When we start with Christ’s death, do we end up missing the whole point of His birth? After all, if Jesus was only born to die, what was the purpose of His life? Was it just to be our moral example and become a perfect sacrifice?
When we start our message with Adam’s fall and our sin, the focus is on forgiveness rather than adoption. The result is devastating to our identity. We see ourselves as no more than pardoned criminals instead of beloved sons and daughters. We’re left with a Christianity that’s not much more than getting saved from hell and waiting for heaven when we die.
As pardoned criminals, we’re still not transformed, we’re left outside, looking in…bewildered and alone, still orphans in this world, groping in the dark. We’re still hoping God will come through for us.
We’re still left with our Adamic preoccupation with other things…but now it’s what’s wrong with the world, looking to politics for salvation, speculating on the newest antichrist and waiting for a rescue. Maybe it’s social justice. If we believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, it might be miracles, signs and wonders…or spiritual warfare and deliverance.
Eventually, we’re left disappointed or disillusioned…or worse…bored.
This spiritual and emotional disconnect is almost a certain eventuality because something very critical still eludes us that gives our lives meaning.
What is it?
It’s why Christ came—our adoption. And that has everything to do with the incarnation. I will spend the next few posts explaining why that is so.
I will contend that since we’ve pushed the incarnation of Christ to the side in our understanding of the gospel we’ve missed the proverbial forest for the trees. We’ve made the secondary things the primary things (and vice versa). Ironically, making the incarnation irrelevant to our message has made the church irrelevant to the world we live in. I will have to explain what I mean by that another time.
We’ve made escaping hell, forgiveness, evangelism, grace, faith, social justice, doctrinal purity, eschatology, gifts of the Spirit, signs and wonders, spiritual warfare, and everything else with which we might busy ourselves, the primary focus of “Christianity”….and we’ve made union, fellowship, and intimacy with God secondary….even optional.
This is easily proved by the popularity of all those “Christian” activities I mentioned, compared to our desire for intimacy with Christ. Nothing has changed there since Adam.
Like the prodigal son and elder brother, we want our inheritance without relationship. What we’re demonstrating by this is that we want to go to heaven but we don’t really care Who’s there.
I know that comes across a bit harsh, but honest self-revelation is the first step to real freedom. 🙂
I’m not saying we should be about all-day prayer meetings and worship conferences either. I’m talking about moment-by-moment intimacy with God in our everyday lives. But I digress…
It’s also not that any of these activities “for God” aren’t important…it’s just that they are secondary to the heart of the gospel message…the good news that brings great joy. They miss the ultimate why Jesus lived, died, and rose again in the first place.
I find it interesting that Jesus finishes His Sermon on the Mount with this warning (bold type added):
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt.7:22-23 NKJV)
As I mentioned in “No longer slaves,” contrary to the way Cessationists like to use this passage, Jesus was not condemning prophecy, deliverance, and signs and wonders here. He could’ve just as easily added, “Lord, lord, have we not evangelized, fed the homeless and the poor, exposed the false teachers and prophets, preached perfect doctrine, even given our lives for You…”
No, the point was that they didn’t know Him. More precisely, He didn’t know them.
Jesus made relationship and intimacy with Him the primary thing, not what we do for Him. In fact, not knowing Him is evidently equated with lawlessness.
And if our doing doesn’t come out of our being, then what are we actually doing?
This “knowing” has nothing whatsoever to do with knowing about Him, saying a sinner’s prayer, reading the Bible, going to church, doing the Kingdom stuff…The word, “know” (ginōskō), in this context, means to have relational intercourse in the most intimate sense—like that which is between a husband and wife, except in a relational sense instead of a sexual one.
T.F. Torrance said this about knowledge in his classic work, “The Mediation of Christ“…
All knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, and calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that might obstruct or distort it. (p.24)
In other words, you cannot know God and not be changed by the encounter. It’s the reciprocal communion between a Father and His child that forms Christ in us.
To know Him is to also know that you’re His son/daughter, that there are no more religious distortions of orphan separation or estrangement (like with Adam).
We also cannot say we know God and not love, because He is love (1 John 4:7-8).
This is “eternal life,” which is not a pardon or an escape from hell, but knowing the Father and the Son through communion with His Spirit in us (John 17:3; 2 Cor.13:14).
But if our gospel understanding is all about divine retribution, satisfaction, and our need for forgiveness, instead of our adoption and restoration, we are left as orphans. And orphans don’t do relationships well.
It’s no wonder, then, that we’re so relationally dysfunctional as Christians…in our marriages, our families, our friendships, and in our churches.
Since we don’t have a high value for intimacy with God, we won’t do relationships well anywhere else, for we learn about these things by participating in this other-centered Love between the Father and Son in the Spirit.
When we don’t experience this Divine embrace, we’re left with the icy cage of religion, which leads our unsatisfied heart either to rebellion or performance-based Christianity.
We let human imaginations define love and all our relationships, which has disastrous consequences.
This is why the gospel message must start here. For this union, this knowledge of God, would not be possible without Christ’s hypostatic union—και θεος ην ο λογος (“and God was the Word”- John 1:1)—the incarnation of the Eternal Son of God.
More on that next time.