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There is a Japanese word, kintsukuroi, that means “golden repair.” It is the art of restoring broken pottery with gold so the fractures are literally illuminated—a kind of physical expression of its spirit. As a philosophy, kintsukuroi celebrates imperfection as an integral part of the story, not something to be disguised. The artists believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.
When we think of God, we think of him as a creator—The Creator—and rightly so. But if we stop there, we lose sight of one of God’s most endearing personal qualities—his desire and talent to recreate things. In some ways, recreating requires more power than creating something in the first place. That’s because you are starting with a mess that someone else has made. God’s work of redemption is like that. The mess that Adam and Eve, under the instigation of the Devil, would—to all but God—be beyond saving. Yet the Bible is infused with stories of redemption, rescuing, starting over, and building something lasting from the least–promising of materials. The phenomenon of God’s re–creative powers was not lost on the Apostle Paul when he exclaimed:
Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high–society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”[i]
When anyone is saved, they bring a lot of personal history with them. Some of it is good, but a lot of it—not so much. The miracle lies in what God can do with such a mixed bag. How about you? Do you have “a history?” With all the fractures to prove it? Is it possible that in the right hands—God’s—those imperfections and cracks could become windows through which God shines his light to a benighted world? The Apostle Paul thought so when he wrote:
It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at.[ii]
If you have come this far in the book, it is likely that you have “stepped over the line” and committed yourself to the loving care of Jesus Christ and his work on the cross for you. In so doing, you have caused the angels in heaven to sing, but God has just started his work of transforming your life into a bright star in his firmament.
It has been said that salvation is getting “the man out of the world” and that sanctification is getting “the world out of the man.” Our first chapters have concentrated on the first phase—getting the man out of the world—namely, in salvation, an instantaneous, one–time event that transports us from a state of spiritual death to one of life. Now we come to the all–important subject of sanctification—a lifetime process of transforming our lives into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. To begin with, we provide this review to remind you of how far you have come spiritually. We draw heavily on Miles J. Stanford and his landmark book, The Green Letters,[iii] for this summary:
What Adam did to doom me
MY HISTORY IN THE FIRST ADAM: As spelled out in Chapter 7 of our book, our progenitor Adam landed us in a bad spot, birth–wise. All of us have been born spiritually as a spoiled species—no exceptions. As the head of the human race, Adam passed along a fallen nature that continues to play an active part in the lives of all men, including Christians:
You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone…The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence…Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death.[iv]
Adam did the sinning and reaped the consequences, death, judgment, condemnation. Then he passed it all along to us (thank you very much, Dad) in the following forms:
POSITION: If you were born in an impoverished country, of poor parents, you would be considered poor, as well. Likewise, all of us have been born of Adam, the head of a doomed family and, because we are descendants of that family, are also considered doomed. Various men of God have wisely said as much. Here are a few:
And you were dead [to God] in your trespasses and sins…[v]
You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.[vi]
Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam.[vii]
You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death.[viii]
NATURE: Sadly, we are “spitting images” of our dad. We picked up his bad habits and added a few of our own—It’s a nature thing. Genes do that and, worse yet, add mutations with each successive generation—the gift that keeps on giving. Here is how Ephesians 2 puts it:
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.[ix]
Unfortunately, as we noted earlier in this book, we come naturally spring–loaded to the sin position, and no amount of social conditioning can change that. We are naturally fleshly and carnal, and it starts with the mind:
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.[x]
PRACTICE: Dogs bark, ducks quack, and sinners sin. We are not sinners because we sin—we sin because we’re sinners. It’s that nature thing again. And it’s universal:
There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.[xi]
And so, here lies humanity’s universal problem—starting with Adam and ending with each one of us. God would have been justified in abandoning the whole thing but chose instead to provide a way back to him—at great personal cost to himself.
In gracious acknowledgement of the above–listed menacing reality, God took it upon himself to provide a lifeboat so that any willing person could be rescued from Adam’s sinking ship—as we described in Chapter 8. This lifeboat comes in the form of Jesus Christ, personally, known in scripture as our Last Adam.[xii] For those sensible few who choose to abandon the First Adam’s leaky vessel, God has also provided something resembling a divine Witness Protection Program, whereby they receive a new identity (in Christ) and new place to live for all eternity (in heaven). Paul explains it this way:
Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death–dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead–end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death–dealing sin and this generous, life–giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life–gift, this grand setting–everything–right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?[xiii]
All the First Adam could ever do for us was to pass along his propensity for sin and death. Our Last Adam provides life and peace.
What God did to save us
What to do? Just wink away Adam’s sin? Maybe just forget about it? After all, other than his outright disobedience to explicit divine commands, he was a pretty nice guy. How about giving him penance to do, some religious ceremonies, perhaps even physical pain? A stiff scolding, followed by extended time in the woodshed? No! God took the most severe measures possible. For openers, he condemned Adam. Right there in the Garden of Eden, God had a Judgment Day, condemning Adam as guilty and, along with Adam, the whole human race. Not only that, but he sentenced him to death, placing his progeny under the same death sentence.
