The phrase "Christ, according to the flesh" has a shocking and confusing quality to it for me. At least it did as I read it in 2 Corinthians 5 as I was preparing last week's blog entry. You come to that fairly common passage that is quoted quite often in chapter 5:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
and we can identify with the verse and celebrate. How awesome that God, through Christ, renews us. We have read that passage, we have heard sermons preached on that passage and we rejoice in that passage. But how about the verse before it? "From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer." What does it mean to "regard Christ according to the flesh"? Have you ever taken note of that? Have you ever heard a sermon preached on that?
As I read that it was almost like I was reading it for the first time. "What does it mean to regard Christ according to the flesh?" And then I realized the answer is in the passage I highlighted last week.
...and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
You see, the entire passage is a description of how the transformation of the believer, the true believer in Christ, goes from someone who views others from a self serving perspective (fleshly) to one of self denial and Christ service (spiritual). And Paul says we, prior to our transformation, viewed Christ from the perspective of what he could do for us. His use of the word Christ here draws attention to Jesus as the promised Messiah. So often we in the church forget that the word Christ is not simply Jesus' last name, as in Jesus Christ, but it is the Greek word for the Hebrew concept of Messiah. So Paul is saying we used to view the coming Messiah from a fleshly perspective and what He would do for us. How He would free us from oppressors, how He would make us prosperous, how His coming would make our lives better but because we have been transformed and renewed we no longer see Him in such a light. We don't look to our Messiah for our pleasure but we seek to be servants of His Glory.
This message, this understanding, is so essential for the American church today. We have made what being a Christian can do for us, and therefore what Christ can do for us, the central message of most of our outreach and our sermons. "Come to Jesus he will make you happy, healthy, wealthy, he will heal all your problems and make them go away!" We have told people to give so that they can get more, we have told people to abstain from sin because God made us and knows how we can have a "better life", we have told people that being a Christian will produce "your best life now", we have taught that "righteousness is a means to financial gain" and all of this is the product of "regarding Christ according to the flesh". I believe this is the serious threat to the American church that Francis Chan is describing when he says:
(we have) filled our churches with self-focused consumers rather than self-sacrificing servants attuned to the Holy Spirit….The light of the American church is flickering and nearly extinguished, having largely sold out to the kingdoms and values of this world….
The "new creation" that is produced by the transforming power of the Gospel reflects the values of the Cross that are stated by Jesus when he says: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. It creates lives that reject the pleasure seeking "friendship with the world" that James chapter 4 warns us against. It embraces the heavenly priorities described in 1 Peter 1:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that truly transforms and any other message is "no Gospel at all".