Friday, August 13, 2010

The "Struggle of Faith"

This will be a multi-part post concerning the Christian’s continuing “struggle of faith”. This may not be a struggle that we knowingly engage in everyday, but as we live our lives in this world we will inevitably (and probably often) encounter opposition in some form or other (opposition from within and/or opposition from without) that brings opportunity for us to either exercise our faith and experience the presence of Christ by the Spirit, or to allow our “flesh” to influence us and thereby experience the doubts and worry that cause us to question God and His goodness to us—the “struggle of faith”. I hope that in examining this paradigm we will see in Christ the victory of faith that produces contentment and confidence as we live out the reality of who we are—Children of God in Christ.

The “Struggle of Faith”

Although always present in my life to some degree, I have recently gone through a spell where the “struggle of Faith” seemed more difficult than in times past and I’d like to share an insight that has helped me immensely. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this truth is essential for our progress in maturity as Children of God and in our struggle to “live by faith and not by sight”. What is this truth?

Union With Christ

The concept of union with Christ is nothing new to us, of course; the Bible speaks of it often. We have been joined to Christ by the Spirit. We have been baptized into Christ. We have died and have been buried with Christ and have been raised up in Him to new life. We are (presently) seated with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Everything about this Gospel and our lives in it is in Christ, in Christ, in Christ. Union with Christ is the fundamental reality of the Gospel. Whatever we think of the Atonement (e.g. ransom, penal substitution, Christus Victor, etc.), the fundamental purpose of God underlying the Gospel is the reconciliation of humanity in Christ attested by the sending of the Spirit to join us to Christ. “Union with Christ is our destiny”, as Philip E. Hughes explains in his excellent book, The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ.

However, in our consideration of this Union with Christ we often understand it in the positional sense, as simply our new standing before God: God the Father places us and then “seals” us in His Son by the Spirit thereby securing our blessed fate. We have been declared righteous because we’ve been joined to Christ in His righteousness by the Spirit who now works to transform us into His image and likeness. And this is certainly true; and it is certainly our sure hope. And we even, on occasion, believe that we recognize the work of the Spirit in us and through us.

But what does this Union with Christ really mean to us? How is our “position” in Christ relevant to us in our daily lives? It all seems so…ethereal (dare we say mystical?). Somehow, in some way unknown and even extraneous and contrary to us as sinful human beings, we’ve been joined to Christ by the Spirit. So what? How does that affect us in the “here and now”? There doesn’t seem to be any real tangible quality to our union with Christ, no measureable ontological difference about us. We don’t look any different. We don’t necessarily feel any different. We don’t always act any different—though we know that we ought to see the fruit of the transformational work of the Spirit in us however slowly and to whatever degree.
There is no empirical evidence of our union with Christ (we can’t actually see it or touch it), but we nevertheless believe it to be true. We exercise our faith in God that what He says is true and thereby we gain a sense of security and confidence. To be sure, we are called to live by faith and not by sight; but the concept of our union with Christ still seems overly psychological, like we have to force our minds to believe it in spite of the reality of our daily lives and lingering doubt (the “struggle with faith”). Are we really called to believe something that is only a declaration of truth but not a demonstrable ontological reality? The ontology of our union with Christ is lacking a concrete, tangible expression that is not satisfactorily expressed or explicit in the idea of our “being joined to Christ by the Spirit”; and this, I believe, contributes to our overall sense of “struggle” as we seek to live by faith. Without a certain and demonstrable ontology, we only have our own faith (weak as it is) to fall back on—and this is the problem!

Christ’s Union With Us

But union with Christ is so much more than this unknown (secret) and unapprehended work of the Spirit in joining us to Christ. Union with Christ is more than merely positional and spiritual, a truth that we accept by faith but is unperceived by us. Union with Christ really is ontological: though not necessarily perceived by us, our very being has been affected by the Spirit who now indwells us. Union with Christ really does speak to our lives in the here and now, in the joys and struggles of this life that we continue to live “under the sun”. Union with Christ is not just the psychological believing (a matter of faith) that our position has changed (from a “guilty criminal” to a “legal son”), or even the unperceived (but true) reality that we have been joined to Christ by the Spirit; it’s a tangible reality that we can "see" and “touch” (though still a matter of “faith”, which I’ll explain). This “union” is a reality that goes beyond the positional or mystical to the actual. Union with Christ does speak to a real, ontological change and therefore is of real, tangible relevance to us as we seek to live day by day as sons and daughters of God.

This ontological change, however, is not to be understood primarily within us (though because the Spirit really does indwell us we truly are “new creations”) but within Christ Himself (the “first fruit and first born of the New Creation” the “firstborn from the dead”). Our new ontology is derivative: the reason we can speak of a change at all in our very “being” (the ontological reality of our being “joined to Christ” by the Spirit) is because of Christ first joining Himself to us in our humanity! I think we lose sight of the relevance of our union with Christ and the power that is inherent in the Gospel toward us because we neglect the other side this union—the Incarnation: Christ’s union with us! This is the paradigm for understanding our union with Him. And I believe it is this aspect of our union with Christ, the ontological aspect of the Son of God becoming the Son of Man (a true human being), that is so important for us to understand as we struggle to live our lives in this world “by faith” as “sons” of God in Him. be continued.

Next…The Incarnation