At a conference I attended recently, the speaker made a bold statement. The declaration rubbed my Brethren consciousness the wrong way but I feel the speaker may have been on to something. One simple sentence has caused deep reflection for the past week.
“The goal of the Christian journey is not to be like Christ. It’s to do life with God.”
How does that statement make you feel? Allow me to run through some of the uneasiness I felt and you let me know if your reaction was similar.
- If the journey isn’t to be like Christ, then are they devaluing the Lordship of Jesus?
- Aren’t “Christ like” and “life with God” similar?
- Wait, are they similar in my life?
- Dang, I’ve been trying to be like Jesus and may have missed life with God.
- What if Christ like sets me up for spiritual pride and legalism?
- Maybe this is why fundamentalists and progressives all spin off (especially in Brethren land). Fundamentalists make Christ like into a moral code. Progressives make Christ like an underwriting of the latest social justice cause.
- Wow, I vascilate between those two poles—I care deeply about right living and justice.
- This entire inner monologue has not once mentioned the Holy Spirit.
Then it hit me! The declaration was not diminishing the lordship of Jesus. (The speaker reinforced their commitment to discipleship, the Lordship of Jesus, and the necessity of Jesus of Nazareth as an exemplar on that journey.) It was calling me into wonder and life with the Triune God. I am a temple of the Holy Spirit—equally God with the Son and the Father.
The example of Jesus of Nazareth, as revealed in the Gospels, is determinative for my life. Our question, however, should not be how can I do what Jesus did? Nor should we simply ask “what would Jesus do?” Such questions miss the mark on two fronts. First, Jesus of Nazareth lived in a historical context that is not my own. Second, Jesus of Nazareth was/is simultaneously the second person of the Trinity.
That, my friends, is what the speaker was getting at with her pointed one-liner. You and I, in our quest to be like Jesus of Nazareth, have missed the personhood and power of the Spirit. It is only by the indwelling of the Spirit that we can be like Jesus. And that Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, reminds us of the ultimate WHY for Jesus. Jesus lived, died, was resurrected and is coming again so that we may have life with God (now and forever).
- To Fundamentalists: it was not for a moral code. Christ fulfilled that so that you and I would know true, abiding communion with the Father.
- To Progressives: it was not for social justice. Christ’s body, the Church, indwelled with the Holy Spirit, lives life with God publicly so that our example invites the widows, the orphans, the abused, and the bleeding into that same life.
- To Fundamentalists: you are right! Right living does matter and it is called discipleship. But legalistic moral codes emerge as we lose sight of life with God.
- To Progressives: justice matters! It often matters not because we go out and change the world but because the love of God and the life to be found in him is often pushed to the margins. In doing justice, often, we, the Church, are saved.
It is in this mix of fundamentalists and progressives, of which I am one, that we discover a common good with a telos founded in life within the Triune God. If we are not doing life with God, then we are offering very little life to the world.
I confess to you that I am as guilty as anyone. Lord, have mercy! May the closing words of the Nicene Creed (325 AD) call us to the life-giving power of the third person of the Trinity, our Holy Spirit, and to the unity of all three persons of the Triune God in the life of the Church:
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.