But that was just for openers. Then came the hard part. In the person of Jesus Christ, our Last Adam, God set about to satisfy the extremely demanding legal requirements that his own divine righteousness demanded. No winking away sin. Every claim, every nuance, every broken commandment, every ungodly attitude or action had to be dealt with—to the last miserable drop.
POSITION: We use the word forgiveness too lightly, when it comes to sin. Forgiveness would never be enough, even for the slightest infraction. Judgment and condemnation was called for. A payment was required—a ransom paid before any talk of forgiveness:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.[xiv]
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.[xv]
NATURE: No fixing up the old house here. The old nature was as beyond forgiveness, as was our position before God, in Adam. Our old nature needed to be dragged kicking and screaming to the cross in judgment, as well:
Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.[xvi]
Of course, once our old nature was suitably dispatched by putting it to death, our new nature in Christ could be implanted by the indwelling Holy Spirit—making us entirely new creatures. Hollywood could never have thought up such an electrifying story.
PRACTICE: Our personal sins—those thoughts, words, and deeds that were sinful—ran up a big “bill” that needed to be paid.
And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.[xvii]
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.[xviii]
Yes, our sins were forgiven, but not before the bill was settled in the only heavenly currency that counted eternally—the blood of the Lamb:
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.[xix]
And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood.[xx]
And so now, in the genius of his redemption plan, God made it possible for believers to know (literally, reckon) that their history in Adam is finally at an end (through crucifixion) and that a new life in Christ (through resurrection) lies before them. When Jesus Christ hung on that cross of Calvary two thousand years ago, he condemned Adam and everything Adam represented. Christ identified himself with our position (referred to as our “old” self), nature, and practice (committing sin) in Adam. Having done so, he nailed it all to the cross, condemning it once and for all:
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.[xxi]
Now we see how Jesus acts as our “cosmic lifeboat.” Since he went down into death and came up in resurrection, God can incorporate us spiritually into Christ and considers us as having gone through the same experience. What he went through in fact, we go through in identification with his death, burial, and resurrection. Thus we are freed from Adam and all claims against him. This forms our positional basis, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[xxii]
Where that puts me as, a believer
MY HISTORY IN THE LAST ADAM: Just as I had an old history in the First Adam, which brought only death, as a believer, I now have a new history in the Last Adam, which brings only life. My history in the First Adam led to my death as a sinner on the cross through Christ. My new history in the Last Adam led to my becoming “dead” in relation to sin—through his death. And it is this latter condition that positions me to take up my new resurrection life in Christ.
God now sees me as no longer related to the First Adam at all. I am severed from him and vitally connected to the Last Adam. Therefore, I have become buried with Christ in the tomb. In God’s infinite wisdom, my death (in Christ) has become the very commencement point for my new life: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”[xxiii]
Of course, I’m still me, but my entire existence has shifted out of Adam and into Christ:
But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.[xxiv]
Miles Stanford wrote:
We remain the same individual while acquiring a new position, life, and nature in the risen Lord Jesus. The Father maintains the identity of each believer throughout the process of the Cross, the Tomb, and the Resurrection.
Now having been set free through death, I am now safely risen with Christ to a brand–new life. As we noted:
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.[xxv]
At last, standing solidly on resurrection ground, our new life in Christ looks like this:
POSITION: Formerly, in Adam, God was our judge and we were dead toward him and alive to sin. Now, in Christ, God is our heavenly father, and we are dead to sin and alive toward him, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”[xxvi] All of this is courtesy of the work of Christ:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.[xxvii]
How do we know that God is our father? We begin to display a family resemblance to our new heavenly father. This happens as the Holy Spirit sets about the business of “conforming us to the image” of Jesus.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.[xxviii]
Wow! Note the chain of causation here. God is the initiator, motivated by his ultimate purpose for us, with the timeless perspective of his foreknowledge—all with the goal of conforming us to the image of his son. And we, having responded to his gentle overtures, discover that all along we were predestined and called to this destiny. To what end? To be justified and glorified by our association with Jesus. Wow again!
An important distinction must be made at this point. When a person is born again, God is not going to change or remodel that person’s old life, which would be like putting a coat of paint on a tear–down house. No. He goes way beyond that—he totally exchanges the old life for a brand new one:
Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.[xxix]
Now when our heavenly father sees us, he views us through the rose–colored glasses of his son Jesus. In his view, we are altogether new, pure, unstained, and righteous—because it is not our righteousness that he sees, at all—he sees the righteousness of Christ which has been imputed to our account.
Furthermore, God sees us as having already ascended into the heavenly realms from a positional standpoint in Christ:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.[xxx]
Note the tense here, “raised us…seated us…”—all past tense, having occurred, from God’s timeless perspective, two thousand years ago in Christ.
NATURE: Having been co–resurrected with Christ, we have a new nature in the Holy Spirit that can do nothing but please God.
