I know that a number of you are interested in bird watching. One of the enjoyable things about it is identifying different birds. When you become familiar with them, they become quite easy to identify by their size, shape, flight pattern, coloring and song. However, some birds are very similar and it takes a careful look to see what they really are. The Eastern and Western Meadowlark are very close in size, shape, flight pattern and even coloring. You have to look very closely to distinguish them. Their call, however, is quite different and when you hear it there is no confusion.
How do you identify a Christian? People in other parts of the world believe that Canadians and Americans are Christian because they perceive our country to be a Christian country, but is that an adequate way to identify a Christian? Some might suggest that most people in Rosenort are Christians because most of them belong to one of the four churches. Is that an adequate identity? Does keeping a certain code of conduct identify you as a Christian? Does attending a church identify you as a Christian? Do the friendships you have identify you as a Christian? Does your family background identify you as a Christian? How do we identify a Christian so that there is no confusion?
Galatians 2:20 helps us think clearly about this. There we read, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This verse says some very important things about what it means to be a Christian. It acknowledges that a Christian is one who is still living on this earth. A Christian has not gone to heaven or isolated him or herself from the world. A Christian life is referred to as “the life I live in the body.” As Christians, we are human, we live in this world and we live in a physical body.
However, as Christians we also have another very important identity which really marks a person as being Christian. This verse indicates Paul’s testimony about what it means to be a Christian. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ” “I no longer live” and “Christ lives in me.” A Christian is one who has died and in whom Christ lives. To be identified as a Christian is not to be baptized, although baptism is a good way to make a statement about whose we are. To be identified as a Christian is not to live in obedience to some code, although those who belong to Christ will live by obedience. To be identified as a Christian has absolutely nothing to do with who your parents are or what they believe. There is only one thing about which there is no confusion, which identifies you as a Christian and that is that Jesus Christ lives in you. A Christian is one who lives by faith in a relationship with the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
John Piper says, “A Christian is not a person who believes in his head the teachings of the Bible. Satan believes in his head the teachings of the Bible! A Christian is a person who has died with Christ, whose stiff neck has been broken, whose brazen forehead has been shattered, whose stony heart has been crushed, whose pride has been slain, and whose life is now mastered by Jesus Christ.”
The glory of this is that we do not enter into such a relationship by our good will and steadfast purpose, but by a faith response to the one who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Being “Christian” equals “Christ lives in me” and this morning, I would like to invite you to look at Scripture to think about what kind of a life that is. If Christ lives in us, how is that life lived?
I. Living with Direction
A life lived in Christ is a life lived in a very particular direction. It is a life lived in obedience to Christ in every part of life and a life lived in service to God. The direction of a life lived in Christ is a direction of obedience. It is very clear from Scripture that we cannot climb to God by obedience. Piper suggest that obedience is like a railway track not like a ladder. A ladder lets us climb up to some place. Obedience is not a ladder which will let us climb up to God. Rather, it is like a railway track. When Christ is in us, we are set on a particular track and that is the track of obedience to Christ. When Christ lives in a person, their heart is changed so that they do what Christ would do. They begin to live a life of obedience in purity, obedience in love and obedience in service.
Scripture is powerfully clear on this matter. Romans 6:4-6 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin...”
Romans 6:13 goes on to say, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”
Galatians 5:24 encourages us, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
Titus 2:14 also teaches us that Jesus, “…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
John Piper says, “There is a new "I"—I do still live, but look who it is. It is no longer an "I" who craves self-reliance or self-confidence or self-direction or self-exaltation. The new "I" looks away from itself and trusts in the Son of God, whose love and power was proved at Calvary. From the moment you wake in the morning till the moment you fall asleep at night, the new "I" of faith despairs of itself and looks to Christ for protection and the motivation, courage, direction, and enablement to walk in joy and peace and righteousness. What a great way to live!”
Reflecting on Galatians 2:20, Donald Guthrie says, “Paul thinks of himself as having become so closely identified with Christ that Christ dominates his whole experience.“…he thinks no longer of carnal living pursuing the desires and impulses of the self, but a new kind of living, a faith life.”
