CHICAGO, IL (June 27, 2014) — Editor’s note: Daniel Hill, the pastor of River City Community Covenant Church in Chicago says that answering the question “What does the fullness of Christ actually look like?” has been the “pearl of great price for him.” In his new book, John 10:10: Life to the Fullest, he seeks to answer that question.
For Hill, the answer has included living a life of courage rooted in a holistic faith that is informed by a right view of our identity with Christ. Such faith displays emotional health, spiritual vitality, vibrant evangelism, diverse community, and everyday justice. In the following excerpt, he meditates on a question asked by Klyne Snodgrass, the Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies at North Park Theological Seminary.
One of the people that has helped me [in the quest to gain a more comprehensive vision for Biblical faith] is Dr. Klyne Snodgrass. An accomplished author and Biblical scholar, Dr. Snodgrass has spent his entire adult life studying the New Testament in particular.
I heard him address this question during a fantastic lecture on faith. He opened the session by asking, “What is it that churches in America are missing?”
At the root of what’s missing, he suggested, is an incomplete understanding of faith. He thinks we have our emphases in reverse when it comes to faith.
His primary illustration of this is how we talk about Jesus “coming into our heart.” In most Christian circles we frame the conversion process around this language. When a spiritual seeker is prepared to surrender their life to Christ, we encourage them to ask Jesus to come into their heart. This inward focused, individualized language continues to shape the way we think about spiritual growth even as a Christian matures in their faith.
Is it bad to ask Jesus to come into your heart? Of course not. Jesus Christ is everywhere, including in our heart. But Snodgrass’ point is that the level of emphasis we place on this doesn’t match the level of emphasis it receives in the Bible.
“Which is a more familiar way to describe faith in Christian circles: Christ being ‘in us,’ or us being ‘in Christ?’”
He had people raise their hands, and nearly ever person in the room said that they had primarily heard faith described as Christ being “in us.” This did not surprise Dr. Snodgrass—it is what he finds to be the case everywhere he goes. The problem with that is that inviting Jesus into our heart is just the very tip of the iceberg.
According to Snodgrass’s research, Paul uses the language of Christ “in us” five or six times in the New Testament. But when you contrast that to the frequency of us “in Christ,” you discover that the number jumps to an astonishing 164 times!
Summarizing the importance of this distinction, Snodgrass asked, “If Christ is only in you, then how big is Christ? Not very big, and you can tuck him away when you don’t need him.”
“But,” he asks, “If you and all other human beings are in Christ, as well as all of Creation, then how big is Christ?” His question needed no answer – the point had been clearly made. We need a bigger and broader vision of faith. We need to learn what it means to not just invite Jesus into our life, but to step into Jesus’ invitation to join his life.
Martin Luther, the leader who ignited the Protestant Reformation with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, used a powerful image to make a similar point. Here is how he described holistic faith:
“But faith must be taught correctly, namely, that by it you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached to Him forever and declares: ‘I am as Christ.’ And Christ, in turn, says: ‘I am that sinner who is attached to Me, and I to Him. For by faith we are joined together in one flesh and bone.’”
Martin Luther says that when faith is taught “correctly,” we see that by faith we are “cemented” and “attached” to Christ. This is nearly identical language to the Apostle Paul’s emphasis of being “in Christ.”
If faith is strictly the means by which Jesus enters into my heart, it is an accurate but limited view. It leaves me feeling as if I am the one in control, with Jesus at my mercy, even if that is not what I believe on a conscious level. He goes where I go, rather than the other way around. It leaves me vulnerable to a life unchanged. The danger of this view is that I relegate Jesus to the role of spiritual add-on, and he is not unleashed to act as the spiritual force that he actually is.
If I am “in Him,” versus Him being “in me,” I am no longer in control of my life. I am anchored in Christ, and to what Christ values, and to what Christ says. What Jesus Christ does and where Jesus Christ goes now becomes the dominant narrative of my life. When Jesus moves, I move. When Jesus heads into unchartered waters, I go with him, even if I am filled with fear. When Jesus leads me into the unknown, I go into the unknown with him. I can’t not go – I am cemented to him by faith.
Do you see how profound of a difference that is? If I remain in control of Jesus, then I have little hope for experiencing the fullness of life that God has designed me for. But when I see that I am cemented to Jesus, then he is the one that is in control, and he can lead me to that fullness of life—however he sees fit.
Dr. Snodgrass, in his lecture, asked… “Is the idea of being ‘in Christ’ simple?”
He let the question hang in the air, and then flatly answered, “No. It’s not easy, because we haven’t been taught to live like this. It’s not how our pastors and teachers and theologians talk, and it’s not how we talk. But it can be done – it needs to be done. We need to learn to live “in Christ” so that we as Christians, and we as churches can become the force of love in the world that God designed us to be!”
I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment. It can be difficult to make the transition from living from a paradigm of Christ “in me” to living from a paradigm of my life “in Christ.” It’s not always clear what that means or how to do it. Yet when we hear it, something tells us that it is exactly what we need to learn.
The purpose of this book is just that—to paint a Biblical picture of holistic, multidimensional faith, and to inspire and equip you to step into that as a new dimension of life in Christ.