Good morning Faculty and Staff,
How many of you have heard a preacher say, “With every head bowed and every eye closed, just invite Jesus to come into your heart. Nobody even has to know, so don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Just invite Jesus right into your heart.” If you’re from a broadly evangelical tradition it is likely that at one time or another you sat in Sunday school class or within a congregation and were invited to “ask Jesus into your heart.” Those who prompted you to do this were well intentioned because they truly did want you to take Jesus into your life so that from that point forward wherever life would take you Jesus would be present with you.
However, the unfortunate byproduct of this well-intentioned invitation is that most of the church believes they are carrying around inside of them a one-inch tall Jesus, a little Jesus that is invited into their big lives. Unintentionally, the church proselytized the idea that our lives are the environment that Jesus lives in. And I hope unintentionally, the church often spread the idea that the only reason for having this little Jesus living in your life was so that when you made a final move off this earth Jesus could serve as your passport to give you access to heaven.
In this “invite-Jesus-into-your-heart-for-later” Christianity, there is no need to move your life right now. In fact, you can stay exactly where you and exactly who you are and Jesus will just graciously move into your life and take His cues from your comfort zones, going where you go and staying where you stay. With a one-inch tall Jesus there is no need for any drastic changes, therefores and but nows are nice but not necessary. But, I want to tell you that this language of inviting Jesus into your heart so that you can have a companion here on earth and so that on day you are allowed into heaven, is relatively rare in the Bible. In fact, the apostle Paul, one of the most prolific proselytizers, mentions Jesus Christ coming to live in us a total of five times. Instead, the message that was most universally proclaimed in the early church was not that Jesus was going to come into our lives, but that people needed to make a decision to move their life into Christ.
164 times the apostle Paul says the invitation that God is extending to people is an invitation to move into Jesus Christ. Paul understood that we are not meant to be the town that Jesus lives in. We are not to be the environment from which Jesus takes his cues. When we make a decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ we follow Jesus to his neighborhood and we move into his environment, an environment where we are surrounded, encompassed, and defined by his presence. And the scriptures are clear that when we move to Christ everyone around us should notice that we’re not living where we used to live. The scripture are clear that you simply can’t move to Christ with every head bowed and every eye closed and nobody noticing.
When the Apostle Paul uses the phrase in Christ, he is not inviting people to just believe in Christ. Rather, Paul wants those who have believed in Jesus Christ to actually come and live in Christ together. Conversion is less about a bunch of facts you believe about Jesus and more about the place you have taken up residence. Because when you make a decision to give your life to Jesus Christ, when you have a conversion experience, you are making a geographical decision to move; from darkness to light and from a former neighborhood called sin into a community called Christ. Christians are then those people who pack up their lives and move themselves into a new neighborhood to live alongside everyone else who has chosen to make the move.
As Klyne Snodgrass says so well, “living in Christ, is about a change of address”, it’s about the place that you choose to live. And if you and I both choose to make the move to Christ you and I now choose live in the same neighborhood with everyone else that has made the move. And then the expectations about how we are going to live with one another, the rules about how we are going build community together get really simple. I believe Jesus sums it up the best when he says, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39)
One of the unfortunate byproducts of the evangelistic tradition of inviting Jesus into your heart, is that when you believe that Jesus is one inch tall inside of you and I believe Jesus is one inch tall inside of me it creates community building problem and that problem is that there is a whole lot of us flesh between the Jesus in me and the Jesus in you. And with so much “me” and so much “you” there is bound to be conflict. But, if we understand that becoming a Christian means that we now live “in Christ” together, if we understand that Jesus Christ is the flesh that holds us together, perhaps “in Christ” we might even begin to move beyond being neighbors to understanding that we are actually part of the very same body. And as the apostle Paul says so well, “No one hates their own body but feeds and cares for it” (Eph 5:29)
May we all make the move to Christ so that together we can bear well the the image of a God who is a community of three in one.