Copyright 2016 Ross Penniall
Published by Ross Penniall at Shakespir
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This little book is a good one. Its truths are timeless, its illustrations vivid, its opinions substantiated, and its message life-changing.
Ross is right on the money here. Too many Christians remain imprisoned in their thinking, debilitated by condemnation. But why continue to stagger under the burden of a bad belief system? The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden light. There’s more than enough in this quick-and-easy-read to turn mourning to dancing, ashes to beauty and heaviness to joy. It pulsates with passion and conviction. Devour it and be delivered from religion’s lies. The Gospel is Good News. It is fullness and freedom. Its benefits are ours, free. This is a settled matter.
Thanks, Ross, for the reminder!
Gavin Cox, Senior Pastor (Highway Community Church, East London)
Has that huge, big, heavy problem of sin been weighing down your plans for living the perfect “Christian life”? Ross takes you on a light, easy trip that, by the end of it, will have you believing that salvation from a life of hell and pain really was won by Jesus alone (yes, without your help!).
Whether you’re a prostitute-pushing drug-lord or a disillusioned Christian grappling with yourself after yet another disappointing failure, “Houston, We Have a Problem” will undoubtedly lift your spirits and prepare your mind for the irresistible truth that Jesus has done it all, and that you get to revel in the spoil of His finished sacrifice on the cross.
And that, my dear friend, is living!
Ross Du Preez, Business Strategist
“I cannot do this anymore. I’ve tried and I’m frustrated. Why does it feel as though one week I take one step forward only to take two steps backwards the next? I’m not sure how long I can carry on doing this. I just can’t live the Christian Life!”
That’s pretty much the gist of what my friend was telling me. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not an undercover-secret-agent-Sunday-Christian either. He’s been a believer for over 15 years. He loves Jesus. Passionately! He’s active in his church. He leads his family as well as any Christian father and husband I’ve known. We ‘coffee’ regularly and on this particular day, I’m not sure how we stumbled upon the subject, but he admitted, with clenched fists, his absolute frustration at trying to do the Christian life.
Getting born-again; no problem. Eternity with the Lord; can’t wait for that. But the activity in between those two events – Christian living has caused him much frustration. He was expressing what many believers feel: “Houston, we have a problem.” Those infamous words spoken upon Apollo 13 resonate with countless Christians today – they’re in trouble and they have no idea how to fix the problem.
Libraries of books have been written on how to ‘Live the Christian Life’. Christian book shops are full of them! If we’re at all honest with one another, it’s the ‘how exactly do I do this’ that has led many down the road of frustration, disillusionment and sadly for some, even abandonment of their ‘Christian walk’.
This is not going to be another self-help book. I’m not going to give you a theological outline on how to live more like Jesus and less like the devil. I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years. I have read countless books on Christian Living, written with the greatest of intentions I might add, but they all boiled down to one thing: My performance. My Christian Living ultimately depended upon my putting in the hard yards. The thought process: I would see more fruit and breakthrough in my life if I did more fasting, praying, Bible reading, loving, abstaining, feet washing, hand lifting, hand laying, worshipping, church attending, book reading, theology studying and interceding. Those books spelled out fantastic formulas and reasons why doing these things would lead to a Christian Life as described in the scriptures. The truth is: It doesn’t work. My performance and effort in the DOING did not bring about the Christian LIVING I desired and I suspect many who are reading this know exactly what I’m on about.
Are you tired? Are you frustrated at the endless cycle; some days up and some days down? The key is not in the doing, my friend, but in the being. The key lies, not in your performance, but in your identity. It’s time to believe what He has done and who he’s made you to be. I hope you enjoy!
Whenever people have shared the Gospel many useful (and un-useful) illustrations are used. These illustrations often paint deep impressions on the minds of people as they aim to understand and articulate this important spiritual matter. With careful consideration of the scriptures, I believe I have a helpful picture that communicates the grace of God towards us in people becoming born-again.
Imagine that all humanity is drowning in a swimming pool. None is able to swim. As you glance over the expanse of this pool, you see men and woman slapping the water as they try to keep their heads above it. There’s much screaming and shouting as many realize they don’t have much time to live. There is only one lifeguard on duty. He looks on the drowning crowd and jumps into the pool in order to rescue them. Note that he isn’t walking along the edge of the pool with an outstretched arm asking the question, “Do you want me to help you?” and then waiting on the person to decide. Such is His love that He’s throwing Himself into the pool, grabbing them, swimming to the side and lifting them out of the water. The outrageous horror is that there are some who, once they’ve been grabbed by Him, actually kick and pull away. They want to be saved from drowning, but they don’t want Him to save them. They prefer to try and save themselves rather than have the lifeguard act on their behalf. Yet many cry with joy at the kindness of the lifeguard because they recognise their inability to save themselves. The lifeguard, rich in mercy, dived in and rescued them with no assistance. He showed kindness to all, yet only some accepted it.
I believe the Christian message is portrayed accurately in this picture in that the life guard is clearly Jesus Christ. He is the only life guard. Only He has the ability to swim. Only He can save others from drowning. He extends kindness to all men. Many are not saved from drowning because they reject Him and instead rely on their own efforts. Those who are saved are saved without any effort on their part. The reason for their safety is 100% on Him. He did the saving. They rested in His arms. It can’t get clearer than that; it’s Gospel 101.
Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so no one may boast.” Did you notice who does the saving, who does the work? Grace does the work. Grace saves drowning people. It’s God’s gift to men. And the reason why grace is so great is because the grace that saves us from drowning is the same grace that grows and matures us and it’ll be the same grace that keeps us till the end. The good news about the Good News is that grace doesn’t stop once we’re out of the pool. That same grace grows us, matures and carries us till the end.
Diedrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We err when we see these as only having to do with our justification. When we leave these three propositions, and especially grace, at the door of initial salvation and try to walk on without them, we are doomed to a Christian life marked by frustration.” (I will highlight further down what his three propositions were.)
Left to us, living the Christian life is impossible. Only Christ can live the Christian life. The beauty is that He promises to do so through us. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
Humanity didn’t have the power to save itself from certain damnation and neither does it have the power to change itself to live in the manner of the one who saved it. It’s preposterous! Grace has to do the work otherwise lives marked by frustration inevitably will be our lot.
The problem is that many are saved gloriously by grace and then, through no fault of their own, get sucked into a belief system of effort and behaviour modification. The results are lives filled with guilt, shame and condemnation as believers move from grace to law. Grace declares, “Christ has done it. Rest in His finished work. You are His workmanship – so let Him work.” Law declares, “WWJD, buddy! You’d better start changing your ways and start living as Christ did so that you can change the world and live a life worthy of your repentance.” Grace says, “DONE.” Law says, “DO.” Many believers have become disillusioned after a few months (or perhaps even years) on the Christian walk. They can’t understand why they still battle with the same struggles they had in their BC (Before Christ) days and why the changes they so desperately desire are not happening. It’s purely because they, as Bonhoeffer said, “Leave grace at the initial door of salvation and try to walk on without it.” They have not been taught (as I hadn’t many years ago) that the same grace (God does the work) that saves you is the same grace (God does the work) that matures you. Grace isn’t just a subject on some Bible College curriculum, it’s the all-encompassing means by which the Christian life is birthed and lived. You never move on from grace. There’s nowhere else to go. If you think to yourself, “Oh, grace, yes I heard a three part series a few years back on the subject. Let me move on to weightier things” then you are in for some good news, my friend, because you haven’t even scratched the surface. The possibility is that you’re living out of a mixture of law and grace. Be encouraged, this book is for you.
Bonhoeffer had some amazing thoughts about what it means to be a Christian and how to grow in the Christian life. He was clear on the fact that the Gospel is the essence to it. The Gospel has to be the pillars that hold up everything – initial salvation, Christian living and maturity. All of which comes about through being clear on the Gospel. You can read more of what he had to say about this matter in his book “The History of Twentieth-Century Systematic Theology, 1931-1932”.
According to Bonhoeffer, the Gospel is simple:
• God is holy
• Man is sinful
• Christ is man’s only hope
Christ being man’s only hope isn’t just for justification and the new birth. No sir! Christ is a Christian’s only hope to growing and maturing as well. The moment a Christian takes the reins from Christ, he is doomed to a life of frustration and ineffectiveness. A Christian needs to be forever mindful of Paul’s exhortation, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” Allow Christ to live, Christian! Allow Him to mould you, shape you, change you and prune you – you are God’s workmanship after all, so let Him work. He is your only hope, remember. The same grace that saved you is the same grace that will keep you. God didn’t need your help in getting you out of the swimming pool and He sure as heck doesn’t need your help in changing and using you in this life.
There are three big ideas when one categorizes a life in Christ: Salvation, Christian living and maturity (growth). Traditionally, the grace of God has been mentioned when it comes to salvation. Obedience and sacrifice have been the buzz words for Christian living and maturity.
While I am not negating the need for obedient and sacrificial living, I am strongly advocating that grace is the power and the foundation from which obedience and sacrifice flow. Paul said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The word ‘sufficient’ means ‘enough’; grace is well able to do what needs to be done. God is not mincing His words here when He boldly declares that His grace is sufficient. It’s way more than adequate. It was for Paul, and it is for you and I. Christians have a weakness. We are unable to change our behaviour and conform ourselves to the image of Christ.
