Here from Cathy Deddo is part 2 of her two-part essay on the Christian life, based on material Cathy presented at GCI's August 2017 Denominational Conference in Orlando. For part 1, click here. For a GCI.org article that includes both parts, click here.
Wholehearted, part 2:
Finding Personal Wholeness in Jesus
In part 1 of this essay we looked at Jesus’ wonderful relationship with the Father and how he has enabled us to participate in that relationship. This fellowship with God is the telos (purpose, goal, end) of our lives. We have been created for full, life-giving, fruitful, ongoing interactive communion with our triune Creator and, in Christ, with one another. Growing up in this relationship, living in and enjoying it more and more, is what the Christian life is all about.
In this second and concluding part of the essay, we’ll look more closely at this relationship that Jesus gives us in himself by his Spirit—a life of personal wholeness (wholeheartedness). It’s a life of fullness, of integrity. I think we all desire this wholeness in our lives, but when we look at our world, we may not be sure what it looks like, or how to live whole lives. This is what I hope to explore here.
In his incarnate life, Jesus reveals to us what it means to be a whole or wholehearted human being. He reveals what wholeness in life truly is. In studying Scripture, we learn that Jesus lives in true wholeness by living in wholehearted relationship with his Father in the Spirit. He wholeheartedly has his being and doing in that relationship (and the same can be said of the Father and the Spirit).
Jesus entrusts himself entirely and unreservedly to the Father in the Spirit. That is what wholeheartedness or wholeness is—Jesus lives in the wholeness of this relationship. All of who he is and what he does—every aspect of his life—flows from and feeds this joyous relationship that we looked at in part 1 of this essay. There is no division in Jesus—no part of him that is separate from this relationship. This is what it means to be pure or whole, to be fully integrated. This is not a static state of being, but one that is upheld, nourished and enjoyed in the relationship itself.
Our identity and wholeness are in Christ
As I’ve been emphasizing in this essay, being whole in Christ means undividedly receiving our identity (our being, significance, meaning, security, destiny) from him and nowhere else. Personal wholeness is about living today in the light of our hope in Jesus and our fullness in him. Finding personal wholeness in Christ is about sharing in the wholeness that Jesus has as the Son of God—a sharing that occurs in an ongoing relationship with Jesus by and through the Spirit. We were created to receive our very being and to grow and become ourselves in and through that relationship!
Sin has fractured our lives, so that we are lost, dead and entrapped, not free—the opposite of whole. The fallenness we see all around us, starting with Adam and Eve, yields broken relationships—people disconnected from their environment, from each other, from themselves. We see the results of sin in broken families and communities—relationships that are more about power, deception, taking advantage, or abusing others, than about freely giving and receiving. Daily, we see the evidence of fractured relationships in our countries, neighborhoods and individual lives. That evidence testifies to sin’s destructive power and enslavement.
The New Testament bears witness to this destruction, alienation and death, which is the result of humanity’s rebellion against God. The lists of sinful attitudes and acts that we are given in Scripture give us a good picture of the fracturing, destructive influence of sin—things like using our tongues to hurt, to slander, to abuse others, to lord it over others, to lie, deceive, and otherwise use and manipulate others for our benefit. Unrepented sin entraps us and makes us vulnerable to further temptation by the power of evil. In our sin, we cannot experience wholeness.
We belong to Christ
If we are so dis-integrated in ourselves, apart from Christ, how can we ever know in ourselves the wholeness that comes from sharing in the triune life? The answer is that Jesus is able to share his wholeness with us. He does so by making us belong to him in two ways:
First, as his creation, we belong to Jesus by nature. Colossians 1 tells us that everything was created in, through and for Jesus, and that in him all things hold together. As it says in Hebrews 1, Jesus upholds all things by his word of power. This means that all things have their being only in a connection with Jesus.
We often have static notions of creation and thus static notions of ourselves. We think that God made everything and now it all just sort of runs on its own. We take for granted that life will continue tomorrow because God started it going and it has its own “battery pack.” But this view is actually deism and not the biblical understanding.
The truth is that we all exist right now because God is choosing to maintain and sustain his good creation. We would cease instantly if he stopped his dynamic, ongoing work. T. F. Torrance speaks of an “interactionist” view of creation, noting that things are constituted what they are by their relations. Relationship is thus essential to what things are (their being). If they weren’t in relationships, they would be something else or not at all.
Second, we belong to Jesus by virtue of his having united himself to our fallen human nature. He did so to redeem us, to judge our sin, and thus to reconcile human nature to the Father in himself. Through the Incarnation, Jesus has taken all the fracturing, brokenness, alienation of fallen human nature that has resulted because of sin—not some generic sin, but actual sin: your sin and the sins against you—to offer, in our place and on our behalf, the response of perfect and complete repentance and trust in the Father that we could never offer on our own.
