Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison

Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison


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Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison by Heather Holleman

As Christians find themselves trapped in the rhetoric of platform, influence, retweets, and fame, they need a ladder out of the fray.

Many of us live in a prison of self-absorption. Shackled with pride and despair, we compare ourselves to others constantly in our frantic, unending pursuit of perfection.

Seated with Christ gets to the root of this behavior and charts a path to freedom.

Scripture says that God’s beloved are seated with Christ in the heavens (Eph. 2:6), treasured by Him and given a place at His table. Heather Holleman unveils what this means for us.

It means we walk out on the fight for acceptance. We quit measuring ourselves to others.We leap free from cycles of shame.

Securely-seated people can ask themselves hard questions about their lives; they can deal with sin, grieve their losses, and move forward in hope. From a position of security and self-forgetfulness they can joyfully do the good works prepared for them uniquely. They can even celebrate the successes of others.

Seated with Christ is a deeply personal, liberating look at a glorious truth: that we have a place at God's eternal table.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802413437
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 250,099
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

HEATHER HOLLEMAN, PhD, is a popular speaker, writer, and college instructor. She is a faculty member of Penn State's English Department and teaches both freshman composition and advanced writing. Heather studied shame and narcissism for her doctoral work in English literature. She serves on the staff of Faculty Commons with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and helps direct the graduate student ministry at Penn State. She has received numerous teaching awards and her teaching philosophy finds its roots in what it means to be "seated at the table." In addition to her full speaking schedule, Heather writes daily inspirational material that reaches thousands through social media. Heather lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ashley, and their two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Seated, with Christ

Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison

By Heather Holleman, Pam Pugh

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2015 Heather Holleman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-1343-7



I ache for something I cannot name.

— Lauren Slater, American psychologist

I was thirty-seven years old when I discovered a vital truth about Jesus.

A lightning bolt of realization hit me on a summer day in late July as I wondered over the phrase in Ephesians 2:6 that "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus." I closed my eyes and began to think about my life.

I knew Jesus. I loved Jesus. I worshiped and served Him. I read my Bible, studied Christian concepts, kept a detailed prayer journal, shared my faith, met regularly with other Christians in church and in small group Bible studies, and worked for my community in various ways. I was the mom listening to Christian music in the kitchen, teaching Bible verses to my children, and rejoicing over what a great God I served. I loved my husband and our two beautiful elementary school-aged children. I blogged daily and wrote novels. Life often felt full and blessed.

But something was missing.

I did not know how to name it. Underneath the activity of my life ran a dark undercurrent of sin. I felt a subtle corrosion that something did not ring true about me. Something false, inauthentic, and impure governed my life. I felt like everything I did — all the activity, the writing, serving, speaking, studying — was about something other than Jesus. My life was more about me than Him. I was missing a theological truth that kept me in a prison of self-absorption.

I wanted importance and recognition.

I wanted love.

I wanted something.

When I read Ephesians 2:6,1 thought about the word "seated." I kept repeating, "I'm seated with Christ." I imagined the security and sense of belonging that came with having a seat at the most important table in the universe with other Christians. How would that seated person live? What would it feel like to have a special place at God's royal table?

I was not living as one who had a seat at the table.

I lived as one fighting for a seat at the table.

It was as if God said to me, "Heather, you can stop fighting so hard. You already have a seat at the table. You are already there. Everything you want for yourself is already true about you in Christ. Now start living like a seated person."

* * *

Like me, many Christians miss this essential truth. We are missing a piece of a theological puzzle. We grasp that we are justified, forgiven, saved, sanctified, and redeemed. But seated? What does it mean? Why would the apostle Paul, in a historic moment when the church in Ephesus needed a precise understanding of the gospel, use this image and this verb instead of another?

I have spent decades trying to build up a theological vocabulary to understand who Jesus is and who I am in relation to Him. In all the years of learning in church settings and Christian communities, I never heard the word "seated" to tell me who I was.

Have you? Why have we missed this incredible word in Scripture? What I needed desperately to understand was this: I'm seated. I have a place at the greatest table the world has ever known. I belong. I'm in my seat, and I'm responding to specific instructions from the Lord about the "good works, which God prepared in advance" for me to do as promised at the end of Ephesians 2. The words in Ephesians 2:6 constitute a profound message of inclusion, identity, and calling.

