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Introduction

Introduction

Becoming a New Person

The good news proclaimed in the Gospel (which means “good news”) is that no one is condemned to remain permanently shackled to an old and futile way of life, but that everyone can be redeemed and made new in Jesus Christ. Man no longer needs to eke out his earthly existence in the gloom of perpetual spiritual darkness, unable to see the meaning of life, and unable to free himself from a persistent sense of futility. This amazing mess­age of hope for everyone is expressed in the truly revolutionary declaration: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2Cor.5.17, NIV). We need to let these words be absorbed into our compre­hension so as to begin to feel their significance and power. We need to savor these words until their meaning gradually dawns upon us. We can then take hold of them and experience their reality.

Man has long aspired to something better and more enduring in life. How much blood has been shed through wars and revolutions in the hope of establishing a better world? But how could human society change unless man himself is changed? When man himself is changed, then everything that pertains to him is inevitably changed with him. The new man lives the new life.

But man cannot change himself. Although he can make self-improvements, these improvements could never add up to a funda­mental transformation. “Can the leopard change its spots?” (Jer.13.23). We can no more change ourselves than we could change our own skin. Only God can transform us from the inside out and make of us a “new creation”.

The message of the New Testament is about how Yahweh God made this possible through Jesus Christ, calling us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Pet.2.9). “For He (God) delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col.1.13). He sets us free from the enslavement to sin that controlled our old way of life so that we may enter “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom.8.21). He liberates us from the powers of evil which dominate life in this world, and empowers us for a new life in Christ.

In this process of becoming a new person, we “die” to the old life and old lifestyle we lived in hitherto. Our old ego, “our old self” (Ro.6.6), is terminated through our being united with the crucified Christ, and a whole new identity as God’s children is given us through the risen Christ living in us.

“New Creation” and “Regeneration”

There are two ways in which this remarkable process of be­coming a new person is described in the New Testament. First, it is described as a new birth, a birth from above, a spiritual birth, in contrast to physical birth (Jo.3.3-7). This is what is called “regen­eration”. The other way it is described, especially in the letters of the apostle Paul, is “new creation” or “new creature” (2Cor.5.17; Gal. 6.15), i.e. a whole new person created in the image of Christ.

Whichever way it is described, the emphasis is on the newness of the new person in Christ. In the New Testament, only a new person, that is, a regenerated person or a person who has been created anew in Christ, is a “Christian”. It is not merely a matter of a profession of faith, or church membership, or ritual observances, or cultural heritage. Being a Christian has to do with what one is, not merely with what one professes. No one is a Christian as far as the New Testament is concerned who doesn’t have the life of Christ in him or her, or in whom the Spirit of God doesn’t live.

Grace and Faith

The transformation of the old into the new is nothing less than a miracle of God’s power to save. The old stands under the curse of death; everything in the world which has life becomes old and dies. But God reverses this process by bringing life out of death through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those who live under the bond­age of death can now receive the life of Christ, and by that gift of life God fashions out of the clay of the old life a whole new person. Such a person has “passed out of death into life” (1Jo.3.14). This amazing gift of life and transformation is what the New Testament calls “grace”. The person who places himself in God’s hands, believing that only He can and will make us new persons as we obey Him wholeheartedly, is the one who has what the New Testament calls “faith”. This faith is a living relationship with the living God who gives us new life.

Faith recognizes that in order to establish this new relationship with God, the old relationship with our old self, or ego, has to be terminated. The old “I” has to die in order that the new person in Christ could live. The old and the new are totally incompatible in cha­racter and no compromise is possible between them, as experience will confirm. It is of the utmost importance to understand this fact. It is for this reason that the next two chapters will immediately address this matter of dying.

It must be clearly understood that no one will ever enter God’s Kingdom unless he is regenerated by God’s power in Christ. That is to say, only those persons who have been made new will be saved and receive the fullness of eternal life.