As Christians, we know we belong to Jesus undividedly, body and soul. His Spirit is working out in us what Jesus, already, has worked out for us in himself. Note this from the apostle Paul:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
As those who belong to Jesus, we are God’s beloved children—adopted members of his family. We have a new relationship with him and, in him, a new relationship with one another. We are members of his Body, the Body of Christ—those who come under and benefit from his rule and reign, his kingdom, his ways. All this is accomplished and given to us as a gift by the Son of God. It cannot be earned or bargained for, it cannot be deserved, it cannot be merited or unmerited, it can only be received or resisted.
Like Jesus, we are who we are in relationship. Jesus is who he is in relationship to his Father and the Spirit, and we are only who we were created to be in right relationship with the triune God. We can tend to think that the new identity that we have in Christ is a static state—some kind of “package” that is ours on our own (similar to how we mistakenly think of creation in a deistic fashion). But we are who we were created to be only in and by our relationship with the triune God—seated with Christ in the heavenlies, united to Christ, indwelt by the Spirit. There is no “us” apart from this relationship with Christ in and through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our identity, worth and value—our being—is in our actively belonging to Christ through the Spirit.
We can’t truly see ourselves, can’t know ourselves, apart from Christ. He has a relationship to all created things and a purpose and place for all things. As Paul explains in Ephesians 1, all creation is being re-headed up in Christ. We don’t see anything in its real being apart from its connection to Christ. However, without God, we can be tempted to think of our identity—of who we are—as a given that we either already know about, or discover through various means. We tend to equate our identity with things or conditions like traumas of our past, disabilities or illnesses, our desires, roles, education, longings, gender, income, personality, race, recurring sins, looks, occupation, or spiritual gifts. But we don’t gain our God-given identity (being) from any of these.
Our true identity is the being we have in our active and receptive relationship with Jesus in the Spirit. That identity overshadows and relativizes all other sources of identity that we may look to (or that others might try to impose on us). Our identity in relationship with Christ, the one in and for whom we are created and who is our Redeemer, is who we truly are! Finding wholeness in him is about undividedly receiving our identity from him—from the relationship he has invited us to share in, and from nowhere else.
Only God can tell us who we are. By seeing whose we are in our very beings, we come to see who we are. Our belonging in relationship to him establishes our being.
Our being in Christ is a becoming
Christ shows us to whom we belong and thus who we really are. We are now God’s dear children, dearly beloved, united to Christ at the core of our being. We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters. He unashamedly stands in our midst. This is who we are now, even though that might not be obvious.
The New Testament writers speak of our lives now as living “between the times” of Christ’s incarnation and his coming again at the end of history. Living in this in-between-time means that Jesus’ great completed work, the ongoing ministry of the Spirit to draw all people to Jesus, and God’s work of re-heading up all things in Jesus (Eph. 1:10) remain somewhat hidden to us. The fact that all things are created in, through and for Jesus (Col. 1, John 1) is not obvious when looking around us. Hebrews 2 speaks of God subjecting the world to Jesus, our great high priest:
In putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (Heb. 2:8)
The reality that we belong fully to Jesus, and that our whole being is constituted by our relationship with him, is also hidden. Looking at our current lives, it’s not always obvious that we are the beloved children of God who share in Christ’s own sonship. Note this from the apostle John:
See what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)
As the apostle Paul says in Colossians 3, “our lives are hid with Christ in God.” He also says that we now “see as through a glass darkly,” and therefore we know only “in part” (1 Cor. 13:12).
The fullness of what Christ has drawn us into will only be seen fully in the future. The whole triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) is committed to getting us there (Phil. 1:6). Our lives here and now are about growing up into the fullness of that reality and therefore this new being. What Christ has done for us in himself, the Spirit is now working out in us via a personal, particular, dynamic interaction with our spirits. The Spirit enables us to be able, more and more, to live into and out from the relationship we have with God in Christ.
As we actively grow in that relationship, the Spirit makes us more able and willing to turn to Jesus, to receive from him, to hear him again and again. It is in this way, participating in this relationship, that we are being changed, transformed—becoming more and more who we truly are in him. Finding wholeness in Christ thus means receiving my being, my identity, in him, over and over, day by day, letting his Word to us work its way deep into us and clearing out all other false words about us. We thus understand that our being in him is a becoming—we are not yet ourselves. This is vital to affirm for understanding what it means to find wholeness in Jesus.
God isn’t done with us yet! He is faithfully at work. Therefore, we must be agnostic about ourselves, though never about Christ and his faithfulness to us. Our response to the Holy Spirit’s work in us involves giving Jesus room to do, in his time and way, what he will on this side of death. We must yield to him as he conforms us to his image, unveiling who we really are in him.
In order for us to truly share in, enjoy, know deeply and live in the rest and out of joy that Jesus gives us, we need to be more and more fully healed by and conformed to (aligned with) this relationship. What has been made right for us in Jesus needs to be made fully right in us. God is intensely interested not just in declaring us whole, but in making us whole. He isn’t just interested in getting us across a line—he is committed to our wholeness in him.
Paul speaks of the maturing of each person as the goal of his ministry in Col. 1:28. God wants each of us know him in a deeply personal, dynamic and ongoing relationship—not generically, but particularly. He continually does this work in us, whether we are new Christians or long-time ones (even when we are in ministry!). He is intensely interested in what he is doing in us, not just through us.
It can be, and often is, a long, slow, and painful process to be made more whole in the triune God. Many of us have deep and painful wounds and unfulfilled longings. But, we can be assured that the triune God is committed to us and our transformation and healing–and so we turn again and again to him in great hope.
Hope of wholeness
While God’s work in us will not be complete on this side of our glorification, there is hope for experiencing in this life real growth towards wholeness in Christ. Jesus is Lord over our sanctification (our wholeness). In Jesus, by the Spirit, the Father sees and knows us. He knows all aspects of our brokenness. He knows all about, even more than we do, how we have been sinned against and how we have sinned against others and ourselves. He is working out in our actual, particular life the healing that has been stored up for us in Jesus’ glorified humanity. We share step-by-step in that perfection, in that wholeness, growing in our cooperation with the Spirit to live according to our new relationship in Christ—our new identities—rather than according to our old natures that are passing away, no matter what devastating evil we have experienced or what lies we have embedded deep in our souls.
We do not earn this sharing in Christ’s life, and we do not create it. Daily we receive it as God’s freely-given gift. Our part is to turn again to him, to hear his voice and receive his life and work in faith, in trust. That is how we share in what Christ has for us in his own glorified humanity.
We thus participate now in our transformation and maturing, though somewhat indirectly. For some things in our lives, the process of transformation is a long one—we may not think we see much progress. But Jesus knows all about us, and knows where he is taking us. We are healed and transformed in his presence, in and through our relationship with him. We are transformed by remaining in his presence, turning away from all that tempts us to look elsewhere, away from the other voices that attempt to tell us who we are. Note this from Paul:
We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)
This is where dying to self is felt most directly. In turning to Jesus and receiving our true selves from him, and from nowhere else, we turn away and even denounce dependence upon all other sources. We may even need to acknowledge that we were deceived by some of these voices. We may need to repent of having relied upon those voices to tell us who we are. In listening more and more deeply to Jesus’ voice alone, we will need to let his voice speak over everyone else’s. This is the hard but freeing, life-giving lesson the apostle Paul learned:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor. 4:1-5, ESV)
As we grow in knowing the Lord, trusting him and seeing his sufficient grace in all areas of our lives, we are becoming more ourselves. And as we grow to be more ourselves in him, we grow more able to fully behold Jesus, live in his grace, share in his joy and peace and glory, to love what he loves, want what he wants, go where he is going and receive more fully and freely all he has for us. We grow in having empty, upturned hands before him so that we might receive what he is giving us.
This reality of being transformed in our actual living in relationship with God is witnessed to by recent studies of human development. Studies in Attachment Theory show that the primary influence in how our brains are wired in the first years of life is our relationship with our primary caregiver, usually our mother. The formation of our brains is affected by how much we are held, how peaceful and responsive our mother (or other primary caregiver) is, including their gazing into their child’s eyes. The mother’s and the infant’s brains are mutually affected by this gazing.
Perhaps one way to understand our relationship with Jesus, is that we are indeed being transformed as we know him face-to-face, eye-to-eye. Through that relationship, God is rewiring our brains, though the process takes time and is challenging and even painful. Though it is hard to fully stop hearing the lies and thinking or acting from them instead of from God’s grace, it is infinitely worth it!
Attending to Jesus
We participate in the Spirit’s work in our lives primarily by attending (yielding) to Jesus, not by primarily focusing on ourselves. As J.B. Torrance used to say, we “look away from ourselves to Christ.” And we can do this because Christ already has us, we already belong to him. But attending to Jesus is not easy or automatic. It is the real challenge of the Christian life in this already-but-not-yet, time-between-the-times. That is because there are so many things that cry out for our attention in this life, so many voices trying to tell us who we are or who we ought to become, tempting us to gain our identity from them. There are so many expectations to fulfill, so many dreams we want realized.
Our secular culture is often promoting the idea of realizing the ideal—whether it be the ideal relationship, marriage, new experiences, career, accumulation of wealth and things, avoidance of suffering, etc. For each ideal, ways are offered that promise to make them happen. Not all of these techniques, programs, products agree with each other—except in one way: they all rely on us making them happen—on our use of certain tools, techniques, methods and skills to achieve the ideal. They all depend upon our working to make ourselves into what we think we ought to be.
In contrast, the overriding concern of the authors of the New Testament is that we remain in Christ. We see this concern in Jesus’ words in John 15 where he commands his disciples to “remain” in him—to “abide” in him—to stay connected to him in a living relationship where they will continually receive from him like branches connected to a vine. Jesus said these words at the end of his earthly ministry, in the shadow of the cross. He knew that his followers’ greatest temptation would be to live as if they were not connected to him—to live not receiving continually from him. That is our greatest temptation as well.
The apostle Paul speaks of being steadfast or enduring. The Greek word he tends to use means to “remain under” or “abide under.” Paul also speaks of those living “in Christ” as being “rooted” or “grounded” in him. The author of Hebrews notes that while we don’t see the world in subjection to Christ, we do see Jesus “who for a little while was made lower than the angels… crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” In Hebrews 3:1 he tells us to “consider Jesus,” where “consider” means “consider exactly, attentively, fully; understand fully” or “concentrate by fixing one’s thinking.” At the beginning of Hebrews 12 he tells us to “throw off all that encumbers” us so that we might “run the race set before us, looking to Jesus.” The Greek word translated “looking” here means to “look away from all else, to fix one’s gaze upon.” This is why the NIV and many other translations translate it as “fix our eyes on Jesus.”
It is by our attending to Jesus that we most fundamentally participate in the life he has given us and continues to give us, because that is how we participate in the real relationship we have with him, and thus how we grow. Jesus came to share his wholeness with us. Growing in this wholeness primarily involves giving our full attention to Jesus—seeking to know him more fully, to see the depths of his goodness and glory, to rejoice in his faithfulness and assurance of completeness, justice, all things set right one day, to receive him and ourselves with thanksgiving over and over again.
Our relationship (communion) with Jesus is not automatic or static. Instead it’s ongoing, dynamic and transformative. This reality is mirrored in our human relationships, which, even though broken, grow through interaction and conversation. Relationships take real listening, giving and receiving.
As noted in part one of this essay, we can only come to know Jesus in truth as he is presented to us in the New Testament. There is no substitute for knowing him through the pages of the New Testament where we are given all we need to know about who Jesus is. By hearing, reading and studying the New Testament witness to Jesus, any false images and imaginations we hold about him will be purified. By the ministry of the Holy Spirit we will find that we are not just learning about Jesus but getting to know him, and through him, getting to know the Father and the Holy Spirit. Out of that will come a growing faith, hope and love.
Attending involves repenting
Attending more and more fully to the God who wholeheartedly is attending to us, involves our ongoing repentance—a continuous turning towards and turning away. This is the biblical understanding of our relationship with God, which involves hearing him, then aligning ourselves with what we hear and turning away from other things.
This repentance involves sharing in Christ’s repentance for us by the Spirit. Christ repents in our place not so that we don’t have to. By the Spirit, he works in us so that we are able to say “amen” to his repentance on our behalf. We share in Christ’s receiving from the Father, attending to the Father and in his turning away from anything that would get in the way of his living fully as the Son of this Father. The Spirit brings to mind all that Jesus had said—he teaches, convicts, exhorts, comforts, prays and enables us to respond. We are never repenting, trusting, hoping, suffering, struggling on our own.
However, we can be tempted to act as if God is at a distance and that we shouldn’t need to hear again and again of his love and grace for us—that we shouldn’t need to receive him again and again. We are tempted to believe we don’t need to live in vital, ongoing fellowship with him. Or we are tempted to think we don’t have time for God. We may think that circumstances require that we put our attention elsewhere. At such times we are tempted to think of repentance as primarily for our bad words or actions and not from the deeper issues that are preventing us from living out of who we truly are in Christ.
When Jesus does not fill our field of vision, we can be assured it is because something or someone else does. When we are not attending to his speaking to us, it is because other voices, including our own, are filling our ears. The reality is that Jesus is continuously speaking into our lives—always attending and working. The Holy Spirit is actively seeking to interact with us, advancing his purpose of enabling us to more and more quickly turn back to the Father through and with the Son. The Spirit gives us eyes to see, and ears to hear as we, by his power, turn again to God in repentance. As we do, we join Jesus in continually turning to—continually attending to—the Father, receiving from him. Our sanctification in him involves growing in this joyous capacity.
