Christ our Life
John Buchanan, Port Seton, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
A Christian’s personal relation-ship with the Lord Jesus Christ is unique. It is so in the sense that He is a Person we have never seen.1 We have never heard the sound of His voice. It is special because He is the source of our spiritual life. Yet this Person whom we have never seen is described by the apostle Paul as being ‘our life’, Col. 3. 4. In what way are we to understand the uniqueness of this personal relationship?
Two issues arise here. The first relates to knowing; the second relates to assurance, and yet the two are inextricably linked. Our knowledge comes from our commitment by faith to the trustworthiness of the scriptures and our assurance as the promises are made real to us by the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the scriptures there is plenty of evidence to substantiate the claim that Christ is our life. For the purposes of this article we shall concentrate on the writings of John and Paul. One trend we need to guard against is looking beyond the Saviour to the benefits He brings us rather than focussing on the greatness of His Person. It is not an exaggeration to say that He reaches out over the great span of time that divides us from Him historically and changes us so we become new creatures in Him, 2 Cor. 5. 17. He also bridges the great gulf that exists vertically between where He is, glorified in heaven, and where we are, here on earth. It is the Holy Spirit that makes this living bond real and intimate. But is our confidence in Him well founded?
Christ the Originator of all Things
Our confidence lies, firstly, in the relationship between Christ and creation. There are many significant statements that point to Christ as the One through whom and in whom creation occurs.2 In the words of St. Augustine, ‘All things from Angels to worms’.3 In verse 4 of John chapter 1, John writes, ‘In him was life’ and thus there is ascribed to the Word this quality and value of life. How could all things have come into being from the Word? Well, says John, ‘In him was life’, not only to create life but also to continually support it. However, there is more than natural life implied here, for verse 4 speaks of this self-possessed life as being, ‘the light of men’. He is the source of the new and supernatural life, which comes to us in salvation. We have the words of the Lord himself, ‘As the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself’, John 5. 26.
The Bible underscores the Creator/creature distinction with a clear line of demarcation between the living God, who is everlasting, unoriginated, and human beings, whose lives are derived and contingent. We read of God, ‘For with thee is the fountain of life’, Ps. 36. 9. But this divine prerogative has been imparted to the Son, not in time but from eternity, so that the Son Himself is the source of life and not just an agent of it. He is the manifestation in space and time of, ‘that eternal life which was with the Father’, 1 John 1. 2. As a consequence of His personal identity, He is the very bearer of the life of God but this life is not for Himself, it is for ‘the life of the world’, John 6. 51. For Paul also, the pre-existent Christ was involved in willing into existence the created order, so he could write, ‘And one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him’, 1 Cor. 8. 6. When Paul uses the word ‘we’ he is referring specifically to Christians and tracing the origins and existence of their spiritual lives to the Lord Jesus. In Colossians chapter 1 the ideas of creation and redemption are again united; the One by whom ‘all things were created’, v. 16, is the same One who has ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’, v. 20.
Christ the Originator of Spiritual Life
The Saviour defines His mission as one of coming ‘that ye might have life’, John 10. 10. One of the underlying themes of John’s Gospel is life and ‘that ye might have life through his name’, 20. 31. In the presentation of the Saviour, John demonstrates that He is indeed the source of eternal life, not merely projected into the future but presently realized and enjoyed. The epithet ‘eternal’ does not postpone the promise to the future but, through Christ, this quality of life is bestowed here and now. The presentation of Christ as the source of life is ably demonstrated in the discourses that make up the core of John’s Gospel; it is the key word that links them together. What should impress us is the frequency of personal pronouns, especially the ‘I am’ sayings. These sayings cover a wide range of metaphors. He is ‘the bread of life’, 6. 35, 51; ‘the light of life’, 8. 12; ‘the good shepherd’, 10. 11, 28; ‘the resurrection and the life’, 11. 25; and the way, the truth, and the life, 14. 6. In these claims we are presented with One who can sustain us, who can light our darkness, who can care for us, and who can impart to us eternal life itself. The Saviour defines the essence of eternal life as knowing ‘the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’, 17. 3. It is not a mere theoretical knowledge but a relationship that should vitally affect every aspect of our lives as we aspire to be more Christ-like. The overwhelming picture of the Saviour presented by John is not only of His divine identity but also of His willingness to communicate eternal life to a lost humanity.
The idea that the Lord is the giver of life is not restricted to the writings of John. For Paul, Christ is also, and indeed always, the source of spiritual life, ‘For to me to live is Christ’, Phil. 1. 21. Paul’s experience of Christ is different from that of John. John had lived with the Saviour; Paul’s experience of Christ was post-resurrection and ascension. This did not in any way diminish the reality of Paul’s faith or commitment to the cause of the Saviour. In our natural state we were spiritually dead but, says Paul, ‘Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’, Eph. 2. 5 ESV. There is a vital connection here of cause and effect; if Christ was not alive we could not be spiritually alive in Him. Paul tells the Romans, ‘The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’, Rom. 6. 23. The great emphasis is on the magnitude of what is given. It is eternal life but, great as the gift is, it must never be allowed to overshadow or minimize the truth that it is in Christ Jesus that eternal life exists for the Christian. In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us the last Adam became, ‘a life giving spirit’, 15. 45 ESV. The contrast in this verse could hardly be greater. The first Adam left us in such a state that it required the incoming of the last Adam, ‘the Lord from heaven’, 15. 47, to bring through His person and work, life that is unending in blessedness and glory. This will be fully realized in our resurrection and glorification.
On this same theme Paul writes, ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory’, Col. 3. 4. To outward appearance, the Christian may seem like every other human being but Paul says the taproot of our life is centred elsewhere, ‘our life is hid with Christ in God’, v. 3. But our life shall not remain hidden forever, only till He appears and we share in His glorious appearing. Because Christ is our life now He is also the source of our hope for the future. The Lord is not trapped in history but is the life source of our present Christian experience. We take seriously the promise of the Saviour, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’, John 14. 19. Our prime source of knowledge for believing this is the testimony of scripture; our personal experience of this is the internal witness of the Holy Spirit who ‘beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God’, Rom. 8. 16. Here there is united together the two thoughts of Word and Spirit that assure us that Christ is our life, for the Holy Spirit is the one who makes Christ real in our individual and corporate experience as Christians.
As we contemplate our present Christian experience it knows of periods of growth and flourishing, but also periods that are extremely arid. There may be times when we feel beleaguered, lonely and, sometimes, even like giving up. The age in which we live is secular. We are increasingly bombarded with anti-Christian propaganda. But why do we go on? Beneath the surface of our lives there is a source, a spring of life, that ‘though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day’, 2 Cor. 4. 16. We say with Peter, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life’, John 6. 68. Paul could say, ‘But Christ liveth in me’, Gal. 2. 20. We find continuous invigoration from the One who is the inexhaustible fount of our spiritual life. J. S. Stewart could write, ‘This is Paul’s glory and joy - life, with the stamp of eternity on it, a present possession’.4 Projecting our thoughts to the future we think of some of the last words in the Bible, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely’, Rev. 21. 6.
- John 20. 29; 1 Pet. 1. 8.
- Col. 1. 16; Heb. 1. 2 and, of course, the introduction to John’s Gospel. John tells us, ‘All things were made by him’, John 1. 3. That is, amongst other things, the world as the sum total of its individual parts, not just some things or many things but ‘all things’.
- St Augustine Tractate 1, John 1. 1-5, Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7.
- J. S. Stewart, A Man in Christ, Hodder & Stoughton, pg. 193.