What It Means To Me To Be “In Christ”
Whether by design or simply through ignorance, the Watchtower Society has systematically programmed the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses to resist and reject the essence of Jesus’ message to his followers—how to live the awesome privilege and joy of being in a close relationship with him.
When the “other sheep,” most Jehovah’s Witnesses who hope to live on a paradise earth, read the New Testament, they believe that Jesus is seldom speaking directly to them. Not only will they never be “in union with Christ” because that is reserved for only the 144,000 who will rule in heaven, Jesus is not even their mediator. In addition, the New World Translation of the Bible has surreptitiously substituted “Jehovah” for many occurrences of the word “Lord” in the New Testament, so that Jehovah becomes everything, and Jesus is relegated to the position of Jehovah’s distant, subservient Son.
So when we leave Jehovah’s Witnesses and read the New Testament without Watchtower blinders on, most of us soon realize that the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are the Gentiles, not a separate earthly class. That means that all of us have the one hope (Ephesians 4:4) of living in a new heaven and a new earth with Christ as king. Now, suddenly, Jesus is speaking directly to us when he describes the close relationship he longs to have with us. He says he wants to dwell within us, become so much a part of us that he supplies our every need. The illustration he used to explain it to us is found at John 15:4, 5:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me: I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.
This illustration of the vine and branches involves much more than simply acknowledging that Christ is our redeemer by robotically concluding our prayers in Jesus’ name. The branches cling to the vine for their very lives! They are in constant contact with it, depending upon it for nourishment, strength, growth, and fruitage. So it is for those of us “in Christ.” He is the one we talk to as a friend (John 15:13, 14); the one we come to for comfort and rest (Matthew 11:28-30); the king we appeal to for protection (Revelation 19:16); and the husband to whom we confess our deepest thoughts and desires (2 Corinthians 11:2).
For former Jehovah’s Witnesses, this intimacy with Christ goes against all of our previous programming. We are so afraid of offending Jehovah by giving Jesus too much honor, that even though we mentally understand our new relationship with Christ, we are often stilted and awkward in approaching him personally in prayer. Yet, Jesus said at John 5:23: “. . . in order that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” I believe it is when we realize that giving equal honor to the Son as we do to the Father is actually pleasing to Jehovah that we are able to concentrate fully on becoming one with Christ. As Christians, we are not under the old covenant made with Jehovah; we are under the new covenant made with Christ. Some day in the far future when everything in heaven and on earth is reconciled to God, then the Son will turn everything back to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). But until then, we can join Thomas and fall to our knees before our Savior, calling him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
When we are in union with Christ, he fills us with peace and joy as evidence that he is, indeed, dwelling in our hearts (John 16:33; 15:11). Here, though, is where my relationship with Christ has come up against some major difficulties. In the 20 years since I’ve left Jehovah’s Witnesses and have worked hard at studying, praying, and trying to follow Jesus’ example, I’ve definitely felt Christ’s active presence in my life and recognized his frequent intervention, but I’ve never experienced the profound peace and joy he promised me. In fact, I’ve continued to be a perfectionist and consummate worrier, in spite of my efforts and prayers to the contrary.
Just recently, however, I think I’ve discovered the missing piece to this relationship puzzle. As a former Witness, I had been trained to be a worker, and even though I’ve come to understand God’s grace, I still tend to err on the side of works. Yet when a group of people asked Jesus what work they had to do to please God, Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). In the past, I always thought this sounded too easy. Of course, I believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Now I realize that to believe in Jesus means much more than recognizing what he did for me. Belief means total, unreserved trust in him, giving ourselves to him completely to do what he wants with us in our lives, trusting that he loves us and he will never leave us or forsake us.
This work of trusting Jesus is probably the hardest thing for former Witnesses to do. Because of the spiritual abuse we have suffered, most of us leave the Watchtower organization as real cynics. Jehovah was the kind of God who, through his organization, tossed us a stone when we begged for bread. We liked and respected Jesus, but we were a long way from really loving him. So then, how on earth do we now learn to trust him enough to relinquish all control to him so that he can, in turn, trust us with the wonderful gifts he longs to give us?
Maybe because I care for my little grandson Rylan every day, I’ve been giving some thought to what Jesus said at Matthew 18:2, 3—“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” When I am rocking Rylan to sleep, I love to feel him relax against me, his arms around my neck and his heart pressed to mine, as he drifts off into the peaceful sleep of a trusting, innocent child. In order to be that trusting child with Christ, I’ve had to picture myself in Rylan’s position on Jesus’ lap. Jesus is sitting in a rocking chair, and he’s holding me close to him as I spend quiet time in prayer with him each day.
After several months of this approach, it seemed to me that all Jesus wants from us is an open heart and an open mind asking him to help us trust and love him. Everything after that is a completely free gift from him, often arriving in small packages, like realizing one day that I’m striving less after elusive goals and enjoying the present much more, or I’m worrying less often and leaning, instead, on Christ with confidence and peace.
In all of this, I’ve been helped tremendously by a little book entitled, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. It is a compilation of short daily devotionals worded as if Jesus were speaking directly to us. The author has brought together so many of the words Christ is saying to express the depth of his love for us and his longing to live within our hearts. As I read this book each day, I feel as if Jesus has been standing at my door knocking for the last 20 years, but up until now, I haven’t known how to let him enter fully.
If any of what I’ve written above has resonated with you, I recommend you buy the book. For former Jehovah’s Witnesses, it provides a daily reminder of what we were missing all those years and what Jesus wants to do for us now that we’re finally free to live “in Him.” I conclude my blog with two sample excerpts from Jesus Calling to give you an idea of how helpful the book can be.
REST IN ME, MY CHILD. This time devoted to Me is meant to be peaceful, not stressful. You don’t have to perform in order to receive My Love. I have boundless, unconditional Love for you. How it grieves Me to see My children working for Love; trying harder and harder, yet never feeling good enough to be loved.
Be careful that your devotion to Me does not become another form of works. I want you to come into My Presence joyfully and confidently. You have nothing to fear, for you wear My own righteousness. Gaze into My eyes, and you will see no condemnation, only Love and delight in the one I see. Be blessed as My Face shines radiantly upon you, giving you Peace.
John 15:13; Zephaniah 3:17; Numbers 6:25-26
I DESIGNED YOU to live in union with Me. This union does not negate who you are; it actually makes you more fully yourself. When you try to live independently of Me, you experience emptiness and dissatisfaction. You may gain the whole world and yet lose everything that really counts.
Find fulfillment through living close to Me, yielding to My purposes for you. Though I may lead you along paths that feel alien to you, trust that I know what I am doing. If you follow Me wholeheartedly, you will discover facets of yourself that were previously hidden. I know you intimately—far better than you know yourself. In union with Me, you are complete. In closeness to Me, you are transformed more and more into the one I designed you to be.
Mark 8:36; Psalm 139:13-16; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18