THE INDWELLING CHRIST IN THE WRITINGS OF PAUL AND JOHN
Both Paul and John speak of the indwelling Christ. Let us compare what they say. Paul tells us, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); “it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me” (Gal. 1:15-16); and “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Paul surely revealed the indwelling Christ.
John, however, speaks of the indwelling in a more vital way. To say that Christ lives in us is to speak in a general, vague way. To say, as John does, that Christ is the vine and that we are the branches, that we are to abide in Him and have Him abide in us, is to speak in a specific, particular way.
Paul could make the declaration, “To me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). But in John 15 we can see that to live Christ is simply to be a branch abiding in the vine; what the branch expresses is spontaneously the life of the vine.
Paul said, “I can do all things in Him Who empowers me” (Phil. 4:13). This is indeed a marvelous statement, but it is too general for us to really understand. The explanation again comes from John 15, where we are told, “Abide in Me and I in you” (v. 4) because “apart from Me you can do nothing” (v. 5). How can we do all things in the One who empowers us? It is by abiding in Him. If we are apart from Him we can do nothing. It seems that Paul is stating the fact positively, while in John 15 it is stated negatively. Actually, what John 15 says about abiding is more positive. It is by abiding in Him that we can do all things in Him. In reality it is not we who are doing, but the One in whom we are abiding and who abides in us. As He lives out of us, He does all things through us.
If we see how these two ministries go along with each other, the one completing and the other mending and strengthening what was damaged, we have a good foundation for understanding the New Testament.
THE TWO MINISTRIES OF CHRIST
The New Testament is a full revelation of Christ. This Christ is presented to us in two stages: one on earth and the second in heaven. Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament only four (besides a half chapter in Acts) deal with Christ on this earth. Then He ascended to the heavens.
Have you been saved by the heavenly Christ, or by the earthly Christ? Our Redeemer is the heavenly Christ. Are you still living in the Gospels, or can you say that you are at least in Paul’s Epistles? I trust we can all say that we are enjoying the indwelling Christ, the hope of glory; that we are experiencing Him as the all-inclusive One; and that we are in the church, the Body, the new man, the temple. I hope also that some of us can say that we are in John’s ministry; that we are part of the lampstand; and that we are on our way to the New Jerusalem.
Christ’s earthly ministry lasted only three and a half years. His heavenly ministry is eternal; it has already been going on for close to two thousand years and there will be no end.
It is common in fundamental Christian circles to speak of the finished work of Christ. They use John 19:30, where Christ said “It is finished,” to prove that Christ has completed the work He came to do. Because all has been accomplished, He is now seated on the throne. To sit down is an indication that the work is finished. Such a teaching indicates a lack of understanding of the two ministries of Christ.
In His earthly ministry Christ fully accomplished redemption. He has redeemed us, taken away our sins, and destroyed Satan. In His all-inclusive crucifixion He terminated sin, sins, self, the flesh, the old man, the world, Satan, and Satan’s kingdom of darkness—all the old creation. Through His death His eternal life was released.
Nonetheless, God’s eternal purpose is not fulfilled merely by redemption. Redemption is part of a process. When Christ’s earthly ministry was over, the church still had not come into being. Now in His heavenly ministry Christ is actively engaged in producing, building, and maturing the church. What a great work is this! Redemption was accomplished within thirty-three and a half years. The church, though, has taken two thousand years to prepare. Even in eternity Christ will still be ministering in the New Jerusalem. This, the ultimate consummation of the church, still needs His supply. Throughout eternity He will be ministering the life supply to all God’s redeemed people.
Twenty-three books of the New Testament deal with Christ’s heavenly ministry. From them we can see that Christ is busily working in the heavens. He is interceding. He is carrying on His priesthood. He is administrating God’s universal government.
This heavenly ministry is fully revealed by the writings of Paul and John. Paul’s ministry was to complete the revelation of Christ’s heavenly ministry. John’s ministry was to mend and strengthen that damaged revelation. Without their writings we would not have any idea of what Christ is doing in the heavens.
JOHN’S MINISTRY MORE PROFOUND THAN PAUL’S
Paul opened a number of heavenly windows to us. He opened one in Romans, another in Galatians, and a big one in Ephesians. We need to do some heavenly window shopping to enjoy what all these windows show us of Christ’s ministry in the heavens!
When we come to John’s writings, however, it is not windows which he opens to us. The whole expanse of the heavens is opened! The windows are gone! There are no more walls! Consider how strong is the mending work that John does. Paul was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), but whether he saw the New Jerusalem or not, he did not tell us. John, however, surely saw it. John not only opened the heavens to us; he showed us the New Jerusalem as well!
In the previous messages we have covered John’s mending ministry as found in his Gospel and his Epistles. In the next few messages we shall consider the mending work of John in Revelation. In this last book there are three great repairs to the damage done to the church. The first is the unveiling of the churches as the lampstands, as found in Revelation 1 to 3. A lampstand cannot easily be damaged. The second is the presentation of a clear view of God’s administration of the whole universe, found in Revelation 4 to 20. We need not be disturbed by daily events, however alarming they seem. From John’s mending ministry we know that the Lord is the Ruler of kings; all earthly affairs are under His administration. The third repair is the vision of the New Jerusalem. How strong is this mending! Nothing can damage the New Jerusalem.
We are not only backed by Paul’s completing ministry. We are also enjoying John’s mending ministry. How strongly he mended the damage done to the church after the time of Paul!
(The Mending Ministry of John, Chapter 12, by Witness Lee)