It is far better to tell Christians that they have been changed than it is to tell them to change. Only then can they live by faith in what Jesus did, rather than by faith in what they must do. That distinction is crucial! Marveling at the change that took place for them and to them is the only way of hope for the uncertainty of their days in this world.
Get that order out of order (which we all-too-often have), and life by works is the unavoidable result. That won’t work. Not for anybody. It’s not supposed to. Life is by faith that Jesus was successful for you and with you, and that He will continue to be—that’s the gospel. Stay in it, because it’s fantastic news! And that’s where the power of God is for you and me.
Stay there, and works will follow.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation (soundness) to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Parenthesis mine.)
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Let’s talk about everybody’s favorite topic, “religion”—the suggested rules of godliness. At its worst, religion entraps people by suggesting and encouraging “one day.”
“One day you’ll be holy.” “One day you’ll have it together.” “One day you’ll be closer to God.” “One day He will bless you.” “One day you will be fully surrendered and committed to God.” “One day you will become what God wants you to be.” Won’t that be great, one day?
Do you see the trap? Religion at its worst suggests you’re not holy, which means Jesus didn’t make you that way after all. Religion says you’re not set apart and just right for Him, you’re still dirty and sinful—even though He thinks you are not. Might that affect your relationship with Him and your approach to Him, and maybe your prayer life? I think so.
Religion motivates you to work and focus on becoming better, because Jesus didn’t make you complete, finished and perfect in Himself. Sooo, you’ve got work to do, even though He thinks you don’t, because He did it all already. Don’t live by faith in Him and His word, live by your feelings.
Religion promotes the possibility of drawing closer to God, which implies what? That you’re not now. You’d better figure out what’s standing between you and God, even though He thinks there’s nothing between the two of you that’s bad and that’s causing any distance at all. When you’re in Him and He is in you, there’s no moving away.
Religion induces you to keep striving in faithfulness because there’s a blessing He will give you that He hasn’t yet—a blessing that depends upon your faithfulness rather than upon His faithfulness. So you’d better keep tithing, keep praying, keep witnessing, and keep being nice because the blessing train is coming (“It’s right around the bend!”), even though He thinks that He has already arrived in you with all that He is and has. If He is the train, then you’re the station.
Religion suggests that you are still against God somehow and stubbornly resistant—that’s how you are—but if you try hard enough, you will eventually become real friends and get along. Won’t that be great? And, living the “surrendered life,” you will finally be useful, even though He thinks you’re entirely compatible already.
Religion falsely encourages you that, while you are not now much of anything good, “one day” you will finally give yourself a really good scrubbing and arrive. You know, “God’s gift to you is life; your gift to God is what you make of it”, even though He thinks His work in you is plenty already. He actually knew what He was doing. He’s finished.
The six statements I made at the beginning of this (and there are plenty more) suggest the lie that you don’t have everything that God thinks you do and that you’re not actually right now in Christ, who earned it all, who provides it all, and who maintains it all—right now and forever for you. In fact, you are fantastically wealthy and secure because of Him, and believing it is how you live! That’s the life of faith—believing that in Christ, you’re safe because He did it and you’ve got it all. Religion that entraps encourages you to see yourself (and others, such as your kids) as outside of Christ, with a whole lot of stuff to do so that YOU can earn what He hasn’t, so that YOU can provide what He won’t or might not, and so YOU can maintain—Keep things together!—what He cannot. That is not the gospel. That is anti-Christ.
Fortunately, we have already received “the promised eternal inheritance” (see Hebrews 9:15), and we’re becoming more and more convinced about how God is toward us and for us and in us—He is Perfect! And we trust and glory in His ability and in Him, “. . . who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). That’s the faith! We believe in Him; that He is perfect and good, and that He is in us—and we are forever secure because of it.
So let’s help each other with the truth—big, heaping platefuls, served regularly and at all hours. That’s how we’re nourished and how we can resist the lies, no matter where they come from.
It’s only when you look at an ant on a sunny day through a magnifying glass that you realize how often and easily they burst into flames. So it is when we stare at people through a computer monitor or television screen, analyzing and pretending we’re actually seeing them in the bright light of truth.
