Why We Should "Christify" Ourselves

In his letter to the Christians of Rome, the apostle Paul expressively outlines his theology of theocentric living. As if continuing with ideas put forth in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul fully develops in Romans his concepts of faith, grace and justice:

“But now, quite independently of law, God’s justice has been brought to light. The Law and the prophets both bear witness to it: it is God’s way of righting wrong, effective through faith in Christ for all who have such faith – all, without distinction. For all alike have sinned, and are deprived of the divine splendor, and all are justified by God’s free grace alone, through his act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus. For God designed him to be the means of expiating sin by his sacrificial death, effective through faith. God meant by this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had overlooked the sins of the past…” Romans, 3:21-25.

“The conclusion of the matter is this: there is no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus, because in Christ Jesus the life-giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. What the law could never do, because our lower nature robbed it of all potency, God has done: by sending his own Son in a form like that of our own sinful nature, and as a sacrifice for sin, he has passed judgment against sin within that very nature, so that the commandment of the law may find fulfillment in us, whose conduct, no longer under the control of our lower nature, is directed by the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4.

“Therefore, my brothers, I implore you by God’s mercy to offer your very selves to him: a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart. Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world, but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2.

For Paul, "faith in Christ" is not to blindly believe in something that cannot be verified, but to fearlessly acknowledge reality and live in light of it. Man's tendency is to live in the sin of egocentrism -- to think of himself as separate from and somehow superior to those around him, defining himself in relative terms. But this outlook is not grounded in truth: a man’s body is not his own creation, his ego is inconstant, and his every relative aspect will inevitably die away. Why, Paul asks, should man cling to this doomed egocentric perspective, when there are absolute, eternal truths he can embrace? The mortal body of man is a fleeting manifestation of the infinite Body of Creation; man’s self-awareness, a momentary ripple upon the eternal ocean of Mankind. An individual can choose to think of himself as fleeting and momentary, or as infinite and eternal. The choice not only changes his outlook on himself and the world, but secures God's justice by determining a man's ultimate fate: egocentric death, or theocentric, everlasting life.

Paul's seeming obsession with the law is understandable within this context. The “law of sin and death" promotes relative consciousness (self-righteousness and relative distinctions), and is obeyed regardless of personal conviction; whereas the "life-giving law of the Spirit" promotes absolute consciousness (selfless unity) that supersedes obedience -- for a person with such an outlook, there are no right and wrong choices to make, as right can be the only way.

Attaining absolute consciousness is an ostensibly impossible task for just about every individual, which seems to suggest that a relative outlook is intrinsic to human nature. And yet we know it is possible to sacrifice the relative for the absolute, because we have seen it in the example of Jesus. Throughout His life, Jesus, the man, urged us to abandon temporal ideas that divide us, and focus on the eternal reality we all share. As a man, His absolute consciousness was sometimes eclipsed by egotism, as it was in the Garden of Gethsemane, when,
briefly, Jesus prayed to save his mortal self. But, always, He resolutely returned to God, and godly consciousness.

In death, Jesus became the Christ, the savior of humanity, through His "sacrifice" (a Middle English word derived from Latin, meaning "to make sacred"), although the vital point of this act is often misunderstood. What mattered was not the crucifixion of His body, but the crucifixion of His ego (the voice of relative awareness crying out from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”), the inexorable triumph of the eternal over the temporal.

Christ's sacrifice effectively changes the nature of humanity by showing us what we can become. We can unite with Christ in life and offer ourselves to God by emulating the sacrifice of Jesus, and crucifying our egocentric selves. This is how a rich man, for example, can enter the Kingdom of Heaven; by letting die the isolating self image of wealth, he gives life to a unifying awareness of fundamental brotherhood. With an outlook attuned to this awareness, he no longer defines himself in relative terms, but sees himself as he sees others: a unique and miraculous manifestation of creation.

The act of baptism is a fitting symbol of man’s “Christification”, marking the burial of his egocentric self, and the resurrection of his theocentric consciousness. A theocentric life is one lived in the grace of God -- what Paul terms the life-giving law of the Spirit that sets us free from the law of sin and death.

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