In Christ pt.1

April 3rd, 2008

John Piper published a gem of a book in 2005 with the title God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself. Piper as a Christian pastor/theologian tends to inspire strong reactions. Usually one either generally loves or generally dislikes his work. I fall into the first category. But whether you agree often with Piper or not, or whether you’ve even heard of him before or not, this little book of Piper’s says something of supreme value and importance: at the heart of the good news of the Christian gospel is God giving himself to us as a gift.

Among the very highest treasures and desires of the Christian is fellowship with God.
Perhaps the only greater desire is to see God’s glory revealed. To put this in relation to the gospel: fellowship with God and the declaration of God’s glory are at the very heart of the gospel. By contrast, the gospel is not primarily a hell-avoidance or sin-coping scheme–although hell and sin are eternally serious matters. But hell and sin are serious precisely because of the obstacles they pose to fellowship with God (in the case of hell, an irrevocable and eternally broken fellowship) and because they put people on the wrong side of God’s glory. Unless God gives us a new life, we sinners do not want fellowship with him and we do not desire his glory.

When Christ came into this world, when he died on the cross, when he came back from the dead, he did it all to renew the possibility of eternal, delightful, close fellowship with God. But in order to enable such fellowship, he had to deal with the problem of our sins which makes us natural enemies of God, our creator and source. By atoning for our sins, Christ offers–to those who cling to him and his salvation–restoration into the intimate fellowship of God’s own family

I’d like to take this beautiful thought of Piper’s (that God himself is the greatest gift of the gospel) and pursue a corollary: God’s Gift of himself to us is, in fact, the gift of union with Christ himself. For those who cling to Christ, who believe his gospel and follow Christ, being united with Christ is the blessing and reality that best sums up all the other blessing and realities of the gospel. So it should not be a surprise that the New Testament has some extraordinary things to say about union with Christ.

This will the first in a series of posts exploring this topic. For this first post, I’ll just cite one of the biblical passages that speaks of the extraordinary gifts that are summed up in the gift of union with Christ; below, you will find a quote from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This idea of union with Christ is brought out in the passage through the phrase in Christ. The phrase has an instrumental meaning, too. “In Christ” can be glossed with “by means of Christ.” However, there is more than just this instrumental sense here. The phrase denotes union with the one who is also the means to various ends. (This will be discussed in greater depth in subsequent posts).

In context, Paul is celebrating the fact that in Christ, Gentiles can also have fellowship with God, that the Jewish people are no longer the only ones to whom God offers his fellowship. Yet, although the immediate application speaks of Christ as the means of peace and spiritual equality between Jews and Gentiles, the greater truth that Paul is stating is peace with God for those who are in Christ. This peace means fellowship with Christ, fellowship with the Father and fellowship with the Holy Spirit–fellowship with God the Trinity.

Note the various ways in which Paul celebrates fellowship with God in Christ. Being in Christ means: breaking down separation from Christ himself, restoration of hope, nearness to God for those who were far away, peace with others (Jew/Gentile relations), reconciliation with God, being part of God’s family (his household), being joined in Christ into a spiritual structure that is the dwelling place for God through his spirit. It’s as though Paul cannot come up with enough ways in which being in Christ is a blessing and a joy!

For those who are tempted to reduce Christianity to a well-intentioned system of moral betterment, consider the realities that Paul is speaking of here. You may not accept them, but Paul is speaking about realities of an intimacy and closeness with God that utterly transcend the “mere” reality of a moral lifestyle, as important as morality is.

Eph 2:10-22

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands–
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

PS. If you follow this link, you can read the book God is the Gospel for free online. Also, the site Desiring God has a “pay what you can” policy. If you’d like to order this book (or others), but you cannot pay the suggested price, they’ll send it to you for less, or even for free.