Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV)
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This kind of spiritual assurance is helpful as we begin to understand that it is the grace of God rather than any effort on our part that allows us to see our own righteousness.
It is through the incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves right with God.
Each individual may find a different touchstone in Christ with which he or she identifies more than another. Some may be drawn to Christmas (incarnation) while others may find Easter (resurrection) better defines their relationship. Still others may find meaning in the disciplines during Lent (suffering and death). To name it so broadly is to be somewhat ambiguous.
Human beings enjoy certainty.
If I were to comment, “I heard the woman with the hearing aids,” the statement is ambiguous in that it is unclear whether I or the woman use hearing aids. So clear communication is important.
However, when we entertain the mystery of God, clarity may not be readily available.
As we deal with God’s call upon our lives, it would be nice to have blazing letters in the sky directing us to specific action. However, the call is likely to be a little more subtle!
Paul becomes a little ambiguous when he states, “if Christ is in you” rather than assuming he is speaking to a congregation where all are “in Christ.” This makes Christians a little nervous as we may think to ourselves, “how do I know for sure if Christ is in me?”
This gets into the doctrine of assurance. Some speak of knowing the exact moment of your salvation when you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior. Other congregations are not as clear and Christians grow up in the church with this identity never questioned.
That is, until someone questions it.
Sometimes the certainty with which Christians tout their own strong relationship appears as if they never have any doubts. This bravado may actually keep people from living with a stronger faith because they assume that their faith is lacking. It is better to be honest and let people know that due to the ambiguous nature of faith in an unseen God, there will be doubts from time to time. We will have questions. Assurance is nice, but it doesn’t mean the same thing for each person.
This is similar to the touchstones we may more closely associate with in our own lives - as you think about these attributes, do you more closely identify with incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death or resurrection?
All are helpful, but it is okay to claim the one you favor. As we each claim something different for our own relationship in Christ, it is good to allow the variety within the Spirit. This comfort with the ambiguity with how we identify as Christian actually may give us more assurance and certainty within the broader setting as the Body of Christ.
And so we can relax in the Spirit as we join in worship with one another, knowing that we each bring a little bit different viewpoint to the table. Shared understanding becomes fuller understanding. That gives me greater assurance after all!
Check out Sam’s Blog here: http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/
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