CONTINUAL CONVERSION

by Brennan Manning

Most failure to act on the Word can be traced to ignorance, inattention or insufficient esteem for the person of Christ.  A loose goodwill toward the world replaces the radical conversion and explicit death to self that the gospel demands.  We do not want a God who would change us or challenge us.  Authentic Christianity rings in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:22-24).  If the People of God are not hearing the call to repentance or claiming their power to fulfill it, is it because we ministers of the Word are preaching another Christ from the pulpit?

There is nobody in the Christian community who is not called to continual conversion.  There is no who does not still have before him the labor of building up the image of Jesus Christ in his life by the steady practice, day by day, of Christian virtues.  And as Edward O'Connor remarks, "You don't sing your way around that stuff."   Paul writes in First Corinthians, "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Cor.9:27).  To the Galatians: "Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows" (Gal.6:7).

The tone of the Christ of God is not always sweet and consoling.  The gospel is the Good News of gratuitous salvation, but it does not promise a picnic on a green lawn.  In the man Jesus, in his words, the invisible God becomes audible.  And God convulsed the whole being of Jesus in the cry, "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15).

Christianity, then, comprises more than involvement in human rights struggles, environmental causes, or peace programs.  Fullness of life in the Spirit is more than finding Christ in others and serving him there.  It is a summons to personal holiness, ongoing conversion, and new creation through union with Christ Jesus.  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Cor.5:17).

For this reason, the Gospel of John is especially relevant to contemporary Christians.  Why?  Because, in contrast with the synoptics, as John McKenzie notes, "John's Gospel is not the gospel of the Kingdom but the gospel of Jesus himself."  It is impossible to exaggerate the central position of Jesus in the fourth Gospel: central not merely insofar as he is the principal protagonist and teacher, but as he illumines every page of it.  In his thought-provoking book THE ART AND THOUGHT OF JOHN, Edgar Bruns writes, "The reader is, as it were, blinded by the brilliance of his image and comes away like a man who has looked long at the sun, unable to see anything but its light."  Again, for John the only sin is to resist the Holy Spirit, reject Jesus Christ, and fail to act on his Word.

The dominant theme of the second part of John's Gospel is union with the Lord.  Through the beautiful imagery of the vine and the branches, Jesus calls all people to himself.  "Abide in me, dwell in me, resort to me, come to me," he beckons (see John 15:4ff).  Significantly, Jesus does not say, "Come to a day of renewal, a retreat, a prayer meeting, a liturgy," but "come to ME." Is this the self-flattering superiority of a religious fanatic? Yes, if he is not the Savior of the world.  He is either an egoist or the Risen Lord who must be proclaimed as the world's only hope.  No one else would dare to say:

> I am the way, I am truth and life.  (John 14:6)

> I am the light of the world.  (John 8:12)

> I am the bread of heaven.  He who eats of this bread will never know what it is to die.  (John 6:51)

> He who believes in ME will have everlasting life: and the one who does not believe in ME will be condemned.  (John 3:35)

In captivity, Paul could think of nothing grater than to wish for the Ephesians that, "out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God"

(Eph.3:16-19).

Paul perceived that on Judgment Day our entire life will be appraised and evaluated in terms of our personal relationship with the risen Jesus of Nazareth.  For this reason, he could realistically write to the Philippians, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philip. 3:8).

The Apostle was like a man obsessed: his mind was aflame with one thought and his heart aglow with one desire: to know Christ Jesus, his saving Lord.  Upon reflection, Paul spun around and told the Colossians to wait a minute: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Col.3:1-4).  The Christ of Paul was not merely a great teacher, an example of a great man or a symbol of man's noble aspirations; he was Lord and Savior.  To reinterpret Jesus any other way is to bleed Christianity of its point.

Copyright 2005 – This excerpt from THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FOOLISH appears by kind permission of HarperSanFrancisco.

 

 

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