When Christians are continually mindful that Christ is man’s only hope, the response to God is an acknowledgement of that weakness, the desire to be like Christ followed by patience as God does the work of real transformation. His grace is able – that’s the promise. He doesn’t need our help. What He does require is faith in His grace. Submit your weakness, so that His power can be made perfect in it.
Martin Luther wrote, “It’s very hard for a man to believe that God is gracious to him. The human heart can’t grasp this.” And since we can’t grasp grace, it grasps us! Grace grasps us at salvation and at every moment of our lives thereafter. God’s grace not only saves evil wretches, but it accomplishes His purpose in them – it transforms them into the image of His Son. Many seasoned believers battle to believe that God’s grace is sufficient for more than just regeneration and justification. But it is! This is the good news!
Paul encouraged Titus by saying, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live upright and godly lives.” I’m so glad he didn’t say “The law has appeared” or “New commands have appeared”! Paul’s use of the words “the grace of God” is speaking of the person of Christ, sure; but then why didn’t he just say Jesus Christ?
I believe it’s because the ‘grace of God’ speaks to the person and the work of Christ. He wants to communicate the principle that the use of ‘grace’ here is pointing to the work of Christ in this context. Grace means ‘God does the work’. Grace is not us trying to resist by taking on rules to obey or trying to conform our behaviour to new covenant imperatives. Grace is God doing. Grace trains us. Grace shapes us. God does the work. We are His, not ours, we are His workmanship! He is working in you by grace.
Paul instructed the Roman believers not to conform to this world, but to be transformed. Believers no longer desire the world or its ways. That’s why believers want to change. They want to conform to Christ’s image, His ways and His footsteps; they no longer love the world or anything in it. And therein lays the tension for so many well intentioned Christians. They know they desire the right thing, but after years of trying, they are still powerless to live in it; their lives are marked by frustration.
The problem is that they have left grace at the door of initial salvation and have tried to change themselves instead of doing what Paul said – BE transformed. Transformation comes through the renewal of the mind. It’s the Biblical way! The Christian’s mind must be made new – think in new ways about Christian living and maturity. A transformed life is the result of God’s work in the believer – grace.
We co-operate by bringing Him our weaknesses and struggles and allow His power (grace) to prune, mould and shape our Christian living. This is, what I believe, a life lived in faith is. Faith is trust and resting in God’s ability working on behalf of my inability. Paul said “The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…”
We have faith that His grace is actually accomplishing God’s purpose in us – it is transforming us into the likeness of His Son. His grace accomplishes His purposes.
“No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This book is about dissecting and articulating this foundation. Chapter one is the foundation of the foundation. Grace saves. Grace sustains. Grace keeps. God does the work, period. If anyone preaches anything other than that, he preaches a false gospel which should be ignored. Instead, he should be encouraged to study the new covenant through a new set of filters.
Man has no role to play in getting saved and keeping himself saved. It’s a gift from God “SO THAT no man can boast”, Paul said. Jesus Christ is the lifeguard. He and His work is the foundation for all believers and their lives lived in Him. Christians have been given the absolute privilege of being invited to build upon this foundation. Regardless of how good our works are, they are dead works and will go through fire. Some build with gold and silver, while other’s works have been built with wood and straw.
Even if a believer fails miserably and accomplishes only dead works, all of which will be burned up, he will still be standing firm on the unshakable foundation, which is Jesus Christ. He will have nothing to show for his works, but he will still be saved; because the only foundation on which God placed him upon was by grace.
In our understanding of the foundation – Jesus Christ – we need to understand what Christ has done on our behalf. I’m going to structure it into 3 parts for easy-to-grasp purposes. It’s imperative that we know what Jesus has accomplished for believers and why our lives are eternally secure on this immovable and unshakeable foundation.
“But the others said, ‘Wait; let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”
Jesus intended to die on the cross on top of the hill that day. On purpose! It wasn’t an accident and it didn’t cut His life short. He didn’t need Elijah to save Him or His Father for that matter. It’s the greatest act of kindness and mercy that any ‘being’ has shown towards anyone. It had eternal ramifications which are outside of human understanding and comprehension. What we do know is that that one single event changed human history forever.
What a thought: God died on purpose. He was born to die.
God never came to earth as a man to be worshipped, to be idolized or to be celebrated. He didn’t come to see what it would be like, some sadistic experiment. His birth and life on earth was the most selfless act imaginable to the human mind. Don’t think for a minute that He came for Himself. He came for us.
His chief purpose for living was dying for humanity. He came in order to die as our substitute. Substitution is a point that cannot be stressed enough as we journey to grasp the meaning of the cross of Christ.
Throughout this chapter, I’m going to share some helpful excerpts by Michael Eaton from his “Preaching through the Bible Series”. For those of you who’ve never heard of Michael, he’s regarded by some Bible scholars as the finest living theologian in the world today. His ability to explain such divine truths in layman’s terms sets him apart from many teachers today.
The cross of Christ is a picture of substitution – Jesus died for us but He also died as us; both distinctions are incredibly important to grasp. His death upon the cross is the fundamental centrality of the Christian faith. The Innocent One died for the multitude of sinners. He received what we deserved – punishment – in order for us to receive what He deserved – the salvation of God. Paul put it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Michael Eaton had the following to say about Jesus’ substitutionary work as he preached through Romans 3:24-26:
“Substitution. How does justification – being declared righteous – come through the cross? Jesus ransomed us from condemnation by taking the condemnation upon himself. He was our substitute. The wrath of God fell on Jesus instead of falling on us. By his being willing to pay such a price Jesus ‘ransomed us away’ from condemnation. The human race was in the prison of guilt. We ought to be abandoned by God altogether.
But suddenly we hear that a substitution has taken place. It is as though Jesus has sinned all of the sins of the entire human race. Our condemnation is transferred to him. He suffers ‘the curse of the law’. The entire human race is ‘in Christ’ as he dies for the human race upon the cross. It is for everyone. ‘All have sinned . . . being justified by his grace . . . through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’.”
Humanity stands condemned. God is holy. Man is sinful. Jesus is man’s only hope. He took upon himself the full force of God’s wrath against all the sins of humanity and died as a result. The Innocent One took upon himself in totality what Sinful Ones deserve completely. He was our substitute by choice. In His great love, he laid down his life for us .
Many excellent books have been written on Christ’s death and interwoven into them are the theological doctrines on Christology and sub themes of the subject. Volumes upon volumes have been well written that could take you into a depth of study that many would find enriching.
My intention is not to write another one of those. In our understanding of the foundation upon which we have been placed – Jesus Christ – it’s imperative that we explore Him and His finished work in order for us to grasp the measure of what He has done for believers. Since Christ’s substitutionary death is a cornerstone in our understanding of grace, it is also vital to our awareness of our identity in Christ. Grasping this is one of the keys that enables us to build on this foundation.
In our effort to grasp the cross of Christ, it’s important that we look at it in light of the way the scriptures describe it because each description shows something unique as we learn about Jesus’ death for us and as us.
Atonement is a temple word used in the Old Testament and it holds rich meaning for those of the Christian faith today. Please do yourself a favour and read Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9 if you haven’t done so already, better to understand what the Day of Atonement was about. This day was an annual reminder of sin for the nation of Israel. It was the day on which sinful men made a temporary substitution that would cover over their many sins by taking the life of an innocent animal. It was a day ordered by the Lord and observed by the Hebrew nation. Sitting on this side of the cross, we can marvel at the beauty of this amazing event as it foreshadowed the most glorious event in human history – the cross of Christ.
Here are some Atonement nuggets to be savoured:
a) It was an annual event. Year after year men would be reminded of the huge chasm between sinful men and a holy God. The Good News of the Gospel is that Christ died once for all. He will never need to die again for the sins of the world. No more annual reminder is needed.
b) An innocent animal was slaughtered and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin. Christ was both innocent and the spotless lamb whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin.
c) A scapegoat was a goat on which the temple priest would lay his hands and symbolically stand proxy for the nation of Israel. Through this action the sins of the nation would be exchanged for the innocence of the goat. The goat would then be sent into the desert. This was a symbol of Christ standing proxy for us before God and the ultimate exchange would happen: His innocence for our guilt. Our sins were taken upon Christ as He hung on the cross and at the point of salvation Christ’s righteousness is transferred to the believer as a gift.
d) This day served as an annual reminder of sin for the Hebrew people. But because Christ’s death was a once-for-all, those who believe into Him have been freed from condemnation, shame and guilt. The gift of salvation comes with freedom from reminders of sins.
e) On this day, sins were covered over; they were never removed. Only Christ’s blood can remove sin and wash sinful men clean. The Good News is that our sins are not hidden under a carpet somewhere only to be pulled out and displayed at some future judgement day. They have been completely washed away and totally forgotten. The Lord promises to remember them no more.
Entire chapters can be written on each of these marvellous nuggets of truth. In the study of the atonement, so much more can be discovered and savoured. What Christ did on the cross will be written and spoken about for centuries to come. It is crucial for you to understand that Christ’s atonement on the cross for your sin was eternal. Your sin was paid for once-and-for-all. Christ will never have to die for your sins again. All of your sins were taken care of at the cross – past, present and future – dealt with and paid for.