Yahweh God is quietly and powerfully carrying out an eternal plan to create new people in the midst of an old and dying world. Those of us who, by His grace, are experiencing His transforming power in us know this to be true. This hidden process, which Jesus describes as being like seeds growing in the earth (Mt.13.3-9), is also what Paul describes as God’s mystery being quietly revealed in this present age (1Co.2.7; Eph.1.9, 3.3, 3.9, 6.19; Ro.16.25 etc.). It is by God’s grace that we are granted to be His people.

Perfection is Integral to Regeneration and Renewal

Looking at the three words regeneration, renewal, and perfection, one may be inclined to suppose that these refer to the past, the pre­sent, and the future of salvation neatly summed up in these terms. Through this study we will discover that this is not exactly the case. Perfection actually is involved in all three stages of sal­vation.

We learn from the letter to the Hebrews, for example, that new life in Christ begins with our being “perfected”. This means being freed from both the guilt and the power of sin through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, without which there can be no possibility of regen­eration or renewal.

Christ is the standard of perfection, and since it is God’s eternal plan and purpose that we be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro.8.29), it follows that renewal proceeds along the lines of His plan for conforming us to Christ’s image. Renewal has that final perfect­ion as its goal.

Final perfection is reached when we “attain to the fullness of the stature of Christ” (Eph.4.13). All this tells us that “perfection” is not a topic that can be conveniently relegated to the end of a dis­cussion on Biblical salvation, but one that overarches, or underlies, all three stages of salvation. It is for this reason that perfection takes up a substantial portion of this book.

Following from this, it also emerges that perfection cannot be relegated to the sphere of moral theology or ethics, and then left to wither in the shade of neglect, as indeed has happened today. Perfection, as we have noted, is intrinsically connected to every aspect of salva­tion in the New Testament. Therefore, a failure to understand the Biblical teaching on perfection will result in a failure to understand the Biblical teaching on salvation as a whole. That is the extent of its importance.

Biblical perfection serves as the standard, direction, goal, and vision of the new life in Christ. Its neglect inevitably results in the poverty, and even the bankruptcy, of the Christian life. Hence, its importance can scarcely be overestimated.

“Regeneration” and “Renewal”

“Regeneration” is a word found only twice in the New Testament (Matthew 19.28 and Titus 3.5), but it conveniently serves as a term to describe the starting point of the new life in Christ. Since life as we know it begins with birth, we can use terms like “born from above,” “born anew,” or “born again” as in John chapter 3. A new beginning can also be described in terms of a “new creation” or a “new creature”. The term “regeneration” as used here is meant to comprehend all these ways of depicting a new beginning.

While “regeneration” denotes the one-time inception of the new life in Christ, “renewal” encompasses the whole course of the ongoing growth and development of the new life from its nascence to its final perfect maturity. Renewal embraces the entire span of our earthly sojourn. And, as we will see, Christ is the model or template of the whole renewal process. Therefore, renewal is the process of being perfected or being conformed to Christ’s image, according to the Father’s predestined or predetermined plan.

“Perfection” as “Christ-likeness”

Since Christ entirely determines and defines the content and meaning of “perfection” in the New Testament, I had considered the possibility of replacing the word in favor of “Christ-likeness”. But it soon became apparent that this could not be done without causing some confusion. For example, in Matthew 5.48, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” the word “perfect” could not simply be replaced by “Christ-like” without further ado, because obviously “as your heavenly Father is Christ-like” would require explanation if confusion is to be avoided. The same is true of “perfected” in Heb­rews, and elsewhere. Therefore, though Christ is the substance of the word “perfect,” the word itself is not made redundant thereby, and still serves as a useful vehicle to convey the treasure within it.

The use of the words “church” and “churches”

In this work the term “church” is meant to refer to the Body of Christ on earth, without specific reference to denominational and local expressions of his Body. “Churches,” on the other hand, refer to the local or regional expressions of the church on earth. The phrase “the Body of Christ on earth” is intended to make clear that the reference is not to the spiritual, or “mystical,” church of Christ.