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand–new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.[xxxi]
This is not to say that we do not have remnants of the old nature still in our flesh that continue to make us capable of the same mischief that marked our lives before being born again. But the scriptures promise us a new power, based on our new position to overcome these forces:
Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.[xxxii]
Before, sin was our master when we were “in the flesh” as Adam’s offspring. Now we have a new master, the Spirit of Christ himself:
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.[xxxiii]
PRACTICE: One thing that we know about God is that he’s very much into inner transformation (that is, change from the inside out). He understands that mere reformation (that is, change from the outside in) lasts only as long as the willpower of man can hold out—a rickety foundation, at best. God is also very much about bearing fruit. His physical creation reflects this everywhere we look. Now, as believers in Christ, we live suspended between two realms—the heavenly realm, into which we are already “raised up with Christ,” and the still sin–cursed earthly realm, where we must continue to live and survive in its decidedly hostile spiritual environment. The means by which God empowers us to navigate the earthly realm safely and victoriously is the indwelling Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God himself:
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive–and–present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s![xxxiv]
How ingenious. Rather than requiring us to “live the Christian life,” God takes up residence in our hearts to live out the Christian life from the inside. It is this truth that distinguishes Christianity from any other religion on the planet—“Christ in you, the hope of glory!”
That is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.[xxxv]
Then, whatever eternal “fruit” is subsequently borne in our lives comes from him, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”[xxxvi] It is the Holy Spirit who develops the fruit of the spirit in and through our newly transplanted spiritual nature.
The Holy Spirit’s transformational work is directed both inwardly and outwardly. His inward work is occupied with subduing the desires of the still–present flesh:
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self–interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law–dominated existence?[xxxvii]
His outward work is to exhibit the fruits of the spirit to a dark and needy world. The writer of the book of Galatians provides a helpful profile of the fruit of lives lived outside of Christ versus the fruits of the lives of Christians (however incomplete and imperfect as they may be at any given time). First, the fruit of your “old life:”
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic–show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all–consuming–yet–never–satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small–minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.[xxxviii]
Then, we have the fruit of the Holy Spirit, as expressed through the life of any willing Christian:
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.[xxxix]
What is the difference between the two contrasting states? In the one case, that of an unsaved person, the “old man” is still alive and the associated Adam–nature is dominant. In the latter case, that of a saved person, the “old man” has been crucified with Christ and the resultant indwelling Spirit of Christ is gaining dominance:
Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[xl]
Now since a believer’s free will has survived intact, there is a continued possibility of a conflict of interest between what the believer wants versus what the Holy Spirit wants in any given situation. We still have a free will, and the remnants of an old nature (also known as the flesh) that, unless subdued, can wreak havoc with God’s renewal process. It is over this issue that God makes a particularly urgent appeal:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going–to–work, and walking–around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well–adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well–formed maturity in you.[xli]
Although we acknowledge with our minds that God knows what is best for us, our old ways can rear their ugly heads and the consequences can be catastrophic to our spiritual growth. God respects our dignity as humans and does not compel us to do anything.
Miles Stanford concluded:
We are not to become lost in Him, but He is to be found in us. “That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (II Corinthians 4:11). He lives in me, not instead of me; He is the source and motivation of my Christian life. I am to realize and rest in the fact that it is my being, my personality, which is “enlifed” by the human–divine life and nature of the Lord Jesus. I am the same person, but with a new life in union with His life. By the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit I will grow in grace and increasingly be conformed to His image.
So how does this work?
Suppose a man began a relationship with a woman that eventually led to an engagement, followed by marriage. And on their wedding day, he pledges his undying love for her and then proceeds to go about his business as though nothing had happened—he is hardly ever home, almost never calls, and is always busy with other things. How long do you suppose that marriage would last? Similarly, many people have heard and believed the gospel and professed their love for Christ, yet go on with their lives as though nothing had happened. Is that the way it’s supposed to be?
The whole business of being a Christian is about relationship—not about making some sort of theological profession and then stopping there. Nor does it consist of religious posturing plus something to do on Sunday. Jesus called men to follow him, and they began living together in moment–by–moment contact for the rest of their lives. Jesus loved those men passionately, and they knew it. As disciples of Christ, they “learned of him” by example—not by reading about him. He was a living, interactive, intimate friend who was willing to share everything with them. There was none of the kiss–and–run philosophy that pervades modern life, flitting from flower to flower like a humming bird.
Jesus wasn’t a concept to those men—he was a flesh and blood companion worthy of dropping everything to follow. He wanted their undivided attention, and he poured out his life to turn ordinary bumbling laborers into world–shaking evangelists. They knew they were in the company of divine power and authority, and they relished his willingness to patiently instruct them in the secrets of kingdom life. They were made privy to the glorious supernatural, immaterial universe that lies beyond this fleeting, sin–stained, and often–disappointing worldly existence. Jesus had been on the other side and was graciously willing to share what he knew about it:
Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.
Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”
While he was going on like this, babbling, a light–radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”
When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.[xlii]
It would be so lovely to say, “Only Jesus. I’d be satisfied for the rest of my life with only Jesus.” Can you say that? If Christianity is anything, it is a love affair. And, like lovers, each person seeks to be with the other as much as possible—not out of duty or under compulsion—at least that’s the way it should be. Most married couples learn, often the hard way, that to neglect quality time together is to court relational disaster. So it is with God. Did you know that, if you are a Christian, you are married to the Lover of your soul? You are! Forever.
Being a Disciple
The scriptures divide all mankind down into three classes:
- NATURAL MAN: Unregenerate, unchanged spiritually (still “in the flesh”). This is the starting condition for all of us and, without divine intervention, the condition in which we die. This “natural man” is incapable, on his own, of responding to God, owing to his greatly diminished spiritual faculties due to sin.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised…For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.[xliii]
- CARNAL MAN: A “babe in Christ” who walks as a “natural man” (still exhibiting fleshly tendencies). Sadly, this is the condition of many poorly instructed Christians who have no knowledge of their potential to live a victorious, joy–filled life, walking in step with the Holy Spirit.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?[xliv]
- SPIRITUAL MAN: Grown up and spiritually mature (fleshly tendencies subdued by power of Holy Spirit). Although by no means perfect, such Christians have learned to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. And as they do so, they find themselves desiring an ever–deeper walk with Christ and regularly sensing God as an ever–present reality in their daily lives.
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,
“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.[xlv]
The migration path from one class to another in the above list is entirely the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and completely out of the hands of man, no matter how hard he might try. All true knowledge of God, all wisdom, all spiritual insight comes from God via the Holy Spirit. A non–Christian, however intelligent or well–meaning, simply cannot understand the deep things of God until they are supernaturally revealed to him.
Although salvation is instantaneous when a person is born again, sanctification is a lifelong struggle. Oswald Chambers put it this way:
It is only when God has transformed our nature and we have entered into the experience of sanctification that the fight begins. The warfare is not against sin; we can never fight against sin—Jesus Christ conquered that in His redemption of us. The conflict is waged over turning our natural life into a spiritual life. This is never done easily, nor does God intend that it be so. It is accomplished only through a series of moral choices.
God does not make us holy in the sense that He makes our character holy. He makes us holy in the sense that He has made us innocent before Him. And then we have to turn that innocence into holy character through the moral choices we make. These choices are continually opposed and hostile to the things of our natural life which have become so deeply entrenched—the very things that raise themselves up as fortified barriers “against the knowledge of God.” We can either turn back, making ourselves of no value to the kingdom of God, or we can determinedly demolish these things, allowing Jesus to bring another son to glory.
A man’s character is not baked in at birth. Rather it is formed decision by decision, as links in a chain. His character represents the sum–total of those internal decisions and external choices he makes over his lifetime. Although he may not be able to undo past choices, he can endeavor to make better ones going forward and, in the process, transform his character. The way he does this is based on new information, springing from a new world view, based on unchangeable and time–honored truth. Again, Oswald Chambers:
We have a tendency to forget that a person is not only committed to Jesus Christ for salvation, but is also committed, responsible, and accountable to Jesus Christ’s view of God, the world, and of sin and the devil. This means that each person must recognize the responsibility to “be transformed by the renewing of [his] mind.” (Romans 12:2)
This is discipleship at its heart—seeing things as God sees them, and making decisions accordingly. Although the human will retains a role, the real work is done in the mind. After beliefs are changed there, behavior will follow in lockstep. Dallas Willard boiled the discipleship process down to two words: see and do. See what Jesus did, and do it. See what Jesus thought, and think likewise. See how Jesus viewed something, and adopt His perspective.
Jesus never followed anyone. Yet we insist on doing things our way and then asking Jesus to come along behind us and bless those choices. He instructed, “Follow me,” and his disciples unhesitatingly dropped everything. How else could they “learn of Him”? This is where the human will often finds itself in conflict with the divine imperative. I can continue to do the same things, based on thinking the same thoughts, and then foolishly expect different results each time, or I can get out of the way and give God His rightful place.
Who is going to follow whom? Count the cost on this point first, and the rest will be comparatively easy. Jim Elliot wisely stated, “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Position Versus Practice
Now comes a bit of a rub. Many true Christians find themselves in a type of spiritual wilderness, where they are confused about their position before God versus the practical outworking of that position in daily life. They are never sure of where they truly stand with God, and they go through the motions of religious devotion in the somewhat forlorn hope of pleasing God enough to make it to heaven. They are confused about what is true about them—regardless of behavior and the up–and–down quality of their daily walk with Christ. An agonizing business indeed.
To illustrate, a foster child taken in to live by a couple can be turned back in if he behaves badly. His position is entirely provisional, based on behavior and the continued willingness of the foster parents to have him. As a foster child, his bad behavior can easily cost him his position. But suppose the same couple decides to legally adopt the child and take him into their home as a full–fledged family member. Now the child attains an entirely new position, complete with the attendant privileges. When he misbehaves, the parents don’t just return him. They deal with his behavior through discipline, in view of his permanent relational position as a son. At its heart, this is a committed familial relationship that brings with it occasional disappointments, confrontations, healing, and restoration. (Remember the “prodigal son”?]
