In our last post on Sanctification, I made a comment that I think are worth expositing a bit.
When we say we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, we are saying that we believe that the great eschatological event that brings freedom has already happened in the cross of Jesus. Therefore, we can place our faith in the finished work of Christ and expect a heavenly pattern of life in this life. This radical claim to victory is what we actually believe as Christians.
This begs the question. With respect to victory and a life of moral distinction,
What Do Christians Actually Believe?
Sometimes our faith becomes so familiar that we often lose sight of the actual claims of our faith. We look around and we see a life that is so different than the life in the book that we come to define the “abnormal” Christian life around us a “normal”.
The Toyota Way
I work in a manufacturing facility that models its operations after the Toyota Production System. The founder of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, said “the worst thing that can happen to process is the inability to distinguish the normal from the abnormal. Because if we cannot spot abnormalities then we can not improve”. One of the tools we use in the Toyota Production System is called 5S. In 5S, we organize everything in an ideal fashion. We create a labeled place for everything and we design the work station to be as efficient as possible. Then, we use a tool called Standardized Work to design the work of the operator in an ideal fashion. We, as a team, create a highly standardize work space and highly organized work content and sequence with the expectation of a particular outcome.
Then….we watch the work. (observation)
As we watch, because the whole system is visually obvious and the outcome is pre-specified, it is very easy to find problems with the design of the work. As problems surface, the team with the operator ,redesigns the work. This process is on-going until we reach the ideal (which, by the way, we can never reach).
The Toyota Production System is based on this process of defining the expectation, designing the work and looking and observing abnormalities. The system is called Kaizen which is Japanese for Continuous Improvement.
The same is true for Christianity. Until we clearly define the expectations of the gospel and until we understand the content of what should be normal, we cannot spot the abnormal and so we can not improve. So what is our ideal or our normal for the Christian or "what is our faith?"
1. Christians Believe in Jesus Christ
To say that Jesus is the Christ and that our Messiah has come is a radical claim.
“I tell you the truth everyone who sins is a slave to sin...but if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”.
Paul explains that this freedom has already happened for the one who puts his faith in Jesus as their Christ.
Romans 6:18, "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
Romans 8:2, "Through Christ Jesus ,the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."
In fact, one day the whole creation will enter into the freedom that the Children of God now possess.
Romans 8:21, "The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."
The Messiah came as a great deliverer and indeed He has done it. When we claim that Jesus is our Messiah and our Christ, we are not saying that we believe one day we will be free and you will die and go to heaven. Christians are claiming that Christ is the Messiah and He has set us free. This freedom is from the great enemy which is sin.
As Christians, we actually believe our Messiah has come.
2. Christians Believe in the Cross of Jesus Christ
Jesus said again,
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
14“I am the good shepherd; …and I lay down my life for the sheep… 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
This passage is really pretty easy to understand. Jesus is saying, “I am the good Shepard who is the gate…I lay down my life like a Shepard who lays down his life in front of the gate (as the gate) for the sheep.”
The gate is a clear reference to the cross. Listen to what Jesus says about the cross or the gate,
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The cross of Christ is the path to liberation and abundance. Mankind toils in sin and darkness, violence and fear. The cross is the end to all of this bondage and servitude to the sin and fear. The great eschatological event that brings our freedom is the cross.
Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 1:20, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
All the promises of a new reality and a new identity and a new life that the prophets promised are “Yes and Amen” in the Christ.
Christians believe in the Cross of Christ as an absolutely revolutionary event. ‘Viva la revolution’
3. Christians Believe in Their Spiritual Union with Christ
So, we are free, and the place of victory is in the cross of Christ... but wait there's more. The message of Christianity is still more all encompassing, and, therefore, what is the intention of the Gospel cannot be underestimated. Paul gets ecstatic when he thinks about the reality he has experienced and the reality he longs for the believers to enter.
“Oh that you would know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us ….now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond anything we can ask or think, to Him be the glory in the church”.
You see, Paul’s confession, and the foundation of all our faith, is Jesus’ teachings that,
“We will come and make our abode with you”.
Paul’s confession was similarly that, “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me and the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God”. In 1 Cor. 6:19, Paul says, "The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with the Lord".
Ah, the key …
Christians believe that, through faith, the believer is one Spirit with Christ. The same person that rose from the dead lives in us by the Spirit. At any instant in my life, the specification is for me to, through faith, live the very life of Christ. Christ manifesting Himself through me through faith.
We have already spoken that this union life is most clearly manifest through love. Love is the most excellent way.
Returning to our question, what do we as Christians actually believe about sanctification?
We believe that Christ has set us free and can live through us through faith. Therefore, at any instant, we can manifest Christ.
The Experience of Holiness in Prayer
Almost all Christians, become convicted of their responsibility in prayer. In contemplation, if we let ourselves accept it, we know that Christ has set us free, and we are, therefore, more responsible than ever. Christians have quite frequent experiences of "Christ with us" and near us. We realize that He is with us all along and therefore, “No temptation has ever overtaken us but He has also provided a means of escape” through faith in Him and our Spiritual union. Our holiness is indirect. Our life is mediated by Christ. If we learn to know this truth, we know we can live in freedom. From this place of claity, we are wonderously both convinced and convicted. We become still in this moment of clarity.
Such clarity is the life of the prophet and the life of every Christian. We see. What we are seeing in this instance of clarity is what Christians actually believe.
Now, as we look at our life, have we learned how to see what is the intended normal life of faith? By normal, I do not mean what is common or even frequent but simply what the kingdom is and that all else is sub-standard. This learning to see makes us understand what it means to be militant, to accept nothing short of tasting regularly the kingdom.
Where the Perfectionists and the Prophets Made Their Errors
This very real potential for the spirit filled life, in any instant, is why the perfectionists or the prophets have such high expectations for the Christian life. The reality is that the life of Christ, Christ in us, can be the reality in any instant. Theoretically speaking, walking like Christ is possible, but only for a given instant. Life is millions of instances, and going on such a streak of living in the Spirit and in love is simply not actually "doable" in this life.
Nonetheless, to live in the life of Christ, in any instant, we forget what lies behind and press into the upward of Christ. We have to have faith for “the life” in the moment and, in fact, in any moment. We continually stand at the precipice of the future, and we choose to believe in our Spiritual union which came to us through the eschatological event of the cross. From here we face the present, and we choose, by grace and His present power, the reality of what we actually believe.
By this faith, we live.