L. Dwight Turner
One of the primary reasons so many Christians walk in much less victory than God intends stems from the fact that they still don’t understand the full extent of the gospel message. For much of our shared history, American Protestants have emphasized the blood of Christ and the atonement for sins. Granted, this is a portion of the gospel truth, however, the mission of Christ was far greater than that. Unfortunately, a significant number of Christians don’t fathom the rich treasures Christ has provided through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascendancy. In order to regain a full perspective on the accomplishments of Christ, our new identity as Children of the Light, and the authority and power granted to us, we need to carefully study Scripture and ascertain the full extent of the blessings of God’s provision through Christ.
Often, we toss about the word salvation and, after hearing the word so many times, lose sight of just what the word implied to the first Christ-followers and, by implication, to us as well. “Sozo” is the Greek word for salvation and it implies a sense of completion, soundness, health, and the absence of disharmony on all levels. Sozo thus refers to a reality far greater than the remission of sins, although that is an important aspect of the word’s meaning. Sozo, taken in its biblical context, refers to the fact that God’s, through Christ, has given His grace whereby we are freed from all obstacles and hindrances that could stand in the way of us becoming all that we were created to be. Salvation implies that through God’s grace we freed from bondage to anything that hinders our ability to become complete in Christ, manifesting our original nature, created in the image of God.
I think that this general lack of awareness on the part of many Christians stems from a complex constellation of factors, but for the sake of simplicity, perhaps we can focus on four sources of misinformation about the full extent of the gospel: the pulpit; the enemy; the world; our own habitual patterns of thought and behavior.
Perhaps many of you are wondering how I could imply that the pulpit may in some way be responsible for our general lack of understanding of who and what we are in Christ. The answer is simple. By choosing to consistently focus on the blood of Christ at the expense of the provisions generated as a result of his resurrection and ascension, many pastors and preachers have contributed to this miasma of misunderstanding. This in no way minimizes the blood of Christ, but instead, it completes the work done on the cross. If Christ died for our sins, but left us completely under the power of “sin,” (our sinful nature), then we would be no better off than the Israelites who were dependent each year on the placing of their sins upon the “scapegoat,” which was then release to wander in the desert until it died. After the Day of Atonement, the Jews then began the process of accumulating sin that would need atonement the following year.
Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers need to repeatedly stress that God has provided all that we need to lead a godly, holy life (see 2 Peter 1:5). Through the blood, our sins are forgiven; through the cross, our sin is dealt with. Unfortunately, the pulpit has not stressed this aspect of the gospel nearly enough.
In terms of the enemy and the world, these two forces often act in concert to minimize what we have been granted in Christ. After all, the popular views of our culture are often in opposition to what God would have us do, whether it is in terms of our actual behavior or, at an even more subtle level, how we think and how we view the world. Let’s take a brief look at how these two forces, Satan and the world, might be a formidable obstacle when it comes to understanding our true blessings “in Christ.”
In today’s spiritual marketplace, the church is often assailed by the enemy in ways both manifest and subtle. One of Satan’s main strategies is to put forth teachings that contain a grain of scriptural truth and, at least on the surface, sound good, especially from a worldly perspective. For example, many contemporary Bible teachers focus on material wealth and prosperity. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with wealth and having possessions, so long as we are not controlled by them. However, these teachers often go to scripture to support their contentions and, in so doing, often miss the point of the particular verse or portion of scripture they cite. Most of the current prosperity gospel advocates justify their teaching by quoting Jesus in John 10:10:
I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.
According to the prosperity teachers, Jesus was speaking of material abundance when he uttered these words. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Given the situation they were in, I doubt the early Christians were overly concerned with gaining material wealth. In the early days of the church, the prime focus was on solidifying the local church, spreading the gospel, and staying alive.
When Christ spoke of abundance in John 10:10, he was speaking of the fullness of life. Here Jesus is talking about the fact that through his mission, believers will now have the capacity to have the fullness of life that was lost due to the Fall. In essence, He was referring to a restored humanity, now in proper relationship with God and ready to bear fruit.
The theological minutia surrounding the discussions of justification and sanctification can be both confusing and distracting. Although gaining an understanding of these concepts is important, for our present conversation going into depth about such matters would be an unnecessary distraction. For now, let’s just suffice to say that understanding and accepting who we are in Christ is central to the process of spiritual formation. Further, it is important that we see that our adoption into God’s family is an act of grace. Neil Anderson tells us:
Only as we see ourselves as sons and daughters of God can we really grow in holiness (see Romans 8:15). Only as we are free from the task of trying to gain a relationship with God by our own righteousness or cleanness will we be free to appropriate His righteousness and holiness for our growth.
Without Christ, his work on the cross and in rising from the tomb, we could not even begin to progress in terms of spiritual formation. In order to grow in spirit, we have to be connected to God. Just as a fish cannot thrive unless it is in water, we cannot thrive outside of our natural environment, which is proper connection with God. Christ’s mission accomplished this reconnection with our Maker and made all spiritual formation possible. Without the regeneration provided by the mission of Christ, we would remain in a state of separation from God. Listen to Neil Anderson as he so accurately elaborates this theme:
Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with God, who is the fountain of spiritual life. Only through this relationship can we bear new seed or tap into the root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can take place. So unless there is a root of life within the believer – that is, some core of spiritual life – growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow.
The thrust of what is being said in this article is centered on the fact that we need to seize our proper identity in Christ, but in doing so, we must also understand the work of Christ on the cross and through his resurrection and ascension. Underlying this vital comprehension is that fact that we cannot be who and what we were intended to be without being in proper, intimate relationship with God. In order for that to be possible, our relationship must be restored. That’s where the Blood of Christ comes into play. Through his death, in some mysterious way Christ paid the debt for our sin and made reunion with the Father possible.
Beyond that, through his dying to self and rising in new life, we, too, may also die to our old way of being and rise in newness of life. But the story doesn’t end there. Christ, through his ascension into heaven, made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. As Christ himself said, “Unless I leave, the Spirit won’t come.” As stated, Christ’s departure and his seat at the right hand of the Father make possible the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Now, just as the Father walked in the garden with the first couple, the Spirit walks along side of us. Even more important, he has also taken up residence within us.
It is not enough to die and rise again. We must also live in a new manner and it is the Spirit that makes this new way of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating possible. Grasp that, and you are well on your way of appropriating your new identity in Christ.
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved