By Ethan Renoe
In some ways, this post is a continuation of a recent post on unio Cristi, or the union of the believer to Christ. In other ways, this is a dissection of several phrases that have errantly come to rest in the evangelical Christian’s vocabulary, and therefore affected the way we interact with our faith.
Think about what you are saying when you say ‘Jesus died for my sins.’
It’s a common phrase, no doubt, but let’s put it in another context. If you said that “Batman died for Catwoman,” you would mean that Batman gave his life so that Catwoman would live. He died in her place.
Did Jesus die so that our sins may live?
Of course not.
I think part of the issue Christians in America encounter is relying on these phrases to describe what they believe without giving much thought to their meaning. Taking apart this trite maxim is not as beneficial as realizing that phrases like this reflect a deeper schism in Western Christianity. I think the phrase ‘Jesus died for my sins’ (in its colloquial meaning) reflects a kind of transactional approach to our salvation.
In other words, what we mean is, “Jesus died in order to take away our sins so that we could have eternal life.”
One hundred church fathers shake their dusty heads down in the catacombs.
Because if Jesus is merely a means to an end, then our salvation is an impersonal exchange of goods. Jesus took our sin and death and we get…some abstract type of eternal life?
Some picture Jesus as one of those dudes at the airport who waves the glowsticks around all day. He’s great at guiding you where you need to go, but that’s about it. You don’t really develop that much of an intimate relationship with Glowstick Man.
So, what is the gospel about? What does the Bible say about our relationship to Christ?
Paul had a slew of phrases to describe Christians and their position in the redemptive narrative: “in Christ”, “in Christ Jesus”, “in the Lord”, “in Him”.
Do you detect a pattern?
Paul unequivocally connected salvation to the intimate union between the believer and Christ Jesus. We do not become a Christian in order to get eternal life.
We become a Christian in order to get Jesus.
Sixteenth century reformer John Calvin spoke of the peril of seeking “in Christ something else than Christ himself.” What many Americans have done is segregated the work of Christ (His birth, healing, death, resurrection, ascension) from the person of Christ. Or perhaps we seek Christ’s benefits (eternal life, heaven, peace, hope, joy) apart from the Man Himself. All are important, but they cannot exist apart from each other.
When Christians speak solely of what Christ has done for them, rather than an intimate, life-giving union with Him, we miss the heart and soul of the gospel. For at its core is Christ Himself. The man. The person. The dynamic and living God who entered into our flesh and walked around in it.
He worked with His hands.
He pooped and peed.
And we get to have relationship WITH Him!
I don’t say this to be crass, but to highlight the fact that Christianity, at its core, is a person. It is not an abstract list of actions performed by a Jewish carpenter two millennia ago. It’s not an exchange system set up by God.
We are saved inasmuch as we are united to Jesus Christ.
Adjusting the way we think about our salvation will help us to see more clearly the Christ who is revealed in scripture. The One who is near. The One who takes our sin and destroys it.
Perhaps next time you speak with someone about Jesus, think through the best articulation of this concept. Instead of describing what Jesus has done for you, explain the joy you have from getting to be united to Him! How you get to be intimately bound to the Creator of the universe and that alone is good news!
I write this in the hope that reorienting our language will help restore to us the heart of Christianity: an intricate union to Jesus, rather than a pragmatic use of His gifts and work.
About the Author: Ethan is a speaker, writer, and photographer currently living in Los Angeles. He has lived on 6 continents, gone to 6 schools, had 28 jobs, and done 4 one-armed pull-ups. He recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. Follow him at ethanrenoe.com or check him out on Facebook.