Know Your Faith by Nels F. S. Ferré
Dr. Ferré was for many years Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School. Published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1959. Copyright 1959 by Nels F.S. Ferré. This material prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: The Son of His Love
One day a Jewish rabbi telephoned me, challenging me to come to hear his sermon: "Why Judaism Does Not Need Christ." The claim of the sermon was that Judaism was more universal in its understanding of the love of God than was Christianity. Instead of Judaism’s being an "arrested form" of Christianity, as Toynbee holds, he contended that Christianity was a sect of Judaism that walled people off by its worship of Jesus. Then with great generosity he invited me to take his pulpit some future Sabbath night, at the main service of the week, to answer him. I chose as my sermon topic "Why Judaism Needs Christ." Does it? We have lived with Judaism a long time. In the future we shall have to be in ever closer contact with other living religions. Is Jesus a help or a hindrance to the universal faith the world now needs?
A Muslim girl studying at Southern Methodist University came up after a lecture to ask me about Christ.
"I believe," she said, "that God is universal love. I believe no one will ever know him who does not accept the community of his love. I believe that the world could come together on this basis. But why do you Christians insist on Jesus’ being the Son of God? What do you mean by the Son of God? Is the Father older?"
"No," I answered, taken aback.
Another Muslim, a professor of philosophy from the Middle East, came to Nashville, Tennessee, to speak. He opened his address as follows:
"The Koran begins ‘God is love.’ If only we could get the Christians to believe this, we could have a new world!"
My copy of the Koran opens "In the name of the most merciful God," but certainly the meaning that God is love is there. Are we, by a narrow and dogmatic interpretation of Jesus, blocking effective communication and spiritual communion in a day when the world’s destiny may hang on our finding the world-wide faith?
At Vanderbilt University, in one year, two outstanding students became converts to Baha’í, one a student in the Divinity School and the other an honor student in mathematics. They both told me, when I reasoned with them, that they had found that the Christian churches suffocated every chance at effective understanding and practice of the universal love of God. They both believed in Jesus devoutly and continued to believe that Christ as God’s universal love is the ultimate truth, but they felt that now his truth had to be cut loose from those who smother it, and to be announced through a new Manifestation, the more universally and effectively to serve our age.
The world is waiting for a universal faith that can be believed. God’s eternal presence and power, the God who is universal Love, is the truth we need as individuals, as people, and as the world. Exactly -- this is Christ. If any religion is in fact more universal than Christ’s in love, truth, and law, I will join it. Christ is sinned against, I believe, when anything less than this universal, complete love is made central, either to God’s nature and purpose, or to man’s nature and destiny.
Let us consider Christ under three titles: Son of God, Son of Man, Savior.
What does it mean to call Jesus Son of God? The New Testament has three basic definitions of God. The first calls God "our Father"; the second states that "God is Spirit"; the third says that "God is Love." These three New Testament characterizations of God are central to our discussion of Christ as Son of God. If God is best understood under these three ascriptions, his Son obviously must be interpreted in terms of them. Two other definitions of God in the New Testament, "God is light" and "our God is a consuming fire," indicate not so much who God is as the integrity of his character (light) and his complete opposition to evil (a consuming fire). Biblically, then, God is Father, Spirit, Love.
When we call Christ Son of "our Father" we indicate that personal relations are ultimate. God is personal. We meet God, the eternal Father, in the human, historic Son. God is not to be known basically in terms of ideas, systems, or speculation. The Father God is the eternal Compassion who has created us, controls his creation, and will fulfill what he has started.
While Jesus lived, and when the disciples began to believe that they had met God in him, as the earliest writer, Paul, and the earliest Gospel, Mark, indicate, there was no question in their minds that God was also in heaven. Not all of God came! Jesus prayed to him and worked and spoke for him. Thus God was somehow in Jesus, but he was also beyond Jesus. Consequently the language of Father and Son was born.
