How We are Growing as a Church in Mansfield

CHURCH RENEWAL SEASON OF PRAYER AND ENGAGEMENT

Fall 2017

For the past several years our church plant has grown – in numbers and in what it means to be a healthy and missional community. But as we’ve grown, we haven’t kept up with helping everyone grow together. This is why we have set out to embark on a church-wide season of renewal through prayer and intentional engagement.

We are asking, collectively, as a church: What does it mean, practically, to follow Jesus and be transformed by Him in our everyday life, as well as our life together as a church – His people in His world? Over the next few weeks, we want you to set aside some time to pray, consider, and discuss with your family and friends in the church how you can participate, engage, and grow in the life and ministry of Christ Church Mansfield.

lightstock_190452_medium_user_3970569As members of Christ Church Mansfield we take the following vows from our Book of Church Order:

  1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His wrath, and without hope except for God’s sovereign love and mercy?
  2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
  3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to put to death your sinful nature, and to endeavor to live a godly life as a follower of Christ? 
  4. Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
  5. Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to pursue and preserve its purity and peace?

As a follower of Christ, and member of His church by faith and this church by association, I/we agree to take the next steps in committing our lives to God’s glory, man’s joy, and the mission of His church here at Christ Church Mansfield in the following ways: 

  • Receive, believe, and live out the gospel and cultivate daily habits of spiritual growth by spending time with God through reading, studying, memorizing, applying scripture and praying. (Personal and Vibrant Faith)
  • Grow as a disciple and follower of Jesus by connecting with God and His people in worship, growing in relational community, serving others in ministry, and helping others do the same in discipleship.  (Church Philosophy of Ministry and Discipleship Process)
  • Practice living a generous life motivated by the gospel and give financial support to the mission of God in and through Christ Church Mansfield through our tithes and offerings, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. (Sustainable and Sacrificial Support for the Mission of CCM).

How do these three commitments fit with our Membership Vows and culture as a gospel-centered church?

We will explore each of these commitments in subsequent posts. For now, let’s look at the first commitment.

On Having a Personal and Vibrant Faith

First, living a life of worship in devotion to God, characterized by ongoing repentance and faith based on the person and work of Jesus Christ in the gospel is the direct result and implication of the gospel for our lives. We are not saved by our works in any way, nor do we strengthen God’s love and resolve toward us by anything we do. But our good works and spiritual disciplines are the appropriate fruit and expression of gratitude for the love and grace we have received from Him in Jesus Christ.  Our Membership Vows 1-2 speak to our commitment to the personal profession of faith and possession of a life of faith. 

On Being a Gospel-Centered Christian (Christ follower; Disciple)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9

The essence of the Christian faith and what it means to be and live as a Christian is that we worship God alone, in community with His people, giving of ourselves in service to others, and reaching others with the transforming power of the gospel.

Our lives are characterized not by perfection, but by repentance and faith; humility, trust, and godly ambition; a growing desire to bring God glory and honor in our lives, as well as our communities, seeing His name and kingdom spread throughout the world.

To believe, or “have faith” is to transfer our functional trust from our own efforts of finding life, mercy, and forgiveness, to the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The default mode of the human heart is to “go our own way” and “take matters into our own hands.” Faith in Christ means we go His way, on His terms, and in His power – not ours.

We need to remember this and repent daily as a way of life.  To repent is to simply admit that we often desire, and in fact live, as masters of our own fate, choosing to worship someone or something (creature/creation) other than God (Creator). We seek and savor “forbidden fruit” in the forms of our own autonomy, power, control, comfort, or approval, establishing our own “law” and “rule of life” instead of trusting in the “Word of God” that satisfies more than any bread. We repent of all these things we do or leave undone, and all the ways we make ourselves the center of the universe instead of God.

But as we turn away from sin and all the ways we give in to it, we also turn towards Christ in faith, receiving His mercy, forgiveness, and life by the Holy Spirit to live in “newness” of life – constantly dying to sin and living unto righteousness. In light of what He has done, has given us, and continues to be for us, sin quickly loses its power and control in our lives.

