Union with Christ

What does Easter mean to the believer? How has the resurrection of Jesus changed those who follow Him? Why is this day so meaningful in the life of Christians?

Matt Maher helps us answer these questions in the opening verse of Christ is Risen:

Let no one caught in sin remain

Inside the lie of inward shame

We fix our eyes upon the cross

And run to Him who showed great love

Today I finished a book (Union with Christ) that I want to recommend to you. It answers the questions above and gives us so much more to chew on. Are you looking for a quick fix to your struggling life in Christ? Do you avoid discomfort or run from difficulty because Christianity should be easier? This book doesn’t promise to give you the answers to those questions that you might be looking to receive. The author (Rankin Wilbourne) instead points us to how Union with Christ is both our anchor and our engine. Kristian Stanfill in the song Jesus Paid It All captures this well:

‘Cause Jesus paid it all

All to him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow

Lord, now indeed I find thy power and thine alone

Can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone

Because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross and the reality that He raised to life means we can be certain of our salvation (our anchor) as well as empowered to live in obedience to His joy-giving commands (our engine).

Union with Christ is packed full of truth and promises that our hearts need to hear over and over again as we remind ourselves of the absolute reality that we are eternally united to Jesus in this life and in the one to come. Click the link above to order your hard copy or kindle version to find out the way to know and enjoy God. You will not regret it. Each of us would benefit from renewing our minds of this truth found throughout scripture that we are united to Jesus Christ as those who have placed their trust and faith in Him.

The book is broken down into four sections. What is it and why do we need it? Where did it come from and where did it go? What problems does it solve? And finally, what does Union with Christ mean day by day?

As our lives encounter all sorts of challenges, we need a daily reminder that our lives are forever united to the King of kings, Lord of lords. So as we enjoy this day we celebrate our Risen Savior, let the following words from the song Hallelujah What A Savior ring true in your hearts:

Man of sorrows, what a name

For the Son of God who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim

Hallelujah! What a Savior

 

Stand unclean, no one else could

In my place condemned He stood

Now his nearness is my good

Hallelujah! What a Savior

 

Hallelujah, praise to the one

Whose blood has pardoned me

Oh what a Savior, Redeemer and King

Your love has rescued me

 

Lifted up was He to die

“It is finished!” was His cry

Now in Heaven lifted high

Hallelujah! What a Savior

 

When He comes, our Glorious King

All his ransomed home to bring

Then anew this song we’ll sing

Hallelujah! What a Savior

Hallelujah! What a Savior

Oh Death…

A reality that we will all face in our lives is death. And a likely event to occur on our journey toward death is the death of someone we love.

Yesterday my wife and I attended a memorial service for Mr. Bill Saunders who I had the privilege of knowing and spending some time with over many lunches and small group meetings the past three years. He was 71 years old and had been married for 47 years to his wife Kathy. The memorial service yesterday was preceded by the news that my grandfather passed away the night before. He was 93 years old and had been married for 65 years with my grandmother, who was by his side with my mom and her twin sister when he passed.

Death of loved ones…

Last Sunday the pastor of our church opened a new sermon series by reading the whole book of Hebrews as his sermon. You can listen to it by clicking here. While hearing God’s word read out loud, it was fascinating to see what phrases and words repeat throughout the whole book. As it turns out, Hebrews talks a good bit about death. But the death Hebrews points to is the very specific death of Jesus.

Hebrews 2:9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Someone died a death that was tasted for everyone. More specifically, Jesus died a death that was tasted for all of us who believe in Jesus. When Jesus died, God’s own Son experienced death. It was a death of a loved one. 

Death of loved ones…

The weight of death is just difficult. No matter when you see it coming or know it’s certainty, it’s difficult. We look at it and wonder, “What good is there in death?” Yet, we learn when reading the Bible that God has turned death upside down. In the most remarkable way, God used death to bring about life.

Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Through death, Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, the devil, and delivered the offspring of Abraham, which are those of us who believe in Jesus, from the fear of death to give us life. Through Jesus death we have life. How is this possible? Jesus became like us in every respect so that through his death he would satisfy God’s wrath (propitiation) for our sins. So God most clearly turned death upside down with the death of His loved one.

Death of loved ones…

But how do we cope when we lose the ones we love? How do we cope when the trials in life seem to multiply instead of decrease? Yesterday’s memorial service and the news of my grandfather’s passing are just two events in the midst of many other things that seem to pile up and magnify the weight of each thing. How can we bear it all at the same time? I think the answer is that we can’t. We need to find that answer outside of ourselves.

Hebrews 2:18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

As we encounter all kinds of trials and difficulties, we are tempted to turn our attention and focus to our suffering. Jesus has experienced our suffering, and he has given us an example we can follow in our suffering. Jesus, although the Son of God, still offered prayers and requests to God, someone outside himself. Part of our coping is to pray to a God who lost His loved one in order that He can answer our prayers and love us for eternity.

