Is it what we GET that makes Christianity attractive?

So much of Christianity nowadays seems to be about the things you get for being Christian, like you get salvation if you repent and believe, you get rewards if you do good works, you get a closer walk with God if you fast and pray, and you get all kinds of blessings if you’re kind and generous. It’s all “get, get, get.”

But isn’t that the appeal of the Christian message, though? It’s what we “get” for being Christians, isn’t it? We all get to go to heaven because we’re Christians, not go to hell like all those non-Christians. And when we become Christians we get miracles, we get healing, we get angelic protection, we get answers to prayer, we get all our needs met, we get life in abundance, we get peace beyond understanding, we get joy inexpressible, and on an on it goes. And isn’t that a huge part of Christian preaching to make Christianity attractive to others? It’s like selling a product by advertising all the things it can do to make life easier, happier and more exciting.

But the attraction of Christianity isn’t what we can get when we’re Christian, it’s realizing what we’ve already got. According to 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” HAS given, take note, meaning it’s already ours. And according to Paul in Ephesians 3:20, it’s even beyond our imagination what we’ve already got.

And that’s what people need to hear. It’s not “if you become Christian you get all these goodies,” it’s “Christ died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:15) so that our greatest needs as humans have already been taken care of. And if only we believed it we would then begin to experience it. What we’ve denied ourselves as humans, then, is experiencing what we’ve already got.

We were all dead in our transgressions, for instance, but God made us alive with Christ and “seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:5-6), so that we could join Christ in all that’s he’s doing, filling this world with everything he is, all of which God planned in advance for us to do (verse 10) before the world was even created (Ephesians 1:4). All that’s left for us to do is participate in what is already ours (2 Peter 1:4).

When Christ ascended that’s when the Holy Spirit was given to us so that Christ himself in all his divine and perfect nature can actually live what his Father has already given to us IN us (Colossians 3:4). Christianity, therefore, is never about getting; it’s all about God’s giving, every step of the way. And that’s what makes Christianity so attractive.

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Is Christianity about me and my future?

I woke up at the tail end of a frightening dream. I was in a church service singing a hymn, the congregation was swaying to the music and I was swaying in all the wrong directions, so I was glad when the hymn ended and we could all sit down. But just before sitting down the chap in front of me turned round and said, “I’m really looking forward to your sermon today.” Horrors: I’ve got the sermon? Right now?

So up I went and announced the first thing that came to mind, which was: “Christianity is not about self.” And that’s when I woke up. But in that twilight period of coming to, I pursued the thought further. How can Christianity be about me and my future when I’ve already “been raised with Christ,” Colossians 3:1, and my entire “life is now hidden with Christ in God,” verse 3?

The present preoccupation of much of Christianity with being good enough to go to heaven after we die, therefore, is at odds with Scripture which says we’re already in heaven with Christ and God. I don’t have to worry about me and my future at all then, do I, when Scripture clearly says my “self” has already been taken care of forever? But what, then, is the purpose of my human self now, while I’m still here on the Earth?

Well, when Jesus was here as a human he was in heaven and on Earth at the same time, just like we are. His reason for being on the Earth, meanwhile, was to be his Father’s agent. “See me, you see the Father,” he told Philip in John 14:9. So Jesus’ purpose for being here as a human was to be a perfect reflection of his Father.

And what people saw in Jesus was the relationship he had as a human with God. Jesus demonstrated that by obeying and trusting God in everything, and God always answered his every need. And there’s OUR reason too for being here on the Earth still; it’s to be JESUS’ agents, obeying and trusting him, and him taking care of our every need, so that people see the kind of relationship we humans can have with him.

My life is a reflection of that, which I’m able to do because “Christ is my life,” Colossians 3:4. Jesus now creates the same kind of relationship he had with the Father in me, through us obeying and trusting him.

Our concern isn’t about “me and my future,” then, because that’s all been taken care of already. It’s about what we’re here for now.

Is it true that “Life is what you make it”?

“This life only comes round only once, son, and we only get one shot at it, so give it all you’ve got, because life is what you make it.”

But what’s the most that anyone can make of this life? Suppose we grew up in a perfect home full of fun and healthy food, with dozens of friends and the finest schools, and enough money to develop every talent we’ve got, followed by a lucrative career, happy marriage, successful kids, exotic vacations, and we even became famous because of our exploits and community service. In other words we led an ideal life in today’s terms, and we made the most of it.

