Christianity IS Christ

An article that states that Christianity is the reality of the ontological dynamic
of the life of the risen Lord Jesus in the believer.

©1998 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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   What does it mean to be a Christian? What is Christianity?

   Confusion over the meaning of these terms, and misunderstanding of the reality implied by these terms, has resulted in gross misrepresentations of the same, even by those who would claim to be Christians engaged in Christianity. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that we re-evaluate the reality of Christianity.

   Followers of Jesus were "first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). Perhaps it was initially a label of derision or derogation, but King Agrippa seems to have used the term as a neutral designation of one believing in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:28), and Peter employs it as an accepted reference to those identified with the name of Christ (I Peter 4:16). Immediately thereafter the over-all phenomenon of persons identifying with Jesus Christ was generalized as "Christianity." Ignatius and Polycarp, disciples of the apostle John, used the Greek word christianismos in the late first or early second century, and later writers used the Latin word christianitas.

   Semantic variations of meaning have proliferated through the centuries unto the present. "Christianity" is defined as one of the world's religions. It is analyzed historically as the events of its adherents and institutions through the centuries of almost two millennia. "Christianity" is often used synonymously with "Christendom," although the latter term is often used pejoratively of institutionalized Christian religion. In his Attack on Christendom, Kierkegaard complained that everyone in Denmark considered themselves to be "Christians" because they were born into the state church and baptized as infants, concluding that "if everyone is a Christian, then no one is a Christian." Witch-hunts, inquisitions and political wars have been conducted in the name of "Christian religion." Many have subsequently rejected "Christianity," offended or injured by its multitudinous religious aberrations and injustices. Still others (as we shall do in this study), reserve the term "Christianity" for the spiritual reality of the function of the living Lord Jesus in Christians.

   The mere usage of terminology is not our objective, though, since language is in constant flux. Rather, the questions are: What was the initial and Biblical understanding of what it meant to be a Christian? What do the Biblical writers imply to be the essence of Christianity?

   Although the term "Christianity" is not found in the Scriptures, we will consider it to be indicative of everything that Jesus Christ came to be and to do. The entirety of the revelation of God to man is constituted and comprised of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In and by His Son, God enacted everything necessary to restore mankind to His divinely intended function, reinvesting man with the spiritual reality of the presence and function of deity within humanity. When Jesus thus dwells and reigns spiritually in those who receive Him by faith, the kingdom that Jesus so often referred to becomes operative. The resurrection-life of Jesus becomes the spiritual empowering of the Christian's life and participation in the ecclesia of the Church. Such a spiritual, gospel reality of "Christianity" can only be defined as the dynamic life and activity of the living Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ!

   C.S. Lewis explained that

"in Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us."1

Earlier John W. Nevin had written,

"A new order of revelation entirely bursts upon the world, in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the absolute truth itself, personally present among men, and incorporating itself with their life. He is the substance, where all previous prophecy, had been only as sound or shadow."2

   God's self-revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, involves an integral and indivisible oneness. The singular unity of the Godhead self-communicates Himself to man in the homoousion union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this divine triunity there can be no bifurcation or trifurcation of independent function. God acts as unified oneness. When he acts He does what He does because He is who He is. His Being is expressed in His activity, and His activity is always expressive of His Being. He never acts "out of character." His actions are never detached from the manifestation of who He is in Himself; they are never static, disconnected actions separated or severed from the expression of His Being. All that God has to give is a self-giving of Himself ­ His Being in action. He does not reveal or offer some "thing" about Himself. He cannot be thus parted or sectioned. Nor does He extend some commodity or product distinct from Himself. God reveals Himself and acts in grace (Jn. 1:17) by the power of the Spirit in His Son, Jesus Christ. "No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son will to reveal Himself" (Lk. 10:22). The self-revelation of God in the Messianic Son must always be understood in their essential oneness of divine Being, as well as the integral unity of their Being and action. God reveals Himself in the Son. He gives Himself to man. Jesus Christ reveals the gospel in Himself. He gives Himself to man as God.

Dualistic Detachment

   The failure to maintain the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the unity of their Being and action always leads to aberrational understandings and expressions of Christianity. The history of Christian religion (as distinct from Christianity) is replete with man's attempts to divide the persons of the Godhead into distinct functions, and to sever Christ's work from His person. This latter disjunctive dualism is the more subtle and the most prevalent throughout what is called "Christian history." Christianity is conceived of as some "thing" established apart from, and distinct from, Christ Himself. The gospel, the Church, the kingdom are regarded as separate entities offered, extended, established, effected or dispensed by Jesus Christ, independent of Himself. T.F. Torrance correctly identifies such "detachment of Christianity from Christ"3 as the result of epistemological dualism, noting that

"fundamentalism is unwilling to acknowledge the identity in being between what God is toward us in His revelation in Jesus Christ and what He is in His living Being and Reality in Himself."4

   Examples of such "separated concepts" of fundamentalist dualism should be instructive, if not convicting:

   The historical Jesus is often remembered as the historical founder of a religion, the history of which can be documented and analyzed. The life of Jesus on earth, and the specific events thereof, are memorialized. The story is borne from generation to generation in special commemorations: "Happy Birthday Jesus" (Christmas) and "Remember the Resurrection" (Easter). How does this differ from the celebratory remembrances of George Washington's Birthday and the call to "Remember Pearl Harbor!"? When Christianity is falsely conceived of as an historical society for the memory of and/or worship of an historically detached founder, there is a disjunctive dualism between Jesus Christ and what is called "Christianity."