No one can withstand that angle of scrutiny, mostly because it’s not accurate! It’s not true! Only those who see from enlightened hearts—and insist upon that view—can walk with the ants and not make them afraid of the heat.
My prayer—maybe it’s your prayer, too—is that Christ in me (basic Christianity—Colossians 1:27–He is my hope inside me) will become more and more evident to me, to you and to those around me. His affection for people gives my heart a knowledge and an insight—a true way to know and an accurate way to see people that doesn’t burn them—which enables love for them to abound. AND—I will know from there what’s best. That’s my starting point. Maybe it’s yours, too.
Philippians 1:8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Most relationships tell a truth. Most of the relationships we’ve had over the years have sent us the message that no one wants to be around us when we’re ugly or doing ugly. You know—when we’re rude, when we’re angry or sloppy, or when we’re sick or when we’re dying. We’re not comfortable with ugly, and that’s at least somewhat understandable. Naturally, that carries over into our thinking about God: “God likes being with me only when I’m good enough to be good company.”
Fortunately, that is a terrible lie, one that He loves disproving to you. It’s perhaps the worst one when you consider that Jesus came to be with, to love and to rescue the “uglies” and the “ugliest”, many of whom remained strugglers in their version of ugly after meeting Him. Maybe you can relate to that. I can.
The truth of earthly relationships shines the light on the one that is Perfect for you. Jesus is Perfect with you—at all times, in every way. He is unrelenting, perfect love and ability for you; in every weakness, in every ugly, in every other relationship that cannot match His with you, but which in fact spotlights His with you. Every other relationship becomes an avenue for the one that is Perfect with you.
That’s the gospel, and that’s your starting point.
Think about this. As Romans 6 tells us, a believer has been put into Jesus and shares in His death, shares in His resurrection, shares in His life, shares in His righteousness, shares in His holiness, shares in His blessings, shares in His work, shares in His glory, and will share in His life in the world to come. A believer’s condition is spectacular and perfect because of where he or she is—in Jesus.
Think about it. The one put into Christ is not alone. She is not a sinner. She is not broken. She is not poor. She is always with God. She is a new creation saint. She is whole. She is complete. She is wealthy.
Can she temporarily believe otherwise by choosing a worldly view, one outside of her true location? Yes. Will that change her location? Will that change her condition? No. It will affect her experience but it will not change her location or her condition. Deception is painful, but she cannot lose the magnificent benefits she did not earn, because she will never be removed from where she is—in Him.
If you’ve been induced to view yourself as outside of Christ and apart from the security and wealth found in Him, think again. Have another look. Did God put you into Christ through faith in the cross and resurrection or not? Did God make His “home” in you or not? Did God make you a “new creation” or not? Has He brought you to “fullness in Christ” or not? Was God successful in blessing you with “every spiritual blessing in Christ” or not? Yes or no? He thinks the answers are all “Yes!”
If you’ve received Jesus and He has received you but you don’t like what you see, consider where you’re looking to find yourself. It will affect you.
If who you think you are does not match up with who God thinks you are, think again. It’s important. Ask Him about it. One of the most important questions you’ll ever ask is, “Father, what do you think of me?” Prepare to like what you hear. He loves helping you think again, because His work with you is your starting point.
“So, what do you suppose the ‘throne of grace’ looks like?” I asked. Some time ago my family and I were reading through Hebrews together after dinner. It’s not an every single dinner ritual; we do it about every other night. Rather than get up and move elsewhere, we stay at the table, and any one of us might do the reading.
Ever the imaginative one, Emma offered, “I picture a big, beautiful, golden throne with God on it, and this long, long line of people snaking along toward it. That’s what I imagine. Just because I imagine it, doesn’t mean that will make it happen, you know. It’s just the way I see it.” She was sure we needed to be clear on this whole imagination thing.
