to sin, but alive in Christ. I don't know why, but lately I've been terribly attracted to the writings of Paul. The first thing that comes to my mind is because I want to know Jesus. That sounds weird, because, well, wouldn't the Gospel's be a better place for that? Maybe, maybe not. The Gospels are indeed invaluable to us, as they give account to part of what Jesus did. But it has been estimated that they contain approximately 52-53 days of Christ's life in total. This certainly does not discount them, as what a man does reflects truly who He is. But what good has anyone's life been (Christ or not) if it does not leave a permanent mark on those around Him? Where should one look for this, perhaps those closest to Him. After all, when we eulogize someone, those closest to him/her talk about how they were affected by the deceased's life. I'm most certainly not suggesting that Christ is dead, as I know well that He is very much alive. Knowing that, we should also know that He is very much not here presently, if not in us. In fact, we are His representation on earth, until He comes again. Oh, the weight of glory. It is on this basis that I should approach reading the writings of Paul, or any of the Apostles. For if Christ left no impression on those who walked with Him, perhaps He should not be very good for any of us. So I look to those closest to Him, to see His life, teaching, and who He was/is. Again, it is important to state here, that we are not neglecting the importance of the Gospels, only finding a proper use for the other parts of the New Testament, after all, what good is it if we don't learn from it properly?
Wow, all of that to say, I've been reading in Romans, one of my favourite books, and tonight I was reading Romans 6:1-14. I got through 3 verses. What struck me was the word that is used for death in verse 3. Do you not know that all of us owho have been baptized pinto Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? θανατον (thanatos) is the Greek word used for death here. It appears only one verse later, and evokes a much stronger, more vivid picture than what is typically called to my mind when I think of the word. Literally translated it means "plague, pestilence, pandemic disease, associated with the punishment of God". Whoa, hang on there...there's a whole plethora of issues in just the definition. This seems to challenge the whole "American" way of thinking. Sin here is being described as death, and sin also leads to death. Death is being describe as a plague, not a simple "Hey, look at me, I got hit by a car, I'm dead" death. A plague, a pestilence, like leprosy, that reeks throughout the body tearing it apart, piece by rotted piece. It is also of note, that plagues are never content to stay put, they must also infect those within their vicinity. After all, it is not really a plague if it affects only the one here and the one there. Again, we see the Apostle cutting like a skillful surgeon, separating bone from marrow (which is what the Word does). Here he chooses the word Thanatos, and if we take the dual meaning of the word in context, we see that it has a spiritual meaning that only makes itself very obvious in the Greek. Associated with punishment from God. What is the worst punishment anyone could possibly receive? Though I believe there is a measure of God's grace even in this punishment, most Christians would say Hell is the worst punishment for an individual. What is Hell in essence? Seperation from God. Thanatos...what a brilliant word.
What we have seen thus far is that a) sin is likened unto a disease, and affects everyone around us our sins are not simply our own, while they are our own, they affect the whole. Hence, the reason Adam and Eve's sin affected all of humanity, it spread, and not for a single generation. More like AIDS, if we are to be modern, it can be passed from generation to generation. b) That the finality of death's meaning is seperation from God, that this is ultimate punishment, though it is always punishment that we choose. What I would like to suggest from here is what may challenge our way of thinking. And it hurts. Can we be truly alive in Christ, if we are not fully dead to sin? If the plague is everspreading throughout us, do we really say that we are already fully healed? No, it would be proposterous. So then what hope do we have? The Apostle tell us our hope in Colossians 1:27 "...Christ in you, the hope of glory." He goes on in verses 28 and 29 to say "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." The ESV says "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me"
There are 3 words I would like to bring to the forefront, before making my supposition. εστιν is the first, perhaps we have seen this word before, we find it we are seeking in John 4:26, Isaiah 52:6, and 6 other verses. The word is emie. It is the verb of "being or existing" in English, it's the first verb you learn in any language; but in all these verses, Christ is either saying that He is the "I AM" (ego emie), or be spoken of as the "I AM", as in Isaiah. Again, our English does no justice to the implications of this word. This word implies something different in our text, because this word uses a touchstone to refer back to something that we have long forgotten. It means to "BE itentical", well be identical to what??? It means to be itentical...let it sink in. We are created in the image of God. And moderns, even good theologians assume a priori that God doesn't make a good image, because we were created just "kind of like God". God is perfect! He can't just make something "kind of like Him" and call it His image. God isn't a K5-6th grade art teacher who never really could hang in there with the "real" art students. (I know that there are many very talented art teachers out there, it's really not a slam). God makes PERFECT IMAGES, we fouled it up! What is being referred to in the "BE" is to BE itentical to God. And they knew this! We've lost the plot! That's why the Pharisees were up in arms when Jesus claimed to be the "I AM". He was claiming identity with God, a shared but unique identity. It was identity theft in the highest order to the Pharisees! And perhaps all of the Sanhedrin. God did not call us to be mere fuzzy pixelated images, He called us to be images of Jesus, to reflect Himself, but of our own free will. We need only to decide to have faces. And until we decide this, we will not see our world changed.
Second word, κοπιω, it appears in Colossians 1:29 and it means to be weary, to work, to give effort, or to labour. Paul says "for this I toil", what does this evoke in the mind? He did not say "I pitter patter here, take a 2 hour lunch, play with the foosball table in the office and call it work..." He said it's hard work! It sucks sometimes, it doesn't even necessarily get easier! It even goes on (the definition) to say that is also means to be "emotionally fatigued or discouraged". It means you have to fight, and it takes everything sometimes, and more, but the Apostle tells us that it is indeed not on our own for he says "struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me." It is not on our own strength that we should toil, Jesus sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit, we need not toil on our own. Paul said "struggling" not "striving". The important difference there is thus, we struggle with principalities and powers of darkness, not flesh and blood. Striving is our flesh, striving gets us nowhere because taking a physical tool to a spiritual battle leaves us useless. The Holy Spirit is that helper, He is that ever present help in our time of need, when we are at our end, when we are broken to pieces, and our hearts grow faint because we don't understand. He is our Helper when there is nothing to rake from the ashes of our lives, and we cannot seem to draw nigh, or walk onto the fields of praise. It is there indeed, that we are taken by Him, head bowed, but no longer in surrender, but to kiss the feet of the Son.
It will always be a war, a fight, a battle until the day of glory, but it is never alone. The last word I would like to explore before wrapping this up (this one is gonna be at least 2 parts), appears in Colossians 1:29 as well, it is αγωνιζομενος (agōnizomai). It is where we get our word agonize. It is a present tense verb, meaning it is not for the past or future, it is for the now. It means to compete, to fight, to struggle, with an emphasis on EFFORT. Effort counts, ask any coach, ask anyone who has ever tried to have a friendship with someone. Ask anyone. Will we fall? Yes...simply yes. Where do our efforts lie? Where is our struggle? I love the beautiful martial war imagery contained in this word. To do with intesity and effort.
We are still called to "be perfect even as I am perfect". I would like to submit that as much of that perfection as possible should be worked out on earth, while we are here, while there is time. If for no other reason (which there are quite a few other reasons), then simply to make it easier for Father God to recognise us, and make it quicker for Him to say "Well done..." to instantly recognise us, not for who we are, but for who He is in us, to see His reflection in His creation. What an incredible image this should paint...