The question is, “do we live it?” Are we living in obedience to Christ? Do we examine our whole life and always think in terms being “in Christ” whether we are working or playing or relating to others?
Living in Christ involves obedience.
II. Living with Power
That is a perspective of the Christian life that we are familiar with and agree with as Mennonites, but is it the only aspect of what it means to be in Christ? There are churches which are known as “Full Gospel” churches. The implication of the name of these churches is that other churches are missing something and that they have the full gospel. Is it possible that we are missing something of what it means to be in Christ if we only describe the “in Christ” life as life with a direction of obedience and service? What else could there be? Pentecostals have taught us that living in Christ is living in the power of the Spirit.
We should be careful not to dismiss this by suggesting that it is a Pentecostal emphasis, because it is a Biblical idea. Romans is very clear that we cannot live the Christian life in the power that comes from our own determination. Romans 8:3, 4 says, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
Being in Christ must be about living in the power of the Spirit. Christ came in order to make the way for us to have our sins forgiven. In doing so, He made our lives a holy receptacle for God to live in. In the Old Testament God taught His people to build a place for Him to live. In the wilderness at Mount Sinai God showed them the pattern for the tent. When the building was completed, it was cleansed. The priests sacrificed lambs in order to atone for the sins of the people and to cleanse the temple and when that was done, the pillar of cloud which had accompanied them came to rest on the tent of meeting and from that point on the people knew that God was in that tent and thus in their presence. When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and the building was completed he called on the priests to cleanse the temple and they offered sacrifices to remove the sins of the priests, of the people and to cleanse the building. When that had been completed, there was a cloud which enveloped the temple and it was clear that God came to dwell in that temple. The pattern has been repeated in us. Jesus came to earth to cleanse unclean human vessels. It was not the blood of a lamb which was shed to cleanse people, but the blood of Jesus Christ. Those who have accepted that cleansing are now fit vessels for the indwelling of God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Living in Christ ushers us into the blessed privilege of living in the Spirit’s power. The power of the Spirit of God is present with us to help us remain in Christ, to help us walk in Christ and to help us proclaim Christ. We do not live in our own power, but in the power of the Spirit of God.
Living in Christ involves surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit!
III. Living with a Message
But is that the “full” gospel? As an Evangelical Mennonite Church, we also identify ourselves as evangelicals. The root of the word “evangelical” is Greek and means “good message.” The “ev” part of the word is from the Greek word for “good.” The “angelical” part of the word is from the Greek word which means “message.” To be evangelical means that we have a good message, a gospel to proclaim.
The Bible teaches us that to be in Christ means that we have a message to proclaim. II Corinthians 4:11 says, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” The purpose of our living, of our being in Christ is so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal body. Colossians 1:27 also reminds us that “...God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
I was involved in a conversation about this recently. One person was reflecting on what would happen if a medical researcher discovered a cure for cancer and decided that he would not share the cure with others. We would think such a person to be very selfish, perhaps even evil. So many people are dying of cancer that to withhold the knowledge of the cure of cancer from them would be a terrible thing. They went on to say that we as Christians know of the cure of a disease far worse than cancer. The disease of sin does not just afflict a certain percentage of the population, as cancer does. It afflicts every single person living on this earth. It is a disease which is far worse than cancer. The effects of sin destroy not only the body, but cause terrible suffering for all people on earth. A person ravaged by sin can be totally healthy physically, but in terrible spiritual anguish. But sin does not only destroy a person spiritually, it also destroys people relationally and physically. When a person dies, cancer is finally not a problem to them. The consequences of sin, however, if left untreated, do not stop when a person dies. The consequences of sin afflict a person for all eternity. There is no disease which is as bad as the evil of sin in our hearts. As Christians, we know the cure for this disease and if Christ is in us how can we not be involved in communicating the good news of the cure for sin to all those we come in contact with.