There is nothing sacred about the biblical language as such in relation to God. What the language is trying to convey is that God is personal. He is conscious. He wills, he knows, and he cares. He answers the prayers of individuals, but he also controls the nations. This personal God came into human history fulfillingly in Jesus. God’s presence and power came in Jesus in such a way that we beheld "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Since God took the initiative in this coming to us, we speak of God sending his Son. Since God is personal, we say that God sent his Son. The important thing is that we know who God is, that he is personal, and that we can only be in line with reality and fulfilled as persons and as people when we understand and accept the true God, and ourselves and others in him. When we decide to trust this God for what he is, for what he has done for us, and wants to do for us, we "accept Christ." Such is the heart of the meaning of Christ as the "Son of God" with reference to God’s being "our Father."
That God is Spirit means that God is not a limited or a localized personality. He is not a glorified man sitting enthroned somewhere. He is everywhere. He is beyond all spatial ideas. The statement that the Lord is Spirit and can be known only in the Spirit, emphasizes the truth that, although God came into human history, he can be confined and contained by none of its forms.
It is the invisible realities that are eternal. Things are what they are. Facts can be handled and controlled. The Spirit, however, is creative. We call the Spirit "he" because we speak of the Spirit who is the personal God. He is free. He goes where he wants.
Things have spatial relations. They have to stand side by side or under and over. Even when material is crushed there are small particles that are next to each other. Even personalities are discrete individuals. They learn from others and live with others. But they are themselves.
Spirit, however, can be invisibly present everywhere and can even penetrate personality into its deepest selfhood. Spirits can interpenetrate, be "one"! Thus even though the personal God is always himself and remains his own inviolate identity, God as Spirit came into Jesus and molded triumphantly the life of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus could pray to the God in heaven, the Father beyond him, even while he knew that the true God who is not only personal but also Spirit was present in him as his deepest personal reality. The Spirit came from the Father, but was truly present in Jesus as the Son of God.
Above all, God is Love. The Bible says that love is of God, and that whoever loves knows God, for God is Love. Jesus is called "the Son of God’s love." That God is Love means that he can be perfectly trusted. God is ever faithful, never fickle; God is continuously working in our behalf, never only at times and in part. God loves all, is always doing what is best for each and for all.
Love, says the New Testament, keeps everything going in perfect harmony. Paul’s hymn to love in his I Corinthians 13 is indirectly the height of man’s description of God. Faith and hope will remain because the greatest of all realities, Love, remains forever without disappearing or failing.
The great parables of Jesus yield their meaning to the key of love. The Sermon on the Mount sings the song of love. The deeds of Jesus express his love. The death of Jesus is the supreme example of love. The Cross of Christ shows us the very heart of God. And Jesus’ rising from death is the declaration forever of God’s faithfulness toward man.
Mysterious is the full meaning of the Personal. Mystery, too, lies in the unfathomable depths of Spirit. Beyond our fullest imagination lie the endless resources of the love of God. That Jesus is the Son of God means that this personal Love, this eternal Spirit who God is, became present, known, and powerful in human history in Jesus Christ. Anything less than, or contrary to, such assertions is the denial of the Christian faith itself that Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus was not only Son of God; he was also Son of Man. The latter was his favorite expression for himself. Those who try to find the meaning of this term in the Old Testament or in noncanonical uses of the word usually go back to Enoch’s apocalyptic Son of Man. He was to come on the clouds to deliver his people. The Son of Man is used this way in Mark, for instance, when Jesus warns the Sanhedrin not only that he is Son of Man, but that they will see him sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds.
Others use the term as in Ezekiel. According to this usage Jesus was man in a corporate sense. He was not a man, but Man, in the sight of both God and men. He was, then, the messianic Man, the deliverer, or Paul’s new Adam.
But the simplest way to use the term, if we are to follow Old Testament precedent, is as did Jeremiah, who stressed the individual as representative of man. Jesus himself was using the term in this way when he said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath; therefore the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. This seems very likely the original use of the term, since later worshipers would hardly use such a designation for Jesus and the term is quite in line with what is unique and powerful in his spirit.