   When Jesus is portrayed as merely a religious or theological teacher, then the content of His teaching becomes an ideological belief-system distinct from His person. Even when Jesus is correctly identified as the mediatorial representative of God (I Tim. 2:5), the High Priest of God (Heb. 3:1; 8:1), the Son of God (Jn. 11:27), the rational formulation of doctrinal and theological propositions can be formed into systematized constructs of interpretation that stand alone from the living presence of Jesus Christ. Christianity then becomes a theological society for the explanation of and debate of theological truths in propositional and sentential precision, with no reception and experience of the person of the risen Lord Jesus.

   Jesus can be proclaimed as the Savior of mankind, as He is within evangelical preaching, but when the Savior is detached from the process of salvation a transactional dualism results. If Jesus is but the benefactor of the benefits of salvation, then He is but the source of commodities, "goods," services, products or possessions that are dispensed, conferred or endowed by one who is dualistically distinct from that which is delivered. The spiritual Deliverer becomes but a religious dispenser.

   Those that advocate a behavioristic morality or "Christian ethic" that divorces the doing of good from the dynamic of the God-man, Jesus Christ, create a disconnected dualism that encourages and expects behavior that conforms to the codified rules and regulations by means of employing procedures, techniques and behavioral formulas, rather than deriving divine character, the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23), from the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9). Such moral "works" may be enacted for personal spirituality or for the social good and betterment of mankind at large, but when engaged in apart from the outworking of Christ's life, they remain disengaged from the reality of Christianity.

   A fragmented dualism also results when Jesus Christ is not held in organic union with the Church, the Body of Christ. Jesus is not the "Head of the Church" only in terms of being an hierarchical head of an organizational institution. Neither is He the "head" in the sense of being the fountainhead and founder of a religion that bears His name. His headship is not merely instrumental in the establishment of a corporate ecclesiasticism that would serve as the depository, conservatory and dispensary of grace and truth, as if these could be dissected from the divine action of God in Christ.

   Protestantism is particularly guilty of the dissassociative dualism that transfers the expressive agency of the Word of God from Jesus Christ (John 1:1,14) to the impersonalized instruction of God in an inspired book. Engaging in the biblicism of devotion to a canonical formulation, and employing various forms of interpretation, Protestant fundamentalists have developed a book-religion that often deifies the book in Bibliolatry. William Barclay notes that,

"There was one mistake into which the early Church was never in any danger of falling. In those early days men never thought of Jesus Christ as a figure in a book. They never thought of Him as someone who had lived and died, and whose story was told and passed down in history, as the story of someone who had lived and whose life had ended. They did not think of Him as someone who had been but as someone who is. They did not think of Jesus Christ as someone whose teaching must be discussed and debated and argued about; they thought of Him as someone whose presence could be enjoyed and whose constant fellowship could be experienced. Their faith was not founded on a book; their faith was founded on a person."5

In accord with that opinion, Juan Carlos Ortiz writes,

"We need a new generation of Christians who know that the church is centered around a Person who lives within them. Jesus didn't leave us with just a book and tell us, 'I leave the Bible. Try to find out all you can from it by making concordances and commentaries.' No, He didn't say that. 'Lo, I am with you always,' He promised. 'I'm not leaving you with a book alone. I am there, in your hearts.' ...We just have to know that we have the Author of the book within us..."6

   In addition to the above dualistic tendencies, we might also cite the theological dualism that has been invasive throughout the centuries of "Christian theology" in the propensity to objectify the work of Christ into external categories unattached to the personal presence of Christ by His Spirit in the Christian. When the work of Jesus is cast into legal, forensic and judicial categories that posit the transference of penalty that issues forth in the declaration and imputation of justification in the heavenly courtroom, apart from the spiritual and experiential presence of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ (I Jn. 2:1), making us righteous (II Cor. 5:21) and manifesting the character "fruit of righteousness" (Phil. 1:11) in our behavior, we have once again divorced theology from the dynamic divine Being of the God-man, making it less that "Christian theology."

