The universal and personal aspects of our inclusion in Christ

As we consider the truth of the inclusion (adoption) of all humanity through Jesus into the triune life of God, we struggle to find adequate and accurate words to speak of this mind-blowing grace. It's outside our normal frame of reference and thus defies "human logic."

Because this is so, we struggle to hold together the "already" but "not yet" nature of this inclusion. All people everywhere and in all times are already included through Jesus' vicarious (representative/substitutionary) humanity. However, not all yet *understand* and thus not all yet *embrace* what is already theirs in Christ.

As Pastor Timothy reminds us, all humans now share and thus meaningfully (though not necessarily consciously) already experience Jesus' life and love. And what a blessing it is for us to point out to non-believers and believers alike the good news of their inclusion. We can help non-believers discover for the first time what they may have always sensed, namely that Jesus has always been present with them - sharing his life and love with them in myriad ways. And we can graciously invite them to change their thinking (repent) concerning their essential identify and entrust their lives (this is faith)in the one who has loved them and been with them all along.

Such is the gospel invitation to repentance and faith and it includes the invitation to them to "take up their cross and follow Jesus." What a privilege to offer this invitation! It is truly good news of the actual truth at the heart of all creation. Jesus, and our life in him!

And it gets even better. Those who awaken through the illumination of the Spirit to this wonderful truth begin to experience it and share in it more fully. They are engrafted by the Spirit into a community of Christ-followers that Scripture calls the "church." This "body of Christ" by the special anointing and call of the Spirit is formed for active participation in Jesus' mission, which we refer to as Jesus' "Great Commission" to "make disciples." In our participation in this mission we co-minister with the Spirit, utilizing his grace gifts to assist people in their journey with Jesus from lack of awareness of their inclusion, to full and active participation in it as his disciples.

Our emphasis in all this is not on who is "in" and who is "out" but on the inclusion of all in the triune circle of God's love and life; helping people everywhere to understand, to turn in joy to embrace, and to more fully experience and express what they have been given.

As we speak of this, we necessarily refer to the *universal* inclusion of all humanity, as well as the *personal* experience and growth of individuals in that inclusion. This is not an either-or proposition, but one that is both-and. I believe we must take care not to emphasize one to the exclusion of the other. However, I believe that it is essential to ground discussion of the personal in the truth of the universal. The personal without the foundation of the universal can easily become a system of mere *religious works* stripped of the life of the triune God shared by the grace of adoption with all humanity.


Jerome Ellard said…
Great post, Ted. Thank you! I agree with your "both-and" approach to the *universal* and *personal experience* aspects of mankind's inclusion in the triune circle of God's love and life, GROUNDED in the truth of the universal. Awesome! My concern in my previous posts has been that this world, right now, SORELY needs help, hope and encouragement in the personal experiencing of the universal inclusion God has accomplished. Hey, I need it, every day, every minute! There is a lot of darkness out there in the lives of people, and you see that without even turning on your TV (Oh, Lord, Your Kingdom Come, even more!). I am not being a pessimist. This new (to us) understanding the Holy Spirit has shown us is the most optimistic understanding of reality in the world! Sadly, I have recently had the experience of people I have loved for 30 years leaving our fellowship over these wonderful truths! Their minds are captured by the fear of Hell and a legalistic view of what WE MUST DO to be saved (!!!!) This has hurt me. While we continue to live in these pre-Revelation 21 days, there is a immense need for loving ministry to hurting people. To people blinded by fear and hatred. There is an immense need for us to respond to the Light we have been given and to be loving, encouraging conveyences of the absolute hope and love we all have been given from on High! All praises to our Wonderful God! It is, after all, our eternal, Triune God who HAS done and IS DOING all of this. He invites us to co-minister with Him. Help us, Lord!
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Jerome.

Sorry to hear that some of your loved ones have broken fellowship due to disagreement. I have prayed for all of you.

The truth of who Jesus is (and who all humanity is because of him), clearly "messes" with dearly-held categories of people and even of human history.

I have come to see that history is indeed Jesus' story (his-story). It's about him, and who we are in and because of him.

This story begins in eternity past with Jesus' place in the eternal triune life that is God("in the beginning was the Word"). From there the story quickly focuses in on God's dealings with Abraham and Israel as God prepares what Torrance refers to as the "womb of the incarnation." Jesus' incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension is the fulcrum of all history. In these events, Jesus takes all of our humanness - sinful nature and all - into himself where we are redeemed, reconciled and transformed.

Thus we may describe the whole sweep of the Old Testament history (including the Old Covenant) as a vital period of *preparation.*

And then with Jesus' incarnation we have *revelation.*

And following that, the focus of human history is now on *education.* The Spirit is at work to make known the truth that is in Jesus, including the truth of the adoption of all humanity into God's life through Jesus.

This education is a continuing and unfolding story that involves, in a very direct way, the work of the body of Christ (the church) on earth. The disciples of Jesus are called, formed and gifted by the Spirit to be a visible demonstration and proclamation of who Jesus is and who all humanity is given to be in union with him.

