Author Archives: Maxie Dunnam

Saying Yes to Forgiveness by Maxie Dunnam

Wesleyan Accent

  

Saying Yes to Forgiveness by Maxie Dunnam

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Recently This Week magazine reported an amazing story of a Pakistani election commissioner admitting that he had participated in what he called the “rigging” of a parliamentary election. “We converted losers into winners,” said Liaquat. He confessed that he couldn’t sleep after what he called “stabbing the country in the back.” He resigned and was arrested. (March 1,2024, p. 9) 

It was an intriguing story, climaxing with two rival political parties planning to govern in coalition.

It certainly doesn’t always happen this way, but when I read that story, a passage of Scripture grabbed my mind and clamored for attention, 2 Cor. 5:11-21. Here is the “heart” of it’s clamor and challenge:

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 

Let’s begin with this core truth: Saying yes to forgiveness is saying yes to God. Get that now: Saying yes to forgiveness is saying yes to God. Clement of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers, said all Christians should “practice being God.” When I first read that, it shocked me. Me? Practice being God? But the more I thought about it, the more palatable and gripping the idea became and challenging it became. Practice being God.

Now don’t close your mind, thinking I’m irreverent when I ask, “How do I practice being God?” Focus on this word of Paul, “From now on, therefore, we regard none from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer.” He was talking about practicing being God – not viewing persons from a human point of view, but from a God perspective. And when we have that perspective, the ministry of reconciliation follows.

Come at it from a slightly different way. When are we most like God? We are most like God when we are most like Christ. And when are we most like Christ? We find our answer in the verses quoted above. Read again verses 14 and 15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.

Instead of saying, “the love of Christ controls us”, the King James Version says “the love of God constraineth us.” In either translation, it’s powerfully challenging. The love of Christ constrains or controls. Why? Because we are convinced that Christ died for all.

What an encompassing statement! “We are convinced that (Christ) has died for all.” That means that since He has died for all He has died for each. Yes…the whole world!  

Reconciliation… that’s the ministry to which all Christians are called. It’s an action we take as we are obedient to God in our Christian journey. The dynamic of reconciliation is forgiveness. Saying yes to forgiveness is saying yes to God.

This post is part I in Maxie’s series on Saying Yes to Forgiveness.  Join us next week as we learn more about how Saying Yes to Forgiveness is When We are Most Like Christ. 

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Hurry Slowly by Maxie Dunnam

  

Hurry Slowly by Maxie Dunnam

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Years ago I came across a phrase that grabbed my attention. It was a season of my life when I was paying close attention to my own “spiritual state,” and as a result, seeking to develop particular spiritual disciplines. The phrase, a long obedience in the same direction, comes from Friedrich Nietzsche. This was his statement: The essential thing in heaven and earth is… that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; thereby, results, and is always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” (Beyond Good and Evil, translated, Helen Zimmern, London, 1908, Section 188, pp. 106-109).

Just recently I came across a Latin expression, festina lente, which renews the initial impact of Nietzsche’s long obedience word. The expression means “hurry slowly.” I stumbled upon the expression this past Lenten season when reflecting on the last week of Jesus’ life. The Cross is looming ominously on the horizon. Jesus prays that He might be spared this terrible ordeal. In fact, the scripture says He prayed so intensely that He sweated drops of blood. But then, listen to what Jesus said, “Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not my will but thine be done!”

When I became aware my newly discovered phrase, lente, sounds remarkably like Lent, I was forced to both broaden and deepen my Lenten reflection. For what am I living and how am I pursuing it? Am I practicing a long obedience in the same direction? Am I hurrying slowly, or am I a part of the popular rat race of assuming that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once? No one else is slowing down; why should I?

I’m 89, I don’t have the time I had when I was 70, and wondered, “how much time do I have?” I’m dealing with that question more intently now. I know my time is limited. I must hurry but I want to hurry slowly. I must not move in a way that the evidence of mature discipleship is not being seen in my life. I want to continue what has been a slow but long apprenticeship in holiness. When everyone else is in a hurry, I don’t want to be seduced by today’s passion for the newest human potential, faith-healing, Zen, parapsychology, successful-living program, trying anything until something else comes along. Everyone is in a hurry, and I want to hurry too, but not for the immediate and the casual. I want to discover and practice disciplines that deepen my long obedience in the same direction. At every intersection of my life I want to pray earnestly, “O faithful Lord, Not my will, but yours be done.”

