If it feels like you’re laboring to get your life right and to get God’s big thumbs up, earning His approval, then remember that He does not invite you to work but to rest. You’re His work, His workmanship, and you’re not obligated to God, as though grace created debt. That would mean you’ve got to pay Him back by earning your keep, which earns His work. That’s a wage, not a gift, and God has nothing to do with that. Grace pays debt! Always. Every time.
Besides, if you fail at even one point to earn something from God, let alone a thumbs up from Him, that’s sin. And what are the wages of sin? I bet you know, but you’re not meant for that. He is done with all of that, and so are you! Get out of there. You don’t want wages, so come back to free. That’s what He likes, too.
Trust that the gift of God is received and enjoyed through believing He has given everything to you in Christ for free. He has rigged it! (See Romans 4.) Aren’t you glad? He loves it when we simply believe that He gave it all—everything we need for life and godliness (Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3,4)—and we find rest as a result.
You and I can live from there. That’s the plan.
LOOKING INTO HEAVEN
“We’re on approach. Flight attendants prepare for landing.”
As the aircraft pitched slightly from left to right and back again, I was relieved to hear the captain’s voice over the loudspeakers. There were a few more horizontal adjustments, a wah-whump, whump, and we were rolling safely on the runway in Vancouver, British Columbia. At last.
I was there to assist men in their journey with God in the hope that, in addition to growing more confident in Christ, they would discover what it’s like to live by the Spirit. By Sunday afternoon, they had.
A particular passage became beautifully clear:
“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,. . .” Romans 8:5,6 NAS
To demonstrate this passage, I asked a young man, Zach, to join me up front, and then asked the men at the retreat to tell me about Zach—as though I had never met him. “He’s fun!” “He’s smart!” “He’s a good friend!” “His wife needs prayer!” And on it went. Then I asked, “Now that I know what Zach is like, tell Zach who God says He is. Tell it directly to Zach. And don’t rush this; there’s no hurry.”
And then this: “Zach, you’re a holy man.” “Zach, you’re righteous.” “You’re blameless.” “You’re forgiven.” “You’ve got God living in you.” “All of heaven recognizes you as a son of God.”
And that included us. We saw Zach.
No one moved. It was amazing. No, it was more than that. It was sacred. When I asked what the men were feeling, somewhat breathlessly they said, “I feel like I’m looking into heaven.” “I feel hope.” “I feel life.” “I feel great.” “I feel peace.” “I feel like I’m really seeing Zach.” “When we changed our minds from looking at the visible to looking at the invisible, everything changed from shallow and fleshly to deep and true.”
They felt God.
Romans 8:5-6 came alive in that moment as we turned our minds away from what was visible to what was invisible. We thought of Zach and addressed him according to what the Bible says God has made of him, and Zach was illuminated to us and to himself. And we felt it. We felt “life and peace,” the kind of life and peace produced by the Holy Spirit whenever we turn our minds toward Him.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8
It was tremendous and Zach was a little overwhelmed. He felt the inner conflict between the flesh and Spirit, but he, too, chose to sow to the Spirit, reaping what God has promised. “I feel holy. I feel clean.” Indeed, he was—indeed, he is.
Approaching or addressing someone as they have become in Christ causes us to change our minds. We go away from the mind of the flesh and begin thinking according to the mind of the Spirit. You can feel the change! This isn’t a game you play or a way of pretending your way through life. A worldly curtain is drawn back to reveal the true image behind—and that’s more than a bit dazzling. I don’t recommend that you immediately begin addressing all the Christians you know as Holy Hannah, Righteous Rudy, or Forgiven Frank, because that makes a methodical mess out of the holy and sacred. You might silently think of them as the holy, blameless and forgiven sons or daughters they have become, and then see what the Spirit gives you or where He leads you. You won’t have to be creative when God is at work. He’s pretty creative already.
An added benefit of setting our mind upon the Spirit in addressing a brother (as we did with Zach) is that we experienced a sort of mini revival. In looking at Zach, we found ourselves, too. Surprise! The Super Heroes of God. We reaped life, the Spirit invigorated us, and we were deeply encouraged by God. The men knew that they could do this at home with their families, at work, at church, by phone or email, even while driving on the freeway. With all that goes on around us, we’re always on approach. Take advantage of that.
Setting our minds upon the Spirit is our new normal way of living in this world. We’re not of it—we’re a heavenly colony on earth. But since we’re in it, we do well to see it as He sees it, and to approach it from there. We’ll be looking into heaven.
