“I did it my way!” is the theme song on the road to hell.
A good friend of mine said this during a sermon. It was a moving sermon and it stuck with me. I’ve used it as an example in my own preaching. Now, I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra–some great music. And this quote might seem harsh. But at a basic level, the point isn’t ill-founded. The history of sin begins with two people wanting to do something their own way. Sin originated as a rebellion against God. God told Adam and Eve to not do something. No matter how they or we have rationalized the account of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the fact remains: humanity (Heb. adam) rebelled against God. We preferred our own understanding, our own reasoning, to that of God.
Humanity began to die that day.
But as the light dimmed, while we were yet sinners, Christ died. While we were dying, Christ died for us, and he died so that we might live. But it isn’t life as we know it. It doesn’t come through a pill, an exercise, even through a creed or catechism. Our life comes through death.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore if anyone i in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)
To know the true abundant life which God offers through Christ–to know life, we must know death. We die the death that Christ died, though we do not experience physical death now. But we die to self: we die to the idols that we have created for ourselves, we die to our greed for instant gratification, and we die to those things that prevent us from living in the light of Christ. Life begins with an act of faith and initiation that verily means “death.”
Men are now found to be identified with Christ’s death in such a way that they think of themselves no longer as separate and self-sufficient units, but as centered in Christ who died and rose again (Ramsey, 29).
Christianity is never solitary. The Church is the body of Christ, drawing attention not to a collection of people, but to Christ himself in his own being and life. “As the body is one and has many members…so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Calvin said, “He calls Christ the church.” The fact of the incarnation is only fully known if we know the Church, and if we know that the life of the Church is a part of Christ’s own life.
Believing in Christ is believing in One whose body is a part of himself and whose people are his own humanity, and “to be joined to Christ is to be joined to Christ-in-His-Body” (Ramsey, 32). Jesus ask Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” not “Why are you persecuting my followers?” Christians are Jesus’ risen humanity in whom he suffers.
The journey of the Christian life–from conversion and justification and sanctification to the consummation–cannot happen alone. Anyone who is justified is an individual, but the one who justifies (Christ) “is one with His people as His body.” That person is released from self in justification, and is brought into dependence upon brothers and sisters in Christ.
Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we may be no longer children…but may grow up in all things into him, which is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:13-16).
Ramsey, following Paul, says plainly: “From the Church therefore the Christian never escapes; it is a part of his own existence since it is a part of the Christ Himself. And without the Church the Christian does not grow, wince the Christ is fulfilled in the totality of all His members” (Ramsey, 33).
What does this have to do with Sunday morning? Well, with Ramsey, I think that we should recognize that individualism has no place in the Church. We die as individuals, but in this death we find ourselves in Christ. Through membership in the Body of Christ, “the single Christian is discovered in new ways and becomes aware that God loves him, in all his singleness, as if God had no one else to love” (Ramsey, 34). BUT: the individual is merged, and accepts a conscious union with Christ. “The individual Christian exists only because the Body exists already. The self is known in its reality as a self when it ceases to be solitary and learns its utter dependence, and the ‘individuality’ of Christians…springs from their death and resurrection in the Body that is one” (Ramsey, 33).
So for now, I’ll leave it at this: Church is not supposed to be about me. I’ve heard a lot of people say that “Church just isn’t working for me,” or “Church isn’t doing it for me,” or something like that. Well, frankly, going to church on a Sunday morning isn’t meant to be about me. We need to be careful, of course: we should find a place that meets our needs. If a worshiping community is detrimental to your faith, get out of there. I’m getting ahead of myself, though…this will be discussed in further detail in a later post (and I’m eager to get on the road back to Wisconsin).
The Church is made up of those who have died to self, and have been risen to live in Christ, and by living in Christ, we live for and with and in each other. And we gather together as those who are called out in Christ to be one with him, and in him we are one with one another. And we gather together for a real and tangible purpose…
But for that I’ll wait to write. For now, I’m on my way to Wisconsin. Your prayers would be appreciated! Stay tuned!