The Difference Knowing Christ Makes

The Difference Knowing Christ Makes

Not too long ago I found myself in a conversation about someone who wasn’t a believer. Now though I didn’t know the person being discussed well, I did know a few things about them—and I’m using the generic plural intentionally to protect their identity. This particular individual is hard-working, conscientious, devoted to their family, honest in their work, and pretty much a delight to be around. So I was surprised when someone shared a comment another believer had made about this person to the effect of, “Wow! They’re so great….but imagine how much better they would be if they became a Christian!” I was genuinely surprised that someone could so greatly misunderstand what it means to be a Christian. For our motive for giving our lives over to Christ should be to know God and his love for us. The most important thing that would change in this person’s life if they were to become a believer would be that they would now know the God who made them for himself. They wouldn’t be a better person; they would be a believing person.

But dealing with or thinking about the difference between believer and non-believer can be tricky, can’t it? For though the most important difference that occurs when someone comes to faith in Christ is that they are able to know the love of our heavenly Father by Christ’s now-indwelling Holy Spirit and thereby know, love, and serve him in return, nonetheless someone who comes to faith is Christ is now sanctified—they are now holy—in two important ways. First, one is sanctified in the sense of being set apart for God and his purposes since they are no longer their own but have been bought with the price of Jesus Christ, God’s Son[1] and so have been sealed by his Holy Spirit.[2] But one is sanctified as well by the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit[3] who, over time, changes us—transforms us—into the very image of Christ from which we have fallen. And in fairness, this latter sense is no doubt what was intended when the one believer said this other individual would be even better if they were to come to faith.

Well in this portion of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth he sets forth in a clear yet profound manner what should be the result of knowing Christ or what difference knowing Christ should make in the life of a believer. The answer, in short but not simply, is that over the course of our lives our objective position—being set apart for Christ—becomes subjectively realized—we are slowly changed into his image. So when we come to believe in and commit our lives to the truth of who God in Christ is; when we are able to see and embrace that apart from Jesus we are unable to know God rightly; when we consequently turn away from how we would have things be and acknowledge that how he tells us in his Word things should be is right and best, we experience God’s redemption; we experience our heavenly Father applying to us the death and resurrection of his Son by sending his Holy Spirit to seal and indwell us that we might have the very eternal life that is inherent only in God. This is what redemption means—that believers have been bought with a price therefore all who believe in Christ now belong to him. Therefore we no longer have the final say about how we should live our lives but we seek to use our lives to honor God in all we do and say. This is our position, our sanctification in the objective sense. Through Christ we have been purchased and thereby set aside for God’s purposes, not our own, for we now belong to him.

But this objective position or sense of sanctification becomes subjectively realized or experienced in the very process of seeking to live our lives for God. Therefore if we say we are Christians but continue to live as though we are not, then we need to stop and consider whether our commitment to Christ was genuine in the first place. As Paul testifies in verse 1, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” In the case of Paul the ministry he’s speaking of is that of proclaiming to others the truth of who Christ Jesus is and of working with converts to Christ that they might know the difference that knowing Jesus ought to make in their lives; that they might know that their profession of faith in Christ should result in transformed lives in terms of what they value and how they live.

Now as we noted last week, from the point at which Paul met the risen Christ, Jesus made clear to him that his ministry would be one of suffering in his name.[4] Yet despite knowing this Paul states that this ministry of suffering for Christ comes through God’s mercy. He doesn’t feel worthy of belonging to and living for Christ. He, who at one time had made his reputation by persecuting and imprisoning followers of Jesus, doesn’t feel he deserves the salvation God in Christ had brought him. But thanks be to God that Paul didn’t lose heart but devoted his life to proclaiming Christ and his teachings to the extent that you and I, living 2000 years after Paul, continue to be beneficiaries of God’s mercy upon his life.

The difference that following Christ made in Paul’s life wasn’t simply that now he proclaimed and taught about Christ but as he states in verse 2, rather than lose heart he and those serving with him, “renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception,” he said, “nor do we distort the word of God.” So sharing the truth of who God in Christ is isn’t about making the case for Christ at any and all costs. As we also saw last week Paul even refused to receive payment for preaching that was his due out of a concern that doing so would compromise the integrity of his message.[5] And earlier in this letter we’re provided another glimpse of what such payment may have entailed as Paul testifies that “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”[6] To share Christ with others then requires that we do so with complete integrity. It mustn’t be done for profit. It mustn’t be done for personal gain. Negatively it requires that we, like Paul, renounce “secret and shameful ways.” Positively it requires that we speak truthfully and plainly.