The Perfect One’s
A terrible danger today is for Christians—the ones made new, holy, blameless and radiant, and who are right now the happy homes of God Almighty—to listen to a speaker who does not see them the way God has made them in Christ, but who sees them only in the disguised and lowly appearances of this world. What they hear from the speaker will be worldly, flesh-to-flesh. And confusion, although cloaked in bright lights and smiling faces, will produce frustration and disillusionment.
If, on the other hand, that speaker recognizes them and is at all impressed by the perfect royalty they are, he is going to talk about it. They can be confident and expectant that what they hear will invigorate who they are—Spirit-born majesty. That’s the point of getting together! And when we meet in faith like that—about God and about each other—that’s how the world is helped.
“We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” Colossians 1:28
Have you ever Googled yourself? Using only my name for a search parameter, a few years ago I combed through twenty five pages of Ralph-the-comedian, Ralph-the-barrister, and Ralph-the-recently-deceased before giving up on myself. But this year, there I am—top of page three, #20 out of a possible 12,800,000. Could #1 be far off? Ooooh. Like a rocket, I’m on my way to the top of the Ralph Harris heap.
This morning I felt like God drew me out of all the chaos and confusion of this world—like He personally Googled me. It felt like Google Earth, where the view on your monitor can take you from England to Colorado in about a second. Whoosh! Out of the teeming masses I was drawn to be alone with God, and immediately I felt my fit with Him. I knew I belonged.
I don’t know how He does that, but I’m delightfully glad He does.
I was newly reminded that in the midst of a ruined world filled with tragedy and turmoil, God is making for Himself a perfect bride—you and me. And I suppose that from His perspective (and that would be the right one), the church of the redeemed must look astonishing against the backdrop of madness and imperfection.
But I often get lost and caught up in the smallness of my view. That seems particularly easy right now when the usual noisy stuff of this world has been joined by all the political noisiness and nonsense. There is so much clamoring for my attention! So my need of God, who carries on with the sovereign plan for His glory, increases. When He Googles me, I can see what He sees, and I am stunned all over again.
When one day God Googles us for real, we will exchange perishable for imperishable, mortal for immortal, and we will be like Him. Raised in glory, when we cross over we will be like Him—and not a single angel will be surprised, having been looking at us for a long, long time already. (1 Corinthians 15:42-56; Ephesians 1:3-10)
My prayer: “Father, way to go! Glory to you! Google me again tomorrow?”
“To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 24-25 NIV).
LOOSENESS & LEGALISM
You know that verse that essentially says, “I can do whatever I want” but is immediately followed up with a sort of, “Yeah, but you’d better not”? The apostle Paul went for a sort of double dip with that because he said the same thing to the Corinthians two times in the same letter: 1 Corinthians 6:12, and 1 Corinthians 10:23.
In my experience, most of us need plenty of freedom and encouragement in navigating life with Jesus—the life of our days and the life that He is. I am no longer surprised that we go through pretty great swings of belief and experience, and I’m probably more relaxed about that now than I was in the past. Some of our swings go to the lawful, “I can do whatever I want” side: “Wow. Now that I’m a Christian, I am permitted to do whatever I want with no fear of payback from God. Isn’t that amazing?” Some swing to the other: “Wow. Now that I’m a Christian, I must live a life where I do only what glorifies Him. I’ll be held accountable.”
So which is it? My answer: Yes.
I think it’s healthy and to my benefit to occasionally ask the Spirit if I am too much one way, and too little the other. At times He has shown me that I can know Him better and find grace more evidently if I would commit to join Him in prayer, Bible reading and fasting, for example. “Ralph, you’ll like what you find if you’ll tighten up a bit. You’ll be better for it, so come with me.” He has my attention, and on we go together.
At other times, He has answered by showing me that I have become too much in control of my personal growth, and I’m blocking Him from doing for me what He would love to do on His own. “Relax, Ralph. Trust me with you. I’m going to surprise you with how capable I am in you, because I am better with you than you’ve been thinking lately.” He has my attention, and on we go together.
In both situations, I am living by faith in the One who lives in me—we’re connected—and there’s nothing better than that. We’re good, and I’m growing in knowing Him.
While some people identify all this as the struggle between looseness and legalism, I think that too quickly forces us into camps—without actually asking God anything. We’re then set up to throw verbal rocks at each other, angrily hurling our interpretation of certain passages in the hope that a bruise will grant repentance. That’s so Christian.
