The Mystical Union Defining Christianity
“Before long, the world will not see me anymore but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:19-20
In order to understand the real heart of Christianity, it would have to be understood broadly as a union between God and man; A divine companionship. God is relational in His very essence and nature, and we were designed in His likeness so we are designed in the same way. Relationship with him and relationship with others is the whole point.
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul is speaking to husbands and wives regarding the uniqueness of the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. He uses the concept of marriage to deepen our understanding of our intended relationship with God in a way that we can more easily relate to. He says this:
“This mystery (like marriage) is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The concept that you and your wife or husband have become one flesh is hard to understand because it is a mystery. It’s profound. And yet Paul is saying that this mystery and this profound relationship found also in marriage is ‘like’ the relationship of the church at large to Christ. They are to be one.
The Intimate Three: The Trinity & Man
Intimacy, union, and oneness are the defining characteristics of the relationship between God and man, as well as the relationship within the trinity.
In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” Here, Jesus is calling us into a relationship with Him. Just as the root system is where the branches and hence the fruit receive their nourishment, we must abide in Him as our root or foundation in border to live the abundant life He calls us to. The “fruit” of our lives if you will, is unripe or flavorless without the intended nutrients that allow it to thrive and grow.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” This implies that our former ‘self’ undergoes a change of course when we choose to follow Jesus. In John 3 he goes so far as to say that, “You must be born again!” This is a start-over kind of life change, and welcoming this spiritual revolution in our lives is where the relationship with God begins. Since He is not a God who forces His will, He waits for us to make the first move towards Him.
Until we are “born again” in the language of the apostle John, we live in opposition to God either passively or intentionally. The awesome thing about relationship with God is that it’s no longer about striving to be good enough, or even better, it’s not about our good intentions anymore. It’s allowing God into the crevices of our lives and asking Him to meet you where the pain has been and restore what has been broken. It’s about choosing the path that deepens your connection to your creator God.
We end up wanting that change for ourselves when we begin to understand that relationship with Him is where our only real nourishment comes from. When we are nourished, we have more to give, and when we have more to give, we are able nourish others in life-giving ways. This can only happen in relationship with God and with others.
What’s More Astounding Than That
John 14:16-17 says,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another counselor to be with you forever- the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…”
When we invite Jesus to be the God of our lives, the Holy Spirit literally dwells in our bodies with us, with our own spirit. Do we believe this is really real?
When the Bible talks about “The new man,” scripture is talking about the redeemed life that happened once at the atonement, and is otherwise an ongoing process of sanctification through the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us.
The “new man” is scriptures’ imagery for what it means to be in a relationship with God and how it actually restructures who we are from the inside out, redefining what it means to be human. The redeemed life is what it means to enter this sphere of God & Man. The answer of “how” is through Jesus, through the atonement which is when Christ died and took all of our sins upon himself. If he wouldn’t have, there wouldn’t have been a sufficient enough sacrifice on our part to actually make our lives in right standing with God.
Our lives are perpetually bent against the nature of God and God cannot be in relationship with sin or with what is contrary to His nature. So it required a penalty beyond our good intentions to make us right with God again, as we had been in the beginning. Since he is a relational God who longs for connection with us, He made a way through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. A pure, perfect, and holy death was the only payment that was sufficient enough to redeem us.
The old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” is actually a super accurate way of saying that all of our human effort to be good and significant, and our versions of right and wrong will always fall short of a Holy and perfect God. Since the moment sin entered the world, we have needed a way to put us back in good standing with God so that we could be in perfect relationship with Him again. Not just to be saved, or have a spot in heaven if you will. It’s more than that. It’s about Christ paying for our sins in a way that made all things right, which enabled us to have the free gift of intimate relationship with our creator God outside of our effort (the key). It’s by grace alone, by love alone. He gave his life as a free gift to purchase us, so that we could live in union an intimacy with our God, now and for ever more.
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, God invited us into the Godhead by the Holy Spirit that lives within us the moment we accept by faith that Jesus is the only way to our relationship with God. He gave us His spirit so that his redeeming work could continue in our lives day by day, so that we could be in constant intimacy with God, and so that we can live in unity with other believers and the church.
What happens when/if we blur the spheres of God + church + man?
Scripture is crystal clear about isolationism and our spiritual lives. We are made for community, the design for such is evident in the trinity and all over scripture. If our lives are meant to minister to one another and God, how can we do this alone or keep our spiritual lives so isolated that it has no effect on others? If we say something like, “I can satisfy my worship of god alone,” we then deny what God has designed for the social system for the church, as well as His is desire for us to be in communion with the saints.