Before that summer afternoon when I encountered Jesus afresh in the words of that letter to the Ephesians, I had served in vocational ministry for fifteen years. I was well-read, apparently strong in my faith, and fruitful in ministry. I had even studied the psychology of emotion for five years for my doctorate in English literature and received theological and ministry training. But the dark corrosion persisted; I was still fighting hard for recognition and belonging. I knew something was wrong because I lived in shame on the one hand — tormented by failure, inferiority, and worthlessness — and narcissism on the other — exalting and promoting myself. I compared myself to others and felt either jealous or superior. I was consumed with evaluating myself in a sickened effort to prove my worth, find belonging, and receive acknowledgment from audiences both real and imagined.

What did this drive to earn my seat at the table produce? Poor boundaries, people-pleasing behaviors, constant self-evaluation, disconnection, fear of failure, self-doubt, controlling behaviors, overeating, a sense of entitlement, delusions of fame, shame, a lack of vulnerability, a judgmental and critical attitude, and an easily offended spirit. Despite ten years of managing these symptoms in therapeutic and spiritual settings, I never quite got to the root of my immature and narcissistic behaviors. I could theorize why I acted certain ways, but I could not articulate with any satisfaction how to change.

So I confessed more, prayed harder to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, and read bestselling Christian self-help books. It seemed, to the outsider, like I was healing. I was even asked to share all my wisdom with others in leadership seminars.

Ironically, it was the same summer afternoon I began writing a talk on emotional maturity for Christian leaders in ministry that Jesus intervened and led me to Ephesians 2. Instead of delivering a presentation to leaders on healthy boundaries and emotionally mature behaviors, I changed the speech to get at the core of what drives unhealthy behaviors.

Quite clearly, managing these unwanted attitudes and behaviors is not the goal. We have to ask why they begin in the first place. I wondered then if all of my immaturity sprang from one leak in my theological understanding: Could it be that I did not really believe I belonged, that I had a place, and that God had accepted me and invited me to sit down with Him in the heavenly realms? Instead of pursuing the goal of emotional well-being, I wrote in my seminar notes that the real goal was one thing alone:

The goal is intimacy with Jesus.

I was indeed missing something, or rather, Someone. It was Jesus.

The goal is knowing Him and being with Him in the heavenly realms. Everything flows from this.

* * *

Without this goal of intimacy with Jesus, seated with Him in the heavenly realms, I live as one trying to earn a seat at whatever table happens to mean the most to me in any given season of life. Here are my tables, which currently appear (and have appeared) in various forms. Do we share the same struggles? What are your tables?

• The smart persons table (I will earn the PhD, publish prolifically, and earn a seat with the prestigious professors).

• The thin and beautiful table (I will work out harder, diet more, buy new clothes, and consider new beauty treatments).

• The good wife and mother table (I will keep a clean home, prepare delicious meals, plan creative and intellectually enriching activities, and then blog every day to show how great we're doing).

• The published authors' table (I will write book after book and one day be honored).

• The fruitful Christian missionary table (I will serve till exhaustion and lead others to faith so I can be somebody to my church).

• The wealthy family table (I will just earn more money).

• The famous table (I will be known for something, anything).

Ephesians 2:6 dispelled the darkness inside of me. Jesus says I'm seated with Him. I have a place at the table. I can stop fighting to prove my worth. Because I'm seated at the table, I'm invited to gaze at the Head, Jesus Christ, and allow Him to set me free from both self-exalting and self-condemning behaviors. I'm seated in a place that invites God's provision. I'm seated in a place that allows me to bear fruit for God's kingdom. I'm seated at a place where I belong — with Jesus and with other believers — and I won't ever have to battle loneliness, exclusion, or comparison again.

I felt like a warm balm had been applied to my heart.

I felt free from myself.

It seems so simple. It seems too easy and too good to be true.

But that's the gospel. That is exactly why Jesus Christ brings the best news the world will ever hear. A Savior has come to win a place for us and set us free.

We have a place at the table with Jesus.


* * *

Read Ephesians 2:1–10.

1. When you read this passage in Ephesians, note the expression "alive with Christ" as opposed to "dead in transgressions." What do you think it means to be "alive with Christ"?

2. Paul repeats the expression "it is by grace you have been saved" twice in this passage. What does it mean to be saved by grace?

