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