Imagine with me for a moment you’re doing a Bible study with some new believers. The text is the early chapters of John and everybody leans forward with excitement to read more about this charismatic character named John the Baptist. As you are reading the text out loud, your voice raises with the drama of the text as John makes this declaration about Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” You can see the light bulbs illuminate in everybody’s minds, except for one person who instead has a puzzled look on his face. In all sincerity, this young believer asks, “Does that mean that Jesus was a sheep?” It’s hard to know how to answer that question because the verse does call Jesus a lamb!
Sometimes in preaching and teaching there are similar moments. Such was the case last Sunday at Willow Creek. Pastor Mike used the terminology “DNA” to describe our relationship with Christ. Understandably, some people wondered about the science of such a statement. Ultimately, if a Christian had a DNA test conducted, the only DNA present would be human DNA. So how is it true that we have the DNA of Jesus/God in us? Is this an accurate statement? How are we organically, physically, spiritually, or even genetically related to God?
This is the start of a short series of blog posts written by Pastors Mike & Zach. We will be discussing, in more depth, what it means to be “related to God.”
We are related to God in a literal sense
First, John uses DNA language in the book of 1 John. One such verse is 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” There is no way to work around this text metaphorically. The verse says we have been “born of God” two times, and in the middle of the verse it says that God’s seed abides in us. Not to get too graphic, but the word “seed” is quite literally sperm. This is how literally John talks about our relatedness to God! The seed language and the “born of” language gives the clear impression that we are now, somehow, related to God in a familial sense.
Therefore, in our vernacular, for us to use the terms “genetic” and “DNA” is not at all out of line with John’s language. In other words, John was using the first century equivalent to “genetic” and “DNA.” However, neither John or we intend to use it in a scientific sense. John’s audience didn’t have the option of taking it to the scientific level. They were left simply to ponder the graphic, genetic-type language John was using. Similarly, when we use this language, we are trying to reflect the Scripture’s teaching on the matter, but are not making a testable, scientific claim. This is where science stops and the mystery starts.
We are related to God in a mysterious sense
Though it is proper to talk in actual, biological language concerning our connection to God, there is also a mysterious sense we are related to him as well. The best illustration to use is that of marriage. If you are married, there is absolutely no scientific DNA connection between you and your spouse. However, in the eyes of the law you are relatives. This is true to the degree that if a man’s brother committed adultery with his wife, the law would consider that incest. Incest, as you know, is a sexual relationship with one’s relative. Now, in a technical, scientific sense there is no relationship between the man and his sister-in-law. But, in the eyes of the law, they are related. This is somewhat of a mystery.
Let’s take the mystery a step further. In the eyes of God, you and your spouse are also viewed as relatives. God takes it a step further and even calls you “one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now, if science tested my wife and I, the results would show that the genetic make-up of our flesh is different. However, God says that a married couple is now fused into one person, or one flesh. This is the same language the New Testament uses regarding our relationship with Christ. We are united with Christ, enjoy union with Christ, or are IN Christ. In other words, you could say we are “one flesh” with Christ. How? I’m not sure. It is accurate to say that there’s certainly a mysterious nature to this relationship.
We all agree that we are spiritually related to Christ. But are we physically related? Can we use terms like genetic, organic, physical, or DNA? The answer is yes! We are not simply splitting hairs with all of this. This is vitally important. This is the language Scripture uses, and this is the language we should use as well as we communicate Scripture effectively. We need to live our Christian lives knowing that we are spiritually AND physically related to Christ. This gives us hope, but it also gives us power for daily life. No longer do I need to feel trapped in sin because of my genetic relationship with Adam. Instead, because I share the nature of Christ, I’m free to act, feel, and think in accordance with my new nature. He is my true identity… not Adam!