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By Bruce Atkinson
Special to Virtueonline
March 29, 2023

As we move forward in Lent toward Passion Week... God wants us to put first things first. So, what is the divine priority He has for us?

Knowing God

All Christians are familiar with The Great Commandment (echoing the first of the Mosaic Ten in Deuteronomy 6:5). We are to love God with all heart, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:34-38). There are positive consequences for such love: "Delight yourself in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).

But how can we love someone we do not know? So, it is an obvious truth that there is a prior condition to loving God--we first must get to know>I> Him.

Jesus told us to seek first God's Kingdom and spiritual things, and then everything else would take care of itself (Matthew 6:20-33). Of course, the best and most obvious way to seek the Kingdom of God and spiritual things is to seek the actual King ... and learn from Him.

"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). So knowing Christ is the definition of Eternal Life! While he was imprisoned at Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss... compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

And so if we must know Jesus Christ, where can we find Him? In the prologue to His gospel account, the Apostle John called Him "the Word of God made flesh" and this reminds us that we find Him most accurately and authoritatively in the gospels, in the written Word of God. We must listen to Him and devote ourselves to understanding His words... and this will change our hearts toward God. As Jesus Himself put it: "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).

This divine priority can be summarized by what God said at the Transfiguration of Jesus: "This is My Son, whom I have chosen, whom I love; listen to Him!" (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36). And Paul emphasized the vital point that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Heavenly Minded

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:1-4)

It has been said of such people that they are "so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly use," but this is a patent lie. Only those who are close to the Lord at all times are so attuned to His will and available for His use that they will obey without equivocation or confusion whenever He calls. However, those who put the work first ahead of their relationship with Him are the same ones who are more easily distracted by worldly issues. This truth was exemplified by the episode of Jesus with Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Mary was focused on Jesus and His words while Martha was distracted by the requirements of service work: "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed--or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (NIV)

Along with Mary, may we too stay close to the Lord. And it must be said that we cannot get closer than the oneness with Him which was represented by Jesus in his parable of the "vine and branches" in John 15.

Abiding in Christ

The true believer's unity with Christ (being "in Christ") is a deeper oneness than either the words "position" or "practice" can convey. It is not just how God the Father sees us, it is the essence of our spiritual reality as Christians. In the same way that Jesus and the Father are one, so it is with us (according to the prayer of Jesus in John 17). The spiritual essence of each believer is already seated in the heavenlies with Jesus and the Father (Eph 2:6), and down here on earth we have His Holy Spirit abiding within us (John 14:16-17), our bodies being regarded as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). In being born again from above by the Holy Spirit, we have been grafted into the divine Trinity. Paul uses the analogy of organs in the same body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). In John 15, Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and the branches... which of course are part of the same living being. "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 14: 3-5).

"Abiding" does not sound like hard work, and it is not for the Lord's disciples: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

However, we do have some easy but vital things to do or else He would not have commanded us to abide. That is, we are to renew our minds with His words (Rom 12:2) and thus remain clean and sanctified by them (John 15:3, John 17:16-19), praying, worshiping, and participating in the Eucharist. We will thus find ourselves exercising our spiritual gifts in order to build up the Church and hasten the heavenly Kingdom's coming to earth. But as for our service for God and His Kingdom, we must remember where the power to do His will comes from; ultimately "... it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). It is the living sap (the Holy Spirit) from the Divine Vine (Christ) that produces an abundance of fruit in the branches. The branches can do nothing on their own. "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13).

Dr. Bruce Atkinson is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theology. He also has an M.S. in research psychology from Illinois State University and a B.A. from Beloit College. He is Moderator and a frequent contributor for VirtueOnline, and he is a member of the Anglican Church in North America.>

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