What a blessing to participate with Jesus, in the Spirit, in this continuing, unfolding his-story! There is no greater calling, no more fulfilling (and challenging) work. May God continue to illuminate our understanding and direct our paths as his story unfolds in and through us.
I am surely APPRECIATING this ongoing conversation with all of you and I AGREE wholeheartedly with what is being said! I am with you!!!

Most of my comments are an attempt to stay grounded in the grammar of the Incarnation as the ultimate Reality because, in the end, we are not going to always see what we think is progress, and the Truth of Life in Jesus is that what He began will be finished! We tend to get overly discouraged about the "lack of progress" in our own lives, let alone the darkness we also see in others.

The final statement of our lives is Jesus' comment "It is finished!" and His Resurrected and Divine Humanity, and it must be acknowledged that if everyone, including we Christians, fully trusted and embraced that Truth, there would be a new heaven and a new earth right before our very eyes!!! He said he would never leave us, and He is just as much with us here and now as ever He will be!

I am for discipling others in Jesus. I am for Ephesians 4, 5 and 6, just as much as I am for Ephesians 1, 2, and 3. I REALLY do believe in Inclusion! Included means included, NOT excluded! If we believe Jesus shares His actual and restored humanity with us right now, then we ought to see it showing up in humanity right now, and my point is...WE DO SEE IT SHOWING UP RIGHT NOW EVERYWHERE - INCLUDING CHRISTIANS, and EVERYONE ELSE!

I like how C.S.Lewis holds to these realities, especially in these two quotes:

"There is no such thing as badness, only spoiled goodness."

He also wrote, in the Light of Christ, "I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes."

And, personally, I am EXPERIENCING the Source as I never before dreamed possible, as He shows me Himself EVERYWHERE and in all things more and more, WITHOUT condoning the darkness He condemned and put to death in His own human body!!! And it IS condemned and it HAS been put to death! So why do we still think it is alive???

This really is His present world (Matt 28:18!), and that is why we have hope that people will even hear us when we Matt 28:19-20!! But everyone does NOT have to become one of us Christians to be fully included, and that is a lot of my point. I highly recommend Christianity, but on the inside of our humanity, people already deeply KNOW who they are, and our sharing will ring the bell that has already been ringing in their hearts since the day of their birth, and if we don't get to them (and we will get to many), they're already being reached by the best Educator possible, the Holy Spirit!! Acts 2:17!

It is literally an "Inside-Out" paradigm and Reality!

Peace, Love and Blessings, and I delight in my share of being able to share with you this liberating Truth, my WCG brothers and sisters!!
Len Joson said…
Hi Ted,

Thanks for your explanation on this matter of "universal" and "personal aspects of man's inclusion. You also wrote before that this could be a better alternative terminology than "objective" and "subjective" as we try to find the right words to describe these things.

As I listened to Dr. Feazell's interview of Dr. McKenna, they discussed that there is already reconciliation from God's side that has already taken place. "The alienation is from our human standpoint" -- man's side. Is this related to what you're saying or am I way off?

Mr. Feazell pointed out Colossians 1:21 where the alienation is only in man's mind (not the reality) -- man's side because of man's evil behavior. An interesting point for me.

This also seems to indicate to me a need for man to repent and believe and live a life of love in Jesus after realizing the truth -- spiritual formation.

I agree with you that both should be given emphasis. I'm truly enjoying this wonderful truth that God has revealed to us at this time! Thanks Ted for your part in it since 1995.
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Len (webpastor). I think you are correct in equating the view from the "God side" with the "universal" and "objective"; and the view from the "human side" with the "personal" and "subjective."

Here we have two views of one reality (truth): One is God's view, and what he sees is the full and ultimate truth. The other is the view of individual persons - and what they see is limited and often distorted.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit, which he accomplishes (at least in part) through the church, is to illuminate (educate) individuals with the light of the full truth so that what they begin to see comes into greater alignment with what is actually and fully true. "And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

This truth is Jesus - and it includes the truth of who we actually are with God in union with Jesus: We are reconciled. We are included. We are loved. We have a home (and our home is in Jesus).

Of course, every human being, even before experiencing and responding to the Spirit's illuminating grace, experiences something of God's love and life. Why? Because they are already reconciled (connected to) God in Jesus.

This explains why non-believers experience and express some of the Spirit's fruit (love, joy, peace...). For example, I know a young man who would characterize himself as an agnostic (perhaps an atheist). He is devoting his life to assisting indigenous tribes in Ecuador in preserving their way of life in harmony with the rain forest. This love for people and for the earth is the "bubbling up" of his connection to the love and life of God in Jesus.

Yet he is unaware as to where this passion and love he experiences originates. He just experiences and acts on it. Thus he unwittingly experiences the light of Jesus even as he walks in partial unawareness (darkness).

Believers have turned to the light. And of course, even following that turning, their experience is less than the full truth of who they are in Christ. In fact, their life is a journey with the Spirit toward the fullness that is already theirs in Jesus.

Perhaps this thread of discussion will be helpful to us. Sometimes we worry about saying too much in speaking of the universal because it seems to negate the personal - both in terms of personal participation and responsibility.

But consider that an over-emphasis on the personal might minimize or even negate the truth of the universal - the penultimate truth of who humanity already is in Jesus.

