connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
A quick caveat at the start here – with the other talks I’ve been able to go back and relisten to the talk that was streamed to the hubs. This time, due to some tech difficulties, Mark had to zoom his talk – so these are pretty rough notes of what he said. If you caught something different or can supplement a thought, let me know in the comments!
Talk 3 | Goal, Gift and Solution
Introduction: Two Visions of the Good Life
The Aussie vision of the good life is found in being ‘healthy, wealthy, and wise’ (that old TV show!). A good life is one where you’re happy and one where you’re authentic. Happiness is filling your life with things that make you happy and minimizing pain and suffering. So it’s more important to eliminate pain and suffering than clearing off everything on your bucket list. If you miss most of your bucket list but are pain-free then that’s a better life than a life filled with pain. Pain being what you’re experiencing in your body – happiness then is about freedom. Freedom from poor health, a disabled body, suffering, and any barriers that bring you joy.
All this pushes us to a society that says you are free to do what makes you happy as long as it doesn’t cause suffering to others.
Authenticity is then grounded in the subjective and mystical. It’s about who you are – to find the real you, to live in a way that is true to yourself. Not dishonest, not a lie, not pretending to be someone else that you’re not. The true you is never what everyone expects you to be. But the problem: being true to yourself causes unhappiness. Children are alienated from their parents, husbands and wives who break up because their true selves are not found there. There can be a high cost to pay for authenticity – usually not for the authenticity seeker but for all those around them who are not able to fulfil the authenticity of the seeker.
Sounds bad, yet Aussie society lionises the authenticity seeker – those who risk happiness to seek themselves, and pay a high cost to find it, and then find it with others who support them.
The Biblical vision is very different. There is no emphasis on authenticity. It is so outside the vision of humanity that authenticity is not on the map. Aspects are, but the self-absorption that marks much of the authentic journey is not there. Scripture calls us to lose our lives to find life, not to find life ourselves.
The Biblical vision of happiness and the good life is also very different. Far from seeking wealth, the Bible emphasises open-handed generosity towards others. Far from health it tells us to sacrifice for others and warns us against the pleasures that kill the soul. Warns us that our prayers are not answered because we want to spend on our own pleasures.
The reason why the Biblical vision is so different to the world’s vision of happiness is because we are united to Christ. The cross uniquely defines Christ – all the shame and humiliation is his. He came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Dying for the world’s sins is not just what he does, but it’s a window into who he is.
Without the cross, there is no Jesus. Our need for forgiveness and justification is that great. When John sees the lion of the tribe of Judah he sees the slain lamb standing. The cross is at the centre of who Jesus is.
So, if the cross is at the centre of Jesus then that has massive implications for who we are. It’s not just the stuff we looked at yesterday (light, life and knowing God), but also the part of suffering, shame and death. If we belong to Christ then what is true of him will be true of you – what defines him will define you. Being united to Jesus isn’t just being united to him, but also to his great acts: his death, his resurrection, his ascension and glorification.
Question: when did you die with Christ? Does Jesus die over and over again when someone new becomes a Christian? Or is it that you died when Christ died – Peter says Christ died ‘once for all’. So there must be a sense in which when Jesus died on the cross he died for all – he brought us with him.
The bond between us and him is such that even before we are born we have already died with Christ on the cross.
The Bible’s picture of the good life goes off-road and blazes a new trail. In Jesus is everything humans need to flourish – in his humanity, we find it all. And life is also found in his resurrection and ascension – he made himself like us, and so now we are made like him. What is true of him is true of us. That is the wonder of our union with Christ. This is true life: being freed from everything that eats away at our humanity, and sets us free to true life in Him.
While you died with Christ when he died, which happened before you were born, you are not born united with Christ. For most Christians, there is a clear I didn’t belong to Christ and now I do. So there’s another key to this union.
Question: who is actually saved by Christ? Not every member of the human race is united to Christ to be saved. All are in Adam and so all die. The parallel is that all are in Christ and all will live. So what does ‘all’ mean? Christ has united himself to everyone by taking on the nature of everyone – but as you read through the scriptures ‘all’ cannot mean everyone (ie universalism). The Bible’s preferred language is that ‘many’ will be saved.
To put it bluntly: why are only some people Christians who have any saving relationship with Christ?
The Key: Remain in Christ
What is the key to being saved? It’s being united and remaining in Christ. The picture picked up in John 15 is of a vine and branches. Jesus is the vine who directs the growth and gives life. We are the branches that are grafted in. Under normal circumstances, you can distinguish between the branch and the vine – yet they are connected and remain one thing. To the degree that a branch remains connected to the vine, it will continue to live and produce fruit. Where the connection is dodgy or lost it will cease to produce fruit and will start losing life – so it will be taken off and thrown away.
The relationship between us and God is so complex that multiple images are used to describe our relationship. This picture is powerful.
This union is patterned on the physical reality of plants – so this picture surpasses even that of husband and wife. There is an ongoing relationship between us and Christ. This is what Christ describes as us remaining in him and abiding in him. If this works there is nothing we will lack. If we remain connected we will have everything we need for life and fruit.
So how do you remain connected?