“Alright—I like that, Emma,” I said. “Now, how are people talking to God, what are they saying to Him who is seated on the throne of grace?” I asked. My wife, Sarah, gave me one of those, “I know what you’re getting at” kind of looks. Ellen and Emma pretty much defaulted to the television portrayal of Pharoah on the throne, and said, “Oh, please, God! Give me what I need! Answer ‘Yes’ to my requests. Please, God!” I loved their dramatics, but not their picture.
And I wondered how many of us default to that picture of God on the throne, too.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pretend that it’s me on the throne—your daddy. How would you approach me?” Emma instantly got out of her chair, cut to the front of the imaginary line (“Excuse me. Pardon me,” she said), crawled up on my lap and said, “I love you, daddy! I love you! Can I have a gerbil? Can I have my own computer? Can I? Can I?” Sarah and Ellen laughed, and Ellen said, “We don’t have to beg with you, and we don’t have to beg with God, either. That would be silly!” Sarah asked, “And why don’t we have to beg God? Why don’t we have to plead with Him who sits on the throne of grace?”
And together Ellen and Emma blurted, “Because it’s the throne of grace, not the throne of begging! We already have everything with God because of Jesus. We’re in Him, so God gives us everything because of that.” With grins bursting upon their faces, they asked, “Did you forget that, daddy?”
We all love this.
I asked, “Okay, so what do you suppose is most important and most honoring to God as we approach Him, seated on the throne of grace?” Still laughing, Ellen said, “That we believe we’re always welcome and always wanted and will always get what’s right from God because of His love and grace to us. Not because we beg just right, but because we’re His and we believe Him. That’s how it works, dad.”
And we were done. If I had had a football, I would have spiked it and done one of those silly, swivel-butt dances football players do in the end zone. (It’s probably good that I didn’t have a ball.) I loved what my daughters were understanding and that they were having fun with it. That’s very important to us.
That’s what I think the fourth chapter of Hebrews is about: believe God is who He says He is, believe we are who He says we are, believe our relationship is as excellent as He says it is because of Jesus, and, hanging onto that, hang out at the throne! It’s that good. Put your confidence in Him and in what He says is true of you and how He is toward you. He’s the one who made it happen, He’s the one who secured you, and He’s the one who has given you all things because of His goodness and love.
I know it often takes some work to hang onto faith in Him rather than faith in you, but you really will find rest when your faith comes to rest and satisfaction in Him, who made it all happen.
And that’s how it works. Or, as my daughters asked me, “Did you forget?”
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Perhaps you’ve seen the Christmas-time classic movie, “A Christmas Story.” It’s one of my family’s favorites. While there are lots of great moments in the story, one scene drew a particularly large crowd. Best friends Ralphie, Flick and Schwartz were walking to school one frigid and snowy morning when an old discussion resumed: Will a tongue pressed on a frozen metal pole stick or not? Schwartz said it would, and Flick said, “No way!” With a crowd drawing round the flagpole moments before school, Schwartz loudly dared Flick to “Go ahead and do it,” if he was so brave. Flick, not altogether sure of his tongue-stick theory, stalled as long as he could until Schwartz called him out with a sequence of powerful verbal motivators: “I double-dog dare you,” and the ultimate, “I triple-dog dare you!”
If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happened—Flick stuck. Seconds later the school bell rang, so everyone hurried away including a triumphant and beaming Schwartz. Everyone except Flick. I can’t imagine a more vivid bit of education than frozen-stuck Flick gave that day, arms waving and voice wailing. No one would forget it. In the end, foolish Flick helped them all grow wiser because he took the dare.
Challenges have a way of motivating some of us, especially if it’s toward a good result. I would like to triple-dog dare you into what might seem to be foolishness at first, but it’s the unforgettable, apostle Paul type of foolishness.
Many of us are frustrated amongst a church that does not recognize itself. Most would agree that the percentage of Christians who believe they have truly become actual new creations, holy, blameless, faultless and righteous is very low. And that’s tragic. How can anyone truly enjoy the perfect intimacy God has achieved for us with Himself when we’ve got a serious disagreement going on about our union? Further, how can we benefit from trusting friendships within the church when we are unrecognizable to each other? The devil and this world have effectively disguised the sons and daughters of God, even to themselves. The cover-up, which cannot prevent our longing for the benefit of true fellowship, nevertheless frustrates the possibility of it. Sadly, we’ve been trained to settle for the outward appearance, even though we’ve been commanded against it.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:16-19.
