Family in Focus
INTERSECT: Trading Show for Substance
Authentic Spirituality in Christ, Part 2
In the June-July issue, we explored verses 6-10 of this passage. We were reminded that because fullness of deity dwells in the person of Jesus, we too are fulfilled in Him and lack nothing. In short, authentic spirituality is rooted in the person of Christ. As we turn our attention to verses 11-15, however, we are reminded of a second essential truth:
Authentic spirituality is secured by the work of Christ. We who were spiritually dead in trespasses and sins experienced the work of Christ in regeneration (verses 11-13). We experienced “spiritual circumcision,” the sign of the Old Testament covenant now fulfilled spiritually by Christ Himself.
Baptism, the ordinance signifying new life in Christ, also paints a vivid and public picture of the believer united with Christ, not only in His death, but also in His glorious resurrection. We are raised with Him through faith in His saving work. Formerly dead in sins and shortcomings of the law, God makes the new believer alive in Himself.
Jesus Himself said this “spiritual” rebirth must take place. He told the religious seeker Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” The human condition outside of Christ is so desperate that apart from the work of the Spirit, no one can be saved. The Spirit must convict, draw, enable faith, and ultimately give life to the soul.
We would not—could not—come to Christ apart from the divine enablement of the Holy Spirit to believe. Charles Wesley, who spent many years pursuing salvation by his own efforts, eventually experienced salvation by grace. He later described that moment in the lyrics of the classic hymn “And Can It Be?”
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Guilty as Charged
Not only did Christ regenerate us, He also completed the work of propitiation (substitution) for the sin judgment we faced (verses 13-15). Although the law (and God’s holy nature) demanded punishment, Jesus met and fulfilled these demands when He “nailed our sins to the cross.” His finished work on the cross effectively cancelled the debt. All that remains is for us to accept Him as our salvation, the sacrificial lamb who paid the death penalty for our sin.
Any form of spirituality that denies or diminishes the death of Christ on the cross is not authentic spirituality. “No man can come to the Father but by me,” says Jesus. In his book, The Cross of Christ, theologian John Stott wrote, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” Authentic spirituality is secured by the work of Christ.
Paul’s argument is clear: if you have substance in Christ, why would you ever want to return to the shadows? Every other religion in the world is a shadow, a self-made religion. It appears in various forms and often seems to be genuine, but upon closer examination proves nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Why settle for shadow when substance is ours?
We find three warnings in verses 8, 16, and 18: 1) don’t be taken captive; 2) don’t let anyone pass judgment; and 3) don’t allow anyone to disqualify you from salvation found in Christ. Instead, center your entire life around the person and work of Jesus. No salvation exists apart from Him; no sanctification takes place apart from Him. We must stop seeking an “experience” of spirituality and instead, seek the One who holds our eternal destiny. He is not hiding. He uses simple, unchanging means to reveal Himself: prayer, the Word, the ordinances, and fellowship.
In addition, center the life of the local church on the person and work of Jesus. I have been increasingly concerned about the casual way we admit people into church membership, not necessarily new Christians, but those who transfer from other congregations. We must challenge their beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ and be sure they distinguish shadow from substance.
Too many churches today fall into the trap of culture-centered church life and worship, rather than creating a Christ-centered community of believers. In the classic book, The Dwelling Place of God, A.W. Tozer wrote:
It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of spiritual instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting, where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy, in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.
The world offers plenty of entertainment. Instead, we must offer Christ, something (Someone) the world cannot find anywhere else. Let us strive for authentic spirituality rooted in the person of Christ and secured by the work of Christ.
About the Writer: Dr. Barry Raper pastors Bethel Free Will Baptist Church in Ashland City, Tennessee, and directs the Pastoral Program at Welch College. Learn more about Welch College: www.welch.edu.