Is that easy to do, community with other humans I mean? No. Like not at all actually. People (all of us) are super tricky to be in real relationship with, and speaking from experience, often Christians are harder to live amongst than anyone else. However, I personally have no problem acquiescing to the God that saw all that has been/is wrong with my life, and still desires intimate relationship with me. In fact that God did not call us to a smooth and seamless relational life with people at all. He called us to walk right into the challenges and the darkness IN ORDER to be a light within them. Isolation is the easy way, but we’re to be long-suffering with one another and teachable in every circumstance. If we only surround ourselves with people who are like us, there is no maturity, challenge, or growth in that. That’s what God is after.
A similar blur of right relationship would be if we do in fact go to church on Sunday, and then live contrary to the life God calls us to all week long. If church becomes merely a religious box to check off or a social status, then the relationship aspect with God and others is as shallow as can be. This is the ‘christianity’ that our culture abhors because of its hypocritical nature, and justly so. There is no such thing as filling out your “responsibility” to god. That would be called “law,” and Jesus did away with that over two millennia ago.
We have the privilege and the freedom no less, to go to him in fellowship and communion, and we have the privilege and opportunity to do the same with others in church community. We take that freedom for granted so often when in other countries, people risk their lives in order to meet with other believers underground because they crave the fellowship and understand that it is an integral part of the spiritual growth and maturity. Don’t take my word for it. We’re always exhorted to look back at the original design for human flourishing as outlined in Genesis account and all over the new testament.
Making The Many One
Romans 12:4-5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function; So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to the others.” (Our call to unity)
Romans 16:25-26 “…The mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophets writings by the command of the eternal god.”
(Veracity of scripture as authoritative)
Ephesians 1:9-10 says, “He made known to us the mystery of His will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
What is this mystery?
That through the gospel the gentiles (all of us) are heirs together, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. If God were to discriminate like we do about churches, about people, and about his followers, there would be no gospel, no good news.
God has brought us all together through Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. This unifies us. We see even more today than ever that a flag cannot unify us, disaster doesn’t unify us, wealth and prosperity doesn’t unify us. If it does, it does so temporarily until the next political or social upset. So what does actually unite us, in a real way?
Relationship with God does.
It creates a oneness, bringing together all of us into one body of Christ. Now the divisions that had previously existed are thrown out. We have neither “Jew nor greek,” no economic class barriers, no gender barriers, no race/ethnicity barriers, no nothing. You sit down as a joint heir to the Kingdom. Jesus ends the discussion of who is good enough. This unification was a revolution in the first century, and that would have been the uprooting of generations of tradition, hierarchy, law, and culture. Genius, and this is precisely why Jesus was so Punk Rock in his day.
John 17:20-23 says, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.”
Jesus always brings it back to unity, wholeness, oneness, and intimacy- the whole point. Scripture reminds us to make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit.
ONE body, ONE spirit, ONE hope, ONE faith.
What keeps us from unity and intimacy with God?
One of the (many) obstacles that keep us from intimacy with God and with others is this hunger to be significant. The unhealthy drive for significance where everything we do, even “spiritual things,” are done with the low-grade purpose that it/we will be noticed for it. This is an age-old idolatry, where everything ‘we’ do is done for men to see. Before we go and think of someone else who is “just like that,” let’s all consider the inglorious fact that we literally are all at fault there. Our obsessive love of self that our culture breeds has such a knack for trumping our love for God, and it comes out in all sorts of ways. When the Bible talks about sanctification, it is exactly this process of inviting the Holy Spirit to work within us, in these hard places, gradually pruning away the parts of our lives that are not operating fully out of love for others and love for God.
Longing for significance is not in itself a bad thing, just as sex is not a bad thing, and the plenty of other things that get a bad wrap. The idea is that its any of these things that take the seat of God in our lives, or control us in ways that do not glorify a God who set us apart for great, bold, and better things. We’re to be different, and to give honor to God in the details of our lives. If we’re caught up in making sure that we get all the credit or making sure we are noticed, we elevate the self instead of the God who blessed us.
The Bible says that the good that we do in secret, the Father will reward; Praying in secret, the Father will reward; Fasting quietly, the Father will reward.
He’s clearly interested in the motivation behind what we do.
God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until our hearts find their rest in Him. As long as we are chasing the approval of men or women, or chasing a status, we miss the mark and can’t ever find real rest and fulfillment. Our culture echoes this truth in every telling statistic about the condition of our humanity. It’s difficult to be in relationship with anyone, let alone, God, when our focus is continually on how we are perceived by others, and when our motivations are self-seeking. When we consider all that Christ gave in order to be in relationship with us, it should render a different and more humble response from our hearts. Connection and love is what we all deeply desire. It is possible to find that void filled in relationship with God. I believe that God allows us to ache to fill the void because sometimes its the only way that we will consider God. The beauty of it is that when He is invited to come in and restore it, all things are made whole. The new man, a new life.
Father, I ask that you begin this work in me. That I would see anew the price you paid for us, and what it means that you have drawn us in to be your child with the rights and privileges of children and heirs, because of the scars and the blood you shed for us. Forgive us for where our motivations have misguided us. May we always see that you are the one that satisfies. Amen.