April 2012 - Vol. 59

New Life in Christ
by Steve Clark

Shortly before his death, Christ received an urgent message that Lazarus was dying. Lazarus was someone he loved, a close sympathizer, possibly a disciple, possibly also a member of the Sanhedrin. Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, seemed to expect Christ to come quickly and heal their brother.

Christ gave an enigmatic response: “This illness is not unto death,” but for the glory of God as a means to glorify God’s Son (John 11:4). His disciples probably understood Christ’s statement as a prediction that Lazarus would recover. The fact that he was in no hurry to leave may have even confirmed such an understanding in their minds. But two days later Christ told them that Lazarus had died and that therefore he would go to Lazarus’ home at Bethany.

Bethany was very near Jerusalem, in the area under the direct rule of the Jewish governing authorities who had shown every intention of putting Christ to death if they could. The disciples saw no point in running such a risk now that Lazarus had died. But the very fact that Lazarus had died seemed to motivate Jesus to go.

On their arrival, Christ was met by Martha. By then Lazarus had been dead four days. She knew that Christ had delayed, despite the urgency of her message. Her plaintive greeting – perhaps reproachful, perhaps simply regretful – was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Christ replied, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:21-23).

Like many Jews, Martha believed in the resurrection of the dead and so answered, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She may have thought Christ was simply consoling her because of his disappointing delay. His next words, however, pointed to something different: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

These words contain the core of Christ’s message to Martha. The resurrection is not simply something that happens on the last day to all good Jews. I bring resurrection. I bring the only resurrection worth having, a resurrection to true life. I bring life. I am the one who can raise the dead and give life to whom I will (Jn 5:21). Even more, those who believe in me will here and now be given a kind of life that will not be destroyed by normal human death but will last forever.

Christ then went to the tomb. The body of Lazarus had already begun to putrefy, but he was undeterred. He had even delayed so that the death of his friend would be beyond doubt. Christ cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus came out.

It was for this that Christ had come to Bethany. He did not come to keep himself safe, to save his own life. He knew that coming to Bethany was a step toward giving himself for the life of the world (John 6:51). Rather, he came to raise the dead. Moreover, he did not come only to raise them at some future point long after they had died. He came to give them new life on earth. He came so that they might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10), even before they “go to heaven”.

Paul described becoming a Christian as being “brought from death to life” (Romans 6:13). Of all the descriptions of the result of redemption, that is perhaps the most dramatic. Purchasing a slave or pardoning a criminal seem tame beside raising the dead. When Christ called out to the putrefying Lazarus, “Come forth” and Lazarus came forth, Christ proclaimed by that sign the magnitude of the change he came to bring. It would be like raising the dead.

Moreover, giving life to those who believe in him would require the same kind of power as raising Lazarus. Christ would give them eternal life. By his power, human beings would be able to have a kind of life on earth that could not be destroyed by their earthly deaths.

“As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ came to reverse what Adam did, to restore the life Adam lost, to bring human beings to the place where they could fulfill the purpose for which they were created. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We have considered what Christ did to make it possible for human beings to be redeemed. In the last chapter, we saw how Christ entered into the position where he could provide redemption for those who came to him. In this chapter, we will look at the way redemption is given to those who believe in Christ and join themselves to him.

In and by the Spirit
Passover and Pentecost were closely linked in the old covenant festal calendar, because Pentecost was the conclusion of the Passover season. The season began with “the Lord’s Passover”. The day after the Sabbath of the seventh week afterwards, an important feast was celebrated (Leviticus 23:15-16). As the fiftieth day of the season, it was called “Pentecost” from the Greek word for “fiftieth”. In New Testament times, the Jews probably celebrated Pentecost as the day of the giving of the ten commandments on Sinai, the day on which the people of Israel entered the covenantal relationship with God that was made possible by the Passover and Exodus.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit did not happen on the day of Pentecost by accident. Just as the death and resurrection of Christ fulfilled “the Lord’s Passover”, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit fulfilled the feast of Pentecost. Through that gift of God, the disciples came into the fullness of the blessing of the new covenant, the new relationship with God made possible by Christ’s redeeming work.