You do not need to feel guilty for what Christ has paid for. Christ was completely innocent of any sinfulness, that’s what qualified Him to die in our place. His innocence has been exchanged for your sinfulness. His innocence has been credited to your account while your sinfulness was credited to His account. You are as innocent right now as Christ was when He died. This point is paramount to your understanding of Christ the foundation. You don’t have any outstanding debts with God. You owe God nothing for sin. Christ paid what needed to be paid. Sinful man cannot make restitution with a Holy God; only God’s Son could do that. His sacrifice was complete and all encompassing. Grace did the work and His grace was sufficient.
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Redemption is a market place description; buying and selling. Redemption means you are being saved from something, as Paul said, “He has delivered us from…” It simply means ‘the release of a slave by the paying of a price.’ It implies a process of bondage, slavery, a costly release and then freedom. Redemption is different from atonement in that in the atonement, Christ’s blood was atoning for our sins. It was taking our sins away completely because it was our sins that separated us from God. In redemption, we have Christ paying a price in order to redeem us, to rescue us or to save us. He literally bought you back with His life.
Again, Michael Eaton says the following about redemption:
“Paul has a particular word that he uses to describe what Jesus did on the cross; it is the word ‘redemption’. ‘Redemption’ means ‘the release of a slave by the paying of a price’. It is also a word used in Old Testament times of the payment that was needed to release an animal which should be slaughtered. It was also used of the payment made for a person in situations where he was liable to the death penalty. This is the kind of picture-language being used here. We may be ‘justified’– released from condemnation and the death-penalty and declared righteous – through the price-paying of Jesus upon the cross.”
Paul mentions the word ‘sin’ over 30 times in the fifth and sixth chapters of the book of Romans. Whenever I used to read it, I read it as a verb (a ‘doing’ word). However, in the Greek, and within these two chapters, the word used for sin is actually a noun (a ‘place’ word). Correct doctrine is that men are born into sin as sinners. Don’t be confused about the state of humanity. People are totally and utterly depraved; evil to the core. You didn’t become a sinner when you sinned. You sinned because you are a sinner. It was your nature before becoming a Christian. Humanity is held captive in the prison cell called sin.
Think of a prisoner in today’s world. He may keep his cell impeccably clean. He doesn’t swear or shout at the other prisoners. He keeps to himself and doesn’t stir up strife or trouble. Do any of those good deeds set him free? No. He may be a model prisoner but he’s still a prisoner. He’s still in the bondage of a jail. People may display outrageous acts of kindness and love towards others, but it doesn’t change the fact: they are prisoners to sin. They are in sin. It’s not about behaviour, but rather state. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul called it ‘the domain of darkness’.
Men are enslaved from birth, destined to bondage in a place of sin. Men are slaves to the power and the seduction of sin. Men can only be redeemed great cost and that cost was the very life of God Himself. Jesus’ death was the payment necessary for the redemption of sinners. Only once the payment was made could God transfer sinners from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of His Son. Thereafter, we become prisoners of hope and freedom is our inheritance.
As Paul said to the church in Ephesus, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” I highly recommend you watch the movie, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis, for a visual grasp of redemption; the king giving his life to redeem another. It was the only payment that could be accepted.
The writer to the Hebrews, when describing the implications of Christ’s death on the cross, said this, “he entered once and for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by the means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” This scripture makes reference to both atonement and redemption when speaking about the superiority of the blood of Jesus vs. the blood of the animal sacrifices used on the Day of Atonement.
It re-emphasizes the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ vs. the annual day that the Hebrews had to observe. But the verse also reassures believers that the redemption of Christ is eternal. It will last forever. The world won’t need a second saviour in 50,000 years time. Christ’s finished work is finished!
Knowing the ‘eternal-ness’ of our redemption has further ramifications. This is why I believe that a Christian’s salvation is eternally secure. How could we not believe it? It is the foundation upon which we stand – and this foundation, which is Christ Himself, is eternally secure. Being placed upon the foundation was by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. I did not contribute one iota to my redemption from the domain of darkness or the atonement for my sin, so how is it possible for me to contribute to losing them?
Preachers who preach that Christians can lose their salvation are actually preaching against the security of the redemption which paid the price for their freedom. If good deeds couldn’t get me out of the prison cell of sin, what makes me think that bad deeds can get me chucked back in? Only grace gets you out but your sins can put you back? It’s simply not true and it’s contrary to the eternal redemption and the assurance that Paul wrote about throughout the New Testament.
How exactly does one become un-born-again? How is it possible for a person whose sinful nature has been crucified, who has been recreated by a work of God and who has received the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, be able to lose it all through sin and bad behaviour when none of it was contingent on behaviour and performance in the first place? It makes no sense at all and it’s simply not true. It’s a false doctrine created by the devil in order for him to paralyze believers into a life of fear and condemnation. How can one experience the joy of one’s salvation when one’s salvation isn’t a sure thing?
This implies that one’s salvation is only as secure as one’s behaviour which is not the gospel and is impossible. Our salvation is secure because of Christ’s work, not ours. He saves us and He saves us utterly and completely. That, my friend, is the Gospel. He has atoned for our sins and He has redeemed us forever.
“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. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing.
We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” – The Message (2 Cor. 5:18-19)
I laughed out loud when I read this for the first time. Not because it was funny, but because it communicated the reconciliatory act of God towards men in such a fresh way. I just love the last sentence where Paul exhorts us to preach the message of reconciliation: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
That’s exactly what Jesus came to represent to sinners when he walked the planet. He didn’t scold sinners or avoid them. He ate with them. He drank with them. He loved them. He shared stories with them. He chose some to follow him and do the same miracles He was doing. He presented His Father’s heart to a lost and dying world. He was communicating this truth: “He’s already a friend with you.” The religious spirit doesn’t like that. It believes God hates sinners and loves only Christians. It doesn’t have a framework for God being friends with sinners even if they don’t accept Him or put their trust in Him.
This disconnect comes from a mixture between the covenants on the subject of sin separation. Under the old covenant, sin did separate an individual or a community from God; hence the mediating high priest, blood sacrifices and temple system. That entire system reinforced the truth that God is far away because of the sins of the people. Extreme washing was a strict regulation for the high priest before even he could enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.
David’s heart cry to God after his sin with Bathsheba confirmed this belief, even amongst those who worshipped Yahweh: “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” The prophet Isaiah proclaimed the same message to the people of Israel: “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that he does not hear.” Under the law of Moses, sin separated God’s people from God.
The sad reality is that Christians still believe this to be true of God today; contrary to what Jesus demonstrated and to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. If it was true, then Jesus would not have been eating and drinking with sinners, whores and cussing fisherman. He would have had to live like an isolated monk UNTIL men would repent of their sins and come to Him, but then if they sinned again, He’d have to be isolated from them again. Do you see the absurdity!?
The Good News to the entire world is that Jesus atoned for the sins of the whole world. The transgressions of the law have been forgiven in Christ, the law has been fulfilled and God has reconciled Himself to world – all mankind – and He has given to us this message of reconciliation: “Become friends with God; He’s already a friend with you.”
So, has the whole world been reconciled to God?
Well, that depends on the world. Reconciliation is a two-sided affair. Both parties have to come together in order for them to be reconciled. What I’ve stated up until now is what God has done. “God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins….He’s already a friend with you.”
God has made the payment for sins in order to close the separation. God has come close to the world. God has demonstrated His love. He has initiated the olive branch so to speak.
He has loved the world and put it on display in the person of Jesus Christ – through his death, burial and resurrection.
The scripture is clear that it’s the demonstration of God’s goodness towards men that leads them to repentance; a change of mind about who God is, what He is like and what He has done for them. He has reconciled Himself to the world. He has come to the table of reconciliation with no judgement, no condemnation; only love. And He invites humanity to join Him. Hence Paul’s plea: We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
Michael Eaton, in his “Preaching through the Bible series”, said the following about reconciliation:
“Paul says: And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. We are reconciled to God already! It is not a future gift. It is here with us right now!
We know that God is our Friend. A Friend who knows the worst thing about us, but tells us he will never reject us. A Friend who has plans for us, but will never moralize us. A Friend who is powerful. A Friend who is affectionate. A Friend who accepts us. A Friend who will not expose us. We are walking down the road and someone smiles at us. We wonder, ‘Does that person know me? Why is he smiling?’ Then we realize. We were smiling at him! God was the joy of our countenance. We have received our reconciliation!”
Eaton is describing the glorious reality of what reconciliation is to the believer. When a person grasps and believes in Christ, he becomes a new creation. Reconciliation now becomes reality. Both, they and God, now feast at the table. Keep in mind that reconciliation is primarily a ‘family’ word. It’s describing estranged family members coming together after much time. At some point offense resulted in division between members. Reconciliation speaks to family members being joined together again.
It’s the story of the Prodigal Sons. Both sons were estranged from their father. Their father invited both to feast. Only the younger one came inside. The elder one’s pride stopped him from doing so. Read the story, it’s clear. The father threw the feast. The father intended to celebrate with both his boys. The father was reconciling himself to them. But tragically, only one son was reconciled to the father that night.