In this attending it is important to know that knowing about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. Attending is not about just getting to the end of a to-do list with or for Jesus so that now we don’t need to interact with him any longer. Real relationship (attending) with Jesus means taking time to continue to hear his word to us from outside ourselves. Recognizing this reminds us of the importance of spiritual disciplines that help us deliberately live in the relationship God has given us with himself:
- Prayer, by which we spend time in intimate conversation with God listening and speaking.
- Bible study, by which we interact with God through his written Word. Such study involves asking the “who” question (“Who are you, Lord?”). It involves trusting the Spirit’s presence; wrestling with the text in the company of others (including reliable authors of Bible study helps).
- Church attendance, by which we meet together as the Body of Christ to hear the Word of God proclaimed again and to share once more in the Lord’s Supper.
Growing in knowing Jesus
Finding personal wholeness in Jesus involves growing in knowing and receiving him in dynamic relationship. This is a life-long journey, which leads toward a fullness of relationship that will be realized when we are ushered into a new heaven and a new earth at Christ’s return. As I’ve noted already, the wholeness that Jesus has come to share with us will be fully manifest or completed only when we are glorified and living in the new heaven and new earth. The promise of that future fullness of knowing and relating is our sure and certain hope.
To live in relationship with Jesus now, entrusting to him our brokenness and the brokenness of our relationships, families, churches, and world, is to attend to him now in the light of our hope that he will finish the work he has begun (Phil. 1:6). It is to grasp enough of the hope that he is and that he gives us to see that it is glorious, whole, life-giving and joyous—much greater than any bliss we can experience now. Yielding to him now—letting go of all we think will satisfy apart from him—is infinitely worth it.
In hope, we now experience (even if imperfectly) some of that knowing and relating. In John 10:10, Jesus said he came to give us “abundant life,” with “life” (zoe in Greek) being a reference to the life that God is and has in himself. The verb tenses in this verse convey the idea of Jesus giving us this abundant life continually. Here is a literal translation: “I came in order that they might continuously have life, even that they may continuously have it all-around.”
Many other places in Scripture speak of God sharing this overabundance of life with us even now. We are told of Jesus changing water into wine, and of feeding crowds until they were filled (and there were leftovers!). Other words used to convey this idea of overabundant life are treasure, riches and glory.
John 17 says that the life Jesus shares with us is “eternal life,” which he defines as knowing (having a personal, relational knowledge of) the Father and Jesus Christ. Although this knowing comes to fullness in the future fullness of the kingdom, by the Spirit we can and do experience it now in meaningful, life-transforming ways, as we live into, share in, receive and give out from the uncontainable, life-giving, out-going, joyous, interaction that is always going on within the triune God. To grow in wholeness, to grow in our relationship with Jesus, means living in the present in light of our living hope for the future he has for us.
Basking in the light of the knowledge that one day we will made fully whole (new), we will experience now something of the joy and life that comes with full relationships—the sort of relationships we were created to enjoy and that we deeply long for. It is in light of that promised future that we are to live, think, speak and act today.
Living today in the light of our future hope
Christian hope plays a vital role in our present life, including our journey towards wholeness. The New Testament writers emphasize living in the present in light of the glorious and certain future that awaits us. Our future wholeness in Christ is not a pipe dream that has no relevance to our lives now. It is the deepest reality of our present lives, including our hopes, longings, trials, circumstances, relationships and sufferings. This perspective is beautifully illustrated by Paul in these words:
Our present afflictions might seem burdensome and prolonged, but they are in fact insignificant and momentary when compared with the undiminished load of glory that these afflictions are producing for us to a degree that is beyond all measure and proportions. (2 Cor. 4:17, translation from Murray J. Harris)
The apostle Peter, reflecting on the living hope we have in an imperishable inheritance, says this: “In this [hope] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6). The word translated “grieved” means to experience deep, emotional pain.
Viewed in the light of the coming fullness in glory, Paul sees his present trials as “insignificant and momentary” and Peter admonishes his readers to rejoice despite the sufferings they are now enduring. They are not saying the present trials are easy—we know they are not.
Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul spoke of suffering to the point that he despaired of life. But he understood the glorious and faithful purposes of Christ, and that God is bringing about real and deep righteousness and life. He knew God was even using his trials to bring about a glorious completion. Because of Jesus, and the Father’s work to re-head up all things in Jesus (Eph. 1:10), Paul understood that his present sufferings, no matter how hard, were not the final word.