Such an understanding of the relationship between Sinai and Pentecost is probably behind a statement in Second Corinthians 3. Paul is there defending himself from criticism by saying that the Christian community at Corinth is a letter of recommendation for him. Others can look at them and see that Paul is able to bring into existence a body of people who have the new life Christ came to bring. In that context he says, “You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

Paul is referring to the two stone tablets, or as we often say in older English “tables”, on which God wrote the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:22). Moses described these commandments as the covenant the Lord our God made with us (Deuteronomy 4:13). Paul is saying that in the new covenant, the Holy Spirit writes the commandments of God on the hearts of Christians so that the change in the way they live can be “known and read by all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Paul then adds another statement. “God…has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). The two statements go together. The new covenant relationship with God is not a matter of external instructions to be read and carried out, but a matter of a new life put into believers by the Holy Spirit. As a result, new covenant people will be enabled by the Spirit within to live the life of love of God and neighbor and so keep the commandments. Further on Paul adds, “We…are being changed into his image [RSV: likeness] from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, that new life is a restoration of the inner glory that Adam and Eve lost and that allowed them to live in the image and likeness of God.

The Holy Spirit is the life-giver, the one who gives life. Life is a kind of activity. A corpse cannot move by itself, nor is there in a corpse any internal activity like the flow of blood or the process of digestion. Without this kind of activity, the complex organism built to sustain life will slowly crumble to dust, the dust from which the human race came. The presence of the Holy Spirit produces the opposite of death. He does not normally make corpses alive, but when he comes to people he makes a kind of activity possible for them that was not possible before – a life that fulfills the purpose for which human beings were made.

The Holy Spirit gives that life to Christians from the inside, “the heart”. He “dwells in” the followers of Christ (Romans 8:7). He “fills” them. The Holy Spirit does not just “come upon” Christians from time to time as he did with old covenant people. He comes upon them and then abides or remains in them (John 1:32-33). Although present in the Christian as in a temple (Ephesians 2:22), the Holy Spirit is not there primarily to be worshiped. Rather, he is present to act inside of Christians so they can live in ways impossible without him. 

Whenever the Scriptures speak about the Holy Spirit, they are normally describing some way in which God is acting in the world. He is the power of God at work or, as some have said, the “executive” of the Trinity. Christians are said to live or act “by” the Spirit or “in” the Spirit. “In” probably refers to his enabling agency. If we are walking along and come to a deep river, the water is an obstacle to our walking further. We cannot walk through the river to the other side. But if we go into the water and swim, we can move by means of the water to the other side. When the Holy Spirit dwells in Christians, his presence in them operates in a similar way. Like water, he operates as a kind of spiritual “medium” in relationship to God and the things of God. He enables us to have “access…to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). He gives us a spiritual contact with God and knowledge of God that allows us to relate to God and spiritual realities in a way we could not otherwise.

The indwelling of the Spirit does even more than allow Christians to act in ways they might want to but cannot. He changes the very way they want to live. The Letter to the Ephesians uses a vivid image in encouraging Christians to avoid carousing with pagans: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:18-20).

This exhortation contrasts being “filled with wine” and being “filled with the Spirit”. When people are filled with wine, others who have not even seen them drinking can recognize their condition by their drunken behavior. The word “filled” does not mean that the wine has simply taken up all the room inside. Rather, it means that the wine has entered into them in such a way that it affects or controls their behavior. They could be described as “under the influence”. “Filled” here, as in other places in the Scriptures, means “ruled” or “directed”.

Christians are encouraged instead to be filled with the Spirit. When people are filled with the Spirit, others can tell by their behavior. Being filled with the Spirit especially produces worship and thankfulness to God, as noted in the Ephesians passage. The change the Spirit produces, however, is not just restricted to worship.

A fuller description of the new life produced by the Holy Spirit is contained in the passage on the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:13-26. Fruit is produced by life inside. Spiritual fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and the like.” These qualities form a way of living and acting, especially a way of treating others. Those, therefore, who “live by the Spirit”, those who have the Spirit in them giving life, should “walk by the Spirit”. They should act in a way that expresses the life they have been given (Ephesians 5:16, 25). Just as we expect to see a difference between the behavior of dogs and human beings, we should be able to see the difference between those who have spiritual life and those who do not.

The passage about the fruit of the Spirit also raises a crucial and somewhat subtle point in understanding the results of the redeeming work of Christ. In the course of discussing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul says Christians are not “under the law” (Galatians 5:18). Another passage says they are “discharged from the law” (Romans 7:6). 

