Friday, April 13, 2018


This article summarizes a sermon series about the elements of repentance which are essential for spiritual growth. The first time I learned that‭ ‬repentance‭ should be an ongoing activity in the Christian’s life was in‭ ‬a small book by‭ ‬M.‭ ‬Basilea Schlink.‭ ‬Here’s a meaningful quote from her about this concept:
Because my repentance at conversion did not continue as a daily experience,‭ ‬my love for Jesus grew lukewarm.‭ ‬Only penitent sinners—to whom forgiveness is given—are on fire with love for Jesus.‭ ‬So I can tell you that a life without daily repentance is spiritually poor.‭ ‬It has no joy or power and is totally lacking in fruit.‭ ‬Heaven is not‭ “‬at hand‭” ‬in such a life.‭ (‬REPENTANCE‭ ‬-‭ ‬The Joy-filled Life,‭ ‬Zondervan,‭ ‬1968,‭ ‬p.‭ ‬10‭)
In the New Testament,‭ ‬metanoia is the Greek word translated‭ “‬repentance.‭” ‬It means‭ “‬a change of mind.‭” ‬But repentance works as a dynamic process with several consecutive components that form a cycle.‭ ‬As Christians,‭ ‬our initial entry into this cycle culminates by inviting Jesus into our hearts.‭ ‬Afterwards,‭ ‬His‭ ‬indwelling presence makes this‭ ‬cycle of repentance‭ ‬an ongoing pathway for spiritual growth.

Our starting point in the cycle is our ongoing faith-commitment to fellowship with our living Lord Who dwells within us.‭ ‬Relational intimacy with Jesus is the momentum launching us into the changes facilitated by this cycle.‭ ‬After new birth in Christ,‭ ‬our proper attitude is‭ ‬not to stay the same,‭ ‬but to‭ ‬conform our‭ ‬thinking‭ ‬to His:‭ “‬Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,‭” ‬(Philippians‭ ‬2:5,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬He is our internal standard for thought and behavior.‭ ‬External legalistic standards and uniform religious practices fall short of what our inner communion with Christ personally reveals.‭ ‬Union with Him automatically highlights the specific areas in our lives where we need further changes in how we think and how we live.

Our indwelling‭ ‬Lord won’t‭ ‬let us read Scripture merely‭ ‬for information.‭ ‬How‭ ‬Jesus lived and what He taught‭ ‬‬take on a new personal meaning.‭ ‬His life and His truth recorded in the written‭ ‬Word have now become the Life and‭ ‬the‭ ‬Truth‭ ‬inhabiting us as the Living Word.‭ ‬Worldly thinking and lazy living can lull us into spiritual lethargy.‭ ‬But our ongoing commitment to Christ within us motivates change and keeps us moving forward.‭ ‬In Ephesians‭ ‬4:22-24‭ (‬ESV‭)‬,‭ ‬Paul describes the direction of transformation:‭ ‬it’s‭ “‬to put off your old self,‭ ‬which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,‭ ‬and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,‭ ‬and to put on the new self,‭ ‬created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.‭” ‬This‭ “‬new self‭” ‬is really our‭ ‬true human self in the‭ “‬likeness of God.‭” ‬When our relational union with Christ confronts stagnation in our spiritual growth,‭ ‬the Holy Spirit takes over to complete the confrontation with His special work of conviction.

Jesus promised us help in‭ ‬John‭ ‬14:26‭ (‬KJV‭)‬,‭ “‬But the Comforter,‭ ‬which is the Holy Ghost,‭ ‬whom the Father will send in my name,‭ ‬he shall teach you all things,‭ ‬and bring all things to your remembrance,‭ ‬whatsoever I have said unto you.‭” ‬In His teaching ministry,‭ ‬the Holy Spirit‭ ‬doesn‭’‬t‭ ‬behave as‭ ‬a classroom instructor‭ ‬would,‭ ‬following a rigid,‭ ‬general curriculum.‭ ‬He is more like a personal Tutor,‭ ‬designing‭ ‬special lesson-plans for each individual believer.‭ ‬But‭ ‬a major focus in all‭ ‬the Holy Spirit‭’‬s teaching is‭ ‬to‭ ‬bring Jesus to our‭ “‬remembrance‭”‬ and‭ ‬to‭ ‬remind‭ ‬us of‭ ‬both‭ ‬what He‭ ‬has taught‭ ‬in the Gospels and what He has specifically‭ “‬said‭” ‬to us‭ ‬as individuals.‭ ‬This puts the ball in our court,‭ ‬allowing us to respond appropriately to‭ ‬the Comforter’s conviction.

