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  • Jason Andersen

Growing into Christ

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

John 17:22–23

We, for a start, and no Christian has any doubts about this, were dead in both body and soul—in soul because of sin, in body because of sin’s punishment; and thus in body too because of sin (Rom 8:10). Each thing of ours, that is, both soul and body, was in need of healing and resurrection, in order to renew for the better what had changed for the worse.

The Trinity, IV.1, Augustine

He did not say “that I and they may be one,” though as he is the Church’s head and the Church is his body he could have said “that I and they may be” not one thing but “one person,” since head and body make the one Christ. But he is declaring his divinity, consubstantial with the Father—as he says elsewhere, ‘I and the father are one’ (John 10:30)—in his own proper way, that is, in the consubstantial equality of the same substance, and he wants his disciples to be one in him, because they cannot be one in themselves, split as they are from each other by clashing wills and desires, and the uncleanness of their sins; so they are cleaned by the mediator that they may be one in him, not only by virtue of the same nature whereby all of them from the ranks of mortal men are made equal to angels, but even more by virtue of one and the same wholly harmonious will reaching out in concert to the same ultimate happiness, and fused somehow into one spirit in the furnace of charity.

The Trinity, IV.2, Augustine

In preparation for our June sermon series, I’ve jumped back in the deep end of Augustine. I’d encourage you to re-read the quotes above a few times and meditate on the truths he’s trying to draw out. As far as I can grasp with help from the translator’s notes, it seems that Augustine’s starting point for discussing the Trinity is what we call the missions of the Son and Spirit, which are, in other words, when the Son and Spirit were sent to accomplish and apply redemption. All that to say, he doesn’t start in what might be the more ethereal way with considering what God might have been before he ever created anything, because in a real sense, we’ve only come to know God through Jesus become incarnate and the Spirit being sent to dwell in the Church. And even in the Old Testament, we know God through his choice to reveal himself slowly but surely in our history (through his own speech and through his prophets).

All this to say, Augustine, through the first four books of The Trinity, pokes and prods at the visions of God that we see in the Old Testament until he comes to the work of Jesus Christ in book 4. Jesus’ work is absolutely, positively the most essential work for our salvation. We must remember that our whole selves need healing. Both our soul and body need a cure. Famously I think a guy named Gregory (Emmett’s middle namesake) said, ‘What is not assumed is not healed.’ Christ assumed both a human body and soul. And here Augustine reminds of this very truth. Both our bodies and our souls, we know it deep down, were dead. They both need a resurrection.

This is important. We can’t miss this, but we often do. It’s not because we’ve got a bad theology proper. You are probably able to throw out some sort of correct doctrine of sin and how pervasive it is in yourself. Instead, it is because we have a bad lived-out theology. We don’t live in a way that shows that we believe our need for the healing of a resurrection, in both body and soul. Instead, we tend to pursue perfect healing now. My sister mentioned that there is this eating disorder called orthorexia, which is obsessive healthy eating that is bad enough to have a psychological diagnosis. With Fitbits and Apple Watches, there are new sleep disorders because people are trying to perfect their sleep (only to ruin it). The older generation is also known as the vitamin generation (even though there is dubious evidence that taking vitamins as pills is the best way to ingest such things broadly speaking.) All this to say, the pursuit of physical healing can’t take control of us as Christians. Our world might over-pursue such things, but we must be light in imagining we can achieve physical perfection in this life now. The same goes with our souls. We don’t believe with John Wesley that we can achieve spiritual perfection here and now. We’re going to be in a state of battle against our sin until death. Augustine mentioned elsewhere in book 4 that the final resurrection is still to come for our bodies. This is also true for our spiritual natures. One day we will finally put off our temptation and sin as well as sickness, sorrow, and death. I said in this past Sunday’s sermon, if our best life is now, we’re missing the whole of the gospel. But this isn’t to say that we are not changed at all when we become Christians. When a person becomes a Christian, we do have a transformed outlook because God has saved us. He has changed our hearts and minds to love him and to have fellowship with him. So our bodies will age and grow old and die, but our spiritual state, by God’s grace, will mature.

And I think this is where I want especially to land today. There are these little phrases that are potent when you read someone from a different age. And here at the end of the second quote Augustine says, ‘and fused somehow into one spirit in the furnace of charity.’ Now that is something else: in the furnace of charity. I think it’s important to walk through the argument just a little bit. We first have to assume what I mentioned in the beginning of this devotion. Salvation is something God does through Jesus Christ who took on both a human soul and body to redeem it. But then, he mentioned this effect of salvation, where Jesus in his high priestly prayer prays for us, that we may be one as he and the father are one. It’s amazing to me because he puts us at ease: look now, he says, we know humans of themselves can’t be one. I mean, their wills and desires are all different. Similar to a family where every person wants somewhere different for lunch, ‘Mcdonalds!’ one says, and another, ‘Chipotle!’ and still another, ‘Pizza,’ and finally, ‘Indian food.’ The answer is found in this: we find our unity with our brothers and sister in Christ through our fellowship with God. He’s redeemed and is continuing to redeem us from our sins, clean us from our sin. And so we look to the perfect union and fellowship the father shares with the son, and through the mediatorial work of the son and the enlivening power of the Spirit we seek a different will and desire: your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we pray. And so we pursue with diligence that blessedness and happiness that is only found in being deeply rooted in the word of God that sharpens us to live the way God made and redeemed us. In this way, as brothers and sister in Christ, our spirit is fused together in the furnace of charity. I think he’s right. I spoke with a man last month who has considered power dynamics in group settings like churches. And all too often, what happens is the opposite. In the fires of difference of opinion, instead of being fused together in the furnace of charity, we are burned by the fury of the defense of what we hold dear. But as we mature, we should learn to hold lightly to these desires and this will of our self and let the furnace of relationship be tempered by our love for one another as it is fed by our passion to glorify our father in heaven.

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