Nov 2, 2009

In Hope Of Goodness

Governing our behavior so that it is consistently good, seems to be humanity's biggest challenge, whether on a personal scale or some  larger one. How do we do it? How can we ever achieve consistently good behavior? 

Perhaps, if we make more rules? Maybe if we make the punishment for wrongdoing more harsh? Perhaps if we were ruled with an iron hand by some despot? 

Or, maybe if we hire more police officers, or work harder on personal discipline.   Or, maybe if we were better educated?

Oh wait. Actually, I think we've pretty much tried all of that. And still, humanity struggles to control itself on every stage of life. We simply cannot consistently do the right thing. Corruption and misbehavior seem always to creep into what ever we do, if we do it long enough. 

In fact, every attempt at human government, whether personal or corporate, has only ever confirmed the existence of this fatal flaw which plagues our species: chronic waywardness. Indeed, it would seem we are stained indelibly with the stain of incorrigibility - even in the face of our own best efforts.

So, we find ourselves cheating on our diet, or our taxes, or our spouse. We find ourselves breaking the very laws that we enact to protect ourselves. We engage in the dangerous and the self destructive, even though we know better. 

 We cross the personal "lines" that we mentally establish for our own good. We renege on our most well-intentioned promises. We transgress even our own conscience. 

 And, we have done all of these things across the entire spectrum of the human experience. There simply is no denying it - left to ourselves, we lack the power to be consistently good and do the right thing.

The Apostle, Paul, makes this point very well in Romans, chapter 7, where he says, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do."

So, where is the human hope. Real hope necessarily anticipates enduring goodness, not the lack of it. And, it would seem this reality did not escape the mind of our loving and graceful God when He was formulating His redemptive plan. 

In fact, it seems He drew up the redemptive plan with that need in the foreground of His mind. His whole uncomplicated intention is to bring consistent goodness to the human heart. And His single "instrument" for doing so is the Living Christ.

At last, in the vitality of our resurrected Savior, there really is the possibility of a durable and consistent goodness within the human being. Paul speaks of the revelation of this New Testament remedy, in Colossians, chapter 1.  

There, Paul writes, "...the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

In recent times, the Church has tended to make redemption mostly about forgiveness. It is not. It is only first about forgiveness. But ultimately, God's redemption is very much about, well,  redemption

The ultimate aim of God's redemptive plan is to thoroughly renew the believer, beginning with the creation of a good heart-government which actually works consistently. And this change to the human condition, effected through the Living Christ, changes everything.

But, to experience this change, we must get beyond the mind set which essentially reduces God's redemptive work to only a moment of forgiveness. There is a much larger redemptive design to be understood and experienced. 

And, at the center of that experience is the target event of the New Testament: our personal Spiritual merger with the Living Christ. The reality is, in the conversion moment, we are, indeed, forgiven, but we are still also very much immersed in our own brokenness. Our conscious person may now be more humble before God, but our subconscious person is still quite obstinate and wayward. 

 And so - as usual - we still struggle to consistently govern our behavior and fit ourselves into God's good plan for our life - even after our conscious embrace of the Lordship of Christ.  But, this is where the Living Christ enters the redemptive picture and everything changes.  

Through our personal Spiritual merger with Him, the believer is given access to the divine character essence of Christ. And, that access profoundly changes the believer in their core person.  

In short, this symbiotic connection to Christ reaches deeply into the believer's subconscious person and overwrites their old, self-centered value system with the new values of Christ.  And this value system overwrite is the very mechanism which changes everything else in life to ultimately make of the believer a truly "new creature" in Christ from the inside out.

From the point of this very literal integration with the Living Savior, the vitality of Christ continues to effect an ever enlarging degree of change in the believer's character essence (heart) going forward.  And this profound inner change, in turn, expresses itself as a profound change in the believer's behavior and results in corresponding changes in his or her outward circumstance.    

In truth, consistent heart government is simply not a function of trying harder, or more education, or more experience.  It is a function of the vitality of the Living Christ living within the believer.  Our primary hope of consistency lies not in human initiative or improved religious practices, but in the reality of the Living Savior living expressively within in us.

If we would be consistently well governed by a good heart, then we must experience this Spiritual connection to His.  Because, our heart, disconnected from His, will never be up to that task.

As a minister in these modern times, I have come to understand a simple reality regarding the Church.  It is that the greater challenge, presently, is to elevate the gaze of the Church.  Our focus must get beyond the conversion moment to again see the true pinnacle of the Christian experience - the merger of our character essence with that of the living Christ.  

The truth is, while the idea of a personal Spiritual merger with Christ may remain in our theology books, yet, in the modern Church, we are, nevertheless, increasingly losing our experiential grip on that opportunity. We are, indeed, missing this ultimate intention of New Testament redemption:  an actual personal integration with the Living Christ.

Modern preaching, if well-intentioned, has, nevertheless, in practical terms, mistakenly reduced the scope of redemption to simply be about the Cross and forgiveness.  But redemption is not just about the Cross. It is about the Cross and the the personal renewal which flows out of the Resurrection and the Living Savior. 

The authentic Gospel is not just about the Dying Christ and forgiveness. It is also about the Living Christ and His shared vitality within the believer. This is the completing means by which the profound redemptive changes which God envisions for every believer are effected. That is why Christ would say in John, chapter 15, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."

That first moment when we feel the cleanness of God's forgiveness wash over us is a wonderful thing. But, there is another moment after that one, on which everything also depends. 

It, too, is a moment which is absolutely indispensable to our redemption and to our true newness.  It is that mystical moment of our personal merger with Christ.  In that merger resides our only hope of the true and thorough personal renewal and the consistently good heart government which God envisions for every believer.

"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." - The Apostle, Paul from the Book of Romans