The‭ “‬
worldly sorrow‭” ‬from sin’s consequences is not the proper heart-response of true repentance.‭ “‬Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,‭ ‬but worldly sorrow brings death,‭” (‬2‭ ‬Corinthians‭ ‬7:10,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬Confronted by Christ and convicted by the Holy Spirit,‭ ‬the conscience is led into‭ “‬godly sorrow,‭” ‬which is God’s own attitude toward sin and the basis of His‭ ‬wrath‭ ‬against it.‭ ‬God is‭ ‬broken up over our sin,‭ ‬and He wants us on the same page with Him.‭ “‬The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit‭; ‬a broken and contrite heart,‭ ‬O God,‭ ‬you will not despise,‭” (‬Psalm‭ ‬51:17,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬In Hebrew,‭ ‬the word‭ “‬contrite‭” ‬literally means‭ ‬collapsed.‭ ‬The best portrait of God’s own contrition was displayed in Gethsemane.‭ ‬There,‭ ‬Jesus‭ ‬collapsed in His human spirit over what would soon be sin’s remedy.‭ “‬God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,‭ ‬so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,‭” (‬2‭ ‬Corinthians‭ ‬5:21,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬By far the best way to gain‭ “‬a broken and contrite heart‭” ‬over our own moral failings is to meditate deeply on Christ’s struggle in facing the Cross and His anguish in becoming‭ “‬sin for us‭” ‬upon it.‭ ‬If our faith in Christ is authentic,‭ ‬that meditation will bring‭ “‬godly sorrow‭” ‬for anything in our lives displeasing to God. ‬But contrition is not an endpoint.‭ ‬It must be confessed with our lips.

One of the most‭ ‬gracious promises‭ ‬in the Bible for Christian growth is this:‭ “‬If we confess our sins,‭ ‬he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,‭” ‬(1‭ ‬John‭ ‬1:9,‭ ‬NIV‭)‬.‭ ‬In‭ ‬Hebrew, to‭ ‬confess ‭means‭ ‬to throw down,‭ ‬implying that what’s thrown down is in plain sight.‭ To make a true confession,‭ ‬we‭ ‬must‭ ‬speak about our sins‭ ‬the same way God‭ ‬sees them.‭ ‬This is‭ ‬pictured in Psalm‭ ‬90:8‭ (‬NIV‭)‬,‭ “‬You have set our iniquities before you,‭ ‬our secret sins in the light of your presence.‭” ‬The New Testament word‭ ‬to confess,‭ ‬which means‭ ‬to agree,‭ ‬or literally,‭ ‬to have the same reasoning,‭ ‬makes this‭ ‬need to be in agreement with God‭ ‬even more clear.‭ ‬But once we’ve‭ ‬thrown down our sins in His sight,‭ ‬we also need to confess our‭ ‬trust in God’s‭ “‬faithful‭” ‬character.‭ ‬If we are convinced of our sin but not convinced that He‭ “‬will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,‭” ‬we may sink emotionally into a bog of despair.‭ ‬Just as we fully trusted in God’s love and power to save us,‭ ‬when we called upon Jesus the first time,‭ ‬so we must fully believe that God‭ ‬will pardon and purify us when we‭ “‬confess our sins‭” committed in our Christian walks. ‬Stating our faith in what He has said about Himself and what He promises to do in us is crucial for proceeding to a complete change of mind and behavior.