An example of deception in our own day can be found in the prosperity gospel which falsely promises that if we commit our lives to Jesus, we will have abundant spiritual, emotional, physical, and material wealth. But this is a lie and a distortion of the gospel. Each of us here knows well, even as the apostle Paul testified, that we continue to experience suffering and trials despite knowing, loving, and following Christ. And we should never pretend otherwise. Though I love most of Isaac Watts’ hymn, At the Cross, I confess that his chorus makes me cringe [sing]: “At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight”—and up to there I have no problem with this hymn. But when he adds, “And now I am happy all the day” I cringe. For to be a Christian is not to be happy all the day. Now to be a Christian is to have the freedom and privilege to turn to God all the day. But knowing that he loves—and listens—and cares for—and helps us through our trials isn’t the same as being happy all the day. So we mustn’t distort the word of God. We mustn’t pretend that life will be easy if we but turn to him. “On the contrary,” Paul states still in verse 2, “by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Our testimony is that though we who know Christ still suffer in this life, knowing Christ is worth it for knowing him is what we were all made for.

Paul never pretended that following Christ was easy. He never suggested that the difference knowing Christ makes is a life of ease. In fact, if we can jump ahead beginning in verse 8, listen to how Paul describes his life as a follower of Jesus:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;

persecuted, but not abandoned;

struck down, but not destroyed.

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

Paul isn’t simply speaking hyperbolically here. Though suffering comes to all of us living since the time of the Fall, much of Paul’s suffering arose precisely because he was a follower of Jesus and had dedicated his life to proclaiming and teaching about him to others. Earlier in this letter, he praises “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”[7] adding, “just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”[8] He tells this family of believers, his “brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”[9] So when Paul testifies to being “hard pressed on every side” and “perplexed” (v. 8) and “persecuted” and “struck down” (v. 9); when he talks of carrying around in his body “the death of Jesus” (v. 10) and of “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (v. 11), Paul isn’t exaggerating. This is in fact the reality of his life that arose directly from his proclaiming the truth of Christ and his gospel. Yet by every word and action recorded for us, it’s clear that for Paul it was all worth it.[10]

Though we may find it difficult to believe, the confident gospel hope Paul is proclaiming is that because of who Jesus is and what he did to attain salvation for us, death is no longer our worst enemy. Last month when we had the voice ensemble over to our home, I was asked how I came to faith in Christ. And I told how though I was only 18 when I came to know Christ, I had feared death for much of my young life. When I was around 10 I remember seeing some medical drama in which a woman died and after I had gone to bed I cried well into the night, wondering—fearing—what death was like. Years later through a youth group I attended my senior year in high school, I learned about Jesus. The more I heard about him, the more I was drawn to him. And though I had been told about the need to confess and repent of my sins and I dutifully did so when I gave my life to him, I confess to you that awareness of my sin isn’t what drove me to my Christ. No, it was awareness of my mortality. So when I learned that Jesus proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die[11] that truth changed everything for me. For part of the significance of God being a living God is that all who turn to him receive his life. As Jesus himself noted, in the Old Testament “in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’” And so, Jesus concludes, “38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”[12] The apostle John similarly testified “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[13] And in a verse in our morning’s passage I didn’t have Bob read, Paul, too, states in verse 14, “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus.” What these and many other passages throughout Scripture make evident is that in order to conquer death we need to believe in Christ, the giver and sustainer of life. And when we believe in him, we are united with him by his eternal Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteed eternal life with him.

Now if that’s the case, then why isn’t this truth evident to everyone? Paul addresses this starting in verse 3 when he says, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” So though all who believe in Christ are given his eternal life, those who haven’t accepted—or perhaps even heard about—the truth of who God in Christ is, this wonderful, amazing, good news of Christ by his resurrection destroying even death, the last enemy,[14] is veiled. This good news is covered up so that they’re unable to see it. So the veiling of this gospel is the cause of their perishing because eternal life is found in no one but Jesus; eternal life is found nowhere else but in the sacrifice of God’s Son.