When strictures about the general state of the church or the churches are expressed, these are not meant as a censure of all churches excluding my own! No lambasting of any one particular denomination or group of churches is ever intended. The intention is rather that of self-criticism in order to bring us to a concerned awareness of the spiritually impoverished condition of the church of God on earth at the present time. The hope is that such aware­ness will motivate and perhaps even propel us in the direction of our heavenly calling to which He has called us all.

In recent years, a number of scandals have been given wide publicity in the media. Prominent among these were those of TV evangelists (Protestant, Charismatic), as well as those of priests (Roman Catholic). It would not be right, of course, to argue that the acts of corrupt elements within a church (whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) proves that the whole church is corrupt. But it also cannot be denied that these could be symptoms of a deeper problem in the churches. Our concern must be with the failure of Christians in general to live up to the standards so clearly laid down in the Scriptures, and to search for the root causes of this failure so that these may be treated. The condition of this substandard Christ­ianity, which characterizes the church generally, is a cause of alarm to all who love her, and who love the Lord who redeemed her with his blood.

“Baptized Heathen”

Some considerable time ago, a striking phrase in a book by an eminent European scholar seized my attention and stuck in my mind ever since. In the book he lamented that the churches in the West were filled with “baptized heathen”. The situation, alas, is quite universal. But the fact that “heathen” remain heathen even after being baptized is not always, nor entirely, their fault. Often it is because the leaders of the churches failed to teach what being a true Christian means. But this again is not necessarily entirely the fault of the leaders of the churches either, for they too were not properly taught. Regeneration, renewal, and perfection are not usually taught in theological colleges as a standard subject in the curri­culum. How then can the churches avoid being filled with “baptized heathen”? This book is intended to address this extremely serious problem which threatens the life of the church at its core, not in terms of its being a cultural or religious entity, but as the living and effective Body of Christ.

Reputable colleges or universities admit students only after they have met certain standards when passing examinations in the required subjects; and the better the academic institution, the more stringent the requirements. The church is not an academic institution, it is spiritual in character. The requirements are therefore spiritual not academic. But does it mean that being spiritual is to have no requirements or standards? Is it not rather the case that spiritual requirements are no less important than academic ones and, in fact, even more so? Is it any less important to repent of sin than to pass an examination? Is moral excellence any less important than academic excellence? Is being spiritual any less important than being learned? Why then are we so lax in our spiritual standards?

If good academic institutions have stringent entrance require­ments, how can it be that many churches have virtually no spiritual requirements to speak of? Are not these requirements clearly stated in the Scriptures? Why then are we so ignorant of them that people are admitted into the church of God with the greatest ease, meeting only superficial requirements, if any? Bap­tism is often administered without serious preparation on the part of the candi­date. This being the case, we must ask again: How can the church avoid being filled with “baptized heathen” and thus become “hea­thenized”? How can it avoid steadily sinking into conform­ity with the world, and losing its spiritual identity? We do well to heed the Lord’s solemn warning, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Mt.5.13).

The Passive View of Grace

Another cause for concern is that the purely passive view of grace which is so dominant in many sections of the church, and especially in Protestant churches, is somehow taken as being more acceptable than a dynamic view of grace. But is the passive view more God-centered? Or is it not more self-centered? We shall see that it is the dynamic view of grace which is God-centered.

Is it not written, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20.35)? Is this true only when we give to men but not in our giving to God? Or is it to be supposed that we have nothing to give to God? Then what about the giving of our very selves to Him, not to men­tion our possessions, gifts, time, energy, love, obedience, wor­ship and praise? All that we are and have, we have received from Him as the gift of His grace. But is the offering to Him of the gifts of His grace not also the result of His grace at work in us by the Spirit “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil.2.13)?

Is grace, then, only counted as grace when it is something we passively receive, but is no longer considered grace when God’s grace inspires and empowers us to love Him with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves? In other words, is loving God and the neigh­bor our own achievement rather than a crowning work in us of God’s dynamic grace? If the latter is indeed of God’s grace, then it shows that the Lord’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” are true on both the horizontal level of human relationships as well as the vertical relationship with God. This is the cruciform character of grace. This is not to deny that it is also blessed to receive, for if we did not receive from God, we would have nothing to give. But having received, it is even more blessed to give than to keep for ourselves what we received.

