“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
What do we mean when we say that the Christian life is best understood to be our participation in Christ? This morning I want to look at this but mainly in order to situate the gifts of the Spirit into the context of participation. But we begin with this quotation: “Centuries are required to change mentalities… you don’t get a change in mentality by introducing a few fads.” So wrote Bernard Lonergan who had no time for the habitually inattentive, for quick fixes, or laziness when it comes to our common life in the Body of Christ. According to the Apostles the restoration of all things is the destiny of creation and creation’s destiny is tethered to humanity’s destiny and humanity’s destiny is tethered to the destiny of the Body of Christ. It is important for us is to remember our destiny as the Body of Christ because God has willed to bring about the restoration of all things through us. It is important for us to remember that because the world is coming apart and everything is changing. Some people cannot wait for change but when it comes they soon grow restless and begin looking for the next new thing. In reaction to that, other people and communities abandon the world for enclaves of their own design, determined to live in a past that no longer exist. The Church is in the world but she is not to be of the world. She should not be dragging her scattered children from one new cause to another, exploring now these new options and now these new possibilities, nor should she withdraw in order to live in a world that no longer exists. Prayer is our destiny, our life long labor of love, diligently and responsibly performed in the Church till Jesus returns and restores all creation. Some of our labor is immediately satisfying while much of labor is unsatisfying, but being satisfying or unsatisfying is finally of no importance. What is important is our destiny that is root and branch a matter of our participation in Christ.
What does that mean? What does it mean to say that the Christian life is best understood to be our participation in Christ? When I say “the Christian life” I really have two Christian lives in mind: First of all I mean the life of Jesus Christ himself – his human life, death, and resurrection, which is the historic spring, as in fountain, of all Christian life. The life of Jesus the Messiah is the single most important human life ever and his death is the key to the ultimate meaning of all life. When I say “the Christian life” the first life I think of is the life of Jesus the Messiah. The second “Christian life” that I have in mind is the individual Christian’s life as a member of the Body of Christ. But how does the particular, historic life of Jesus the Messiah become, for me and other Christians, the single most important human life ever? How does his life become, for me, the true meaning of life? And how do we appropriate Jesus’ meaning and make it our meaning?
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death…”
Romans 6: 1-4
It is important that we remind ourselves at this moment that this old narrative that we began studying nearly a year and a half ago has continues to unfold and at least one overarching theme that connects the old story to the new story is the decisive nature of participation – and now we must apply what we have learned about participation, what we have learned about the what it means to be in someone – we need now apply that to Christ himself and our participation in his life. And as we well know it is not a matter of ourselves as individual free agents, but it is a matter of our life together, each of us as members of the Body of Christ and members one of another. You will recall that we have talked about the fact that we were in Adam when he disobeyed God and sin and death came upon this earth and since all humanity participated in Adam we too are “in” sin and death. Our world and we were lost in Adam. We have also talked about how God called Abraham to fight back against sin and death not by giving him more commandments, but by making a promise. God promised Abraham that He, God, would somehow use his family to redeem all of creation and that would begin with a son. Even though Abraham was well beyond fathering a child he believed God and it was “reckoned unto him for righteousness,” but it was not just reckoned to him as an individual person, it was reckoned to everyone who was “participating in” Abraham in other words the seed of his future children. This is called the Abrahamic Covenant but Paul always refers to as the Promise. Remember that to be reckoned righteous is equivalent in meaning to being in the Covenant. Like all covenants it was confirmed, established as a blood covenant through ritual sacrifice, the shedding of blood.
“By faith Abraham… sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the joint-heirs with him of the same promise…”
Hebrews 11: 9
We have looked at this before but it helps clarify the reality of participation. What I want you to understand is that Jacob did not live in a tent with his grandfather Abraham because he was not even born, but that’s is not what the writer of the Hebrews means anyway. What he means is that even when Abraham was all by himself, all his children, who are joint-heirs, were within him in his body and in that sense Isaac and Jacob sojourned with Abraham, indeed in that sense, King David sojourned in the desert with the patriarch and so did Jesus Christ because they were in Abraham’s loins. The Promise God made to Abraham was a Promise made to his seed and by this Promise God enlisted Abraham and his family to begin reversing the disaster that Adam’s sin had brought upon creation. That is the Abrahamic covenant; what Paul refers to as the Promise. Jesus is the Seed of the Promise and thus the perfect fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Through his own faith in God the Father Jesus established the New Covenant.
We who believe in Jesus are members of God’s covenant family and children of Abraham, siblings of Jesus Christ, who are being saved by the faith of Jesus. It is not merely what Jesus did that saves us, but it is Jesus’ faith in his Father that gives ultimate meaning to what Jesus did. Regardless of how dark his world became, Jesus believe that God would keep his promise. This is the distinctiveness of Christian faith and exactly what we observe in both Abraham and Jesus Christ. Their faith, their trust in God is unconditional – a joyful devotion to the promise of God and his omnipotence. Jesus, in the moment of his deepest personal darkness, did not cling to his life and he certainly did not cling to the Law of Moses, but he did cling to God’s faithfulness. This is the faith that saves us, not our own faith, but the faith of Jesus in the unchanging faithfulness and power of God. We appropriate Jesus’ faith by our participation in Jesus. But what does it mean that the Christian life is a life of participation in Christ.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
Paul assumes the Romans already understand that water baptism is the instrument by which we were incorporated into Jesus Christ himself. Incorporation has the same meaning and reality as being in another person, as Isaac was in the loins of Abraham before Isaac was born. Through baptism the God of the New Covenant seizes our life and our mutual destinies are bound to the destiny of Jesus Christ. This creates a new relation between Christ and the baptized, a relation of personal incorporation, of personal indwelling. Furthermore our baptism is our birth from above, our new birth into a new family – the very family that God promised to Abraham and thus we are made members of Christ; and so baptism is the instrument by which we participate in Christ. But just as Abraham’s family was in Abraham and therefore his unborn family was already in the Covenant God made with him, so the baptized person is in Christ and he takes part in all that Christ has achieved. Just as Isaac could have said, “I was with my father Abraham when the promise was made and his promise is my promise,” so Paul could say, “I am crucified with Christ…” and “so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death…” Jesus did not merely go to the Cross in order to satisfy justice, he went to the Cross because of his faith in his Father. Furthermore, rather than merely being your substitute you were in him mystically, sacramentally, as Jesus was in Abraham – so you were crucified with Christ. Jesus slayed sin and death by permitting wave after wave of its horrific sea to beat upon him and as the breakers of evil did their worse to the Jesus, as they spent their rage upon him, St. Paul says that you were in Jesus participating in his death. That is the meaning of his death.
We will end here today, but this is what I want you to understand and we will explore this more completely next week: what is true of our redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is also true for how we live in the Body now. As Paul puts it:
“the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
And this brings us to the gifts. I want to suggest to you that what we call the “gifts of the Spirit” are better thought of manifestations of the character of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection and the Body of Christ through its members (as in body parts or branches grafted into an olive tree) – her members will manifest these gifts because the members are participating in Christ. That means that the gifts are not merely of the Spirit, but rather the gifts are Christological, manifestations of the ministry of Christ and just as the Holy Spirit lit upon Jesus at his baptism, at the initiation of his ministry, so the Holy Spirit effects the gifts and character of Christ in the children of God. St. Paul provides us with a list of 7 gifts: Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, ruling/leadership, and mercy. And in the next two weeks we will look at the specific gifts and see how they are part of God’s plan for the restoration of his creation.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6-8