B.F. Westcott advised over a century ago:

"According to some the essence of Christianity lies in the fact that it is the supreme moral law. According to others its essence is to be found in true doctrine, or more specially in the scheme of redemption, or in the means of the union of man with God. Christianity does in fact include Law, and Doctrine, and Redemption, and Union, but it combines them all in a still wider idea. It establishes the principle of a Law, which is internal and not external, which includes an adequate motive for obedience and coincides with the realisation of freedom (James 1:25). It is the expression of the Truth, but this Truth is not finally presented in thoughts but in fact, not in abstract propositions but in a living Person.7

   In this then lies the main idea of Christianity, that it presents the redemption, the perfection, the consummation of all finite being in union with God.8

   Christianity is historical not simply or characteristically because Christ standing out before the world at a definite time and place proclaimed certain truths and laid down certain rules for the constitution and conduct of a society. It is historical because He offered Himself in His own Person, and He was shewn to be in the events of His Life, the revelation which He came to give.9

   The divine revelation cannot be detached from the divine reality of the living Lord Jesus. The revelation of the gospel is the revelation of Himself. The "good news" is Jesus! The gospel revelation of God in Christ is not a differentiated philosophy with fragmented principles of belief and behavior. German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote,

"Christ is not a principle in accordance with which the whole world must be shaped. Christ is not the proclaimer of a system of what would be good today, here and at all times. Christ teaches no abstract ethics such as must at all costs be put into practice. Christ was not essentially a teacher and legislator, but a man, a real man like ourselves. It is not therefore His will that we should in our time be the adherents, exponents and advocates of a definite doctrine, but that we should be real men before God. ...What Christ does is precisely to give effect to reality. He is Himself the real man and consequently the foundation of all human reality."10

   French author, Jacques Ellul, concurs,

"There are no such things as 'Christian principles.' There is the Person of Christ, who is the principle of everything. If we wish to be faithful to Him, we cannot dream of reducing Christianity to a certain number of principles, the consequences of which can be logically deduced. This tendency to transform the work of the Living God into a philosophical doctrine is the constant temptation of theology, and their greatest disloyalty when they transform the action of the Spirit which brings forth fruit in themselves into an ethic, a new law, into 'principles' which only have to be 'applied.'"11

   The divine work of God in Christ has been dualistically objectified and historically detached from the living person of the resurrected Lord. Based upon those historical and theological objectivities of the restorative action of God in Christ, the spiritual work of God in Christ by the Spirit must be subjectively unified in the experience of men who are receptive to such in faith. Despite the tendency to shy away from such, due to mystic excesses and such ecclesiastical abuses as internal infusion and divinization that have arisen throughout the history of "Christian theology," there must be a balanced explanation and presentation of the objective and subjective, epistemological and experiential, historical and personal work of God in Christ. Apart from the experiential work of God in man, Christianity soon degenerates into merely static historical remembrances, theological categorizations, biblicist interpretations, moral conformations, liturgical repetitions, etc., as noted above. On the other hand, apart from the historical and theological foundations, Christianity easily degenerates into sensate subjectivism, emotive ecstatism, ethereal mysticism, temporal existentialism, charismatic enthusiasm, etc. Thus the importance of our quest for a balanced Biblical understanding that integrates the external and internal by maintaining an integral unity of the eternal person and work of Jesus Christ.

   In his book entitled Christianity is Christ, W.H. Griffith Thomas concluded that,

"The Christ of Experience cannot be sundered from the Christ of History, and the appeal to experience is impossible unless experience is based on historic fact. The history must guarantee the experience in the individual. ...If we lose our faith in the historic fact of the Christ of the Gospels it will not be long before we lose our faith in the experience of the Christ of today.12

"...the central truth of Christianity (is) that the Holy Spirit brings to bear on our hearts and lives the presence and power of the living Christ, and thereby links together the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith. ...thus the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to Christ is the very heart of Christianity.13

"Christ is essential, Christ is fundamental, Christ is all.14

   Indeed, the intrinsic unity of the physically incarnated Jesus and the resurrected, ascended Jesus poured out in the form of the Spirit of Christ on Pentecost, continuing to function in every age and unto eternity in the expression of His own Being, must be maintained unequivocally as the essence of Christianity.

   As the particular purpose of this study is to call Christian theology back to a personalized understanding of the unified work of Christ in His ever-present spiritual Being, we shall proceed to consider the divine reality of the internalized presence and activity of the risen Lord Jesus by His Spirit. In considering the subjective and experiential implications of the life of Jesus Christ in Christians, we must maintain the integral oneness of His Being and action by noting both the ontological essence of the indwelling Being of Jesus Christ in the Christian, as well as the dynamic expression of the functional activity of Jesus Christ in and through the Christian.

Ontological Essence of Jesus Christ in the Christian

   The "bottom-line" reality of what it means to be a Christian is expressed by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9), for "the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16). Apart from the indwelling presence and witness of the ontological essence of Christ by His Spirit, one is not a Christian and not participating in Christianity. "Christ in one" constitutes a "Christ-one," i.e. a Christian. This is the radical new reality that God made available in the new covenant, the essential presence of the very person, life and Being of the Spirit of Christ; the self-conveyance of Himself to the spirits of receptive humanity.

