Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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The Essence 4


When we look back over life at its end, what will we say has really mattered? As we face each new day now, what deserves our greatest attention and commitments of time and energy? We might respond to both questions by saying, "our Christian faith," but what does that really mean? What does God most want from you as a human being redeemed by Jesus? What does the earthly life look like which best brings joy to God and satisfaction to us? As we have seen already, it is not merely a benevolent or charitable life. Church meetings and religious activity cannot give ultimate meaning. Diligent Bible study does not assure God's approval or fulfillment as a human being. As good and important as all these things are, none of them is the essence of our existence on this earth.

That essence is found, I suggest, in what the Reformers called a life coram Deo -- literally a life lived "before the face of God." This was how God created humans to live from the beginning. The Creator formed us from elements of the earth and endowed us with breath of life. We are mortal beings made in God's image, created to live in joyful and fulfilling relationship with our Maker. When we remember what we are, to whom we owe our existence and the reason for which we are made, life is very good. We know, more surely than we know anything else, that God is great and God is good. God is as near as our very breath; he loves us and we are safe in his presence and love. That sense of creaturely dependence generates gratitude, humility and praise. This is life as God intended it. It is life as it once existed in Paradise. It was human life before the entrance of sin.

Sin blurred our divine image but did not destroy it. That image is renewed in Jesus Christ who is the prototype of a new humanity. Sin, which at its core is a denial of creaturely dependence and therefore of our created identity, obscures God's presence and removes the source of ultimate human fulfillment and joy. By walking away from God we walk away from life, since we are mortal creatures wholly dependent upon God for life itself. Jesus dealt decisively with sin, bringing us back close into God's presence now and forever. By dealing with sin, Jesus defeated death that results from it and promises to make us immortal in a new universe free both of sin and of death. There we will see God's face without any hindrance and forever enjoy intimate fellowship with the Creator who made us and redeemed us in his Son.

This, then, is the essence of life, the highest goal, the greatest good, the path to our fulfillment and to God's joy -- that we live each moment coram Deo, "before the face of God." David, the man after God's own heart, experienced this life and said to God: "Thy face, O LORD, I shall seek; do not hide Thy face from me" (Psalm 27:8-9). Jesus offered this life in the beatitude: "Blessed are the pure [literally "single"] in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). He described such a life in every phrase of the model prayer found in Matthew 7:9-13.

This life is fed by the Scriptures, when received in faith and focused on Jesus. It is enriched in the sacraments -- when by faith we encounter the spiritual in physical elements -- and in the fellowship of the community of believers. It is expressed and strengthened in loving deeds of benevolence and charity. But back of all those things, undergirding all those things, making all those things useful and powerful and effective, is the core and the essence. It is life coram Deo -- "before the face of God."

Copyright 2005 by Edward Fudge.

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