Only Christ Can Live the Christian Life Through Us
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2000|
|Do you ever just get weary of trying to live a Christian life? Dr. Gillham explains why you don’t have to, because Christ will do the living for us!|
Only Christ Can Live the Christian Life Through Us
from his book What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity, Harvest House, 1998)
Self-reliance: Reliance on one’s own ability, judgment, or resources—Webster.
Among the thousands of modern conveniences we enjoy are the cordless devices: cordless drills to cordless sanders, self-contained devices to slice your roast or trim your whiskers, portable telephones, rechargeable flashlights, ad infinitum. The principle is: Use it till its power is exhausted, return it to its “base station” for recharging, then repeat the cycle. When it’s finally called home to gadget heaven, you give it a decent burial and pick up a new one. Ya’ gotta love ‘em!
But, gang, God never intended for us to apply the effectiveness of such self-empowered devices to our day-to-day personal walk with Him. Christians who approach life via the “cordless” method live in the power of their own personality and/or body. Their source for living life is themselves, and they are vulnerable to slowly losing their cutting edge and finally grinding to a halt. God calls this trusting in the “arm of flesh” (2 Chronicles 32:8). “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength…’ “ (Jeremiah 17:5). If Christians with this self-reliant philosophy of the Christian life were expendable tools, they would be ready for the trash bin, but with God they’re ready for the fresh revelation of how to trust Christ within them as even more than Savior and Lord; Christ is to express His life through them. I wonder if Christ could live an overcoming life through you if you knew how to cooperate with Him to do so? Of course. That’s what experiencing Christ as life through us is all about.
The secret to an overcoming life lies in understanding how to stay “plugged into Christ” moment-by-moment, as opposed to operating as if we had a rechargeable battery. Jesus called this “abiding” in Him (John 15:4). We must trash the unbiblical belief that an independent, self-reliant life is worthy of our pursuit—even noble and virtuous—and learn how to live in total dependence upon Christ within us to express His life through us. Continuous dependence upon Christ both now and forever is the message of the gospel. But somehow the Deceiver has managed to sweep this truth through the cracks. He’s convinced us that we’re to “live our lives for Jesus” (as if He were so impotent that He needed our help), instead of allowing Jesus Christ to express His own life through His own body—the individual members of His corporate church.
What if each part of your body acted independently of the head? You get a small sample of the adverse effect that such independence can have when your head tells your body to get out of bed to go to the bathroom at 3:00 A.M., only to discover that one foot has chosen to stay asleep. It’s like it’s saying, “Y’all go on. I feel like staying here.” Each individual Christian as a part in the body of Christ is to “life out” his unique identity by being totally dependent upon the Head, Jesus Christ, as his life. Independent living is not Christianity; it is a man-made caricature of Christianity. The Christian life is accomplished just like it was acquired: by faith; we are to simply believe that Christ is our life because God says so (John 14:6; 15:5; Romans 15:18; Colossians 3:3-4), and then act like it’s true. As we will see, there is a huge difference between trying to live our lives for Christ versus Christ living His life through us—the difference between failure and overcoming.
As a cordless Christian, I gave life the ol’ college try all week as the pressures of the world volleyed me off its walls like a racquetball. Then, praise God, it was 5:00 P.M. Friday; I had made it through another workweek. I saw Sunday as the opportunity to plug into my “spiritual base station.” (I even spoke of church attendance as “getting my battery recharged to face another week.”) Then I repeated the cycle. Folks, do you see that this approach is very little different from that of the pre-cross Jew? He depended on himself, calling upon God in times of need, and often feeling like his calls were being forwarded to God’s voice mail. This approach to life pretty much parallels the way I lived for the first 13 years of my Christian life. Oh, I was at the church every time the doors were open, and Jesus was definitely the focal point of my life, but He was not my LIFE. If God had somehow removed the power of my own flesh (what I called my life), I would have collapsed like a punctured balloon because that was my only source. I hadn’t the faintest idea that Christ was to live His life through me while I rested in His sufficiency instead of in the power of my own personality.
As time rolls by for the Christian who lives that way, the joy of the Lord he knew early on is often supplanted by wearisome religious duty. He rests in the knowledge that he’s going to heaven when he dies, but he knows nothing of resting in Christ on earth as he lives. “While a promise remains of entering [God’s] rest,… [he seems] to have come short of it” (Hebrews 4:1). For most of us, that describes the only approach we’ve known since we got saved. I’m certainly not saying that the world is to be our Disneyland, but I am saying there is much more to the Christian life than what many believers experience. Regardless of my opinion, the important thing to recognize is that God says there is more to the Christian life than the cordless variety offers. He calls it abundant life.