Scholars have written many learned theses and tomes on the subject, but possibly the most fruitful investigation is that of Dr. Henry Cadman of Mansfield College, Oxford University, who after a learned doctoral dissertation on the subject and a lifetime of devotion to it comes to the conclusion that from mere textual criticism we cannot finally decide among the three. In the light of the whole Gospel, however, we may feel free to use the term in its most natural sense.
What troubles many people about Jesus is that they can believe in God, but not in Christ. Christ for them is a problem and an emotional burden. Somehow they think that they know God enough apart from Jesus and that all this business about Jesus being Christ is something they should force themselves to believe in order to be Christian. The New Testament says that no one comes to the Father except through the Son, that there is no other name by which we must be saved. Therefore many, at least figuratively, hold their noses and gulp down the unpleasant medicine of faith in Christ. When they have managed to keep it down, they become proud of their achievement and call this the narrow way of confession that alone leads to life. They derive a kind of selfish joy out of seeing others choking and retching. The whole Christian doctrine of Jesus as the Christ has putrefied within the consciousness of mankind because of this basic misconception of the meaning of Jesus as the Son of Man as well as the Son of God.
Jesus was just as human as anyone else. If anything, Jesus was not less man but more. He was human the way God means us all to become human. We may even say that in a real sense he was the first fully human being.
Man is human in two senses: as a creature rightly related to God and fulfilled by him; and as a creature made to find God in freedom through his own experience. Human nature can be thought of either as "mature manhood" or as a process of maturation. Jesus was human in both senses, but the former understanding of man swallowed up the second effectively. We tend to think of Jesus more as the perfected man than as a man in the process of perfecting.
If we look at Jesus’life as a whole, we get the impression that here was a life that overcame man’s problems to the point where the whole world has come to know the power of his life. If we look at his life as a whole, we get the feel of it as that of a person who was tempted most severely, but who won out over man’s sins so basically that he can now be called man’s Savior. If we consider his Cross and his Resurrection, and what they have come to mean as a message for mankind, we find that in Jesus we meet the God who is Love, who came to save and who won the victory over man’s enemies. We see both God and what God can be and do in a human life. We see the meaning of man’s life in the purpose of God’s love.
Well-meaning but foolish faith longs to accept Jesus as Son of God, but it dreads Jesus’ being fully human. If his humanity has to be admitted, these misguided devotees want him to be Son of Man in no real sense, or else Son of Man only in the sense of a perfect human being.
Ardent but misguided devotion wants to worship the deity at the expense of the humanity. Man’s longing is for God, and misled piety therefore wants to subtract, at least from conscious recall, the completely human nature of Jesus.
Misspent adoration wants Jesus to be entirely unique. Otherwise, it is feared, he is not authentically Son of God. This craving is due, not only to the desire to have him really be God, but also to the fear that, if he was like us, God demands that we become like him. And that is intolerable! Thus foolish faith and faithless fear combine to reject his full humanity.
In the same way and for the same reasons many insist that Jesus was completely sinless from the beginning of his life. The ground for their insistence is partly that man wants to be sure that God’s saving presence was full in Jesus Christ and that God’s work of salvation was effectively completed. But this clamor for complete sinlessness in the human Jesus can also be the result of a Jewish and Neo-Platonic idea that God, the perfect, is too holy to behold sin and certainly too holy actually to identify himself with the sinner. God’s identification with the sinner is, however, the very heart of the Christian Gospel.
This longing for complete sinlessness in the human Jesus can also be due to a moralism which feels that God can be pleased with and dwell only with those who are good. Thus in man’s relation with God, man’s goodness is made determinative, rather than God’s forgiving Love and empowering presence.
We know, however, that Jesus was human in all respects, even though the sinless God was victoriously present in his life. In any case, the whole history of the Christian church has witnessed a continuous battle to keep full and real the whole humanity of Jesus. The deeper Christian instincts have always come forward to insist that Jesus was not only Son of God but also Son of Man.