Living now in the wholeness of Christ involves the Spirit working in our lives and enabling our participation in that work so that we can view our present and our past, ourselves and our relationships, circumstances, trials, temptations and sufferings, even our present plans, feelings and dreams, in light of this glorious assured future. We can do this not because God doesn’t care about or see our present or our past, but because he does care, and, as we’ve noted already, is at work undoing evil and redeeming it all.
Unfortunately, we often turn that around and see and judge Jesus by our present and our past experience. We are tempted to think that he isn’t at work, doesn’t see us or care, because he is not dealing with the present in the ways or within the timing that we want. Learning to look forward and not back is part of the renewing of our minds—part of seeing ourselves and our lives in the light of Jesus and our future in him.
How do we live today in the light of our future hope? I suggest that instead of being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good (as the saying goes), that we become more heavenly minded in a way makes us more earthly good! When we see the reality of our future hope as an anchor for our lives here and now, we are able to live today in patience and trust, turning to Jesus again and again, by his Spirit yielding ourselves wholeheartedly to him, receiving his sufficient grace again in this moment.
Let’s consider two points about our future hope:
- The life that God has created us for, which will be fully consummated in the new heaven and new earth, is not just a slight improvement on the life we now have in the already-but-not-yet. It is so much better that it is safe to say that we are barely alive now.
- The life that is our hope is what we most deeply long for. It is not anything less than we might experience here and now in this present fallen age.
The hope we have, as described in the Bible, is so rich and real and full that it is almost too hard to grasp. As Paul says, it is beyond all that we can ask or imagine. John puts it this way in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:1-5a)
When God brings all these to completion, when evil is fully destroyed, and when death is no more, we will be entirely whole—finally and truly ourselves. We will be transformed and glorified, perfect (whole) and complete. All the former anguish and trials, the hurts we gave and that we received, will be undone and remade. Every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more mourning, crying or pain. Paul put it this way:
May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23)
Every part of us will be renewed and transformed: spirit, soul and body. We will finally know the glory of loving God fully and the glory of being his beloved children. We will know it in our souls and even in our bodies. In glory, we will be part of a whole church being presented “in splendor” (Eph. 5:27). Jude put it this way:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. (Jude 1:24-25)
In glory, we won’t just be given a life that is never-ending. We won’t just be given a new label or a new status. We will be made holy—whole, all the way down. But what about our flawed past—the deep wounds we have given or have received from others? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus is Lord of all! He is the one who redeems us and gives us a share in his eternal life—his relationship with the Father, in the Holy Spirit.
Yes, Jesus is Lord of all—even over time and space, as he, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, works to bring about a new heaven and a new earth. As it says in the passage we just read in Revelation, the whole God is making “all things new.” The triune God is victor over the past (including your past!) and the future. As Lord of time and space, he undoes and redeems even what is past. This is why every tear will be wiped away. There will be no more regrets. God our Father is re-heading all things up in his Son, Jesus Christ, by the Spirit. ALL THINGS!!
This fullness of life that awaits us is what we are created for—what we are wired for, what we most deeply long for, even though we don’t often realize it. What we see when we look at Jesus is that we are made for great joy. But the only one who can give us what we were created for is Jesus himself. He is the source of all joy, all love, all real and full life. No one else and nothing else can give us those things.
When we see Jesus face-to-face, we won’t think for one moment that we missed out on anything here on earth. We will see why our longings here were too deep to be satisfied ultimately by this life here. As C.S. Lewis says, we are made to run on God and, therefore, our deepest joy is and will be in him. C.S. also said this:
There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have desired anything else.
To live in the present in light of our future is to live as sojourners and exiles in this life. In 1 Pet. 2:11, Peter refers to those he writes to as “foreigners and exiles” and encourages them to abstain from the passions that war against their souls. His point is that this world is not our true home. In writing about our longings in this life, C.S. Lewis noted that they are not satisfied by anything on this earth—it seems we were made for more than this.
The reason this world so often doesn’t feel like home is because it isn’t. Even the best things fall short, disappoint, don’t last. In Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge puts it this way:
The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves to be at home here on earth. As long as we are aliens, we cannot forget our true homeland, which is that other kingdom.
In hope, we live waiting—resting in God and not in our circumstances or in ourselves. As Paul says in concluding his letter to the Philippians, we live in this world with contentment and the object of that contentment, grounded in hope, is Jesus.
In 1 Peter 1:13 we are told to “set your hope on the grace that is being brought to you.” In God’s own time and way, we will be made whole! In hope, we await that transformation with patience and contentment. However, our waiting is not passive—it involves actively pursuing Jesus, the source of our wholeness. We seek to know him, to live in him, to rest in and enjoy him each day, knowing that he will fully complete the work he has already begun in us, he will fully deal with the evil and the pain and will fully satisfy our longings for him.