The great Puritan, circuit riding Presbyterian minister, Robert Murray McCheyene perhaps said it best: “For every one look you take of your sin, take ten looks upon Christ!”

This is the Christian life in a nutshell – to be obsessed with Jesus and the significance of Him for our life.

In light of the gospel, we are:

  • …creatures made in the image of God, ruined by sin, redeemed by the person and work of Jesus Christ, and actively hopeful about the ultimate renewal of all things. 
  • …. works in progress, holding on to grace for dear life, and bringing others along for the journey.
  • …worse off than we think but also more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. Therefore, we are to be loving and serving others because we’ve been loved and served by another Who is greater – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Practically this looks like several things:

  • Read, study, memorize, and apply the Bible. Pray and respond to God in repentance, and believe the Gospel (always and ongoing). (Here’s a good summary article to help!)
  • Love and serve others as you have the opportunity. Seek out these opportunities!  
  • Share with others what you have – Jesus, hope, faith, resources, etc.
  • Publicly professing my faith in baptism and/or confirming my faith in receiving communion.
  • Potentially joining the church as a Member.

Personal and Discussion Questions

  1. Where are you on your spiritual journey:
    • Have you trusted Christ with your life?
    • Have you confessed and repented of your sin as well as your “good works” that keep God at a distance from your life?
    • Are you growing in what it means to be a disciple/follower of Jesus Christ
  2. What helps you keep Christ at the center of your life?
  3. What new practice could help you to refocus your life on Christ?
  4. Who can you share your responses with and ask them to help you grow in having a personal and vibrant, growing faith in Christ?

 

Prayer

“O Lord Jesus, I thank and praise YOU for the life that You have given to me by Your wonderful grace and love. May I grow day by day to be more like You, full of compassion and kindness, grace and truth. Saturate my heart with Your love so that I may love You more with every fiber of my being. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making to be more like Christ in all of life. Help me to reflect Your truth, beauty, and goodness, in thought, word, and deed. I ask that I may devote my time and heart to reflect on all You are and all You have done for me – so that You are magnified more and more in  and through my life.” Amen

Additional Resources

Daily Bible Study and Devotional reading: He Reads Truth and She Reads Truth

Daily Prayer and Devotional material: Heavenward by Scotty Smith

You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (book)

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren (book)

Knowing God by J.I. Packer (book)

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CATECHISMS, THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HABITS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

26281_Highlighting_BiblesAs a church, we will be utilizing a tool to help us cultivate habits of spiritual growth and theological development: The New City Catechism. To help us understand this tool and how we will be using it, I’ve put together this blog post answering three questions:

Why use a catechism?

In every age, it is important for the church to know and love God’s Word as it has been passed down and delivered to the saints throughout every generation. It’s all the more critical when the culture around the church is asking the question, “What is truth?” Catechisms help ground the church in the foundational and formative truths of Scripture in the form of focused study and dialogical discussion in a question and answer format.

Our goal as the church is to know and love God. We do that through knowing and loving His Word. Catechisms help us to first memorize and then meditate on those aspects of God’s Word that are foundational to understanding God and His ways. This then proves formative for shaping us as His people in His world.

Sinclair Ferguson writes in Faithful God an insightful observation about one difference between the modern and historic church:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechized, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following:

Question: Where do we find God’s will?

Answer: In the Scriptures.

Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures?

Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question “What does God want me to do?” will be found by answering the question: “How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?”

In this way, catechisms help us to know, understand, and thoughtfully and confidently apply God’s Word to our particular life and situations. 

Take the first catechism as an example:

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

A1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a world and age where we are faced with rival claims to our physical and spiritual lives (“You belong to the State.” “No, you belong to your own determinative will; pick your fate and spiritual preference.”), or threats to our person (“Your body is not your own, it belongs to your boy/girl friend, abusive person or threat to your well-being, etc.,” or “Your suffering and experience as a person of particular color is part of life and not my/our problem”), or a form of spirituality that says only the interior life/world matters (“Your mind is all there is”, “This world doesn’t matter”, etc), this question on its own affirms that our bodies, our lives, our skin, our flesh, as well as our minds, our hearts, our inner life not only matter but they are in fact rightfully God’s alone!

