As you think about the Christian life as a lifelong process of change, what things stand out as the key ingredients for change? Most of us focus on the “means of grace”: Bible study, prayer, fellowship, reading Christian books, the sacraments, service, and witness. God has provided these as means to an end, but they are not the end! All the means of grace are good and necessary for change, but only if they do not become ends in themselves.
The Christian life is not less than these means, but it is much more. Several passages help us think about how wonderful it is to be in union with Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:1–3, Paul uses the marriage metaphor to talk about being united with Christ. Colossians 1:15–23 gives us a picture of Christ, our Bridegroom. In Colossians 2:1–15, we discover the life-changing benefits Christ brings us by faith.
The Liabilities We Bring to Marriage
When I got married, my wife did not know I had liabilities. I’ll mention only one here! I was a student who had spent several years on staff with a campus ministry before coming to seminary. I was thousands of dollars in debt with no workable plan to pay it off, and I still had two more years of seminary to go. Fortunately for me, my fiancée had worked steadily and saved a good bit of money. The day we said “I do” was a very significant day for many reasons. Among them was the fact that my debt became her debt and her assets became my assets. It was a great financial deal for me, but not for her. This is what happens when we become Christians. Christ assumes our liabilities and graciously gives us his assets. This is God’s amazing grace.
But more happened on our wedding day. Along with this new legal (and financial) arrangement, my wife and I entered into a personal relationship that has grown deeper over the years. We communicate with each other in ways that only two people who have spent decades together can. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus. We not only enjoy legal benefits; we enter into a personal relationship that grows over time as we spend our lives with him.
The Person Who Changes You
According to the Bible, change takes place within a deeply personal relationship that is built on a solid legal foundation. We are gradually conformed to the likeness of the One to whom we are married. As Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” That good work begins in relationship to Jesus and is brought to completion within an ever-deepening union with him. This is the most unique aspect of a biblical view of change. It is not less than cognitive change; it is so much more. It is not less than behavioral change; it is so much more. No other secular or religious approach to change comes close to what we find in Scripture. The Bible gives us more than exhortations and rules for change. The great gift Christ gives us is himself!
The metaphor of marriage is used to describe our relationship with God throughout the Old and New Testaments. It rests on the biblical idea of a covenant. A covenant is a relational promise. God binds himself to us. He is our God and we are his people. Ezekiel, in a rather unabashed way, depicts God looking upon Israel as a husband does a wife:
“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “and you became mine.”Ezekiel 16:8
Isaiah says, “For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5).
Ephesians uses marriage as a metaphor to depict Christ’s relationship with his people. After talking about human marriage, Paul says, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
While there is a sense in which our marriage to Christ is not yet completed, biblical writers use the marriage metaphor to depict the legal, deeply personal, two-sided nature of the believer’s relationship to God. It is the relationship God initiates and in which we participate.
The Blessings of Our Union with Christ
When my wife and I got married, we did not fully understand what we were getting ourselves into. Yet we took a step of faith based on what we did know. We entrusted our decision to the grace and mercy of God, believing that he would enable us to grow in our marriage. Over time, we have discovered the strengths each of us brought to the marriage. We also discovered each other’s sins and weaknesses.
Our marriage to Christ is different. Christ brings the assets. We bring the liabilities. Yet Christ still joins himself to us!
When couples get married, they sometimes wonder how their new spouse will react when they really get to know each other. Marriage becomes what it is meant to be when your spouse gets to know the real you and loves you anyway! It is the same with our marriage to Christ. We cannot fully appreciate the blessings Christ brings until we see ourselves as we truly are. Then we are amazed at how gracious and merciful Jesus is.
Excerpted adapted from How People Change ©2006, 2008 by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
How People Change
What does it take for lasting change to take root in your life? If you’ve ever tried, failed, and wondered what you could do differently, you need to read How People Change. Biblical counseling experts Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp explain the biblical pattern for change in a clear, practical way you can apply to the challenges of daily life.