So don’t be afraid of asking God questions. He will always respond in a way that reveals Him to be just what you need—and more—every time. Yes.
A friend recently asked if I would explain the ways Christians put themselves under the yoke of the law, please the flesh and fall from grace. That’s a huge question, one that I’ve written about extensively in my book, “God’s Astounding Opinion of You,” but here’s my short answer.
If a Christian believes that he is the flesh, instead of believing that he has been made a new creation spirit who experiences the flesh, then he will regularly make war upon his presumed self (the flesh) as a means toward spiritual growth—a way to become better. You might hear this in sayings like, “I’ve got to put myself on the cross,” or “I’ve got to deny myself,” or “I’ve got to surrender.” These kinds of sayings often indicate that the Christian believes he is still a bad self, and has to do something dramatic to that bad self. . .because Jesus’ giving him a new self was insufficient or ineffective? So the old self didn’t go, and the new arrive? Do you see how twisted that thinking is in light of what happened to us in Christ at the cross and through His resurrection? (See 2 Corinthians 5:17.) Are we new or not?
When this thinking takes on form and becomes how he navigates his days, he falls from grace. In that template (war), he will measure himself by fleshly successes and failures, which are the measurements of war and legalism, while his true self, the one created in the likeness of God and which is discovered and matured in knowing and enjoying Jesus (in other words, faith in Christ), that self languishes and is frustrated.
Do not attempt life at the command of the remnant of your former self, the flesh, which always and only corrupts. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and put on the new and true self. Walk in who you are. Think of Superman, jumping into a private place or a private inner moment, not in order to change but to come forth again—to announce—who he actually is, and you’re heading in the right direction.
Grace is not only a perfect position in which we live, but a perfect power that works in us. Christians have become obedient from the heart—it already happened—from within, from our true self (see Romans 6:17). So it’s vital that you know it and take advantage by seeing to your heart.
The real you is not the one you see, nor the one you can command to behave righteously. The real you is the one you received at new birth, which this world cannot see and cannot touch, but which is empowered by the Holy Spirit in you as you offer yourself to Him, whether by reading or by talking with Him or by singing, anything like that toward Him because you know about Him, and you know where He is and where you are with Him—on the inside, together. He is there, and so are you.
How to Abide in Christ
A few people have recently commented upon how important it is to abide in Christ. “Ralph,” they ask, “how can you be sure you’re abiding?” That’s a little like asking how blood in my body abides in my body—what work must it do to abide? And, of course, the answer is that the blood, which is an integral part of the body, simply let’s the heart push it around. It goes where it’s pushed, and does what the heart has intended.
A Christian already abides in Christ. That’s an accomplished fact. It’s a done deal.
All of the “abide in me” verses in the book of John were a set up for what was to come but had not yet – the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Through faith in Jesus and in those acts, the set up is now complete; we are in Him, abiding securely. Not only did you receive Christ through faith, but He received you through the cross and resurrection. It’s not just that you’ve given your life to Him, it’s that He’s given His life to you—you’re in Him and He is in you.
Thanks to Him, all we need do now is think about where we abide in order to appreciate our home the most. And when we appreciate where we are, the benefits become more evident and powerful because we’re living by faith in what Jesus did.
But if I think of myself as a transient, a vagabond in Christ, having to ask Him to secure me all the time or if I’m abiding the right way right now, then I’m likely not going to enjoy my home and all that’s there for me. I might even think the benefits moved away or were stolen since I feel so insecure. In fact, I am completely secure and abiding in Christ, since He put me there, but I don’t think I am or that He did. “What must I do?” becomes my question.
And that is where the trouble shows up. Doubt in what Jesus did is poison to our life with Him because we cannot go forward in faith that He was successful. We become susceptible to the lie that we’ve got to do something that He left out, so the flesh offers it’s alternate route of works and self-righteousness. If left unchecked, a cycle of self-centeredness and failure ensues. I know what that’s like. Perhaps you do too. It’s actually crazy—we’re induced to accomplish what He already has. That’s not going to go well.
If you’ve ever fallen prey to that lie, what rescued and revived you was not works—because they never do—but believing the truth about Jesus. You believe that the Son of God was successful at the cross and resurrection, so He now lives in you and you in Him, abiding together forever, just as He wanted.
1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Jesus did the work so that you may abide. Close your eyes and think about that—and enjoy your home.