Surrendering to worldly identities terribly injures us all. It’s not normal. It doesn’t work for us. We are obscured and reduced to life by masquerade—of pretending we are not what we in fact are. Imagine a day in which you throw off your astounding Christian identity and masquerade as a pig in a pen because the slaughterhouse is after cattle. Actually, you’re neither one, but that’s what it’s like when a noble Christian accepts the lowly images of this world—pork or beef. It’s a never-ending game that disguises us and keeps us playing dress up. It’s demonic and it’s hurting us.
A better fit for us, a Spirit-led, normal, life producing fit, is to boast in the Lord. He has made us to be just like Himself in righteousness—pure. Just like Himself in holiness—perfect. In redemption—complete. (See 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.) Wherever you are, you are at all times recognized in the heavens as having become magnificent—very much like your Father. Those in the heavens see what we must know. Otherwise, we walk covered-over and crippled.
Here’s my New Year’s challenge, my triple-dog dare you: Identify yourself to those who do not see you.
If you were to say, “I am a righteous man,” in the hearing of a few friends, would you be accurate? You would. Would they be surprised? Probably. Would you be arrogant? Not at all, since you had nothing to do with what God has done for you through Christ. Your boast is accurate and we need it. It’s healthy to say it, and it’s healthy to hear it. Or how about saying when with some friends, “It’s amazing that I am a holy daughter of God.” Oh, you’ll get “looks”, for sure, but you will be drawing back the worldly disguise that keeps you and your friends in a lie. Get out of that lie! Or what would happen if you asked a similar group, “Which of us here is the most redeemed and forgiven?” That ought to bring about some eye-opening conversation, don’t you think?
And don’t we need it?
It may be uncomfortable at times because we are not used to identifying each other as we are in Christ, but rather, as we appear in this world. We’ve accepted and grown accustomed to this world’s disguise . . . and to this world’s torture. Living in agreement with God sometimes means being out of step with the world, I know. While that has always been daring, it is also invigorating, especially on the inside, where God lives happily with you. You will be assisting yourself and others to the truth that makes free, and that is enormously powerful and unforgettable.
Begin telling people, at least occasionally, who you are. This may well cause something of a revolution amongst your friends, and they will likely ask how you got that way. Would that be so bad? You’ll have to tell them the gospel, and that’s when the Spirit has a field day—with you and with those all around. What a great thing that is.
There is a lot of time when, frankly, I don’t know what’s going on. And I have something of a pattern of “just keeping-going” anyway. Sometimes I have to—maybe you know what that’s like—but there has to be an interruption in the “I don’t know what I’m doing!” For me, that’s prayer.
Prayer is not first to get stuff done, but to find out what’s been done already—and hopefully with my mind cleared, what’s going on right now.
That’s important to me because waking up can be a stumbling, barging-into-the-day kind of thing. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve wakened in the percussion section of a large, all-dressed-up orchestra, with unfamiliar sticks in my hands. “What are those for?” I think, groggily. With everyone looking at me, I know I have to play what’s required for the piece, but I don’t recognize the tune. “Quick, man! Play something!” I don’t feel right about anything I play.
But the kingdom where God happens most and where I recognize Him best is within. That’s where I find The Conductor, who knows my perfectly designed, small place in the symphony. He knows the piece. He knows the tune. Prayer is meeting with Him, and discovering again that I fit. From there, I can tap a drum. It isn’t much, but it’s my part.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and, after explaining to them his busy involvement with this world’s kingdom, he wrote in chapter 1:15-16: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me (What for?) so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, . . .” Oh! There it is, Paul’s fit! Preaching to the Gentiles was his part in The Conductor’s Symphony. And, having had God revealed to him on the inside, Paul’s immediate response “was not to consult any human being.” Why not? Because people have a way of confusing God-given simplicity—“Tap your drum, Ralph”—by adding the human complexity of opinion. In other words, we make up our own symphony and try to conduct the whole thing. We soon lose our simple part and fit, and the music is way off.