Remember in the context of this section Jesus is focused on his death – it’s his last supper with them. With the troubled hearts of his disciples, he wants to replace those troubled hearts with trusting hearts. He wants them to believe and trust and entrust themselves to him, to look to Jesus to save them, deliver them and give them everything for eternal life. This is Jesus’ overriding concern in these chapters. Jesus wants to awaken faith in him. Because where there is faith in him there is connection, a bond between you and him. Abiding in faith is a way of speaking of our relationship with him. Trusting him to do rightly both now and eternity.
Abiding is a living faith, not a dead one, so it produces fruit. So after speaking of abiding Jesus speaks of remaining and keeping his commands – and if you keep the commands you remain in his love, just as Jesus remains in his Father’s love.
To abide in Jesus is to abide in his love, to abide in his love is to abide in Jesus just as Jesus abided in his Father’s love and so abided in his Father. We’ve seen so many pictures of what life is like so far – and now we have this picture of love.
How do you abide in this love? You keep his commandments. His Words abide and remain in you. Putting all that together – what puts you in Christ and keeps you in Christ is to have a living faith, a faith that abides and bears fruit, walking in the path that Jesus has set forth. To abide in Christ in Christ is to live by faith in Christ – goes all in, entrusts everything absolutely to Jesus as saviour, and is marked by repentance/obedience to his commands.
On our end, the living bond between us and Christ, like the bond between branch and vine, is made by faith.
The Key Ingredient: The Holy Spirit
But that’s only half the story. It’s a critical half, but there’s more. We need a supernatural ingredient in all of this: the Holy Spirit.
If you love me, keep my commands. But here we see that the one doing the work is the Spirit of Truth. When you have faith, when you have the love that seeks to obey his commands – the sign of true faith – then Jesus asks the Father and you are given the Spirit. On the day that you have the Spirit living in you is the day that you come to know the Father and are united to Christ. It’s on that day that you are not left as an orphan – it’s on that day you are made His own. Introduced by Christ to his Father as your Father. That which was eternally His by virtue of being his Son, you now get.
The Holy Spirit is the one who unites us to Christ. When we are given the Spirit upon faith in Christ then the union occurs. Then all that belongs to Christ is ours.
So this is a union of faith on our end – entrusting ourselves to Christ and expressed in obedience – and is the Spirit’s work on his end.
This is why the gospel is so critical for believers and unbelievers. It’s the gospel that lays out who Christ is and what he’s done on the cross. Faith in this gives us the Spirit.
Note – it’s not a moment of faith that joins us to Christ, it’s a life of walking in Christ. We need to abide in Christ throughout this life. That’s the kind of faith that produces obedience and fruit – and is sustained constantly by hearing the gospel of who Jesus is and what he’s done.
When we see this central importance of our union with Christ, then the rest of the NT is focused on what it means to remain and abide in Christ. Most of the NT is an exercise in applying remaining in Christ in practical ways.
Colossians 3 – one long worked example of what remaining and abiding in Christ looks like.
You’ve already been raised with Christ, you’ve died with Christ, your life is hidden with Christ – your life right now is where Christ is: seated at the right hand of God. All of that is true. His death is your death, His raising is your raising, His life is your life. All that is true of him is true of you. All that he has gone through your bond with him means you’ve done it with him. That means the most unimaginable things are now true of you – your life is not here but with Christ in God, beyond the reach of harm (Wesley). Your entire life has been moved from earth to heaven.
So because of these big truths, v5 onwards: obey this word.
Put to death sin – the values and behaviours and desires of this corrupt world are what you have died too. You already live in the heavenlies, waiting for Christ to be revealed – so live that way, not like your old life.
Note v10ff – we have a new self, picking up on the image language of Gen 1-2, in this image we are created: not in the image of defining yourself according to the worldly categories of v11, no, in place of all this is Christ. It is Christ’s image we are being renewed in. Christ is all and in all – and so all other categories fall away.
V12ff – there are now a whole bunch of new qualities we are to put on, demonstrating what this new life in Christ looks like. Putting on Christ means he is your life, and so you put on qualities that make you look more like His life. Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, etc. Unlike Romans 1 where people don’t consider the knowledge of God worthwhile to thank God for, thankfulness will now characterise believers.
First – you are now joined with Christ. All that is his is now yours and you receive it via being united to him. Everything that was you that was killing you is killed by Him on the cross – put to death in his own death. All the key things he did as a man to save you we share in. We died with him, rose with him, ascended with him. His life is ours.
Second – you are joined to Christ by faith and by the Spirit. That begins at a moment in time when you come to trust Christ. This brings you into an ongoing and dynamic relationship with Christ. We abide in this by leaning into our faith and his death and resurrection. It’s a dynamic and demanding walk that defines us. As you do that you will bear fruit in your life – more and more you will bear His image and reject that which brought death. You’ll orient your life towards eliminating all evil in your life. You will never finish this task – it is the whole pattern of your life. All of this flows out not from a legalistic set of demands, but something that we long for and love to do. So we want to do these things – we want more and more of him to be seen in us.
This is the good life. This is what human flourishing looks like. Remain in him, trust him, obey him, live out that death and new life he went through for you and brought you along with him.
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