Normal Christianity Is Not the Norm for Many Christians
The key to living the victorious Christian life is not a new spin on the old, old story; it’s normal Christianity. It’s as old as the New Testament. Experiencing normal Christianity through the week yields such a sweet, intimate, obedient relationship with God that we don’t attend the worship service to get recharged; we attend the services to discharge our worship and praise to the Lord because we’re overflowing with love and gratitude (Psalm 23:5).
By letting Christ express His life through us on a moment-by-moment basis, we experience the overcoming, abundant life that Jesus spoke of (John 10:10). Many Christians have taken the independent, do-it-yourself exit off God’s “freeway.” Cordless Christianity explains why many Christians experience unexciting or perhaps defeated lives. It explains everything from the so-called male mid-life crisis to depression, sheer boredom to anxiety attacks, passivity to dominance, abrasiveness to “wimping out,” the workaholic to the sofa spud, legalism to license, perfectionism to slovenliness, etc. These are all manifestations of living in the power of human flesh. Jesus Christ is the only One who ever lived the Christian life, and I have found that by letting Him express His life through us, by faith, we experience the Christian life as God intends.
How Much Faith Is Required?
How much faith did you place in yourself to acquire salvation? None. Then why do you trust in your ability, your talent, your strength, your charisma, your education, your intellect, your beautiful earthsuit, even your spiritual gifts, to live the life that you acquired by faith? Oh, the folly of such independent living! Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is not a life. He didn’t give you a type of life, nor did He set the curve for a life-style, leaving you some principles by which to live. Christ (drum-roll) is (drumroll) your (drumroll and crashing cymbals) life. “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to [sin]” (Colossians 3:3-5). Eternal life is not a mere extension of your old, sinful Adamic life. Here is God’s definition of eternal life: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1 John 1:1-2). Christ is the eternal life you signed up to acquire if you are born anew. Eternal Life is a Person, not an extension of your old Adamic life, not an “it,” not a phenomenon or a set of values. And this Person, who is Himself Eternal Life, is to express life through you, by faith, as you present yourself to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). This is not to be understood so much as to be believed and acted upon.
There is so much more to your salvation than a one-time experience which guarantees heaven. Living the Christian life is experienced via using the same faith by which you got saved. It is experiencing a moment-by-moment, intimate, personal relationship with Christ who indwells you—living in vital union with [Him]” (Colossians 2:6 TLB). In addition to trusting Christ as Savior and Lord, God wishes that you would trust Christ as life through you to face each day for you. God says it like this in Galatians 3:1,3: “You foolish [Christians], who has bewitched you?… Having begun by the Spirit [God’s power and grace, by faith], are you now being perfected by the flesh [depending upon your own resources— human effort]?”
“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life. . .” (Colossians 3:3-4) does not record Paul’s ideas, gang. This is God speaking to you. Admittedly, God Himself is the Source at work through the speaker, Paul (Romans 15:18).
God says in the verses above that your life is “hidden.” This means that you must see this via your spiritual eyes, by faith. It’s fine if you understand it, but you can obey it regardless of whether you understand it or not. If you need more understanding, you can address God: “Sir, if there is something here that I need to understand, show it to me. I’m not simply curious. I want to know so I can have a better relationship with You.” Paul writes, “The life which I now live in the flesh [in the body] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). For years I knew I would die embracing my faith in Christ, but I never knew I was to live by that same faith in Him. Jesus said, “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). Somehow the key is to live like the branch on a vine lives, depending upon the life of that vine.
Consider Paul’s statement, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).
There was a time in my pilgrimage when I breezed by this verse, assuming that it referred to my future in heaven. You see, I concentrated solely on the death of Jesus as the payment for my sins, never realizing that He accomplished much more for me than that glorious act. The phrase I just used—”much more”—came right out of the verse. I was unintentionally minimizing a significant part of Jesus’ finished work. I believed that the reference to His life related only to a future heaven instead of our life on earth as well. I put all my doctrinal weight on His death and none on His life, and I believe that many Christians are making that same mistake.
