[This post is part of the Reshaping Christian Habits series]
About a dozen years ago, a band from San Diego released their sophomore album. Very few people at the time could have predicted the later rise of this particular trio of musicians into mainstream prominence and widespread acclaim. The band itself wasn’t in a race to be noticed and the album itself did not garner much outside recognition at the time of its release. But three years later when Mandy Moore sang one of that album’s songs in A Walk to Remember, people began racing to take notice of Switchfoot. At present, it is hard to think of a band of Christian artists who are making such a wide impact in the world today.
The album that I’ve been alluding to here is of course A New Way to Be Human, and in addition to being a launching pad for Switchfoot, it is also, as N. T. Wright is apt to note, something at the heart of the apostle Paul’s message. This in and of itself is not that controversial. It is easy to see how Jesus not only showed a new way to be human in his person and work, but that Paul, focused on knowing Christ, spent much of his writing unpacking the implications of this.
The problem is that we tend to follow Paul in comprehension easier than practice. It is much easier to identify all of Paul’s descriptions and prescriptions for how to live now in light of the gospel of Christ than it is to actual live them out, especially when you add other people to the mix. Living in the singular is a little bit easier than living in the plural. But a big part of this new way to be human involves being a part of something larger than yourself. In other words, this new way to be human could not be accomplished, much less really pursued, individually.
In the high priestly prayer of Jesus, he prays several times for the unity of the believers. Three times he prays that we may be one in a way similar to that of the persons of the Trinity (17:21, 22, 23). The purpose of this unity is so that the world may know that the Father sent and loved the Son (17:21, 23, 26). So it is a unity among a diversity of people aimed at displaying love in order that those outside might believe the gospel. Just like two guys wearing short sleeve dress shirts and riding bikes through the neighborhood are immediately recognizable as Mormons, so a community of people wearing the love of Christ on their sleeve is to be immediately recognized as Christians.
While this unfortunately isn’t always the case, it is the new way to be human that both Jesus and then later Paul envisioned. In a sense then, the community of believers is to be a microcosm reflective of the life of God as Trinity. Just as within the Trinity there is a unity of love among a diversity of persons, within the church also, there is to be a unity of love among a diversity of persons. While man may individually bear the Imago Dei, humanity corporately is meant to bear the Imago Trinitate.
The metaphor that gets used to unpack this idea is that we as the new humanity are to be the body of Christ. Paul is the only one who uses this kind of language, and only in a couple of places. Unfortunately though, it is one of those beautiful word pictures that loses some of its punch because we tend to take it either purely metaphorically, or we just don’t meditate on the implications enough. It will help to flesh out the metaphor a bit to see it in a new light.
During my first year of seminary, it was suggested to me during lunch with a good friend that the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2 looks very similar to the creation narrative in Genesis 2. In Genesis, a body was gathered from the dust and enlivened by the breath of God, and the resultant creation being the body of Adam as a then functional person (or as the text says, “a soul”). Similarly in Acts, there was a “body” of humans gathered who were then enlivened by the breath of God with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the resultant creation was the Body of Christ as a then functional “person.”
Although it would be wrong to say that the church becomes the person of Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit, there is at least some sense in which the church is corporately united as a single organism whose whole is more than just the sum of the parts. Christ is the person whose Spirit manifests himself through the body of believers, just like our spirit manifests itself through our own physical bodies. So together, when we are one united in love, we enter into a truly new way to be human.
We are in a way, meant to be the body language of Christ, showing to those on the outside how the Person on the inside is really thinking and feeling. He is truly the head or source of all the activities that the church carries out. As believers we are, to borrow an idea from Arthur Custance’s Doorway Papers, standing as one giant person in juxtaposition to the other giant person of fallen man that has Adam as its head and a body of unbelievers enlivened by the spirit of Satan (!)
We are to be not only a display of true humanity to this other man, but to be open and active in allowing our cells to be rearranged as new members are brought in as the body continues to grow up in fullness of stature and favor with God and man. This new way to be human is nothing we’ve ever been. Where our humanity bends to this new way to be human, redemption truly begins.