At a Bible study at church recently, we came upon the point in Colossians where the climax of the gospel is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Remarking on the text, someone in the Bible study said, “But I’ve always wondered, ‘How could Christ be in me, when I’m so sinful?’”
It was apt insight. Christ is holy. And in a certain sense, the Bible says God cannot even look at sin (Habakkuk 1:13). So how can Jesus live in sinners like us?
What I said in response was inspired by the Gentle and Lowly book by Dane Ortlund I’ve been reading. There, Ortlund convincingly shows that Christ’s heart—the Triune God’s heart—is gentle, humble, and one which draws him near in mercy to sinners. This is supported from Jesus’s earthly life, but also from the epistles written about Jesus and from the Old Testament which foreshadowed Jesus.
But perhaps best of all, we could argue, we see this merciful heart in Jesus’s earthly life. Yes, he was appropriately tough against those who spurned his mercy and presumed to be children of God by virtue of their own works or ethnicity. Yet above all, Jesus was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He entered with mercy into the sinful lives of many. He gently loved his disciples. And he generally become known as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
Most of all, he showed this gentle and lowly heart by his death. He decisively went to the cross, taking on the sin of his sheep and suffering in their place, never complaining or fussing, always loving. And he then rose again on the third day, revealed himself as the Savior to his sinful disciples, and ascended back to heaven.
But if we stop there, we may forget what all this means. For while on one hand, this is the gospel. This is the good news. “It is finished.” And in this way the life, death, and resurrection are the major aspects of Christ’s finished work, of the good news. And yet, on another hand, all that in some ways was only the beginning (see Acts 1:1). That was the gospel accomplished, but the gospel newsheadline includes that the Accomplisher still lives.
And he lives with the same heart.
Which is, I believe, one way we can show that Jesus lives in his sinful people. Theologically, he lives in us by his Spirit (John 14:16-18). But practically, this means that for those of us who trust him, he really is in us—just as he really was with those tax collectors, sinners, and faltering disciples when he walked on this earth. In other words, although Jesus isn’t with us physically in the same way, since he is now in heaven and so he’s with us by his Spirit, yet he is still with us. We see in the narrative of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that around 30 A.D. he lived in close association and relation with sinners; so now, he still is truly with—even in (John 14:17)—sinners like us.
The upshot then for us is we shouldn’t hesitate to believe that he’s that close to us just because we’re sinful. In fact, taking the evidence at face value—the incarnation and how he chose to enter this sinful earth, what he said about himself, the narrative of his 30 year life, and his death for sinners—don’t we have more reason to presume that our sinfulness is precisely what draws him nearer in mercy? For didn’t he share a table with tax collectors? Didn’t he call to himself twelve sinful disciples? Didn’t he touch the lepers? Didn’t he start conversations with the promiscuous? Didn’t he enter the houses of the Pharisees? Didn’t he willingly die as a condemned sinner on a cross feet away from two other criminals?
Yes he did. He’s shown himself to be one who, although without sin and perfect in every way, can dwell with sinners. So now, with us as his people, it’s true, we are very sinful. But take heart, he hasn’t changed. He still longs to enter into the life of sinners. He still loves sinners. And because of such love, he’s in us sinners and changing us sinners to look more like his sinless self.
Article originally posted on Pastor Ryan's blog, lookingatchrist.com.