My hus­band and I know a cou­ple per­fect­ly suit­ed for each oth­er in every respect but one: He’s an avid hock­ey fan. She’s not. Occa­sion­al­ly we spot them at Canucks games. He leans for­ward in his seat, hol­ler­ing exhor­ta­tions, will­ing the puck into the oppos­ing net. He’d jump on the ice if they’d let him. 

She is read­ing a book.

I thought of them when I encoun­tered some­thing Richard Fos­ter notes about the way the life of Christ is described in the New Tes­ta­ment. Scrip­ture iden­ti­fies two types of life: bios, the phys­i­cal, cre­at­ed life; and zoë, the spir­i­tu­al, eter­nal life.”

Fos­ter explains that spir­i­tu­al life, flow­ing out of the great, uni­verse-shift­ing real­i­ty of the res­ur­rec­tion, pro­gres­sive­ly trans­forms the exis­tence of all who par­tic­i­pate in it. But here’s the catch. This life, this zoë, is only for par­tic­i­pants, not con­sumers nor observers,” says Fos­ter (empha­sis mine).

The con­sumer approach says that it is my life and I will uti­lize this with-God life’ to suit my needs and my pur­pos­es. But, frankly, this life doesn’t work that way … In enter­ing the with-God life,’ it is not my life any­more; it is Christ’s life and I am priv­i­leged to be a par­tic­i­pant in that life.”

What might it mean to be a par­tic­i­pant rather than a pas­sive con­sumer in the life of Christ?

Many of us urgent­ly need to explore that ques­tion in our cor­po­rate wor­ship. When church­es turn the stage lights up and the house lights down as the wor­ship band begins, are we sig­nalling an active or pas­sive role for con­gre­gants? How many Sun­day morn­ing ser­vices take place where the litur­gy and praise is gen­er­at­ed so entire­ly from the plat­form that an out­side observ­er would detect no dis­cernible dif­fer­ence if the con­gre­ga­tion were not there?

Of course, even if we find our­selves in a ser­vice that inad­ver­tent­ly casts the con­gre­ga­tion in a spec­ta­tor role, it’s still up to each one of us to choose whether we lean into the wor­ship as best we can, or lean back and read the bulletin.

Some­times, when I find myself lean­ing back, I think about the crowd of peo­ple who swarmed around Jesus in the sto­ry told in Luke 8. As far as we can tell, only one of them — a woman with a bleed­ing dis­or­der — leaned in and touched the hem of his gar­ment. In her refusal to be a pas­sive spec­ta­tor, she received heal­ing — and delight­ed Jesus with her faith (Luke 8:42 – 48).

How chill­ing to think what we might miss if we don’t lean in. How thrilling to think about the life we might find if we do.

The Apos­tle John is one of the New Tes­ta­ment writ­ers who writes the most enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly about the new life—zoë—Jesus offers. Nine­ty times in John’s Gospel, he calls us to believe,” and in 36 of those instances he uses the Greek prepo­si­tion eis (“into”) in an unusu­al gram­mar con­struc­tion more accu­rate­ly trans­lat­ed believe into Jesus than believe in Jesus. For God so loved the world,” John tell us, that he gave his one and only Son, that who­ev­er believes into [eis] him shall not per­ish but have eter­nal [zoë] life” (John 3:16).

John gives us pic­tures of what it’s like to believe into Jesus” — drink­ing liv­ing water, eat­ing the bread of life, grow­ing from a vine, walk­ing through a gate, trav­el­ling on the Way. It’s all par­tic­i­pa­to­ry. Jesus brings the life, but our recep­tion of it is far from passive.

Richard Foster’s friend Dal­las Willard was fond of not­ing that, while the New Tes­ta­ment writ­ers use the word Chris­t­ian” three times to describe believ­ers, they use the word dis­ci­ple” 269 times. When those same writ­ers describe the qual­i­ty of life we can expect to live in Christ, they are mak­ing the assump­tion we are lean­ing into Christ in our thoughts, prac­tices and wor­ship. They assume we are not just spec­ta­tors, but par­tic­i­pants — not just believ­ers, but disciples.

I am the res­ur­rec­tion and the life,” Jesus says in John’s Gospel. The one who believes [into] me will live, even though they die; and who­ev­er lives by believ­ing [into] me will nev­er die.”

And then Jesus asks a ques­tion: Do you believe this?” (John 11:25 – 26).

If we do, we need to get rid of what dis­tracts us, get out of the stands and get into the game.

Go with God” is a bi-month­ly col­umn that Car­olyn Arends writes for Faith Today.

Text First Published August 2016 · Last Featured on October 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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