The Retrospective Feature (continued)
Christ the Embodiment of Godliness
But here is this other great statement, in the first letter, chapter three, verse sixteen: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness" (or 'God-likeness'); "He Who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory." That is Christianity in a nutshell, a comprehensive and inclusive representation of everything upon which Christianity rests. There are other fragmentary retrospective features in these letters, but that is enough. The first great throw-back of the Apostle at this point of crisis and danger is to Christ, back to Christ; for Christ is ever the standard, not only backward but forward. At any given point where there are dangers, where changes are threatened, we must refer back to Christ, and from that point we have to carry on what has been of Christ from the beginning.
Here it says that Christ is the embodiment of godliness, or God-likeness. It is a mystery: 'great is the mystery of God-likeness.' The Greek word (eusebeia) combines the thoughts of worship, devotion, and piety. Here Christ is said to be the inclusive, comprehensive embodiment of all this - God's likeness indeed. Now that has a very practical application in this letter, for the real purpose of God in the Church is God-likeness, or conformity to the likeness of God's Son. It is the great dominating purpose and objective of God in our very lives as His people. How shall we explain or define godliness? It is Christ - the reproduction of Christ, the expression of Christ. It is the bringing of Christ into the present situation. He is the embodiment of godliness.
Incorruptible Life In Christ
Just consider for a moment who Christ is. I am sure that many of us Christians have not really understood Christ - and we do need to understand Him. You see, Christ was more than one man among many, albeit better than the rest, a real improvement on all other men. You might find somewhere a man of very high moral character, of unimpeachable integrity, and you might say, 'A splendid specimen of moral uprightness and goodness - and Jesus goes one better.' No, He is not just one better than the best. He is not one man among many, although better than all.
Let me put it another way. The goodness of Jesus was Divine goodness, and not human goodness. It was by Him, Jesus, that life and incorruption were brought to light, through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). The very best specimen of mankind, morally, that you can find is still corruptible: he can still be corrupted - he has the seeds of corruption in his nature. But not so Jesus Christ. There is no corruption, there are no seeds of corruption, in Him. It is incorruptible life that has come with Him. And the life that He gives to the child of God is incorruptible life. That is not ourselves, what we are; it is a distinct gift which, while being in us, is apart from us. And mark you, that is the key to our spiritual survival, in spite of a world of corruption, and a nature of corruption. He has given to us His own incorruptible life. Life and incorruption have been brought to light through the Gospel.
(continued with # 53)