Writing to the Galatians Paul declares, ‘Christ lives in me’ (Gal.2:20). Paul never met Jesus of Nazareth in person. His letters refer more frequently to Christ than to Jesus. Jesus was the human body, in which Christ the divine Word was fully present. We cannot know Jesus as the disciples did, but how would it be if what Paul claims became a reality for us? Christ Jesus was not someone he had only heard of, but a living reality in his daily life‘, as he tells Timothy, ‘the life that really is life’ (1 Tim.6:19).
The fist incarnation of God happened at the creation of the universe, the Big Bang, 13.7 million years ago. God created everything; and creation became a self-revelation of God, something of God being revealed in every element of nature, how else could it be? This makes nature the first Bible. The second incarnation of God took place through Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. ‘The one thing that Mary did and does is the one thing we all have to do, namely, to bear Christ into the world’ (Carol Houselander). Christ ’being alive’ in Paul puts what she says into perspective. We can see it as God’s ongoing incarnation? We should note it is what Paul prayed would happen in all his readers – so that would include us! Isn’t it what we ask for at Christmas when we sing ‘O Holy Child of Bethlehem….Be born in us to-day’? For Christ to be alive is us there has to be a beginning. For Paul, and for us, it began ‘before creation’ (Eph.1.4.).
After his awakening on the way to Damascus it became his passion to have the mind of Christ and make him known to others. ‘Being alive in Christ’ completely changed how Paul saw God, Jesus, creation, his religious culture, being human and life in community. It was a process of spiritual reorientation. Such an awakening can take place in us, but the changes may be different for each one. Whatever is required, change is the common element and necessity if we are to live life with God and develop the image of Christ within us.
I began my spiritual journey in a village, in a simple, fundamentalist way. The basic teaching on belief, right and wrong, reward and punishment was clear. It was a good basis from which to begin, and still is. Subsequently I found it necessary to rethink and reshape my understanding. The perspectives introduced through study and the advances in science made such revision necessary. Science has enlarged our horizons beyond anything previously thought possible and in the process raised many questions about traditional religious beliefs. How we see God determines how we see life. Paul made many major changes in his understanding and is therefore able to teach us. It is a process of growth, or being formed.
Present theological thinking contends that ‘Christ becoming alive in us’, which, as Paul says is ‘by the grace of God and through faith’, leads not only to a personal transformation, a change in our thinking, a spiritual reorientation and moral reform, but it also leads us into an awareness of our racial equality, a communal engagement in the eradication of social evils, the elimination of poverty, the care of the planet, and a participation with God in his evolving, creative activity in an ever expanding universe.
That God begins his work in us before we are aware of it and then awakens us, by his Spirit, to his incredible invitation, is a thrilling, life-changing discovery. However did we lose sight of such Good News? It is not just about our personal salvation. The prospect is much bigger than that. For Christ to be alive in us is not only for our personal wholeness, but for right human relationships and the health and improvement of the community and the planet. It doesn’t mean personal perfection; it means an on-going commitment to seeing life, and living life, differently. It is a slow process of learning to become aware of the divine presence everywhere; in everything and in everyone.
Read Paul’s letters and check me out on this and see if my understanding is not, at least to some extent, compatible with his interpretation of what Christ being alive in us means. Having read so far now read Paul’s prayer for you in Eph.3:14-19 and see what possibilities life in Christ includes.