It’s an encapsulation of Scripture: 

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:7-8

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” – Psalm 24:1

Everything we do or don’t do; everything that is done to/for us or against us is either an act of rebellion against God and deserving His just judgment, or a response of gratitude and worship to God because of His mercy, forgiveness, and love towards us in our Savior Jesus Christ. In Christ, we belong to God no matter what anyone else says or does.

Catechisms then are tools to help us know and love God and his Word as well as to help us apply it in timely ways in our lives.

Why the New City Catechism (NCC)?

The NCC is a modern catechism formed by the members of the Gospel Coalition. Some of it’s distinctives are that it is a simplified version of longer historic catechism namely the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms. In this way they serve as an introduction as well as a gateway or stepping stone to the other catechisms. It uses modern and simplified language to help communicate clearly the truths of Scripture that can be hard to sift through older and less common language of the historic catechisms.

Some of the features of the NCC also lend itself to easy use in simple family and personal devotional practices.

  • Full version and Children’s version
  • Scripture references for each questions and answer
  • Accompanying commentary in written and video formats
  • Scripted prayers in response to each catechism
  • Some even have accompanying songs or tunes to help assist in memorization

Our hope is that the NCC would be a useful tool to help introduce us to theological training by easily developing the habit of spiritual growth; specifically the habits of focused study of God’s word, prayer, along with memorization, meditation, discussion, and application of God’s word in our everyday lives.

 

How is this going to work for Christ Church Mansfield?

We will be incorporating the NCC into the two aspects of our life together: as a gathered church on Sundays and as scattered households throughout the week.

As a church

For the next year we will incorporate the NCC into our Confession of Faith segment of our weekly worship liturgy. The liturgy leader that day will provide some brief explanation of the specific truth highlighted in that week’s catechism question and response to better serve our understanding of the truth. Likewise, our children will be working through the same catechism questions in the Christ Church Kids Ministry environments (Infants, Pre-school, and Gospel Journey Elementary Ages).

As families/individuals

In addition to our Sunday worship gatherings, we envision and want to encourage each household – whether you’re a family or individual – to set aside some time each week to study and discuss that week’s catechism question. We recommend designating one meal each week as a “family and/or friends” meal where you sit down, eat together, and open up God’s Word and the NCC to work on memorizing and meditating on each question.

We will send out links and resources to the catechism each week in our Week In Review email (the WIRe) to help you lead in these family and friends discussions. You can also purchase the two physical resources to have in book format if you so choose; they are The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds and The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds. All of this material is available for Free in digital format, on their website and as downloadable apps for your phone or tablet.

 

26601_Family_Bible_StudyLinks to Resources

New City Catechism (NCC) web page and web app.

Youtube channel with video commentary on the NCC.

Tim Keller on Why We Should Catechize our Children (Gospel Coalition).

Promotional video of NCC in use as home and personal devotion practice.

Songs for the NCC (not complete yet, but a start).

The Blessing of Divine Intrusion

New sermon video from last week is up! Share your thoughts, comments, and questions – I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!

 

The Blessing of Divine Intrusion
Ephesians 1:3-14
Part 2 of the series, Wondrous Mystery: Exploring the Depths of our Union with Christ

Sermon series through Ephesians at Christ Church Mansfield

Questions that Get to the Heart of Life

computer-tomography-62942_1920In his book, Seeing with New Eyes, David Powilson offers some very helpful diagnostic questions to uncover the ways we find life and significance apart from God.

On these questions, called “X-Ray Questions”,  Powilson writes

“The questions aim to help people identify the ungodly masters that occupy positions of authority in their heart. These questions reveal ‘functional gods,’ what or who actually controls their particular actions, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, memories, and anticipations.”