The fact that Jesus told Peter in Luke‭ ‬22:32b‭ (‬KJV‭)‬,‭ “‬when thou art converted,‭ ‬strengthen thy brethren,‭” ‬shows that conversion is not just for unbelievers.‭ ‬In a few short hours,‭ ‬Peter denied faith in Jesus three times,‭ ‬but he did‭ ‬return to that faith.‭ ‬In both the Old and New Testaments,‭ ‬the word‭ ‬conversion means a‭ ‬turning again.‭ ‬Jeremiah exhorted God’s people in Lamentations‭ ‬3:40‭ (‬ESV‭)‬,‭ “‬Let us test and examine our ways,‭ ‬and return to the LORD‭!‬” The Christian life is lived by following Jesus.‭ ‬If we get out of step with Him,‭ ‬we must‭ “‬return to the LORD‭!‬” We do not have far to go,‭ ‬because He now indwells us.‭ ‬Similar to Jeremiah’s exhortation is Paul’s‭ ‬admonition‭ ‬in‭ ‬2‭ ‬Corinthians‭ ‬13:5‭ (‬NIV‭)‬,‭ “‬Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith‭; ‬test yourselves.‭ ‬Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬you fail the test‭?‬” The Scriptures give us many criteria for self-examination,‭ ‬but the return path always brings us back to‭ ‬Jesus within ‬Who never stops saying, “‬Follow Me.‭” ‬The complete‭ ‬turn around—the comprehensive conversion—is not a list of rules or token observances.‭ ‬It’s‭ ‬the transformed life that can only be found in our union with Christ. Paul ‬described its impact in Galatians‭ ‬2:20‭ (‬NIV‭)‬,‭ “‬I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live,‭ ‬but Christ lives in me.‭ ‬The life I live in the body,‭ ‬I live by faith in the Son of God,‭ ‬who loved me and gave himself for me.‭”

When we have moved full circle through this cycle of repentance,‭ ‬we come back to where we started,‭ ‬although now at a new level of maturity in Christ.‭ ‬Yet our commitment to communion with‭ ‬our living,‭ ‬indwelling‭ ‬Savior will not allow us to‭ ‬stay there.‭ ‬As we move closer to Jesus,‭ ‬we will see other areas‭ ‬in our lives‭ ‬that need change.‭ ‬The attitude expressed by Paul in Philippians‭ ‬3:12-14‭ (‬NIV‭) ‬will help us maintain this ‬forward‭ ‬momentum:
Not that I have already obtained all this,‭ ‬or have already been made perfect,‭ ‬but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.‭ ‬Brothers,‭ ‬I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.‭ ‬But one thing I do:‭ ‬Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,‭ ‬I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We must not linger in regret for former deficits and failures,‭ ‬which have been confessed and forgiven.‭ ‬Neither must we think we’ve finally arrived.‭ ‬But‭ “‬forgetting what is behind‭” ‬in both previous defeats and present victories,‭ ‬we must keep on keeping on,‭ ‬“press[ing‭] ‬toward the goal.‭” ‬Jesus is that goal‭! ‬He is our momentum‭! ‬This cycle of repentance revolves around Him,‭ ‬leading us ever closer in our union with Him,‭ “‬until‭” ‬as Paul says in Ephesians‭ ‬4:13‭ (‬NIV‭), “‬we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature,‭ ‬attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

There is no real conclusion to this cycle of repentance during our earthly journeys, unless we stop growing in Christ. But I wrote a poem to be a concluding review of the cycle:


Complacency confronted by the Word
must meet the Comforter’s convicting weight.
If wooing from that Spirit’s Voice is heard,
the conscience and contrition soon will mate.
Convinced of sin, believing lips confess.
Convinced of grace, the same sing praise and bless.

Repentance (metanoia) means “to change”
our way of thinking, planning, how we talk.
We turn, transform, renew or rearrange,
converting comprehensively our walk
full circle in communion with the Son,
committed to the new life He’s begun.

— David L. Hatton, 3/19/2018


*(Outlines and recordings of the three sermons I preached in this series are available on my website’s sermon page near the bottom of the list:
66-03-02 - Exploring the Depths of Repentance - 02/11/2018-mp3
43-16-03 - The Comforter's Conviction - 02/25/2018-mp3
50-03-04 - Commitment to Communion - 03/25/2018-mp3)

Friday, March 9, 2018


(I’m on the pastoral team of My Chains Are Gone, a ministry for liberating the porn-addicted through the truth of “a godly, creational, incarnational view of the human body.” But some time ago, I wrote “Further Help for Healing from Porn Addiction,”[1] which is included in the anti-porn section of my book "Who Said You Were Naked?" -- Reflections on Body Acceptance. In the portion called “God’s Use of Various Means of Grace,” I mention several traditionally recognized “means of grace” that can help truth penetrate the heart, because only truth can set anyone free. But aside from helping to heal people caught up in porn addiction, what I discuss below are powerful means of grace for any believer who struggles with areas in their life that need God’s intervention. This edited version of that portion focusing on only two sub-sections.)