Many understand “law” or “the law” in such passages to be referring to the law of the old covenant. They therefore understand Paul to be talking about freedom from old covenant regulations, especially those involving matters of ritual and purity and the rabbinic interpretations of those regulations. Others understand “the law” to refer to all law, including the moral law, and understand Paul to be talking about freedom from condemnation under the law because of what Christ has done. Still others understand Paul to be talking about freedom from any obligation to any moral law, although such a position seems clearly untenable.

Without going into the issues connected to freedom from the law, we can see that the Galatians passage makes clear that Christians should not act or behave in a way that violates the moral commandments of God. “Fornication, impurity, licentiousness” and the rest of the “works of the flesh” or actions that come from sinful human nature disqualify people from the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:19-21). Such actions are so opposed to the life of Christ as to be intrinsically incompatible with it. Christians have to be “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

The Galatians passage also makes clear that Christians have to choose or decide at times not to do such things, even to fight against them. They will not be able to passively let the Spirit produce all manner of good behavior in them, while they coast along. Christians are called to “walk” a certain way and not gratify certain desires (Galatians 5:16). To use a stronger phrase from Romans, they need to “put to death” those desires (Romans 8:13). Since they experience conflicting desires (Galatians 5:17), Christians must take an active role in deciding which ones will prevail.

Nonetheless, the Christian life is not supposed to be primarily a new summons to greater moral effort. Nor is it simply a matter of keeping the law, however necessary it may be to keep God’s commandments (1 Corinthians 7:19). Christianity is a new life that comes from the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Fallen human beings cannot live in a way pleasing to God (Romans 8:7). Redeemed human beings not only can, but they find within themselves a new life moving them and enabling them to live in a new way.

The Holy Spirit is “power from on high” that allows redeemed human beings to live in the image and likeness of God. It is not the power of an alien being that controls and possesses them, but rather a divine presence that gives them a new capacity to live well by healing or restoring their human nature. The Holy Spirit within does not act like a drug that produces an abnormal or unnatural effect. Rather, he acts more like food or drink or healing medicine that strengthens human nature – taking away the wounds of sin, restoring appetite for goodness and truth, and stimulating an appetite for and delight in goodness and righteousness.

The passover of Christ, then, results in new spiritual life. That life comes from a special gift, a new presence of God inside those who believe in Christ. The Holy Spirit acts within Christians to restore what was originally created within them so that they can live in a way they could not while under the slavery of sin. Redemption for Christians, then, involves the restoration of the life-giving presence of God in human beings.

In Christ

Two Adams
The Holy Spirit brings us the blessing or gift that comes to us as a result of the redeeming work of Christ. The Scriptures often use the phrase “through Christ” to speak about how the priestly service of Christ makes that life possible. For instance, Paul says in Romans, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2). “Through Christ” here probably refers to the priestly, mediatory activity of Christ that makes redemption possible.

A different phrase, used mainly in Pauline writings, also indicates how the new life comes to us – “in Christ”. At times this phrase seems to be used fairly broadly as the equivalent of “Christian” (for instance, 1 Thessalonians 1:1). In other passages, like the following, it seems to have a special meaning:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us…In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…                   Ephesians 1:3-8, 13
We see in this prayer that it is “in Christ” that we receive blessing from God. It is in Christ, the High Priest, that we can be “holy and blameless before him”, able to come into God’s presence as priests ourselves. It is in Christ, the beloved or only Son of God, that we can be sons of God by adoption. It is in Christ that we receive the Holy Spirit.

The phrase “in Christ” indicates a personal union between Christ and the Christian. The truth is expressed throughout the New Testament that redemption and salvation come to people as a result of entering into a personal relationship with Christ. Paul puts a special emphasis on that relationship and develops it in important ways, especially with respect to the original creation, and he uses the phrase “in Christ” to refer to this special orientation.

Behind Paul’s use of this phrase is probably the understanding of Christ as the new Adam. Paul does not necessarily have Adam explicitly in view every time, but his understanding of the way redemption comes to us is connected to the way we were once “in Adam” and now have come to be “in Christ”. “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Christians receive the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ by coming into a “personal relationship” with him. That term could mean a great variety of things, some not very substantial. Two people who simply walk past one another every day and nod in recognition could be said to have a personal relationship. The word “union” is a more traditional word for the Christian’s personal relationship with Christ. It is a better word to use in English because it indicates an ongoing bond that keeps two people together in an active relationship. We speak, for instance, about a “marital union” to refer to the bond of shared life between husband and wife.