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Victory Over Death by Maxie Dunnam

  

Victory Over Death by Maxie Dunnam

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There is no if about death. The question is more accurately put, “When a person dies, shall he or she live again?” 

Not one line of the New Testament was written… not one sentence was penned apart from the conviction that He of whom these things were being written had conquered death and was alive forever. Death is inevitable, and nowhere is the fact put more starkly than by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Yet, in the Christian faith and experience, death is not the victor, and death is not the end. Someone has put it cryptically, The difference between life and death is more than a tombstone. The difference is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Through his resurrection, Jesus conquered death. Paul reminded his young friend, Timothy, that “Christ [has] abolished death” (2 Timothy 1:10). He taught the Corinthians that death is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). This is the way he expressed it:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death,where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54d-57 

Paul is talking not only about physical death but also about spiritual death. Spiritual death is the result of sin, which separates us from God.

The Christian faith asserts that, in Christ, God has triumphed. Our claim is that Christ has beaten the great enemy, death!  In Christ, our lives begin to make a difference because we are free to live as those who share in his victory over death. Our lives have significance not in their duration but in their fidelity to the one who has taken the sting out of our dying. 

The follower of Christ holds the good news to that fateful question about death, “We can live again and we can live now in the power of the resurrected Jesus!”

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What Happens When Everyone Stops Sinning by Maxie Dunnam

  

What Happens When Everyone Stops Sinning by Maxie Dunnam

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The preaching must have been powerful. In a recent cartoon, as he leads his parents from worship, Dennis the Menace confronts the preacher. “What happens when everyone stops sinning? What will you do?”

While we are not strangers to sin, Dennis stuns us with his  statement and questions. We may not reflect or talk much about it. Yet, the great majority of theologians talk a lot about it. Often they use the term original sin, contending it is the root of all human problems. The truth is, there is nothing original about sin. It is a center piece in the Genesis story of the creation. Adam and Eve are not alive in the Garden long before they eat the “fruit” which was the one thing God told them not to eat.

Since that time, in every generation, if reflective and honest, all persons could join Paul in expressing our feelings,

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. … Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it… (Rom. 7:19-20)

As he continues his confession, Paul screams,”What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?” He then, with a deep breath of relief, concludes in confidence, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord. (vs. 25-26)”

We are all infected by it. Some Wesleyan scholars have expressed the expansive nature of it in what we refer to as the “four alls”: All have sinned and need to be saved; all can be saved; all can know they are saved, and all can be saved to the utmost.

I wrote earlier here in Wesleyan Accent about salvation as Wesley’s prevailing emphasis. The “four alls” were implicit in that entire discussion. In reflection, I am aware that not enough was said about the last two of the “four alls,” all can know they are saved, and all can be saved to the utmost. 

Assurance and perfection are cardinal dimensions of Wesley’s teaching. The teaching was grounded in his own experience. He was a man desperately seeking salvation and assurance of his salvation. In a despondent mood because his struggles were providing no peace, he went to a prayer meeting and had the watershed experience that gave him the assurance of salvation. Naturally, this became a part of his teaching.

Assurance is the privilege of every Christian; all persons can know they are saved, and they can be saved to the uttermost.

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God’s Breathed Word by Maxie Dunnam

  

God’s Breathed Word by Maxie Dunnam

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I recently heard this story of a boy who desperately wanted a car for his sixteenth birthday. He didn’t hesitate in making that desire known. When that day finally arrived, he looked out the window, hopefully thinking that surely his new car would be there. But to his great disappointment it wasn’t. 

He asked his parents why he hadn’t gotten a car. The father responded, “Son,” there are three reasons. First, your grades are bad and you never seem to study like you should. Secondly, you don’t go to church and you don’t read the Bible every night. And thirdly, you’ve got that long hair and you won’t get it cut.”

