In saying that we have received His fullness, the apostle here confirms that God’s grace can actually fulfill human nature. So often, we hear our nature referred to as corrupt, or totally depraved, or in anyway negative and wicked. And yet, consider that when Scripture states that we receive forgiveness, we would never question if we are truly forgiven, when Scripture states that we receive eternal life, we would never question whether that were actually so or not. And yet, when it states “of all His fullness, we have received,” we immediately begin to try to re-interpret that to mean something other than what it truly says. Why do we do that? Why do we question that our nature can be fulfilled, perfected? Why would we question that the grace of God can restore us to our original design, the image of Christ? I would wager that the underlying reason that we question that is simply, to do so requires faith in something. It requires full, true faith. See, to believe that we are inherently wicked is to believe that we are fully waging war with who we are, and thus it becomes so easy to allow ourselves certain indulgences in the name of our “total depravity.” GK Chesterton says that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” See, to accept that we are wicked, to embrace that theology is so easy for we who love our sin, and then to excuse it in the name of a wicked nature. But, this concept is totally foreign to Scripture. Paul himself writes to the church in Galatia, “I labor in birth until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19). What does Paul mean by that statement? If we can never be fully perfected in Christ, then for what is Paul laboring? Does he stand as a grand inquisitor punishing those until externally their lives bare the traits of Christ? God forbid. No, rather what he is stating is that he will continue to teach, to edify, to encourage, and yes admonish them, until internally they attain to the heart of Christ.
See, the real heart of the issue is this. God forms man as the icon of God, made in His image. And God Himself is a good God. Thus, to claim that our nature is wicked is to deny that we were formed in His image, or to imply that God did not create us. If God formed us in His image, and He is good, and is not the creator of wickedness, then we, in our nature, must be good. And it is through our willful acceptance of sin that we are stained by wickedness. We allow the world into our hearts and slowly begin to lean more and more on it. I would use as an example cell phones. Stay with me on this. How many people today feel as though they would be unable to live without their cell phone? And yet, 30 years ago, such a thought would have been unheard of. Throughout the continued influence of the world, however, we are convinced that we would be unable to live without it. So too is it with sin. Any sin which the world has embraced becomes harder and harder for us to be cleansed of, because we have allowed it to permeate our lives. And, much as we see with other cultures, it is not that those very vices have become more necessary for our survival, but rather we have grown accustomed to the luxuries they afford, and thus find it harder and harder to allow ourselves to let go of them to be re-formed back into the image of Christ.
Lest we, however, in reading this think that it is merely the external change to which the apostle is referring here, he addresses this external change. “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The law here represents this external change. The law here represents the Christian who is “born again” and immediately begins to look at his life and cut out things that the Scriptures tell us are wrong. While these disciplines are important to our healing, they are not in and of themselves our healing. The addict removed from addiction is still an addict if they change only externally. The very spiritual disciplines themselves become chores if they are merely external changes. Church goers mourn their lack of ability to watch the latest blockbuster movie because it has an “R” rating. They see certain disciplines like fasting as “inappropriate tradition” and “asceticism.” And, ultimately, you end up with a list of rules followed by those who regret their decision to abide in the ways of the Lord. You find people asking “Can Christians smoke marijuana,” and “is it okay for Christians to watch Game of Thrones?” More importantly, you enter into this realm of self-righteousness, where you hear statements like “I don’t watch that….because I’m a Christian.”
If Paul were referring only to these external changes, then he would be evoking the law. As he himself wrote, “for what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” (Romans 8:3). The Pharisees themselves could teach the law, could preach the law, could stand in judgment punishing those who had sinned beating them into submission until externally their lives appeared to be holy and righteous. And yet, Jesus response to this very mindset was “you cleanse the outside of the cup, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence…first cleanse the inside of the cup that the outside may be clean also…you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness….you outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….(Matthew 23:25,27-28). It’s this idea that no matter how righteous you appear, until there has been this internal change, it is only for the appearance of holiness before men, which in turn feeds the pride and ego and leads to this self-righteous attitude that permeates our culture far too often. And see, the biggest problem with this is that it is filled with ambition to do that which we can ourselves do. It is the power which has no power of a faith that requires no faith. This internal change, however, requires that we fully, truly embrace our faith, and in doing so, understand that it is through this very change that we are able to have our nature fulfilled, perfected, in Christ. It is only His grace which can restore us internally to the image of God, restoring within us His fullness, perfecting us in Him. Allowing us to be restored to this life of communion with God.
John goes on to state that no man has seen God at any time. No one can see the full true essence of God. The Lord told Moses that “you cannot see My face and live.” (Exodus 33:20). Only One who is Himself divine can see our Lord, thus the Son of God is the only One who has ever worn flesh that is able to declare Him. However, a revelation of God’s energies can be seen and received by those who are truly faithful. We see this all throughout the Scripture, where the Lord reveals a small part of His energy, but only to those most faithful. “No man has seen God at any time,” states the apostle, and yet, in Isaiah, we read “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.” (Isaiah 6:1). Ezekiel states, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1). In Daniel, we read, “I continued to watch until thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days enthroned Himself.” (Daniel 7:9). Do any of these contradict what John says here? Of course not. No part of Scripture contradicts itself, but rather complements itself. In Hosea, we read, “I have multiplied visions, and by the authority of the prophets, I was represented.” (Hosea 12:11). The full essence of God can only be beheld by One who is fully divine, but by His grace, we can partake of that nature. We can, through His grace, receive a “glimpse” of that essence, experiencing a revelation of it.
In true worship, we can attain that revelation. We can never attain that revelation through listening to sermons, which are intended to help us understand the things of the Lord, but through pure worship, we can attain to the heavenly things. We can join the heavenly hosts of thousands of angels and archangels singing “Holy, holy, holy.” Moses, when he ascended to the mountain, saw the back of God. Isaiah saw His glory. Ezekiel saw images of the Lord. And we also can experience the same things, if we only have the faith that will allow us to do it. Through His incarnation, Jesus granted all of us this same opportunity that Ezekiel, Moses, and all of the saints throughout history have had. The opportunity to experience this revelation of the essence of the Lord. The opportunity to join in with the angels, hymning and praising our Lord. To become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), being fully perfected in Christ.
We will never be able to become divine in our nature, we are man, not God. But, through His grace, we can become fully restored to this state of full communion with Him that we see in the garden, where God is no longer some abstract idea or mental ascent, but rather a very real part of our lives. One which creates within us the internal changes that we can align with our will and desire that we no longer seek these “boundaries,” but rather are fully led in our heart to fulfill His will, our natures perfected by Christ dwelling within us.
May the peace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.