What a wonderful word! What a divine truth. Let me share a true story with you:
When he was awakened at 4a.m. by a bearded stranger with a broken leg, the Maryland country doctor obliged with a splint and a bed to sleep in. That afternoon the stranger was gone, and a few days later soldiers of the Union Army arrived to arrest the physician. The year was 1865, and the good doctor had unwittingly aided the flight of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.
In the military trials that followed, eight civilians were found guilty. Four were hanged, including Booth’s landlady; the doctor was given a life sentence. After four agonizing years in prison, he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, who was convinced of his innocence. But that action came too late to save his reputation, by then immortalized in the phrase “Your name is mud.”
His name, in fact, was Samuel Alexander Mudd, and of his 389 known descendants (the youngest 1 month old), none resented the shadow over the family more than his grandson Richard Mudd, now 78 and a doctor himself in Saginaw, Mich.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Richard recalls that his own father—the son of the wronged Dr. Mudd and also an M.D.—was so bitter “he wouldn’t even talk about it. It ruined the family.” So, as a teenager, Richard began to gather information about the case of his infamous grandfather. “When I found out about the strait-jacket they put him in for his trial, the blindfold over his eyes and the cotton stuffed in his ears,” declares Mudd, “I wanted to do something.”
But it was as a young doctor that his obsessive campaign really began. He circulated petitions, gave speeches, wrote books and filled his 13-room home with minutiae on the assassination and the Mudd family. Indeed, in the past 50 years he has logged 600,000 miles, gathered 1.5 million documents and items and spent nearly $100,000 to restore the family name.
In 1936 Twentieth Century-Fox treated his grandfather favorably in a film titled Prisoner of Shark Island, the dramatized name of the gloomy Fort Jefferson prison off the Florida Keys where he served the four years. Then in 1959 President Eisenhower authorized a plaque at the fort honoring Dr. Mudd for heroically treating hundreds of yellow fever victims during his incarceration—though he nearly died of it himself.
In 1968 a school was named for Samuel Mudd in Waldorf, Md. and pageants were staged twice in his honor. Seven state legislatures issued resolutions praising him, and in 1972 Ann Landers took up the cause, exhorting Mudd supporters to “fight on.”
Richard Mudd, a Ph.D. and former Air Force colonel as well as an M.D., needed no urging. Now retired from his job as a company physician for General Motors (he still does examinations for the FAA and Coast Guard), he spent most of his time running the family’s crusade (at one point relatives wanted a bridge renamed and a stamp issued to honor Dr. Mudd). He also still plays handball three times a week (“All three doctors who told me to stop are dead”). His wife of 51 years, Marie, is a life master in bridge because, she kids, “I had to do something in self-defense.”
Late last month the quest of Richard Mudd was rewarded. First, CBS correspondent Roger Mudd, a collateral relative, tipped him that Jimmy Carter was sending a telegram. The President did, followed by a two-page, single-spaced letter expressing confidence that the 1869 pardon had been fully justified. Not even a President, Carter wrote cautiously, can set aside a conviction.
Nonetheless, the letter and attendant publicity have cleared his grandfather’s name sufficiently for the keeper of the Mudd faith. “I’m satisfied,” exulted Dr. Richard Mudd. “I’ve got 34 grandchildren. Let them carry this on if they want to.”
The story of Dr Samuel Mudd is one of the most incredible testimonies of justification you’ll ever read about. His grand-children weren’t fighting for forgiveness. They were fighting for justification. They were fighting for the courts to deem their grand-father NOT GUILTY! The records had to literally be rewritten and Dr Samuel Mudd’s name had to be deleted from where the GUILTY VERDICT had been entered.
The glory of justification for believers is that our names have been deleted from under the heading ‘Guilty’ and rewritten under the heading ‘Innocent’. Christians have been declared innocent! The record book of eternity has been rewritten in the eternal blood of the God of Heaven and it states that if you are in Christ, your status has been eternally changed to innocent. You have been justified by the Judge of the Universe; God Himself. The gavel has thundered down and His declaration is ‘Not Guilty!’
For years, Christians thought about justification as forgiveness, when it is in fact, so much more. Believers are not forgiven sinners, walking around guilty, but pardoned. No sir! Christians are sinners no more. Their sins have been washed away for eternity. The courtroom of Heaven has found them to be innocent of any wrongdoing in the past and innocent of any wrongdoing in the future. They can never be tried and found guilty again. The sentence has been passed, Jesus paid the penalty and Christians have been declared innocent forever. That is your eternal position.
Even when a Christian sins, he need not be insecure or question whether he messed up his right standing with God. Being declared justified in Heaven’s courtroom came about through Jesus’ performance; not the person’s. Similarly, being declared guilty can’t undo what Jesus has done. Jesus’ finished work is indeed finished. We receive His justification by faith alone in Christ. You have been justified forever.
Michael Eaton has the following to say about justification:
“Our condemnation as sinners is reversed by a pronouncement that we are righteous. Talk about ‘justification’ is using the picture-language of a law court. God is being pictured as a judge and king. God’s wrath is against all sin. Our acceptance with God is always because of the righteousness of Jesus. It is taken for granted that we are never righteous enough to stand before God in our own righteousness. Through Jesus we can stand before God righteous in his sight, right now!
Notice Paul says we are ‘justified’, covered with Christ’s righteousness, now! It is not ‘and we shall be justified . . . ’. No, it starts now! As soon as we believe in Jesus Christ, we are the other side of judgement day! We have been through judgement day. God has already pronounced us ‘Not guilty’. Though in ourselves we were guilty, God pronounces us ‘Not guilty’. We are released from condemnation and guilt. We are innocent, pure, clean, and righteous in God’s eyes as if we had been as obedient as Jesus.
Justification never alters in a child of God. When we believe in Jesus, immediately the righteousness of Jesus is reckoned as being ours. It is instantaneous. It takes place instantly in the courts of heaven. I do not have to fear judgement day, because (with reference to my eternal salvation) it is a past event. I have gone through it. The issue is closed. The Judge of all the universe tells me I am acquitted.
‘Justification’ is not something that takes place inside our hearts. It is something that takes place outside of us, in the heart of God. It is a decision taken about us, not a work done in us. This is why it does not matter at this point how we feel or how obedient we are. Our righteousness does not help justification.
Our sinfulness does not hinder justification. ‘Justification’ is when the righteousness of Jesus is credited to us. It is a righteousness that comes from outside of us altogether. God’s justifying us is an act of great generosity. Romans 3:24 says: ‘They are justified, as a gift, by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’ Grace is God’s totally undeserved kindness, his spontaneous love. It is the opposite of deserving something. It is the opposite of having worked for something.
It is ‘daring’ to believe this. You and I are being asked to believe that by faith in Jesus we are so clothed with the righteousness of Jesus that it is as if we were Jesus himself. No matter what I may be in myself I stand before God as righteous as Jesus is righteous. I am living on the righteousness of Jesus. This clothing will never wear out. I have been given it forever. Is this gospel really as wonderful as this? Yes it is. We stand before God only by the righteousness of Jesus. Trust in Jesus and his righteousness is yours.”
Justification means ‘to declare righteous.’ The opposite is condemnation. A judge will either say ‘Guilty’ or ‘Not guilty’, ‘I declare you innocent’ or ‘I condemn you’. It is either/or; it can’t be both. And the only one who can make such a declaration is the one who is righteous – the Righteous One. As Michael Eaton stated towards the end, it is daring to believe this. We stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus. We cannot stand in our own righteousness. The Bible calls it ‘filthy rags’.
Our righteousness is nothing at all in the presence of God; it reeks with a foul stench! No my friend, the only way a man can possibly be justified is if he stands clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Himself. And we are clothed with it by grace alone through faith alone – It’s through His lavish generosity towards undeserving people – when we dare to believe the Good News – He washes us and He clothes us and He declares us ‘Not Guilty’!
The Cross of Christ has to be understood, digested and believed. A believer can only build upon the foundation of Christ Jesus, there is no other foundation on which to build our Christian lives. Some have tried the vision of the church, their gifts or their knowledge of the scriptures, and they have failed. None of these things are foundations. Jesus Christ is the only foundation upon which we can build and the Cross of Christ is part of it.
Atonement – our sins have been washed away and will be remembered no more.
Redemption – we have been rescued from sin and death, and we are His forever.
Reconciliation – He has brought us back into fellowship with God, no debts remain, only peace between you and the God of the universe.
Justification – you have been declared NOT GUILTY and you never have to fear punishment or estrangement from God for the rest of your life. This is the Cross of Christ.
This is Jesus’ finished work accomplished for us who believe! This is given to us by the grace of God alone.
As I said in the opening chapter of this book, Christian living and growing in your Christianity is by grace. Don’t think you’re going to turn yourself around through exercising strong will power and trying harder to be more like Jesus. If you go about it this way, you’re setting yourself up for major failure and disillusionment. The same grace that saves us is the same grace that’s going to change us (help us grow as Christians into maturity). This process begins through believing these wonderful truths of the Gospel.
These truths (Atonement, Redemption, Reconciliation and Justification) are critical to the foundation – Jesus Christ – on which we build our Christian Lives. Understanding and belief in what the Cross of Christ completed in full on our behalf – forms the bedrock upon which we build. It’s imperative that we live our lives from Jesus’ finished work, understanding that we are heirs because of His great accomplishments, and not through our own efforts.
