Christian Advantage? (5)
Does the Christian have an advantage over the non-Christian in the war against personal sin? Yes! But the advantage has nothing to do with some magical divine energizing! Yes! But the advantage doesn’t mean the non-Christian is left without help from God against the power of evil. Yes! But the advantage must be freely appropriated by the Christian. Yes! But the advantage doesn’t function as an immediate transformation from a sinner to a “non-sinner”. Yes! But the advantage is experienced within an ongoing relationship.
God entered into a peculiar relationship with Israel (Exodus 19:5-6 and Amos 3:2) and Moses thought that was a profound privilege and advantage over the nations (Deuteronomy 6:4-8 and see). Psalm 119 is one long song of praise thanking God for the covenantal Torah which opened the eyes and hearts of people, which thrilled and energized people, which inspired and comforted people and gave them life. But the psalmist makes it clear that all this is true about the Torah because it was an expression of God’s gracious relationship with Israel and with him. The Torah wasn’t some abstract moral code with wonderful principles—it was God profiling himself and reminding Israel of how he had chosen them, how he had redeemed them, how he had adopted Israel as his son. No one else had experienced rescue from Egypt and the Passing Over, or the Red Sea crossing or the sustenance in the wilderness or the coming settlement in the land. Israel’s Torah, their national Faith was how the already redeemed and presently sustained people related to God. How could that not be a source of strength? Individuals would not have appropriated that empowerment to the same degree or at the same speed. The internalizing of that strength took place in a faith relationship and a faith relationship varied in degrees of intensity and consistency and gladness. And that relationship could be despised and finally rejected by believers.
But what was Israel empowered to do? What exactly [or at least "centrally"] were they called and enabled to do/be?
Christians need to think carefully about this!
Most of us know how strengthening a great friendship is. Some of us have had friends who strengthened us and brought us through times when we were sure we’d perish. There was nothing mechanical about the power they brought, no “magic” of the magician’s kind, but they brought inspiration and assurance, challenge, rebuke and a ceaseless calling us upward. We weren’t plugged into some wall-socket to feel the physical power surge through us, but we can swear on bended knees that since meeting such people we grew in integrity and grace and vision and endurance. We’re certain of this: to have or to have had them as friends was one of the greatest gifts of our lives and we feel sure that if others had had friends like these that they too would have been empowered to better and finer things.
Spell out that lovely mystery how you will, explain the psychological aspects of it if you can, teach us how their truth became our truth and their character formed our character. But even if you can’t do any of that you know beyond debate that they were all those grand things to you. They made you strong!
It doesn’t matter that you still had flaws. The reality of these still existing flaws does not deny that these friends made you strong! Strong! And there wasn’t an element of coercion in sight; there wasn’t anything mechanical about it; there was no infusion of their personal power into you. There was always that free and mutual receiving one of another, always that chosen relationship and that deepening love that at times made you think you’d gladly lay down your life for them as you knew they would for you. A relationship with that person generated that kind of moral power!
It is in this way that the Christian is advantaged over non-Christians. The advantage is the strength of a relationship with the Lord God in Jesus by his Spirit. And the strength of the relationship involves the understanding of who it is we’re related to and what he has called us to and what we are on his behalf for the world.
This is why Paul prays fervently that the Ephesians might have their eyes and hearts opened to the truth that what God has done in Jesus he is continuing to do in them by the same exercise of power that raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:16-20). He prays for them to know, he says, who and what they are and what their mission is in the world and what their destiny is. That sense of calling and destiny is an aspect of the nature of the Christian's empowerment. It keeps sinful Christians on their feet and keeps them returning to the Holy One in covenant renewal.
Read Ephesians 1:16-20 through a time or two! He gets carried away with the profoundly rich truths he has in mind and only returns to the issue of what he prays for them in 3:14-21. Again he says he prays that they might be empowered to understand, to be strengthened with power that they might know.
Who Christians are should leave them dumbstruck.
