Christ the Center
On the eve of prostate cancer surgery, John Piper wrote an article titled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” He wrote,
You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ. Satan’s and God’s designs in your cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy your love for Christ. God designs to deepen your love for Christ. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help you say and feel, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And to know that therefore, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Among the many benefits of a major illness is a major review of the essentials. Christ has become more of a passion for me than He has been. I am ashamed to admit that He has not always been my focus. As the good is the enemy of the best, so Christianity can preempt Christ.
Being a fundamentalist is an increasingly uphill struggle given the depreciation of society and the outward success of Evangelicalism. Historic Fundamentalism has been Christ-centered. Some current fundamentalists have become performance-centered. Christ must be the goal, the measure, and the means for the believer and the Church. When He is assumed rather than cherished, in spite of the doctrinal statement, He becomes the titular head only. His replacement is often a performance-based substitute. The difference is the direction of dependence for spiritual life.
Since Christ is head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18), it follows that we should “grow up into him in all things” (Eph. 4:15). To be a Christian is to be a “Christlike” one. Our goal is to be like Christ. When the Christ of the Word is the object of our desires, we are motivated to “go forth therefore unto him” who is “without the camp” (Heb. 13:13). A list of do’s and don’ts neither makes Christ our head nor separates us from the world.
Some use the name of Jesus only as the mascot for their agenda. Theirs is not the Bible agenda, but they use Jesus’ name to cover a multitude of anti-Jesus causes. They are emotionally attached to the idea of Christ. The talk of loving Christ is more than actual attachment to the Christ of the Word. It’s more of a social reinforcement than a personal quest.
The Bible defines and limits Christ. An unbiblical cause that uses the name of Christ is still unbiblical. The only way to love the real Christ is to love what the Bible says. The only direction that follows Christ is as per the Bible. Jesus is truth (John 14:6), and the Bible is truth (John 17:17). Both convey the essence of the Father. Spiritual life flows from the habit of fellowship with Christ in the Word. When we neglect the Word, we have abandoned Christ. And the frequent, emotional use of His name will not change that.
Christ is the goal because He is the treasure at the end of the search for gentiles who want to be a part of the body (Eph. 3:3-6), for believers who need to realize the oneness we have with Him (Eph. 5:31-32), and for all of the Church to have “the hope of glory” which is “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27).
Christ is the goal because He is the personified wisdom of God. And because of that, He is our “righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). These are the effects of God’s plan for humanity in Christ (1:24). Wisdom biblically is “insight into the true nature of things” (Vine quoting Lightfoot, Expository Dictionary, p. 678). The dynamics of the Church are centered in Christ. The closer we follow Him, the more right things happen. “So that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church” (Eph. 3:10, NAS).
Christ is the goal because He can dwell in our hearts (Eph. 3:17a). This is the first effect (the second is in vv. 18-19) of the Spirit’s impact on the inner man (v. 16) as we fellowship with the Christ of the Word daily. Every believer is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), which is tantamount to Christ being in us (v. 10). But not every believer enjoys the manifest presence of the Lord (John 14:21-23). Gerhard points us away from subjectivism here to the objective Word:
That is a salutary, practical manifestation of Jesus Christ, when he implants spiritual motions into the hearts of his believers and lovers (Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p. 1008).
This is the best goal for any believer who qualifies.
Christ is the goal because He is the “perfect man” (Eph. 4:13) to Whom we aspire. Our ultimate purpose is conformity to Christ. Individually and collectively, we will be presented to the Father as the bride of Christ “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:22, ESV). The means to that end is that we focus on Him, and somehow God changes us “into the same image” (2 Cor. 3:18). And that’s when it gets fun.
The performance-centered Church is motivated by other goals. Christ can be presumed in the context of growth and activity. But ours is a jealous God, Who will have no other goals before Him. All believers know about Him, but few are motivated to know Him.
That believers have been predestinated “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29) states both the ultimate goal and the intermediary measure. Predestination guarantees it will happen; conformation measures the daily progress. On Ephesians 4:20-21, Moule writes that Christ “is the subject matter of His own message” (Studies in Ephesians, p. 117). Christ is our standard.
In class we study the subject over which we are to be tested. How well we learn the information becomes the measure of our grade, except for those “trick” questions! To prepare for the test, study the subject. Jesus is the measure for the Christian because He is the subject of our new life.
Jesus displayed His deity by manifesting the power (John 3:2), wisdom (John 7:46), and glory (2 Cor. 4:6) of God in ways we cannot duplicate. But He also showed us qualities of God we can replicate. Christ and the New Testament writers challenge us to be like Him. In this sense Jesus is the measure of the Christian life. Everyone follows a model. The world has theirs; we have the best.
Jesus is the standard of excellence of worthiness (Col. 1:10). We represent Him first before church, family, or our movement. He is the benchmark for suffering (Col. 1:24). Lightfoot summarizes Paul’s thought here:
I Paul the feeble and sinful, am permitted to supplement … the afflictions of Christ. Despite all that He underwent, He the Master has left something still for me the servant to undergo. And so my flesh is privileged to suffer for His body - His spiritual body, the Church (Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, p. 164).
