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Jeff McSwain

Celebrate the Grip

Jeff McSwain

April 8, 2019

In the video Celebrate the GripI illustrate with the help of my friend Anthony the way we discover the grip of grace in this fallen world, the fact that, in the midst of our helplessness, Jesus embraces us at our worst. Importantly, I also make reference to the grip of creation, and how we learn about the grip of creation through re-creation.

 

So how do these two grips go together? Did God have a grip on us at creation and then let go? If God didn’t outright drop us, did we somehow slip away from him in our rebellion? If God had us, then lost us, then gripped us again, what kind of grip is THAT? Thankfully God is a lot more committed to us than we could ever be to him! The fact is that God NEVER let us go, and that is exactly why he came to rescue us. God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to destroy sin, death and the devil in order to redeem us and to transform our twisted thinking about God, so that we would know God’s true nature and be assured that nothing could ever separate us from his love.

 

Again, the way we learn this is uniquely through Jesus Christ and his incarnate life, death and resurrection: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38). Now we can see how the two grips, that of creation and redemption, are really one grip because of WHO is gripping us—our Creator and Redeemer is one and the same, Jesus Christ. So really, instead of two grips, the grip of creation and redemption are best understood as the one grip of the one Person (Jesus) revealed in two different ways! I elaborate on this theme in my booklet Celebrate the Grip, which I authored as a camp curriculum for teenagers. Contact me if you would like a copy. In the meantime, please consult the full Celebrate the Grip notes to best theologically contextualize the illustration. 

 

The grip illustration can take on a life of its own! Like any illustration, it is imperfect, but based on lots of past conversations, here are some additional thoughts.

 

1. In revelation order (how we come to understand it), redemption comes before creation.

Unless Christ had come and redeemed us, we would not know we are created in Christ (Eph 2:10) who is the Image (Col 1:15). These are things we don't learn reading Genesis by itself (i.e., without the New Testament), so we see creation afresh by "looking through" re-creation.

 

2. In temporal chronological order (the order of the historical narrative), creation comes before redemption.

 

Why not JUST talk about the creation grip in Christ, if that one never lets go? In other words, why is it important to honor the revelation order? One reason is because that is how God chose to reveal the mystery of Christ to us - "the mystery which has been kept hidden for ages and generations and which now has been made known in Christ" (Col 1:26).

 

The revelation order (understanding creation through re-creation) forces us to take sin scripturally seriously “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). And it forces us to take the cross seriously, i.e., to consider how God deemed it necessary to actually come and die- "to humble himself, even to death on the cross" (Phil 2:8). That’s how bad sin is, how blind we are, and how strong Satan is.

 

After the fall, the ‘Creation in Christ grip’ is still real and true, closer to us than we are to ourselves, but it is also largely an epistemologically inaccessible dimension....i.e. we are blind and deaf to it, leaving us without hope in the world and without confidence that we are intimately loved as God’s children, “adopted in Christ from before the world began” (Eph 1:4-5). Again, just because the creation grip in Christ is there and always real it doesn't mean it's accessible. By the way, one thing the prior grip of creation does prompt in humans is the desire to seek God, or the divine, or a transcendent being “out there”—this is a common desire held by humans throughout history.

 

Instead of God just saying "let them wallow without hope until later; after they die I will show them true reality", God reveals reality thru the passion of redemption. By meeting us in our brokenness, God demonstrates just how much he loves us, how much he is in solidarity with us, and even when he ascends he assures us that his Spirit will always be his real presence to us in this realm. By the finished work of Christ crucified and risen we can best "interpret" our fallen world in light of a bigger picture.  

