Monday, September 29, 2008

All have died?

[Caution: the author of the following post is not a Bible scholar, does not know Greek, and has never even dropped out of a Bible college or divinity program. Read at own risk! Also, the same goes for Part 1, and Part 2.]

I've been using this space lately to meander through the words of Paul in 2Cor 15, beginning at verse 14. The reason? Well, when I read verse 14 last week, where Paul says he is controlled by the love of Christ, it simply dawned on me that this was a very bold statement, and at about the same time it also dawned on me that this was a statement that I could not honestly make about myself. Here's the passage in question:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The shape of Paul's reasoning here is to begin with a statement about the present condition, then to briefly explain how that condition came about, then to further "unpack" the nature of that present condition.

The present condition: controlled by the love of Christ. To explain how this inward disposition came to be, Paul says that he has come to a conclusion concerning the effect of the death of Christ.
"One has died for all, therefore all have died."
Stop. If those words don't bring you up short, then you've probably got that condition so common to Christians, a bad case of taking Scripture for granted. What can Paul mean by these words? All have died! He doesn't say here, we who are believers, sanctified in Christ, have died to self. No, he says, "all have died." And then he goes on to speak of "those who live." That's apparently a smaller subset of "all." All have died, but not all live. But as a consequence of Christ dying for all, those who live can now -- and here Paul comes back around to a restatement of his present condition -- live not for themselves but for him who died and was raised for their sake.

I said that this passage brought me up short because it clearly described an inward disposition that was not my own. Paul's first move, in explaining his bold statement, is to show that it is a consequence of his theology regarding the death of Jesus. Having come to a certain conclusion about that death, he now lives a different kind of life. The kind of life he now lives has thus far been described in two ways:
1. it is controlled by the love of Christ
2. it is lived for Christ, not for self.
Okay, this is all well and good, but for the rest of us, those of us who are not Paul, there often seems to be a disconnect -- no, make that a "chasm" -- between what we believe and how we behave. I believe that Christ died for all, but am I controlled by Christ's love? living for him and not for myself? I mean, let's be real here!

But I'm overlooking the middle piece.
Therefore all have died.
Do I really believe that? Do I even understand it? In other words, perhaps the problem isn't so much a disconnect between what I believe and how I behave, but perhaps I'm not believing correctly. Perhaps my understanding is skewed (won't be the first time!). Perhaps, unlike Paul, I have actually come to the conclusion that Christ died for some, not all, and therefore some have died, but not all.

Behavior, after all, flows from our deeply-held beliefs and understanding. Paul says, I behave this way because I believe these things. When Paul talks about behavior, he always cuts through to the level of deeply-held beliefs and understanding.

So clearly it's crucial for me to come to the same conclusion, at the level of my understanding, that Paul came to. Christ died for all, therefore all have died. How do I get there? Paul's going to unpack all this a little more in the following verses, which we'll wrestle with in the next post, Lord willing.


Erik said...

I was reading this passage last week and came to a screeching halt at that phrase, "all have died" (insert sound effects and the smell of burnt rubber here). I've read it dozens of times before, but have never stopped (or been stopped) to question it. I have to say that you articulated many of my feelings about the critical nature of this passage. Since I share your recognition of the difference between the level of being compelled or controlled that Paul had, vs. what I experience in my daily walk, I wanted to take special note here of exactly what was being said. If Paul says, "the love of Christ controls us BECAUSE..." then I'm listening. But it's because he concluded that if Christ died for all, then all have died. I still don't know what that means. Is Paul working backwards here to say that since all are under a death sentence, Christ paid the price for all of those people and if he paid the price for all, then we should be compelled to love the same that Christ gave his life for?

I'm searching here. Thanks for taking the time to search this passage and post this. I'll be back to look at more.

Bob Spencer said...

Nice to know someone else is as bowled over by all this as I am! I think you've stated Paul's thinking well. In practice, let us suppose someone is talking to me. I'm distracted by other things (after all, I've got a lot on my plate!), and am only half-listening, and the person speaking knows that full well. If I say to myself, I should give my full attention to this person, something in me rebels. "After all, he's going on and on about nothing," this something in me says. But then I might remember, Christ's love for this person compelled him to go to the cross for him. And yet I can't even lend him an ear! Maybe I should remember that Christ died for him, and therefore he is not, say, a boring person who goes on tediously about himself, but someone whom Christ literally loved unto death! That's the same Christ who now lives in me (I like to claim). Hmmm.