Jesus is our model for progress (Col. 2:7). “In Him” and its equivalents are favorites of Paul. We often read over this phrase with little thought. But being “in Him” is a deep source for the best meditation. Thayer says the phrase is used …
of a person to whom another is wholly joined and to whose power and influence he is subject, so that the former may be likened to the place in which the latter lives and moves. So used in the writings of Paul and of John particularly of intimate relationship with God or with Christ, and for the most part involving contextually the idea of power and blessing resulting from that union (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 211).
Jesus is our freedom (Col. 2:8). People are like scalps on a pole or notches on the gun to many who desire followers. Some pastors don’t know the difference between their opinion and truth. Through rearrangement and pure deception, charlatans use comfortable traditions and commonly accepted truisms to captivate fans, to whom we all are vulnerable were it not for Christ. How do we know we are not being led astray by a slick, knowledgeable, want-to-be? Paul says the wrong way is “not after Christ.” He is the measure. If we don’t know how to follow Christ, we really don’t know.
Jesus was the example of the Father for us. Of the then-coming Church age, Jesus said, “I shall show you plainly of the Father” (John 16:25). We are joined to the Father in the Son. Specifically Christ demonstrated for us the Father’s love (1 John 3:16, 4:7, 10; John 3:16). Jesus died and lived the love of God as a model for us (John 12:24-25; 2 Cor. 4:11). He also showed us what to talk about (John 8:26), which actions to emulate (John 8:29), and Whom to honor in our lives (John 8:49-50). In short, Jesus is the measure of the Christian life, and we can be like Him.
Jesus is the standard for success because in Him we are complete (Col. 2:10). If success is being perfect, speaking only right words, knowing everything we need to know, rearing perfect children, having perfect marriages; in other words, if success is dependent on our measuring up to God’s best, guess what? None of us will make it. In verse 9 Christ is the “fullness of the Godhead.” In verse 10 believers are “full in Him” (NAS). The word “fullness” and “full” mean more than we have space for here, but for our purposes read, “ye are successful in Him.” Lightfoot suggests: “Ye are filled from His fullness” (p. 177).
Willpower can’t get this done. I like the option of “looking unto Jesus [Who is not only] the author [but also] and finisher [or perfecter] of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
God in Christ gives life freely. Lesser religions require it. Jesus is the means to life (John 3:16) and to living (Gal. 2:19-20). No informed person would say that our salvation is dependent on us. We know it rests on Christ’s finished work on the cross. But many would imply that the life we live after we are saved is contingent on us; on our willpower, our obedience, our praying, our soul-winning, our separation, etc. That is, we are saved by grace but are sanctified by works. The issue is not whether we are to exercise our will, to be obedient, etc. It’s a question of identifying the cause and effect.
The Bible teaches that Christ is the cause of the Christian life as much as He is the means of salvation. Our failure in holiness is a matter of unbelief rather than our lack of ability. Paul addressed both salvation by works and sanctification by works with the truth that Christ is life.
The issue before Paul in Gal. 2:19b is “that I might live unto God.” Verse 20 tells us how that is done. “I live by the faith of the Son of God” (KJV) might better read “in the Son,” if this is a Genitive of Source as I suspect. The source of this life is “not I, but Christ.” Dependence on ourselves to do right is parallel with the Jews’ confidence in themselves to keep the law. Looking within for the resources to please God is short-lived, disappointing, and then frustrating. So, many believers quit trying or stick to a more doable, church-supplied list. This discouraging dualism is addressed by our oneness with Christ. “I have no longer a separate existence. I am merged in Christ” (Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, p. 119).
Paul’s example is that Christ did live in him, and that life is available to all believers “now.” For many of us the issue is not informational. A few more years of expository messages will not do what the others have not. The issue is relational.
If Paul is right, this life is available “now” through “faith in the Son of God.” It is not by looking within but by looking up. It is not in hoping for the power that comes from my will but in trusting in the power that comes from yielding my spirit to Him.
Faith means reliance or dependence. The Christian lives by continual dependence on Christ, by yielding to Him, by allowing Christ to live His life in him. Thus the believer’s rule of life is Christ and not the law. It is not a matter of striving, but of trusting” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1880).
There are five dynamics we use in discipleship. First, the most important thing in the believer’s life is daily fellowship with Christ in the Word. Second, the Holy Spirit is the agent of the Christian life. Third, the Word is the catalyst. Fourth, the means is meditation in the Word. And fifth, a yielded spirit to the God of the Word is the continuing first step.
Evangelicals are replacing Christ with worldly success. KJO’s champion a version. The concern of this older, fundamental pastor is that we can take Jesus for granted while elevating performance. For too long I labored to follow Fundamentalism. The gift of cancer has reinforced my focus to follow Him.