 

Revelation is certainly a huge word in this paradigm, but I would never want to say this way of thinking is "only about revelation," as if an emphasis on revelation automatically diminishes the incarnation. If it took the incarnation and atonement for us who were blind, to see, that's a huge deal, and intrinsically transformative! And the implicit backside of incarnation and atonement is that it cost God inestimably to come and defeat the deceiver and to take the scales away - revelation is therefore loaded with suffering, passion, self-offering. If it meant that much, and cost God that much, we should never use the phrase "it's only about revelation." At the same time, instead of making us think of incarnation and atonement in Christ less seriously, I do believe this gospel approach makes us consider our creation in Christ more seriously! And I do believe that it compels us in compassion to engage with a hurting world more hopefully.

 

To step back and say things another way....

 

Why we needed Jesus to come?

Think redemption grip 

1. "Apart from me you cannot do a thing"

 

Why then do humans seek?

Think one grip, starting with creation

2. You’ve never been apart from me!

 

So we must keep 1. and 2. together, always remembering that Jesus’ phrase “Apart from me you cannot do a thing” (Jn 15:5) doesn’t mean there has ever been a time that you were apart from Jesus! 

 

Why take pains to explain all of this? The greatest weakness of the grip illustration is that, in order to portray the grave seriousness of sin, and humans as dead in their sins (Eph 2:1, Col 2:13), it looks like Jesus and the human are separated. This is never the case theologically, so it's the glaring weakness of the illustration. 

 

Coercive? The grip of Christ by its very nature is non coercive (like the "non-forcing" relationship of vine and branches). God’s grip cannot not be kind and loving; it is always purposed for relationship. Conversely, coercive would be more akin to me grabbing the back of Anthony's left forearm with my right hand so that he could never grip back (which would represent objectifying him and coercing him, dragging him, etc). 

 

But the loving grip of our Lord is also unapologetically authoritative in regards to setting the terms for what human freedom and flourishing ARE as connected to him. It is an unconditional grip, and also built in accountability there. We can live-into the grip freely, or to buck the grip to our destruction, because “even if I make my bed in hell (Sheol)” he will not let go! 

 

I have often made the point that our friends with disabilities sometimes teach us the most about grace  - we who are "able" might be more prone to trust our own ability as if we are climbing up into a gift (our union with Christ) which has already been revealed as “coming down” and embracing us! Repenting and believing does not mean adding our part or jumping through a hoop to attain the gift, but pertains to the transformational metanoia that we ARE a part-- we ARE already implicated in Christ's perfect response to the Father. This to me is the light yoke of the gospel. 

 

In the video illustration with Anthony, I mention briefly this idea that Jesus’ grip on us (call this the God-humanward grip) is where our human response comes from (call this the human-Godward grip). As mediator, Jesus therefore represents the grip of God on all humans, and the perfect, unfaltering grip of all humans in response to God. We all exist inside of this double-movement of grace, and by the Spirit we have a chance to live-into this perfect grip which defines us, participating in all of our faltering, fluctuating ways! 

 

The Grip, then, represents the theological truth of our identity in Christ, and is not meant to first and foremost be a spatial thing - or we could say it's a spatial metaphor for a spiritual truth. Here we could think of the prodigal son story, which remind us that even though the son left home, he still belonged, he still had a home (we can't be lost without a home). To put it in my terms, when we are “lost” in our false selves, we are still in the grip of grace and gifted with a true self in Christ. It’s this tragic irony that makes lostness so painful.

 

Finally, preaching the gospel this way as "Jesus Christ and him crucified" takes seriously who we ARE NOT in Christ, the false self that must be crucified with Christ. To celebrate the grip is to rejoice that our old selves have been crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6) and to desire to walk in “newness of life” (Rom 6:4). This is an implicit protection against Universalism, because if we stubbornly want to hold on to the old self, we will not fit through the door into the unadulterated heaven. We can't go around the judgment of the cross - there is only one Way. That is why Jesus says to lose your life is to find it - lose your life as an individual, and find it as a person in the Person, in the fellowship of Trinitarian Persons. We must deny ourselves as individuals, take up our cross (see ourselves under the judgment of his cross) and follow him!