Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reflections on Rebirth and Renewal

Easter is a time when we think about rebirth and renewal. Of course, we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, but more than this we celebrate the new life we have in Christ. However, the very term "new life" has become so used so often in Christendom that it can begin to look quite old indeed. What more, our overuse of the term means that it has become little more than a meaningless shibboleth and one which we just throw onto the Christian stockpile to impress our Christian friends is they try to test our Christian credentials. So what exactly is "new life" and how does it relate to our Christian walk?

The understanding of new life I grew up with as an evangelical was that if I repented and gave my life to Jesus, then his death on the Cross was atone for my sins. This were my "Get Out of Jail Free Card" as it were. Once I'd undertaken the transaction and sealed the deal I was considered "saved" and could be assured that one day I would be going to heaven. And when I approached the judgment seat of God, I was assured that God wouldn't see me, but that he would see Jesus. "Shit covered in snow", as Martin Luther colourfully described the transfer.

My understanding is that I wasn't really sure want the rest of my earthly existence meant. Sure enough I was told that my life should be a living sacrifice to God because I appreciated what Jesus had done for me and that now that I was freed it was not appropriate for me to be a slave to sin. The rationale that I would not wish to be a slave to sin made sense, but to what extent was I really freed from sin if I still sinned much more often than I desired? To my mind, I will only be freed from sin when I am free from sin. And if being freed from sin is part of salvation, then I am not yet saved, but eagerly await to be saved by being completely cleansed and being presented to my Father perfect on the last day. That is, I regard salvation as a process rather than as an event.

The evangelical understanding of what I'm talking about is called "sanctification". However, evangelicalism tends to sever the idea of sanctification from the economy of salvation. Sanctification is just one of those things that happens after you're saved. What's more, there is no concrete understanding of how one is sanctified in evangelicalism - there's something about the Holy Spirit doing his thing, but from there it starts to get a little hazy. Accordingly, we are still shit covered in snow and will continue to be. I see this is a very sad and empty gospel, if indeed one calls it a gospel at all.

I certainly don't want to be shit - I want to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus in increasing measure. This to me is true salvation. And if one steps away from evangelicalism for a minute, one begins to see that this is salvation from the perspective of the Bible and from the Church Fathers. In the immortal words of Iranaeus, Christ "because of his immeasurable love became what we are in order to make us what he is". As people who have decided to follow Christ, we will be transformed daily. Only we our Examplar has fully perfected us will we be truly saved.

In closing, I'd like to share a quote from Origen:

"For since [Christ] is Himself the invisible image of the invisible God, He conveyed invisibly a share in Himself to all His rational creatures, so that each one obtained a part of Him exactly proportioned to the amount of affection with which he regarded Him."

But the good news, that is the gospel, is that one day we will possess much more than simply a share in Father. On this day we shall truly have new life in him and will completely live and move in Him and truly have our being. It is then and only then that we shall begin to exist.

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