Relational Christianity and the Indwelling Christ

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L.D. Turner

If you desire to truly walk the path of Christian spiritual formation, the concept of “relationship” is inherent every step of the way. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, in their recent book entitled, Jesus Manifesto, speak directly to this reality:

In all the religions and philosophies of the world, a follower can follow the teachings of its founder without having a relationship with that founder. Not so with Jesus Christ. The teachings of Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus Himself. Christ is still alive, and He embodies His teachings. This is what separates Him from every great teacher and moral philosopher in history.

I find this aspect of the Christian faith to be one of the most edifying on many levels. The “personal” aspect of life with Christ is something I discounted, minimized, and misunderstood for years. I have come to see things differently now and, as stated, find great comfort and satisfaction in the personalized reality that is part and parcel of authentic Christianity.

The fusion of the individual Christ-follower and the Indwelling Christ is a mystery that can never be fully understood, only experienced. Personally, I find any attempt to analyze and dissect this sublime intimacy, the kind of divine intimacy Christ mentions in his moving prayer recorded in John 17, to be both futile and arrogant. Any notion that we can contain, harness, or otherwise corral such a sublime fusion of persons is filled with hubris and akin to a dog chasing its tail.

Still, it is helpful to have at least a rough sketch of the parameters of this divine dance of spiritual intimacy, offered with the caveat that it is just that, a blurred outline of a mystery beyond human comprehension. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola speak of these themes with proper humility when they say:

“ …….the incarnate Christ in you is God’s person for your situation. Consequently, the question is not ‘What would Jesus do?’ but ‘What does Jesus want to do now through me. . . through us?’”

Being Jesus for the world does not mean that Christ has come to obliterate you. It rather means that Christ has come to complete you and live His resurrection life through you. Granted, Jesus Christ has crucified your flesh and the old fallen humanity that gave birth to it. But you have been resurrected with Christ, and you are a new creature, part of the new humanity of which Jesus is the firstborn son.”

As you can see, Sweet and Viola rightly insist that the fusion of the Indwelling Christ – complete with his resurrected life –  does not negate the individual. Instead, Christ enables the believer to become more complete, and by becoming so, better able to serve as an open channel through which Christ can live his resurrected life. In our new, reborn state we, are in a very real sense, siblings with Christ, the firstborn of many. The authors go on to liken this sublime fusion to a dance of intimacy:

Perichoresis is a composite Greek word that every Christian should know. It means ‘move about’ or ‘dance around’. The Cappadocian Fathers used it to define the communion of the Trinity as the ‘Great Dance.’ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit flow and frame their lives in a dance of perfect love, and we are invited to add our moves to this dance of the divine. A perichoretic relationship is one where we draw life and energy from this dance with the divine life. Christians have a perichoretic relationship with Christ. That relationship makes you more fully yourself than you could have ever been apart from Him.”

From these realities we can see that our relationship with the Indwelling Christ contains both mystery and paradox. The metaphor of the “dance” is an attempt to describe by analogy the mystery of the fusion of the individual and the Risen Christ, but it remains just that – a metaphor – an analogical approximation. And the paradox becomes obvious: by becoming one with Christ through this perichoretic relationship, we become more authentic. As Christ said, “…he who loses his life for my sake shall gain it.”

Rather than the complete negation of the old self, the divine dance of perichoretic relationship gives birth to a reconfigured self that is a reflection of God’s original intention for humankind. Christ, the firstborn, is the divine human prototype and as the divine dance continues, the dividing line between the human and the divine becomes increasingly transparent. Sweet and Viola continue:

“…..the Lord helps us become more ‘rounded’ human beings – not more straight-edged, straightlaced, straight-backed, straight-faced, straightjacketed human copies, but more ‘rounded,’ more complete and whole humans. Jesus is God’s original thought for humanity. He is the paragon of humanness, and all who are in Him and share His life are part of the new humanity that He has brought into existence through His resurrection.”

And what is the result of this divine-human merger? Sweet and Viola conclude by saying:

“This will lead each of us to do life differently, even from other followers of Christ. Can the same Christ allow one person to be a Calvinist while permitting another to be an Arminian? The answer is yes. This is why the life of Christ has a freedom, a specificity, a range of reach that truly takes the breath away as it girdles the globe.”

As stated at the outset, it is this very relational aspect of the Christian path that sets it apart from other spiritual journeys. And this relational context is far from static. Our relationship with Christ is truly a transformational intimacy – a fusion whereby the resurrected, living Christ, in all His power and glory, revives, reconstructs, and regenerates us into the beings God intended in the first place. On a practical, day-to-day, where the rubber meets the road level, this divine mystery is summed up quite nicely by the Great Apostle when he says:

Not I, but Christ……

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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