Consider these questions as a way to get to the bottom of your heart, to identify and confess the sin and “functional gods” you might be looking to for life, worth, and significance, but more than that, to be at the point where you come to the end of yourself and find the loving, grace-filled arms of God meeting you in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would suggest using these as part of a daily, weekly, or monthly review of where you are in relationship to your goals and aspirations for your devotional life and walk with God.

1. What do you love? Hate?

2. What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?

3. What do you seek, aim for, and pursue?

4. Where do you bank your hopes?

5. What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?

6. What do you feel like doing?

7. What do you think you need? What are your ‘felt needs’?

8. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?

9. What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? What do you organize your life around?

10. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?

11. What or whom do you trust?

12. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?

13. Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?

14. Who are your role models? What kind of person do you think you ought to be or want to be?

15. On your deathbed, what would sum up your life as worthwhile? What gives your life meaning?

16. How do you define and weigh success and failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?

17. What would make you feel rich, secure, prosperous? What must you get to make life sing?

18. What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness, and delight? The greatest pain or misery?

19. Whose coming into political power would make everything better?

20. Whose victory or success would make your life happy? How do you define victory and success?

21. What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?

22. In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed? When you are pressured, where do you turn? What do you think about? What are your escapes? What do you escape from?

23. What do you want to get out of life? What payoff do you seek out of the things you do?

24. What do you pray for?

25. What do you think about most often? What preoccupies or obsesses you? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?

26. What do you talk about? What is important to you? What attitudes do you communicate?

27. How do you spend your time? What are your priorities?

28. What are your characteristic fantasies, either pleasurable or fearful? Daydreams? What do your night dreams revolve around?

29. What are the functional beliefs that control how you interpret your life and determine how you act?

30. What are your idols and false gods? In what do you place your trust, or set your hopes? What do you turn to or seek? Where do you take refuge?

31. How do you live for yourself?

32. How do you live as a slave of the devil?

33. How do you implicitly say , ‘If only…’ (to get what you want, avoid what you don’t want, keep what you have)?

34. What instinctively seems and feels right to you? What are your opinions, the things you feel true?

35. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

Lost and Found in Luke’s Gospel

Lost & Found - Prodigal God, pt 1 (Social Media Post)This is part one of our three-part series at Christ Church Mansfield called Prodigal God: Sitting at the Table of the One who Seeks the Lost, the Least, and the Last.

Would love to know what your thoughts are after watching this sermon. Leave a comment and let’s talk about them!

Prodigal God, part 1 – Lost and Found

 

 

 

Gospel within the Gospel

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In preparation for our upcoming sermon series at Christ Church Mansfield on Luke 15 I came across this magnificent quote, explaining how to read and understand the parables of Jesus, from Kenneth Bailey.

A parable is not a delivery system for an idea.  It is not like a shell casing that can be discarded once the idea (the shell) is fired.  Rather a parable is a house in which the reader or listener is invited to take up residence.  The reader is encouraged to look out on the world from the point of view of the story.  A “house” has a variety of windows and rooms. Thus the parable may have one primary idea with other secondary ideas encased within it.   It may have a cluster of theological themes held together by the story.  Naturally the interpreter should only look for the themes that were available to the first century audience listening to Jesus.  What themes are set forth in this marvelous “Gospel within the Gospel” as it has been called for centuries?” Kenneth Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, p. 87

The Importance of Community for the Church

Why is community so important to the church? And why do we too often neglect it?

I was reminded earlier this week of one of my favorite parts of the Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road. It’s where the father is trying to impart some encouragement to his son, as they journey through the bleakness of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States,

road-cormac-fs-aug-03

F: You have to carry the fire.
S: I don’t know how to.
F: Yes, you do.
S: Is the fire real? The fire?
F: Yes it is.
S: Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
F: Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Many have speculated about the significance of “the fire” to which McCarthy refers. Is it a reference to Prometheus’ gift of knowledge to humanity in Greek mythology? Or perhaps a reference to God Himself, and the importance of faith and religion in making us human in an inhuman world? Is it simply the life that is still existent in the love of the son and his father contrasted with the death and chaos around them? These would certainly fit the narrative of The Road.