Redemption comes to us through a personal union with Christ that is both similar and dissimilar to the relationship we have with Adam. To be “in Adam” is simply to belong to the human race in its ordinary state. In many ways, the difference between one human being and another, or one family and another, is more important for determining how our life goes. But in certain respects, it is our humanity that counts, and our redemption is one of them.

We belong to a race that is not in a good relationship with God. In all its cultural variants our race has a way of life that in many respects is sinful. Moreover, we are born into that sinful way of life, which is rooted in weaknesses and tendencies inside of each one of us. As sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we belong to a race with certain common unfortunate characteristics and a common spiritual predicament.

Human beings, however, now have the possibility of a new life. They can come into a relationship with the new Adam, the head of a new human race. They can join a body of people that belongs to him. When they do, they will share the way of life of that body, which is derived from the head and reflects his character. They will be identified with him and treated differently. They will be persecuted by his enemies simply because they belong to him, but they also will be treated by God with special recognition simply because they belong to him.

Their relationship with the new Adam, however, will differ in some important respects from that with the old Adam. They had an inherited relationship with the old Adam that came from being born into a race with a common nature and way of life. The relationship with the new Adam will be immediate and contemporaneous. All human beings can have a direct personal union with Christ – indeed, must have in order to be a Christian. Their relationship with this new Adam will also be spiritual. It will come through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit joining them to God in Christ, maintaining that union and giving them a new life.

New Life in Christ 
Union with Christ brings restoration of the ability to fulfill the purpose for which we are made. In Christ the fall is overcome and the human race is recreated. The change this makes was described in the section on the work of the Holy Spirit. The new life that comes to us by means of the Holy Spirit is identical with the new life that comes to us in Christ. 

When we speak about new life coming to us “by the Holy Spirit”, we are concerned with the way that life is produced by the abiding presence of God in us. When we speak about new life coming to us in Christ, we are concerned with how our reception of that life depends upon the incarnation. It depends, in other words, on the way God joined himself to human nature through the Son of God becoming human, and then united other human beings to himself by way of a relationship with his incarnate Son. 

Our relationship with God was originally intended to be one of sonship, as we saw in the creation of Adam. Redemption is based upon a restoration of that relationship with God. By being joined to the Son of God and sharing in his relationship with his Father, human beings can become sons and daughters of God – not by nature but by adoption.

This change is in part a matter of healing a bad or problematic relationship due to sin. It is also, however, a matter of restoring “closeness”. In Christ human beings are “brought near” to God. As a result of being brought “into” Christ, redeemed beings can share his own relationship with God and relate to God “in his name”, that is, in his person (John 16:23-27). They are given a share in Christ’s own closeness to his Father.

They become like the children of a king. Thousands of people have a relationship with a king, although most of them may never see him or exchange greetings. The king’s children, however, have a close relationship with him. They can come and go in his house as they wish, ask his help when in need, even at times charge their bills to his account.

Along with a change of relationship comes a change inside of us. The Scriptures describe this change in a number of ways. Paul often says that God makes the dead alive in Christ. “You who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him” (Colossians 2:13). He speaks about redeemed human beings having a new “nature” or, more literally, becoming “a new human being” (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). Other passages talk about Christians being “born anew” (John 3:3) or receiving “regeneration” (Titus 3:5).

When people become Christians, they are not physically dead, like Lazarus, and raised to life. Nor do they go back into their mothers’ womb to be reborn, as Nicodemus suggested. Nor do they receive a completely new nature becoming like angels, no longer human at all. Rather, they have been transformed from human beings who are so sinful that they normally live in a way displeasing to God, into human beings who can actually live in a way pleasing to God. The change is substantial enough to say that they have become a different kind of human being.

A helpful translation is “new human being”, which indicates both that we remain human when we are redeemed, but also that we become capable of living in a genuinely new way. The change is similar to the metamorphosis that happens when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. As we have already seen, in the transfiguration and in the resurrection, Christ was metamorphosed into a new kind of human being. Like the butterfly or caterpillar, his human nature was restructured or reshaped so that he could function in a new way. When we are redeemed, we are changed in a similar but less complete way into a new kind of human being. Some day, when we are glorified, the change will be completed so that our humanity will be like Christ’s. In the meantime, we experience the first stage of that change, and that first stage provides us with “newness of life”.