Do you see the beauty of the Gospel in the Cross of Christ? It has nothing has to do with your effort or your performance but rather to your being in Christ, your identity in Him. And it’s given to you as a gift!
Believing in what He has done will ultimately renew your mind as to who you are in Him.
When I discovered the Gospel, I fell in love with these truths: Jesus lived the life I couldn’t live. Jesus died the death I deserved to die, in order to give me a salvation I could never earn. Yet these truths would have no standing were it not for one simple fact: Jesus rose from the dead!
That fact is the linchpin to the Christian faith. Our God is not dead. He is alive! Death could not hold him and the grave could not keep Him. Salvation comes to those who believe that Father raised Him to life and that He has been crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The resurrection is the triumphant victory of Christ as well as the triumphant victory for all who believe in Him. Christians have become beneficiaries of this eternal victory and partakers of this inheritance.
The foundation upon which we build – Jesus Christ – is not only the Cross of Christ but it lies too in the Resurrection of Christ. In Christ’s resurrection, tremendous victories were won for the believer. Together with atonement, reconciliation, redemption and justification, these victories are given to us by grace through faith. Jesus did the work on our behalf and we are the benefactors. In our quest to live the Christian life i.e. to build upon the foundation, it is important that we both know and understand the victories that Christ has won for us.
Let me share a story with you that I heard when our pastor preached on this very victory:
A teenager took his father’s car one night without permission. Late that night, while driving home from his friend’s house, he had a car accident which resulted in the vehicle being a complete right off. The boy survived. The father was devastated at his son’s deception but he was also thankful that his son survived. The father had the car towed back to the house and placed in the front yard as he had no other place to keep it. Perhaps he thought he could fix it up one day when he had enough money. On the son’s return from hospital, he apologized to his father and his father accepted the apology. Life carried on. Months went by and the boy’s parents started to notice that his schoolwork had deteriorated and his attitude become one of reclusiveness. Something was bothering him and obviously taking a toll on his overall attitude and school work. Each time the parents questioned him, he would brush them off with a “nothing” until one day the boy shot back with, “You’ve never bothered to take the car away!” The parents were confused. “What do you mean?” asked his dad. “Dad, every time I leave home or come back, it’s there – staring me in the face! The night I rebelled, the night I didn’t listen to you, the night I messed up – it’s parked in the front yard for all to see, for all to remember. You’ve never bothered to take the car away!”
For some, the past is like the car in the story. They never escape it. There are continual reminders even as they live with the consequences of their actions. Just ask the guy who’s in jail for theft or the person who’s in crippling debt because of his past drug habit. We all have pasts and we’ve all got regrets. The truth is, some have wrecked more cars than others and those cars are still parked in the front yards of their lives today.
The victory that we have in Christ is that we have been delivered from our pasts. We may be living with the consequences, but the shame and embarrassment of the sins of our pasts have been taken away in Jesus. We are recipients of freedom! This includes freedom from condemnation. Some think its only condemnation relating to present events, but that’s not true. The devil is a liar and he will use any and every opportunity to remind you of your past mistakes and failures, even though you’ve been forgiven. He will do so in an effort to keep you weighed down by guilt, shame and condemnation. He will do everything he can to keep the car parked right in front of the comings and goings of your life. But the truth is that Jesus has removed the car and all the shame associated with it.
If you’re divorced, if you had an abortion, if you made a girl pregnant when you were young, if you stole from your parents, if you murdered someone, if you…..do you get the point? Facing the consequences of those bad decisions and having to take responsibility for them is good and right. But you don’t have to live under the shame of them. He has freed you and He has won that victory on your behalf. You have been given victory over your past.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he said this about our victory over sin, “For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
As a Christian, you identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. His story has become your story. You are a new creation. Your old self, the sinner, died when you were saved. Paul is making the case for the truth that at that in a moment you were set free from sin. You were bust out of the jail of sin. It no longer has a hold on you. You are alive in Jesus, a brand new person, under grace and free from the dominion and power of sin. You have been given victory over sin, my friend. The question is: Have you ever been told this? Have you established yourself in this truth? Do you believe it? You had better, because it’s true of you.
This is what Michael Eaton has to say about this victory when tackling 1 Peter 3:18 and 1 Peter 4:1-3:
Why was Jesus willing to endure such disgrace and suffering? He went to the cross with a certain ‘mentality’. We know that He was willing to humble Himself. This was ‘the mind of Christ’ as He obeyed His Father…He was dealing a death-blow to sin. He was condemning it, buying our freedom from it. As a result Jesus utterly conquered it and finished with it forever.
He has ‘died to sin’, never to come under its influence again (as Romans 6:10 has it). This was His ‘thought’ or ‘purpose’ from the beginning. Jesus knew that He was to be a ransom for sin. He steadfastly set out to go to the cross…His death leads to our death to sin. The baptized person is declaring his faith. Just as Noah’s family went through water into a new world, so faith in Jesus expressed in baptism brings us into a new world also!
I love what Michael says here; Jesus was “condemning it, buying our freedom from it.” Sin was defeated by Jesus on the cross. You have been set free. The scriptures declare that Christians are now in Christ, and because you are in Christ, you are now under grace. The Grace of God is your new government; it’s what you are now under. Paul wrote to Titus and said the reason the grace of God appeared was to teach us to resist sin.
Grace teaches and empowers us to resist the very thing from which we have been set free. Just because Jesus has delivered us from sin, doesn’t mean that sin will disappear into the vast blue yonder.
I’m sure you know as well as I do, that sin is a master opportunist and our flesh is a sucker for it. But sin IS a defeated foe and we have been empowered to resist and trample it when it rears its head. You need to believe this, my friend. You have been given victory over sin!
I’ll call this a three-in-one special. I do this, tongue in cheek, because all three victories are interconnected with one another.
Consider the following passage from 1 John:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
John announces some amazing victories in the first portion of passage. Read these and re-read them. Let them sink in. He tells them to remember a few things:
• Your sins are forgiven (past tense)
• You have overcome the evil one
• You know the Father
• You are strong
• The Word of God abides in you
• You have overcome the evil one (2nd time mention!)
Grace did the work and he’s reminding them of that. Their sins are gone. In Christ they have victory over the devil. They know the Father. They have relationship because Christ has positioned them to do so. They are strong because of who is in them and because of what is in them (the Word of God has been written on their hearts).
John then makes a clear distinction between the love of the Father vs. the love of the world. In the world lie the desires of the flesh. These things, the desires of the flesh, are not from heaven, they don’t originate from God. If they don’t originate from God, then who do they originate from? The devil. And who has John just said, twice, that Christians have overcome? The devil. We have been given victory over the devil and anything that originates from him – the desires of the flesh and anything in the world. You, my friend, have been given victory over them.
The world is the devil’s playground. It’s filled with enticements and seductions that seek to hook themselves into our flesh. Remember, sin is an opportunist. It’s not going to take defeat lying down. We are spirit, we have a soul and we live in a body of flesh. The flesh has appetites. As believers, we have authority to rule over our mortal bodies. We live out of our spirits and we tell our flesh what to do. The flesh is empowered by sin. The flesh is weakened by faith.
This is where Christians have become confused and why Christian Living has led to frustration. We have been taught that the flesh needs to be controlled and the best form of control is to keep it in check. And the way to do that is to set boundaries and impose strict rules.
The problem is that rules and laws don’t restrain sin, but entice and empower it. Laws and rules empower sin. Paul said he wouldn’t have coveted if there was no law that said ‘Don’t covet.’
I remember going to watch my elder son’s first cricket game. I don’t sit in the stands and watch; I’m too much of a nervous dad to do that. I’ve got to walk around the field. So while I was walking, my youngest son came with me. We were standing right behind the boundary rope. I told my son, “You can run anywhere you like on this gigantic field, pointing to the rugby fields behind us, but you can’t go over this rope and onto the cricket field.” He looked me. He glanced to the rope and then stared back at me with a grin, ‘Okay daddy!’ he said. Well, that was it, it was over. The rest of the match was spent shouting at him, ‘Michael, stop crossing the rope!’, ‘Michael, come here, stop that, come here this instant!’ Those of you with children know exactly what I’m talking about. The irony is that if I hadn’t mentioned the rope, he probably wouldn’t have crossed it. And that’s exactly what the law does. Its purpose was never to restrain sin, but to empower it.
Law entices sin, it awakens sin. It imposes rules and regulations as a means of restraining sin. It doesn’t work. It never has and it never will be the answer. Many have tried and failed. How many times have you told yourself ‘I won’t say that word ever again!’ or ‘I’m not going to look at this or that ever again!’ or gone as far as ‘Lord, I promise I won’t do THAT again.’
We’ll speak more about the application of these victories later in the book, but know that you have been given victory over your flesh, the devil and the world. It’s been done on your behalf; a free gift given to those who belong to Him. Hallelujah!
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
If you’ve ever read stories of martyrs who’ve died at the stake or been burned alive, you’ll no doubt be convinced that these were stories of men and women who were not afraid to die. To them, death was a graduation and not an ending. Paul knew this too well. In his letter to the church at Philippi he emphasised that whether he faced death or not, he still had an advantage. Death didn’t frighten him. Death would unite him with His Lord and he knew too well that he’d enter eternal glory free from all pain and suffering – and he had HAD his fair share over the years.