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When once passion takes part in the game, the human reason, unassisted by Grace, has about as much chance of retaining its hold on truths already gained as a snowflake has of retaining its consistency in the mouth of a blast furnace.
— C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) 

Time heals no wounds, but God can heal all wounds in time. He does this in various ways, as illustrated in Christ’s ministry. Jesus frequently ordered sicknesses to depart. Sometimes he just prayed. Often He used touch. Once He smeared mud made with His saliva on a blind man’s eyes and had him go wash it out. He straightened one woman’s back by casting out a demon. Another woman grabbed His outfit to get the healing she needed.

In theology, these diverse patterns of divine blessing are called means of grace, often connected to a physical action or item, as was the staff in the hand of Moses. To use means of grace as Jesus did, we must have His attitude: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise,” (John 5:19, ESV). We are never above Christ. Which means of grace to use, and how to use it, must come on a case-by-case basis through divine guidance, as it did with our Lord.

This concept will be a faith-stretch for some. Many believers are so mesmerized by modern materialism that they entrust all aspects of health to science, technology, and the pharmaceutical industry. But behind the material world is a spiritual one, and each affects the other. This is especially true for humans, who are body-spirit beings.

All creation—especially the human body—reflects God’s glory. God uses the physical spiritually, and the spiritual physically. He’s not bound by Greek philosophy’s dualistic separation between the material and the spiritual, which guides much modern thinking. Through a sacred, wholistic approach, the following ideas, instead of dividing body and spirit, assist with healing, based on their interrelationship.

Baptism and a Sacred Use of Water

Early church fathers considered removing clothes for the nude baptism ritual to be a symbolic divestment of worldly ways for entrance into the new life of God’s Kingdom. It was a complete water bath, a sacramental sign of sins being fully washed away (Acts 22:16; Heb 10:22). Just as we enter and leave this world naked, so new converts were stripped for baptismal burial with their nakedly crucified Savior. Coming out of the water naked, just as newborns exit the womb, signified not only new birth but resurrection with the risen Christ (Rom 6:3-4), who left His grave wrappings behind when He exited the tomb. This was some of the rich theological symbolism invested in the ancient practice of nude baptism.[2]

Christ being baptized naked by John in two ceiling mosaics in Ravenna, Italy:
1) Orthodox Baptistery, c.400 AD, and 2) Arian Baptistery, c.500.

But prudery infiltrated the church. The well-documented attitude of early monks toward the tempting sight of the opposite sex points to a major cause for the disappearance of this practice. As monastic values toward the body became more popular with church leaders, they eventually supplanted the early church’s officially prescribed nude baptism. This robbed baptism of much of its symbolism and meaning as a means of grace. Perhaps pornography wouldn’t be the problem it is today, if churches had maintained the heritage of body acceptance underlying nudity in the ancient baptismal ritual.

Despite the modern absence of its original nudity component, baptism still represents a sacred cleansing from sin and identifies the believer with a death to self and a new life in Christ. Any unbaptized believer who is still struggling with porn ought to follow Christ in baptism. By its very nature, baptism blesses the body. It’s a public statement of agreement that God’s plan of salvation is for “your whole spirit and soul and body,”(1 Thes 5:23).

