In the Introduction to his new book, God is Good for You, released last week, Greg Sheridan, an Australian op-ed writer and author, observes that ‘the hostility to religion’ in the West ‘is unfalsifiable’. He comments that liberal atheism which is committed to ousting Christianity from the market-square, ‘is driven insane by contradictory impulses it can no longer control or balance. One is an anti-social self-absorption. The development of the metaphysical understanding of human identity has ended in a dry gulch’, he says.
Christianity, he points out, brought hope even for ‘the excluded and marginalized of the ancient world – they all had souls. But the soul… gave way to the self as the therapeutic age replaced the age of belief. Now, in our post-modern times, the world of social media and the universal quest for celebrity, even self has been supplanted by the brand… From soul to self to brand is a steep decline in what it means to be human’.
Springing out of the ‘brand’, Sheridan continues, liberalism, against the universalism of Christianity, is creating ‘a new series of tribal identities. Nothing is more powerful now in Western politics, or more dangerous, than identity politics. It sells itself as a way to help disadvantaged and marginalized communities. But eventually everyone wants a slice of identity politics and it sets all against all’.
How do we live in such a world? Paul’s significant prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 goes to the heart of what we need.
In Ephesians 3:14 through 3:17a we read: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,… that… he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;…
Paul links the power of God to the strengthening work of God’s Spirit in our lives – not in order to make us externally powerful people, but rather that our inner lives will be open to Christ, the Spirit of Christ, fully taking up residence within us.
Paul understands that while we may truly turn to Christ in repentance and faith, we tend to fear him being Lord of every aspect of our life. We might be seen as ‘fanatics’. We shrink from the idea that Christ is interested in changing those things within us which conflict with his expectations. We resist the idea that he may want to re-tune the desires of our heart.
While we might be truly Christ’s, we may not be fully Christ’s. This is not about a second blessing. Rather, it is the recognition that Christ’s presence within us is, as with all relationships, a process.
So Paul prays that the Spirit will use his supernatural power to open our hearts to the beauty and love that flows from Christ – so that when we see his overwhelming love for us, we will not fear putting our lives fully in his hands.
Further, Paul continues: So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;…
Dwell here is key. It means, ‘take up residence’ and ‘settle down’. There are many things in all of us with which Jesus Christ will not be at all comfortable. As we come to know him better we realize the need for cleaning up and even renovation. And, as anyone who has been involved in renovation knows, it takes longer and costs much more than originally expected.
Paul knows this and that’s why he prays for God’s power to be working in us through his Spirit. He knows that God’s intention is to make our lives a fit home for his Son.
Paul often uses the imagery of putting off the old and bringing in the new. Colossians 3 gives us an example of the kinds of practical things Jesus wants to see happen in our lives. So in 3:5, we read: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:… Toss out of your life what doesn’t fit this new life with Christ. Is it sex outside of marriage? Is it pornography? Is it evil or greed? Is it anger or rage, or malice or slander, or perhaps cursing? Do you always tell the truth? These things belong to the old self.
Put on the new self which is being renewed after the image of its creator. So, Put on then,… compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The key to living as God’s people in our rapidly changing world, is to have Christ, who has saved us, now living at the very center of our life.
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Visit the Anglican Connection Booth.
Anglican Connection ‘Focus Group’ Lunch – Tuesday, September 11 from 12:00pm to 1:30pm. Theme: ‘Thomas Cranmer & the Psalms, and 9/11.
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© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com