how are we “more than victorious” (or “more than conquerors”) in this life?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39; NRSVue

ὑπερνικάω is a heightened form of being victorious, meaning “we are winning a most glorious victory” (BAGD). Although the old translation: “we are more than conquerors” might suggest more strenuous activity on our part, the more accurate rendering still indicates that we’re very much active. We are participants of God’s victory in Christ. But just how?

Romans 8 from where our passage is taken is one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. We read at its very beginning that there’s now no condemnation in Christ Jesus because of the new law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which has set us free from the law of sin and death. And what the law given on Mt. Sinai could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, Christ did by coming the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin by his death. And that because of this spiritual reality in which we “in Christ” live, we no longer have to give into the flesh, since after all, we’re no longer “in the flesh” but “in the Spirit” if Christ dwells in us. That we’re to set our minds not on the flesh, what it wants, but on the Spirit, what the Spirit wants. And that actually becomes what we want, even while in this life we sometimes think and live contrary to that.

And what precedes the above passage would be good to note here:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Romans 8:31b-34; NRSVue

The gospel is essentially given to us in the first four books of the New Testament: the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel according to Mark, the gospel according to Luke and the gospel according to John. Gospel is the English translation of εὐαγγέλιον which means “good news.” In Jesus and his coming is the good news for the world. Of course, it’s through Jesus’s incarnation in God becoming flesh, completely human. In his life, miracles, teaching: all about and within God’s kingdom present in him, then in his death for sins and his resurrection to give us new and eternal life. With the promise of his return when what has begun now, making all things new, will at long last be completed.

And with that said, it’s up to us whether or not we’re going to answer the call of Christ. I believe that call is on every human’s life: past, present and future, but that’s another topic, and really quite above my head. Though really when you’re considering anything spiritual and specifically pertaining to Christ and the gospel, it is all above us, but God wants to help us begin to understand and live in it. But first we must answer God’s call in Christ. And it’s simply, as we see in the gospel accounts, a call to follow Christ. That means following Christ as our rabbi whom we not only learn truth from in his teaching, but whom we seek to imitate and become more and more like over time, a lifetime endeavor to be sure. And of course, that’s based on his coming, not only his death and resurrection, but the whole works. He became one of us, living in the same dirt and grind and mess in which we live, and then taking the worst of humanity on himself, both the acts and the results of such acts, all the rapes and murders and everything in violation of love to God and neighbor that has ever been done, every single act of ours and all humanity past, present and future. Yes, Christ took all that on himself at the cross, but did so for the joy set before him, enduring the cross, scorning its shame. For the love of the Father, for the love of the world, all in God’s love for the world, for all of us sinners.

Now to get to the main point: How are we overwhelmingly victorious in this life? It’s simply through following Christ through thick and thin, preferably all together as church, the one body, his body. We follow him in all of life, doing what Christ has told us to do: loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, praying for and doing good to those who despise us, even turning the other cheek after we’ve been struck, never physically resisting evil, although fleeing and avoiding that is usually a good thing, and I would do what I could to prevent someone from harming another, never killing them. But we’re to seek to overcome evil with good, hate with love. Never taking up the sword, since we’re not in a struggle against humans, but against spiritual entities which do affect human rulers, and also do what they can to hinder us and our desire and endeavor to live in the reality of the good news in Jesus.

When Jesus told his disciples to get a sword if they didn’t have any, they told him, Lord look, here are two swords. And Jesus replied that two was enough. Remember when he sent the disciples out two by two previously, he told them specifically what to take, and the sword was not included. Very soon afterwards Peter takes one of those swords and slashes off one of the ears of a servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and tells him to put down the sword, that all who take the sword will perish by the sword, and that after all, he must do God’s will. Soon after that Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom as King of the Jews were of or from this world, then his servants would fight, but no, his kingdom is from another place. So how we’re victorious has nothing to do with the world’s way of being victorious. It’s never physical, but always spiritual. Yet carried on in physical bodies in down to earth ways. Like feeding your enemies, giving them something to drink, and in so doing, heaping burning coals on their head, which I take to figuratively meaning they are ashamed.

