For my Christ and Salvation course at Covenant Theological Seminary, we looked at different pictures of Christ’s work and then wrote a short essay on how that image could be helpful in a specific context. I chose Christus Victor in the context of youth ministry. The reasons will become evident as you continue. ~
The Christus Victor image moves me. I grew up hearing about warfare and then voluntarily surrounded myself with even more talk of warfare as an adult when I joined the military after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. As I grew up, my father, a US Air Force veteran, loved to talk about heroic sacrifices made by American soldiers for the sake of others. They became the “nights in shining armor” of my early childhood. They were warrior-martyrs, giving their lives so that others might live under a cause that was greater than any one man.
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ in middle school, the Holy Spirit pressed on me an overwhelming sense of my sin and the need of Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf. Christ became my ultimate self-sacrificing “night in shining armor.” However, my concept of Christ didn’t really see Him as a conqueror. That idea either wasn’t stressed to me or if it was it didn’t stick. Growing in Christ, I began to see the image of Christ as Christus Victor. If Jesus only served as a sacrifice, He could be taken only for a martyr. As Victor, the power of the sacrifice takes on a whole new level of meaning. As critical as the sacrifice is, it loses significance without the victory of resurrection and the promise of the second coming in power. Some see Christ as a helpless martyr and take pity on Him as such, thereby confusing his meekness with weakness. Christ is the one who commanded demons and could have commanded angels to come to His aid at any time. His restraint in suffering on the cross takes on a frightening and magnificent quality when we “zoom out” to see this fully God and fully human person who chose to suffer as (and I write this reverently) a chess player might choose to give up their Queen in order to achieve checkmate. He is Christus Victor indeed.
The issue for this discussion is how the picture of Christus Victor aids in ministry in my context, which is in Youth. As we get older, some have the tendency to look at struggles in various stages of growing up and think that youth don’t have any real problems (family responsibilities, bills, jobs, etc.). This is often an unfair denial of the reality of struggle at each stage of life. Some of the struggles associated with youth are just as serious as ones we face in every other stage of life. Youths, like all people, can struggle with a sense of God’s love for them. Also, like all people, they struggle to identify who their true enemy is and the nature of the battle in which they fight in as believers in Christ. The image of Christus Victor greatly influences both of these major struggles for the glory of God in our present reality as believers in Him.
First, Christus Victor shows those who God loves can never be separated from the love of God. The significance for youth ministry is that by virtue of their young age, many have not frequently enough experienced the benefits outlined in Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.36: assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end. Part of understanding the saving work of Christ whereby we are justified, adopted, and sanctified is knowing that Christ has conquered and in Him we too become conquerors. When we experience defeat as youths, it is formative in how we will think for the rest of our lives. As Christian youth there are many areas to experience defeat. Culturally, it is normal to blaspheme, to engage in pre-marital sex with as many partners as you feel, it is normal to dishonor parents, and the list can go on and on. From time to time, it’s likely that young believers will sin in any of these areas and be convicted of it by the Holy Spirit. Will they give up on putting the deeds of the body to death in belief that they have lost God’s love or will they persevere? The indicative that fuels the imperative to persevere in the faith is the fact that Christ is victorious over sin and death. Christ’s work is the beach landing on D-Day that is the beginning of the end of the Axis powers that would come much later. In Romans 8:34-39, after describing the necessity of suffering through putting the deeds of the body to death through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul declared:
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ’s victory over the grave and over Satan is a victory that all who come to Him in faith partake of. We become co-conquerors with Christ (v.37). Paul says “more than conquerors.” What effect does this have then on a youth in the church? There is a very different spirit in a man who has been defeated and a man who has been hit but is still fighting because he is winning anyway. This is the difference that I would encourage a youth to come to terms with. The enemy is like a fighter in a fatal choke-hold that batters the opponent as the life is squeezed out of them and Christ is that Victor. In Christ, with Him as our Victor, we are more than conquerors.
Secondly, in a related way, the image of Christus Victor exposes the true nature of our battle. The younger youth are the more concrete thinkers they tend to be. As such, the idea that Christ is our Victor only makes sense when you can understand who the opponent is. The ability to understand that Christ is victorious in a battle of some kind sometimes leads young people to think of battles like that which they are familiar with, which are earthly battles. This can lead youth to think that to be victorious, they need to personally dominate other people in various ways for Jesus or as they might think, like Jesus. However, Scripture teaches that our true battle, in which Christ is the Victor and will be forever, is a battle not “…against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Further, Christ has triumphed over them all. Christ has triumphed over death itself. With these things being true, the Christian youth need not fear suffering that comes with following Christ. Whether that is standing up for someone who is being abused or choosing to be ridiculed for associating with certain other students. Should they kill his body, he is promised resurrection like Christ’s, eternal life with Him, and just judgment upon the enemies of God.
His real enemies have already been defeated. Not only that, Christ intercedes for him at the right hand of the Father in is daily struggles. By the power of the Holy Spirit and through the truth of these words in Scripture, the pressure to dominate anyone for Jesus or like Jesus should evaporate. Christ is victorious over the devil and we become co-victors in Him. The Christian youth is freed from exerting himself in battles he has not been called to fight in. Rather he can rest in the present reality of Christ’s victory and the promise of final destruction of death. The image of Christus Victor has great power to encourage believers who feel embattled themselves. This image reminds believers that the battle is already won in Christ and will be won once and for all. Knowing that Christ has won empowers youth and all of us to persevere on in the face of obstacles and at the same time, rest in Christ’s work whereby he has defeated all of His and our enemies.
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