   In this restoration of the Spirit of God to the spirits of men (cf. Gen. 2:7), so that men might function as God intended in His creative design, there is effected a spiritual union whereby we become "one spirit" with Christ (I Cor. 6:17). This is not a psychological union whereby we keep Jesus in our thoughts and consciousness, nor is it a moral union whereby we are obliged to seek to conform to Jesus' example. Rather, it is a spiritual union whereby deity dwells and functions in man; Christ in the Christian. Jesus illustrated this spiritual condition to Nicodemus in the analogy of a "new birth," a spiritual regeneration whereby one is "born of the Spirit" (John 3:1-6).

   It is extremely important to keep in mind that the presence of the risen Lord Jesus in the Christian is not to be divided from the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. The dissolution of the ontological essence of Jesus Christ from the Holy Spirit creates a defective trinitarian perspective of God that has plagued "Christian theology" for centuries and remains a serious misrepresentation even in evangelical explanations. The Holy Spirit is not a substitute for Christ, nor is He a surrogate of Christ, but must be understood to be indissolubly one with Christ. Paul adequately reveals that the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit can be referred to interchangably (Rom. 8:4-11) as the triune God, who is Spirit (Jn. 4:24), functions within the Christian. Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, noted that

"the being and work of Jesus Christ in the form of the being and work of His Holy Spirit is the original and prefigurative existence of Christianity and Christians."15

   The indwelling presence of the ontological essence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the spirit of a Christian constitutes the divine reality of a "new creature" in Christ. "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (II Cor. 5:17). This is not an assumed identity wherewith to engage in role-playing of Christian living, but a new spiritual identity as a "new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) in Christ. The deepest sense of one's identity is in identification with the spiritual being that constitutes one's spiritual condition.

   Here, again, we confront the dualistic detachment evident in Christian religion, that posits a separate and innate essence of human being with a self-generated capability to create or assume personal identity, nature, spirituality, character, image, life or immortality, independent of God. Only in spiritual union with the ontological essence of Jesus Christ can the Christian derive these spiritual realities, contingent upon and indivisible from Jesus Christ. Our spiritual nature as Christians is not an inherent human nature, but has been converted from a nature identified with wrath (Eph. 2:2) to "partaking of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4) in unified coalition with the spiritual nature of God in Christ. We are not essentially spiritual, for that would be to deify man since only "God is Spirit" (Jn. 4:24); but we derive our spirituality from spiritual connectivity either with the spirit of error or the spirit of truth (I Jn. 4:6), the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:12). Our character is not a conspicuous feature of personality in accord with social mores and values, but is determined by the essential impress of the character of the spirit that indwells us. The image of God in man is not comprised of innate features of human creatureliness, nor of disjoined reflections or representations of God in man, but the reality of the spiritual presence of God which allows for the visible expression of the character of God in our behavior when we have been spiritually renewed to such image in Jesus Christ (Col. 3:10). Even the essence of our personhood is not evaluated by the personality characteristics of mental, emotional and volitional function, but by our oneness with the Person of God in Christ who by His trinitarian homoousion is the perfection of relational interaction in loving interpersonal relationships.

   The entirety of who we are and what we do as Christians is derived from and contingent upon our spiritual union with the Spirit of Christ. This is not based upon an instrumental or causal connection with Christ whereby some "thing" other than Christ is extended to us, but is a personal and relational union whereby Christ Himself becomes the essence of all divine and spiritual realities in us.

   "Christ is our life," explains the apostle Paul, for "our life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3,4). Spiritual life is conveyed not by heritage or performance (Jn. 1:13) or purchase, but through the figurative analogy of "new birth," being "born from above" (Jn. 3:1-6) or "born of God" (Jn. 1:13). The life that we receive in Christ is not separated apart from Jesus, nor is it a part of Jesus that can be partitively appropriated. Jesus is the spiritual life that we receive and participate in. "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (I Jn. 5:11). "I am...the life" (Jn. 14:6), Jesus said, and "I came that you might have life" (Jn. 10:10). Concerning this eternal spiritual life, W. Ian Thomas explains,

"Jesus Christ and eternal life are synonymous terms, and eternal life is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. ...If you have eternal life at all, it simply means that you have the Son, Jesus Christ..."

"Eternal life is not a peculiar feeling inside! It is not your ultimate destination, to which you will go when you are dead. If you are born again, eternal life is that quality of life that you possess right now... He is that Life!"16

The spiritual life that we experience in Christ is the very resurrection-life of Jesus Christ. The historical event of Jesus' physical resurrection from the dead, allowed the risen and living Lord Jesus to invest His resurrection-life in all Christians by the Spirit. "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn. 11:25), Jesus explained. In explaining The Mind of St.Paul, William Barclay wrote,

"To Paul the Resurrection was not a past fact, but a present power.