Through the worst life and those opposed to us has to offer, as we continue on faithfully following our Lord as his faithful and called, following the Lamb wherever he goes, “we are more than victorious,” overwhelming so. That is the victory in which we live, the victory of our Lord which at the heart of it is taking the way of the cross. Becoming like Jesus in his death. But at the heart of that, coming to really know Jesus. That is after all what following Jesus is all about. It’s not merely knowing something in our heads, or thinking we know something. It is hearing the call and responding. It is heart to heart, involving a full commitment of ourselves to Christ. And that with others; we’re not to be on this journey alone. We want to help others come along, and we want to learn from each other, especially from others who have been on this journey longer. In doing so, we’re all being blessed by Christ, who has gone through it entirely, but is now ever present in our midst as well as in us individually and collectively by the Spirit.

And the last promise: nothing, nothing, nothing at all, including when we feel unloved and rejected and are tempted to despair, maybe even fall into that. Nothing at all can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is a love personal to us, but which is also meant for each other, and out of that for the world, including all of our enemies. God’s love in Jesus meant to do the same for all as for us: Making enemies friends through Christ as we respond to Christ’s call to us with repentance and faith.

Yes, we are more than victorious, more than that, through him who loved us.

we’re all in this together

The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:29; NRSVue

and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2; NRSVue

…the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

1 Timothy 4:10; NRSVue

It is vitally important for us to remember that all of us are in this together. And that includes everyone. We are together in this life. We’re not just individuals or families. There is such a thing as a society.

I could have shared other scripture passages to make this point, like how God through Christ has reconciled Jew and gentile to God’s Self so that they are now one body, one new humanity. The passages quoted above make it clear that no one is excluded or left behind, and that is not just some individual salvific thing, but plays out in Christ’s embrace of us all not just individually, but together. We are one flock in Christ our good shepherd (John 10). Of course, the sheep need to enter through the gate which metaphorically is Christ.

The togetherness spoken of here is especially evident in the church, Christ present not only among the church, but in the church, Christ the life of the church together and in each and every one of its parts, or members, as we think of the church metaphorically as Christ’s body. That’s also a picture of what should be, but alas in this broken world, is at best cracked. So, we’re to see everyone as included because of what God in Christ has done. Even the most difficult. Thankfully that includes me, too. Yes, no one is left behind, we’re all in this together.

In and through Jesus.

the needed love described

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7; NRSVue

The life of Christ in us who are his followers certainly exudes love. We humans know by instinct and much more so by the Spirit that love is to characterize us, who we are and all we do and say. And yet in this life it’s a challenge to always live it out.

And that’s true even in the church, Christ’s body in whom (not just among whom) Christ is present. Such was markedly the case with the church in Corinth to whom Paul wrote in the two letters we have, with the quote above. They and with them, we ourselves as well, not only need reminded, but it helps to have this love described, just what it is to be like in our relationships.

I tend to want to get it down to things I should and shouldn’t do, and while that might be helpful in some rudimentary way, especially toward the beginning of one’s life in Christ, it has to basically fall by the wayside as we go on. What is much more helpful are the above descriptors.

I think from this description of love, we can safely say that we need to err on the side of mercy, overlooking faults, even if at specific times it may not hurt to try to correct people. But never remaining there long, not letting it hang over their head. Realizing that we need the same deference paid to us as well, even if we’re blind to that need, which surely often is indeed the case.

Something to think on and pray about, as we end the year and enter a new one. In and through Jesus.

casting the demon out

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45; NRSVue

Sometimes I think, and it’s beginning to feel settled to me, that often a demon so to speak inhabits institutions, and yes, even families. When one thinks about it, there’s really no family nor institution that is perfect. It might be “picture perfect” in reputation or even in its own imagination. But there’s a brokenness in everything as certain as the cracks that show up on the walls or ceilings of any house.

When I refer to institutions, I’m not leaving out churches. Christ’s presence is what makes up a church, where two or three are gathered in his name. But as we see in the seven letters to the church in the Revelation and elsewhere, the devil can get into the details, into the works. And families, the same. Some are very broken, and some seem to get along remarkably well. But no family is any more perfect than any individual.