3. In what ways have you fought (or are still fighting) for recognition and belonging?

4. In what areas of your life are you tempted to compare yourself to others? When do you feel inferior? When do you feel superior?

5. Think of the table(s) where you're trying to earn a seat. What would having a seat there mean to you at this moment or season of your life?



And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

— Ephesians 2:6

It's autumn in Pennsylvania.

I walk around the campus of Penn State and crunch acorns and leaves with my boots. I'm tempted to jump into the leaves and roll around, but I'm nearly late for the writing course I teach. I smell the pumpkin-spice lattes of the college students who stream past me on their way to class. The midmorning sun filters through the burgundy and yellow trees, and the crisp air sends me diving into my bag for mittens.

I love the morning energy of the college campus: the jostling of books, the crinkle of term papers, and the rush of academic conversations continue to thrill me even after a decade of teaching. I'm smiling in anticipation of how I'll burst through the classroom door.

My students call me a "walking exclamation point," and I'm known for jumping up and down and clapping when a student uses a particularly clever verb. Most of my enthusiasm in teaching comes from my love of vivid verbs. When students use grapple, fritter, or effervesce correctly (my favorites), I'll even give extra points on that essay. The verb powers the whole sentence. With the verb, you create a mood and an image. "Look at these beautiful fall leaves outside," I'll say. "Tell me what you see!" If someone merely says, "The leaves are on the ground," I cringe and deflate before my students.

That weak verb, "are," means nothing to us. It shows us nothing and makes us feel nothing.

"Replace it with a vivid verb to create a mood and an image," I say, challenging them to go through the alphabet and find twenty-six other, more precise verbs. So they do: The leaves, in this case, arrive, blanket, cavort, dance, effervesce, fritter, grapple with, hover, ignite, jostle, kamikaze, laugh, mourn, nod, obscure, pummel, query, ricochet, skip, tousle, usher, vacillate, wander, xanthate, yearn, or zip across the ground. Yes, that's better.

I do love a great verb.

All semester, I invite students to employ amazing verbs. I tell them, "A great verb can change your life!"

I believe this as I read Ephesians 2:6. Here, Paul uses a great verb to change our lives. He provides a mood (how we feel) and an image (what we see) in one verb. Paul's declaration in Ephesians 2:6 that "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (emphasis mine) offers us a new and proper way to think about ourselves. We aren't the center of our lives anymore; we're seated with Christ and other believers. The verb reorients us back to our true identities and, like any precise verb that empowers the whole sentence, we find our lives empowered afresh.

"Seated in Christ," translated from the Greek, means "to make us sit down together in Christ." The sense of togetherness within this verb matters to the Gentile audience for whom the letter to the Ephesians was primarily written. The idea that Jews and Gentiles would have a seat "together" in Christ might have seemed astonishing.

Equally astonishing is that Paul used the verb "seated" to an audience that would already know the special import of this word. A "seat" denoted an important place of honor. The root expression of this word in Greek also means "to confer a kingdom upon," so it's abundantly clear that Paul wants his readers to know just how important this concept is. In other words, we are seated together in a royal setting, with a kingdom given to us.

According to customs of the time, people around a table would sit, squat, or recline on the floor. If the event was important, ceremonious, or royal, attendants sat on seats. Even during great Jewish feasts, you as a guest would recline or squat unless you were part of the king's circle. Only then did you have an actual seat.

Let's summarize: We're seated together with a kingdom conferred upon us. We are at a royal table, sitting down with Jesus.

When you think about being "seated," the verb also evokes a sense of rest and relaxation. It's a verb that feels safe. It's celebratory and peaceful. But Paul wrote this verb when he was perhaps the farthest away from safe, celebratory, and peaceful that a man could be. He wasn't physically at a royal table at all.

He was in a prison.

* * *

Paul's seat in prison, according to the Roman historian Gaius Sallustius Crispus, in his account of first-century Roman prisons, was "disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness, and stench." Scholars theorize that Paul was cold as he asks for a cloak, for example, in 2 Timothy 4:13. As we visualize this scene where Paul sits in the filth, darkness, putrid odors, and chill, I'm astonished that, despite his physical reality, in his spiritual reality, he was simultaneously seated in the heavenly realms with Christ. He knew — because of his position in Christ — that he could focus on a different kind of seat. Paul writes:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)

Paul, writing from that hard, cold, prisons ground, had his heart in a different place. His mind was not there. His life was elsewhere, in another seat. This seat with Christ captured Paul's heart and mind, and he chose, in even the direst circumstances, to celebrate how he had been "raised with Christ" and was now seated with Him in the heavenly realms.