“Well, what do I need to do,” asked the son, ” to get my car?” The dad said, “It’s very simple, you need to study hard and raise your grades. You need to go to church and read your Bible every night. And you need to get that long hair cut.”

Six months passed and the young man came back to his father. “Dad,” he said, “It’s been six months now and I want you to know I’ve made a lot of improvements. In fact I’m getting three A’s and a B this semester. So you see I’ve been studying hard. And I’ve been going to church every Sunday and reading my Bible every night.” The father said, “Yes, I know, and I’m proud of you. But you still haven’t gotten your hair cut.”

The son’s face lit up. “Yes, I know Dad, but I’ve discovered in reading the Bible that Jesus had long hair too.” The father’s reply was really disarming. “Yes, son, I realize that, but if you keep reading the Bible, you’ll also discover that Jesus walked everywhere He went!”

That’s not all we’ll discover if we keep reading the Bible. We will find life – the life God promises in Jesus Christ. We will find direction for living the life we are called to live. We will find strength to persevere, and comfort to live with the problems and the pain life brings.

In my last article I discussed the fact that all the “saints” practiced discipline at the heart of which was prayer. Along with prayer, we can’t think of spiritual disciplines without considering study and living with Scripture. Consider this admonition from the Apostle Paul: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith.” (Col. 2:6-7)  That’s the way the New Revised Standard Version has it. I like Phillips’ translation of the text: “Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so go on living in Him — in simple faith. Grow out of Him as a plant grows out of the soil it is planted in, becoming more and more sure of the faith…”

The point is clear: After we have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, we spend the rest of our lives bringing every aspect of our lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ. That means we choose to grow, to become stronger in our faith. We continue to grow by our study of God’s Word. 

There is a sense in which to live and breathe as Christians we need the “air” of God’s breathed word. Does the designation “God breathed” sound strange? Maybe the clumsiness of that designation will jangle our hearing enough to etch the point solidly in our mind. When Paul says to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God”, that’s what he is literally saying: Scripture is God’s breathed word. 

Now I don’t want to get into a discussion about the words “literal” and “inerrant” as words to describe the Bible as God’s word. More important for me are the words revelation, authority, and sufficient.

The Bible is God’s revealed Word, providing revelation of God’s self. The Bible is the authority of Christian teaching. And, the Bible is sufficient in directing us to salvation, in being disciples of Jesus Christ, and providing the support, comfort, and strength we need for daily Christian living. 

That’s what Paul  said to Timothy, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

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Sons of God or Animals in a Jungle by Maxie Dunnam

  

Sons of God or Animals in a Jungle by Maxie Dunnam

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Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.

I John 3:2

 

“The world is still a jungle, Maxie. Man is still an animal in that jungle. The only difference is that the jungle is not as wild as it was in the past, and the animals are a little more refined.” This word came out in a recent conversation. Because of the source and the setting, it grabbed my attention in an unusual way.

In my morning devotional time of Scripture, a different kind of word has been my prayerful focus in 1 John, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”

The person who spoke the ‘animal-in-a-jungle’ word was an earnest-minded young man, a brilliant professor in a state university. His keen intellect is matched by a dominating concern for humanity. His major discipline has been a study of the history of mankind. This should equip him to speak with convincing arguments concerning the epic of man. So, he concludes, “The world is still a jungle. Man is still an animal in that jungle.”

This was no sophisticated egghead speaking; not one who scorns the essence of Christianity. Granted, he looks askance at organized religion today and argues that we have taken the form of religion and made it the essence of the faith. This was one who is sincerely seeking a solution to the dilemma of our times, one who is searching for answers to the great questions of life. We can listen to him because he is sincere. He is not flaunting some rebellion against childhood religion. And he certainly isn’t comfortable in his convictions.

The question is, is he right? Is the world still a jungle? Is man still an animal in that jungle – sophisticated maybe; reined perhaps – but still an animal? 

