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Unveiling Christlikeness: Theology of Scripture for Preaching

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The Korean Mission United Methodist Church is located far from places where Koreans are much more populous.  It is a bit as if it were located in a remote, out-of-touch village, especially for Korean immigrants—only about 1,000 out of Rochester’s population of 206,000. The church is though crowded with predominantly Koreans, diverse in age (from children to the elderly) and background (business people, professors, scholars, homemakers, doctors, nurses, etc.). Further, the church membership[1] shows diversity across all generations of Koreans (first-, second-, and third-generation) and also attracts native Koreans who are pursuing an advanced degree. The young adult group, largely undergraduate and graduate students, is not only the biggest group but the main focus of the ministry of the church. Due to its diversity within one ethnicity, KM UMC tends to struggle with various kinds of segregation or distinctions, such as language barriers, intergenerational gaps, conflicts within Korean cultures, and differences between American and Korean cultures. The ministry of the church thrives nonetheless, within the culture of diversity that spans generations, age, background, language, intercultural and intergenerational gaps, and it is able to mitigate among the various conflicts that arise in the American and Korean cultures. Thus, every Sunday the sanctuary is filled with people.

During fellowship, the foyer—approx. 900 square feet—is well packed with people who enjoy blending with one another. Frequently, Sunday afternoons are loud, playful, relaxed, and a bit disorganized, with people rushing to help decorate the foyer for baby celebrations. The church is resplendent in either pale pink or sky blue to celebrate the arrival of a new baby or a child’s first birthday. Some people are moving tables to the back; others are blowing up balloons, hanging banners, setting out gifts, and preparing games. In the midst of the busy crowd, newborn babies travel from one person’s arms to another’s throughout the entire celebration. Other small children are surrounded by people with big smile on their faces.

KM UMC is excellent at Christian life together under the Word: in living among other Christians, experiencing their new life in Jesus through prayer together, worshiping together, attending service together, and enjoying fellowship together. They worship in church and homes and share their reflections on weekly devotion, something which the church encourages everyone to do, i.e., to devote themselves daily to reading and reflecting on God’s word. The well-loved rituals of sharing food at fellowship gatherings alone is a big draw for young adults, who quickly see that the church shares possessions and yields fruit-bearing communal life. The church embraces differences among individuals, shows a willingness to understand otherness, and practices kindness, encouragement, and patience in community. To the members of the church, caring for each other is important; building relationships is valuable. Overall, the life of the church is simplistic in the sense that it mirrors the lifestyle of the baptized people in the early church.

Significantly, KM UMC has a favorite scripture, Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (ESV). This scripture is familiar to many—both regular members and new believers—because the church encourages congregants to memorize it. The scripture, including a strange phrase, “Christ lives in me”, teaches: “our old self” (Romans 6:6[2]), which is identical with the “flesh” and the “sinful body,” dies together with Christ in baptism. The “I” is dead, but Christ—the Son of God self-sacrificed as an act of love “for me”—lives in me. The resurrected Christ (Galatians 1:1) is identical with the “Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17a), which is given to believers and dwells in them. We thus have the new “I” and resurrected Christ dwelling in us. Without pondering too much of the hidden meanings of Galatians 2:20, proclaiming the great mystery of the gospel of “Christ lives in me,” many members memorize the scripture and know it by heart.

What does “Christ lives in me” mean to the congregants? Asking some church members, they always begin to describe their church life, the life they have lived with other Christians. Their communal life together is where the people begin to recognize the ever presence of Christ among them. So the strange phrase “Christ lives in me” starts to make sense to some believers and to unveil its connection with Christian life.  Thus, in living among other Christians, new believers unveil the valuable meaning of “Christ lives in me”.

Despite moments of unveiling, there are moments in the life of the church when the congregants fall short of the glory of God, since we all have sinned. For instance, deadly sins, such as enmities, dissensions, envy, pride, greed, and deception, constantly disrupt the peace of the church. Galatians 5:16-21 warns us: even if we are baptized in the name of Jesus, we live under the powers of the “flesh,” sometimes conducting ourselves with outbreaks of envy and strife, hostile feelings and acts, and more. As a result, “our new “I” (Gal. 2:20) is then disabled and pulled away from the Spirit-led life. However, the church frequently confesses sins and repents, and church leaders also rebuke and correct sinful behaviors of members and teach them to be virtuous before God.