Now for the confusion. Suppose every time that adopted son misbehaves, he falls into mortal terror of being turned back in? Despite his parent’s assurances, he fears the worst and takes the only path that seems reasonable to him—he adopts a lifestyle of total conformity to every rule, not out of love and a desire to please the parents, but out of his misinformed view, trying to maintain his position as a son living on a knife edge. The son is confusing his position with the practical outworking of that position (that is, his behavior). He lives in terror that the latter can cancel out the former.
Quite apart from being sad for the child, this belief on the son’s part gives the parents precious little recognition for their grace and kindness for adopting him in the first place. Does he truly think that such generous people, who have gone through the hard work of adopting him, are inclined to throw him out at the first infraction or the fiftieth or the thousandth? Here is Jesus, relating his parable of the prodigal son. Although most readers take this as a story about the son, it is fundamentally about the heart of the father and about his tireless efforts to redeem and restore his wandering children:
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”
But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, “Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain–fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!” And they began to have a wonderful time.[xlvi]
Is God interested in your behavior as a Christian? Certainly. Will he discipline you if you are disobedient? What good parent wouldn’t? Will he throw you out of the family and damn you to hell? May it never be! Remember, this is the God who embarked on the most thankless mission imaginable, when he entrusted the life of his own son into the murderous hands of the very people he was trying to save:
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.[xlvii]
Please, dear saint, don’t confuse your eternal position before God with your daily behavior, which will have its ups and downs until you are taken up to glory. Some of the most terrifying moments in a believer’s life can come after a bout with sin and the guilt and shame that follows. But then comes the worst part—the accusations of the Devil, which sound something like this, “Oh there you go again, right back to sinning. And you’re supposed to be a Christian! Hah! No real Christian would do that. You’re nothing but a phony!” Don’t you believe it. The Devil’s days are numbered, and his favorite role is as “the accuser of the brethren.” If he can discourage a believer, especially a new one, he takes them out of action in the continuing battle between good and evil. Peter the Apostle gives this advice:
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.[xlviii]
You are not alone in this! But remember, the day will come when the Devil will be ultimately defeated and thrown out for good. In the meantime, he prowls around looking for someone to devour. Let’s look ahead in prophecy to see who prevails in the end:
War broke out in Heaven. Michael and his Angels fought the Dragon. The Dragon and his Angels fought back, but were no match for Michael. They were cleared out of Heaven, not a sign of them left. The great Dragon—ancient Serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, the one who led the whole earth astray—thrown out, and all his Angels thrown out with him, thrown down to earth. Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying,
Salvation and power are established!
Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah!
The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out,
who accused them day and night before God.
They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb
and the bold word of their witness.
They weren’t in love with themselves;
they were willing to die for Christ.
So rejoice, O Heavens, and all who live there,
but doom to earth and sea,
For the Devil’s come down on you with both feet;
he’s had a great fall;
He’s wild and raging with anger;
he hasn’t much time and he knows it.[xlix]
Fight the good fight
So be of good cheer, as you walk with Christ in your new life following him. Yes, this is war. But it was war before you came to faith in him, as well—you just didn’t know it. Before, you were already in the Devil’s pocket. Now that you have been rescued by Christ, the Devil isn’t going to give you up easily. He’ll try to convince you that you are still in play, but don’t you believe it. You belong to God and no power in heaven or on earth can separate you from Christ. We—all of us—are called to take part in the fight, but never on our own. God isn’t about to recruit you into his kingdom and then leave you on your own to fight his enemies. The equipment and training is yours for the asking:
God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well–made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life–or–death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.[l]
So, when you stumble, get up, dust off, and get back in the fight. And above all, don’t let the Devil lie to you about your position with God. These words of William R. Newell should serve as a comforting balm:
RIGHTEOUSNESS WITHOUT WORKS
If God announces the gift of righteousness apart from works, why do you keep mourning over your bad works, your failures? Do you not see that it is because you still have hopes in these works of yours that you are depressed and discouraged by their failure? If you truly saw and believed that God is reckoning the righteous the ungodly who believe on Him, you would hate your struggles to be “better;” for you would see that your dream of good works has not at all commended you to God, and that your bad works do not at all hinder you from believing on Him that justifies the ungodly!
Therefore, on seeing your failures, you should say, I am nothing but a failure; but God is dealing with me on another principle altogether than my works good or bad—a principle not involving my works, but based only on the work of Christ for me. I am anxious indeed to be pleasing to God and to be filled with His spirit, but I am not at all justified or accounted righteous by these things. In justifying me God acted wholly and only on Christ’s blood–shedding on my behalf.