If my friend is right (and I can’t muster much effective argument against him) he is right because man has not become what he was intended to become. And he is right only in assessing a situation, not in defining a destiny. Man may live like an animal in a jungle, but it is by choice that he does so. This is not God’s intention; it isn’t the pattern Jesus set. 

We are right in emphasizing Jesus as the incarnation of God; but we must not lose our understanding of him as the incarnation of man. Jesus is the proper measurement of man’s destiny, what man ought to be. 

Jesus has proved that man does not have to live as an animal in a jungle. The gospel writer said of him: “He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25 RSV). If he had not felt the way he did about man’s nature, it would be the difficulty, nay, the impossibility of the ages, to account for what he said and what he did for man’s redemption.

Heinrich Heine, famous German poet, once said, “I, too, might have died for men if I had not the suspicion that they were not worth it.” Was Jesus’ work the sentimentalism of one who had put too high a value on man? Was it the heroism of a stoic defying the fate which was destroying him? Or was it the redemptive love of one who knew what was in man and moved out to meet it, calling out the best that is within us?

This was a part of my conversation with my friend. When we answer these questions aright we can come to a proper judgment of man – ourselves included. Then we will not remain an ‘animal in a jungle.’ We can claim our status as a child of God, redeemed by Christ.

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Discipline is Essential by Maxie Dunnam

  

Discipline is Essential by Maxie Dunnam

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In my previous article I made the claim that in our going on to salvation, struggle is normal and discipline is essential. I want to elaborate on my claim that discipline is essential.

Scripture, especially the New Testament, is replete with calls to a disciplined life. This is the process of sanctification, or we may call it spiritual formation.

Through spiritual discipline, opening ourselves to the shaping power of the indwelling Christ, we grow into the likeness of Christ. It was one of Wesley’s primary concerns and a distinctive emphasis of the early Methodist movement – that the mind of Christ grows in us.

Wesley preached an interesting sermon in 1778 entitled, “The Work of God in North America.” In it, he sought to describe the various dispensations of divine providence in the American colonies as far back as 1736. In the sermon, Wesley commented on the preaching of George Whitefield, which was one of the major contributing factors to the First Great Awakening in America.  The preaching of Whitefield played a significant role in that Awakening.

On his last journey to America, Whitefield lamented that many of his converts had drawn back into perdition. Taking note of that, Wesley sought to account for this “falling away.” This was his telling statement:

And what wonder? For it was a true saying, which was common in the ancient church, “The soul and the body make a man; and the spirit and discipline make him a Christian.” But those who were more or less affected by Mr. Whitefield’s preaching had no discipline at all. They had no shadow of discipline; nothing of the kind. They were formed into no societies. They had no Christian connection with each other, nor were they ever taught to watch over each other’s souls. So that if they fell into luke-warmness, or even into sin, he had none to lift him up. He might fall lower and lower, yea into hell, if he would; for who regarded it? (Sermon, ‘The Works of God in North America” Jackson, Works, 7:411).

Wesley put a great emphasis on proclaiming the gospel, as did Whitefield. He never diminished preaching and teaching the Word. But he insisted upon the discipline of gathering with a class or a band. As the Methodist movement became more established, Wesley noted the deterioration of this discipline, and he warned against it:

Never omit meeting your class or band; never absent yourself from any public meeting. These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens or tends to weaken our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community. The private weekly meetings for prayer, examination, and particular exhortation has been the greatest means of keeping and confirming every blessing that was received by the word preached and diffusing it to others… Without this religious connection and intercourse the most ardent attempts, by mere preaching, have proved no lasting use” (Jackson, Works, 11:433).

There are some warnings to be sounded. We must guard against turning our disciplines into an end. To be disciplined is not the goal; the goal is to stay close to Christ, to keep our lives centered in Him. We must guard against falling into a salvation-by-works pattern. Grace and faith are still the key. We are not saved by disciplines; we are saved by grace through faith.

Spiritual disciplines are channels through which God’s grace is conveyed to us, “outward signs, words or actions, ordained by God, to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to man, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.” Regularly attending to these disciplines means a life of discipleship, a life full of God’s grace.