To truly understand—not just intellectually but emotionally and otherwise—who they’re related to what it is that he has eternally purposed and has publicly manifested in raising Jesus of Nazareth—to grasp that will galvanize them.
But who is it that God empowers by this calling and inexpressible privilege? Christians, of course! Yes, but who are they? They are members of the human family that has been made ruinously “ill” by a “virus” more savage and deforming than any known to man. God didn’t go throughout the world looking for impressive specimens, those with immunity to the “disease,” in the hope that their immunity would halt the pandemic! There was only One and this One was all he needed to produce a “vaccine”.
“Oh, but God, I’m sick with the virus! Look at my ulcers and the marks of my inner deformity!”
I know better than you how ‘sick’ you are, God would say, but I’m not calling you to save the world. I’m calling you to proclaim to the world that there is healing and health and life in the One!
“But God, if I’m not free of the ‘sickness’ how will I make them believe the One has healing power?”
God would say something like: I had a servant called Moses who asked me the same sort of question (Exodus 3:11-13; 4:1-9). I gave him some signs and I haven’t left you completely without “proofs” though “proofs” don’t work well for those who have no wish to believe. Your business is not to make them believe—your business is to tell about the One and his coming to right all wrongs and reign in righteousness.
“But Lord you did give him signs that you were with him.”
I have also given you signs. I have given you Baptism and Holy Communion; I have given you The Scriptures and a place in the New Covenant People; I have given you Jesus and my Spirit that indwells the covenant people and I have given you faith by the gospel.
“But God I need you to remove my moral weaknesses if I am to do your job well.”
All you need is my grace for my power is perfected in weakness. (Reflect on the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 though it has a context of its own.)
“But Lord, many of those outside of Jesus seem to be morally as good as I am; they’ll hardly be impressed by me.”
Many of them who are not yet related to my Son by faith are morally better than you. Did you think I left them without help because I have called you to a peculiar relationship with me? Do you think I restricted my gifts of truth and kindness and empowerment down the generations only to the people I elected as peculiar servants?
They too are sin-sick though they compare favorably morally with you. The issue isn’t their moral excellence or yours and your business is not to impress them with you—you’re to impress them with the One. Your business is to remain faithful to my calling despite your continued illness. It is the One that your faith is in that I want them to see—not you. But the closer you and I come to be to one another your vision and your strength for your mission will grow and you’ll discover that despite your ulcers and your inner wrestling that you are able in Christ to do all I want you to do (Philippians 4:13).
“Lord, I long to be free from this ‘sickness’ of which I’m ashamed and which makes me reluctant even to speak of the glory of the One. Sometimes I grow weary of the struggle and wonder if I’ll ever be free. Will I be free?”
You will! The longing for freedom is my work in you. Your feeling of shame when you engage in sin is healthy—it’s my work in you. In longing for freedom you are already experiencing my empowerment. One day you will experience a depth of freedom that was beyond your imagining but not beyond my power to give you. The power I’m speaking of is not brute force or “magic”—it's the power that’s inherent in my good news (Romans 1:16); it's the power of the relationship we have one with another. Learn of me as you do my bidding as a witness to Jesus for the world’s benefit and watch what happens to your ulcers and your inner deformity.
I haven't called sinless people to further my grand enterprise! I have called sinful people but I have fully equipped and empowered them to be able to fulfill their destiny and their mission. Their destiny and mission is not that they should gain moral perfection in this life, but that they be my witnesses to a world in dire need about my purpose in Jesus Christ my Son on behalf of the human family.
God's moral influence in the world is real but as simple moral power it is extended toward and is available to the entire human family and not only to Christians. What is peculiar and exclusive to those in the Lord Jesus is their place in the Community of Faith in Jesus, it is their being part of the NT Elect, it is their being bearers of the Story, it is their being witnesses to God's eternal purpose in the Lord Jesus, it is their being the embodiment of and the visible witness to God's faithfulness.
THAT is what Christians have and are empowered to be and do that no others in the world have. THAT is what NT empowerment by the Spirit of Christ is all about.