"If Christ is risen from the dead, it means that it is possible for the Christian to live every moment of every day in the presence and the fellowship of the living Christ. It means that the Christian approaches no tasks alone, bears no sorrow alone, attacks no problem alone, faces no demand alone, endures no temptation alone. It means that Jesus Christ does not issue his commands, and then leave us to do our best to obey them alone, but that he is constantly with us to enable us to perform that which he commands.

"To Paul the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither simply a fact in history nor a theological dogma. It was the supreme fact of experience. It meant that all life is lived in the presence of the love and of the power of Jesus Christ."17

Lutheran professor, Karl Paul Donfried, comments similarly,

"The early church did not ask its followers to simply imitate or observe some static principles of Christianity, but rather to so comprehend the significance of the Christ event that they could dynamically actualize its implications in the situation in which they lived. The freedom for this actualization and application to the concrete, existential situation can only be comprehended when one recognizes that these early Christians were not worshipping some dead prophet of Nazareth; rather, essential to their very existence was the conviction that this Jesus was raised from the dead by God, was now the Lord of the church, and present in its very life. It is this presence of the Risen One that both compelled and allowed the early church to engage in such vigorous and dynamic teaching and proclamation."18

   The resurrection-life of the risen and living Lord Jesus is the ontological essence of Christianity. The continuum of His Life in a perpetuity that "cannot die" (Jn. 11:26), allows His eternality to be expressed in immortality. Jesus "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10). Such immortality of life is not inherent to man's humanity for "God alone possesses immortality" (I Tim. 6:16), nor is it a futuristic reward to be presented, but is inherent in the eternal resurrection-life of Jesus Christ. The Christian participates in and enjoys the perpetuity of eternal immortality only in spiritual union with the living Lord Jesus.

   By these spiritual realities of the Christian's spiritual condition in regeneration we have sought to document the ontological essence of the indwelling Being of Jesus Christ in the Christian. "Do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?", Paul queried the Corinthians. To the Colossians, he explained that the spiritual mystery of the gospel is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

Dynamic Expression of Jesus Christ through the Christian

   To keep the divine Being and activity integrated and unified, we proceed to consider the dynamic expression of the functional activity of Jesus Christ in and through Christian behavior. The spiritual condition of the Christian, constituted by the indwelling presence of His life, allows for the self-expression of His Being in Christian behavior. The essence and expression of Christ's life were conjoined by Paul when he wrote to the Galatians, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

   The life of Jesus Christ within the spirit of the Christian is not just a deposit to guarantee future heavenly benefits. Such a static and detached understanding of the Christian life encourages Christians to "hold on," wait, and endure the pathos of the present, because the past is forgiven and the future is assured. It misreads the gospel as a heavenly fire-insurance policy for the avoidance of hell. The objective of participating in Christianity and the Christian life is not just to avoid hell and get passage to heaven, but to allow the dynamic expression of the life of Jesus Christ by His Spirit to function in human behavior to the glory of God on the way to heaven (if such is to be perceived merely as locative and future). Regeneration of spiritual condition is but a crisis with a view to a living process!

   Christian living is not generated, produced or manufactured by the Christian in response to, or appreciation of, Christ's redemptive work or spiritual presence. Jesus' physical behavior and ministry on earth was not generated by His own initiative (Jn. 8:28; 12:49), but by the divine presence of the Father abiding in Him and doing His works (Jn. 14:10), and likewise the Christian life is not self-generated by the initiative of the Christian, but is enacted by the dynamic expression of the life of Jesus Christ through the Christian. Thomas Merton explained that "Jesus creates it (the Christian life) in our souls by the action of His Spirit."19 The dynamic of God's grace in Jesus Christ is the impetus of the Christian life.

   As previously noted, Christianity is not morality. The Christian life is not human and religious attempts to implement a theory for living a good and moral life by conformity to behavioral rules and regulations. It is not even the attempt to put into practice the moral teachings of Jesus. Rather, the indwelling Christ-life is to be dynamically expressed in the behavior of a Christian. C.S. Lewis explains,

"the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us."

"...when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being 'in Christ' or of Christ being 'in them,' this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them..."20

"(the) Christian idea of 'putting on Christ'... It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all. It differs from ordinary ideas of 'morality' and 'being good.'"21

   Neither is the Christian life an attempt to follow Jesus' example and "imitate His virtues."22 Contrary to the classic inculcations to the Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis) by walking In His Steps (Charles Sheldon) in order to be Like Christ (Andrew Murray), the Christian life is not an attempt at duplication. Methodist pastor, Maxie Dunnam, explained that,

" see the patterning of lives after Jesus as the essence of Christianity misses the point. This has been the major failure of the Christian Church since the second century on. To emphasize following Jesus as the heart of Christianity is to reduce it to a religion of morals and ethics and denude it of power. This has happened over and over again in Christian history-the diminishing of the role of Jesus to merely an example for us to follow."23

Ortiz admonishes Christians to,

"Stop trying to copy the Jesus of nearly 2000 years ago, and let the living Christ flow through your character. You are an expression of the glorified, eternal Christ who lives within you."24

   The Christian life is not an imitation of Jesus' life, but the manifestation of His life and Being in our behavior. The Apostle Paul was desirous that "the life of Jesus should be manifested in our mortal bodies" (II Cor. 4:10,11).

