the central importance of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith…with self-control…

2 Peter 1:5-6; NRSVue

There are few things more important than self-control, in fact we can say that’s it’s on the first level of needed virtues to make our way in faith in this world. To understand it within the Christian or “in Christ,” following Christ framework, we must never consider self-control on its own. As in the passage from 2 Peter above, it’s attached to faith, and in the end, love. Our consideration of self-control here is not about self-control by itself, though that surely has its place in the world. But considered within our faith, it becomes a life saving and we might even say life giving component.

We must exercise self-control in the midst of doubts and difficulties, even disappointments from happenings. Yes, no matter what the thought, self-control must prevail. Of course it’s not alone. Reading the passage above as a whole, that’s quite evident, just as we’ve already hinted:

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is blind, suffering from eye disease, forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11; NRSVue

So this call for self-control like any other place in Scripture requires context. And when you consider our culture, just as much so. After all, self-control would be the epitome of the celebrated rugged individualist “can do” attitude which can overcome all odds. So says the narrative we’ve been raised on. But that’s not the self-control referred to here. It means the same, but in an entirely different context. We are self-controlled in and from our life in Christ, a life together in Christ’s body, and then in our own activities in the world. Again, entirely different.

This is vitally important for me. I have suffered with anxiety, a sense of not feeling well, glass half empty, however else you might describe it, syndrome for years. Maybe related to all the head injuries I’ve had starting as a boy. But whatever the case may be, this is especially important for me to keep in mind since so often in my life I’ve felt on edge. But really, for all of us, for everyone self-control is a necessary part of the whole package of virtues we’re to keep in mind and pursue day after day in our life in Christ.

we are weak, but Christ is with us

This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak but you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may be restored. So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10; NRSVue

When you look at Jesus’s teachings, for example to the rich young ruler, and all the rest, it really leaves you in wonder, awe, and really left falling short, like hardly being on board at all. That doesn’t mean that there’s not the desire to be, though that can become beaten down as well when reality sets in.

All of this can lend itself to the false idea that we should throw in the towel and give up. That we’re really not followers of Christ after all. But Christ doesn’t tell us to make it work ourselves, but just to follow. I’m reminded of when Jesus told Peter at the end of John’s gospel not to worry about whether or not John would remain until his return, that he simply should follow Jesus. That was talking about post-Pentecost, so there is indeed a way in which we are called to follow Christ now.

We are weak indeed, but if I read the end of 2 Corinthians along with the rest of that letter correctly, that seems to be a prerequisite to being followers of Christ. We are this in our individual lives, but together as well, the essence of our being, in Christ and with each others in Christ’s body.

Christ calls us to the same weakness he carried, in which he lived. It is never our own strength, religion, position of power, whatever. It is always in him, and it turns out that being in weakness.

And so there is the greatest hope after all, in fact this new reality for us to live in, in Christ.

(I currently am unable to hyperlink on these posts. An article I read which largely contributed to the thought here was by Walter Brueggemann entitled, “The Unending Work of Contradiction” on the “Church Anew” blog.)

what is needed today more than anything else

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:20-23

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 3:7-10

It doesn’t take long before one is reminded that it seems like people have lost their minds, and for a good variety of reasons. Yes, it’s complicated, and the world has always been challenged, with catastrophes added. It is a wondrous, beautiful, wild, threatening and broken world, all at the same time. But the God who created it is somehow present in all of this, and will make, in fact has begun to make all things new, bringing in a new existence. And that’s present now, and what is needed today more than anything else.

It is nothing more or less than the church, yes, the church. The church, which more than understandably has gotten a hard rap, and probably to some significant extent, richly deserves it. When the church buys into, or is bought into the principalities and powers, and is subsumed in them, then the church deserves critique, even scorn, and like some of the churches named in Revelation 2 and 3, is in danger of being church no longer. Yes, there’s a more than understandable saying that many love Christ, but not the church. I’m afraid that the church is often watered down and contaminated, not that any church that’s ever existed is without something of this problem.