But what I find interesting is that this particular exchange shows us how community – or, fellowship – functions.

There is a goal, or mission, and a very real struggle. What sustains us through the struggle is having someone be in it with us. What helps us when we cannot see something is to have someone else see for us. What keeps us from quitting or falling into despair is the presence and performance of another.

In other words, life is too hard to go it alone; we need others. We need others to not only accomplish the work, task, mission we have been given to do, but also to make it through any given day.

And yet we so often miss out on the presence of others in our lives due to so many reasons. Busyness. Work. Play. An “always-on-and-available-except-to-the-people-that-matter-most-to-us” mentality. Living in a constant age of distraction and disruption.

What would happen if we chose to disrupt the disruption? What could happen if we gave time, energy, and attention to the relationships that need it most? What if we as a church collectively regained our sense of purpose in “carrying the fire” – the light of the world – out of our buried baskets and frazzled lives and out into the world that’s desperately dying from not having it?

Might we just see that fire spread to others? Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

“Our collective holiness is a witness to our Holy God. How we live, then, not only expresses our calling but also narrates a story to the world. It tells others something about who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. If our life together is focused on fulfillment from “one another,” we will quickly devolve into a dysfunctional community marked by disillusionment, silent record-keeping, or unrealistic demands. We are called into community but not for community. We exist for Christ and in Christ. He is our all in all. If this is true, we will live together in a gracious, forbearing, truthful way. This way of living is a counter-cultural witness of Christ to the world. Our community becomes part of God’s greater mission for us. We are not only conceived in the church, but also called into God’s mission—to redeem social ill, make good culture, and share a whole gospel. We are sent together, called to carry the good news to people and into cultures.”

– Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson,

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities

 

 

 

 

Jesus Outside the Lines – Great deal

jesus-outside-the-lines_saulJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Side by Scott Sauls, and Forward by Gabe Lyons.

For a limited time, this book by friend and fellow pastor, Scott Sauls, is only $5 (Kindle).

But this book is worth the full price, even for just the first chapter on politics alone!

Go check it out, buy a copy (or 12) for yourself and your friends. And please share with others!

Here’s a sample of some of the goodness that lies within!

“When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines

 

“What matters more to us  — that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines

 

“Christianity always flourishes most as a life-giving minority, not as a powerful majority. It is through subversive, countercultural acts of love, justice, and service for the common good that Christianity has always gained the most ground.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines

 

 

Single Greatest Test of Christian Faith & Maturity

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the gospel centered life and Paul letter to the Romans

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on authentic faith.

“There is no better test of our spiritual state and condition than our missionary zeal, our concern for lost souls. That is always the thing that divides people who are just theoretical and intellectual Christians from those who have a living and a vital spiritual life.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – God’s Sovereign Purpose, Romans 9:1-33

We Need a Hero

We Need A Hero

One of the most iconic songs to come out the 80’s, was Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

– “Holding Out for a Hero

We need a hero. That should go without saying. The world we live in is a mess.  War. Terrorism. Murder. Microagressions. Racism. Bias. 

When we live in a world where there’s a battle over whether #blacklivesmatter or #policelivesmatter is more important or necessary (by the way, both are!), you know you have problems. But what kind of hero do we need?

That all depends on our predicament.

Some might say we simply need a good example to follow. That we have it within our own capability to come up with the solution to the problems of this life.  The British poet W.H. Auden living in New York in the 1930’s-40’s recounts that he left his Christian upbringing and was a secular humanist; basically believing that man could be educated and put into a better environment in order to make the the world a better place. He held this view until one day when he went into a movie house in 1939. He went in to watch a German movie reel on the invasion of Poland. He was frightened when the people in the audience got wrapped up into the movie and started to yell “Kill them” whenever the Poles were portrayed on screen.

