Podcast: Play in new window | Download
You may have picked up on “one of the things we say around here,” which is “all of Christ for all of life.” But what do we mean by that exactly? It may sound very spiritual, but if it doesn’t mean anything, it can’t mean anything very spiritual.
“And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:17–18).
Summary of the Text:
Jesus Christ is our entry point into everything. He is before all things (v. 17), prior to all things, antecedent to every contingent mote of material reality. He is the Head of the body, His own body, which is the church. We as believers make up that body, and so it is that He is the head for us. Paul then says that Jesus Christ is the arche. The translation here says beginning, but do not think of beginnings as measured by stopwatches. It is the same word that is used in John 1:1. Rather Paul is saying that Christ is the ultimate unity, the integration point for all things, the cornerstone and capstone both. He has been manifested as the heir of this position by His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), or as Paul puts it here, He is the firstborn from the dead. The end result is that we are to see Christ as having the preeminence over absolutely everything (v. 18).
The Fragmentation of Death:
Now I used the phrase integration point. Why is this important? As naïfs schooled in the catechisms of modernity, we tend to think of death as cessation. If something dies, that means it konked. If someone dies, that means their atoms return to the great cosmic slurry, and “they” cease to be (whatever “they” were). Even if we deny this formally as Christians who believe in the resurrection, we are still too much affected by the assumptions that swirl around the idea of death as cessation.
But death is actually separation. When our bodies die, the soul and body are separated (2 Cor. 5:8). When our first parents took the forbidden fruit, they were separated from their fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8). This was spiritual death, which is spiritual alienation. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1–2).
So intellectual death is also separation—intellectual fragmentation. You have so many opinions, but they are all shattered on the floor. Nothing ties them together, which is why the Christian task is to bring all those thoughts into submission to Christ. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Before they are brought to the obedience of Christ, they—like the thinker generating them—are dead. And if you manage to get them published, and into libraries and bookstores, that just makes them deader.
Only in Christ can we find life, which means that only in Him can we live in a universe. Only in Christ can there be such a thing as a university. If Christ is not raised, then all our thoughts are nothing more than ten thousand tons of confetti dumped into an F-5 tornado. And the tornado really is a poor image of this, in that it exhibits far too much order.
A Ministry of Reconciliation:
Now if death is separation, then restored life is a reunification. Resurrection means reconciliation, and the message of the resurrection is the ministry of reconciliation.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–19).
This is the grand project. Notice that phrase—in Christ, reconciling. That is as much as to say in Christ, resurrecting. This is what God has determined to give to a world that did not deserve its restoration. This is the word that we have had entrusted to us. This is what we are talking about.
“That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph 1:10).
“And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20).
Grace and Peace:
Now all of this should rejoice every believing heart. But let’s push it into the corners, shall we? In what ways have we among the Reformed made their accommodations with the ideology of death? Systematic theology is one of the glories of the church, but done the wrong way it results in us going into the mausoleum instead of the museum, and results in us sorting out bones instead of studying the exhibits. What do I mean by “the wrong way?” I mean separating things instead of making distinctions between them. The former is the death of the mind; the latter is the life of the mind.
Our temptation is to separate the doctrine of God from God Himself. It is to separate the graces of God from God Himself. It puts the truth about God here, and God over there, somewhere. But God does not store love, joy, peace, patience (or any other grace) in vats. They are not impersonal spiritual fluids running down to your deep sea diving suit through a hose. If you have anything at all from God, then you have all of Christ for all of life. Christ is not parceled out to us in bits and pieces.
Remember that virtually every New Testament epistle begins with “grace and peace” from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not a separation of these graces from two persons of the Trinity, and an exclusion of the Holy Spirit. As Jonathan Edwards argued, this is likely saying that the Holy Spirit is that grace and peace, and proceeds from the Father and the Son. And this makes wonderful sense. As C.S. Lewis put it once, “He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself.”