And as at the time of the Fall that ancient serpent drew away our first parents from the truth of the living God to follow his own lies, so he seeks to do today. This is what Paul indicates when he states in verse 4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Though Christ came to deliver us from death, the penalty for our sins, into the hands of our loving and heavenly Father, he also came to destroy that ancient serpent. As John records Jesus saying when he was anticipating his own crucifixion, “31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”[15]

So the remedy not only against death but also against the god of this age’s attempts to blind the minds of unbelievers from seeing the glory of Christ who is God, is the ministry of the proclamation of the gospel. As Paul declares in verse 5, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” And in verse 6 Paul connects the God of all creation who in the first chapter of Genesis commanded, “Let light shine out of darkness”[16] with Jesus Christ. For the very God who brought light into the world has also “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” Talk about coming full circle. In the beginning God’s light made the world visible; and now when God gives his light, displayed in the face of Christ, to those living in darkness God makes himself visible. This is why Jesus replied to Phillip when he asked that he show the disciples the Father. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”[17] To see Jesus is to see God.

So as Paul goes on to confess in verse 7, on the one hand we who have been made in Christ’s image have been entrusted with treasure of immeasurable worth for we have the privilege of sharing the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and God; on the other hand, this inexhaustible treasure is being held in us who are but “jars of clay”—from earth we were formed and to earth we will return.[18] But this is good and right in order that others may know “that this all-surpassing power”—this power of Christ that delivers us from sin and from death and from the father of lies, that ancient serpent—“is from God and not from us.” As Paul emphasizes again in verse 12, though “death is at work in us…life is at work in you.” Again Paul knows that to be united with Christ is to be given his eternal life. Therefore as he states in the very next chapter of this letter, he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”[19] Paul knows that this life isn’t our final destiny.

So he testifies in verses 16–18: “16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Brothers and sisters, we believe in Christ because he is the way and the truth and the life. And though believing in Christ doesn’t mean that our lives will be free from suffering, knowing Christ should change our lives. For Christ who is life and light is changing us by his Holy Spirit so that in knowing the love of our heavenly Father we might come to value what he values and learn to see our lives through his eyes.

Though we will still face trials in this life, we with Paul mustn’t lose heart;

And we must renounce secret and shameful ways;

And we must never use deceit;

And we mustn’t be surprised when life is hard;

And we must hold fast to the gospel hope that Christ has conquered sin for us;

And Christ has conquered Satan for us;

And Christ has conquered death for us;

And we must remember, as Paul did, to extend to others the love of our heavenly “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”[20] For he hasn’t left us alone in this world but has given us himself—and has given us his Word—and has given us each other. So let us go and share with others that all of this is the difference that knowing Christ can make.

Let us pray.


[1] 1 Corinthians 6:20: you were bought at a price.; 1 Corinthians 7:23a: You were bought at a price.

[2] Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[3] Romans 8:9–11, 15:You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you…. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 2 Timothy 1:14: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

[4] As Christ revealed to his disciple Ananias in a vision as recorded in Acts 9:15–16: This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

[5] 1 Corinthians 9:12: If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” And this despite the fact that such payment was commanded by Christ, verses 13–14: 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

[6] 2 Corinthians 2:17.

[7] 2 Corinthians 1:3–4.

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:5.

[9] 2 Corinthians 1:8–9a.

[10] Philippians 3:4b–11: “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” See also 2 Corinthians 11:21b–31: Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

[11] John 11:25.

[12] Luke 20:37–38 referencing Exodus 3:6. Parallel accounts may be found in Matthew 22:31–32 and Mark 12:26–27.

[13] I John 5:11–12.

[14] I Corinthians 15:26.

[15] John 12:31–32. See also John 16:11 which addresses this judgment on Satan as part of the ministry the Holy Spirit continues once Jesus ascends to heaven: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Jesus also declares about Satan, in John 8:44b–45: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!

[16] Genesis 1:2–3:Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

[17] John 14:9.

[18] Genesis 3:19: By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return; Ecclesiastes 3:20: All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.; Ecclesiastes 12:7: and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

[19] 2 Corinthians 5:8.

[20] 2 Corinthians 1:3–4.

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