Christ Became Your Life at Salvation
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2000|
|When did you receive new life in Christ? Why do so many Christians not claim what they already have? Can you learn to quit striving and simply believe? Dr. Gillham explains how.|
Christ Became Your Life at Salvation
(from What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity, Harvest House, 1998)
“Well, I hate to tell you this, but the engine in this car has had it. And it’s not worth the money it would take to get it up and running. You’ve got to have a new engine.”
If those are not some of the saddest, most depressing words in the English language, they’re contenders. When a second opinion validates the original diagnosis, you’ve got limited options: Either trade cars, or install a new or rebuilt engine—and neither option makes you feel like Dorothy skipping along the yellow brick road.
That diagnosis could have been given to my spiritual “engine” once. I thought it was normal Christianity to keep patching up my same old engine. And boy, did I work at it! You tie the average Christian to me, and I would have dragged him to death. I took courses in how to change my own Christian spark plugs. I learned how to tinker with my Christian distributor so I could make all my Christian cylinders fire on time. I ground my teeth at my poor Christian gas mileage and ordered a special Christian gadget that was guaranteed to save me so much Christian gas that I would have to make regular stops to drain the excess out onto the highway—but it was a scam. Double drat.
After about 13 years of this, I pulled into the “Emergency Stop Only” space with my engine smoking. I wasn’t experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised, and if any of my friends were, they weren’t telling me about it. Most of us never discover that Jesus is all we need until Jesus is all we have. I reached that point. I think I’m no different than many Christians in that God had to let me experience personal failure trying to live life before He could share His diagnosis and treatment with me. My motto was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, as they say in Oklahoma, “I was broker ‘n Granny’s hip,” and I needed fixin’.
Independence Is the Mother of All Sin
His diagnosis? My theology on victorious living was wrong. And I don’t mean that the fine tuner needed tweaking; it needed a major overhaul. I was practicing “cordless Christianity.” My philosophy was expressed in the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” You recall how it goes: As the Christian looks back over the footprints in the sand of his life, he sees Jesus’ footprints alongside his. Sometimes he sees only one set of footprints and asks Jesus what that signifies, to which He responds, “Oh, that’s where I had to carry you.” Well, that may sell lots of wall plaques, but it’s mighty bad theology because it implies that the
better I can live independently, the less I’ll need to trust Christ to do it all for me. I didn’t see the obvious fallacy that, if I can improve enough, I can function without Christ. The only time I’ll need Him is to take me to heaven. This way, Jesus can spend His time helping the weak. In fact, if I’m dedicated enough and can become capable enough at living independently, I can help Him help the weak, which is what I had been trying to do. I was living as though independence were a virtue, when it was in fact a sin. God said, “They will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god” (Habakkuk 1:11). I was naively committing the same sin as Adam, who made the first declaration of personal independence—remember? He did it his way, and his offspring have been hard at it ever since.
You Were Crucified with Christ in A.D. 33
One of the things you learned at Sunday school is that two thieves were crucified with Jesus on Calvary. And if you weren’t in Sunday school as a kid, suffice it to say that you got the message. But there is much more biblical ink dedicated to the fact that you were crucified with Christ than there is to document the deaths of those two thieves.
This truth has been skipped over more times than an elementary-school sidewalk. It’s been buried, denied, scoffed at, explained away, rationalized, or simply misunderstood by most modern theologians. Do I claim to have the market cornered on truth? Hardly. But God has revealed one truth to me: He tells the truth. And when He puts together a chain of 12 verses, 9 of which say that we died in Christ, it’s a no-brainer that He’s telling it like it is (Romans 6:2-13). But, I would like to see a George Gallup poll among Christians on how many believe they were literally crucified with Christ. I would say the number of affirmative responses would be quite low. Had you asked me that question years ago, I would have philosophized about it, saying that God saw me as if I were crucified, but it “obviously” didn’t literally happen. Although I wouldn’t have verbalized it this way, I supposed that God merely “played like” I was crucified in Christ for some reason known only to Him. I considered my crucifixion with Christ to be a mere “paper transaction” in the mind of God, and had no idea that it had anything to do with my victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Romans chapter 6 is the most complete treatise of this event in the Bible. Most of us mark up our personal Bibles, but like a friend of mine said, “Before the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the reality of our crucifixion with Christ, Romans 6 was the cleanest page in my Bible.” Even though the Bible clearly states that we were crucified in Christ, the overt or tacit denial of the literality of this truth by most theologians is often explained away as “positional truth.” The bare bones of positional truth is much like an insurance policy. It teaches that we Christians must physically die before we can collect the benefits. The Bible does indeed speak of experiences that will be actualized only after we leave our earthsuits, but the language in such instances carries the future tense to indicate that this is the case. Our crucifixion in Christ is exactly the opposite. It is conveyed in past-tense verbs: “Knowing this, that our old [man] was crucified with Him”; “I have been crucified with Christ” (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20). It’s a done deal.
The Christian who treats this teaching as if it were not present-day reality is misinterpreting God’s word. The verbs don’t lie. And we’re not dealing with an insignificant issue, such as whether you will get to name your white horse in heaven (Revelation 19:14). We’re dealing with the key to experiencing an overcoming life. God had no plan for making something beautiful of your life—that do-it-yourself life inherited from Adam. God’s plan is to kill that life and re-create you with an overcoming, obedient life—Christ as life. Christ is more than Savior and Lord; He is our Life: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life”’ (John 14:6). God did not change your life, He exchanged your life—your old life for Christ as life.
I believe Jesus might say it this way:
The kingdom of heaven is like electricity, which went virtually unnoticed by man until Ben Franklin tried to get in touch with it. Electricity would largely go unnoticed were it not for the vehicles through which it expresses itself—things ranging from cars to carousels, coffeemakers to circuit breakers, lightning to lighting, etc. All of these are expressions of the same life: electricity. I, who created electricity (John 1:3) have chosen to function in a similar manner via My Spirit. Christians are members of My body on earth, each designed to be a unique expression of My life through them.
The Father’s plan is for people to be drawn to Me by observing My agape servant-life being expressed through Christians. This will enable the Holy Spirit to Contrast Me against a world system driven by Satan. This will prepare people’s hearts to understand, as I explain to them through Christians “this mystery … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
The Christian life is like an infant in the womb. Although the child is in the mother; yet the mother is life in the child. Without the mother’s life flowing through the umbilical cord, the child would have no life. “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). The child lives, moves, and exists in its mother. Mom is the baby’s source. The baby in the womb is an expression of its mother’s life.
Perhaps you’re asking, “If Christ is the life of all Christians, do I lose my identity? Am I an automaton?” Not at all. Consider the electric tools plugged into the wall socket at my workbench. Such tools have no independent life. Each tool depends upon the same life which is in it, but which is not of it. That is a metaphor of each Christian. So long as each tool “abides” (stays plugged into the wall outlet), it manifests its identity (functions as its creator intended). I’ll tell you when the tools lose their individuality, their identity. It’s when I unplug them. They all become paperweights! It’s the life in the tool which gives it its unique identity. Without its life, it “can do nothing.” Notice the similarity in what Jesus said about us: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Christian who stays plugged into Jesus Christ as life, by faith, experiences his true identity. Although he is unique among the millions of Christians, he enjoys the same life as they: Christ. On the other hand, the Christian who believes that he expresses his own individuality (lives independently) manifests a false identity; he never experiences his true identity one single time on earth! Although this Christian will never lose his biblical identity, he spends his entire life at a masquerade ball, naively posing as someone he is not. And although he believes he is making his mark, in reality he “can do nothing” (Jesus Christ, A.D. 33).