From April of 2014 to June of 2022 I slowly wrote my way through the entire Bible. It was one of the best things I ever did to show me the inexhaustible riches of God’s word found in our Bibles, what the Apostles and New Testament church called the Writings, or graphé- γραφή in Greek. The word is used over 50 times in the New Testament, always of holy Scripture, i.e., the inspired, inerrant writings of the Bible. These writings, or Scripture, are authoritative because while written by and through men, they are the very words of God. The Apostle Paul tells us how this works and the value contained in these writings:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3)

The Scripture Paul is speaking about is the Old Testament because that was the New Testament church’s Bible. There was no New Testament yet. It is from this verse that we get the biblical doctrine of Inspiration. It is phrased that way because the King James version translated these words as, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” The Greek word Paul uses there, however, is breathed out, so the writings are literally God’s breath coming through men in the form of words. Thus we call it the word of God. As Jesus said in reply to the devil suffering his temptations in the wilderness, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Or, on every word breathed out by God. What happens to us without food? Eventually we die. As Christians we must ask ourselves, is the word of God as important to us as food? Jesus says it should be.

The Bible’s Power to Change People
Biblical inspiration is powerful and profound, but what is more powerful and profound to me, is the effect the Writings have on the lives of the people who encounter them. Over the last few years as I’ve listened to hundreds of Christians share their testimonies, one thing every person has in common is feeling compelled to read the Bible. Even if they were reluctant initially, soon they were taken in by its unique power, realizing, often quickly, there is something divine about this book. To Paul it is this divine nature of the Writings that gives them the capacity, the dynamic aliveness, to create righteousness in God’s people. It has the power to change the way we live, from lost sinners in rebellion to God and for ourselves, to saved sinners living in obedience to God. In theology this is called sanctification, God’s work in us and through us to make us holy, those set apart for his kingdom purposes. Of course, nobody could say this better than Paul:

 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. (2 Cor. 5:15)

In addition to witnessing this dynamic in my own life, and the lives of many loved ones and friends, hearing so many people testify to seeing this play out in their journey to faith in Christ is to me magnificent. Every time I hear or witness it again, I marvel that this Christianity thing I believe in and have staked my life on, is actually true; it’s real! Mere human words on a page cannot do that.

Paul’s point about the purpose of the word of God in our lives is that it is there to change us in fundamental ways, change our being, who we are, that we may be able (thoroughly equipped) to do good works. Here in Jesus’ words is why we want to do these works:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it (abundantly) to the full (John 10:10).

This abundant and full life comes directly from the blessings that flow into our lives from obedience to God. If the devil can convince us that what we want is more important than what God wants for us, the thief will steal from us the only life that is truly life. God by contrast wants us to reign in life through Christ. How is that done? It’s done through Christ! Romans 5:17 is one of Paul’s declarations of why we can live the abundant life:

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

How much more . . . . By being given the gift of righteousness by faith (i.e., not depending on our own) because of God’s grace, we can now reign in life by performing righteousness. We now are able to obey God, albeit very imperfectly, because our lives are no longer solely about us, our wants, our needs, our desires, but about Him! I heard a very simple phrase recently that packed a profound meaning in what at first blush seems so obvious:

There is a connection between what we believe and how we behave.

Well, duh! No kidding. But if we don’t behave like we say we believe, then we either don’t know what we believe, or don’t really believe it. I remember hearing a saying decades ago along these lines:

To know and not to do, is not to know.

Biblically, this is known as fruit. As Jesus says in the gospels, you will know the tree by its fruit. Good fruit good tree, rotten fruit rotten tree.

But is it really possible to change who we are, our fundamental being? Yes and no. God has no desire to make us Stepford Christians, little Christian robots who do and say all the same things. In fact, the complete opposite is the truth. God wants to make each one of us the most Jesus-like person we can be so we can become more fully who he uniquely meant us to be.

The Secret of Reigning in Life
Speaking of reigning in life through Christ, what exactly does that look like? How does that work? When I was reading through that passage in Romans recently, I wondered how many Christians feel like they are “reigning in life.” I would guess probably not many, and I think the reason is that we don’t know what it means, or we think we know what it means and our lives certainly don’t reflect that!