Redeemed human beings, then, have been reshaped or reformed according to a new principle of life. Joined to Christ, they now receive a life that comes from him. They “bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49), who in turn is the image and likeness of God in a full way. The redeemed have been given the Holy Spirit, so that the way they live is no longer ruled by the principle of death and sinfulness, but by the principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).

Unlike butterflies that can no longer live like caterpillars, redeemed human beings can return to their previous mode of existence or slip back into it in various ways. However, that does not negate the fact that they have been given a new life. They now have a choice because they have an internal power to behave differently.

When Christians receive this new life, Christ shares with them what he himself is. Paul goes so far as to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul does not mean this in the sense of spirit-possession. Christ does not take away our freedom so that we become like puppets. He does not even mean it in the sense of an air controller directing a pilot. Christ does not continually tell us what to do: walk over here, say thanks to the nice lady, sit down and take a rest.

Rather, Paul is saying that the “I” of the old nature, the “sinful flesh”, no longer determines how my life goes. It is now the life Christ himself lives, his attitudes and character, that shape how I live and act. His power and the internal change that comes to us from him make this possible.

Christ is the source of our new life. Paul said “Christ…is our life” and “your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:4, 3). But he is not the source in a simply external way, the way human parents are. Once we receive life from them, our bodies can function on their own. Christ himself not only gives new life to us, but we can only keep that life as we stay united with him. We are like a kidney that cannot function outside the body. Or to use a more scriptural example, we are like a branch that can only die once separated from the vine (John 15:1-11).

In considering the redemption, we have focused largely on what Christ did for or instead of us. He paid a price instead of us. He underwent a punishment that was accepted for us, so we did not have to undergo it. He offered the sacrifice of himself so we did not have to die. Christ humbled himself and by his humility deserved something we could not deserve. But he also died, came back to life, and now lives a new kind of life. He does not live that life instead of us. Christ lives that life so that he can share it with us and make it possible for us to live it. He does that by letting us be joined to him and so live the way he does – in him.

The change in Christ when he died and came back to life is an integral part of our redemption. When Christ died and rose, the divine nature and glory that was present in his humanity enabled his humanity to come back to life and live in a new way. He now has a human life transformed by the indwelling presence of God. Christ’s glorification allows him to live a life freed from the “weakness” of human fallenness. 

In a similar way, when Christ unites himself to us, the presence of his divine life in us through the gift of the Spirit gives us the power to overcome the fallenness of human life. We can grow into a godlike character. We have a life that will be able to last to all eternity. That divine life enters into and changes our spirits now. Someday it will transform our bodies as well and with them the way we live in every respect.

Eastern churches commonly use the term “deification” (théosis), sometimes translated “divinization” to describe the way Christ shares his own life with us. Although the Western fathers and many subsequent great Western theologians sometimes used the term, most Western writers have tended to avoid it since it seems to imply the claim that we can actually become the same as God. In Eastern Christian teaching, however, the word simply expresses the truth of Second Peter that Christ became human to allow us “to escape from corruption” or mortality and “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). It is another way to speak of newness of life, life raised to a new level by the presence of God in us. We do not receive a fully divine life so that we are now omnipotent and eternal of ourselves. We receive a human life transformed by the divine presence working in us – or as some translations put it, energizing us. We receive a human life now able to participate in the divine life in an effective way.

Théosis or deification, then, is what is offered to us, scandalous as the term may sound at first. We are to become “godlike”. We are not to become “like God” in the way the devil offered to Eve to be “like God”  – independent of him and rivals of him. Rather, we are to become like God as his sons and daughters, created in his image and likeness and now able to live in his image and likeness because we have received the life of Christ, the true image or icon of God. Christ died and rose so we could come to the glory of the sons and daughters of God. 

Joined to Christ
Many things in the Old Testament, like the temple, functioned the way they did because they were designed for the old covenant before Christ came. The new covenant operates somewhat differently. Nonetheless God gave the old covenant in part so it could reveal to us truths that allow us to understand new covenant realities. One of them concerns the danger of coming too close to God.

For those who are not ready for it, the presence of God is destructive. At Sinai God warned the people of Israel not to come up onto the mountain (Exodus 19:12, 21). When the ark of the covenant was being brought to Jerusalem, Uzzah, the man who touched it in an attempt to steady it, died instantly like someone who had unwittingly touched a high-tension wire (2 Samuel 6:7). When the glory of God filled the temple, those who were worshipping God and were close to the holy of holies could hardly bear it (1 Kings 8:10-11). The presence of God is like a lightning bolt. Some things can bear it. Most things are burnt up by it. “Our God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29).