Therefore, I have this double attitude: first, I know that Christ is in heaven before God for me, and that I stand in the value before God of His finished work; that God sees me nowhere else but in this dead, buried, and risen Christ, and that His favor is toward me in Christ, and is limitless and eternal.
Then, second, toward the work of the Holy Spirit in me, my attitude is a desire to be guided by the truth, to be obedient thereto, and to be chastened by God my Father if disobedient; to learn to pray in the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, and to be filled with a love for the Scriptures and for the saints and for all men.
Yet none of these things justifies me! I had justification from God as a sinner, not as a saint! My saintliness does not increase it, nor praise God, do my failures decrease it![li]
Get this straight—being born again means that you were permanently removed from the family tree of the First Adam and placed into the family tree of the Last Adam. His past becomes your past, his present becomes your present, his future becomes your future. How wonderful when we understand that! If ever there was a time to consider the term in Christ, it is now:
But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non–Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.[lii]
If one saint were to be lost, how could we know that any saint is saved? Enough of that doubting. Just stay away from the old ground of works and the Law when it comes to your position, and let your daily life reflect the love and gratefulness to God for saving you with a mighty hand. In one of the most affirming messages in all of scripture, the Apostle Paul assures us that we will never be alone again, once we have believed in Jesus. Not only that, but we can be sure that nothing can separate from his love—not even ourselves or our own foolishness:
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.[liii]
It has been a never–ending source of comfort to me over the years to realize that the business of saving me and keeping me saved is God’s and not mine. I am frighteningly imperfect and still capable of moral and behavioral lapses—and this in the face of extensive exposure to scripture and study under gifted bible instructors. I know better, but far too infrequently do better. If it weren’t for verses like the ones below, I could easily lose heart altogether. But just when it seems the darkest, Jesus’ words break through my oftentimes dark and dreary struggle within myself:
My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. I and the Father are one heart and mind.”[liv]
I may not always look like a Christian or behave like one, but this I know, when he speaks, I hear Him as the Voice of One who is truly my master, my shepherd and lover of my soul. I can’t explain why that is—I’m the least deserving or promising among his followers, and one who must often cause him to shake his head in wonder at my steady stream of foibles.
But then I read, “They are protected from the Destroyer for good…No one could ever get them away from him…” Wonder of wonders! Many years ago now, he gave me the ears to hear his voice and the comfort of knowing I belong to him forever. My beloved Shepherd has made it his responsibility to guard, protect, and forever secure my “real and eternal life” from the malevolent work of the “Destroyer and Thief.” Step out boldly and ask him for ears to hear and the heart to love Him, and let him meet you just where you are. Then bask in his fierce protection for the rest of your life as well.
A cautionary word
Among the various objections to the Christian faith, none produce more universal abhorrence than religious hypocrisy. There is something particularly galling about people who “talk the talk,” but don’t “walk the walk.” We have all witnessed the infamous TV evangelist scandals of yesteryear, along with major denominational moral meltdowns and a parade of fallen local church leaders. It’s not hard to find the “talkers” among us, but it’s another thing all–together to find a true “walker.” The “talkers” get all the press, the “walkers” often live out their lives in obscurity.
There is a widespread, spiritually perilous misconception that all a person must do to become a “Christian,” is to act like one. This rather intoxicating fable was fueled in part by a popular movement called WWJD, or “What Would Jesus Do?” Rooted in the so–called “social gospel” of the late nineteenth century, the WWJD movement deemphasized the Pauline gospel’s insistent focus upon man’s need for deliverance from the ravages of sin through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, it focused upon applying biblical principles to save society from its various ills and usher in an earthly utopia, often losing sight of the far more pressing need for individual salvation.
Similarly, the many versions of the social gospel today seek to subvert the bible’s central message into nothing more than a collection of “how–to’s for life;” e.g. “how to fix government,” “how to achieve social justice,” “how to get financially blessed,” “how to improve the life of workers,” “how to stay sober,” etc. Trouble is, the true gospel begins with the total depravity of man and ends with deliverance exclusively through the atoning work of a Savior who shed his blood on our behalf. Yes, good works follow such individual faith commitments, but only after a transformative encounter with the Holy Spirit through personal conversion which does result—in due course—in a changed life.
The spiritual peril posed by any so–called “gospel” that is based upon man’s efforts, however well–intended, was called out by none other than the Savior himself:
Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God–sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ [lv]
These were people doing the outward works, but lacking the inward reality. They were focused on the externals and enriching themselves in the process. They “missed the boat” by disregarding the need for a personal relationship based in loving obedience to God’s will for their lives. Jesus was exposing the many highly religious members of the upper classes who were not about to come to God on any but their own terms. The idea of humbling themselves and taking their place among common sinners offended them to the core. Yes, they were willing to “do their religious thing,” if it was profitable, and only if they could continue to hold their heads high and lord it over the unwashed heathen around them. This brand of religion allowed their pride to survive intact.