And what happens? We end up in a box surrounded by grieving people. None of what we accomplished, accumulated and crafted to live this life to the full goes with us. Others may benefit from what we accomplished and did for people – and our legacy may remain for centuries – but when we die it’s all over for us personally. The enjoyment, the challenges, the friendships, all our success stories and memories – all come to an end.

So “Life is what you make it,” eh? Seems like a poor investment of time and energy when it all fizzles out in the end. Would I buy a house with my life-savings if I knew in thirty years time it would self-destruct into a pile of useless rubble, and I’m on the street with nothing? So why invest my best efforts in a life that doesn’t last?

“Well,” comes the reply, “what else are we supposed to do? While we’re here we might as well make the most of it.” And I couldn’t agree more. We’ve got this amazing miracle throbbing away in our bodies called life, so wouldn’t it be worth everything we’ve got trying to figure out how we got it – and why?

Which, to me, is where Jesus comes in. If anyone knows what to make of life, he does, because he made human life in the first place, and then he lived it himself. He was the first to make of human life what could be made of it. He not only lived life as God meant it to be lived, he also lived a life that lasted beyond death, neither of which ANY other human has been capable of doing. That’s why Jesus came as a human to live what we couldn’t, and now lives what we can’t in us. My life now, therefore, can become what Jesus made of life, which is exactly what God gave us life for, to share in Christ’s life as he lives it.

“The life you see me living is not mine”

Colossians 3:4 says Christ is our life. And fortunately for us he’s willing to be that for us, because he was the only human being who lived life the way it was meant to be lived. None of the rest of us even come close. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), meaning God designed a glorious, wonderful life for us, but we totally blew it.

So what God did for us was send his Son in human form to live that glorious human life himself. He lived the “glory of God” life we could have lived, but didn’t. Then, after Jesus returned to his Father, they sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to unite us with the resurrected human Christ so he could live the human life he’d just lived – all over again – in us. His human life could then become our human life. It would take time, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, but that was the plan, that “our lives (would) gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” (The Message).

It meant, however, destroying the pathetic substitute of human life that we’d created by our efforts. That’s why Jesus united us with his death, first of all – to kill off that old life we lived, that fell so abysmally short of what it could’ve been. He crucified that useless existence for all humanity on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:14) so we can start afresh – this time with Christ living his gloriously perfect human life in us instead.

When Paul cottoned on to this, it did wonders for him, because in his words “(I’d been) working my head off to please God,” thinking it was totally up to him to live life as God meant it to be, Galatians 2:19. But he knew in his heart of hearts – and through bitter experience too – that it wasn’t working, because he too was “falling short.” Despite his best religious efforts, he could never get control of all his thoughts. He was determined to succeed, but, as the old saying goes, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

What a relief for Paul, then, to discover he didn’t have to sweat buckets trying to live the way God designed him to live. Instead, the resurrected Christ was more than willing to live it in him, verse 20. And after going that route for a few years Paul was then able to make a remarkable announcement, that “The life you see me living is not mine,” meaning HE wasn’t the engine driving his life anymore, Christ was.

God’s double dose of first aid for the new year

Now that we’ve been saved from past sins by Christ’s death, is it up to us now to obey God? It seems like it is in Romans 6:12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” That sounds like it’s up to us now to stop sinning.

Which is odd, because if we couldn’t stop sinning before, what suddenly makes us capable of stopping sin now? What changed? Well, in my experience, nothing changed. I’m still who I am. Sin still exerts a strong influence on me, just as it did before. It creeps up on me unawares, I obey its evil desires and, unfortunately, my body is often an “instrument of wickedness” still.

But something did change. Christ was raised from the dead. And the reason he came back from the dead was to lift us up with him, verse 8, so that we could “live to God” just like he does, verse 10. Jesus didn’t leave us on the sidewalk clutching his death as our only means of dealing with sin, he also gave us his life. As we travel through this life, then, we discover we have two first aid kits with us when sin does us damage, not just one, and both of them are with us wherever we go.

In one kit we carry the saving power of Christ’s death, and while we carry it, sin will never have mastery over us ever again. It doesn’t matter how many times we mess up, sin can never kill us. But sin isn’t dead, it’s still alive. It can’t kill us but it’s all around us every step we take. It’s like a wood full of blood-sucking insects constantly buzzing round your head. You can swat a hundred of them but a hundred more take their place. That’s sin. There’s no getting away from it, and it could drive us mad with frustration and despair – but that’s when we feel the reassuring handle of the other first aid kit, given to us when Jesus came back from the dead, because in that kit we carry the saving power of Christ’s life.