You’ll agree that the first half of this verse—”reconciled to God through the death of His Son”—references Christ’s death as the way God saved you from everlasting hell. Then Paul writes, “much more…” You’ve gotta love those two words. God is not given to superlatives. After all, if you’ve never told a lie and you’re incapable of ever doing so (Titus 1:2), your yes means yes and your no means no. So when God uses words or phrases like “much more,” we ought to get ready for an important announcement. Here it is: “Much more, having been reconciled [a guarantee of heaven], we shall be saved by His life.” Saved by His life? Saved from what? We are already saved from hell by the death of Christ in the first part of the verse, so what is this “much more” we get saved from by the life of Christ?
His life through you saved you from bearing the circumstances of living on earth! That’s right. Christ’s death saved you from hell below the earth; Christ’s life saves you from hell upon the earth. Here’s how it works: The boss buzzed you on the intercom and told you to come to his office. He said that the report you had submitted for the quarter was unacceptable, and he gave you one week to rewrite it. That’s the sort of hell on earth that Christ has saved you from. As you’re sitting there with your heart in your throat, you’re to think, Lord Jesus, I’m so glad that I don’t have to do this rewrite. You are my life and this is Your baby. Thank You for saving me from this. You think that concept in a microsecond. Then you say, “Yes, sir, Mr. Mulligan. I’ll do my best. The problem will be fixed. You can count on it.” Then you think, Whew, Lord! You really do have a problem here. I’m so glad that I don’t have to do this rewrite. Yes! The burden is the Lord’s!
Afterward, you burn the midnight oil, highly motivated as your hands sometimes fly over, sometimes labor over the keyboard of your computer, trusting that Christ is doing this report for you, through you on a moment-by-moment basis. Yes! You don’t go fishing and wait till you feel the Spirit of Christ take over and carry you to the computer terminal. You go sit at the keyboard. You save the document to a working file and then begin the rewrite job. However; your faith is saying, “OK, Lord, where do we begin? I don’t have a clue.”
This, my friend, is trusting Christ as life through you, by faith. Have you missed this piece in the salvation equation? Christ as life comes right along with the package that you acquired when you got saved. Many of us have trusted Jesus as Savior; we’ve trusted Him as Lord, but may have never trusted Him as life until we meet something which is absolutely beyond our ability. Trusting Christ as life is “[casting] your burden upon the Lord” (Psalm 55:22)—a command, not an option. God commands you to shove the burden of living on earth squarely onto the broad shoulders of your Savior and to keep piling it on Him moment-bymoment. Gang, this may sound like a cop-out to you, but it’s normal. You were not saved to “carry your own weight.” That is the devil’s idea. Not only is this not noble, it is sin to carry your own weight! It’s independence. God says, “Whatever [as in breathing God’s air] is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).
Or let’s say that you have to get a fan fastened to the small frame on the ceiling by inserting three small bolts, using one hand to hold the screw and the fan, holding the screwdriver in your other hand, and the two other bolts in your lips, while standing on a ladder wearing high heels (just kidding). As you trust Christ as life, the first bolt lines up in the hole, but when you bring the screwdriver to bear, it slips off the bolt head, and you drop everything as you grab the fan with both hands. You think, Whew, Lord, we had tough luck on that one, but thank You for catching the fan. OK, let’s try again. And the two of you go at it again. Perhaps it takes five or six tries to do the job, but you are having a time of camaraderie with Jesus Christ as the two of you work together to install a ceiling fan! That’s pleasing to Him. That’s a spiritual exercise. He longs for this sort of fellowship with you. He longs to build meaningful memories with you—just the two of you. This is the way you build a relationship with Christ! You and He can share some chuckles together over the battle that was won over those tiny holes in that crazy fan as you drive to work together the next day. Gang, this is the way you get to know Jesus Christ. You don’t have to wear a sandwich board proclaiming the end of the world in order to achieve this. This is the “normal Christian life” as author Watchman Nee called it. This is “lifing out” the metaphor of Jesus being the vine and you being a branch. You experienced Vine-life while hanging a fan, by faith.
Forgive me for getting personal, but we all know that testosterone produces a higher sexual appetite than estrogen. Sometimes the farthest thing from a wife’s mind is to respond to her husband’s sexual overtures. This can be a burden to both spouses, which Christ can deal with. The husband can think: Lord, I’d like to fulfill my desire, but if You want me to back off, that’s OK. I leave this up to You, Jesus. You are my life, and You won’t make demands through me. On the other hand, let’s say that the wife is thinking: Lord, You know that l am not the least bit interested in this, but Your Word says that my body is not my own. I realize that my husband needs me to respond to him. So I trust You as my Iife, even in this. And she begins to act interested, believing that Christ is her life. Obviously, it may work the other way around, with the Lord giving the husband the message that he is to wait till a more appropriate time.
