December 7, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
In Christ
#6—I live!

Introduction and offering:

In Christ, we live.  I think most people hunger for a better life, a richer life, a fuller life.  Jesus said,

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

We’re going to unpack this idea—the idea that Jesus came to bring life to the full, both now and forever.  In Christ, we live.

Invite the ushers.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

Paul praises them for excelling in many ways, and wants them to excel in the grace of giving.  Many of you do—you are incredibly generous.  And many of us have room to grow.  I hope you’ll take your next step in generosity!  Keep growing and excel in the grace of giving!

This is part 6 of our series, “In Christ.”  Paul uses this phrase or some variation of it over 100 times in his letters.  To be “in Christ” refers to our position—we use the word “in” to describe the relation of one thing to another.  The ball is in the bucket, the check is in the mail, the Ducks are in the college football playoffs!  To be “in Christ” also refers to our relationship: we are united with Christ, living in Him and following Him.  And as we live in relationship with Jesus, all that is true of us because of our position begins to work its way into our practice. 

The Big Idea: When I live in Christ, all that is true of Him changes what is true of me.  In Christ, I live—now and forever!

My premise today is that God gives us eternal life in Christ, and that life begins the moment you start following Jesus. 

1 John 5:11–12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Notice the verb tenses. God has given us eternal life—past tense: God has given eternal life to us, so we already have it.  And this life is in his Son.  If you are in Christ, you have eternal life, right now.  If you have Jesus, present tense, you have eternal life, present tense.  Eternal life starts now, and it’s not only a quantity of life that goes on forever, but a quality of life that is extraordinary!

Let’s start with now.

 

1. In Christ, I live life to the full now.

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Some translations say, “have it abundantly.”  The Greek word is perissos, and it means, “extraordinary, remarkable; (in amount) abundant, going beyond what is necessary, more than enough.”  Jesus came so that you would have an extraordinary life, a remarkable life, a life so abundant, so full that you would have more than enough life for yourself and some to give away.  Jesus came to bring us extraordinary life, remarkable life, abundant life, life to the full. 

ILL: If you had asked me to describe being a Christian before I was one, I would have used one word: BORING!  I thought Christians lived a boring life.  Basically, if it was fun, Christians couldn’t do it.  They had all these rules that said “no” to anything fun!  Plus, you had to go to church and that was MAJOR BORING!  My experience of church was that everyone dressed up like they were going to a funeral.  Everyone was very somber; no one smiled or laughed.  I wondered who died, and then the pastor said it was God!  Or God’s Son…I couldn’t figure it out.  I just knew it was really boring. 

Jesus didn’t say, “I have come that you may have life, a really dull, boring life.”  He said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  Following Jesus is anything but boring and dull.  It is the adventure of losing your life to find it.  It is not life to the dull, but life to the full, extraordinary life, or as Paul wrote to Timothy, “the life that is truly life.”  (1 Timothy 6:19)

Paul tells us that this life is in Christ, and how it begins.

Colossians 2:13-14 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

“When you were dead in your sins.”  Paul is describing our condition before Christ.  We were dead in our sins.  What does Paul mean?  Obviously, we were alive physically—I was alive for 13 years before I met Jesus, but for those 13 years, I was dead spiritually.  I was far from God, not interested in God, dead or unresponsive to God because of my sin. 

To understand this, let’s go back to the beginning of the story.  God created the first humans, placed them in paradise and gave them only one restriction: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat from it, you will certainly die.”  (Genesis 2:17)  Of course, you know what happened.  Adam and Eve disobeyed, ate the forbidden fruit, and dropped over dead instantly, and it was the end of the human race. Not quite.  They ate the forbidden fruit…and kept on living.  They didn’t die!  Was God mistaken? 

They didn’t die physically immediately, but they did die spiritually. Their relationship with God was broken, and they were driven from paradise.  Rather than enjoying face-to-face friendship with God every day, they were driven from His presence and lived alone, estranged, separated from God.  This estrangement immediately affected their relationships with each other—it wasn’t long before the first murder, when Cain killed his brother.  And of course, eventually they all died physically too.  In reality, they had started dying the moment they disobeyed God.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The wages of sin is death.  This is our story.  We sin—we rebel against God, we declare our independence—and we die.  We die physically, and we die spiritually.  And it’s true of all of us. 