If you were led to faith in Christ by someone who failed to encourage you to obey this command of Christ (Mat 28:19), don’t let that stop you from being obedient now. Baptism is still a burial and still a bath; use it as such. Approach baptism as a sacred death to your old way of believing and living. Use it as a symbol of cleansing from the stains of false, worldly thinking. Let your addiction to porn be buried with Christ. Then, rise up from the water clean and fresh and alive to the goodness and sacredness of not only your own body but that of everyone else. Wash away your porno-prudish mindset. Be clothed with the mind of Christ, and forever after begin to look at the bodies of others only through His eyes.
"Divine Servant" by Max Greiner, Jr. (bronze)

The Old Testament prescribed the use of sanctified water for ritually cleansing places, items and people (Num 19:17-18). Some faith communions still practice a sacred use of water in their prayers for spiritual cleansing. Houses, rooms, closets, computers, and other things and places—even though they are physical in nature—can become spiritually “unclean” through the presence or depiction of evil things, such as pornographic pictures and videos. These defiled locations may need cleansing prayer with the symbolic application of water ritually dedicated by prayer for this special use. Sacredly applying water on a person’s body can become a strategic symbol of spiritual cleansing similar to that pictured in baptism. I heard one evangelist instruct people receiving this kind of ministry to “let this holy water put you in mind of your baptism.”

Another ritual use of water is foot washing. Oddly, many Bible teachers and church communions ignore it as a spiritual means of grace, even though Jesus implied its need (John 13:10), exemplified its practice and clearly enjoined its perpetuation: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you,” (John 13:14-15, ESV). With some preparatory instruction, a foot washing ritual might be joined with cleansing prayer as a powerful, sanctified use of water.

The sacred application of water—in praying for houses, rooms, and people—has often proved an especially effective means of grace in confronting spiritual strongholds. If there is any indication of demonic activity in your porn addiction—as there might be, because of the way pornography perverts nature and truth—try using holy water in conjunction with your prayers.

Holy Communion

Early church fathers saw the Eucharist as a continuation of baptism. Baptism declared the death of our old life in the world and the birth of our new life in Christ. Holy Communion repeats this theme by inviting us to participate in the ongoing ministry of death and life through the Bread and the Cup, which represent the work of the Cross. It repeats baptism’s symbolism by reminding us that we died with Christ and are alive in Him (Gal 2:20). But, mystically, it also provides “a participation” (1 Cor 10:16) in His sacrificial death and bodily resurrection for our ongoing spiritual nurture. All Christians should meditate upon this, as they observe Communion. But they should also realize how effectively the Table can serve as a powerful means of grace for many spiritual needs.

First, we should bring to the Table and leave with our crucified Lord those things in our lives that need to die. Then, we are enabled by His grace to take from the Table the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection and to “feed upon Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving,” as the Book of Common Prayer exhorts. There’s still much of the world in us that needs death, and much in us that needs death to the world (Gal 6:14), to make room for more of Christ’s life. The Table invites us to a sacred rendezvous where God spiritually enables this ongoing death-and-life process to take place in us.

Holy Communion should never become a routine observance. It must always be a vital transaction of faith, where we bring more of ourselves to the Lord’s Table and take more of Christ’s life as we leave it. Eucharist is the transliterated Greek word for thanksgiving and comes from the root word charis, or “grace.” As a means of grace, how much closer to the Cross can we get than to the Body that hung there or to the Blood that was shed on it? Whether we theologically conceive of Christ’s presence as, by, with, in, or through the physical elements displayed, Jesus directly instructed us to feed upon Him (John 6:53-57), which we are to do by faith at each celebration of His Table.

The Communion Table represents Christ’s Cross quenching sin’s penalty and His Resurrection breaking through sin’s power. Together they divided historical time, ended the Old Covenant and began the New, answered the Law’s demands with grace, and drew an eternal line between death and life. Nothing gets past the Cross without death, and nothing rises up to life from that death without the power of Christ’s Resurrection.

This is why His Table—which sets before us Christ’s work on the Cross as a physical means of grace—is a place of divine deliverance and edification. Whatever has wounded your soul sexually can find healing here, even the self-inflicted damage of yielding your heart to pornographic lust.

Bring and leave on the Table all your years of porn addiction, then from the Table take Christ’s Body and Blood as spiritual nurture for your new life in Him. Leave on the Table any lie that resists the exorcism provided by rational truth, then from the Table feed upon Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Discard on the Table any defiled mental images from the past that haunt your memory, then from the Table feast upon “the express image of God” in the Body of His Son. As you approach this sacred Table, bring to it anything in you that needs to die. Then, with all your heart, feed upon “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Drink the Blood that Christ passionately poured out for the Church, His Bride, who—in the one-flesh relationship manifested by this Meal—is also called His Body (1 Cor 10:17). Don’t let theological fears or this Table’s mystery keep you mentally aloof from receiving its grace and power.