Hollywood actor, Dennis Hopper, once stated that the thing he feared most “was to die.” Why wouldn’t it? For a people without Christ it’s the end; the game’s over. They know deep inside that it’s the final straw for them. But not so for us who believe. Death is the final enemy. It’s the one enemy that all humanity faces at some point – there is no escaping it. But for us in Christ, the great truth is that Jesus has given us victory over death. We need not fear it or allow it to control us in any way. It’s the same for a Christian on a death bed or swimming in a pool – death doesn’t spell E-N-D, but rather, in the word of Paul the Apostle, G-A-I-N.
In the victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, victories are granted to you who believe and are included in Christ. They are given freely, no strings attached, to walk in for the rest of your days. Take time to evaluate your own heart and see if these victories are established and alive in your life.
• Victory over your Past
• Victory over Sin
• Victory over the devil, the world and the flesh
• Victory over death
Let me remind you of the words spoken by Diedrich Bonhoeffer: “We err when we see these as only having to do with our justification. When we leave these three propositions, and especially grace, at the door of initial salvation and try to walk on without them, we are doomed to a Christian life marked by frustration.” The initial propositions are: God is Holy, Man is Sinful and Christ is man’s only hope – The Gospel. The only way you and I were ever going to have victory over our past, over sin, over the devil and over death was through the power and work of God. It is by grace alone because of Christ alone. That’s it! These victories have already been won and we lay hold of them by faith alone. Your obedience and hard work cannot do it. Your Bible reading and church attendance cannot do it. He has already done it! We simply lay hold these victories by faith, my friends.
Without the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would be no Christian faith. We believe what we believe because of the resurrection. It was the moment of victory! Not only Christ’s but the mystery is that it is there for those who belong to Him, it is theirs also. Knowing these victories, being established in these victories and being set free from having to ‘do’ them will lead you into the realms of their realities in your lives. Your Christian Living will be transformed as you renew your minds to what Christ has already accomplished on the cross. Believe it my friends, believe it. There’s no other way.
I’m a fan of Adam Sandler movies. Some of his films are the funniest that have ever hit the silver screen. Just thinking about some of them now makes me giggle. One of them is “Happy Gilmore.” It’s a cheesy story about a guy named Happy whose only goal throughout the film is to rescue his granny from an old age home where the carers are bullies who make the old people’s lives miserable. The only way to do that is to have enough money to buy his granny’s house back, which was in foreclosure.
Out of the blue, by accident, Happy discovers that he has the hidden ability that not even the movie’s greatest antagonist has: Smashing a golf ball. He has the most unorthodox golf swing ever seen in the sport, which he accomplishes by taking a few steps, galloping up to the ball and swinging. And he hits the ball ever so sweetly, every time! To the amazement of many golfers (and golf fans), he has the biggest swing ever seen in the sport. Long story short, he wins the money and saves his granny. But the point is clear: If Happy never knew about his ability to hit a golf ball, he wouldn’t have been able to raise the money.
Christians have been given advantages which, if remain undiscovered, will never benefit them on this side of eternity. Ignorance of what has been deposited into your spiritual bank account puts you at a disadvantage. Make sure you know what has been given to you!
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those who are in Christ have been given a citizenship into a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. Jesus said that this Kingdom is actually inside of us. What exactly is a kingdom? A kingdom is a domain, a place that is ruled by a king – a kingdom is simply the king’s domain. Our king, Jesus Christ, is the King of Heaven and we have been given access to His realm. Because of Him, we are now partakers in and of that Kingdom. It is our residence and our destiny. We are established in it and it is established in us – a gift that cannot be taken away. The Kingdom of Jesus is not about rules and regulations (eating and drinking – Paul was referring to dietary regulations) but rather righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom operates on these things. The Kingdom is these things. And they are given and they function through the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and is with us forever.
Christians, we have massive advantages!
Jesus died an innocent man. From birth to death, He lived a completely sinless life. He was perfect in every way. Although He was crucified as a criminal, he was innocent. His perfect obedience to, and consequent right standing with God qualified Him to take upon Himself the sins of the world. The Bible says that you have been credited with the very righteousness of Jesus. It has been credited to your spiritual bank account. You didn’t earn it or work for it. It’s all part of the gift of salvation. The moment you believed, you were justified within the courts of heaven and given the very innocence, the very right standing, the very righteousness of God
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
John Piper, teaching on Faith and the Imputation of Righteousness, and reflecting on some past Reformers, who grasped the truth of this, had the following to say:
For Martin Luther and John Bunyan the discovery of the imputed righteousness of Christ was the greatest life-changing experience they ever had. Luther said it was like entering a paradise of peace with God. For Bunyan it was the end of years of spiritual torture and uncertainty. What would you give to know for sure that your legal acceptance and approval before God was as sure as the standing of Jesus Christ, his Son?
It’s free. This is what Christ came to do: fulfill a righteousness and die a death that would remove all your sins and become for you a perfect righteousness. He offers you this today as a gift. If you see him as true and precious, if you take the gift and trust in it, you will have a peace with God that passes all understanding. You will be a secure person. You will not need the approval of others. You will not need the ego-supports of wealth or power or revenge. You will be free. You will overflow with love. You will lay down your life in the cause of Christ for the joy that is set before you. Look to Christ and trust him for your righteousness.
The security of our right standing with God is a massive advantage – a gift – which many live without, but it’s given in, through and by the Holy Spirit. Knowing that God accepts and approves of us is a life changing revelation. You will never be the same again when you know that truth. It’s a gift that comes by grace through faith because of Christ. You are as righteous as Jesus. You stand secure in His righteousness till the end of time. It’s the good news and it’s a scandal.
And it’s the revelation of this righteousness that leads to peace in the Holy Spirit…
Paul opens most of his letters to the churches with the following phrase, “Grace and peace to you…” What a great greeting! I believe he did this to communicate one vital truth for Christians: You can relax and rest. The grace of God gives you peace with God. You no longer need to live with the anxiety of whether God is angry or displeased with you. You never have to question whether He is proud of you. You never have to question whether he approves of you or accepts you. You never have to wonder, “Is God pleased in me?” Say this slowly and say it out loud: I AM IN CHRIST. Say it until it grabs you on the inside. I AM IN CHRIST. If you’re in Christ, hidden in Him, wrapped up in Him, then that means all the affections and all the joy that Father feels and expresses towards Jesus, He feels and expresses towards you. YOU ARE IN CHRIST. Jesus is at peace with His Father. Therefore, God is at peace with you .
Not only is God at peace with you, but He has given you His peace also. Wow! There are so many people who live on anti-depressants and anxiety medication because they have no peace on the inside. Their stomachs are constantly knotted. They live on the edge of their seats. They have no peace. They live from crisis to crisis and problem to problem. Their emotions are constantly a whirlwind of depression and anxiety. The Kingdom of Jesus is peace in the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is inside of you. The peace OF God resides inside of you. You need not be anxious for anything. You need not be living on the edge of your seat. Going to sleep at night without a knot in your stomach is the way of His Kingdom.
Does this mean that we should expect only good things in this life? No. Life is filled with bad news and uncontrollable circumstances that swing the best of us off our game. But they need not control our insides. They need not replace your peace with anxiety. Bad things happen and life dishes up unexpected problems through which we are forced to navigate carefully at times. But we can do so with peace. Peace is our inheritance and it’s a benefit of the Kingdom that’s inside of us. Because you have peace with God, it is possible to live daily out of the peace of God.
What is joy? It is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from the hand of God. If our new freedom in Christ is a piece of cake, joy is the frosting. If the Bible gives us the wonderful words of life, joy supplies the music. If the way to heaven turns out to be an arduous steep climb, joy rigs up the chair lift. The fact is that joy is an attribute of God Himself. It brings with it pleasure, gladness, and delight.
Joy is merriment without frivolity, hilarity without raucousness, and mirth without cruelty. Joy radiates animation, sparkle, and buoyancy. It is more than fun, yet it has fun. It expresses itself in laughter and elation, yet draws from a deep spring that keeps flowing long after the laughter has died and the tears have come. Even while those who mourn, it remains cheerful in a world that has gone gray with grief and worry. Joy is not a sentimental word. It has a clean tang and bite to it, the exhilaration of mountain air. It blows away the dustiness of our days with a fresh breeze, and makes life more carefree…
Yes, Jesus smiled; yes, Jesus laughed. Jesus smiled wider and laughed heartier than any human being who has ever walked the planet. He was young. He radiated good cheer. The real Jesus was a man of merriment, such gladness of heart, such freedom and openness, that He proved irresistible. He became known through Galilee for His genuine strength, the sparkle in His eyes, the spring in His gait, the heartiness in His laugh, the genuineness of His touch; His passion, playfulness, excitement, and vitality: His JOY! He made a dazzling display of love. He set hearts afire. He was an elated, triumphant young man with an incredible quality of life…so different from the solemn religious types He constantly encountered.