And while we carry that kit, we will always live to God. Even in our worst moments of weakness, when it looks like sin has total mastery of us and we’re the worst Christians on the planet, we’re still thinking of God, aren’t we? We can’t forget him. It might be only the tiniest spark, but we’re still “alive” to him, verse 11, and we hate what we’re doing. Well, that’s Christ’s life in us, our second first aid kit for the new year.          

Is everyone a “new creation” now?

The idea that there is an “us” and “them,” and Christians are the only ones in whom Christ is working, does not measure up with 2 Corinthians 5:14. “We are convinced,” Paul wrote, “that one died FOR ALL, and therefore all died.” ALL of us, past, present and future, died with Christ, “SO THAT,” verse 15, “ALL WHO LIVE might live no longer for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Christ took ALL of us with him to his death so that the old life of living for ourselves could be dumped in the garbage. And when he was “raised again” soon after his death, Christ raised us all with him to a NEW life and a fresh start, described by Paul as being “IN CHRIST,” verse 17.

And with that new life we can now “live for Christ” – or live, at last, for what he lived and died for. That’s why, Paul says in verse 16, “we cannot judge ANYONE by human standards,” or by what they look like on the outside, because now that we’re ALL “in Christ” we are ALL a “new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We’re ALL  reconciled to God (verse 18). Our old life of enmity toward God is in the incinerator burnt to a crisp. We can now experience a whole new life instead. And that includes everybody.

So when looking at anyone, no matter what state he or she is in, we’re no longer looking at what they appear to be, we’re looking at them as they really are. Everyone we know, and everyone we meet, is a new creation in Christ, and because “ALL WHO LIVE” are classed as new creations in Christ, God is “no longer counting their sins against them,” verse 19. Why not? Because, verse 21, “God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that IN HIM we (all) might become the righteousness of God.”

Christ lived a perfect sinless life, so that “IN HIM” we can all become the same perfect sinless human he is. This is what Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished for all of us. And there was nothing that any of us did, or didn’t do, to make it happen. God was the one who made it possible for us in Christ, so that every person alive can experience a new life with the love of Christ in them.

“For Christ’s love compels us,” Paul wrote in verse 14. Imagine that; a life no longer driven by destructive self-centredness, but rather a life compelled by love. And with Christ in us it’s possible – for everyone.

What difference does Christ make in our lives?

According to Romans 6:11 there are two things Christ does for us that make a difference: We’re “dead to sin” and, secondly, we’re “alive to God.”

But why does being “dead to sin” make a difference? Because, verses 6 and 14, it means we’re no longer being pulled around by the nose by our sinful nature. And it was Christ who did that off for us by uniting us with his death (verse 5). We were all up there on the cross with him (verse 6), so that every sin we human beings ever committed (and would ever commit) was dealt with there and then. In verse 7, “anyone who has died (with Christ) has been freed from sin.”

The second thing that Christ does for us is make us “alive to God.” And that opens up a whole new life that “leads to holiness” and “eternal life” (verse 22). It’s the same kind of life that God experiences. And Christ pulled that one off for us too, this time by uniting us with his life (verse 5). When he rose from the dead, all humanity rose with him to “live with him,” verse 8, and since “the life he lives, he lives to God,” verse 10, then we can live that same kind of life too.

And it must be a good life, because Jesus not only loves living it himself, he also loves living it in us, because when he rose from the dead we all rose with him, Romans 6:4-5, so that the human life he now lives becomes our human life as well. He now weaves his humanity into our humanity, which he can do because he’s our Creator. Not only did he create us, he also has the power to RE-create us, this time in the likeness of himself and the life HE lives as a human.

So what difference does Christ make? Well, “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” Colossians 2:9. Jesus lives as a human being right now, with God’s nature, God’s love, and God’s wisdom at full strength in him. But why that matters to us is in verse 10, because “you have been given fullness in Christ.” So what Christ is in his resurrected human state right now is what he’s raised us to become as well. This is what he raised us with him for, so that he can weave all that he is in HIS bodily form into OUR bodily form, his eventual aim being the “redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

Christ freed us from our old sin-filled bodies, to fill us with his own God-filled body – and we can experience the difference that makes right now.