Jesus minced no words about such posers, providing a fool–proof test to see they were of the true faith:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.[lvi]
It is not enough just to claim to be a Christian. A true and lasting encounter with the living God results in authentic change, accompanied by the bearing of spiritual fruit. To illustrate, suppose you were a lemon tree, but claimed to be an orange tree. How could even the most casual observer test your claim? By tasting the fruit, of course. If the fruit is sour, then you are a lemon tree, no matter what your claim. It is common, even among “faith–based” organizations to claim to be “biblical” in principle, and yet its leaders and members can still be fraught with moral compromise, conflict, back–biting, and worldly living. The test is in the fruit. The Apostle Paul held everyone’s “feet to the fire” with this bit of straight talk:
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic–show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all–consuming–yet–never–satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small–minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.[lvii]
To be crystal clear…If the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in a person’s life, lasting change will occur, perhaps haltingly at first, but it will become evident over a lifetime. God does not use force in transforming us, we may resist his guiding hand at times, but he patiently persists in bringing about his will for our lives. A true believer becomes aware of an inner conflict that wasn’t there before. He senses the gentle tugging of God’s spirit toward good, all the while being pulled in the opposite direction by his old nature. The Apostle Paul described his “war within” this way:
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time…
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.[lviii]
Thank God the new nature that is transplanted into every true believer at rebirth is infinitely more powerful than that old, sin–cursed human nature inherited from Adam. A triumphant note is sounded by Paul as he makes this point in Romans 8:
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being–here–for–us no longer have to live under a continuous, low–lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band–Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. [lix]
Yes, we are saved by God’s limitless grace and we cannot achieve that position with God by any efforts of our own. But that doesn’t mean God is through with us. He is just beginning a transformation that will continue for all eternity. He is making saints that will not only dwell with him for all eternity, but bear spiritual fruit for him in the here–and–now:
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.[lx]
Beware of anyone who claims to have become a Christian at some point in the past, yet their life shows no signs of such a transformation. It’s a “nature thing” and can’t be faked. Dogs bark, ducks quack, sinners sin and true saints grow in godliness. If no fruit of the Spirit exists in a professing person’s life, if they aren’t exhibiting a love for God and for their neighbors, it isn’t because they lost their salvation—it is because they never had it in the first place.
Getting into God’s Flow
In the introduction to Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book The Power of Intention, a reviewer wrote:
Intention is generally viewed as a pit–bull kind of determination propelling one to succeed at all costs by never giving up on an inner picture. In this view, an attitude that combines hard work with an indefatigable drive toward excellence is the way to succeed. However, intention is viewed very differently in this book. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer has researched intention as a force in the universe that allows the act of creation to take place. This book explores intention not as something you do but as an energy you’re a part of. We’re all intended here through the invisible power of intention. This is the first book to look at intention as a field of energy that you can access to begin co–creating your life with the power of intention.
Now I have no idea what Dr. Dyer’s beliefs were about God, but there is an interesting likeness here to something theologians call the will of God. Imagine his “force in the universe that allows the act of creation to take place” to be a kind of cosmic jet stream that starts with God, flows outward through the universe, and represents his eternal intention. Suppose this was not some remote theoretical concept but something we could tap into and which could energize our lives in unimaginable ways? We’re not talking about turning God into a cosmic “gum ball machine” to give us everything we want, but tuning in to and becoming part of something the scriptures call the Kingdom of Heaven. How might this work?
Travel anywhere in the American countryside and you will encounter picturesque Aermotor windmills, which are used to pump water from wells deep in the earth. When their water storage troughs are full, farmers have a clever way of turning their windmills off—they simply turn their blades sideways to the wind and the power fades away. It’s all about which way the blades are pointed.
Jesus made an interesting promise to any spiritually thirsty person who comes to him:
On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)[lxi]
That promise of “rivers of living water” flowing into and out of believers is conditional. We cannot “cook this up” on our own, but need the Holy Spirit. Additionally, we need to be “oriented” correctly to tap into the spiritual flow, enabling us to live a quality of life that would be impossible naturally. However, like those windmills, many of us are turned sideways and not harnessing the power of God’s wind. God wants us to reach up and catch the breeze, but most of us have our eyes turned elsewhere:
Our God is in heaven
doing whatever he wants to do.
Their gods are metal and wood,
handmade in a basement shop:
Carved mouths that can’t talk,
painted eyes that can’t see,
Tin ears that can’t hear,
molded noses that can’t smell,
Hands that can’t grasp, feet that can’t walk or run,
throats that never utter a sound.
Those who make them have become just like them,
have become just like the gods they trust.[lxii]
Here then is a cosmic reality: we become like what we worship. Worship is nothing more than preoccupation. We end up reflecting the object of our attention, morphing into its very image. This explains why God began the Ten Commandments with instructions on worshipping the true and living God—not some grotesque, twisted counterfeit made by man’s hands. The New Testament outlines the three most common distractions that cause us to turn sideways to God’s spiritual wind:
But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.[lxiii]
Yes, life has its worries and we all must support ourselves and our families, but why grind it out on our own when wind power is at our disposal? The secret is in our spiritual orientation, what our spiritual eyes are focused upon:
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way…[lxiv]
Our troughs of living water are dry as a bone—we’re barely able to satisfy our own thirst, so how will we ever be able to pass a cup of cold water to anyone else? Ask yourself—those worries, the frenzied pursuit of wealth, our never–ending accumulation of stuff—is any of this going to matter a hundred years from now? Lift your eyes upward, oh child of the stars!
