28 Mar 2020

Christ’s Cosmic Gospel: It’s Not about Me, but it includes Me

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Corinthians, A Gathered People, Christian hope, Ephesians, eschatology, Family, Forgiveness, Galatians, Salvation, Worship

It is not ‘about’ me, but it does ‘include’ me.

American Christianity is highly individualistic. Some analysts have even argued that the typical western Christian thinks almost totally in terms of his or her personal relationship with God. Sin is thus also conceived in highly individualistic terms. Since sin is so conceived, salvation is also imaged in individualistic terms.

American Christianity has also drunk deeply from the well of Neo-Platonism. Neo-Platonism down grades the “physical” or “material” world as irrelevant, and likely even dangerous, to any understanding of “spirituality” and “salvation.”

When these two, individualism and Neo-Platonism, are brought together there is a profound shift in the meaning of Christianity.

What we mean by the individual today was a foreign concept to the ancients. Indeed it is in most non-Western settings even now. Sin in the Bible is much bigger than little ole me. I certainly do sin but sin is not reduced to my infractions. Likewise, salvation in the Bible is much, much, bigger than me. It includes Me but It is not about me. It is not simply “me and God,” rather it is “you, creation, me and God.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is literally cosmic in its scope because Sin is cosmic in its scope. The Gospel is good news to every thing – seen and unseen – in heaven and earth – that God through Christ Jesus created.

It is interesting that the first time the “doctrine of Justification by faith” is mentioned in the New Testament, the controversy was not about how an individual gets to live with God in eternity (rather than going to hell). The controversy was over Jews and Gentiles – racial divisions – could sit at the same table and eat. It is what some might call social, the groups of Jews and Gentiles.

Today what preachers would dismiss as a “social problem,” or even a “political problem,” the apostle Paul said was the heart of the Gospel itself. The Gospel did not simply change my personal relationship with God but changed our relationship to one another.

The table in Galatians 2 is almost certainly not a booth at McDonald’s but communion itself – the shared meal of the family of God – which was an actual full blown meal in the first century. Peter is condemned because his social interaction with a Gentile was not according to the “truth of the Gospel.”

Paul’s whole interpretation of the Gospel can be found conveniently in Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 8. I encourage you to read these texts repeatedly. English is often our enemy because we typically understand the word “you” that occurs in the texts through our individualism. That is Paul is talking about me. But the terms are not singular rather they are plurals. So when we come to that “you” we need to read “all yall” (as they say in Alabama). That is the text is about us, the group. The texts are communal and corporate.

In Ephesians 2 we have the cosmic, corporate nature of the Gospel message on full display. It includes me but is not “about” me. So Paul says,

For he [King Jesus] is OUR peace; in his flesh he has made BOTH GROUPS [Jews/Gentiles like in Galatians 2] into ONE and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between US … that he might create ONE NEW HUMAN RACE out of the two, thus making PEACE, and reconcile both GROUPS to God in the ONE BODY … (2.14-18)”

See all of chapter 2 … every “you” is plural.”

Here we see clearly as the noonday Sun why Paul calls the Gospel the “message of reconciliation.” God is healing the whole of creation. I am part of creation!

Salvation heals the divisions that have vandalized God’s creation and ripped human to human relationships to shreds. God’s salvation has not and does not erase the diversity of creation. Through Christ, God has taken Sin away that uses diversity as grounds for division. Or as Paul says, Christ has killed the “hostility” between us, he did not kill Jewness and Gentileness. In the church, the beachhead of God’s new creation, “the wisdom of God in its RICH VARIETY might be made known” (Eph 3.10).

Diversity is “holified” by the blood of Jesus, just as it was when it was created by Jesus.

That it is not about me but includes me, explains why the Greatest Command is to Love God and Love Neighbors. John further reduces the Great Command to Love Neighbor and declares that we lie when we claim to love God while not loving his image in the diverse people around us.

This is why worship throughout the Bible is communal. And in that worship “I” am told to “consider the poor” (Ps 41). This is why Paul castigates the Corinthians. He even states baldly that, regardless of what they think, they are not taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11.20). Paul is not up in arms because the Corinthians are not having private visions on the suffering of Jesus playing in their minds. Paul is upset because of how they are eating. As in Antioch, the table has become a place that emphasizes division rather than oneness. They are shaming the poor.

It is not about me and God; it is about us and God. Salvation healed us, not just me. As Israel could not offer a sacrifice “alone” so Christians eat celebrating our fellowship in diversity. The table is the vision of what salvation looks like.

So if we understand the breathtaking scope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it changes how we relate to everything. But especially matters where division drives humans from humans. This is why dealing with racism as a matter that is bigger than me is most certainly a matter of the Gospel itself. Explicitly so.

Salvation changes the world, indeed the whole cosmos. It isn’t just about me, but it includes me. Are we inline with the Gospel?


2 Responses to “Christ’s Cosmic Gospel: It’s Not about Me, but it includes Me”

  1. kurt bennett Says:

    Excellent article! Loved the way you said this: “Salvation heals the divisions that have vandalized God’s creation and ripped human to human relationships to shreds. God’s salvation has not and does not erase the diversity of creation. Through Christ, God has taken Sin away that uses diversity as grounds for division.”

  2. Ed Dodds Says:

    Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee is helpful to “US materialists” to understand how the receiving of the Holy Spirit is just the beginning of the journey for a disciple re: communion with other ekklesia members and the Godhead. Short version: The Spirit crushes our carnal to replace it with the Father sensitive in every aspect of our individual beings. It is a lifelong process –in the West, we are too impatient re: working out our own salvation [which is the process of “owning” our sanctification]. He does so so that we can become noble vessels in God’s royal priesthood/prophethood family — so that we may serve each other and the world (performing good works created before the foundation of the kosmos so the recipients of service will be grateful and give praise to the Father). My 2 cents: Not only has God joined Goi and Jew (in Paul’s day) but he is in the process of doing so for the many ethnes / nations which were / are under the control of “so called deities” / demons / shedim today (Paul uses “powers and principalities” and “times of ignorance” as proxies for a worldview consisting of a whole host of spiritual beings [hebrew: elohim] which we don’t take very seriously in our post Protestant materialism). He calls us, adopts us, tranforms us, and we “stand” as guerrilla warriors on enemy territory until our commander in chief returns in glory. YMMV

Leave a Reply