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1. “Further Help for Healing from Porn Addiction” is now part of my book “Who Said You Were Naked?” – Reflections on Body Acceptance but is also listed on my webpage “Ending Porn Addiction.”
2. Read “Hippolytus of Rome on Nude Baptism.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Everyone who knows me knows that the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation blows my mind![1] But, a few months ago, my understanding of it took another gigantic leap. Actually, it was a return to a crucial insight I met some years ago. It began to take root, but the rigors of ministerial preparation, while employed full time, blocked my grasping its full impact. Perhaps, also, I was not yet ready for such a radical view of incarnational spirituality.

After more than a 2-decade hiatus, I was challenged at a Pastors’ Encounter retreat [2] to find a new spiritual discipline to help me move from “working for the Lord” to “working with the Lord.” Unwilling to alter my already fruitful quiet-time pattern, I chose to start a 2nd daily quiet time, using different devotional material. Back home, I felt led me to an unread book: Infinite Supply–The Best of Union Life 1976-1980 [3]—a compilation of the earliest articles from Union Life magazine, a vehicle for spreading the theological insights of British missionary, writer, and teacher, Norman Grubb.[4]

Before beginning ministerial studies, I found an issue of Union Life on a family-camp book table and subscribed to it, until its publication ceased in 1998. Despite my exposure to this magazine, its main theme both attracted and eluded me. But, while focused on learning to minister with instead of for Christ, this book’s first chapter was an epiphany. It went beyond proposing a life operating with the Lord. It described an incarnational spirituality: Christ’s life lived in us.

These early Union Life articles reintroduced a sacred seashore where I’d once barely waded in the shallows. I now realized it was time to plunge into the depths. An avalanche of insights into an array of familiar Scriptures burst on my mind—Bible passages I’d taken by faith for years without practically applying them to my thought-patterns in daily living. Previously, my highest idea of spirituality had been to become an imitator of Christ. This radical concept of union life called me to recognize that “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17, ESV). Because Jesus and I have become “one spirit,” Christ’s relentless incarnational intent is to live His divine life in, through and as mine, while He, at the same time, directly and personally experiences all the uniqueness of my own human individuality.

By the Incarnation, God became our human Messiah and Savior. But His fleshly embodiment was also the Prototype of a new humanity, showing us our true calling and destiny. Jesus—God in flesh as an authentic human being—lived His earthly life in union with His Father, as He told us in John 14:10 (ESV), “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” But, from His perspective in that union, His calling was one of submission, as seen in His Gethsemane prayer: “Not my will, but thine be done.” This pushes His meaning in “Follow me” beyond walking in His footsteps or imitating His behavior to that of living in union with and in submission to Him, as He had lived in union with and submitted to His Father.

The 1st Adam, created to do God’s will, failed. The 2nd Adam, incarnated to do God’s will, succeeded. The difference was not in their humanity; both were fully human image-bearers of God. But Jesus fulfilled His human mission by submissive union with God the Father who indwelt Him. He allowed the life, will, and love of His Father to be so clearly manifested in His life that He could ask an inquisitive disciple in John 14:9 (ESV), “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

We often use that striking verse as evidence for Christ’s identity as God, due to His unity with the Father as the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Truly, that is His personal identity, and He never lost it by becoming one of us. But He had so fully “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7) by becoming “the son of man” that His name, “the name that is above every name,” was only returned to Him after His redemptive work on earth was accomplished (Philippians 2:9). The awesome reality is that this Name —“LORD” [kurios], which is “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in the Greek Old Testament—has been “bestowed” on a resurrected and glorified human being. He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), implying that He is the first one, with more humans to follow. But, even before the Resurrection Day comes, His exalted but ongoing humanity gives the Church something that was impossible for Old Testament saints: union life.

