January 12, 2016

"Mere men"

That is what the apostle Paul called the Christians in Corinth when he heard about the infighting that was going on in the church there. “Are you not walking like mere men?” An interesting question! And an interesting critique! Especially because there is a very real sense in which the Corinthians were mere men.

Becoming a Christian doesn’t make us any less human, does it? It doesn’t mean that we are no longer made of clay; no longer creaturely; no longer distinct from our transcendent Creator. Of course not! Christians are, in fact, still “mere men”. That’s why this same Paul was so distressed, in the city of Lystra, when the people there wanted to offer sacrifices to he and Barnabas! “Why are you doing these things?” he exclaimed. “We are also men of the same nature as you”. We are indeed (and always will be, throughout eternity) mere men … mere creatures, who are far beneath our Creator.

And yet the scolding that Paul gives to the Corinthians, saying that they are acting like “mere men,” lets us in on the fact that, while in comparison to God, we will always and forever be “mere men”, yet in comparison to the world (and to what we once were as part of the world) we ought to be walking on a higher plane; we ought no longer be “mere men.” We ought no longer be as base and “fleshly” as fallen men are, by nature. We ought no longer be driven about by the same winds of passion, and pride, and self-interest, and worldly allegiances. Because, in quite an important sense, we are no longer “mere men” – at least not mere fallen men! We are, rather, men and women who have been born again by the Spirit of God! And so, while we haven’t become any less human, yet there is a sense in which we can say that, by our new birth, we are becoming less fallen; less fleshly; less like “mere men” in their state of depravity.

Furthermore, because of the Spirit’s residence in us, something more than just the human is operating within us! Now let’s be careful to say that this doesn’t mean that we ourselves have become more than human; that we have somehow become partially divine. No! But we do have the divine dwelling in us – distinct from us, yes; but truly in us and ever available to us! And so, while we are “mere men” in comparison to that Holy Spirit who resides within us, the very fact that He does reside within means that we can live above the level of mere fallen men! We can lay down fleshly passions and pride. We can walk in a level of holiness and unselfishness and humility that is unknown among those who have not been renewed and indwelt by the Spirit of Christ!

And so we should ask ourselves, as we go about our daily routines at work and school, in the neighborhood and in the family, in church and in business: ‘Am I living as a mere man? Or do people perceive in me something that is so different and better that they would be convinced that there must be something more than merely human going on with me? Something that might attract them, and provoke some of them to ask me to “give an account for the hope that is in [me]” (1 Peter 3:15)?’

These questions ought to be important to us, not so that people will fawn over us, and over our lifestyles and character (see Acts 14!), but so that, seeing something more than human hovering about our countenances, they might begin to seek, and by God’s grace to find, the same divine intervention that is so patently evident in our lives! And then we can say to them, with Joseph, “It is not in me; God”! Then we can “give an account” for our hope, and for the supernatural aroma about our lives. Then Christ will be praised in us and through us! And that is what a Christian – in all the ways in which he is a “mere man”, and in all the ways in which he is not – should live for!

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