Is Christ in Us?

28 01 2011

Worship. Discipleship. Holiness. These go together because they were designed to. Each flows into and out of the others. One of the by-products of these three working together is effective evangelism. Without them our “evangelism” becomes the product of mere human effort (which can still accomplish tremendous things, but in the end it remains something substantially less than what Christ intended for His Church).

Worship trains us as disciples and connects us to the Trinity in tangible ways that makes us look more and more like Christ– which is what holiness is, that, and a deepening union with God. As we are discipled by others we also become disciple-ers and in the process the fire of our love for God and each other is stoked higher and higher into a holy flame. Naturally that flame erupts into more worship. From those flames flare out powerful evangelism, works of mercy, redemption of our neighborhoods, towns, cities, businesses, government, and more.

All things are possible if Christ is within us, if we have taken him into us. How do we take him into us? We ingest His Word, we partake of His Body and Blood at His Table, we pray continuously, we give Him thanks and praise in all circumstances; and yes, we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross. When we have done these things and find His grace coursing through our entire being, then we are free and empowered to sacrificially love others and advance the borders of His Kingdom against the kingdom of darkness.

Theologian Andreas Andreopoulos, in his book The Sign of the Cross: the Gesture, the Mystery, the History, traces the practice and spiritual impact of Christians’ uses of the sign of the cross. In the earliest days (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries) believers would cross themselves on the forehead. Later, they would cross themselves in the now familiar pattern from head to heart, from shoulder to shoulder. It was (and is) a beautiful and powerful act of worship that could be practiced by the poorest peasant as well as the richest king. Additionally, it could be used at any time, in any place, and in almost any circumstance. The simple action proclaimed: I belong to Christ and He is in me, all things are possible!

Andreopoulos gives this summary of the meaning of crossing oneself (pg. 82-83):

” The sign of the cross, from its early forms and throughout the history of the church, has brought together, in a spiritually functional manner, the depth of the journey to the innermost parts of the self alongside communal worship. The sign of the cross helps Christians internalize the messages of the crucifixion and the life of Jesus, making the message personal. At the same time, the sign of the cross connects us to other members of the church. It is a sign as private as it is public, as individual as it is communal. In tracing the sign of the cross over our body, we acknowledge our connection to Jesus, to the church and the community of saints, and to the Kingdom of Heaven that resides inside us.” [emphasis mine]

The sign of the cross also reminds us that Christ’s story is meant to be our story (a phrase I’ve stolen from John Eldredge). And by “our” I mean His redeemed people, the church. We are to do what Jesus did as we become one with the Father as He was one with the Father. The Scriptures are so crucial because they show us these things and even empower us to do them.

Below, Andreopoulos discusses the early church’s view of the Scriptures and the life of Jesus and the sign of the cross:

(chp. 4, “A Prayer to Christ” – pgs. 96-97)

[For the early church] the life of Jesus had its focus not in the historical account of the life of an exceptional person, but as the key to eternal salvation.

In addition, the Christian Bible does not end with the ascension of Jesus, but the history of the early church continues with the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, integrating the life of the early church with the life of Christ. More important, the gospel and the church were not seen as two different poles of spirituality (as was sometimes the case at points in later centuries). Both were seen as necessary in approaching the ineffable truth of Christ, as they revealed something about each other. The gospel was the product of the church, which exists because of the gospel of Christ. Both were indentified with Jesus and his continuing presence on the earth.

The church is the body of Christ on the earth, and the feasts of Christ are feasts of the church. Therefore, all the events in the life of Jesus were seen as events in the life of the church, or at least as events whose meaning was useful so far as they spoke meaningfully about the life of the church. The liturgical life of the church is not a mere commemoration or reenactment, but an active engagement with Christ made possible by the various liturgical symbols. The summation of the life of Jesus in the symbol and the sign of the cross is not meant so much as an act of “taking up” the cross, as it is of “taking the cross inside.” The direction of the sign of the cross is inward, which suggests embracing and internalizing the life of Jesus. Nevertheless, this inward direction suggests that, starting with the historical events of the life of Jesus, we live these events here and now, appropriating them outside time and space, as we become one with the timeless Christ.

Our prayer does not stop with historical commemoration; prayer starts with it. Beginning with the gospel, we embark on the ascending journey of prayer, which transform our lives. Living the life of Christ does not mean, for most people, that we transfer ourselves mentally to Calvary, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, or transfer ourselves to experience the nails of the cross in the form of the stigmata, but in accepting the living Jesus inside us. We emulate his life as members of his church and his body on the earth, filled with his grace.

Is Jesus in me? Is He in you? Are we acting as His living, powerful presence in the world? How about just in our churches? Let us be challenged to prayerfully cross ourselves and seek to know the love and power of the living, risen Christ within.




One response

29 01 2011
Doctrines Of Christianity - images of Jesus

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