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Who Are We in Christ, Part 3

Dear Rabbi,

If G-d is a mystery to us, beyond human reason and logic, then how can we relate to Him?


You’re right, G-d is essentially unknowable. Yes, He makes Himself known to us through His miracles, His prophets, His Torah, and by the very act of creating and sustaining our world and our very existence. But none of that can really provide information that defines who He is. Because He cannot be defined. In the language of the Kabbalists, He is infinite, even beyond “the beginning that cannot be known.”

So how can we pray or have any relationship with a being so unknowable, so undefinable, He can hardly be called a being?

The answer is because our relationship with G-d is not measured by our capacity to understand Him, nor by heightened consciousness or any sublime ecstasy we claim to have from the experience of His presence. Our relationship to G-d is measured by what we do, by our firm adherence to the morals that He has established for us and by our integrity in our dealings with others.

One who claims he has one G-d, but cheats his fellow, has in fact two gods. One who claims he is godless, but believes in a fixed and immutable moral law is in fact a believer. Ultimately, G-d is in your life when you act G-dly—consistently following His ways in all you do. That is why He has given us His Torah, so that by following these instructions, we can bond with Him in our daily lives.

G-d is not an idea that can be grasped with the mind. G-d is real, and reality is grasped by real deeds.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“How Can I Relate to an Unknowable G-d?”
Learning and Values

I know it seems strange to begin a blog post about “who we are in Christ” by quoting a question to and answer from a Chabad Rabbi, but bear with me. It’s relevant.

I wasn’t going to write a part 3 to this series (if you haven’t done so already, see part 1 and part 2 before continuing here), but I received a rather tongue-in-cheek request to do so:

Your gonna have to write a part 3 cause all the Christians are gonna be wondering what the hell your talking about Jew and gentile identity and why you aren’t talking about the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies and the freedom from condemnation and having the miraculous signs and authority to cast out demons and living forever etc. how does all the chiristian good stuff fit in here?

I’m only kinda joking. When I hear “in Christ” it makes me think of the time I spent in church!

OK, not much to build on from those statements, but it did make me realize that I didn’t provide much of a resolution to the question. On the other hand, there may not be much of a resolution to the question. That’s disappointing to hear, but that’s the nature of a relationship with God. We don’t get all the answers, at least in an intellectual fashion. To paraphrase Rabbi Freeman (and quote James T. Kirk), “We learn by doing.”

But what do we do?

For some Christians, the answer is, “we don’t have to do anything. We’re saved by grace.”

That’s true, but it’s hardly the end of the story…well, it is for some.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” –Luke 23:39-43 (ESV)

For some Christians, this is the quintessential picture of salvation by grace. The thief on the cross, dying by inches with Jesus, had no time or ability to do anything except believe and confess his faith…and then expire by slow torture. He couldn’t sing praises (he would have been lucky to even catch his breath enough to make a whisper) to God, give to the poor, visit the sick, or anything else in response to his faith. He came to faith, confessed, and shortly thereafter, died.

And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, even if you come to faith at age 20 and then wait with your faith until age 80 or so to die.

But is who we are in the Messiah just realization of his reality, coming to faith, confessing, and then patiently waiting for the bus to Heaven?

OK, OK. You go to church on Sunday, listen to a sermon, sing hymns, give money when they pass around the plate, go to a Bible class, have coffee and donuts, and then go home. Maybe you go to a dinner and Bible study at your church on Wednesday nights, too. You celebrate Christmas. You get really worked up for Easter.

But is that it?

An observant Jew, who lives out religious details in a day-to-day manner, performing the mitzvot and following halachah might commit more “acts of righteousness” in a week than you will in an entire year.

Yes, I’m being unfair, but how many Christians out there believe that all there is to their faith is being saved by grace, going to church, and getting by until they finally die and go to Heaven to be with Jesus?

broken-crossProbably quite a few. More’s the pity.

That’s why it’s important to ask questions like, “who are we in Christ” and then start pursuing the answer with all available energy and concern. Some Christians won’t get this only because it doesn’t affect their salvation. But what if it’s not just all about salvation? What if “being saved” is only the beginning of the journey, not the conclusion?

Jonathan Stone recently wrote a blog post called Pilgrim’s Progress in which he discussed the matter of spiritual growth (or lack thereof, in my opinion). Stone says in part:

All around us the world is falling apart. We are overwhelmed with constant news of economic collapse, natural disasters, genocides, political wars, all sorts of crimes, starvation, extreme poverty and the sort. All of which reminds me of this, but you get the point. It is NOT the call of the pilgrim to stand idly by while people’s lives are shattered. However, it is the pilgrim’s call to continue on the path. And that path is a path that gets brighter and brighter as one progresses along.

This is a call to actually do something with your life of faith!

Wow! Really? What? What makes the path “get brighter?”

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ –Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV)

You know, if you continue reading verses 41-46, you sort of get the idea that what you actually do for other people does affect your salvation. If you don’t feed the hungry, visit the sick and people in prison, and so on, you can expect an answer from Jesus like,“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

If you claim to love God and still cheat someone or steal from someone, you have two gods.

Oh wow!

So, let’s go over this again. You get saved and then what are you supposed to do (assuming you aren’t nailed to a cross by big, metal spikes and getting ready to die)?

Feed the hungry.

Give water to the thirsty.

Welcome the stranger.

Clothe the unclothed.

Visit the sick and those in prison.

Don’t take that as a hard and fast “religious formula” whereby you perform exactly those deeds and because of that are promised a life in the world to come. Consider those behaviors as fitting into this general category:

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. –Matthew 22:39 (ESV)

ReflectionA day or so ago, I was talking about love; how we are to love each other and how Jesus loves all of us. Paul described this kind of love in Ephesians 5:25-32 when he compared a husband’s love for his wife to Christ’s love for the church. Paul called it “a profound mystery.”

Here’s another one:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Add to the list, someone who makes peace with fellow Christians and who loves them.

So who are we in Christ?

We are people who love those who are like us and those who are unlike us. We treat everyone the way we want to be treated as human beings. If someone has needs like food, water, or companionship, we do our best to provide for those needs, not just because the other person needs them, but for the sake of our love for God and His love for us. When we show this kind of love, we’re telling people this is how God loves all human beings. Our actions are our witness and speak much, much louder than all the sermons ever spoken and all the religious tracts and pamphlets ever shoved into undesiring hands.

Now compare what the Bible says you’re supposed to be to that person you see in the bathroom mirror every morning. We know what Jesus says about who you’re supposed to be in Christ. Are you that person?

You should be able to answer that question now.