Death of loved ones…

So as we remember our loved ones and think of memories that make us both joyful of their life and sorrowful that they are no longer with us, we must be trusting in something outside ourselves to endure these heart-wrenching times. As much as Jesus is our example as we stare worry and anxiety in the face, Jesus is still more than that for us. We most certainly need to behold Jesus as the perfect Son of God, but we also need to be held by Jesus to get through this. Behold Jesus and be held by Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Behold and be held. Let us look to Jesus who endured the greatest trial any man will ever face, sympathizes with our weakness, and ultimately succumbed to death in order that we all might experience life. In doing so, Jesus saved us to the uttermost such that we can draw near to God as Jesus himself is making intercession for us right now. Jesus is praying for us in the midst of our trials. As we behold Jesus, we can believe and trust that we are being held by Jesus. The more we behold Jesus the greater we will be drawn to him. He does not push us away but holds us even closer and gives us mercy and grace in our time of need.

As our hearts our sad and sorrowful today and many days ahead, let us draw near to the throne of grace through Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. And we will see that Jesus will never disappoint us. Join me as we lay our troubles at the foot of Jesus, him we behold, in order that our hearts might be held. Behold Jesus and be held by Jesus.

Are You Waiting?

Are you waiting for something? Is there any better description of our daily lives than waiting? When are we not waiting for something?

Maybe today you are waiting for your first child to be born or to hear if you are getting that long desired promotion or for a friend to call you back or for the decision on whether you are getting that new job or for your spouse to finally catch on or for your child to actually obey or for your boss to recognize your hard work or for God to answer any of your prayers or for someone to meet you for lunch or for that sinking feeling of depression to go away or for a friend to apologize or for Jesus to return.

Waiting… we are always waiting for something.

The Journey Means Something

Think about some examples of waiting we see in the Bible:

  • Noah waiting for a world-wide flood and then waiting for the waters to recede
  • Abraham waiting for his promised son through Sarah
  • Moses’s parents waiting until the right time to put him in the Nile (in a basket).
  • The Israelites waiting to enter the promised land
  • Ruth waiting to see if Boaz was her kinsman-redeemer
  • Rahab waiting to find out if the Israelites would keep their word not to harm her
  • David waiting for his time to become king
  • The Israelites waiting to come out of exile
  • The Israelites waiting for their Messiah
  • Simeon waiting to see the Lord’s Christ before his death
  • Christians waiting to see Jesus return

The posture of waiting is a perpetual reality in the narrative of the Bible, which is why it is a perpetual reality in our lives. We can become much too fixated on the waiting instead of remembering who we are waiting with. No doubt it helps to wait with family and friends that we know and love, but it is even better to consider that our waiting is with Someone who has loved us abundantly.

One purpose for the journey of waiting is to learn more about the God who has saved us and who is conforming us more into the image of His Son. That sampling of examples above of those who have waited throughout the Bible display for us how God has been faithful, providential, sovereign, caring, loving, truthful, a promise-keeper, redeemer, savior, and so on. We can learn and experience an abundance of truth regarding the infinite number of glorious attributes of the God who is with us in our journey of waiting.

So do you wait well? I think the easy answer is probably not. I dare say that almost nobody waits well or maybe they wait well for one thing but the other twenty things not so much.

Sometimes Waiting Turns Bad

Consider when waiting has turned ugly in the Bible to learn from these as well:

  • Adam and Eve didn’t wait when they ate the forbidden fruit
  • Abraham didn’t wait for his promised son, so Ishmael was born
  • The Israelites didn’t wait for God’s provision in the wilderness so they complained

In that small selection we see the huge ramifications when we don’t wait well. No doubt, we can make some very poor decisions when our waiting has turned impatient, self-absorbed, and unthankful for the circumstance we find ourselves in.

So it would seem we should think about this some.

Look At Your Waiting

Think about how you are waiting today. Do you find anxious thoughts leading the way? Are you devising ways to speed up your waiting? Would those around you consider you grumpy as you wait? Maybe you are irritable because things aren’t happening as quickly as you want them or believe they should happen?

Being able to step back and observe how you are responding to a situation is God’s gift to you. Our lack of patience and peace in waiting is our opportunity to see what we are valuing most at that moment. Let that sink in for a moment to feel the gravity of that reality. Even as we are waiting for something, we are all chasing after something. When our waiting elicits anxiety, worry, doubt, unfaithfulness, unkindness, fear, or some other ungodly response, then we can know we are chasing after our desire to be king of our throne.

Our responses in life are mirrors for us to see what we really are in that moment. We are needy people in need of something better than what we are chasing to obtain.