Our emerging theological vision starts with God - with the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished already in humanity (every person) through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension. This is the view from the God side, it is the ultimate truth, and it includes every person, no matter their personal perception.

And now each person is invited to open their eyes to this truth and experience it more fully and personally. This experience is transformational and leads to growth in a newly-understood and embraced identity. And in that growth they more actively and knowledgeably participate with the Spirit in educating the world to the one truth that sets us free. Jesus.
Anonymous said…
I have been really enjoying reading the thoughts that come into this blog. But I must say that I am concerned by what I see is a failure to address a key question embedded in our theological stance. The question is, “So, what is next?” And this question is crucial to our spiritual standing with God.

You see, we, like so many other denominations, talk about taking up our cross and following Jesus, and about staying away from religious works and legalistic notions. But the truth be known, what this really means in modern Christianity is a trip down the road of law as a way to please God. So the modern faith tells its adherents to tithe, to forgive so God will forgive them, to love God with all their might, to love their neighbor as themselves, to keep the Ten Commandments, and to gain eternal life through commandment keeping. All of these instructions are law.

But we must let our message be one that tells of a righteousness that exists apart from law. This is Who should be next. And this “next” comes only through Christ in you the hope of glory, Who is brought forth to our attention from behind the veil when we come to believe in His name.

I feel that we need to be very clear in this matter. Christ will not be constrained by law, and He does not show His presence in the context of law. In other words, it is not what we do that counts. It is who we believe, and this is what God centers on.


J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Richard. In my view, you raise a vital issue, namely how we live out our union with Jesus. Some refer to this as the issue of Christian "ethics." It's a "hot" topic in an increasingly immoral world, and one that I think is often addressed in ways contrary to the gospel of grace in Jesus.

Trinitarian theologians tend to speak of Christian ethics or Christian living and ministry from the perspective of "participation" in the union we have with Jesus. In "An Introduction to Torrance Theology, Discovering the Incarnate Saviour", David Torrance writes that the "basis of the Christian living out and manifesting the reality of our union with Christ...The whole of the Christians life is a summons to be obedient to Christ and to share in and with him in his continuing ministry to the world."

In a chapter in the same book, Gary Deddo calls on the church to approach Christian ethics and ministry from its true foundation, namely our union with Jesus. He notes that obedience to Jesus is sharing in Jesus life. This is not a matter of conformance with external laws or rules but of a real participation in the real life of a real person, namely Jesus in whom the whole of humanity is brought into the perfect and perfecting love and life of God.

Rather than encouraging lawlessness (antinomianism), this approach gives access to ever-deepening life tranformation that is the by-product of sharing with Jesus his perfect human life.

This view tells us that both justification and sanctification are the outflow of union with Jesus. Thus both are of grace alone. And sharing in Jesus' life and love and the transformation it brings, is all about a dynamic and ongoing relationship with a living person.

So what should pastors or preachers do when they see members exhibiting immoral behavior or a lack of involvement? They might be tempted to "lay down the law" or use some other external source of discipline and motivation. They might be tempted to impose a rigid program to get people involved in certain activities. But in doing so, they risk turning people away from the real union they have with Christ. Any obedience they then exhibit may be merely out of their own devices and will, and not of faith; not of a real sharing in the real life of Jesus.

What ministers of the gospel are called and gifted by the Spirit to do is to take people to Jesus - to the the foundation of the gospel: who Jesus is, and who they are in union with him. And with this foundation renewed they will have their hearts, minds and behavior progressively opened to and thus transformed in Jesus - the real and only source of a transformed human life.

Teachers of Jesus can then coach and otherwise assist people in living out of their union with the Savior. This is appropriate and helpful, because it is coaching people in experiencing and expressing real life.
Anonymous said…
Hi Ted!

Yes, our union with Jesus is so important. And it transforms us individually and corporately. This union or presence is also what Paul appealed to in answering the Corinthians’ very understandable response (found in 1 Corinthians 6) to Paul’s belief ("lawless") teaching, which response was, “Well then, anything goes!”

But this union can be somewhat uncomfortable to our human thinking. The reason, in my opinion, is because we humans are addicted to law. So we instead often construct Iron Maidens (complete with spikes) out of law to restrain our desires and to control our passions. However, this never works largely because our “sinful” nature intertwines itself with law to produce death.

In contrast, union with Jesus allows us to live freely as we walk through this rather messy life. And herein is a great mystery in that Jesus actually interacts with us to bring sense and direction to our lives, even in the "valley of death" times. Furthermore, He is the only thing that will work for us both now and into eternity.

So let us preach and teach this freedom to truly rely and rest in Him. Jesus is both so liberating and so directional for us as we uniquely walk with Him into forever with God.


J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
In an earlier post in this thread I referred to the *universal inclusion* of humanity in Christ as "penultimate truth." I should have called it "ultimate truth." Indeed, it is the "truth of all truths." Of course this truth is a person, Jesus, not a mere proposition. And who Jesus is in his gloried humanity for us is the truth that gives meaning to all other truths, including our personal perceiving and experiencing of this inclusion.

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32 NRSV).