We often think the devil does his best work by keeping things out of our mind. But he often does some of his best work by keeping things out.
In his book Spiritual Depression, Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “finally there is only one sin and that is the sin of unbelief…we must not think in terms of particular sins but always in terms of our relationship to God…we tend to think that some conversions are more remarkable than others. But they are not…It all comes back to our relationship to God; it is all a matter of belief or unbelief.”
Note that “belief or unbelief” are here used as relational terms. When someone asks what my relationship to Alissa is, the answer is I am her husband and she is my wife. What I am in relationship to her is legally defined and secured. But being in relationship to her is not the same thing as being in relationship with her. It’s important as Christians that we first understand our relationship to God. Because unless we see and understand our relationship to God, we can never have a relationship with God.
But how is this accomplished? It is not only a matter of belief in God, but of belief in a God who saves. Yet saves from what? From sin. Sin is our separation from God, our falling short of the life and glory of God (Romans 3:23). From the very beginning God has been asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) and seeking to save the lost. The essence of this salvation is communion. The saving action is being united to the Savior: crucified (Galatians 2:20), buried (Romans 6:4), raised (Colossians 3:1), and seated (Ephesians 2:6) with Jesus Christ. Our belief is in Jesus—who he is (the Son of God), what he has done (died for us), why he has done it (to bring us to God), where He has done it (the cross). Through him we are brought into both a right relationship to God and a loving relationship with God.
“Christian” is used only three times in the New Testament. What we mean by it today can be many different things. But Paul never uses “Christian”. He uses the phrase “in Christ” roughly 165 times. What we are meant to see, to think, to feel when we call ourselves “Christian” is “in Christ”. To be a Christian is not simply to receive a name change, but a new nature. It’s not simply a new idea, but a new reality: union with Christ.
A reality is always greater than an experience of that reality. A man who walks into a library does not possess all the knowledge that is contained in all of those books. He has made many judgments, and maybe thinks that he knows much, but when faced with shelf after shelf he must recognize that he knows in fact very little. One book does not exhaust the library. Does one kiss exhaust all the love in a relationship? Does one wave exhaust the whole ocean? Does one sunset exhaust the brilliance of the sun? We know, taste and see, so little! “Oh! taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8). If our reality is Jesus, then our experience of him will never exhaust the reality of him.
“The soul never thinks without an image” (1). There are several images God gives in the Bible to help us imagine what being in Christ is like: we are the branches and he is the vine (John 15:5); we are living stones and Christ is the cornerstone of a spiritual temple (1 Peter 2:5); we are the body of Christ, individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27); we are to put on Christ like new clothes and like armor (Ephesians 4:22-24; 6:11). Yet the most striking image is that of marriage (Ephesians 5:31-32). Martin Luther comments on this image, “faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31–32]…for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his” (2). All of me is in Christ and all of Christ is in me.
We cannot separate the work of Christ for us from the person of Christ within us. We might say that what Jesus did for us he did to be in us. This he does by the Holy Spirit. He, the Spirit, is the very mode and experience of having the crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and seated Christ indwelling us.
If this is true, should we expect change? We should expect transformation!—not simply things about us changing but us changing. We are a new creation, born again. The starting point for our life is no longer the old self but the new self in Christ.
Having being given and seen a portrait of himself for his 80th birthday, Winston Churchill exclaimed to the painter, Graham Sutherland, “That is not a painting. It’s a humiliation! It is not a reasonably truthful image of me!” Sutherland replied, “If you see decay, it’s because there’s decay. If you see frailty, it’s because there’s frailty. I can’t be blamed for what is. And I refuse to hide and disguise what I see.” Later that evening, Winston sat opposite his wife, with head hung low, and said, “I am that man in the painting.” He came to see himself through that portrait (3).
There is a portrait being painted of you in Christ and Christ in you. At first you will see yourself in Christ, and how in distinction from his beauty, holiness, and righteousness there is ugliness, decay, and sinfulness in you. But then you will also begin to see Christ in you, his glory shining and his image appearing through his transformation of you.
It is here practically that our union with Christ makes all the difference in the world and for the world, a difference the devil would like nothing more than to keep out of your mind. You are a husband or a wife? Well it is Christ in you the husband and the wife. It is Christ in you the son or the daughter, the neighbor or the friend. It is Christ in you in deepest sorrow or highest joy. It is Christ in you in fiery trials or sweetness of rest. It is Christ in you not the falling short of God’s glory but the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3).
AN ARMY OF ONE
When the boy David and the giant Goliath faced each other, their armies were represented in them. They each were a middle man or mediator; they each were a representative or advocate; they each were a substitute. Their army won or lost through them. David and Goliath were both an army of one.
When Jesus faced our enemies of sin, death, and the devil, he died, rose, and conquered as our mediator, as our representative, as our substitute. We are saved by him, in him, and through him. He was an army of One, who brought us in himself from separation from God to union with God. You are in Christ. Therefore, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10)
(2) Martin Luther, Treatsie on Christian Liberty)
(3) The Crown, Netflix, episode “Assassins”