The Two Towers, The Girl on Fire, Return to the Sea, The Great Valley Adventure. Sequels (bonus points if you can tell me what the last two are sequels to). We read them, we watch them. We spend money on them (and so Hollywood makes them, even when they shouldn’t). Sequels continue stories with familiar characters, familiar settings, and enough of a twist or change in scenario to keep us interested.
Evangelicals often treat the spiritual life in a similar way. There is life up to the encounter with Christ and then the rest of life is the sequel to that pivotal moment. Life with Christ becomes a sequel to a past of debauchery or a time marked by lack of clear knowledge about who Jesus is (for those who were born in the pew).
There’s a great deal of truth to this understanding of Christ. He introduces Kingdom-life to us, life in its fullest, and it radically alters things. Our lives are transformed as the Spirit works on our desires, forming us into an ever-better image of our loving Father’s Son. It truly is a new story.
Yet often we view our relationship with Christ only in terms of the sequel. He has little involvement in our lives up unto our point of conversion. We end up thinking of him in terms of our interaction with him, our acceptance of him. We put ourselves in control of his role in our lives.
But Christ, the Son of God, cannot be controlled so easily. He is not just present in our sequel; he is present and at work in the prequel to that our acceptance of him. Furthermore, his prequel stretches not just to the beginning of our life but to the very beginning of time. This is the richness of his love: arms that spread the eons, waiting to welcome us.
When we reduce Christ to a sequel-only version we lose out on the richness of grace. And it’s rich because it is in the prequel version that things get messiest. Christ is not just about being with us after we acknowledge his Lordship. His very death was for our sake – while we were yet sinners, as Paul reminds us. This is ugly. It’s uncomfortable to think of Christ not only aware of our darkest moments, but loving us all the same. This is grace.
When I first consider this idea, I find myself filled with shame. Christ knows my darkest thoughts and actions. In many ways, even having been a Christian for many years, I find myself desiring a sequel-Christ who will only know what I’ve done after I commit, or recommit myself to him, who will only interact with me when I allow him to. However, when I acknowledge that Christ is Lord not just of my post-conversion life, but of the story of the entire cosmos, a great burden is lifted. This Christ who rules knows the prequel and loves me enough to lead me into the sequel. Wow.
This week may we remember that while we may be living sequels, we do so only because the grace of Christ’s work in every minute of our lives.