Brothers and Sisters…
When I opened my ears wide enough to hear the message of Christianity, what I heard was that Christ died on a cross for my sins, and then rose from the dead three days later. If I believed that, then I was one of the ‘chosen’ and my sins were cleansed and I could go to heaven when I died. I liked the idea of going to heaven so I believed. Then I heard that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was an example of His grace. By believing in the cross, Jesus was offering me a free gift of His grace. This grace wasn’t something I could earn. Jesus would just give it to me if I believed the story about Him dying on the cross and rising three days later. Apparently, I needed this grace to get past St. Peter at the pearly gates. Maybe it was a ticket, or something like that, guaranteeing my entrance into heaven. Then I heard that the Holy Ghost, because I believed in the cross, was living inside of me. I didn’t really understand why the Holy Ghost was inhabiting my insides, I though my ticket of grace was enough to get into heaven. I was told it wasn’t enough, that I needed the Holy Ghost too. Then I was taught that bad behavior was bad and I shouldn’t do any of that stuff if I wanted to go to heaven. Conversely, I was also taught that the ‘chosen’ will go to heaven no matter what. Once God chooses you, you can’t be un-chosen. At this point, I believed that the Holy Ghost lived somewhere inside of me for reasons unknown. I believed that even though my sins were forgiven that if I kept doing them, somehow someway this would revoke my grace ticket, or maybe not, I wasn’t sure. I believed that Jesus died on a cross a long long long time ago for me…but I wasn’t really sure why because I didn’t even know who Jesus was…but I was told He loved me.
Can anyone else relate to this?
I then listened to many preachers and teachers tell me that I should tell other people about Jesus so they can be saved too. I struggled with this, not because I didn’t want to tell people about Jesus, but because I couldn’t tell a story that didn’t stand up to questioning. When I voiced this, I was told that we just have to accept it on blind faith. I wasn’t really sure what ‘blind faith’ meant, but it didn’t sound very enlightening. I guess I was supposed to ask people to exchange the darkness of the world for the darkness of faith in a salvation I couldn’t even explain, except to say, “Then we all go to heaven.”
You may have been brought up on a slightly different track and don’t share all of those same experiences. If I may, I want to try to clean up the narrative a bit, to better explain the ‘why’ of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. I could write a ton of words here on covenant, law, sin, etc…but I want to look at the forest instead of the trees. The trees only make sense in the context of the forest, so a broader view is what I offer. In the beginning, in the garden, God walked and talked with Adam and Eve as they were ‘image bearers’ of God Himself. God created man in His very image and enjoyed an intimate relationship with him. We can say that the chief end of man is to bear the image of God. This worked until Adam and Eve replaced God with themselves. Meaning…the sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t just disobedience it was placing their desires above God’s desires. It was kicking God off the throne and sitting in His seat. Once this happened, they couldn’t bear the image of God anymore, because they were bearing their own image. The result of this was banishment from the garden, banishment from the tree of life, and a transfer of power. Follow me here…when mankind usurped the majesty of God in favor of themselves, they gave power to the creation. They became slaves to creation rather than exercising true dominion over creation. Think about it this way; money, sex, and power make fine servants but poor masters. When we bear their image, we give power to it, and they enslave us.
As time passed, all of creation was crying out for a fix to the problem. The problem was a problem of ‘intended service of the image’. In other words, all of creation was intended to bear the image of God and man was put in charge of that. When man decided to bear it’s own image, all of creation suffered. The second Adam, Jesus, arrives on the scene to fix the problem. His death on the cross was not appease an angry God, it was to correct the direction of power. Jesus defeated the power of death and sin, meaning that He provided an anchor point in time by which we can regain God’s ‘intended service of His image’. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are renewed unto a new life; meaning, a recollection of the original life. A life which bears the image of God. So…my belief in the cross and the resurrection is a belief that Jesus has fixed the flow of misguided power. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an empowerment to bear the image of God and to reflect His love onto this world. While I cannot earn this grace, this favor, this gift, it is certainly expensive in that it costs me my ambitions of serving myself and forces me to serve God. We call this surrender. My willingness to serve God only isn’t about getting to heaven it is about bringing heaven here. It is meshing the heavenly into the worldly until the worldly gives way and embraces the heavenly. We were created for this very purpose…we were created to be ‘image bearers’.
The ‘forest’ view of salvation is a recapturing of our vocation, namely that we are ‘image bearers’. This means we have work to do. To bear God’s image onto a fallen world is to be proactive in spreading His message of love, mercy, forgiveness, and that He is King, and He is King alone.