Manners and sanctification


April 27, 2023



“Great is the mystery of godliness.”   1 Timothy 3:16

Was it needing an inspiring conclusion to my 12-week Youth Sunday school class? Or, was it re-reading Rankin Wilbourne’s fabulous book, Union With Christ? Actually, I think it was both. For me, it was one of those moments where I learned another way to grow in the joy of the gospel. I would like to share this with you in hopes that it encourages you—and your family—as it did me.

Do You Like Mysteries?

Mysteries have a way of captivating our attention—and our imaginations. In my youth class, I played a short clip from the movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (based on the book by the same title by C.S. Lewis). The kids were riveted to the screen and knew the movie’s details with perfect recall. C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), both Christians, masterfully used mystery and imagination to captivate hearts with the awesomeness of God and his redemptive works in Jesus Christ.

Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:17, “…great is the mystery of godliness.” In saying that, Paul was most definitely—not—flirting with New Age religion (something can be mysterious without being mysticism). He simply caught what we today miss despite reading over and over again, all of the imagery Scripture uses to describe us and our union with Jesus.

Paul Was Excited About a Mystery

Paul was clear on the gospel’s message and how to apply it. But at the same time, he acknowledged there was a mystery to it, too, that brought him joy. Consider the overflow of joy he demonstrates in both of his breathless prayers in Ephesians in 1:15-23 and 3:14-21. Both prayers involve long sentences that as you read them leave you wondering how he prayed them without passing out from lack of oxygen. But the joy of Jesus did that to Paul. It left him breathless.

In Ephesians 1:18, he prays that the Ephesian church would “have the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know… the riches of his glorious inheritance”. In 3:18 he prays that they will know the breadth, and length, and height and depth of God’s love. Paul is actively trying to engage our imagination by praying this way. Imagination is required in order to grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ.

Is The Gospel Without Mystery Still The Gospel?

I agree with Wilbourne that one reason the gospel has less impact today is that in our efforts to be clear we have stripped away this mysterious aspect of it. Mystery and imagination actually engages hearts in a way that connects with people today—youth especially.

God is big, awesome, and infinite. What kind of God would He be if He and his many works could be fully known with our finite minds? There is a lot of mystery in God that goads our seeking him. We were made to be enchanted. But there is more to the power of this realization than that.

WE Are In The Mystery

God actually has united us to himself in Christ. Our union with Christ is something that is in many ways a mystery. We died with him and we rose with him (Rom. 6:1-2). We are “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). These are awesome theological statements—and mysteries—that incredibly describe us.

To read statements like this in Scripture like we read directions in how to put together a piece of IKEA furniture almost misses the point. Our imaginations should race with excitement to contemplate the boundless meaning of such descriptions of wee people like us.

Greater Joy Awaits

To think thusly, is to be left with greater joy. And this joy is the nectar of the Christian life. It compels us to know God better. To know God is to love God. When we love God, Jesus says (John 14:15), we will keep his commandments. It’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it?

As we read the word together as a family, how are we dealing with these mystery-imagination passages? Are we digging into them, perhaps being silent as we contemplate? Or, do we brush over them in order to get to what we can more easily and quickly understand: the dos and don’ts that we value as more helpful? The opportunity they provide is boundless. They should transfix us.

Transformation Through “Transfixation”

This a lot like what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This is a mysterious statement that inflames our imaginations.

Our transformation is not owed to our obedience. It is owed to the Holy Spirit who mesmerizes us with the unsurpassed beauty—and mystery—of God in human flesh and our union with him.

Do you find this intriguing? Is a ray of sunshine bursting through the grey clouds of a menial Christian life? Let’s boldly go there with our children.