With that confidence, borne of faith in Jesus, we let him lead in such a way that our focus remains on him rather than on our progress (or lack thereof). Whenever we stop trusting him and his Word and look away from him, we know that he remains faithful to us, and is still saying to us: “Look at me now—I have you, I have this situation.”
On receiving and giving forgiveness
Part of living in the wholeness of Christ and the hope of its fulfillment is dealing with the sins we commit towards others and with those that have been committed against us. Forgiveness, which is our participation in God’s forgiveness, is a central part of growing in wholeness. It is in the context of this sure hope in our Lord’s work to fully complete our redemption, that the Holy Spirit enables us both to receive forgiveness and to extend forgiveness. T.F. Torrance put it this way:
Forgiveness… is a stupendous act which only God can do, blotting out what is past and recreating what has been wasted by sin.… Forgiveness is not just a word of pardon, but a word translated into our existence by crucifixion and resurrection, by judgement and recreation. (Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, p. 222)
In Christ, we have been forgiven. Jesus forgives because he redeems. He has confessed our sins in our place and on our behalf, and by the Holy Spirit, he works this out in us, freeing and enabling us to say “amen” to his own confession and thus hand over the sins to him and receive the forgiveness he already has given. Jesus doesn’t confess, repent and forgive so that we don’t have to, but so that we now can do so, sharing by the Spirit in Jesus’ real and particular work in our lives.
Jesus’ word of forgiveness is not a blanket, static proclamation. We receive his forgiveness in the light of real hope that these things (sinning or being sinned against) will one day be no more and will be remade. It can be very hard for us to receive this forgiveness, because it involves freely receiving, not earning or deserving it.
In light of Jesus’ work of forgiveness and redemption, we embrace our ongoing sanctification—we grow in receiving the judging, sifting work of the Holy Spirit who helps us first acknowledge and then hand over to God all that gets in the way of our experiencing, enjoying and living out of the fullness of relationship with him. When the Spirit points out these places of sin in our lives, his goal is to help us see what is contrary to our true selves in Christ—to see (with rejoicing) what we are being redeemed from, what one day will no longer be.
This process of repentance necessarily reminds us of our fallenness and brokenness, but it also turns us towards what we are becoming—it points us forward, in hope, toward our final redemption. In repentance, our expectant word to God is this: “Lord, I want to see how you’re going to redeem this one!”
In every place that we are fallen and broken, Jesus works to turn our humanity back to God—bringing us to that point in the Garden of Gethsemane where he said to the Father, in our place and on our behalf, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” From there Jesus moved unwaveringly to the cross. He did all this for the joy that was set before him—the joy of enabling us to become his brothers and sisters who receive their being and their doing in relationship with him.
In turning again and again to Jesus (repentance is a lifestyle, not a “one-and-done” event), we live again in the truth of who we now are. Jesus says to us as we look at our sin, “This is not you, it is what I am getting rid of— hand it to me once again.” It’s hard to do that, because it means dying to our own efforts to justify or excuse ourselves.
The Holy Spirit, in his sanctifying relationship with us in a personalized way, enables us to share in the vicarious humanity of Jesus. The Spirit brings us into a deeply personal relationship where Jesus shares with us his peace, love, joy and communion with the Father. Through the Spirit, Jesus is teaching us to receive more and more his life-changing, whole-making presence. By interacting with Jesus, through the Spirit, we learn the joy of denying ourselves in order to receive more fully from Jesus what he has for us—even our whole being. Growing in wholeness in Jesus involves living in the bigness of the triune God, which means being okay with our smallness in him and yielding more and more to him as his beloved children.
When we extend forgiveness to others, we are saying “amen” to Jesus’ extension of forgiveness to that person. It means that we understand that Jesus has taken upon himself all the times others have hurt us, all the ways others have sinned against us, bruised, violated, abused, abandoned, manipulated or rejected us. Jesus knows all about all these things and has gone to the bottom of them all—taking them upon himself in order to judge and then redeem them. He refuses to let these sins have the last word.
Jesus has taken it all in, absorbed it, and turned it around in himself so that it one day can be fully turned around in us. That is his work of recapitulation. He makes it right for us and then shares it with us.
I know a young man who was sexually abused as a young boy by a trusted family friend. Like others in similar situations, he was deeply scarred and hurt by these experiences. In college he began cutting himself to cope with the abuse. I was invited to pray with him once in the midst of this difficult time. I went in feeling inadequate to the task. What could I offer? I decided to pray quietly for the Spirit to speak to the young man. After a period of silence, I asked if he had any word or image from God. He told me he saw Jesus before him and that Jesus had all the same cuts on his arms and legs. He had taken each one to himself. This is our Redeemer Jesus! Amen.
