My first thought goes to what I can do to eliminate stress and keep life running smoothly. But then I stop and consider how Christ’s finished work on the cross impacts my relationships, especially with my family.
Earlier this year I was asked to speak at the Key Life Pastors Pre-Conference at Liberate 2015 on the topic of Christ's finished work on the cross... for our relationships. At the time it sounded like a great idea but now I’m having second thoughts.
Really? I think. And what about the betrayal, abandonment, and powerlessness that continue to impact us today?
Holidays are prime opportunity for the resurrection of painful memories and deep wounds.
I pull out my initial outline. It sounds so paltry. I’m having speaker’s remorse. That usually comes after I speak though, not before. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain I know the truth, yet what has bubbled to the surface lately are all the reasons why Christ's work doesn’t seem finished, especially when it comes to relationships.
Then, the third Sunday of advent, I awaken to whispers of truth.
Christ’s closest friends deserted him when the cost became too great. Even Jesus didn’t meet the expectations his disciples had for him. He experienced betrayal by his friends. His relationship with his Father, with whom he had known constant communion, was cut off when Christ descended into the depths of hell. In leaving heaven, he chose to leave privilege, equality and power behind. Christ’s death on the cross was so I wouldn’t have to experience what I justly deserve. I won’t be cut off from the Father. He will not abandon me nor betray me. And I now have his resurrection power residing in me, guiding and empowering the way I engage with others.
Those who are in Christ get all these benefits of salvation. But we live in the time period of history theologians refer to as the ‘here but not yet.’ We receive those benefits now but not like what we’ll receive on that future day when all is restored to its full beauty and glory. We receive shalom now but not like the full Shalom when there will be no more war, hunger or death.
As we walk to church John and I hash out these theologically practical truths. “Think of Christ’s finished work like the commencement celebration in university,” John says. Although commencement means beginning, we usually attend these services when the work is finished. Now life begins in a whole new way. It’s similar to Christ’s finished work on our behalf. It’s our beginning. The commencement is for us. It’s as if we walk across the stage to receive our diploma, but Christ was the one who did the work. We get the PhD, so to speak, and the prestige, power and favor that comes with what he earned for us. But unlike a PhD graduate who knows her education will change her life, we forget that Christ’s finished work changes our life. It changed our relationship with God and it also has the power to change our relationships with others. We forget to use our PhD. We forget what we have.
Christ’s finished work doesn’t mean we won’t suffer from relational fallouts. And it doesn’t mean we won’t be at fault for causing them either. It also doesn’t mean we will experience the full effects of redemption right now. But look at what it does mean in the here and now and what it can mean for this holiday season.
There is nothing we can add to something that is already finished. We get the benefits of salvation regardless of having a great family holiday or not, regardless of whether we’re good or bad.
We already know we’re going to mess up relationships so we’re not surprised when we or when others do. Far from being flippant about our failures, that frankness is quite winsome.
We can accept people not liking us, even when it’s our kids, spouse, parents or siblings. Of course that hurts but we already have the approval of the one person who really matters.
We discover increasing courage to approach others when we’ve damaged them or they us. We know the one who paid our debt to reconcile us to God. The more we cash in on that relational equity; the more we discover boldness to approach others about our relational train wrecks.
We’re released from pretense. We don’t have to pretend when we are disappointed, hurt or even angry. We can own our emotions without blaming others. We can admit we don’t measure up to the standards of others or even of scripture. Christ already measured up to that standard for us.
We won’t fall apart when relationships aren’t restored the way we would like them to be.
The most important relationship is already secured for us.
We discover increasing freedom from the clutches of guilt and shame.
Christ’s finished work on the cross means we don’t have to make coverings to hide our sin like our first parents did. Christ’s righteous life and sacrificial death covers us once and for all. And, thankfully, I’m finding those righteous rags are entirely sufficient for me as I live with you.