Fixing your eyes on Jesus
And just think. In embracing Jesus, we have joined a throng of believers who go back in time to the beginning of the world.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[lxv]
“…surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” Remember, you are not alone. A stadium full of God’s handpicked saints are rooting for you. Now it’s your turn on the field.
“…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” The Enemy’s job is to trip us up and get us out of the race. “Throwing off” is our job—God won’t do it for us.
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” We’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Get in shape, get up every time you fall, and keep running toward the finish line.
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus…” A guided missile locks on the target. We need that same laser focus, otherwise we’re sure to drift.
“…the pioneer…Consider him who endured such opposition…” He showed us how to prevail in the face of hell’s fury and the world’s disdain. We have that very same Spirit within us.
“…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…” Remember the prize: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord
Lead me home [lxvi]
Notes: Chapter 11. So What Now?
[i] 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 The Message (MSG)
[ii] 2 Corinthians 4:6–7 MSG
[iii] Stanford, Miles J. The Complete Green Letters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1983. Print.
[iv] Romans 5:12,17–18 MSG
[v] Ephesians 2:1 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
[vi] Psalm 51:4–5 MSG
[vii] 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 MSG
[viii] Romans 5:12 MSG
[ix] Ephesians 2:3 NASB
[x] Romans 8:6–8 NASB
[xi] Romans 3:10–12 NASB
[xii] It is no accident that God’s word uses the term Last Adam rather than something like the Second Adam, which might suggest the possibility of a Third Adam or some such erroneous notion. No, the Last Adam is all we get, folks. He is God’s final offer. And why not? His work was final, complete, and certified accepted, as witnessed by God’s raising him from the dead.
[xiii] Romans 5:15–17 MSG
[xiv] Romans 8:3 NASB
[xv] 2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB
[xvi] Romans 6:6–7 NASB
[xvii] 1 Peter 2:24–25 NASB
[xviii] Colossians 2:13–14 NASB
[xix] Colossians 1:19–20 NASB
[xx] Revelation 1:5 NASB
[xxi] Romans 6:5,10–11 NASB
[xxii] Romans 6:4 NASB
[xxiii] John 12:24 NASB
[xxiv] 1 Corinthians 15:54–57 NASB
[xxv] Romans 6:5,10–11 NASB
[xxvi] Colossians 3:3 NASB
[xxvii] 1 John 3:1–2 NASB
[xxviii] Romans 8:28–30 NASB
[xxix] 2 Corinthians 5:17–18 MSG
[xxx] Ephesians 2:4–7 NASB
[xxxi] 1 Peter 1:3–5 MSG
[xxxii] Romans 8:1–4 New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)
[xxxiii] Romans 8:9 NASB
[xxxiv] Romans 8:9–11 MSG
[xxxv] Colossians 1:26–28 NASB
[xxxvi] Ephesians 2:10 NASB
[xxxvii] Galatians 5:16–18 MSG
[xxxviii] Galatians 5:19–21 MSG
[xxxix] Galatians 5:22–23 MSG
[xl] Galatians 2:20 MSG
[xli] Romans 12:1–2 MSG
[xlii] Matthew 17:1–8 MSG
[xliii] 1 Corinthians 2:14,16 NASB
[xliv] 1 Corinthians 3:1–3 NASB
[xlv] 1 Corinthians 2:6–13 NASB
[xlvi] Luke 15:20–24 MSG
[xlvii] Romans 5:8 MSG
[xlviii] 1 Peter 5:8–10 NASB
[xlix] Revelation 12:7–12 MSG
[l] Ephesians 6:10–18 MSG
[li] Newell, William R. Romans: Verse by Verse. Chicago, IL: Grace Publications, 1938. Print.
[lii] Ephesians 2:11–15 MSG
[liii] Romans 8:26–39 MSG
[liv] John 10:27–28 The Message (MSG)
[lv] Matthew 7:21–23 (MSG)
[lvi] Matthew 7:15–20 New International Version (NIV)
[lvii] Galatians 5:19–24 (MSG)
[lviii] Romans 7:17–20; 25 (MSG)
[lix] Romans 8:1–4 (MSG)
[lx] Ephesians 2:7–10 (MSG)
[lxi] John 7:38–39 (MSG)
[lxii] Psalm 115:4–8 MSG
[lxiii] Mark 4:19 NASB
[lxiv] Hebrews 12:2 (MSG)
[lxv] Hebrews 12:1–3 NASB
[lxvi] Songwriters: DORSEY, THOMAS A. Published by EMI Music Publishing, Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.