Interweaving “Christ lives in me” into the church’s living life together through the daily devotionals, fruit-bearing life, the practices of discipleship, memorization of Galatians 2:20, and repentance, the church—a collective group of unique individuals—not only breathes in God’s word to live but also breathes it out to bear witness. That is to say, their determined daily devotions, taking time to meditate on God’s word, have resulted in developing spiritual habits and tuning in with God’s word. Memorizing Galatians 2:20 has given the congregants a foundation to form their unique Christian identity in the present activity of the Spirit: individuals experiencing being “Born Again,” the church witnessing their baptism, and the congregants together sharing the lifestyle of baptized believers. In fact, many believers, who were baptized, have confessed and testified that our Lord Jesus living among us. In some years, there can be as many as three baptismal ceremonies.

As a result, the whole church together occasionally hears the testimonies of new believers who have experienced spiritual rebirth and celebrates their baptismal ceremonies. The testimony of Kyusang Sim, who realized that he was a sinner and decided to be baptized on May 5, 2019, bears out this observation. At the end of Sim’s baptism ceremony, the congregants congratulated him in person, and he later said, “I don’t remember being born, but I remember when I was born again. They gave me a hug.” In this way, Sim shares his experience with the living Word, unveiling its hidden meanings; particularly the statement “I am a sinner” used to be foreign to him but became real and gave him a valuable meaning. This experience led him to be baptized in the name of Jesus. As he reported, the day he was reborn became inscribed in his heart.

In baptism, we confess that we have been crucified with Christ, we do not live in the flesh but live by faith in the Son of God, who rose from the dead and took over our lives of self-reliance, self-confidence, self-direction, and self-exaltation, which had previously led us to live against what Scripture teaches. After all, our sins vanished in the waters of Baptism, so that we may be raised up with a new self; we died with Christ, so that we might also live with him. Thus, “Christ lives in me” not only empowers us to live by faith but also urges us to live a fruit-bearing life. Interestingly enough, the church’s fruit-bearing life of Galatians 5:22-23 is not language the church spoke verbally, but rather is evident in their actions. This fruit bearing life validates that Christian life takes place “in the flesh” and involves “divine life” empowered by the indwelling Christ and faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, the nine virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are expected to influence Christians to act ethically. Before we act, the virtues are enabled, empowered, and motivated by the indwelling Christ in us. In baptism, we are sanctified in Christ and called to live a virtuous life to become like Christ, the life of holiness so we can be transformed into Christlikeness. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we grow in goodness and live in good acts, speech, and minds. The virtues are not matters of decision, nor are they laws to obey. Rather, they materialize because the indwelling Christ helps us resonate with the Spirit. We Christians live our lives in such a way that others will see good that we do. Through faith and obedience to God’s will, which is made known to us through Scripture and doctrinal teachings of the church, we live lives of holiness and abide by Scripture and the teachings.

Christlikeness is gradually unveiled as we see Christ clearly in the Word; the more we understand him deeply, the closer we come to his image, and the more our life becomes his life for others to see. The great mystery of the gospel of “Christ lives in me” shines the life of Christ through those who participate in the process of sanctification.  By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we grow in goodness and live in good acts, speech, and minds. A form of preaching involves unveiling Christlikeness by means of nurturing the mind with doctrines as well as in-depth understanding Scripture, which is expressed in multisensory, multidimensional, and multifaceted biblical language. This unveiling enables us to not only discover hidden meanings of Christlikeness but also become more open to revelatory occurrences.

 

 

[1] In 2020, the membership of KM UMC was comprised of approximately twenty elderly persons, forty-two children, fifty adults, and ninety young adults. Due to the pandemic, now (2021) the church only has about fifteen young adults.

[2]  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, NRSV).

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