Fortunately, God convinced Paul about design and what had been done for that already, and Paul learned in solitude to keep himself to it. For the same reason, I treasure solitude prayer, if even in my office or in my car. God has much to give me! And much to give you. Our parts in the symphony are really quite simple and the notes required are easy. For me, finding my fit with The Conductor—over and over again—is the first and primary benefit of prayer.
One of my favorite things to do is to pause in my mind and to ask the question, “Holy Spirit, what do you think? What are you feeling?” Often I get an answer to my question, or at least a fruit, an evidence of the Holy Spirit in me—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control—which is, in fact, an answer. I love that! And I follow through on what I receive, even if it’s simply to enjoy what God is doing with me. That’s enough, isn’t it? He knows what He’s doing. He’s been God for a long time now, so I don’t think we need to worry about His ability(!).
I love the Spirit’s work of making Christ in me obvious, if even just to me. That’s a big deal. I’ll let Him take care of working outside what He’s working inside.
This is what the apostle Paul wanted for the wavering Galatians—that Christ would be formed in them. And this is one of the best ways by which I know that’s happening for me. I love it. I’ve not found anything better than knowing that God is actually in me.
If my life is indeed found in Christ—with Him—then I look for it there. Otherwise, I’m just fumbling in the darkness of this world like everyone else. But that doesn’t fit me, and maybe not you, either. I simply and deeply enjoy being attracted to what I cannot see, rather than confused by what I can. One look, one little turning in my mind keeps me free and knowing God, while the other look binds and frustrates me. You know how that feels? Yeah, you do.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
We are eternal beings of great glory and are found in the unseen, in the invisible arena. “Finding ourselves” and our fit with Him is what makes “momentary troubles” lighter and more navigable. I sure like that.
Pause toward the Holy Spirit today; He’s all about life—yours and His.
If I’m going to be authentic with people—who I am with nothing added—I will likely feel a fleshly urge to add some pizzazz or extra personality or something really good to say in order to enhance the result. Refraining from that urge can seem like I’m ignoring an opportunity that really ought to be filled. I was once very good at filling voids with jokes, sarcasm, nervous laughter or witticisms. But choosing now to be authentic means I’m resting and trusting in Christ and choosing life by the Spirit. And that’s different.
When we’re born again, we are no longer of the flesh nor are we in the flesh, and life is by the Spirit. It’s all new. That means our primary awareness becomes God—with us and in us—and not our previous fascination with how to be or what to do in our days. The pressure is off. Life navigation used to be outward oriented; now it is inward. Our greatest prize and joy becomes knowing God—even when we’re with people—and trusting Him to produce in us and through us what He wants and would be to the people and situations that we find ourselves in. That’s fun. It’s invigorating, and allows for Christianity—life in Christ—to be the life it’s supposed to be. You know—out of this world.
I think most of us are used to dressing up our behaviors and interactions with people. Do you know what I mean? The flesh sends us the message that we should enhance everything—you know, turn on the charm or turn on the gloom—whichever will give us better odds of getting what we want. And it might, actually, so that can become our goal in life. Right? Control yourself = Get what you want. In fact, if you do not enhance your interactions with people in the ways that others do and expect, they might view you as different or odd.“She’s not with the program”. But you’ll know better because you’ll be knowing Jesus. You’ll be led by the Spirit, and that’s where the excitement is, that’s where life is.
In addition, Christian authenticity does not simply mean honesty, which can be brutal and harsh. Christian authenticity is living in and trusting in our union with Christ, while the Spirit manifests whatever fruit He wants for a given situation. Life by the Spirit for us means love from God and love for others, which comes forth from us as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If we’re “just being honest,” that’s not necessarily Spirit-led; that could be fleshly. Plus, we miss out on knowing God in us.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t just be yourself. On the contrary, this is how your authentic self is found on the inside with God and in union with Him. This is one way that you find both — through authenticity.