If we lose sight of this truth, we lose sight of who God is. He is not the Great Teddy Bear on high, the nicest of all things in the universe. He is the awesome creator of all. He himself is power, pure energy. More importantly in this context, without this truth we lose sight of what Christ has done. He has not just disposed God to pardon our sins and not banish us from his presence eternally. He has brought us into God’s presence and God’s presence into us. He has brought the fearful power of God into us –  for our blessing, not for our destruction.

There is an account in three of the gospels about a woman who sought Jesus to heal her (Mark 5:24-34). She had had a “flow of blood” for twelve years. The flow was perhaps painful and no doubt awkward, but it also, according to old covenant law, made her constantly unclean. If she were not to convey uncleanness to others, she would have to avoid them. She had spent much time and money on physicians, but to no avail. Then she heard about Christ.

What she heard awakened faith. This one could heal her. If she could simply make contact with him, she would be made well. As she approached him, she found herself in a large crowd, all of whom were interested in him. She made her way to him and touched his garment, perhaps the tassel that was a sign of his dedication to obedience to God. “Immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (5:29) Like many sick people who begin to heal, she had an internal perception of the physical change. Christ, at the same moment, perceived “in himself that power had gone forth from him” (5:30). 

He wanted to know who had touched him. Given the crowds around him, the answer might be 10–20 people. One person, however, had touched him in a different way, reaching out in faith. She knew he was referring to her. She had received the power coming into her and knew that she had by its effects. She came to him and acknowledged what had happened. He responded, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (5:34). There was a connection between her faith and the power of God that came through Christ into her. Because she was able to touch him in faith, she received power through that contact.

We are reading an account of something that happened to someone in the old covenant. In the person of Christ the new covenant was already “at hand”, but not yet fully operative. The woman with faith received a physical healing, because she made contact in faith with the Lord himself. What happened to her was a type of what was to come. The physical healing of her body was an image of the “spiritual” healing that was to be given to many through the gift of true spiritual life in the Holy Spirit.

If the power of God was present in Jesus, why was the unclean woman not destroyed by it? There seem to be two reasons. The first had to do with the woman. She had been touched spiritually by what she had heard of Jesus. She had heard the gospel in an incomplete but still true form, and she had come to faith. She had, in other words, been changed so that she would receive the power of God through Christ and not resist it. The second reason had to do with Jesus. He was the transforming power of God come to us in a form that is not too much for us, but that is adapted to heal us – if we make contact with it in the right way.

The divinized life that the new covenant brings comes to us through union with the humanity of Christ. His humanity is a conduit that passes on the life he lives. He does not pass on human life. That we have already. Rather, he passes on the divine presence and power in the form that has shaped his own human nature and can shape ours so that our humanity can function the way it was intended to.

To use a modern analogy, Christ’s humanity is like an electric socket. When an electrical cord is plugged in, it does not receive an influx of more metal from the socket. It does not become thicker or longer by receiving more of the same sort of substance it already has. Rather, the wire in the socket makes steady contact with the wire in the cord and passes on the electricity. The cord thereby becomes able to function in the same way as the socket.

Furthermore, the wire in the cord cannot receive electricity from just any socket. Plugged into the wrong source, it could be burned out or receive nothing at all. By being joined to the right source, properly adapted, in this case an electrified wire of a certain voltage, the cord receives electricity in a form that allows it to become itself electrified and to transmit electricity. To use scriptural terms, we could say that the wire in the socket passes on its own “nature”. It does so by transmitting a principle or source of new functioning that can transform the wire in the cord and allow it to function in a new way.

Christ has life in the form that is needed for us to live in a new way. He passes on to us a new life that is suited and adapted to humans. He does not just give us a jolt from time to time to heal us or get us to act better. He allows us to be joined to him and in him have a source of new power that we can live from and act from in an ongoing way. To be “in Christ” is to be in the sort of personal union with him that allows that life to be communicated to us. By being united with Christ, we can pass from death to life and live the way God intended.

Steve Clark is a founder and former president of the Sword of the Spirit, a noted author of numerous books and articles, and a frequent speaker. This article is excerpted from the first chapter of Steve Clark’s Book, Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, copyright © 1992, 2009. Used with permission.
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