Maybe you are thinking to yourself that you wait just fine because you are ignoring what you are waiting for or trying to not think about what you are waiting for or trying to occupy yourself with something else to distract your waiting. These are all temporary measures that simply delay your anxious thoughts of waiting instead of embracing your waiting as God’s gift to you.

The multitude of circumstances that God ordains in our lives does at least three things. First, God is giving us experiential knowledge into who He is. We will learn just how gracious God is in all our waiting. Second, we will learn tons about ourselves if we would just stop and look in the mirror. We will see our personal throne-chasing ways. We will see the ugliness of our sin. We will see our need for Someone outside ourselves to help us and to save us. Finally, as we learn more about who God is and who we are, then we see the gloriousness of Jesus Christ.

Consider Jesus

Have you ever stopped and thought about what waiting meant for Jesus? Here is the Eternal King wrapping himself in human flesh and living among us. Why? Because Jesus was to wait for just the right time to announce that His Kingdom had come. As part of that first coming, Jesus needed to substitute himself in place of humankind to pay the penalty for their sin in order that these same people could have everlasting fellowship with God.

So Jesus waited. He waited for thirty years being a son of a carpenter. Every day was one day closer to his ultimate purpose of taking on the wrath of God for all people who would believe in Him. We can’t even imagine what that waiting must have been like. We stress out waiting in line for a cup of coffee. Jesus was waiting YEARS for that moment when all the wrath due to humankind that had stored up for all time, past, present, and future would be laid on his shoulders.

And Jesus waited perfectly. Even as his mother Mary tried to hurry up his waiting, Jesus replied to her, “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4b) After Jesus announced his coming at his baptism, he still needed to wait three more years before his death.

Do you think it was hard for Jesus to wait? What kind of pressure did he feel being the perfect Son of God? As Jesus was preparing to pray in Gethsemane, think about what he said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Think about what he prayed to God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39a) His waiting was excruciating!

Yet, Jesus waited perfectly. Even as he shares his overwhelming sorrow and prays for that cup to be taken from him, he says, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39b) Jesus waited perfectly.

So How Do We Wait?

First, we fix our gaze on Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). We see his example, and we see that he waited perfectly.

Second, we believe and trust by faith that Jesus accomplished what we are unable to do on our own. Jesus waited because he knew we couldn’t. Jesus died a death he knew we couldn’t die. Jesus was raised to life because he knew we could not have life without him.

Finally, we wait through the power of the Holy Spirit that was made possible through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He did not just give us an example to follow because that would crush us. Jesus lived in perfect obedience to empower our obedience, which is happening as we are enthralled with our incredible Savior that has our gaze. Jesus loves us. Our reasonable response is to love him in return.

Fix your gaze on Jesus. Know and learn who God is. Look in the mirror to see the sinful dross that needs purifying. Trust and obey that Jesus lives so that we can live. Jesus waited so that you could wait.

Read a poem reflecting on this post here.

Devoted to God

Are you a Christian? What has your life looked like since you became one? How do you grow to become like Christ? Do I have a role in this or am I only dependent on God to change me? I have been a Christian for 24 years now, and I did not realize until recently that what we believe are the answers to these questions has a dramatic impact on our ability to be successful in becoming more like Christ.

Specifically, the topic these questions fall under is our understanding of the process of sanctification.

Earlier this year, I read a book by Sinclair Ferguson called The Whole Christ that I would highly recommend, which helps the reader see that legalism and antinomianism are problems from the same root, a misunderstanding of God’s grace. With this recent book in mind, I was compelled to read Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson.

Devoted to God is ten chapters long. Each chapter is an exposition by Ferguson of the following ten passages: 1 Peter 1:1-25; Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 5:16-17; Colossians 3:1-17; Romans 8:13; Matthew 5:17-20; Hebrews 12:1-14; Romans 8:29.

I recently described reading Devoted to God as an opportunity to guzzle the gospel. The main premise that Ferguson highlights through the ten passages is the following “spiritual logic.”

“Exhortations to be holy are always derived from an exposition of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit. Indicatives are always the foundation for imperatives even if they appear in the reverse order.

God never throws us back to rely upon ourselves and our own resources. He encourages us rather to grow up as Christians by digging down ever more deeply into the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is rich and fertile soil in which Christian holiness puts down strong roots, grows tall and bears the fruit of the Spirit. Thus the New Testament always links two things together in an important piece of spiritual logic. The new situation creates the new lifestyle:

God has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that.

Or:

Be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.” – page 93

It is incredibly refreshing and energizing to think of sanctification in these terms. We can be successful in becoming more like Christ because of “the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ.” We have hope to change from one degree of glory to another on the basis “of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit.”

