Chapter 2

Alive with Christ

Though we were self-gratifying, spiritual zombies, God loved us. Yes, loved us. Paul says in verses 4–5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Because of his mercy and out of his great love for us, God did what all the heroes of the zombie movies try to do. He provided the cure, the antivirus for the zombie plague. God “made us alive with Christ.” We were dead in our sins, unable to change our situation, but God took action to bring us to life. And as Paul says, this means that we are saved “by grace.” We can’t claim any credit for making ourselves alive. Dead people can’t do that. Our changed situation can only be due to God’s gift, which is what “grace” means. But we’ll come back to that, as Paul does later in the passage.

He continues in 2:6, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

When Paul says that we are made alive, raised, and seated with Christ, he means that we share in these key events of Christ’s experience. Theologians call it participation with Christ.* Our trust in Christ connects us to him, so that his death becomes our death, his resurrection* becomes our resurrection, his ascension* becomes our ascension.

Participation with Christ can be difficult to grasp, but it’s a concept that Paul uses throughout his many letters in the New Testament. Our connection to Christ is spiritual. Paul doesn’t mean that we physically died with Christ or were physically raised with Christ; Paul means that our spiritual selves become connected to Christ and go with him through death and resurrection. This is why Paul can say that our old person has been put to death and a new one now exists in its place.

This is not exaggeration or a metaphor; it is spiritually true.

Think of our participation with Christ as hitching our wagon to his wagon. Wherever his wagon goes, we go too. He pulls us along—through death, into new life, and ultimately into heaven itself. We do not deserve to receive resurrection life, but we are granted it because our wagon is hitched to Christ. We do not deserve to live in heaven with Christ, but we can because we participate with him. We are drawn in to share in his achievements.

At the 1998 Golden Globes, something remarkable took place. The actor Ving Rhames won a Golden Globe for his role in a TV movie about promoter Don King. As he received his award, a visibly emotional Rhames asked the audience, “Is Mr. Jack Lemmon here?” Jack Lemmon was a household name TV star in my grandparents’generation and a fellow nominee for the award Rhames had just won. “Would you come up here please, sir?” Laughter swept the room as the spotlight and cameras searched for the bewildered Lemmon. What was this all about? No one knew. Lemmon looked as surprised as everyone else.

He looked around and shrugged his shoulders.

With a sheepish look on his face, Lemmon tentatively got out of his seat and made his way to the stage. By now there was a real buzz of anticipation. Once he was standing next to Ving Rhames, Rhames said, “I believe that being an artist is about giving. And I would like to give this to you, Mr. Jack Lemmon.”

And he handed his Golden Globe Award to Lemmon. The audience was electric. Ving Rhames had just given away his Golden Globe! Throughout the audience, tears flowed. The rousing cheer declared the audience’s approval of Rhames’s unprecedented act. Lemmon himself was stunned. He reluctantly received the Golden Globe and told the audience that this was one of the nicest, sweetest moments of his life.

The point is this: Jack Lemmon did not win that Golden Globe. He had no right to stand on that stage. But he was invited to share in the achievement of another. And it was beautiful.

In a similar way, we have been invited to share in the achievements of Christ. We have no natural right to share in them, except that we have been invited to do so. That is participation with Christ.

And this invitation leads us to marvel at God’s incredible goodness: We participate with Christ “in order that in the coming ages* he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (2:7). Seated in the heavenly realms with Christ, we see the incomparable riches of God’s grace. He showed us grace so that he can show us more grace!

That’s incredible, isn’t it? We were dead. We were blind followers of the world, rejecting God and his good purposes for us. But God raised us up from spiritual death and gave us new life with Christ.

His grace is indeed magnificent.