But while there’s a sense that there may be some truth in this for any institution or family, I’m thinking of special situations such as we find ourselves in today. There is so much anger, division, and there appears to be little if any hope that anything will change perhaps before catastrophe or the worst part hits, hopefully with some cushion and limited fallout. And hopefully as well, to give the needed realization that change is needed.

If we’re concerned about such a situation, chances are it’s close to us, or we’re somehow involved in it. Like Daniel of old, who from all appearances even in Scripture was blameless and upright, we too need to pray to God, confessing our sin, our part in the problem, be it in family, or any institution. We most definitely need to be open for the Lord’s insight and correction in our own lives, before we can imagine God’s breakthrough in the lives of others.

As we do that, then maybe God will give us the understanding and sense needed to become part of or fit into the solution. And as Jesus said, some do not come out except by prayer and some manuscripts add, fasting.

There’s always hope, even if it doesn’t come easy. In and through Jesus.

do *everything* in love

Keep alert; stand firm in your faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSVue

One might think that these directions must have been given to a church that was ready to receive it. Or maybe given to a church because they were deficient in these things. Or just because we all need directions and reminders along the way.

This letter was certainly not written to a church which had it together. There were divisions among them which displayed their immaturity, failure to lovingly discipline those in serious sin, and what appears to me to be a rather childish display of spiritual gifts in pride and somewhat at least at the expense of love (1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter tucked in between the chapters on spiritual gifts). And more problems actually, if you kind of imagine beneath the surface of the rest of the letter. And some of that coming out in spades in Paul’s second letter to them (2 Corinthians).

That can be an encouragement to us. After all, who of us has it all together? Hopefully we’ve gotten past the most immature part of our lives, though we’re all certainly on a journey and in different stages of it. And churches the same. This is actually addressed not strictly to individuals, but to the church as a whole of course made up of individuals. They’re all in this together.

But love is what is to be behind all they do. Love, love, and more love. And that’s it. Nothing else but love. Even in the midst of weakness, and unlove along the way, which then needs to be repented of. And to people, to a church which definitely had some serious repenting to do along the way, not unlike us.

Everything, all, we’re to do in love. No matter what we have to do. All in love. Even as we have been loved and are loved and will always be loved in and through Jesus.

roll up your sleeves and get to work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:10; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58; NRSVue

There’s a huge contrast between Qoheleth’s down in the mouth, dire outlook on life and Paul’s take in light of the gospel of Christ and specifically the resurrection of Christ. Qoheleth basically tells his (or hers, but likely his) audience to give it all they’ve got, because this life is it. Work ends here, so you might as well give it your all, along with fully enjoying the simple gifts God gives, even though really “all is vanity.” Paul makes the point in the quoted passage from his first letter to the Corinthian church that if this life was the end, then what he and others with him were doing would make no sense at all.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

If I fought with wild animals at Ephesus with a merely human perspective, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 32; NRSVue

Paul is telling us that all we do now matters both for this life and beyond. It’s the work of the Lord, and what Paul was referring to was specifically the work he and others with him were engaged in: the service of the gospel in sharing the good news of Christ and seeing churches planted. And what a sacred work that is! But all of our work as unto the Lord, all of our works are actually sacred, no matter how mundane it may seem.

That sadly enough doesn’t mean that every job out there is good, or sacred in and of itself. We may want to find work that provides legitimate services to people, even if such services would be of no interest or use to us. Most or at least a lot of work fits in that category. We’re especially blessed if we do work which provides something needed for this life, and perhaps for the next as well.

Not only our actual work, but how we do it is of sacred importance to God. Are we doing it more and more out of the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30)? Are we seeking to do all out of love for God and for others? Are we seeking in everything to be pleasing to the Lord?

We need to roll up our sleeves, and set ourselves to fulfill whatever tasks we have, what is set before us. Letting our light shine in that way, that others may see our good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). In and through Jesus.

complete your call

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:1-3

And say to Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

Archippus I’m guessing was likely a leader in the church, at least considered a fellow soldier with Paul in the spiritual battle in which we’re in. He may have been nearing the end of his life, although we don’t know. The word given to him by Paul at almost the very end of the letter to the Colossians can apply to us at different ages, and I think refers to the sense of calling God puts in each one of us. What brings us life and passion? That likely is what God has instilled in us for the service of the gospel, or for the good of humanity. And as believers, we all have our gift and calling that goes with that gift within the church.