Discipline is essential for our growth as disciples of Jesus.

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Struggle is “Normal” by Maxie Dunnam

  

Struggle is “Normal” by Maxie Dunnam

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Over and over, in his journal, Wesley confirmed personal testimony of salvation working in the lives of believers. One of his classic illustrations was the story of the barber who shaved him.  The fellow’s experience was so vital and life-changing that he could not resist sharing with the man who introduced the change.

The barber who shaved me said, “Sir, I praise God on your behalf. When you were at Bolton last, I was one of the most eminent drunkards in all the town; but I came to listen at the window, and God struck me to the heart. I then earnestly prayed for the power against drinking; and God gave me more than I asked: He took away the very desire of it. Yet I felt myself worse and worse, till, on the 5th of April last, I could hold out no longer. I knew I must drop into hell that moment unless God appeared to save me. And He did appear. I knew He loved me and felt sweet peace. Yet I did not dare to say I had faith, till yesterday was twelve-month, God gave me faith; and His love has ever since filled my heart.”

Wesley would say the barber’s witness was his experience of the beginning of salvation. There was more, much more.

I believe [the new birth] to be an inward thing; a change from inward wickedness to inward goodness; an entire change of our inmost nature from the image of the devil (wherein we are born) to the image of God; a change from the love of the creature to the love of the Creator; from earthly and sensual to heavenly and holy affections, in a word, a change from the tempers of the spirit of darkness to those of the angels of God in heaven!

Change is a key word in that dramatic claim: a change from the tempers of the spirit of darkness to those of the angels of God in heaven! Justification is the starting point of sanctification. Change, “going on to salvation,” is the overarching dynamic.

Whereas in his early struggles to be Christian, Wesley practiced discipline in order to become a Christian, going on to salvation he experienced joy in being Christian by practicing disciplines that once had been drudgery.

In our going on to full salvation, struggle is normal and discipline is essential, I will discuss this more in my next article.

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Dying And Rising With Christ by Maxie Dunnam

I have a friend who is a Benedictine monk. The way we live out our lives is vastly different, but I feel a real kinship, a oneness of spirit with Brother Sam. One of the most memorable evenings, one to which I return often in my mind, is the time he and I spent together alone in our home, in sharing our Christian pilgrimages.  

The vivid highlight of that evening still alive in my mind was his sharing with me the occasion of his solemn vows, the service when he made his life commitment to the Benedictine community and the monastic life. It’s difficult to grasp how serious that is. When a person makes a decision to become a monk, they make the decision to really remove themselves from the world and to be separated from the world for the rest of their life, and they take the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

Brother Sam said that on that signal day, he prostrated himself before the altar of the church, face down, prostrate, in the very place where his coffin will sit when he dies. As he was prostrated there, he was covered with a funeral pall and the death bell began to toll, the bell that rings at the earthly parting of a brother, and it sounded the solemn gongs of death. Then there was silence, the deep silence of death.  

That silence was broken by the singing of the Colossian word, “for you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) After that powerful word, there was more silence as Brother Sam reflected upon his solemn vow. Then the community broke into singing Psalms 118, which is always a part of the Easter liturgy in the Benedictine community.  One verse of that Psalms says, ‘I shall not die, but live and declare the wonderful works of the Lord.’ Psalm 118:117) 

After this resurrection proclamation, the liturgists shouted the word from Ephesians, ‘awake you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you life.’ (5:17) Then the bells of the Abbey begin to ring joyfully and loudly.  Brother Sam rose, the funeral pall fell off, the white robe of the Benedictine order was placed upon him, he received the kiss of peace from all of his brothers and was welcomed into that community to live a life hidden with Christ. 

It is a great liturgy of death and resurrection. When Brother Sam and I shared, I relived in vivid memory my own baptism, in a rather cold creek in rural Mississippi. Paul gave a powerful witness to it. Over and over again, I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. 

This Wednesday, February 14, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, what should be one of the most significant time periods for Christ Followers. This is a 40 day period when we deliberately concentrate on Jesus’ passion, suffering and death, all for our salvation. 