The Joy of Jesus, I discovered, was wrapped up in His living in all the fullness of life’s ultimate adventure – a bigger-than-life, robustness, vicariousness that comes with living 100 percent in the Father’s will 100 percent of the time. Can you imagine the level of joy in your heart if you could live just ten seconds that way? Jesus lived every breathing moment that way. It’s beyond comprehension! Love unbounded, truth unrestrained, purpose maximized, victory realized, enemy pulverized, humanity eternalized, God glorified-it’s just too much to think about…
I’m not sure I could describe joy any better than Sherwood and Bruce have done in their books on the joy of Jesus. “If our new freedom in Christ is a piece of cake, joy is the frosting” – I just love that! Knowing you’re righteous and possessing the peace of God and being given eternal peace with God is the reason why joy flows out of the wellspring of the heart.
The more I’ve come to know Jesus and recognize His smile and laughter, the more it’s changed me. I catch myself full of life and joy at times when the circumstances I’m faced with would demand a serious approach. Once His joy and laughter captivate your heart, joy becomes a natural response day after day. How can we, who have been saved from our sins, given His righteousness as a gift, been made a child of God, a citizen of Heaven, not be bubbling with joy?
When I was 17 years old my parents bought me a motorbike, a Yamaha DT 50CC. I absolutely loved it. It took me everywhere; to my girlfriend, to school, to the beach, everywhere. In Star Wars language, it was my Millennium Falcon.
One night, my mother came home from church while I was sitting in my bedroom. She asked ‘Where’s your bike?’ ‘Outside,’ I said. ‘You better go check, because it’s gone my son!’ she shouted. I ran to the window and as true as nuts, it was gone! Someone had stolen my Millennium Falcon! It was 10:20pm and I was in my PJs. I jumped into some shorts and a t-shirt and started to pray. I was frantic and adrenalin was flowing.
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit said to me ‘Ross, get into your mom’s car and I will take you to your bike.’ I was stopped dead in my tracks. ‘Mom, we need to go and look for it,’ I shouted. ‘So where we going?’ she asked. Holy Spirit said ‘Left.’ So I said, ‘Left.’ As we drove Holy Spirit said, ‘Left again.’ And just like that, he spoke, I obeyed and my mom followed directions. As we turned the next corner there was my bike. It was parked, half hidden, under a tree with the brake pads jammed against the wheels so it couldn’t be pushed.
To cut a long story short, I got my bike back safe and sound; never found the thief though. That was one of many times in my life where Holy Spirit, my friend, intervened and helped me with something.
I remember another time when I was at a Pick n Pay Supermarket. The store was bustling and very busy. The store had 30 till points and it appeared that that at each point 9 or 10 people stood in line. While I stood in my queue exercising some much needed patience, Holy Spirit asked me a question, ‘Do you trust me?’ ‘Of course, I trust you Lord.’ ‘Ok, go to TILL 17.’ I was waiting patiently at TILL 3. I looked down the queues of people and couldn’t see TILL 17. I knew what He was doing. And He knew that I knew what He was doing. And although I couldn’t see Him, I imagined the Lord had a huge grin on His face…knowing what a patient guy I can be and all. So I second guessed myself, ‘Is this me or is this really the Lord?’ If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve asked this question.
Eventually, I succumbed and decided to see if this really was Jesus. (Keep in mind that this entire decision and conversation with the Lord happened in about 30 seconds). So I vacated my spot in the queue at TILL 3 and basket in hand, made my way past the sea of people to TILL 17 and was gobsmacked. I felt as though somehow I had cheated the system. While there were queues at both TILLS 16 and 18, there was only 1 person at TILL 17. So I stood behind him and looked at the people who were waiting in the queues on either side and who seemed oblivious to the fact that I had just won the lottery of queue-standing. I paid for my stuff and exited the store – no fuss.
I share these two stories with you so you can see that not only is Holy Spirit a helper in our time of need, but He’s also our friend, a friend closer than a brother…who happens to be a lot of fun. In reality, He’s everything we need. Very helpful books have been written about Him. Scripture describes Him as Helper, Comforter, Lifter of our Heads, Encourager, Teacher, and The One who comes along side us. The promise of Jesus is that His Spirit will never leave us. He lives inside of us and is with us forever. Nothing can ever drive Him away; not even you!
Many Christians have believed that His primary purpose is to convict believers of sin. I don’t buy that at all. I think my God-heightened conscience does that just fine on its own. That’s not to say Holy Spirit never corrects me; because that wouldn’t be true. But it’s not His primary role in my life.
In my experience, His primary role is always that of reminding me of Jesus – who He is to me and to the world and what He has accomplished. He reminds me of who I am in Jesus (righteous, justified, friend, servant, forgiven, redeemed) and encourages me to love big and live large. He teaches me how to live righteously, He shows me how to love my wife and kids and He also instructs me on how to be a passionate employee at my work place. He’s never dull or solemn.
I find Him full of joy, always encouraging and ever hopeful that I walk in faith in all aspects of my life in Him. He always points to Jesus and magnifies His Excellence and Magnificence. He never directs praise to Himself. He’s the most selfless person I know. I have come to recognize His voice more clearly as the years go by and He’s been very patient with me as I’ve grown in Him and maturity.
I would highly recommend you read as much as you can about Kathryn Kuhlman and her relationship with Holy Spirit. Look for the book “The Greatest Power in the World” . She tapped into a realm with Him that touched many lives in her day. Her communion with Holy Spirit became her most treasured relationship. She would spend 6 to 7 hours a day with Him – sometimes even longer before she was to preach.
The gift of His person and presence completed her life to such an extent that she desired very little else. With Him, she had everything. As a Christian, you have Him. He lives in you and He is always with you. He is Heaven’s greatest gift to you. Enjoy Him as you follow Him in your journey in the Lord.
We are citizens of another world, a Kingdom of a different realm. It’s now but not entirely yet. It’s the Kingdom of God, a place that’s not about rules or regulations, but governed by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It’s the essence and the flow of the Kingdom in which we belong. When you understand, grasp and believe Whom you have and What He has given you – remembering that the Kingdom of Heaven is inside of you now – it will change the way you view others and relate to the world around you. We have massive advantages in this life.
We have His Spirit and His Kingdom both of which will know no end.
For many Christians, there is a major disconnect between their Position and their Condition; and understandably so. It’s this tension that spurred me to write this book in the first place. And it’s this tension that exasperated my friend to the point of saying, “I cannot do this anymore. I’ve tried and I’m frustrated. Why does it feel as though one week I take one step forward only to take two steps backwards the next? I’m not sure how long I can carry on doing this. I just can’t live the Christian Life?” It’s this tension that has left Christians disillusioned and frustrated: their Position vs. their Condition.
Throughout the book, I have been speaking primarily to your Position in Christ. Your Position is your eternal security – you are born-again, you are a child of God, you have been seated with Him in Heavenly Places, your sins are forgiven, you have been washed, you are forever justified, you have been made holy and perfected forever, you have been placed into the Kingdom of His Son by grace. Your Position is In Christ. These are the settled truths of the Gospel and they speak directly to your position in God right now regardless of the way you feel or how you have behaved.
BUT! And this is a big BUT in all of our minds… “BUT Ross, if I turn my attention inwardly and actually take a look at myself for just a minute, I don’t like what I see. The ‘me’ that my spouse and my kids see, my real Condition, is a far cry from the Position you’ve written about in this book.”
I concur 100%. You and I (and every other Christian) are in the same boat. Your Condition is the here and now. You know it well. It’s the temptation you’re fighting now, it’s the flesh you are combating, it’s the sinning you do now and the condemnation you are feeling now. In your current condition, you feel anything but holy and perfect. Your Condition is a very different reality to your Position. And this is why Christians battle to believe. It’s because what the Bible says about their Position seems to be a total contradiction to their Condition. They read “You have been made perfect forever” then look at how the last 24 hours have panned out and think “Well, it ain’t talking about me! I can’t be a proper Christian, then.” Am I right or am I right?
I became a Christian when I was in high school; I was 14 years old. My greatest temptations were anger and pornography. Those sins lead to my back chatting and cheeking my parents as well as lying, swearing and deception. As a young Christian, these were certainly not the types of character traits I wanted. I remember recommitting my life to Jesus at almost every Sunday evening’s church service. The build-up of failure and inner disappointment would be released as I knelt at the altar and cried, asked God for forgiveness and recommitted my life. Again. And again. Week after week. I’d feel clean as I got up off my knees and made my way home.
The joy of knowing that God had forgiven me again would bring such peace to my heart, but this would only last until I messed up the next time. My belief was that my sin separated me from God and that He was disappointed and angry with me. I just needed to try harder. Perhaps I needed to pray more and consecrate myself more? Perhaps fasting was the key to overcoming my pornography addiction? I was so tired of disappointing God. I couldn’t understand why I struggled so much, for so many years, yet did not experience much break through or triumph over these very real flaws that I had.
Perhaps I needed to increase my quiet times to two a day, a time in the morning and a time in the evening? I did but it didn’t help. My desire to live holy in God’s sight was a noble one but I was perplexed as to how to do it. My life became one filled with cycles. One week up, next week down, one week up and next week down. I was preoccupied with trying to keep myself clean!
My Christianity was consumed with trying harder to apply so-called Biblical principles in order to sin less and become “a real Christian”! In all honesty, the whole thing was horrible!
