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Quotations I love: Become what you already are

Lynne Baab • Thursday February 18 2021

Quotations I love: Become what you already are

“The Christian indicative statement is not ‘This is what you ought to be.’ The Christian imperative is not ‘Now be as much like this as possible.’ Instead, the indicative is ‘You are already thus; your true life is this.’ And the imperative is ‘Enter upon your possession.’ In the familiar epigram so often used to describe the Christian position, it is a matter of ‘Become what you already are’; and that is a strikingly different approach from ‘Try to be a bit better than you are.’”
—C. F. D. Moule [1]

During Lent  in my childhood, I would often give up candy. This was not a huge sacrifice because I didn’t like candy very much (my joy was cookies and cake). I gave up candy because that’s what my friends did. I don’t think we had a clear idea of why we did it, but we had a vague understanding that we were sacrificing like Jesus did on the cross (a good thing to understand), and another vague idea that desiring things was a sign that something was wrong with human beings (not a great thing to believe). Giving up candy for six weeks was perhaps an attempt to be better people during Lent and fight human desire.

This week marks the beginning of Lent. Throughout Christian history, Lent has been a season of reflection and self-examination. As we confront human sin, and our tendency to fall into it, humans try various ways to address the gap between who we were created to be and how we live in everyday life. One approach is to try to be a bit better than we are – maybe by giving up candy for a while.

This week’s quotation addresses that tendency head on. I invite you to go back to the top of this post and slowly re-read the words from C. F. D. Moule (1908-2007), an English priest and New Testament Scholar, writing in 1955. He’s using two terms, “indicative statement” and “imperative statements” to describe a statement of belief and a statement of what we should do in response.

Who are we in Christ? What do you consider to be your deepest identity as a follower of Christ and adopted child in God’s family? We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a generous Creator (Psalm 139:14). We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters, part of God’s family, freed from the fear of death through Jesus’ death (Hebrews 2:11-15). The Holy Spirit indwells us, making Jesus known to us (John 14:25-26) and bearing good fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). We have been given spiritual gifts so that the Body of Christ can work well together, and we are in fact the limbs and eyes and ears of Christ's Body (Romans 12:3-8). “You are already thus; your true life is this. . . . Enter into your possession.”

Moule goes on to say that when we stress “become what you are” as our imperative, we shift from an emphasis on human effort to a place of receptivity of God’s gifts to us. He writes,

“Trust in human effort implies all that Christianity denies. It assumes the ability of human nature to struggle upwards by itself; whereas the Christian formula, ‘Become what you are,’ sees in God a divine gift, and calls human nature to accept it. It says membership in the Christian Church, in the Body of Christ, has already possessed you of the life of Christ. To be a baptized member of the Church is to be a limb of the Christ who has passed through the grave and gate of death into life. Believe this, trust him, and begin to enter on your possession.” [2]

The challenge during Lent is to give up something or add something that helps us enter into our possession. When I wrote my book on fasting, people talked about fasting from certain foods, and when their hand reached out for that food, they stopped to remember God’s love and care for them. That form of fasting is not about making ourselves a little bit better. That’s fasting for the purpose of remembering who God is.

During Lent, some people try to simplify their lives or write in their journal every day, habits that make space to ponder God’s presence with us. These and other spiritual practices for Lent can help us pray more often, ponder God’s work in our lives more deeply, read the Bible more consistently so we can grasp exactly what God is inviting us into.

“You are already thus; your true life is this. . . . Enter upon your possession.”

(Next week: the last four sentences of P. D. James’ last book. Illustration by Dave Baab: Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

In 2015 I wrote a Lenten devotional that uses one psalm for each day of Lent, with particular focus on the psalms that Jesus quoted. Draw Near is available in pdf for free download, and it’s illustrated by my talented husband, Dave Baab.

[1] C. F. D. Moule, “Reach and Grasp,” Theology Today xii (1955-6), 485.
[2] Ibid., 486.

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