Jesus as Son of Man was not only the conclusive presence of God’s perfection in his life as a whole, but through the history of his life he became a perfected man. We recall the New Testament phrase "having been made perfect."
Let us examine other biblical expressions. If Jesus grew in strength, weakness is presupposed. If Jesus asked questions from the rabbis in the temple and learned from them, or did not know when the world’s end would come, ignorance is presupposed. If Jesus grew angry, lack of self-control is presupposed. If Jesus groaned in his spirit, lack of peace is presupposed. If Jesus complained of his tensions, lack of freedom from anxiety is presupposed. If Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered and was made perfect so as to become the pioneer or perfecter of our faith, lack of submissiveness is presupposed.
Thus in Jesus as the Son of Man we have not a prefabricated human nature, some ready-to-wear suit, but the Son of Man who was truly a human being both in his being perfected and in his being the mediator of the perfect Love. We know that Jesus was a real, historic figure, a human being such as we are, who by God’s presence in him, and by his human acceptance and transformation by that presence, showed us who God is and what God can and will do to save us. Jesus was both Son of Man and Son of God because the life of Jesus became fulfilled by the love of God.
The sinlessness of Jesus is a complex question. In one sense, God, the sinless, had to remain sinless in Jesus or else he would not be God. God cannot sin and God was truly in Jesus. In another sense, if Jesus had been sinful the way we are, there would have been no real victory in his life. Then the power of the Cross over history and the reality of the Resurrection are basically called in question. In such a case, it is useless to speak of Jesus as in any effective sense the world’s Savior. Therefore the insistence on the sinlessness of Jesus is not without critical importance.
On the other hand, if Jesus never knew man’s sin and never had to struggle with its power, Jesus was never a human being in the full sense of the term. He was then perfect humanity, but never perfected. God then never identified himself with our deepest plight. The sinless was then never "made sin," to use the biblical expression, in order to give us the new righteousness of God. The job then was at best merely external and mechanical, never the work of a participant, of one who shared our lot, who understood our sinful state, and who demonstrated the power of God to overcome it in actual human life.
But God came to us not merely to overcome our weakness and our ignorance, but precisely to enter into our rebellious and faithless state and to set us free. According to the record, as far as we have it, Jesus never committed any deliberate sins of rebellion against God. He was certainly not sinful, because then he could not have become victor over sin. Dominant love excludes sin. Victorious love conquers it. Perfect love throws it out. Jesus was rather the participant in our common human nature and sinful situation.
The Bible says he feared. He knew our human anxiety. This is the root situation that occasions open sinning. Whatever be the sum and substance of ordinary responses (and it is wrong also to separate Jesus here from humanity), Jesus at least knew our deepest ailment of sin: the effective experience of accepted anxiety was his. For this reason he could even at the end realistically differentiate between his own and the Father’s will, crying "not my will but Thine," and feel himself desperately forsaken by the presence of God even on the Cross.
God entered sinlessly and victoriously our full human situation in the life of Jesus in such a way that he can also enter into and become victorious in any human life, if he is understood and accepted. For God was in and with Jesus in life and death and finally raised him up, "declaring him Son of God with power." Such is Paul’s basic theology; and it is still the best for the church.
In Jesus, God showed himself to be Love. He did so by being himself present in him. God was truly in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. He did not come first of all to give us knowledge or to show his wisdom and power. He came to set us free from sin; to heal us; to save us; to overcome our alienation from himself; to establish fellowship with us and among men within the presence and the power of Love.
God showed himself to be Love in a real human being. That he could do this without violating, but rather fulfilling, human nature means that when God created man he made him in such a way that man could be right and real only within his true relation to God.
Man is empty at the center of his being. That is why he can grow. But man will never grow to full maturity until he becomes "filled with all the fullness of God." That man can have right relation to God in Christ and with Christ, to use the biblical expressions that abound, is due to the fact that Christ combines in himself the Son of God and the Son of Man, not artificially, but as the very fullness of time when the purpose of God in creating man is made effective by his coming to be in man. Because such a purposed fulfillment came true in Jesus and can come true in us "until we all come to mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," we now turn to the meaning of Jesus as the world’s Savior.