But the church is Christ’s body on earth. And through the church, Christ somehow fills everything, whatever precisely that means. What could possibly be more important than that? It turns out, all kinds of things. Let’s make an inevitably partial list: an inerrant Bible with just the right theology and doctrine supposedly Spirit-led, nothing more than fiction; a supposed government/state, which is godly, even Christian; being “right”; everyone knowing their place and remaining there; (ab)using the earth for more and more profit; a large, powerful military; laws that supposedly facilitate justice, and we could go on and on and on.

At least something of the intent and some of what’s listed might have some grain of truth in it, even when still mistaken. In the world in which we live, faith and visions can’t be imposed on others, and there ought to be an appreciation of a common grace from God to all, so that everyone is involved when it comes to the state/government. You can see that I strongly support democracy, and am opposed to any kind of authoritarian government.

But regardless of how we parse anything and everything, as far as believers and followers of Christ should be concerned, there is one thing that makes everything else not only pale in comparison, but really not exist at all, since it’s not in that level or sphere. And that’s yes, the ordinary church. Simple people like myself, voluntarily joined together by baptism and faith, and in that entity and gathering by the Spirit, nothing less than the body of Christ.

To be present in the world, with God’s mysterious work in that. To be about doing good works in helping where help is needed. Being what the world needs, a light to expose all darkness, salt and light to influence all society for good. The church being Christ’s body on earth.

This certainly doesn’t answer all the questions, yet that is what we Christ-followers can and should settle into. Yes, we’re concerned, and there’s many things we could humbly suggest, and should do in reference to the problems of the world. But what is needed above and beyond anything else is the church, the good news of God in Christ for the world present in that church, shining out to all the world.

what does it mean to be Christ-like?

…it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher

Matthew 10:25a

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Matthew 9:13a

Lately we’ve been considering what Christian should mean and that Christ-in-us is the heart of this. But what does it mean to be Christ-like?

While I believe it’s important that we as individuals and especially together remain in the entire Bible (including the Apocrypha), I doubt that there’s anything more profitable in scripture than carefully going over the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, considering everything and with a focus on Christ himself, the one we’re called to follow, to imitate. All else must be seen and understood in that light.

Christ-likeness is many things, a life and practice in all the will of God. That is both individual and communal, separate and together both. None of us is Christ, nor all of us together. And yet we are individually called anointed ones, essentially little christs in John’s first epistle, and we collectively called the body of Christ. So in a true sense, when people see us they should see Christ. But honestly, what do they see?

Even with our inevitable faults and sins along the way, if we are sensitive to the Spirit and above all seek to live in love, humbly confessing our sins along the way, and seeking to live in harmony with other Christ-followers, as well as in deep humility before and with everyone in the world, then people will “see” something they won’t be able to put their finger on, well beyond merely us. Somehow the real Christ will be present, yes, even in us. Christ-likeness in the world looks like, or we should say comes out of this perhaps more than anything else.

That said, we need to make it our life-long study and prayer to be like Jesus in all of life: in the trials, good times, all the time. And a large part of that, as Jesus pointed out from the prophets, is to be people of mercy with each other, and with the world. When people think of us, think of Christians, they ought to be drawn, not because they’re drawn to us, not at all, but because they’re drawn to Christ-in-us. Because we have the aroma of Christ. Some will hate that, but many will be drawn to it to sit at the feet of the One whom our hearts are set on.


what does the Incarnation mean for us as Christ-followers?

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The Christian teaching, the Incarnation is simply the idea that God became flesh, fully human in Christ. God never ceased to be God, yet also became human. Mystery.

But on the ground here on planet earth where that occurred, what does that mean for Christ-followers and for that matter, for everyone. It surely ends up meaning a number of things a mile wide and a mile deep.

God comes to live right where we live. And not only that, but God becomes one of us. One of us. In other words we humans are already in identification with God through the Incarnation.

And so we can know that God feels our pain in a human way, since God has become human in Christ. God understands our limitations and mistakes along with all the rest since God limited God’s self in the Incarnation while yet somehow remaining God.

Among the many things the Incarnation means, it surely includes at its heart that it’s about us living fully present and engaged in life on earth. Seeking to find and do all of God’s will as best we can understand it, individually and especially together as the church. And that plays out in the gospel accounts. Jesus didn’t set up a monastery and isolate his followers. No, he fully engaged in the present, proclaiming in word, deed and life the good news, the gospel of God’s good rule.