Rivers of the “Living Water” of God’s Grace

Moreover, giving activates another divine principle which Jesus reveals to us: “Give, and it will be given to you” (Lk.6.38). If we selfishly keep to ourselves the grace we have received, then that is all the grace we will receive, and even that we may not be able to retain. But it is in giving that we will receive even more. This then becomes a cycle of receiving and giving, giving and receiving, turning it into an ever expanding flow of the rivers of grace. Ever expanding, be­cause what will be given us after we have given what we first re­ceived, will not be the same as what we have given, but far more: “It will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Lk.6.38). What begins as a small trickling stream of grace will grow into a mighty river of God’s grace, and even into many rivers. This is the picture which Jesus paints for us in Jo.7.38, where “living water” beautifully portrays God’s grace, while “rivers” depict its generous abundance.

Here we glimpse the meaning of Jesus’ declaration concerning the purpose of his coming into the world, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (Jo.10.10); just how much more abundantly is largely determined by our attitude. That is to say, we can’t blame Yahweh our God if we don’t find ourselves enjoying the promised abundance. How much we receive for our subsequent giving, depends on the measure of our giving. If we give but with a stinting or stingy attitude, then though we may receive more than what we give, we will receive less than had we given generously. “By your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Lk.6.38). A stinting attitude towards God and man will diminish the abundance of grace we will enter into. We urgently need, therefore, to be delivered from the passive attitude of a “give me” view of grace, to a dynamic “give me to give” attitude of grace.

God’s grace is powerful and active in us, transforming our lives, and energizing us to live for His glory. When we receive God’s gift of life in Christ, for example, does that not mean that His life will inevitably express itself in all that we think and do and say in our daily lives? If we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, how can we not produce the fruit of the Spirit? Are love, joy, peace, gentleness and self-control purely passive qualities? Surely not. God’s gift of grace has a powerful dynamic effect upon those who receive it. Where this effect is not experienced, it may be questioned whether God’s grace has been received at all.

Regeneration, renewal and perfection (Christ-likeness) speak of a progress­ion from grace to grace, or “grace upon grace” (Jo.1.16). It is to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Pet.3.18). God’s grace finds expression in our living and growing in Christ.

The use of the word “Christian”

The word “Christian” appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 11.26; 26.28; 1Pet.4.16). But already in New Testament times there was the possibility of a believer or Christian conducting him­self in so substandard a manner that he could be described as “worse than an unbeliever” (1Tim.5.8). The use of the term “Christian” does not of itself, therefore, certify that the person described by it is one who meets the Biblical standards of being a new person in Christ.

Today the term “Christian” may, on the one hand, mean nothing more than that a person belongs to a Christian society or culture, or is a member of the Christian religion, but who may have no real religious convictions whatever. On the other hand, the word “Christian” is also applied to a person with a deep faith in Christ. This wide range of possible meanings makes the word vague and imprecise, rendering it almost useless.

The complete avoidance of the word “Christian” does not seem possible, however, because a commonly recognized word which would distinguish genuine from nominal Christians does not exist. We could use the word “saint” in its Biblical meaning, but most people are unfamiliar with that meaning. “Believer” is not a lot more precise than “Christian”. Nor does “disciple” of itself, without further qualification, imply that the person so described is a faithful believ­er. We recall that Judas was a disciple or follower of Jesus, and was even an apostle. We are therefore obliged to use words like “genuine,” “committed,” or “true” to qualify “Christian” when des­cribing the kind of Christian we wish to refer to. The problems that beset the word “Christian” are symptomatic of the problems that beset the life of most Christians and Christianity in general.

Understanding “Perfection” in the Bible

It is essential that we grasp the nature of Biblical perfection clearly and accurately, for there is general confusion on the subject. This confusion is extremely detrimental to the Christian life. For example, many are unable to tell the difference between perfection and what is called “perfectionism”. For this reason, we will discuss perfectionism at some length later in this book (in chapters 13 and 31). Failure to understand and to implement the Biblical teaching on this vital subject of perfection will leave the Christian life in a state of spiritual paralysis because of a lack of direction, motivation, and goal.