Jesus is not only Son of God and Son of Man; he is also and particularly Savior. Our interest in Jesus is not mostly intellectual, but springs from the crying need of the human heart. Abstract theories or learned theologies can hide from us him whom God sent for our salvation. For this reason Jesus is particularly Savior.
If analysis of the life of Jesus prevents our seeing his life as a whole, God’s mighty Christ-deed for our salvation, we have indeed exchanged our birthright for a mess of pottage. Analysis should rather show us how God’s coming in Christ should be followed by his coming in us; how Christ should dwell in our hearts by faith. We should be perfected by grace until we can become presented, to use the Bible again, "mature in Christ." Only by such "mature manhood" as God achieved in Christ can anyone ever become fulfilled or fully real.
As Savior, Jesus shows us our sin both of self and of society. The light shows up the dark. Unless we can see what is wrong with us, we are unwilling to be made right. How dark sin is, was not seen until Jesus lived.
Sin is not largely wrongdoing. It is not basically a matter of breaking the law. It is not first of all shortcoming or missing the mark. Sin is a kind of life, a quality and direction of living. Before sin becomes sins or acts, it is a state of the self. Sin is a matter of being before it becomes a matter of doing.
Jesus by becoming a true self shows up the false self. Jesus lived the Love that is the light of the world and the law of life. Therefore he lays bare the dark drives of human nature and uncovers the lack of love that causes lawlessness. Before Jesus’ time men never had to face the merciless floodlight of God’s holy, universal, unfailing love. They did not know how God demanded that they be and act. Therefore Jesus’ life took away the excuse for their sin.
The sin of self is, deepest down, the lack of love. In one sense sin, as Richard McCann points out in Delinquency: Sickness or Sin? is a deficiency disease as well as a state or act of will. Lack of love engenders fear. Fear occasions hatred of those who threaten the self. Hatred fashions cruelty, deceit, and blindness to others’ needs or good points. Thus hatred breeds contempt and strife. Or it smolders until it bursts into tensions that make us ill. Lack of love carries through a program of evil all the way from carelessness to murder. The self that is starved for love fights the world. It alternates between defensiveness and aggressiveness.
Lack of love, surprisingly, is a chosen state. The self isolates itself from love because of a false love for itself. Such rejection of love, as the eminent psychiatrist Clemens Benda reveals in Der Mensch im Zeitalter der Leiblosigkeit (Man in the Age of Lovelessness), is due, however, to the experience of false love or the lack of experience of real love. A loveless person needs love, but he fears love.
Love hurts the self not primarily, however, by exposing the self to rejection or to hurt by others. Love hurts the self mainly because love is death to the loveless. The self that is turned in on self dreads being turned out. Love does just that. Therefore the loveless person hates those who love. Their love threatens him.
The lovers of mankind are often its martyrs; because, as Oscar Wilde said, Jesus was a lover for whom the world was too small, he had to die.
The loveless, nevertheless, need love and crave it. They know that they are hurting themselves in shutting love from their lives. Therefore they hate themselves in their sin as well as those who love them. They have a false love of self that must die at the hand of true love. Only so can the loveless find reality and release.
Lack of love is sin, for it is lack of faith in God. Sin, in biblical thought at its highest, is lack of faith, and faith is the affirmation of love. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin," says the Letter to the Romans, and "perfect love," adds the First Letter of John, "casts out fear." Therefore, the lack of faith that is the heart of sin is due to a lack of love.
When love comes, faith grows, and fear goes. When Jesus came as the Love of God in human form, he exposed man’s sin as never before. From then on, there is New Testament depth in the understanding of sin. The New Testament is merciless in exposing the depth of sin. No one can be Savior of men who does not first show what is wrong with them. Jesus threw the full light of reality on man’s sinful existence.