We the church are now Christ’s body on earth. To live out the same life he did in thoughtful, reflective and healing ways. All because of the Incarnation itself.

the church is the center in Christ

And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:22-23

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22

there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling….

speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:4, 15-16

Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.*

Ephesians 5:22-32

The church has fallen on hard times in the western and northern hemispheres. For many reasons. People have said and thought that while they like Christ, they don’t like the church. “Nones” is a phenomenon at least in the United States in which often devout believers in Christ have left church forever. And I know such who have been looking but not finding, although they do have a church in mind. Since I have been a Christian, I’ve always been a part of one church or another. Since leaving a Mennonite expression of the faith not long after my boyhood church closed down, I’ve been a part of too many churches. Some of that stands to reason, but I admire those who have been part of the same church tradition all their lives, or at least I think doing that is admirable. All of this is understandable given the issues and explanations.

All that said, no matter how hard it may be, we will do best I think, if we commit ourselves to a local fellowship of believers, a local church. That is an expression of who we are in Christ, not just individuals, but the one universal body of Christ of which we’re a part by the Spirit. No easy formula here. In the wave of Christian nationalism, not a few churches have lost their way. But in the many denominations present, surely one can find a church in which at least they can be in community with others in the faith and participate in liturgy, hear the word and partake of the sacraments. At the very least one might be able to settle into an Episcopalian church which requires nothing for basic participation. I have returned back to the tradition in which I was raised, but with respect for the Great Tradition, for Anabaptist roots, and what has followed.

But there’s no escape from this. In Christ the church is central. And if we’re in Christ, we’re part of the church, and we will do well to find our way into an expression of that.

*Note that the words in the Ephesians passage are within a patriarchal society, and so it’s written accordingly, not unlike the slave/master section soon after.

not so much an individual, but a part of community

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12

We live in a time and for many of us a place where individuals and individual rights reign supreme. Although exactly what that means differs depending on who you’re talking to. But ever since the Enlightenment, and probably somewhat before that, the individual has taken center stage.

But humans are meant to live in community. We actually are not what we’re meant to be apart from the other, apart from each other. The individual aspect within that is important. Yes, we’re all unique and we all have our special contribution to make. And we are to be known and to know in relationship with God and others. So yes, the individual aspect is important, even vital and a gift. And to acknowledge that there is such a thing as individual rights I think is to echo in our own way the Prophets and Jesus. Everyone deserves respect and dignity at least in the sense of being made in the image of God, being human. Even though that image will be more or less distorted in each person.

But individuals are meant to live in community. And the greatest community according to scripture are those who are seeking to follow Christ as he is portrayed in the gospels. There are other communities we might become a part of, some good for what they’re about, others not necessarily good or bad, and others downright not good. But again, humans are meant for community and whatever tribe we belong to will influence us for good or ill. So on the one hand, it’s not good for any of us to be isolated and alone. But on the other hand, we need to take care what group we associate with and become a part of. A clear illustration is what is popularly called “cults” which can be dangerous when an authoritarian leader is followed blindly.

All of that said, we need to go back to Christ and as Paul pointed out above, back to the body of Christ, those who are committed to learning to follow Christ in all of life. Together finding our true selves in that.

the voluntariness of faith

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20

Within Christendom it was a given that all citizens of the state were members of the church as well, so that everyone underwent infant baptism. In Post-Christendom, while many still undergo that rite, it is no longer required nor assumed. While one can make a case from scripture for infant baptism, we find over and over again in the witness of the New Testament, particularly in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with Acts that faith carries with it a voluntary aspect.

We choose to become followers of Christ. It is a choice on our part. Though Jesus did tell his disciples that they had not chosen him, but that he had chosen them to bear much fruit, how that works out is a response in which each person not only receives but accepts such a calling. It’s a choice we must make, not simply something we’re born into.

There’s certainly a beginning to this as we see in the case in the scripture quoted above. But it’s also ongoing. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year we continue to choose to follow Jesus. An individual, yes autonomous choice. But a commitment into community as followers of Christ, committed together and in this commitment to Christ, to each other as well. In and through Jesus.