Romans 3:10–12 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

This is our story.  We sinned, and we died.  We created a culture of death.  We were dead in our sin—separated from God and unresponsive to Him. 

Enter Jesus.  “When we were dead in our sin, God made us alive with Christ.” In Christ, God makes us alive again.  In Christ, God defeats death, raising Jesus from the dead. And in Christ, God defeats sin, the cause of our death.  Notice the rest of the verse:

Colossians 2:13-14 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

He made you alive in Christ, by forgiving all your sins, by taking the thing that killed us and killing it, nailing it to the cross. In Christ, sin is paid for and forgiven.  In Christ, death dies and life is restored.

In Christ you are made alive.  You come alive to God.  You become responsive to God.  You begin to follow Jesus, to listen for the Holy Spirit’s whisper.  You become fully alive.

Irenaeus, a second century pastor in what is now Lyons, France, said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

I love that.  The glory of God is a man or woman fully alive. In Christ, we come alive—fully alive both physically and spiritually.  This is what Jesus promised: life to the full, that we would be fully alive. 

Let’s not make the mistake of confusing abundant life in Christ with the American dream.  Jesus didn’t promise that we’d be wealthy, that we’d get everything we wished for, or that life would always be easy.  To the contrary, he calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.  He promised it would be hard.  But he also promised that when we lose our life for Him, we find it.  We find life to the full.

ILL: After living as a quadriplegic for 45 years, Joni Eareckson Tada reflected on the diving accident that changed her life. As a teenager, Joni had embraced Jesus as her savior, but in her words she had “confused the abundant Christian life with the great American dream.” Joni said:

I was a Christian. (My plan was that I) would lose weight, get good grades, get voted captain of the hockey team, go to college, marry a wonderful man who made $250,000 a year, and we’d have 2.5 children. It was me focused: What can God do for me? I almost thought that I had done God a great big favor by accepting Jesus.

(My boyfriend and I) were doing some things together that were wrong.  In April 1967, I came home from a sordid Friday night date and cried, “Oh God, I’m staining your reputation by saying I’m a Christian, yet doing one thing Friday night and another Sunday morning. I’m a hypocrite. I want you to change my life. Please do something in my life that will jerk it right side up because I’m making a mess of the Christian faith in my life and I don’t want that. I want to glorify you.” Then I had the diving accident about three months later.

Immediately after the accident, Joni told God, “I’ll never trust You with another of my prayers.” But after struggling with anguish and anger Joni said, “I prayed one short prayer that changed my life: ‘Oh God, if I can’t die, show me how to live.’ That was probably the most powerful prayer I had ever prayed.”

“Show me how to live.”  Since praying that prayer, Joni has become a celebrated artist who paints with a brush she holds between her teeth; she has written 48 books, recorded several albums, including a song that was nominated for an Academy Award this year, hosts a nationally syndicated radio program, has spoken all over the world, and founded Joni and Friends, an organization that advocates for the disabled.

All from a wheelchair, without the use of her arms or legs.

“God, show me how to live.”  The abundant life, life to the full, isn’t about me, as Joni discovered.  It’s about losing me to find Him; it’s about losing my life to become fully alive in Christ.

Colossians 2:6–7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Live your life in Christ, and you’ll live abundantly.  Life to full.  You’ll be fully alive, in Christ, regardless of your circumstances.

ILL: Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, reflected on his visit to a church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti nearly a year after the devastating earthquake in 2010. The church’s building consisted of a tent made from white tarps and duct tape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless from the earthquake. This is how he describes the church and the lesson he learned in Haiti:

In the front row sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope and thanksgiving to the Lord.

No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg. After four days both limbs had to be amputated.

Demosi was leading the choir, leading prayers, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God. Following the service, I met Demosi’s two daughters, ages eight and ten. The three of them now live in a tent five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide. Despite losing her job, her home, and two limbs, she is deeply grateful because God spared her life.  “He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life,” says Demosi, who believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years.

