What It Means To Be A Christian # 1
The Immense Significance of the Christian Life
There are many misconceptions as to what the Christian life really is. I shall, however, not say very much about this negative side - that is, as to that which is either mistaken, confused or inadequate. The best way of dealing with all such difficulties is to take the positive line, by seeking to present the truth in its fullness, as we may be enabled, and so leave the comparisons to be made by those who read.
Our first phase of this matter, then, is the immense significance of the Christian life. That phrase embodies a principle of very great importance. It is this, that we shall never really appreciate anything presented to us in the Word of God until we see it in its full setting. If we regard it as just something in itself, we miss a great deal. We need to get its great background and its great setting in order to feel the full impact of its significance. That is what we shall seek to do now, as we are Divinely enabled - to see something at least of the immense significance of the Christian life.
The Christian Life Begins with Christ
We shall probably be on the ground of common agreement when we say that the Christian life begins with Christ, but that means a great deal more than it sounds. To say that Christianity began with Jesus is true if you put Jesus in His right setting, and it is just at that point that an adjustment may be necessary in order to grasp the immensity of this matter. For neither the Christian life nor Christianity began with the historic Jesus. They did not begin when Jesus was born, when Jesus lived here, when Jesus died and rose again. It is just there, I say, that we need to make an adjustment. We must know what it is that the Bible shows as to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ In the "Before Times Eternal"
Now you take up your New Testament, and open at the Gospels. You find that Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham. Luke takes Him back still further, to Adam. Mark begins his life of Jesus at the time of His baptism, when He was thirty years of age. But John reaches beyond them all, back through the thirty years, beyond Bethlehem, back to Abraham and beyond Abraham to Adam; and he does not stop there, he goes still further back. "In the beginning" - whenever, wherever, that dateless time was - "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." That is a statement - and it is only a statement, a statement of truth, of fact - as to the Person of the Lord Jesus; and that, with one or two other sentences, is all that John gives us.
But we have in the New Testament, through another Apostle, a much fuller revelation concerning Jesus in that dateless past. Through the Apostle Paul we are taken right back and shown a very great deal about God's Son "before times eternal," not only before He came into this world, but before this present world order came into being. It is the general custom to begin a biography with something concerning the ancestry of the person in view, leading up to his or her birth, the whole thing being, of course, just an account of the human and earthly history of this person. But the biography of Jesus Christ does not only go right back long before His own birth into this world and beyond His human parentage or ancestry. A large section of the biography of Jesus Christ in the Word of God relates to that which is called "before times eternal." Here are some fragments of Scripture. We hear Him praying. He is praying to His Father, and He is saying: "Glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:5). That is really a bit of His biography, or autobiography - "the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." And then the Apostle Paul, in that matchless description of Him, has this one clause, this mighty clause of only five words: "He is before all things" (Colossians 1:17). "The glory which I had with Thee before the world was." "He is before all things."
It is right back there, then, that we travel to find the meaning of a Christian, the Christian life and Christianity. Let us contemplate the Lord Jesus there, from the standpoint of definite statements in the Scriptures.
First of all, as to His Person - what He was like then. "God...hath...spoken unto us in His Son ... Who being the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance..." (Hebrews 1:2, 3). That certainly does not belong to the days of His humiliation. That goes right back, as we shall see in a moment, in the very connection or context of those words - "the express image of His substance," "the effulgence of His glory." That is what He was like before the world was.
What was His position then? "...Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped" (Phil. 2:6). Though He was equal with God, on an equality with God, He counted not that equality with God as something to be grasped. Equal with God, on equality with God - that was His position then.
Then as to His appointment. Here again is the Scripture context of the words we quoted just now. "God...hath...spoken unto us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things." "Appointed heir of all things." When did that happen? That was not done in time, that was not at the time of His birth or subsequently. That was right away back there in eternity past. There was something done in the counsels of the Godhead, whereby the Son of God was appointed Heir of all things, when it was determined that all things should be the heritage of God's Son, His rightful inheritance as God's Heir. It was not, of course, that He was to come into it on the demise of God, but God bound up all things with His Son, and made Him their Inheritor. These are things that we know through the Scriptures. How did the men who stated them come to know? Well, they tell us. Paul, who says most about this, tells us quite definitely that it was given to him by revelation: God made it known to him.
That, then, as to the "before times eternal." And out of that relationship with God, out of that fellowship with God, and out of that appointment of God, came the next move, the creation of the present world: not the creation of the present world condition, but the present cosmic order; and again we are given very much information and light as to the relationship of Christ to this.
Christ the Agent of Creation
We are told in the first place that He was the Agent of it, God's Agent in the creation. Here is the statement: "All things were made through Him; and without Him was not anything made that hath been made" (John 1:3). Or again another statement: "In Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him" (Colossians 1:16). And if it needs another word to bear that out, here it is: "There is ... one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things" (1 Corinthians 8:6). He was the agent in creation.
(continued with # 2)