Paul’s citizenship and ours as Christ-followers

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20

My explanation as to why I don’t pledge allegiance at the few meetings I go that require it is that the first time I was born I became an American citizen because my mother was an American, but then in 1971 I was born again and I am now a Kingdom of God citizen. Please think of me as a foreigner, or resident alien.

Lynn Miller

Paul though a Jew was a citizen of Rome and used his Roman citizenship to procure whatever rights had been violated to fulfill his calling as an apostle to the gentiles through the gospel of Christ. He was also an Israelite through and through as is attested at the beginning of the passage above (click link).

Most everyone and every professing Christian and follower of Christ has some kind of earthly citizenship or tribal belonging. Paul makes it clear here that followers of Christ strictly speaking have only one citizenship, that of “heaven.” And that Jesus’s followers await his return, the time when all the promises of God and blessings that come with that will be fully realized.

There are perhaps Christ-followers attached to a Christendom which ties church and state together so that part of their faith is more or less tied to a national entity such as the United States, or whatever other nation. But is that the faith or gospel that Jesus brought, or Paul or others taught? Would Paul have fought for Rome or advised gentile Roman citizen Christ-followers to do so? From what we read in his letters and in Acts along with church history, the answer from the first three centuries is plain. No!

Christ-followers should always hope and pray, advocate and work for the good of whatever nation-state they live in (see Jeremiah 29). But their allegiance is to one Lord only, and their hope for themselves and for the world is in one Savior only. But in a salvation active in the world now by the Spirit of God in Christ’s body, the church. The life to come present now through this body shown in good works for the true good of all with an emphasis on justice for the poor and oppressed, the bereaved and the marginalized. Works very much down to earth like serving on a public-school board perhaps in the inner city and advocating for needed systemic change such as addressing underlying causes of poverty and the problems that come with it.

The source of all of that from where true life lies: the reconciling love of God present in Jesus. A life to restore our full humanity and all of creation in the new creation in Jesus, beginning even now. As we Christ followers in our works together anticipate and await Christ’s return which will bring God’s good final judgment and universal salvation. In and through Jesus.

one of the toxins in the air we breathe

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

One of the sacred tenants of our identity as Americans, inherited from tradition, and where we all usually more than less live is the idea that we are autonomous, that we live as separate individuals, each an entity to themselves. At best this is a failure to understand reality. At worst it ends up amounting to pure idolatry. People think that as long as they have the Bible, the church, can pray, then they can make it on their own. A distorted understanding of reality. Or that it’s up to us. God might be present, but we sink or swim ourselves. Along with that the false idea that everyone has to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Now I’m getting into the “political” though actually following Christ is not just some personal and not at all a private affair but ends up being political through and through in that others are linked, and in a sense everything else.

But to the main point: We don’t exist as human beings, relational in our core apart from other human beings. God’s will in Christ is meant to bring the entire world together as one body in Christ. Yes, we’re individuals, but we’re individuals in the one body, as members and metaphorically as parts of that body. The pervasive idea in our part of the world that we’re not in this together, but that everyone has to take care of themselves fails to understand God’s intention for humanity in creation, to be realized in the new creation in the rule of God in Christ. And present today in church, although not “church” as it’s often practiced, or oftentimes not much in that way. We end up being responsible not only for ourselves, but for each other, others being responsible to help us.

None of us are autonomous. We all have history and genetics which go with that, experiences and dispositions inherited, and we all are connected, even if such connection in our case is thoroughly broken in the lie in which we live.

We need to take a stand against this in no uncertain terms. First in our own lives before we can hope for societal change. Both at the same time, but with priority on ourselves. I breathe and have imbibed this falsity myself. But I am not my real self apart from others. That includes everyone, but especially those who like me are seeking to be followers of Christ, and are thus in Christ, in that one body, the body of Christ, metaphorically speaking, of course Christ the head, the Spirit from God in all of this. We’re all in this together, each and every single one of us. A reality not meant only for us, but for everyone. Someday to be fully realized. In and through Jesus.

(Many of my thoughts, and probably the main point picked up from a particular podcast- not sure which one right now- and from reading, as more or less is always the case.)