   Explaining to His disciples their inability to reproduce the Christian life, Jesus indicated, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). There is nothing that a Christian can originate or activate that constitutes or demonstrates Christianity, that qualifies as Christian behavior, or that glorifies God. "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn. 15:5) was the analogy that Jesus utilized to illustrate the necessity of allowing His life sustenance to flow through the Christian's bodily behavior, whereby the Christian might bear (not produce) the fruit of His character. The character of Christ lived out in Christians is the "fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23).

   The fruit of Christ's character is also the "fruit of righteousness" (Phil. 1:11; James 3:18). The divine character of righteousness (I Jn. 2:29; 3:7) personified in "the Righteous One" (Acts 3:13; 7:52; 22:14;I Jn. 2:1), Jesus Christ, allows the Christian to "become righteous" (II Cor. 5:21) and "be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19), as "Christ becomes to us...righteousness" (I Cor. 1:30). The understanding of righteousness must not be objectified only in "positional truths" of declaration, imputation, reckoning and reconciliation, with no practical implication of our bodily members being "instruments of righteousness" (Rom. 6:13) in the conveyance of Christ's character.

   "Having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10), Paul explains. Christians live by "the saving life of Christ."25 That is why Paul could also say, "for me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21). Salvation is not simply a static event of regenerative conversion, but is the dynamic expression of Christ's life that causes us to be "made safe" from misuse and dysfunction, in order to function as God intended by His presence and activity in us.

   All of the deeds or works of Christian living are but the outworking of Christ's activity. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We allow for the outworking of Christ's work by recognizing that "God is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12,13). To claim Christian faith without any of the consequent outworking of Christ's character and activity, is to evidence the invalidity of such faith (cf. James 2:14,17,26).

   Christian ministry is likewise, not something that the Christian does to serve Jesus. "God is not served with human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts 17:25). Rather, we recognize that the "same God works all things in all Christians" (I Cor. 12:6). Together with Paul we affirm that "we are not adequate to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is of God" (II Cor. 3:5). This is why Paul declared, "I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me" (Rom. 15:18).

   God in Christ by His Spirit empowers, enables, energizes and enacts all Christian behavior and ministry as the dynamic expression of the life of Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ. Christian living is the life and character of Jesus Christ lived out through the Christian.

   Some would object that this thesis is a form of divine determinism that impinges upon man's freedom of choice, but such is not valid for man is definitely responsible to exercise the choice of faith that allows for the receptivity of God's activity in him, both initially and continually. Others would object that attributing all Christian activity to Christ encourages passivism and acquiesence, but notice the words of Paul, "I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:29). God is an active God, always acting out of His Being and character, and those available to Him will inevitably be involved in active expressions of the Christ-life.

   Continuing then, the entirety of this divine, spiritual reality of Christ's presence and function as Christianity, must be understood not only individually in the life of each Christian (as we have been doing), but also collectively or corporately in the whole of the Church of Jesus Christ.

   The ontological essence of Jesus Christ collectively embodied in all Christians comprises the Body of Christ, the Church (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18,24). Not only is Christ in us individually, but He is "in us" collectively (cf. I Cor. 3:16), and we are "in Him" together (cf. Eph. 1:13). "We are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28), irrespective of race, gender, age, nationality, education, intelligence, personality patterns, doctrinal opinions, or denominational preferences. Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the singular essence of the Body "in Christ" in these words:

"The Church is the real presence of Christ. Once we have realized this truth we are well on the way to recovering an aspect of the Church's being which has been sadly neglected in the past. We should think of the Church not as an institution, but as a person, though of course a person in a unique sense.26

"Through his Spirit, the crucified and risen Lord exists as the Church, as the new man. It is just as true to say that this Body is the new humanity as to say that he is God incarnate dwelling in eternity.27

"The Church of Christ is the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit. In this way the life of the Body of Christ becomes our own life. In Christ we no longer live our own lives, but he lives His life in us. The life of the faithful in the Church is indeed the life of Christ in them."28

Swiss author, Manfred Haller, also sees the singular unity of Christ and the Church.