But as soon as we try to understand perfection, we are confronted by what appear to be contradictions. But when God grants us discernment, we will discover that apparently contradictory statements are actually markers that mark out and define the nature of perfection. For example, Paul speaks of his being perfect and not perfect almost in the same breath in Philippians 3! He uses the same basic word for “perfect” in both places (in the original Greek text): verse 12, “not that I have already become perfect”; but also verse 15, “let us as many as are perfect”. Similarly, John says that those born of God do not sin (1Jo.5.18), yet he also speaks of confessing our sins so as to be forgiven (1Jo.1.9). Why would those who have not sinned need to confess or be forgiven?

Even the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church seems confused and unable to provide a better solution than to suggest different levels of perfection, but without giving further explanation of what exactly this means. Without a satisfactory explanation, this sugges­tion only complicates the problem, because a low level of perfection is, by its own admission, less than perfect and therefore cannot pro­perly still be called “perfection”.

In contrast to confused intellectual attempts at a solution, the Biblical answer to the problem is remarkably clear and consistent. However, in order to grasp the Biblical answer, it is necessary to know that Scripture clearly distinguishes between volition and action, the in­ternal and the external, the heart and the body, the mind and the flesh, and the way in which these function. This distinction comes out sharply in Romans chapter seven, “for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (v.18, NKJV). The chapter is summed up in the concluding words, “So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (v.25).

This highlights the crucial distinction between the intention of the heart and its implementation in action. It is therefore possible to be perfect in the heart, the intention, and the will; nevertheless, this does not necessarily translate into perfect action or a perfect life. This is because of the flesh, where sin dwells. But does not Romans 8 say that in Christ the dominion of sin is broken and we are no longer under bondage to it? Yes. Yet even the person freed from bondage to sin must go on “putting to death the deeds of the body” (Ro.8.13). That is because the flesh will go on fighting against the Spirit in us, as is stated in Galatians (5.17), and as we know very well from our own experience.

Therefore, it is perfectly possible to be perfect on the level of the heart in our commitment to God, loving Him and serving Him with all our hearts, yet find that in the implementation of that perfect intention, the result is often less than perfect. But we know that the implementation improves as we gain victory after victory over the flesh in our lifelong battle with it. That is why the believer is in the paradoxical situation of being perfect and imperfect at the same time, though in different respects.

It now becomes clear what Paul means when he says that he is perfect—referring to his unreserved, unconditional and total commit­ment and devotion to the Lord—while on the other hand he is imperfect: he must battle with the self in the form of an ever lurk­ing pride, for which the Lord had to provide him with a thorn in the flesh to help subdue it (2Cor.12.7).

In the case of John, those born of God do not desire to sin, for their hearts are perfect towards God. Yet they do sin because of “the one who is in the world” (the evil one, 1Jo.4.4, NIV), who tempts them through their spiritual immaturity to give some place in their hearts to idols, the things (even good things) which take God’s central place in the heart. Notice how John’s letter ends on a note of warning about idols. In this case, the strategy of the evil one is to go straight for the heart and lure it away from God, in order that they may give up their perfection of heart. That the enemy had been successful in a number of cases can be seen from the fact that a number of antichrists had gone out from the church (1Jo.2.18,19).

In summary, we see that it is possible—and is in fact the case—to have perfection in the heart and yet be less than perfect in deed. It is this truth that I aim to express when I repeat, at var­ious points in this book, that perfection does not mean the total eradication of sin in us. It is victory over sin. Frequently we fail in spite of a perfect heart because we lack spiritual knowledge. It is essential that we grow in knowledge and understanding. But in the process of growing we make mistakes, and thus fall into sin. On these occasions, we confess our sins, and thank God from our hearts that we have an Advocate with the Father, namely, Jesus our Lord (1Jo.2.1).