Can you imagine knowing that you are seated at a royal table in the heavenly realms no matter what's actually happening in your physical experience? Paul did this, and so can I. And so can you. Do the implications take your breath away?

I began to research what made this experience of being "seated" so profound to Paul, and I found myself learning something even more beautiful. When you read in Ephesians 2 that we are raised "with" Christ and seated "in" Him, you must turn to Hebrews 10 and take a step back. You must ask yourself why it is so important that Jesus Christ Himself is "seated." Here is where I cover my face with my hands and close my eyes in wonder.

We know from Jewish law concerning the administration and service in the temple that Jewish priests were not allowed to sit down. They always stood. In fact, the tabernacle had no seats. We read this incredible fact about Jesus:

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, ... For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–12, 14)


Excerpted from Seated, with Christ by Heather Holleman, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2015 Heather Holleman. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Something Missing
2. A Single Verb
3. Where You Never Sat
4. Imagine the Round Table

5. From Appearance to Adoration
6. From Affluence to Access
7. From Achievement to Abiding

8. Four Hard but Great Questions

9. Available Living
10. Seated and Sent
11. Moment by Moment



What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Honestly, this book is one of the most profound I have ever read! Seated with Christ is a treasure. If you’ve ever wondered if you belong, if you’ve ever struggled with comparing yourself to others, if you’ve ever longed for a more influential position, this book is for you. Heather beautifully and brilliantly helps you take your seat at the Almighty King’s table. Your life will never be the same. - Becky Harling, speaker and author, The 30 Day Praise Challenge

If you long to passionately pursue a faith that spreads to your entire sphere of influence, read this book. I was captured by Heather Holleman’s obedience to “being,” rather than “doing.” I finally understand what it means to be seated with Christ. This book will teach you how to live a life that matters—and instead of working harder, you will be creating margin that opens extraordinary opportunity. Do not miss this book!- Carol Kent, speaker and author, Unquenchable: Grow a Wildfire Faith That Will Endure Anything

Seated with Christ is a refreshing exploration of what it can look like to see yourself rightfully and securely seated with Him. There truly is such freedom that comes from knowing you can have a secure and specific seat, and that above all your identity resides there. This is a powerful principle for all of us as we pursue becoming all of who God has created us to be as daughters and sons and as fully adopted heirs. This is a great resource and a gift for anyone looking to explore who they are in Christ. - Jeanne Stevens, Lead Pastor, Soul City Church, Chicago

God created us to desire significance, to search for more, and commissioned us to go forth to subdue the earth. If left untempered, our flesh attempts to accomplish His command in our own strength. In Seated with Christ, Heather Holleman provides key insights to unlock the secrets of the abiding rest every believer longs for, and the place of belonging every believer needs. - Julie Gorman, author of What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me about Men and What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me about Marriage

I need encouragement and motivation to live not for the big “I” but for Christ! I’m sure you do too. As I read Seated with Christ, my heart was lifted up, I sighed, and I smiled. Open this book and be ready to laugh, learn, think deeply, and have your heart encouraged! I highly recommend this book! - Linda Dillow, author, Calm My Anxious Heart and coauthor, Passion Pursuit

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Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In Seated with Christ, Heather Holleman presents a story about her study of the phrase “seated us with him [Christ]” in Ephesians 2:6. She incorporates her personal story and her profound interest in verbs to describe the ways that this phrase transformed her view of identity and worth. I originally heard about Holleman’s book on a podcast from the broadcast, Java with Juli. I remember feeling struck by the simplicity of the phrase but the effect the words had on Holleman. I initially chose to read Seated with Christ because I thought that Holleman focused on feelings of inferiority. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she addressed more facets of comparison than just low self-esteem. Holleman advises readers to focus on sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms. I appreciated this advice as it forms an essential framework for our perspective on earth. Holleman also provides questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, which could be useful for personal or small group study. At times I found it hard to keep my attention on the text, but this might be attributable to my environment and not Holleman’s writing! I certainly think reading Seated with Christ again would be beneficial in several ways. I also think I should have some sticky notes available the next time I read Seated with Christ! Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in order to write an honest, unbiased review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.