The sin of self is also lack of action. The Letter of James affirms that sin is knowing what is good and not doing it. This understanding of sin does not go so deep as does the interpretation of sin as lack of faith through a refusal to accept the Love that is offered. Nevertheless, when man refuses to affirm Love because of his faithlessness, he also translates this attitude of rejection into inaction. He does not feel like doing good because his heart has become hardened. Soon he may not even see need or genuine sympathy. He will turn increasingly, perhaps, toward himself and toward what he considers to be his own true good.
Oppositely, the loveless and the faithless may compensate in overactivity. Feeling guilty within and coveting being right with God, the sinner may do good things or give to good causes in order to make himself feel that he is really good and truly right with God. The sinner may thus both do and give in order not to have to accept God’s love. God’s free love costs far too much.
Yet Love is free unconditionally. Jesus demonstrated that God loves us completely just because he is God. When we show our lack of trust in him by trying to win his approval by what we do or give, we reveal, however good our intention may be in our own eyes, that we are guilty of sin at its deepest base. We disclose that we dread Love, the Love freely bestowed on us.
By living Love, Jesus showed us by the full floodlight of his personal attitudes and choices that we are sinners precisely in our lack of love. Sin becomes our deepest death when we refuse God and human fellowship in the spirit of Jesus. Overactivity, a guilty restlessness, may be a sign of the refusal of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Whether sin manifests itself overtly as lack of action or as compensatory action, however, is a matter of secondary consequence. Jesus is the world’s Savior in that he reveals the full nature and depth of man’s sin.
Jesus Christ as the coming of God’s holy, universal, ever-faithful love into a genuine human being also shows us our social sins. God’s all-inclusive love condemns as sinful all separation due to pride and faithlessness. Most of such separation is personal or private in nature; then it is personal sin.
But sin is also social. The pitting of nation as ultimate against nation is presently our most terrifying sin. Shutting out persons or peoples in any place where public communication should be unrestricted is another form of social sin. Segregation based on race, for instance, is sin. Segregation based on religion is also sin. Indiscrimination based on social standing or property, again, is sin.
Love, of course, makes for creative difference and not for flat sameness. Certainly there is place for voluntary groups inviting whom they would. There can be no compulsion of friendship, or prohibition, or even prejudice, against congregating according to interest or kind. But such freedom for variation and intensive community is one thing; compulsory segregation in public places for civil, educational, or religious activity, again, is quite another matter. It is definitely social sin in the light of Christ the Savior.
Christ condemns as sin lack of public concern, lack of responsible political participation, lack of commitment to ways of peace in public life and concord among the nations. Christ shows up the sin of our indifference when we live in abundance, without basic sharing, while the world, in large part, starves. Christ condemns as sin our walking in the secular ways of the world in our education. We should rather be alert to interpret all things in the light of Christ wherever we have educational opportunity. Often to accept secular knowledge as final fact is to crucify Christ afresh on the tree of knowledge.
To retain sectarian worship, moreover, and consider it Christian is to deny that Christian co-operation is stamped with a cross and that denominational loyalties are fulfilled only in the great glory of a common Christian faith. Local loyalty apart from, and over against, the whole body of Christ, Christ himself condemns as social sin.
For sins of both self and society, however, Christ is the Savior. Christ as God’s universal love, if truly accepted, gives us a heart that cares, a mind that considers and cooperates, and a hand that is willing to work in places of need.
The Savior of men must show us in the full light of God’s living truth the fact and seriousness of our sin. He does so, however, entirely in order to save us. God sent not his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved! Christ as the Godman not only shows us our salvation, but effects it.
Salvation depends on light. Sin must be seen in order to be recognized; unless we really face sin, head on, we cannot be convicted of it and repent of it. Christ enables us to see sin and to acknowledge it to ourselves, to others, and to God. God in our hearts, Son and Spirit, or the Personal and Communal aspects of Love, alone can give us the strength to be sorry for our sin and the genuine desire to be rid of it. It takes great grace to repent, to be turned and to turn.