"Christ is the essence and nature of the church by the Holy Spirit. He is her content, her structure, her fullness, and she is for her part Christ's fullness."29

"In modern parlance, church is an institution, a form of Christian community, a set of people believing in Christ (or at least having some concept of God) which convenes regularly. When we talk about church, we immediately picture a number of people who, on the basis of some common understanding or arrangement, have formed a Christian association. ...When Paul thought of the church, however, he thought of Christ. The idea that the church could be anything beyond the embodiment of Christ never crossed his mind."30

"Christ and the church are one single reality! The body is not an attachment to Christ; it embodies Him. It gives expression to Christ ­ the whole Christ ­ and it carries Him within it. In the church, in the body, Christ Himself lives and acts and speaks. The church is the corporate Christ ­ Christ in the saints through the Holy Spirit. This indwelling Christ is her nature and structure, her unity, truth and certainty; He is everything to her. And Christ is in every member!"31

"Christ and the church are absolutely and indivisibly one. The church is utterly absorbed in the experience of the risen and present Lord. The inner reality and presence of Christ stamps her indelibly. She is directed by Him and held together by Him, and the very length and breadth of her is the person of Christ Jesus. Her authority is His, her mind is His mind, and her holiness His holiness. She has nothing of her own."32

"The church has only this task: to embody Christ, manifest His nature, demonstrate God's love to the world and proclaim His Lordship over all things."33

   As the ontological essence of the Church, the living Lord Jesus is also the dynamic expression of all that transpires in the Church ­ His Body. Jesus Christ in each individual Christian relates to Himself in another Christian, allowing for interactive interpersonal relationships that comprise a loving social community. Early observers of the Church, of Christianity, marveled at how the Christians "loved one another." In the expression of Christ's character of love, they ministered together in the spiritual giftedness of Christ's functional service to one another, as was the intent of the Church's functionality.

   Jesus promised that the Church, thus functioning by the presence and activity of His life, would overcome all odds. "Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matt. 16:18). B.F. Westcott observed that "the history of the Christian Church is the history of the victories of the Risen Christ gained through the Spirit sent in His name."34 "We see a Divine Life manifested...from age to age through a Divine society."35 The conclusion of James Denny was that, "without Christ there would be no Church and no ministry at all; everything we call Christian is absolutely dependent on Him."36

   Have we not sufficiently documented that Jesus Christ is the singular essence and expression of the gospel, of the revelation of God, of Christianity, of the Church? Everything "Christian" is derived from the Being and activity of Jesus. All of Christianity is contingent and dependent on Him, and expressive of Him. Christianity is Christ!

   When Jesus announced to His disciples, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6), He was declaring that all was inherent in Him. He is the modality, reality and vitality of God, and thus of Christianity and the Church. He does not just teach us the way of God or guide us to the divine way, but His very Being is the way of God's self-revelation to man, the modality of spiritual union with God and proper human function. He does not simply teach truth propositions about God apart from Himself, but His very Being is the self-authenticating Truth of God, the reality of Christianity. He does not offer us an historical example of life or a commodity of "eternal life," but His very Being is the self-expression of the living God, the dynamic vitality of Christian life. He could just as well have said, "I am Christianity!"

Disintegration of the Gospel

   How important is this integration of Christ's person and work, the integral oneness of His being and action? Is it really of serious import to insist that the unity of His essence and expression be maintained? Should we endeavor to challenge the traditional dualistic detachments of "Christian religion," and upset the religious status-quo that separates Christ from that activity that goes by His name?

   This author believes that it is imperative that we address the issue of the detachment and disjuncture of Christianity from Christ, for such a perversion constitutes a disintegration of the gospel, the revelation of God in Christ. The issue at hand is but another form of that initially addressed by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians, when he confronted the Galatian believers who were being duped into denying that Christianity was constituted in the life of Christ alone without any encumbrances of additional belief or action. Paul accused those who succumbed to such disconnected accretions of a circumscribed ritual, of "deserting Christ, who called them by His grace, for another gospel which is not good news at all, but a distortion worthy only of damnation" (Gal. 1:6-9).

   If the homoousion issue of the integral oneness of the Trinity was important enough to address at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century. If the sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, sola Christus issue of the singularity of the redemptive efficacy of Christ's justifying and sanctifying work received by faith was important enough to address in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Then, the issue of the integral oneness of the ontological essence and dynamic expression of Jesus Christ in Christianity and the Church is certainly timely and important enough to address in the twenty-first century.

   The disintegration of Christ and Christianity in contemporary "Christian religion" allows the ontological essence of Jesus Christ in the Christian individual to degenerate into an obliging endorsement of history or theology. The dynamic expression of Jesus Christ in the Christian individual is diminished to the dictated exercise and effort of moralism and ethics. The ontological essence of Jesus Christ in the Church collectively is reduced to an organizational entity of ecclesiasticism. The dynamic expression of Jesus Christ in His Body is replaced with the determined enterprise of religious planning and programs. Christianity is thus mutilated and mutated by man-made "Christian religion" which has no value before God (cf. Col. 2:23).