This tension has existed for hundreds of years and it’s this very tension that has caused Christians to grab hold of religion. They fall into the trap of trying to fix their Condition so that it lines up with their Position. Christians have been trying to fix themselves for decades and you know what? Not one of them has been able to do it. They have fasted more meals than they can count, they’ve prayed for years, they’ve gone to countless deliverance services and conferences and still there remains a massive gulf between their Position and their Condition. And I speak from personal experience (And yes, I can see you nodding with me).
When you read your Bible, it is vital that you know and understand the references to your Position (eternal, secure, a gift from God apart from your performance) and those referring to your Condition (temporal, fluctuating, the here-and-now).
Successful Christian living and the ‘How do I do this?’ lies in one truth: Identity. If the way you see yourself lies in your Condition, you’re continually going to be consumed with how much you lack and how much you need to improve your performance. But if the way you see yourself lies in your Position, then you’re going to be at rest in who you are and it’ll be from there that you’re empowered to live your life. This is massive, people!
I love what Bill Johnson says about this. I’m going to paraphrase here but it goes like this: We often get our destiny and purpose confused. Our destiny is going to Heaven. Our purpose is to bring Heaven. Once we’re born-again, we live FROM Him. We don’t fight the enemy for victory, but rather we fight from victory. We live from our ‘seated-next-to-Him-in-Heavenly-Places’ position towards earth, not the other way around.
When Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit came upon Him and His Father made a declaration to Him and about Him to all who were listening. He said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Wow! In one booming thunderous voice from the sky, God the Father confirmed Jesus’ sonship; He confirmed His pleasure in and confirmed His love for Him.
But hold on a minute!
What had Jesus done up to this point that had pleased God the Father so much? Jesus hadn’t healed a sick person or preached a single sermon. In terms of ministry, He had done nothing. He hadn’t multiplied food or cast out a demon. He hadn’t raised a dead person or opened a blind eye. According to our understanding of the Scriptures, Jesus had not yet done a thing. So we have to ask the question: what exactly was it about Him that pleased God so much?
And that my dear friend, is the entire point.
God’s pleasure and love for you is not dependent upon what you’ve done, but rather on who you are. He doesn’t wait for you to attain sonship. There isn’t some list of do’s and don’ts that need to be adhered to in order to qualify you. You are already qualified. You are His pleasure and he is passionately in love with you. Why? Because you are in Christ. He has made you so. He has done the work. He has qualified you.
The Christian life is not about living in order to attain God’s favour and pleasure. For heaven sakes, no! The Christian life is about living from his favour and from His pleasure. Jesus healed all, fed the thousands and raised the dead from his sonship and from His position, not in order to attain them. In the same way, you and I, as God’s sons and daughters, live from our Position towards the world.
When Jesus left the river and went into the desert to be tempted by the devil, what was the temptation of Satan? It was simple… “If you the Son of God…do this and do that.” The devil was casting doubt upon the very words of God towards Jesus. And why wouldn’t he? The same temptation worked with Adam. So I’m sure he figured that since it worked with first Adam, why wouldn’t it work with last Adam also? Spin the story, sow seeds of doubt and see unbelief manifest in their behaviour. Satan twisted God’s word in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say…” and tried the same thing with Jesus. And do you want to know a secret…Satan tries the same thing with you and me.
His modus operandi is to get Christians to doubt their identity. If he can fix our eyes on our Condition rather than our Position, it’ll bankrupt us every time because our Condition is far from perfect and holy. And when we look at our imperfections, sins and mistakes, it’s from there that we start questioning who we really are and wondering if God really does love us and if He really is working in our lives. And we move from a foundation of grace and faith onto a foundation of performance, obedience and effort in order to sort ourselves out.
Once we do that, Paul actually says that we’ve fallen from grace because we’ve tried to make ourselves right with God based on our performance rather than on Christ’s performance.
Satan tried to get Jesus to prove His sonship. Turning stones into bread wasn’t a sin. I mean, what’s the big deal? But, it was a massive deal! The point was that God spoke and said, ‘You are my beloved Son.’ Full stop! No need to prove it or demonstrate it. God said it and Jesus believed it. The time would come for Jesus to act, but He did so only at the Father’s instruction. He only said what He heard the Father saying and did what He saw the Father doing . He did nothing of His own accord. Getting caught up with the devil in trying to prove who He was would have been unbelief.
You know the voice all too well, don’t you? “If you’re serious about your faith, you’ll pray every day and fast at least once a month” or “Real Christians don’t compromise. If you compromise, are you sure you’re a real Christian?” This sort of speak is performance based and not faith based. It’s all about acting, performing and doing the right things in the name of ‘Christian living’. Am I advocating that praying every day is wrong and that we should live compromised lives? Absolutely not. But should we do these things in response to the fear of not being qualified or being called ‘Son’? NO.
I advocate that Christians desire to live like Jesus. May we obey the Lord when He commands and may we love all people without reservation. May we desire to be without reproach and be shining examples of purity to those with whom we live. But we are not going to get there by being Condition minded, but rather being Position minded.
Let me quote Paul,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Christian book stores are littered with thousands of books that claim to have the answer to the question that any Christian worth his salt has asked himself, ‘How do I do this?’ Christians desire to please God with their lives. Christians desire to live radical, holy lives for His glory. Our heartbeat is to live our lives loving Jesus with all of our hearts, all of our minds and with all of our strength. We are fixated on making Him famous, making Him known and loving others towards these same obsessions.
I have come to the conclusion that the Christian life starts and ends by and in grace. At no point do we take the reins from Jesus and say ‘Thanks Lord, but I’ll take it from here. See you at the finish line.’ I am fully persuaded that he calls us, that He saves us and that He leads us into glory by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. I am fully persuaded that it’s no longer I that live but that it’s Christ that lives in me and the life I live I live by faith.
I am fully persuaded that we navigate our way through this life firmly established in what Christ has done on our behalf, serving Him in the freedom that He has given us. The bondage of performance-based and works-orientated religion is not our portion and can no longer define us.
I am fully persuaded that the key to enjoying the victories of the Christian life lies in knowing who we are in Christ and in what He has done for us. It starts and ends in identity. I am fully persuaded that Christians don’t know HOW because they don’t know WHO they are. And the reason they don’t know WHO they are is because they don’t know the Gospel.
That friend of mine, who I mentioned in the beginning of this book, had said, “I cannot do this anymore. I’ve tried and I’m frustrated. Why does it feel as though one week I take one step forward only to take two steps backward backwards the next? I’m not sure how long I can carry on doing this. I just can’t live the Christian Life?”
Praise God he has come into a revelation of the Gospel and is experiencing much peace, joy and fruitfulness in his life. He has come to the conclusion that his victory lies not in what he does, but in what Jesus has already done for Him. He has quit trying to do the Christian life. He gave that up a year ago. He’s now being who God has made Him to be. He lives in response to his Father’s voice and he’s a changed man.
If you remember anything from this short book, let it be the warning from one of the Church’s greatest heroes, Diedrich Bonhoeffer:
“We err when we see these as only having to do with our justification. When we leave these three propositions, and especially grace, at the door of initial salvation and try to walk on without them, we are doomed to a Christian life marked by frustration.”
Go big. Go large. But make sure, you go in His grace!
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“I cannot do this anymore. I’ve tried and I’m frustrated. Why does it feel as though one week I take one step forward only to take two steps backwards the next? I’m not sure how long I can carry on doing this. I just can’t live the Christian Life!” That’s pretty much the gist of what my friend was telling me. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not an undercover-secret-agent-Sunday-Christian either. He’s been a believer for over 15 years. He loves Jesus. Passionately! He’s active in his church. He leads his family as well as any Christian father and husband I’ve known. We ‘coffee’ regularly and on this particular day, I’m not sure how we stumbled upon the subject, but he admitted, with clenched fists, his absolute frustration at trying to do the Christian life. Getting born-again; no problem. Eternity with the Lord; can’t wait for that. But the activity in between those two events - Christian living has caused him much frustration. He was expressing what many believers feel: “Houston, we have a problem.” Those infamous words spoken upon Apollo 13 resonate with countless Christians today – they’re in trouble and they have no idea how to fix the problem. Libraries of books have been written on how to ‘Live the Christian Life’. Christian book shops are full of them! If we’re at all honest with one another, it’s the ‘how exactly do I do this’ that has led many down the road of frustration, disillusionment and sadly for some, even abandonment of their ‘Christian walk’. This is not going to be another self-help book. I’m not going to give you a theological outline on how to live more like Jesus and less like the devil. I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years. I have read countless books on Christian Living, written with the greatest of intentions I might add, but they all boiled down to one thing: My performance. My Christian Living ultimately depended upon my putting in the hard yards. The thought process: I would see more fruit and breakthrough in my life if I did more fasting, praying, Bible reading, loving, abstaining, feet washing, hand lifting, hand laying, worshipping, church attending, book reading, theology studying and interceding. Those books spelled out fantastic formulas and reasons why doing these things would lead to a Christian Life as described in the scriptures. The truth is: It doesn’t work. My performance and effort in the DOING did not bring about the Christian LIVING I desired and I suspect many who are reading this know exactly what I’m on about. Are you tired? Are you frustrated at the endless cycle; some days up and some days down? The key is not in the doing, my friend, but in the being. The key lies, not in your performance, but in your identity. It’s time to believe what He has done and who he’s made you to be