I highly recommend the reading of this book to cement in your mind and heart how sanctification is to work in the life of a Christian. You will be given the tools to determine if preachers are motivating you biblically or are trying some other means that simply sound biblical when in fact they are not rooted in the truths of the gospel. In fact, Ferguson gives some great questions to consider on page 119:

“The key test of any formula for sanctification is: Does this enable me to overcome the influence of sin, not simply in my outward actions but in my inner motivations? And, in particular: Does it increase my trust in and love for the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it a Christ-centred sanctification I am being offered?”

Below you will find some quotes that I found especially insightful and/or helpful when considering how we are to become more like Christ. Enjoy!

A fundamental way in which Christian character is strengthened is by stress. The friction God builds into the Christian life is, therefore, not accidental. It is deliberate, strategic, and intended to produce growth in holiness. – page 27

How strange it is that people think (as many seem to do) that they will be happy pursuing holiness there and then in heaven, if they are singularly unhappy about the calling to pursue it here and now on earth. No, there is continuity. Love holiness now, because we love the Holy One and we will love it all the more then, in the presence of the Holy One when we see him face to face. – page 28

When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of the gospel. – page 32

If we are to understand the nature of sanctification and successfully pursue it, we must immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ and applied in us by the Holy Spirit. – page 35

The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. – pages 39-40

This, perhaps, is the most obvious contrast between life in sin and life in grace. To the unregenerate, God’s will is inevitably unpleasant, simply because it is his will and not their will. They do not know that he wills much better for us than we can ever will for ourselves. But to those who are being transformed, God’s will brings pleasure. – page 52

The gospel turns the duty of doing and experiencing God’s will into a delight. – page 53

Jesus lived a life of complete obedience and perfect sanctification. – page 58

Thus, everything Christ did he did for me in obedience to his Father. All that he has done is therefore mine as a gift. He gave himself for me, in his love to me; and now through the Spirit all that he did is mine. – page 59

Paul is grinding spectacle lenses for us according to the gospel’s prescription. We need to wear these spectacles in order to see ourselves more clearly and to recognise and benefit from our new identity in Christ. – page 65

We have been too busy doing to take time to reflect on being. As a result we suffer from a loss of our Christian identity…But grasp the indwelling of Christ and a new dynamic is released, and a new melody is introduced into our devotion. – page 67

An important aspect of sanctification: thinking through the logic of the gospel corrects, cleanses, recalibrates, transforms, and sanctifies us emotionally as well as intellectually. – page 77

We may have given our whole lives to Christ; but it will take the rest of our lives to work that out in practice. And we can only do that if we keep on walking in the Spirit. – page 102

The more sensitive we are to the fact that we are living in a warfare context, the more successful we are going to be in living in the Spirit. – page 104

We battle with the flesh. But it is never enough to concentrate our attention only on the flesh. We must give our attention to the Spirit. – page 108

We must never stress the negative (‘put to death’) on its own. That would lead to spiritual disaster. It must be accompanied by the positive (‘put on’). – page 129

Thus, growing in sanctification means:

  • Understanding that I am a new man or new woman in Christ.
  • Recognizing the traits in my life that are inconsistent with that new identity.
  • Dealing death blows to my sins.

And simultaneously

  • Clothing myself in the graces of Jesus. – pages 137-138

There are no spiritual gains without pains. So we must be willing to act with spiritual violence against our sins. – page 146

The motivations themselves carry with them the impetus to live wholly for Christ. – page 153

Love was always at the heart of God’s law. It was given by love to be received in love and obeyed through love. – page 162

Love provides motivation for obedience, while law provides direction for love. – page 163

The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. – page 179

Sometimes pilgrimage can seem a lot harder than bondage. – page 192

Christians have a significantly different form of the maxim: ‘Know thy sinful self.’… It is ‘know your Christian self!’ – be conscious not only of what you are by nature, but of who and what you have become in Christ. For we must never lose sight of what we are in Christ when we are reflecting on what we are in ourselves. – page 199

Know your sin, but know also the power of God’s grace…Not even sin and its strength should be allowed to loom so large in our thinking or feeling that it covers up the sight of Christ and his people. – page 203

It is as though struggles, suffering, trials, are, in the Spirit’s hands, the raw materials out of which he creates glory in us. – page 219

Grasp this and it sheds light on our path. Is my life more rather than less challenging now that I have become a Christian? Am I puzzled by what the Lord seems to be doing in the circumstances of my life? Do I face trials and experience affliction, even forms of persecution I never expected? Am I discovering more sin in my heart than I ever imagined before I became a Christian? Then he is sanctifying me. And this is a much bigger, wider, longer, deeper work than I first realised when I became a Christian. God is not interested in short-term results but long-term, permanent (everlasting!) changes. – pages 219-220