When Christ is in us, it is not only this logical perspective which will move us to be involved in proclaiming the gospel. It is rather the very presence of Christ in us which will move us to let others know of His great gift. It is “Christ in us” which is “the hope of glory.” When Christ is in us, it will be, as II Corinthians 5:14 says, “the love of Christ compels us.” When we know that we have been redeemed and forgiven and been set on the course of a new life, the very presence of Christ within us moves us to make His love and truth known to the world.
Living in Christ involves being involved in proclaiming the good news!
IV. Living in a Presence
From Mennonites we have learned that being in Christ requires a direction of obedience and service. From Pentecostals we have learned that being in Christ means living in the power of the Spirit. From Evangelicals we have learned that all who are in Christ will proclaim the good news about Christ. In recent years there has been a new church movement which has arisen. It is sometimes known as the emerging church movement. Although it is not any particular church or denomination and it is a little difficult to know exactly what is to be identified as “emerging church,” books like “Blue Like Jazz” which are written in the emerging church context help us understand another aspect of what it means to be in Christ. The emerging church seeks to live honestly in the context of a world in which relativism reigns and in which organized religion is often suspect. It recognizes that it will be increasingly difficult to make the gospel known to this culture by inviting them to church. They understand that the only thing that will convince people in our culture of the good news is the presence of Jesus in the life of those who follow Him. What they are teaching us is that being in Christ involves a relationship with Christ that is living and active and present with us every day.
This is, of course, not a new idea, nor simply a modern concept. It is thoroughly rooted in Scripture. John 6:57 is powerful when it reminds us of the words of Jesus who said, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” This tells us that it is by “feeding” on Jesus that we will be able to live in Him. “Feeding on Jesus” means remaining in a relationship with Him through reading His word, listening to Him and communicating with Him. Galatians 3:27 teaches us that “…all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The imagery of clothing implies a close identity. It implies a constant relationship with Christ. The same message comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:10 where we read, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” So what this tells us is that the Christian life is a life lived in a constant, daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Wherever we go, whatever we do, whoever we meet, we are always functioning in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Living in Christ is living in relationship with Christ.
V. All of the Above
One of the ways in which teachers test to see whether their students have understood the material they have taught is to give them a multiple choice test. A question will be asked and a number of possible answers will be given and the student has to check which ones are correct.
If we were to give a multiple choice test on today’s message, and ask the question, “What does it mean to be in Christ?” and give the four choices: a. It means to have a direction of obedience and service in life. b. It means to live in the power of the Spirit c. It means to be involved in proclaiming the gospel or d. It means to live in a relationship with Jesus; how would you answer?
Or would we have to do what teachers often do, and that is offer a fifth option, e. all of the above? Because they are so fully described in Scripture we know that the answer to this question is e. all of the above. To be a Christian is to be in Christ and to be in Christ means that our lives will be directed to living in obedience and service, it means that we will live by the power of the Spirit, it means that we will proclaim the good news about Christ and it means that we will live in a daily, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
That we can divide this concept up so much when we agree that it must mean all of the above and can even identify denominations which emphasize one or the other suggests that these things can also be fragmented in our lives. It causes us to ask: Which piece is weak or missing in your life?
II Corinthians 13:5 invites us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” This verse gets right to the heart of the matter, “Christ Jesus is in you.” That is what being a Christian is all about. But this verse also invites us to see if that is true when it suggests, “unless, of course, you fail the test.” How do we evaluate our lives? By examining our lives according to the things we have looked at today. If we desire to obey and serve Him, if we submit to the power of the Spirit, if we have a passion to see others know Jesus and if we rejoice in a relationship with Jesus, then we know that Christ is in us.
There are some who attend church regularly and who live pretty decent lives who think that Christianity is about making a decision and having assurance of eternal life. I want to assure you that it is. But it is also about living “in Christ” every day. If the extent of our faith is hope for eternity, we have not really understood what it means to be Christian. Eternal life is life in the presence of God and that eternal life begins now. Christ living in us is what identifies us as Christians.
I would challenge all of us to take the test mentioned in II Corinthians 13:5. Living in Christ means all of the above. When Christ is in us, such a life is possible. Philippians 4:13 encourages us, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
May we live in Christ!