We best work hard to both figure out what that calling is, and stay true to it, work hard at both. To finish it, yes, complete the work God has called and is calling us to do. We each have our task whatever it is, and since it’s from God, it’s never mundane or secondary. It fits in with the whole of what God is doing. We need to do our part and get it done. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

together we are one

Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22

We normally think of our faith in an individualistic way, and that’s both good and okay, but in our context carries with it plenty of not so good, as well. Even in church, we often see it as strictly an individual endeavor in which we’re trying to get the word from God which we need. Again good in itself, but we’re missing something.

I love how the above passage makes the point that the congregation has one soul and one heart, and how they’re all in it together.

Where two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is present. And not only to care for each individual, but to bind us all together. To be “in Christ” amounts to being a part of Christ’s body, the church. This is not something we do, but something we are through the Spirit. So whatever closeness we experience to Christ should mean a closeness to each other.

But alas, we’re so much in the frame of the individual, that this is all but lost, usually completely so. We touch base with other individuals if at all in our church gatherings. When really “in Christ” by the Spirit we’re on spirit, one heart, one soul in Christ. That includes all of our experience, from joy to sorrow, as well as the struggles we go through.

In Christ we’re all in this together. Impossible to leave anyone behind in this dynamic, since we’re all one body in him. Something which we need to honor in our gatherings as church. In and through Jesus.

what it means to be a Christian not just in name, and how

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Acts 9:1-3

Christian is seen in all kinds of ways, but it has been common during my lifetime to view it as those who profess faith in Christ, go to church, and are more or perhaps less marked out from the culture as different. Much fits into this space. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s often an insistence in accepting the penal substitutionary atonement theory, that Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross. If you believe that, accept that for yourself, then you’re marked as a Christian.

Setting aside for now the problem with substitutionary atonement at the very least in the way it has been presented, I would want to say that all the truth about Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins and resurrection by which we receive new life however we formulate that ends up being a given, as long as the crux of the matter is right. And here is the crux of the matter.

To really be a Christian in the sense given in the New Testament, to become one in the first place is all very simple while being profound. It means following Jesus. Individually and in community. Becoming Jesus followers. 

Yes, we have to decide individually, but it’s meant to be lived out in community. This is where we start, where we continue, and where we end. Following Jesus. 

By the Spirit in the community of the church. The entire church is supposed to consist of those who are followers. That’s the ideal. Of course everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey. But unless we press home the necessity of following Christ, then we’re falling short of what it really means to be a Christian. Following Christ’s lead and in so doing, changing over time. Becoming more and more like him.

All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

 

devotion to prayer along with certain kind of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Prayers of all kinds for ourselves and for others should be a practice which we regularly do. We should have a special prayer time along with prayer punctuating our days. Again, all kinds of prayers. For needs, but also with praise and thanksgiving. But looking to God. Waiting on God. Wanting God’s help, even breakthrough for whatever problems we and others are facing.

Usually when we read Paul’s personal request in the above passage, we think of it mostly if not completely in terms of souls getting saved. While that’s certainly included, the ramifications of the gospel are often all but lost. We should be praying for those in strategic places, who are in the open, that the word which goes out from them will not only save souls, but shake and shape the world in terms of the gospel. That all the barriers of “race” might be broken down, that the principalities and powers embedded in the world system might be served notice not only that their day is going to come, but that in a sense it’s already here, as we anticipate the curtain closing on them when the present kingdom of God finally enters in in its fullness at Christ’s return.

We need to begin to understand that the wisdom of God through Christ and the way of the cross is not only the power of salvation for all who believe, but also through the church serves notice to the principalities and powers of the world order that something good is coming, a light penetrating the darkness, and indeed exposing them for what they truly are. That is the way of the cross, the way of the love that comes from Christ. So that the world will be shaken, and ultimately turned upside down, really right side up. As we anticipate the Day when all of this will be finalized once forever when Jesus returns.

In and through Jesus.