Biblical Perfection: Present and Future

Besides the important distinction between intention and deed, in which perfection in the former is possible but not always in the latter, there is another distinction which once understood will fully explain the paradoxes seen in Paul and John.

In speaking of perfection in Scripture, it is important to distinguish between two things: perfection of love and perfection of character. The former is realizable in the present age, the latter only in the age to come.

The “perfect love” spoken of in 1John 4.12 has to do with the present time, and is not something that becomes a reality only in heaven.

The perfection of love. Matthew 5.48 stands in the context of Jesus’ teaching on love, including love for the enemy, which is only possible where love is “perfected” (1Jo.2.5). The perfection spoken of in this verse (Mt.5.48) has to do with love. As such, it is realizable in the present age by God’s power. Indeed, Jesus requires it of his disciples. It is wholehearted obedience, by God’s grace, to his commands to love as stated in Mark 12.29-31. This can and must be done in the present age. Moreover, God has made that love available to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ro.5.5). Therefore we are without excuse if we don’t obey His call to perfect love. Perfection in relation to love is essentially the total and unequivocal commitment to love.

The perfection of character. In Philippians 3, Paul aspires to perfect conformity with Christ even though this involves conform­ing to his sufferings and his death (v.10), which he gladly accepts. Here conformity to Christ is, as in Romans 8.29, conformity to his perfect character, which in Romans is described as his “image”. To this, the Apostle acknowledges, he has not yet attained (v.12), nor indeed is it fully attainable until the resurrection and the trans­formation of our bodies in the age to come (Phil.3.21).

That we cannot attain perfect Christ-likeness in the present age is a concomitant of the fact that we cannot attain sinlessness in the present time. Christ “committed no sin” (1Pet.2.22) even while in his body of flesh on earth. But as for us, so long as we are still in our bodies of flesh, the battle between flesh and spirit will continue throughout our earthly lives. Even so, as we continue through the Spirit to gain victory over the flesh day by day, we will grow in Christ-likeness daily until we are granted his perfect likeness in the age to come.

Spiritual Insights of a Martyr

A few weeks before completing work on this manuscript, I provid­entially came across some valuable insights regarding perfection in a message preached over 50 years ago by Yu Cheng Hua, a physi­cian who was also an elder of a large congregation in Shanghai.

Dr. Yu was martyred for his faith in 1956 for steadfastly refusing to deny the Lord and betray his fellow church leaders. The depth of his spiritual insight can be seen in his collected messages now made available under the title “Walking with God”. An English translation is not, to my knowledge, available at present. “Walking with God” is my own translation of the title “Yu Shen Tong Xing”. I have also translated the following extracts from his book. These extracts are his observations about the possibility of obeying the command to be perfect and attaining to perfection, that is, to Christ-likeness:

Someone may ask, “Is it at all possible for our lives to grow ‘to the fullness of Christ’s stature’? Can being ‘perfect’ like Christ become a reality in our lives?” My answer is: It is possible! It is definitely possible! Because:

Firstly, when God does things He does not play around. He does not say something but is unable to do it. Ephesians 2.10 says, “We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus.” We should render “workmanship” as “masterpiece,” meaning that this is “God’s finest piece of work”; it is “God’s most glorious work”. Just how great God’s capabilities are will be revealed in this work; only so will this count as God’s “masterpiece”. For this reason, this work will demon­strate for the principalities and powers in heaven to see: How good, how beautiful, how perfect, how glorious, how like Him is God’s work. Such a work is definitely worthy of being called God’s “masterpiece”.

This being the case, brothers and sisters, can you still think, “God is unable to do it, He cannot accomplish it, He cannot make us Christ-like?” Oh! The work is entirely in God’s hands, if you think “God cannot,” how offensive to God is such a thought! How dishonoring to God is such thinking! If you have any reverence for God, this kind of thinking—“God is unable”—must not be entertained in your mind for even one moment. Please remember, is there any­thing too difficult for the Lord to accomplish? God’s plan is “whom God foreknew” these must “be conformed to the image of His Son”—become like the Son [Ro.8.29].

Secondly, look at Matthew 5.48, “Therefore you must be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is a command. Those who know God tell us: All God’s com­mands are God’s promises. This means that whatever He commands you to do, you will certainly be able to do it—God will never command you to do something you are unable to do. So you can say, God’s commands are His promises, because God will certainly enable you to do them. Now here is a command which requires us to be per­fect in love like the heavenly Father. This is something which it is possible to do, because the Lord will definitely not command a two year old child to carry a hundred pound load. Therefore, since God has commanded us, we are certainly capable of it. Remember that God is almigh­ty, and all things are possible to him who believes in Him.

Thirdly, let me tell you in all earnestness, we—the church—are Christ. We are the “much fruit (many grains of wheat)” produced by the one “grain of wheat”—Christ—which fell to the ground and died [John 12.24]. Every grain of these many grains of wheat is necessarily like that original grain of wheat. If you plant beans you get beans, if you plant melons you get melons, if you plant Christ you will likewise get Christ. We are not only like him, we are actually him—the church is an embodiment (or manifestation) of Christ; and if we “are him,” how can we not to be like him? [Yu Cheng Hua俞成华, Walking With God与神同行, North American edition, 1999, pp.176-177, Chinese Christian Testimony Ministry, P.O. Box 292, Alhambra, CA 91801, USA. All words in bold type are as in the original text.]

“We are Christ”

Dr. Yu’s last point is interesting in particular for its boldness. He seems to want to go beyond stating that we can be like Christ; he wants to establish that we “are Christ”. Obviously, if the latter is true, then the former is self-evident. As he says, “If we ‘are him,’ how can we not be like him?”

But to state that we “are Christ” without further explication than is given in that passage, could lead to misunderstanding. Pugilists are never lacking who are ever eager to take issue when an issue invites their attention. I shall, in this case, take the liberty to spare them their exertions.

In itself the point being made in the passage is clear enough. Brother Yu bases his case on the truism that what you sow is what you reap. He quotes a Chinese proverb about beans and melons, and he could just as easily have quoted the apostle Paul, “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal.6.7). The point is simply that in reproducing itself every grain of wheat is genetically replicated in the grains of wheat which spring forth from it. What the first wheat grain was, the grains which spring forth from it are. Therefore, we “are Christ”. We are, so to speak, replicas of Christ, having been replicated from him. Or, as Yu puts it, we are his “embodiment”.

Of course, it would have been sufficient for the purpose of establishing Christ-likeness to say that every seed that springs forth from the one original seed is completely like that original seed genetically. It must be acknowledged, however, that the many grains which spring forth from the one original grain are not that original grain itself. Even so, they do contain the life, and with it the genetic code, of the original seed. This guarantees that the many seeds which spring forth from the original one will be exactly like it.

It is this exact likeness which Brother Yu wants to describe as our “being him,” perhaps rather like being identical twins. The one can fully represent the other in terms of likeness and to that extent “is” the other in terms of representation. Even so, one identical twin is not the other, for he is a different person. That the one can fully represent the other does not, of course, mean that he is therefore the same person as the other.

Perhaps Dr. Yu has somewhat overstated his case, but I find it to be nonetheless thought provoking and to contain something of great value. For the inescapable fact remains, even after the overstate­ment has been recognized, that the life of the original seed—in this case, Christ—is now in us who have sprung forth into life through him. Or, put in another way, it can be incontrovertibly stated, “Christ is our life” (Col.3.4). This being the case, his life is embodied in us and, therefore, must inevitably be manifested through us. If then we manifest his life, what else does that mean but that we are seen to be like him? Christ-likeness ultimately and necessarily stems from Christ’s life in us. For if it is true that “Christ lives in me,” then he must be seen in me. This conclusion is surely inescapable.

It seems that this is in fact what Brother Yu really wanted to affirm. He wanted to say more than that becoming like Christ is possible, but that it is inevitable. This is an insight of great import­ance, and one which his exposition of the seed fully and convincingly demonstrates. With the assurance that if Christ is our life we will inevitably become like him, we proceed to the main body of this book.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church