   Consider the serious logical consequences of allowing Christianity and Christ to be thus divided, divorced, and disintegrated. Without the recognition of the ontological and dynamic connection and union of Christ and Christianity, there is an inevitable deficient and defective understanding of the Trinity, of God's action in the Christian and the Church through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52) is separated and severed from the dynamic expression of Christian righteousness, with the subsequent insistence on pious performance of Christian living, then the efficacy of the death of Christ is denied and the cross is but a redundant, superfluous and unnecessary tragedy of history (cf. Gal. 2:21). When "Christian religion" mutates Christianity into mere morality generated by the self-effort of human ability, then "the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished" (Gal. 5:11), as the "finished work" of Christ (Jn. 19:30) is left unfinished, to be completed by human commitment and ability. When Christianity is conceived of as anything less that the ontological presence and dynamic activity of the living Lord Jesus, then some separated and detached entity is formed and formulated, whether it be in thought construction or ecclesiastical construction, and such construct becomes the object of idolatry. These are serious abdications and aberrations that must be addressed and challenged.

   Though some have called for a "new reformation,"37 such could merely imply a re-forming of the existent theological belief-systems or ecclesiastical constructions, which would be inadequate. What we need is a complete restoration of the recognition of the reality of the risen Lord Jesus as the essence and expression of Christianity, which constitutes the restoration of humanity to God's functional intent by the indwelling function of Jesus Christ in the Christian.

   The affirmation that Christianity is Christ, that "Christianity is the divine,"38 is not merely advocacy of another variant epistemological ideology or the defense of a more precise orthodox belief-system. This is a call to return to the reality of the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ as the ontological essence and behavioral expression of Christianity. There will, without a doubt, be some theological objectivists who will attempt to pass off this integral Christocentric emphasis as perfectionistic idealism or subjective mysticism. They will insist on the retention of detached cerebral and eclesiastical objectivities which deny and disallow the real and vital spiritual experience of the living Spirit of Christ, for themselves and for others.

   John R.W. Stott vividly portrays pictures in words when he writes that "Christianity without Christ is a chest without a treasure, a frame without a portrait, a corpse without breath."39 Are we content to sit idly by and allow "Christian religion" and its empty, sterile theology misrepresent Christianity in such a lifeless and fallacious manner? Now is the time to unashamedly affirm that "Christianity is Christ," and to witness such personally by allowing the resurrection-life of the living Lord Jesus to be "manifested in our mortal bodies" (II Cor. 4:10,11) by the grace of God unto the glory of God!


1     Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. 1978. pg. 62.
2     Nevin, John W., The Mystical Presence. Philadelphia: United Church Press. 1846. pg. 216.
3     Torrance, Thomas F., Reality and Evangelical Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1982. pg. 16.
4     Ibid., pg. 18.
5     Barclay, William. The Mind of St. Paul. London: Fontana Books. 1965. pg. 87.
    Ortiz, Juan Carlos, Living With Jesus Today. London: Triangle Books. 1984. pgs. 18,19.
7     Westcott, Brooke Foss, The Gospel of Life: Thoughts Introductory to the Study of Christian Doctrine. London: Macmillan and Co.1895. pg. 249.
8     Ibid. pg. 250.
9     Ibid. pg. 255.
10   Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. 1976. pg. 22.
11   Ellul, Jacques, The Presence of the Kingdom. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1951. pg. 52.
12   Thomas, W.H. Griffith, Christianity is Christ. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1916. pg. 115.
13   Ibid. pg. 117.
14   Ibid. pg. 118.
15   Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics. Vol. IV, Part I, "The Doctrine of Reconciliation." Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988. pg. 149.
16   Thomas, Maj. W. Ian, The Saving Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co. 1961. pg. 149.
17   Barclay, William. op. cit., pg. 89.
18   Donfried, Karl Paul, The Dynamic Word: New Testament Insights for Contemporary Christians. San Francisco: Harper and Row. 1981. pg. 3.
19   Merton, Thomas, The New Man. New York: The Noonday Press. 1961. pg. 165.
20   Lewis, C.S., op. cit. pg. 64.
21   Ibid., pg. 166.
22   Merton, Thomas, op. cit., pg. 169.
23   Dunnam, Maxie, Alive in Christ: The Dynamic Process of Spiritual Formation. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1982. pgs. 110,111.
24   Ortiz, Juan Carlos, op. cit., pg. 42.
25   Thomas, Maj. W. Ian, op. cit. Title of book.
26   Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. pg. 269.
27   Ibid., pg. 271.
28   Ibid., pg. 272.
29   Haller, Manfred, Christ as All in All. Sargent: The SeedSowers. 1996. pg. 105.
30   Ibid., pg. 116.
31   Ibid., pg. 118.
32   Ibid., pg. 121.
33   Ibid., pg. 156.
34   Westcott, B.F., op. cit. pg. 278.
35   Ibid., pg. 281.
36   Denney, James, Jesus and the Gospels: Christianity Justified in the Mind of Christ. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1908. pg. 27.
37   Torrance, Thomas F., Theology in Reconstruction. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans. 1965. pgs. 259-283.
38   Kierkegaard, Soren, Attack on Christendom. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1968. pgs. 102, 132.
39   Stott, John R.W., Focus on Christ. New York: Collins. 1979. pg. 155.