In my early years as a Christians I heard about something called the victorious higher life, or victorious Christian living. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t very good at that victorious life. Defeat seemed a far more common companion than victory, and the guilt that accompanied it. Then when I was introduced to Reformed theology at twenty-four, I learned there was a theology called perfectionism. I came across a book by the great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield called Studies in Perfectionism that was revelatory for me. I learned this theology or understanding of the Christian life went back to John Wesley in the 18th century. He believed Christians could achieve perfect holiness, and a popular movement grew out of his teaching in the 19thcentury. By the time I’d become a Christian in 1978, few Christians promoted the idea that we could have complete victory over sin, but the echoes of that Wesleyan theology still reverberated in the Evangelical church. It became apparent over time that Christians could not in fact achieve perfection, and those who thought they had achieved it were insufferably self-righteous. Which is ironically funny if you think about it.

So back to our question. If we can’t be perfectly holy, how can we reign in life through Christ? To say we will reign has the ring of perfection to it. And Paul not only says it, but he also grandly declares it! Yet very few of us feel like the kings or queens of our own Christian life; more like paupers than princes or princesses.

The problem with knowing we can’t be perfect in holiness can easily lead to us to thinking we have the license to sin, misusing grace to think we can do whatever we want (read Paul’s horror at such a notion in Romans 6). The other end of the distortion is the irony I referred to. Thinking we are capable of pulling off the Christian life to a degree that leads to pride and arrogance, and thinking we are better than others. Jesus warned us about that in a parable to those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9-14). We need to be like the tax collector, not the Pharisee, knowing we are unworthy in ourselves to even look up to heaven, and daily beat our breast and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That, my friends, is the means to reigning in life through Christ! What? Debasing ourselves is a way to reign in life? Yes, through Christ! And it is not debasing, but an accurate assessment of who we as sinners before a holy God. As I often say, I should be a smoldering pile of ashes on the ground; everything else is gravy!

The secret to unlocking the reign in our lives is daily repentance. Naming our sins before God, accepting that we are utterly unworthy of the favor he bestows upon us in Christ. It’s called grace, or unmerited favor. We cannot earn it, and unlike Catholic theology, we cannot earn it by penance, by being really, really sorry, and remorseful for our sins. We are simply agreeing with God that we are wretched sinners worthy of his just judgment, condemnation and death, the wages of sin. But since Jesus the Messiah paid the price, we don’t have to! We get life eternal, and we get to start living that life in the here and now. A mystery of the Christian life is living eternal life, living in obedience to God, being completely up to us in the moment by moment choices we make, but only possible because of God’s work in us.

John gives us a promise of how we can make this work, that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). The Greek word for confess means to agree. I like to say, pardon the slight vulgarity, embrace the suck. But the next step is even more important. It is God alone who can change us; we can’t do it by mere will power. As God says to Cain, sin is crouching at our door; it desires to have us. The promise is that if we agree with God about our sin, He will purify us, cleans us, and do a supernatural work in us to make us more like Christ. Transforming ourselves is not our job, it’s His!

It’s All About Love
The key to making this a reality in our lives, the reigning part, is love reflected in service to others. If we’re going to truly great, and God wants us to be great, Jesus tells us we must be servants. And that can only be done in love. To get a handle on what this means, it’s good to remember a definition of sin made famous by Augustine then Luther: homo incurvatus in se. In English, man curved in on himself. The very essence of sin is self-centeredness. If my life is all about me, even if I’m those must upstanding moral person on earth, I am a quintessential sinner. The Pharisees are great examples of such self-righteousness. Being moral is of course crucial for Christians, meaning doing right not wrong, obeying God’s law starting with the Ten Commandments.

Jesus amplified the profoundly transformational nature of God’s law when he said it can all be summed up in love, for God, us, and others. If we’re really good law-keepers but don’t love, Paul says we’re no better than clanging symbols, all noise; basically like a two-year-old, look at me, look at me, look at me! Love is relational because the Triune God is fundamentally love and so relational. I contend, when we really work on loving others, we can learn what it means to reign with Christ because our focus then must be off of ourselves to do it. In taking up our cross, Jesus tell us we are denying ourselves. And Jesus adds, the only way to find our life is to lose it. If we grasp on to our life like a greedy beggar, we will lose it. The great irony of Christianity is that if we give our lives away, we will find the life that is truly life and reign in life through Christ.

 

 

 

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