Jesus is God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, who left Heaven to become a man. But, in being fully restored to Trinitarian fellowship, He did so as a real human being. Out of everything in cosmic or celestial creation, only human nature is privileged to inhabit the Godhead. Though He remains Deity, Christ’s true humanness allows Him to unite as “one spirit” with other humans. Eventually, this union will join the Church, the corporate Bride of Christ, to the Trinitarian family as an “in-law” by marriage. But during our earthly lives, this means what it meant to Jesus in His earthly human life and ministry: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Repetitively in the New Testament, this incarnational language now describes our relationship with the exalted and glorified Christ. For instance, Romans 8:1 (ESV) says we are in Him: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And Colossians 1:27b (ESV) describes Him being in us: “. . . the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

While we anticipate physical resurrection at Christ’s 2nd Coming, Jesus has already returned to us personally through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even now, both He and the Father spiritually inhabit believers, as He promised in John 14:23 (ESV), “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This means that Christ’s Incarnation—once limited to one body, in one cultural location, and in one short period of time—began and continues to multiply incarnationally through an ever increasing number of believers across centuries, countries and cultures. Once Jesus started manifesting the glory of God the Father in human flesh, He has never stopped and never will. He’s still doing it in us, when our attitude is: “Not my will, but thine be done.”

What does all this mean practically? It means so much more than this little blog article can describe! But primarily, it means that following Jesus is a daily death to self so that our union with Christ can manifest His life through us the way He manifested the Father through Himself. It means that Jesus was serious when He said in John 20:21b (ESV), “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” It means that Paul was describing reality, when He said in Galatians 2:20a (ESV), “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

As Christians, we confess belief in these statements and even affirm the wording in them that disallows evading or explaining away such extravagant claims. Yet we tend to avoid personalizing a mindset that we, by being “joined to the Lord” become “one spirit with him.” We may even doubt the possibility or practicality of a lifestyle matching the clear implication that “as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). But once we start thinking and living as if these statements are reality, many Scriptures come alive in a new way.

One of my favorite messages left by Jesus is in John 16:33 (NASB), “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” As much as I’ve loved this verse, I always wondered how Christ’s success in overcoming the world directly applied to my own earthly journey. The concept of personal union with Him explains it: “so that in Me you may have peace.” Christ, the Overcomer, lives in me and I in Him. Anything happening to me happens to Him, or rather, to us. If I live the truth of this reality, listening for His voice in every sorrow, every situation, then no trial, trouble, or tribulation can ever steal my peace or courage.

In union with Christ, the Anointed One, we too are christs, anointed by the same Holy Spirit as He was. Our union with the supreme Prophet, Priest and King makes us also prophets, priests and kings, for “as he is so also are we in this world.” Union life with Jesus means that we are not tools in His hand or material for His workshop, but “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17, NKJV). A concept of Christian life or service based on anything less than incarnationally being “one spirit with him” misses God’s mark and falls short of the “glory of God” inherent in our union with the indwelling Christ.

I’ve been exploring this theme of union life for a few months now, but the following poem spurred me to write down some of my thoughts. If you have begun to see their practical direction, then you will see why I am concluding with this poem-prayer by George MacDonald:

          The Carpenter

O Lord, at Joseph’s humble bench
Thy hands did handle saw and plane;
Thy hammer nails did drive and clench,
Avoiding knot and humouring grain.

Lord, might I be but as a saw,
A plane, a chisel, in thy hand!—
No, Lord! I take it back in awe,
Such prayer for me is far too grand.

I pray, O Master, let me lie,
As on thy bench the favoured wood;
Thy saw, thy plane, thy chisel ply,
And work me into something good.

No, no; ambition, holy-high,
Urges for more than both to pray:
Come in, O gracious Force, I cry—
O Workman, share my shed of clay.

Then I, at bench, or desk, or oar,
With knife or needle, voice or pen,
As thou in Nazareth of yore,
Shall do the Father's will again.

Thus fashioning a workman rare,
O Master, this shall be thy fee:
Home to thy father thou shall bear
Another child made like to thee.

2. A recurring retreat in Northern California (
3. Almost all the articles from Infinite Supply–The Best of Union Life 1976-1980, an out-of-print book, are downloadable from
4. Links about Norman Grubb’s life, work, and teachings: