By Brett Berger
Faculty, College of Theology
These are certainly interesting times for the American Christian. While it would be historically inaccurate to say these are the most dangerous times, Christians do find themselves with a new status. Culturally, things have moved and the dominant assumptions have shifted.
No longer can the American Christian assume their values or assumptions will be shared by the majority. Furthermore, the political climate and the alliances made between influential Christian voices and political powers have cast a shadow of suspicion upon Christians and focused scrutiny on those who identify as Evangelicals in particular.
All of this has served to nurture a general sense of insecurity among many American Christians. Many are expressing anxiety about their place within the culture. This inevitably leads to questions about what should be done. What do we do? How do we overcome this shift? How do we get our influence and power back?
Ironically, this perceived marginalization may serve us well by helping us to read the Bible with fresh eyes. Overall, the Bible was written for people who held no power or status in their society. For generations, we have read the Bible as those with a powerful voice in the most powerful nation and it may have shielded us from seeing what it really says and how it really calls us to live.
Where there is a sense of powerlessness, there is a corresponding temptation to grasp and fight for a position of power. The Bible, however, flips our notion of power upside down. I want to show this by contrasting the way of Adam and the way of Christ. In Philippians 2:5, the Apostle Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Paul is calling believers to be imitators of Christ in their way of thinking.
It is important to note that this comes right after his command to consider others “more significant than themselves” and right before the example of Christ as he goes on to say, “Who [Christ], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
What do we have here? Jesus refuses to grasp his status and glory as God and takes on the form and likeness of a human servant. He follows this pattern of obedience to death. The result? Exaltation. It says, “Therefore, God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9-11). This is the pattern that Paul is calling Christians to imitate.
Now, let us put this in contrast to the way of Adam observed in the Fall narrative of Genesis 3. In this case, the serpent tempts Adam and Eve with the promise that they can “become like God” (Genesis 3:4-5). He offers the fruit as a path to power. It is a chance to grasp the form of God. The result? Death. For it says, “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die” (2:17).
Jesus and Adam are for us contrasting ways of life. They are patterns: one to imitate and one to avoid. Jesus’ way is one where his followers are to humble themselves in service to God and to others, trusting the promise that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:16).
Adam’s way is the way of humanity in general. It is the grasp for power, seeking God likeness to determine our own way and destiny. It is the failure or refusal to trust God. It is pride, and brings sin, suffering and death to all our relationships.
The temptation for today’s Christian in our current climate is to respond to our sense of insecurity with the grasping for power. The temptation is to follow the way of Adam and take control ourselves (even if for God’s glory). As with the serpent’s temptation, the end justifies the means.
In the way of Jesus, however, the manner and means matters. God is calling for Christians to follow in the way of Jesus as humble servants, trusting in his power. It is this pattern that should be shaping our lives in the face of our “new” cultural status.
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