By the Spirit’s work, we can forgive others in hope of Jesus’ promise to truly make all things right—judging and destroying the sin, no matter how harrowing and despicable. No one is going to get away with anything. Evil has no future.
Our being hurt, even deeply hurt, by others, does not determine our identity (and the same is true for our sinning against others). Many times, we may need to hand over and entrust to Jesus, our Judge and Savior, our sins and our being sinned against. We can do so in light of the future complete redemption that is ours. Jesus is the only one who can undo what we and others have done. He is able to wipe away all tears—that is what his resurrection and ascension show us. He has conquered death itself, the ultimate consequence of all sin. He gives us salvation in union with him.
Hang on to hope!
Trials, especially long-term ones, can tempt us to cease placing our hope in Jesus. These trials come in many forms: illness, emotional or circumstantial struggles, difficult family relationships, unfulfilled longings, etc. We hope for steady progress, but when we don’t see it, we can be tempted to doubt that Jesus and his grace is sufficient. But when we place our hope fully in him once again, viewing our trials in the light of his all-sufficiency and goodness, we are freed to turn and yield to Jesus once again—to receive what he is giving at that moment rather than insisting that he provide what we want instead. This trusting in Jesus is, no doubt, a wrestling. It’s the wrestling of relationship—struggling to turn back to him and re-align ourselves with the deepest truth and reality about our whole lives—Jesus Christ himself.
I have a friend who has dealt with cancer in one form or another for the past ten years. I recently helped her into church. The pain in her legs was so great it was hard for her to walk. She said to me, “I am just not what I used to be.” I said to her, “Yes, but the more important thing is that you are not yet who you will be.” Jesus is our hope, not only for today, but for the long haul. We may not experience healing on this side of death, but we will on the other side. That is guaranteed.
Our wholeness is secure in Jesus, who holds our future. Through the Holy Spirit, he enables us to see and appreciate signs of his work now, while not mistaking those signs for the full reality yet to come. We allow these signs, incomplete though they be, to point us to Jesus and the ultimate fulfillment ahead. We rejoice over what is happening, even while longing and anticipating the future fullness. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
Instead of focusing on how much we have progressed (or not progressed), we turn again and again to the one we hope and trust in, knowing in faith that he is meeting us fully today—in this moment. We know that he is more present and active and real than we are. We know he is seeing us and working with us as individuals. We know where he is taking us and we are confident in his ability to get us there.
Our turning to hear, see, and receive him once again is our participation in his lordship over our lives. We know he has a word for us each day—every day. He tells us that we are beloved and is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. He is preparing a place for us, with him, in the presence of the Father (Heb. 2:11; John 14:2, 3). This turning to Christ is an active discipline. The most direct way to practice it is in prayer and in Bible reading, study and meditation, both privately and with others. Each day, we need to turn to him again because we live in a world that constantly pulls us away from Jesus. He told his first disciples that they would have troubles, nevertheless they could take heart because he, on their behalf, has overcome the world. That is Jesus’ daily word of assurance to us as well. Hearing and receiving this word from Jesus is an ongoing, interactive, dynamic relationship with him. This is the Christian life. Though it’s a struggle at times, it’s the right struggle, for it leads to joy and rest in him.
Hoping in and trusting in Jesus is fundamental to the shape of our relationship with him. Giving thanks is not the means to some other end—it’s not a matter of showing him I trust him, so now he can give me what I want, or that if I reach a certain level of trust in him he will work more in me or will be more pleased with me. The joy and peace of it is the relationship itself—being in his presence and communing with him.
Trusting Jesus also involves giving thanks, which is our response to his relentless grace. Thanksgiving puts us in a posture of receiving in a way that acknowledges that what we are receiving is a gift, not something that we have earned or deserve. To be thankful to God is to receive our lives and identities from him, to acknowledge our complete dependence on him. Giving thanks helps us grab hold again of the reality that God is good, generous, for us, and actively at work in us, and in the whole world.
An attitude of thanksgiving results from meditating on the Word of God—of turning to hear and remember and receive our Lord again. May God help us do so. The result, just as he has promised, will be a growing personal wholeness in Jesus. Amen.
Here is a video of the presentation on which this part of Cathy’s essay is based:
On Youtube at https://youtu.be/AaBhzqU4PpY.
Here is a video in which Cathy gives examples of the wholehearted life:
On Youtube at https://youtu.be/OLVimUSTuXo.