Christ also enables us to receive God’s forgiveness. He has himself tasted the power of sin and borne its cost in his own body. He has wrestled with it and won. The Son of God as Son of Man has met sin, law, and death head on and conquered them all. God has assumed our plight, the whole plight, in Jesus Christ, and come off victorious within genuine humanity.
For us, God has done this self-emptying and self-expressing; therefore we can look to him and be saved. We can look to him and accept as penitent sinners his going to death for us. He who forgave those who crucified him, waits to forgive all who keep crucifying him.
The Cross is God’s seal and sign that he loves us and craves to forgive us in order to have us enter into the fellowship for which he created us. The Cross is God’s work in history whereby he has poked a hole in heaven’s floor to let the divine light shine upon earth. The Cross is the outlet from eternity into time of the power of God for salvation that comes with forgiveness. Here God drilled through the partition between eternity and earthly time to admit the highest voltage wire of his love.
God as Man assumed the burden of our sins that we might know who he is, who we are, and for what he has made us. God as Love walked our weary ways. Fully identified with a human being, he felt hunger and thirst, loneliness and rejection. He suffered the pangs of death within our experience. But he did so to conquer and to give us authentic life. The victim became the victor.
God in his boundless love could go with man to death and share man’s agony of dying; yet the Deathless could not die and he who in the Son of Man was also the Son of God, broke the power of death in man. By so doing he bestowed upon us the power of the resurrection even before and while we share the fellowship of his sufferings.
Jesus Christ enables us to become fully and effectively saved because as God and Man he has gone with man to man’s furthest extremity. By God’s conquest in man of man’s furthest extremity, man became Man; potential man became true Man. Consequently the Mediator is not God or the Son of God as such, but -- as the Bible says -- "the Man Christ Jesus." God as Son became man that the Son of Man might forever minister to all men. He shared our whole human experience, becoming the summary and summit of man’s history, in order that we, seeing him, the Man Christ Jesus, might trust the Son of God not only to convict us of God’s truth, of sin in us, but also to convince us of God’s fuller truth, the power of salvation for us.
Thus by accepting "Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior" the official formula of the World Council of Churches for world-wide Christendom, we receive the presence of God as universal Love whereby alone we can attain mature manhood. The Godman thus helps us to become Godmen. Paul prays not in vain that we all be filled with the fullness of God!
Christ shows us what we can become and empowers us to attain our vision. When God fills the empty centers of our lives we can be made whole. High and holy is the Christian call to newness of life. We are bid to take Jesus Christ as our actual example, "to walk even as he walked," to be perfect even as God is perfect, yes, even to imitate God himself. We are enjoined not only to live in the Spirit but also to walk in the Spirit. To grace we are told to add virtue. Jesus himself bids his disciples take up their cross and follow him.
Not humility, but self-pride causes us to reject our instructions. God came in the flesh in the fullness of time to empower us "to live godly lives." God assumed generic humanity to cure the ills of man’s heart. The Son of God, through his generic humanity, comes to us as individuals that we might become new creatures in him and walk in newness of life.
To become Christians, therefore, is to become in some real sense different in our motivation. We do not, of course, escape human moods; most certainly we do not become God; but every genuine Christian life contains a quality of effective Christian witness. In spite of our all too obvious failures and sins, we have so identified our lives with God’s will for the common good that we no longer can recognize such failures and sins as willed by our most authentic self. Now we can understand what Paul meant when he wrote, "It is no longer I but sin that works in me."
Something real must also happen in the church. In Christ a new community was started. The community of the universal love of God began a new age in human history. The only full witness to Christ is the power of God’s love in his people. Christ is best announced by the effective living of the Christian community and by the leaven of this community’s concern for the concrete needs of men.
Christ rightly interpreted is the Word of God’s eternal love become historic, of God’s universal love become personal. Can anything be more universal; can anything be more needed? Here we have the answer to Judaism, to Islam, to Baha’i. Christ can be and has been falsely interpreted so as to block communication, but he can and should be understood in such a way that an open, concerned community is created.
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