Hey, we don’t hang Jesus on a hook in the hall when we enter the marriage bedroom. Sex is God’s invention, not Satan’s. Look at it this way: The electricity is the life of my electric sander. The electricity doesn’t sand the board. It is the enabler which allows the sander to sand the board. I’m certainly not teaching a menage a trois, that Christ is having sex with us! Christ is the Enabler here. Christ as life through both husband and wife is God’s solution to all relational problems, including marital sex.
You can see that the Christian who fellowships with Christ as I’ve illustrated in these anecdotes will soon become fast friends with Him. Wouldn’t it be highly unlikely that a person who lives like this would snap at the kids or rag on his spouse? Of course. The developing, intimate relationship with Christ would so strengthen this person that he would want to habitually practice letting Christ express life through him to do God’s will on earth. Isn’t that great? You wouldn’t be controlled by a bunch of rules and regulations, but by the inner life of Jesus Christ. This is what God means by saying that He has written His laws on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 10:16).
Christ As Life in Daily Living
“If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9b). When you became a Christian, the “Spirit of Christ” (Holy Spirit) entered into you. Why did Jesus come into you? Why didn’t Jesus come before you so He could lead you (some say that’s His function); or beside you so you could lean on Him when you grow weary (some say this is His function); or behind you to give you a jump start when you need help (others claim this is His job), or perhaps under you to carry you when you can’t make it on your own (as the poem “In His Steps” teaches)? It’s because Jesus is the only
One who ever has or who ever will live the life which is pleasing to the Father, and He is to express His life through you on a moment-by-moment basis. Christ’s life alone gets God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Everything else is trashed.
It’s presumptuous of any person to think he can emulate the life of Christ. God doesn’t want to “help” you live on earth any more than He wanted to “help” you get saved. He did it all for you then: He wants to do it all for you now. This way God, not you, gets the honor (glory). Salvation is all of God, nothing of man. Folks, the Christian life is to be experienced in exactly the same way it’s begun. He wants to do it all for you, through you. In this way He gets just as much glory (credit) for saving you from the hell of life as He does for saving you from the hell of death, and He gets to build the intimate relationship with you which He longs for. He died to attain this relationship with you! Please don’t continue in your independent self-sufficiency, naively believing that this is pleasing to the Father; that He is proud of your strength. He’s covered this in His love letter: “They will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god” (Habakkuk 1:11).
Independence was Adam’s original sin. He, in effect, said, “I’ll do it my way! I don’t like your way! I insist on being in control of my life!” God hates independence. You please God through dependence by offering yourself as a living sacrifice through whom Christ can express life to the world. He wants to express His life through you, a part of His body, the church. You were re-created in Christ to be a unique, precious vessel through whom he reveals Himself to the world. The Father accomplished this by rebirthing you as a brand-new creation in Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 1:3)—a fantastic, life-changing truth we’ll study in a later chapter.
And folks, this is not limited to “church” activities, but also treating your spouse and kids in a Christlike manner; being friendly in the elevator; courteous at the four-way stop, patient in the checkout line, etc. He’s talking about living a godly life.
If you’re familiar with our ministry, you know that part of my testimony is that I disgraced the name of Christ for years by the way I treated my precious wife, Anabel—and I was a deeply committed Christian! But God turned it around for me by revealing that Christ expressing His life through me would treat her like a queen if I would just act like He was doing so, by faith. It turned our marriage around! Christ will replicate the same agape lifestyle through us today that He expressed 2000 years ago when He was limited to one earthsuit. (The Greek word agape connotes action and means “doing the most constructive, redemptive thing for another.”) Christ’s sacrificial death for us is the epitome of agape love. By His life through our many earthsuits, we can bring honor to His name (reputation) on earth, which is what every born-again person desires. Jesus said it this way: “He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). One Vine (Christ) with millions of branches (saints who trust Christ as life, by faith) can “bear much fruit” and do “greater works than these.”
God wishes Christians knew that they were never intended to live the Christian life. He wishes we knew that Christ is to live the Christian life through His body of volunteers, the church, and that as such we will experience consistent victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Such a person is not a cordless Christian; he’s plugged into a Source that’s more powerful than an atomic generator!