Article by: Lance Steiger
This certain question pops into my head once in awhile and reveals an emptiness that I didn’t even know was there. Sometimes, the questions we ask ourselves can reveal much about what is actually going on in our lives. It seems that some of my fellow believers have asked this same question more than once… is this common? Why don’t we discuss this more often? The feeling that creeps in after this thought is one that I’d like to forget. How can a short question, a fleeting thought in my head, cause me to quiver with so much uneasiness?
So… “Isn’t there more to it than this?”
I know the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” But, where is this thought coming from and how have I become either consciously or subconsciously bored with the Christian life? After all, I’m active in the ministry here at Hope, read my Bible, pray regularly and I attempt to match my lifestyle to the way that Jesus asks me to live. Apparently actions and efforts don’t make me immune from slipping into spiritual emptiness.
Ever so slowly, inconspicuously, I drift towards an automated, ritualistic relationship with Jesus that leaves me in perfect camouflage so my brothers and sisters in Christ nod in unaware approval saying, “Yep, he’s solid, must be doing great”. I suspect that there are many others who find themselves in the same situation. If not…ummmm, this is awkward and you should probably click back to espn.com.
Ok let’s go back to being vulnerable here…
Jesus said in John 7:38 “Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”. Rivers of living water. Rivers of living water! I’m picturing powerful, steady, life-giving water. Clearly, there’s a disconnect in my life. Something is wrong.
So what’s wrong?
There’s a foundational truth that I tend to lose touch with…I am in Christ and Christ is in me. I have union with Christ, the living God of the universe who became man and died on the cross for my sins. Did you know the Apostle Paul never addressed believers as “Christians”? He most commonly addressed them as those who are “in Christ”. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” John Owen, a seventeenth century theologian and pastor says, “Union with Christ is the greatest, most honourable, and glorious of all graces that we are made partakers of.” This is a big deal. Paul calls it a “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). He appeals to us in dozens (over one hundred maybe?) of verses throughout the new testament to remind us of the union we share with Christ. It’s so common that we miss it, yet, it’s so profoundly mysterious that it won’t fit neatly into our finite minds. And by attempting to describe it, we water it down.
…and that’s part of the problem! I’ve developed a bit of an allergy to mystery. Rather than gaze with amazement at the miracle of Christ, himself, dwelling in my life, I (and you?) tend to systemize, automate and reduce faith in Jesus to only doctrine, apologetics, behaviors, morals, etc. The foundation of our faith is the reality that we have communion with God himself, through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins, by the working of the Holy Spirit; everything else is supplemental to that mystery. Consider the way that John Calvin approaches this mystery in his Commentary on Ephesians:
“For my own part, I am overwhelmed by the depth of this mystery, and am not ashamed to join Paul in acknowledging at once my ignorance and my admiration…whatever is supernatural is clearly beyond our own comprehension. Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us, than to discover the nature of that intercourse.”
Is anyone else surprised by those words? John Calvin, the church reformer, theologian and father of Calvinism is asking us to labor more for a feeling of Christ living in us than for a doctrinal belief system that describes it.
How did I get here?
So, what led to the revealing question…. “Isn’t there more to it than this?” I have two well-worn paths to this place of emptiness, but there are others as well. (Maybe I’ll discuss those in my next blog post)
The first path is cheap grace. I’m not talking about the abounding grace that God extends to us in our salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8-9 No, not that grace. I’m talking about the self-centered grace that I seek when I want God’s blessings, but not God. I slip into the sin of treating God like a genie in a bottle who never asks anything of me. I gladly accept his provision but offer very little of myself to him. And, one day I wake up and say “Isn’t there more to it than this?”
The second path is duty. I proudly labor in the body of Christ and pat myself on the back after a fruitful small group discussion or an extra tithe to the church. Boy, what would the church do without me? I’m fulfilling my duties and then some! I think I’ll help out in another ministry because, after all, who couldn’t use the help of such a great guy. And then one day I wake up exhausted after months of overcommitment and burn-out and ask “Isn’t there more to it than this?”
Yes, there is.
When you meditate on the indescribable mystery that is ….I am in Christ and Christ is in me… your life changes. This mystery gives meaning and life to every interaction throughout your day. It also gives you the energy to work tirelessly in God’s kingdom without pride or self righteousness. It gives you the confidence to face your sin with sober reality and yet feel completely loved and accepted by God. It gives you the freedom to be submersed in the ocean of God’s grace without the temptation to get complacent and indifferent towards holy living. If I hold on to this mystery and “labor more to feel Christ living in me”, as John Calvin puts it, I can quiver with anticipation of the work that God is about to display in my life.
So, how might you “labor more to feel Christ living in you”?
What’s holding you back from experiencing real communion with Christ in your daily life?
I encourage you to discuss this with your brothers in Christ this week.