"And then, he became a man. A living breathing, flesh and blood man. He looked, sounded, and interacted the way we might."
John 1:14 (RSV)
I guess you could say that I have the fortunate opportunity to write this morning. I am sitting in the midst of a group of people in somewhat of a food court. There are some sitting in pairs, but the majority of these people are sitting alone. As I look out the window I see two things: fog and docked airplanes. As I sit and wait. And wait. And wait, I am amazed at the number of people that are running past trying to catch their flights, get home, grab a bit to eat, or anything else one might do. These don’t seem out of place at all. As one sits in an airport it is actually exactly what you would expect to see. It’s what humans do in an airport. They are trying to get to places; meetings, families, interviews, vacations, and other things.
Likewise, I am currently coaching a college soccer team. When we take the field on any given day the guys go and do what you might expect them to; play soccer. They run, and kick, and defend, and score, and make saves. We try and win games; we try and get better. The hope being that by the end (of the season, career) the group or individual is advanced in their ability to play soccer. These same players go to class during the day. They attend a pretty rigorous academic school and spend the actual majority of their time increasing their minds and ability to use and apply them. In both of these arenas, they try and accomplish something more.
I also like to find myself at the gym from time to time. There is nothing particularly special about the one I attend. It has weights, and treadmills. Exercise classes and summer camps. What I love about gyms (as I have written before) is that people are there, mostly, trying to change themselves for the better. Whether it is to get stronger, more fit, more energy or some other reason, the general idea is that of betterment. That we might take better care of our bodies.
In all of these situations, these people are just being themselves, acting, being human. To do anything else would be either out of the ordinary or potentially impossible. It is with this understanding that people for the most part, go about their daily lives. With the exception of a very rare few, the majority of humanity is trying to better itself in some way or form. To leave this world ‘a little better than before they got here.’ I can’t imagine anyone reading this would disagree.
And yet, for whatever reason, it has been my experience that somehow the only place we don’t understand this is the church. Specifically, I see this in the area of growth in godliness and discipleship. In actuality if we are to break it down as we attempt to become more and more Christ-like we subconsciously believe that in some way we are supposed to become something different. I am not sure exactly what that is but to become more like Christ is seemingly a desire in our American churches to become less human. Sound weird? Think about it. At least for me it seems as though growth in godliness is about removing things, about becoming more spiritual.
And while I don’t disagree with those two needs, I think they are both very possible in the conditions of being a human; as a matter of fact I believe, more human.
Too often I feel we see spiritual growth as removal of a certain sin or pattern of sins. We sit around either by ourselves or in a small group and confess and beat ourselves up over the sin in our lives. We think to ourselves, if we could just get rid of this, this sin problem, we would be fine. We could grow. And please don’t misunderstand. I think this is absolutely a piece of spiritual growth. But I think it is just that; a piece.
There is something else about becoming ‘more spiritual’. I think that due to the respect for saints that have gone before we feel like to grow as they did we must take on their current physical state (which somehow we believe is simply spirit.) Again, I don’t discount spiritual fervor, spiritual growth; at all. It just doesn’t seem like it should be at the expense of what we have been created to be.
In the book of Genesis, God creates man and does something incredibly unique with them. He ‘breathes the breath of life’ (2:7) into him. Though other creation has life, there is something unique to man. Here we already know that we have been made in God’s image (1:26). There is something different; something more to being human. Adam is the first example of what this looks like. He however, goes on to mess it up. We know the story, we live the story. This story is our story. Daily, we choose to eat the apple. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.
And yet, there is hope. There is a man. A flesh and bones, in every sense of the word, man. One who has come to put things to rights. He is referred to as the ‘second Adam.’ (1 Corinthians 15:47) Where Adam fell, this man was to do right; to fix things as it were. The writer of Hebrews notes that he was like us in EVERY way, and yet did not sin (4:15). In John’s gospel we first see that the Word put on flesh. It is essential he let his readers know just how human Jesus is.
You see, two thousand years ago as we look at the gospel accounts it is pretty clear that Jesus’ disciples have an issue grasping the fact that this very man is God. In 2010, I think we have flipped it. We find it very difficult to believe that God, is personified in this man named Jesus. The author N.T. Wrights notes that instead of trying to come up with our own thoughts on God, we are to look at a first century rabbi named Jesus and allow our image of God to be shaped around him.
So what exactly does this mean for us? Surely Jesus, being God had an advantage on us. While I cannot be certain, Luke is very clear that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God (2:52). Did you read that? Jesus had elements of growth to his life! At no point does he abandon whom he is as man in order to grow. Here He is the example of what growth looks like. I think if he were to come and speak to our churches today it might be very different than we picture. I honestly believe he might say (with a bit of pleading in his voice) “Repent…you have believed a lie about what God is like. Instead, look at me.”
That to grow in our faith, to become more like, to walk with Jesus includes every part of who we are as humans. That to sit around and attempt to become anything else would be misguided. No more than trying to fly from one location to the next; on the power of our arms with no plane. That we might desire to become more of what we already are: completely and totally human of a new generation in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Isn’t that the cry to the first disciples?
“You can be like me.”
“You can do what I do.”
It is no different today. Jesus is still crying out, in 2010, “you…can be like me.”