Youth at First - April 2014
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
There’s an idea that exists in Western culture that I think is potentially dangerous to us as Christians. It comes from ancient Greek culture and thought, and I think it subtly perverts a total view of what God has for us in the Christian life. We must never forget that at its core, Christianity stems from Judaism and from Hebraic thought. The New Testament simply doesn’t make sense without the Old Testament, and if we don’t try to understand concepts in light of the original intention, we can corrupt their meanings.
Modern, Western Christianity tends to have a dualistic view of life and of mankind’s place in this world. What that means is that we believe that there are effectively two worlds: the physical and the spiritual. Ultimately, this belief grew from ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and their teachings on the dualism of the universe. As Christians, we agree with this: all of us have both a physical body and a spiritual soul. Of course, what we find in Scripture generally backs up these ideas: angels, demons, heaven, hell, spirits, etc. But there is an extremely subtle danger in this philosophy that has plagued the Church to varying degrees over the past two millennia, and it happens because we fail to totally take into account our Hebraic roots.
You see, the ancient Hebrew idea of personhood and humanity is slightly different. While, yes, a person has both a body and a soul, to this mode of thought they are totally and inseparably intertwined. We still agree to this for the most part; for this reason assault on a person’s body is a different crime than destruction of their other physical property. The major disconnect between Greek and Hebraic thought in this regard comes from the degree of separation between physical and spiritual: Greek/Western dualistic philosophy at various points can take on a negative view of the physical world in contrast to a positive view of the spiritual. Hebraic/Eastern thought has a positive view of both physical and spiritual.
So what do two thousand plus year old philosophies have to do with us in the twenty first century? Simple: because of our Western thought processes, we can all too easily fall into the trap of overvaluing the spiritual over the physical, which leads to an emphasis in our theology of eternity over the present. Let me reword the idea I want to convey in different terms: Jesus did not only come so that we could have eternal life in heaven, he also came that we may begin to experience the fullness of his life here on Earth.
It all goes back to our ideas of justification and reconciliation. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God…” (Rom 5:1) Justification, reconciliation, and adoption as children of God all happen at the moment of salvation, so that from then on we are now in right standing with God, at peace with him, or as John puts it, “we have passed out of death and into life” (1 John 3:14). Paul emphasizes that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20); the life we now live is “truly life” (1 Tim 6:19). At the moment of salvation, we are brought from death and into life, and we still live on earth for the rest of our lives after that. Our lives as Christians here on earth are meant to be meaningful and fulfilling, not simply something we wish away while dreaming of future hope in heaven.
So what does it mean to live in the fullness of life here on earth? I think Paul sums it up well in Romans 12:9-21. Among other things, we should “Love one another with brotherly affection,” “not be haughty, but associate with the lowly,” and “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Our life here is not only meant to reflect Christ to others, but it also is an extension of Christ’s life into our own. We should live deeply, richly, fully, peaceably, and gracefully, and we should revel in the gifts God has given to us. In Ecclesiastes 2: 24-25, Solomon puts it this way: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Our lives are lived in joy, in celebration of what God has done among us. We have eternal life, yes, but our eternal life doesn’t begin at the moment of death. It begins at the moment of our new birth in God’s Spirit. Eternal life is here on earth too.
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