Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
Well, the New Year is started, and now it’s time for the holydays to wind down. Actually, we are still in the Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and conclude on Epiphany, January 6, which marks the visit of the Magi and the revelation of Who Jesus was. In years past, I kept my Christmas tree up and the lights on my house until January 6, and I admit it was a little weird in the various neighborhoods in which I lived as a pastor. Everyone else on the block had returned their homes to whatever state of normal existed prior to Thanksgiving, and my Christmas lights still came on every evening because, you know, nothing says “Christ is born” like strings of lights on the roof, especially since they went up around Thanksgiving.
In contrast to predictions of doom, I am optimistic about the future. I don’t know that I am optimistic about politics – national or international – or economics or education or world peace, or anything of that sort. Rather, I am confident in Jesus Christ and therefore, optimistic about our future and the future of Christianity. Predictions of the death of Christianity are much like confidence in the Jesus’ death – grossly overrated. Human nature without the lens of sin, grace, and salvation, on the other hand, is grossly underrated. We can be, and too often are, horrible to one another.
With all that’s going on in the world and so many gloomy predictions, how are we to distinguish ourselves as Christians, as a people of hope and life? We cannot be as fearful or angry as the world in which we live, nor can our values be the same as the values of accumulation and blind self-involvement. To be sure, Jesus is all about each one of us when He seeks us as lost sheep, but once we join the fold, He expects us to follow Him until each of our lives conform to Him – His Kingdom, His purposes, His values, which are eternal in nature and nothing like popular culture. Inevitably, the lives of Christians should be a stark contrast to the darkness in our culture, each a ray of the eternal light that shines into the darkness.
The decline of faith in America today is inversely correlated to the rise of a host of destructive behaviors, all of which reflect the unchecked passions of human nature. What Christians once taught as the seven deadly sins are now celebrated freedoms in popular culture. Think lust, greed, or gluttony, for examples. Worse, however, is the less visible impact of the loss of faith, specifically the loss of Christian faith. The corrosion of the soul is occurring beneath the surface in great swaths of people across the western world. Think pride, anger, laziness, and envy – all attitudes currently championed in this generation.
During one of the several holyday gatherings of family and friends, a successful young adult (of whom I am quite fond) explained that he didn’t want to think about an afterlife. His view was new to me, but I suspect it is not unique among non-Christians today. His expectation was that he’d live a long life, then die, and cease to exist entirely. That’s it. Nothing more. He went on to point out that he didn’t want to live forever because life is too hard, and he struggles with all sorts of psychological drama. People have told him that we are changed after death, but if that’s the case, then the person he becomes would be no one he knows. That person would not be recognizable to him because who is he without all of his neuroses?
Intentionally or unwittingly, we have at least an entire generation of people whose identity is tied to being fallen – broken by the events of life, bent under the weight of sin, and striving to grab the most and make a mark for good or bad. The man to whom I was listening is great guy – funny, generous, and caring, but his life is measured by sin and death.
It’s worth noting that his view of life after death is drawn from what Christians have said. No one has mentioned the power of Christ to change and heal today. He does not see Christianity as a faith that transforms, but rather as a faith the offers some sort of weird and potentially undesirable hope for life after death. I very much suspect that is how we sound to the world around us because too often this is the faith within us. Our Christianity is reduced to nothing more than consolation today and hope for something spectacular after we die. If this is the faith we believe, then we really do not have much to say to the generation in which we live.
Authentic Christian life is a life of continual transformation, and this is not only a message to share but a reality to live. We should be changing slowly but steadily to be more like Christ, less sinful, less influenced by evil. If we are being changed, then our witness to the world is more credible. If our lives and values are the same as our neighbors, then our witness is greatly compromised. Indeed, how would life beyond death as a stranger to oneself even work? Certainly, more change will occur when we are in the presence of Christ, but are we not to live now out of the joy of God’s love and grace? Having been adopted as children of God, shouldn’t we be growing into our new identity? I believe that was the plan. ‘You are a new creation… the old is gone and the new has come.’
Change is hard. Growing in Christ is hard. Even with the help of the Spirit Who has been given to us, letting go of the old that is dead and reaching for the new we have become are exceedingly difficult to do. Consider alphabet sexuality. We are told that conversion therapy doesn’t work, and I am inclined to agree with that. In a class setting while discussing martyrdom, I posed the obvious question: would you be willing to die for the Gospel, for Jesus Christ? A man in the class responded that, if he really, really knew that he was dying for Christ, he thought he might be willing. Seriously? I’m not willing to give up a meal – just judging by my success with regular fasting. Sin clings to us like the stench of filth, except we are not easily cleansed. Confessing faith and waiting to die to be made new are like wearing cologne after not bathing for a week. It’s a ghastly and offensive combination to everyone around us. The whole of Christian life and Christian discipleship is a lifetime conversion from creatures of sin and death to creatures of virtue and life, and that begins with us. We are the ones being changed to look like Christian disciples and children of God.
That brings me to an important point. We are not witnesses to Christ’s saving grace and love when we point out everything that is wrong in our world, especially with people in the world. When Jesus spoke, He proclaimed the Kingdom had come. To our knowledge, He never directly addressed the fallacies of Greco/Roman religion with its pantheon of gods. Christ would be better served and more clearly seen if we could articulate Christianity half as well as we can point out what is wrong with the world around us.
People want to change. Indeed, the desire to be change is everywhere, whether it’s gender surgery, biological engineering, or diet pills. We all want a shortcut to change, including Christians. A shortcut, however, cannot produce lasting change or even real change in the moment. Consider the changes we’ve welcomed or are welcoming as they become available. Instead of becoming truly human in Christ, we strive to become less human with biological engineering. As if being gifted with the “DNA of God” through His indwelling Spirit were insufficient, we think to stop human suffering and defy death with silicon. How can people who decided genetically modified food is bad think genetically modifying human beings will be good?
Everywhere we look in everyone we encounter, the desire for change is inescapable. People are starved for the Gospel and don’t know it. Frankly, too many Christians follow the world in search of the changes that will make us happy. However, life-giving change occurs only when the Spirit of God changes us from within. In that change, we discover abundant life, great joy, and the love that satisfies, soothes, and heals.
Being born of God is always good, but right now, the potential for sharing the Gospel is staggering! People want change so badly they are destroying themselves to become something different. Imagine being able to offer change that doesn’t destroy but instead magnifies human beings, enriches human life. That is the Gospel. Jesus Christ makes human beings so much more than we can ever be without Him. He doesn’t come judging. He does come saving, redeeming, and transforming.
Ask Him what He would like to change in you. He’ll let you know, and eventually, you’ll be so grateful for the change He has wrought. Daunting as it may seem in the moment, you will never regret the work Christ does in you. He is restoring you to who you were created to be and lifting you to participate in His eternal Kingdom. Then, share the same to everyone you meet.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau