basis of Imitation, will plunge us in just the sort of slough of despond Paul found himself in when he wrote Romans 7.
We are not what Christ has asked us to be – His “Bride” in Everlasting Covenant. The Sermon on the Mount does not find expression in our attitudes; self focus is still rampant in our lives; we are not free from envy, pride, self-love, and lust of pleasure; the mountain of secret self-ish-ness still crushes us and in spite of all our efforts remains immovable; there is little joy, so little freedom of spirit, none of that rapture which so characterized the primitive Christians; we agonize, strive, and bleed, and struggle -- but failure dogs our footsteps. What is the matter? We are proceeding upon a completely false basis. We are attempting to do what the Savior Himself never expected nor required us to do. Life IN Christ is not found in imitating Him, for who truly could even approach who He, as our Creator, is and what He has done for us?
The great dilemma of which we have been speaking resolves itself into most simple terms when we grasp this distinction between Imitation and Participation.
For, what is impossible to me as an imitator of Christ, comes perfectly natural as a participant of Christ. It is Only when Christ nullifies the force of my inherent ego "self life," and communicates to me a Divine life, that new Life IN Christ in its true sense, is at all possible for me. I must choose to be born again. "The flesh profiteth nothing." (John 6:63) Without Jesus I can do nothing. I must live in Him and, renouncing my own self life, find in Him a "new life."
Now to this "new life," if we look at them as requirements, so incomprehensible and unattainable while we move in the realm of the "flesh-life," become a burden that we are unable to carry. They are, however, nothing more nor less than statements regarding its modus operandi. The Sermon on the Mount, so far from cramping in any way this new life, is simply a statement of the way it operates.
The trouble is, we have not listened to Christ Jesus. He entreats us constantly to abide IN Him as a branch in the Vine. Matthew 5, 6, 7, without John 15, would be like so many freight cars without an engine, or like a whale without water, or a bird without air.
In that upper-room interview, the Master, knowing that it was His last opportunity to impress fundamentals upon His disciples, places the supreme emphasis upon this mysterious union, this spiritual oneness with Himself of all believers -- this sublime fact of Participation. "Abide in Me and I in you." (John 15:4) “A branch can bring no fruit of itself”. Our failures only confirm the Savior’s words, for He said: "Without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
No, we are not called upon to imitate Christ! That is a prideful and vain approach to taking His place. The truth of the matter is, there would be little virtue after all in that sort of thing, (and actually takes us further away from loving relationship with Christ). Paul said so, in effect, in the oft-quoted I Corinthians 13 -- the Pure Love of Christ chapter. It could only be a wooden, artificial, ritualistic thing. Even here Jesus would say: "The flesh profiteth nothing." Some years ago in the country where I was doing missionary work, this sort of thing was carried to its nth degree, when a zealous devotee had himself crucified, literally nailed to a cross where his parents found him dead, when they came to his rescue. The Corporate Church rightly does not advocate nor require that sort of thing, and yet theoretically the church proceeds, in the case of vast multitudes of her children, upon this false basis of Imitation.
The Bride of Christ is not called upon to strain over a role as an actor would agonize over lines poorly learned. Life In Christ is infinitely more blessed and compelling. "We are made partakers of Christ" (Heb. 3:14). We are entreated to BE “One with Christ”. Exceeding great and precious promises are given us, "that by these we might be partakers of the Divine Nature" (II Pet. 1:4). The Believer is grafted into the Trunk of the Eternal One True God. "I am the Vine, Ye are the Branches." (John 15:5) "The riches of the Glory of this hidden Mystery -- Christ IN you, the Hope of Glory" (Col. 1:27).