It makes no sense to me as an “entitled American” who grouses at the smallest inconveniences—a clogged drain or a slow wi-fi connection in my home. Yet here in this place, many people who had lost everything expressed nothing but praise.

I find my own sense of charity for people like Demosi inadequate. They have so much more to offer me than I to them. I feel pity and sadness for them, but it is they who might better pity me for the shallowness of my own walk with Christ.

Richard Stearns, “Suffering and Rejoicing in a Haitian Tent Camp,” Christianitytoday.com (1-12-11)

So who has abundant life: a double amputee who can joyfully praise God, or someone like you and me with all our limbs who grumbles about slow internet?  It’s not about me.  It’s not about getting everything I want.  It’s about being filled with Jesus and living a new kind of life that’s full of love, joy and peace, regardless of what’s going on around you. 

In Christ, I live life to the full now.

 

2. In Christ, I live eternally.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I said that eternal life is both a quantity of life that goes on forever, and a quality of life that is full and rich and deep.  In Christ, I have abundant life now and eternal life forever. 

What happens when we die?  There are two primary opinions among Christians.

First, we immediately go to be with Jesus.  We fall asleep here and immediately wake up in God’s presence.

Philippians 1:21–24 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Paul believed that when he “departed” (died) he would “be with Christ, which is better by far.” 

2 Corinthians 5:1–8 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Paul believed that when he died, he would immediately be “at home with the Lord.”  He would move from “this earthly tent” to “an eternal house in heaven.”  And “what is mortal would be swallowed up by life.”  I love that picture.  It’s not that death overwhelms life, but that life overwhelms death!

So this is the first view of what happens when we die: we go immediately to be with the Lord.

The second view is sometimes called soul sleeping.  The idea is that we go to sleep and we awake at the resurrection. 

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This sounds like we fall asleep when we die and wake up at the final resurrection when Jesus returns.

Many theologians attempt to reconcile these two views.  Did you notice that it said in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 that God will “bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”  That sounds like those who have died were already with Jesus and return with Him for the resurrection.

Here’s the thing.  Either way, whether your soul sleeps or you go immediately to be with Jesus, you die and wake up in His presence. 

ILL: When I had prostate cancer surgery in 2006, I was under the anesthesia for several hours.  When I woke up, the first thing I saw was Laina’s face.  It seemed to me that I went to sleep in one room looking at her, and woke up instantly in another room looking at her—even though several hours had passed.  It seemed instantaneous to me.

I think that when we die, we are immediately with the Lord.  But if those who believe in soul sleep are right, it won’t make a difference.  It will still feel like I wake up immediately and see the face of Jesus.

Paul says, “to depart and be with Christ is better by far.”  To live is Christ: to live is abundant life, life to the full in Christ.  And to die is gain—it’s better still.  It’s to be at home with the Lord.  This is why Christians don’t fear death.  It’s not the end of abundant life; it’s taking it to next level!  The best is yet to come!

ILL: These are my friends Phil and Peggy Arndt.  Phil was recently diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma brain cancer, which he describes as “rare, aggressive and deadly.”  In a blog written on Friday, Phil said:

While this is a hard place to be… I have two choices.  I can let the conventional side (worldly wisdom) drive me along, with all the positive and/or negative that accompanies it.  Or, I can place my present and future in the most capable hands of God…

As I have for the past 40 years, today I still choose the hands of God.  I choose to trust in Jesus.  Not once has He failed me, and He is not failing me now, regardless of the timetable of the inevitable end of this life that I (and we all) must face sooner or later. 

…we’re boldly and unapologetically asking God for an outrageous miracle of compete healing in my body. I humbly tell you I am at the apex of my life on every front—marriage, family, profession, and relationships.  I can’t imagine having a fuller, richer life.  So you can understand that I’d love to keep on growing and enjoying this amazing, fulfilling life for a few – many – more years! 

But more important than that, Peggy and I want what God wants both in and through this situation, however it plays out.  We desire that our faithful and loving Father’s glory be manifested in a way that others would also know He is fully worthy of their trust.

Spoken like a man who has experienced abundant life in Christ, and who knows that the best is yet to come!  Let’s pray for Phil.

What will I do?

Who will I tell?