He had thought that if we had the right education, right cultural setting, we would move beyond the barbarism and inhumanity of the chaos and calamity around us. But this one incident shattered that. Because of his worldview, he couldn’t admit to himself how bad the world was. Without sin, he couldn’t account for what he had just seen, and was without hope (education, enlightenment, reason had failed). He didn’t have the resources to meet what he saw. He returned to his Christian roots and found hope for what he encountered.  (Check out this great write up over at First Things).

On the other side of the world, not in a movie theater, but in a extermination concentration camp, there was another man observing and suffering the same atrocities that riled up the crowd in the movie theater in New York – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Observing the cruelty and inhumanity around him, he could have thought that the problem is other people. If we could simply get rid of the “other”, the world would be alright (funny how that’s the very same thought that animates all totalitarian regimes and “ethnic cleansing” campaigns). Instead, he reasoned and concluded the following:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Auden and Solzhenitsyn were confronted with the fact that the world is the way that it is because we are the way that we are. And having the right upbringing, credentials, education or experiences won’t solve it. We need more than an example (the view of Human ability and the Myth of Human Progress; also called Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism in theological circles).

But neither will it do any good to simply get rid of the problem people, because there is no clean cut separation (the view of Human eradication and “cleansing”; Pride, Arrogance, and Superiority). All of us are both victims and victimizers of our world, environment, and other people.

The picture Paul paints of our predicament is one of human solidarity with the original man – Adam. As Adam went, so did all humanity – his posterity. Our problem is more than the cumulative total of our individual actions and certainly greater than just “them” over there.

We need a hero.  And he’s got to be larger than life – at least the life as we now currently know it.

Enter Jesus.

This is Paul’s whole point in Romans 5:12-21. Paul is contrasting two men who represent two humanities: the merely human, and the more human than human.

Just as in Adam all are in sin and under it’s rule and reign, are transgressors of the law of God, and contribute to the problems in the world by thinking of themselves as greater than God the Creator of all, so then many can come into a state of mercy, grace, and renewal in Christ.

Jesus Christ comes to not merely reverse the work and effects of the “first man”, Adam, but He comes as the “last man” or the “second Adam”, to not merely put things back together again, but to make it better than ever before. There is a progressive nature to Christ’s work that doesn’t just repair what is broken, but makes it utterly beautiful instead of miserable.

Jesus Christ lived the life not only we should have lived, but Adam should have as well. And now that He has done it, we don’t have to be only enslaved to sin, even if we still feel it’s effects (death, destruction, and dysfunction). There is a new way to live, by the larger than life hero, Jesus Christ.

How then should we respond?

Faith in Christ, not ourselves. The way of the human race is to trust in our own instincts, abilities, and progress. Christianity cuts that off at it’s root. We don’t have the resources to get ourselves out of our own problems – the same heart that got us into it all won’t get us out of it, at all. But because of Christ’s work in living, dying, and rising again, we don’t have to. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through faith,(Romans 3:23-24). We live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us; not ourselves.

Repent of Sin. Our contribution to the misery of the world is still something we deal with. We need to repent of the bad things we do and the good things we don’t do. But we do so not to earn, achieve, or merit God’s favor, but because our fundamental identity has shifted. Repentance could be described as simply “aligning our thoughts, actions, and habits with the new life of Christ He gives us by His Spirit.” It’s not about “dos” and “donts”, but becoming more “who we are” and “who we are meant to be” in Christ.

Work for renewal. Just as repentance is taking on the characteristics of our new identity in Christ (in union with Him), we can and should actively work to make the world around us, in our respective spheres of influence, look and act more and more like the world it will be one day. Jesus is not just doing a work in us – “Taking the evil out the people/[so that] then they’ll be acting right.” (Tupac, Changes) – but through us, to redeem all things to Himself.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)

How can you partner with Him in making your little corner of His world reflect His image, His truth, His beauty, and His goodness?