Photo Credit: Snowpeak, Creative Commons
Guest Post by Emily Hill
“We are going to have to give up our lives finally,
the longer we wait the less time we have
for the soaring and swooping life of grace.”
I recently came across this quote by Eugene Peterson and was captivated by it. If I could have any superpower I would choose the ability to fly, so the imagery of a soaring life of grace resonates with me. But I think it goes much deeper than that.
I crave it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live richly and authentically. It’s a popular discussion among my friends and family and it’s certainly a hot topic on the internet and in self-help books. How do we embrace our humanity and live fully as God intended?
I’ve noticed that even those of us who are Christians—who believe they are created by God and follow God—don’t always have a full understanding of what that really means. We often have just as many questions about how to live life to the full as those who don’t proclaim Christ. This situation leaves us more susceptible to the culture around us than we realize and we frantically search for answers and live with a deep, constant longing for more.
But the answer isn’t found in a self-help book or a checklist of behaviors. The quote by Peterson provides a clue. You’ve heard it before: we need to give up our lives.
“Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) But what does that mean?
In our modern culture, we usually assume that ancient worldviews are ignorant and unscientific and that our current worldviews are more enlightened and accurate. However, in his book on the Psalms N.T. Wright argues that the modern Western worldview is actually based on the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism. Thought adopted for different reasons in ancient and modern times, the view holds that God or gods are remote and unengaged with humanity. Therefore, the world and our individual lives are part of an independent system operating entirely of its own accord.
Think of your friend who doesn’t really consider God in their day to day decisions, or even big decisions. Or the celebrity or politician who build their careers and wield power without regard to God. Why would they? If God doesn’t exist, or if he doesn’t sustain our physical, spiritual or emotional lives, then his existence doesn’t have any bearing on how we shape our identities or pursue life. Such a view is pretty easy to maintain in middle-class America where we are often able to maintain a feeling of control over our lives and the outcomes of our actions.
In contrast, the scriptures reveal a God who cares and is intimately involved with his creation every day and on every level—he didn’t just create us and walk away. Psalm 139 is a great example of this. Verse 5 says, “I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going.” (The Message)
Wright explains that the biblical worldview is one of creational monotheism. Jews and Christians rejected the idea of disengaged gods and believed that the one God who created the universe remains in active relationship with it. They believed that God had promised to return to his people and bring his perfect rule to earth and that through Christ and the work of the Spirit he had done just that.
Though I would say I hold to the biblical worldview—and I’m guessing you would too—upon more reflection, the ideas of Epicureanism throughout our culture continue to affect how I define myself.
Everyone and everything around me is shouting for my attention. It tells me that I need it to be happy, satisfied and significant. I need to have a certain education, dress a certain way, have a successful career, live in a certain neighborhood, have certain friends, a perfect family, and eat at the trendiest restaurants. As a woman, it’s also essential to be thin with radiant skin and shiny hair. Then everyone will love me and I’ll be fulfilled.
Advertisers in our culture deliberately try to point out (or create) a need that I, as a consumer, didn’t know I had, then tell me how their product or service can meet that need and make my life better. Can you name some other messages? Can you see how they have shaped your identity and affected how you live your life?
We need a counter-narrative if we are going to be able to battle these messages that surround us.
Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (NIV). Jonathan Wilson argues that without a robust understanding of creation in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ we are left without a solid foundation for our identity. He writes:
We are not truly and fully human until we believe that we are God’s creatures and trust in Christ to remove our inhumanity, free us from all that makes us less than human, and bear away the consequences of our refusal to acknowledge our creatureliness and trust in God for life…when we do not recognize that humans have their identity as human by virtue of our creatureliness before God, we become susceptible to other bases for our humanity.
We need to give up our own self-constructed identities and look to Christ for what it means to be truly human and how we experience life most fully. Karl Barth wrote, “The nature of Christ objectively conditions human nature and the work of Christ makes an objective difference to the life and destiny of all men.” The sum of Jesus’ actions perfectly reflect God’s intentions for us and call us to find our true identity in God’s life and work.
So what do we learn about our identity and fullness of life by looking to Christ?
We see that Jesus lived for and loved the Father above all things. His destiny was not of his own making but was determined by obedience to the Father. We also see that Jesus lived for and loved others. Jesus gave himself for others. His love was not general, but specific, and did not depend on others loving him first. In these things—seen in many actions large and small—Jesus enacted the kingdom of God and pointed to the new creation.
Christ reveals that humanity was created and intended for the new creation in the kingdom of God. The purpose and proper end goal of the world is the new creation and this understanding changes everything about how we live as individuals and in community.
When we recognize the purpose of creation, and therefore of ourselves, we can live according to that end by participating in the life of Christ, in dependence on God, and bearing witness to the kingdom of God in all its fullness. As we orient ourselves to the new creation we find peace. Not just a surface-level peace of mind but the deep peace and joy of shalom found in community with God and with others.
This is the counter-narrative. Seek first the kingdom.
I don’t build my own identity and life, and I don’t find life in the next big thing. It is in surrendering my own perceived and self-constructed identity to the true humanity found in Christ—living for God and for others—that I find freedom. That is how I experience the rich, meaningful, and soaring life of grace I crave.
 Jonathan Wilson, God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 41.
 Karl Barth, Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5 (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1956), 88.