The season will climax with Easter, the resurrection of Christ. There is a sense in which the dynamic of the Christian life is dying and rising with Christ. I urge you to join me during this season, seeking to deliberately die to sin and self, that our Hallelujah on Easter will be our most joyful ever.

Being And Living In Christ by Maxie Dunnam

In my last article I introduced the fact that “In Christ” is the central category of Paul’s thinking. This phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus,” is used by Paul in his letters 169 times. His definition of a Christian is an illustration of this. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

We continue our thinking. Persons who are in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted.

I think of that in two ways. First, from the perspective of what we might call imitation, then from the perspective of immersion.

There is a sense in which the Christian walk is an imitation of Christ – a call to walk as Christ walked. Isn’t that the way it should be with Christians? “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”(Col.2:6)

There are all sorts of legends and fairy tales about people who pretended to be someone they weren’t – but one day they actually became that person they pretended to be. And there’s truth in that. Someone may say that it’s hypocrisy – pretending to be someone you really aren’t. But not in the Christian walk – when we walk in Christ, we seek to walk as Christ would walk. And, as Martin Luther would say, “We actually become little Christs.”

So, there is a sense in which the Christian walk is an imitation of Christ.

But it’s more than that. We must go beyond the imitation of Christ to immerse ourselves in Christ. Persons in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted.

Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the Gospel. Stop. Don’t continue reading until you read that sentence again –

Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the Gospel. 

Persons in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted.

You can remember those key words. Conversion, immersion, perversion. My hope is that remembering those three words will bring awareness of the whole thought. Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the Gospel.

John A. Mackay, former Dean of Princeton University Theological Seminary, has captured the truth with succinct clarity in just two sentences: “We receive Jesus Christ without cost because of what he has done for us, but it becomes costly business to receive him, because of what he will do in us.” And then the second sentence, “God’s free grace in Jesus Christ, to which faith responds, becomes costly grace when Christ takes command.” (God’s Order: The Ephesian Letter and This Present Time, New York: The McMillan Company, 1953, p. 111).

Now what that means in a practical way is that our choice is not whether we will be new persons or not – that is a matter of grace. Christ makes us new creatures. Our choice is whether we will start to become new persons. It is our choice to start that gives Grace the opportunity to make us new persons.

The start requires the two things we have indicated: requires imitation and immersion. We begin to walk as we think Christ would have us walk, and we immerse ourselves in Christ – that is we surrender ourselves to His Spirit within, and allow His grace to make us, in fact, the new persons we already are, in principle.

“All on my own,” you may be thinking and asking. Not at all! Paul, the person who most clearly and powerful sounded this in Christ reality speaks for all of us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’m sure you know people as I know – a young woman who is just finding it – a life in Christ and a source of strength to rear three little children alone; a 45 year old man who is suddenly alone because of the death of his wife – but is not going it alone – Christ dwells in him; I could name five recovering alcoholics who make it one day at a time and they would tell you they make it by the power of Christ.  

Scores of people are serving God’s people in need in my community with a love not their own. It is the love of Jesus in them. Many of them are new at this and could not have pictured themselves loving and serving in this fashion even a year ago. There are persons who are breaking out of prisons of prejudice, and are beginning to think in terms of brotherhood and community. They will tell you it’s not their doing; that they’ve been as racist as any of us – but something new is operating within them – a new source of strength.

I close this article the way I began. Remember the story I repeated in the beginning – about three year old Ryan – and Jesus walking around inside. When I told that story to a group some time ago, Tom, our Director of Youth Ministries, told me a similar experience he had had with his then four-year old son, Thomas. 

Tom and Thomas were playing doctor. Tom held the stethoscope to his own heart so Thomas could listen. He got still and quiet. “What do you hear?”Tom asked.

Four-year old Thomas said, “It’s Jesus; He’s walking around.” But then he added. “Dad, why can’t Jesus get out?”

That says something about the mystery of the indwelling Christ. He dwells within – but He does get out. He gets out in power and his presence is known through us to others, when we walk in Christ.