Thursday, June 30, 2011

Restoration: Jesus' death and resurrection

When God brings us to new life, it is the word of God that is the seed growing in us; yet that is closely related to Jesus in his death and resurrection (some would say it is the same thing). Consider first that the apostles speak of Jesus as actually being the Word of God:
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. (John 1:1)
Jesus is the living word of God, being made man to live among us.

Jesus also speaks of himself as a seed that is planted, as he speaks about his upcoming death:
The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains but a single seed. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. (John 12:24)
So the renewal of the world began with Jesus. Our rebirth, our renewal, is tied to Jesus' death and resurrection.

The apostles taught that we participate in Jesus' death and resurrection -- particularly in our baptism:
So we are buried with him by baptism into death ... (Romans 6:4)

Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38) (which Jesus spoken in reference to his upcoming execution.)

Likewise baptism does also now save us -- not by removing dirt from the body but the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)

The Scriptures speak of new life as part of what it means to be Christ's people. We are taught that we must be "born again" (or "born anew", for those who would rather avoid the connotations of the American "born again" movement). The theme of new birth runs steadily throughout Scripture: "flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit", or (with ties to baptism again) "the washing of regeneration" (where "regeneration" means new birth). Peter and Paul both refer to new Christians as "spiritual infants", having started the new life but needing to grow into maturity.

The idea of growing to maturity and bearing fruit is also a steady theme running through the pages of Scripture, with teachings that "By their fruit you will know them", "Does a good tree bear bad fruit?", and "The fruit of the spirit is love, peace, patience, kindness" (etc).

We are even said to be "branches that were grafted into the tree" (Paul, to the Romans), drawing on the ancient theme of the Tree of Life -- and of the shoot springing forth from the stump of Jesse.

The point? Our atonement involves more than just the canceling of a debt. It is a transformation, the beginning of a literally new life. Throughout Scripture, we are given pictures of a new life that is lush and thriving.

One reason that some avoid talking about the new life is that this subject has often been used the wrong way. It is too easy to lose the focus on the lush and thriving new life given by God. Too often we look away from God's overflowing generosity towards us. We want to measure our progress -- or, worse, someone volunteers to measure it for us. There comes a temptation of faking spirituality by trying to perform our way into the favor of God. Some are tempted to do "good" works for public show, to earn praise and recognition -- or, worse, the right to boast. And some who volunteer to judge other peoples' spirituality are possessed by cold, narrow, or arrogant natures.

Here St Paul set a great example of spiritual leadership by boasting about how awful he had been, to put the best light on the mercy of God rather than on himself. We are most Christlike when we join him in accepting humility (or worse) for ourselves, for the sake of proclaiming God's goodness to others.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

There are two opposite (or not-so-opposite) temptations at work here. One is the one you mention and the other is shoving off onto God all the responsibility, making no effort ourselves. which is a cop-out. Goodness does not just grow in us spontaneously, and we all experience that. Being/doing good is HARD.

It's also hard to avoid falling off the tightrope in one direction or the other.

Weekend Fisher said...

Good morning. Hope you're enjoying the new home.

To me, the interesting question is: How exactly do we grow?

A lot of our diligent efforts misfire -- not just from lack of diligence, but from being bad ideas to start with. A lot of our best intentions are misguided. Some of the worst things about religion have come from peoples' very earnest efforts to pursue spirituality. And a lot of it is spiritual narcissism.

I think one thing we (humanity) have trouble with is humility. The thought that our righteous acts are filthy rags -- that applies to someone else, doesn't it?

So the question that pulls me is: How do we grow?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

The atonement "is a transformation, the beginning of a literally new life." Splendid. Thanks.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the encouragement!

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF