J-Curve and Being In Harvard or In Christ

In J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life, Paul Miller demonstrates the need for the application of the gospel—the truth that Jesuslife, death, and resurrection draws sinners to God—not only for unbelievers, but in the day-to-day lives of those who have trusted Christ in faith.

Through many and varied examples, Miller shows how our union with Christ because of God’s grace means that we are actually living the gospel story in the mundane events of our daily lives. He unpacks the apostle Paul’s insistence that we are in Christ to show how we join our Lord in his death through our daily struggles—and how we wait for him to resurrect us with him. With Miller as our guide, we can see ourselves in this “J-Curve” in the struggles and suffering we face.

One of the most helpful resources the book offers for youth workers and parents is a chart (pp. 55-56) in which Miller contrasts what it is to be “in Harvard” versus what it is to be “in Christ.” (Listen to Miller talk about this concept here.)

Miller’s description of being in Harvard calls to mind the infamous Gilmore Girls scene in (episode 16 of Season 3,) in which Paris Geller announces that she didn’t get into Harvard, despite being a fifth generation legacy.

“I’m not going to Harvard,” an uncharacteristically disheveled Paris says in disbelief. “I got the tiny envelope—the one that reads, sorry Paris, we’re not interested. Try again next year. Love Harvard. And the thing thats really funny here is, who in the world deserves to go to Harvard more than me? Have you seen how hard I’ve worked these past four years?”

Paris’ whole identity has dissolved with the news that she will not attend the school she’s dreamed of her entire life. For those of us who love students, this scene is all-too familiar. We have seen our students labor over their college resumes only to be devastated when they are not accepted to their dream schools. By contrast, Miller points to our true identity in Christ:

“How do you get in?” Miller asks in his chart. Answer: In Harvard, you get in by your own merit. In Christ, on the other hand, you get in by Jesus’ merit.

“Who gets in?” he continues. Answer: In Harvard, only the best and brightest get in. In Christ, anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord is accepted.

“What do you get when you leave?” he asks. Answer: In Harvard, you get an “in” to better jobs and relationships. But in Christ, you never leave!

Miller presents a whole series of similar questions highlighting the weightiness of our union with Christ, which provides a far more secure identity than any ivy league school can offer. It’s a profound teaching aid for our students who are tempted to place their identity in academic performance.

As you read this book and share its message of our identity in Christ with your students, may you take comfort that the little deaths you die are not in vain.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5).

Chelsea is Editor of Youth Ministry Content and the Director of Publishing for Rooted. She previously served as a youth pastor in New England churches for 13 years. She and her husband, Steve, live north of Boston and are parents to Wells and Emmett. Chelsea holds an M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where she is currently pursuing a Master of Theology (Th.M.) in Old Testament Studies. She is passionate about teaching teenagers biblical theology and helping them learn to study Scripture for themselves.

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