A Startling Message

By John Woodward

nr_mailI vividly remember attending a seminar at Ontario Bible College in Toronto. Luis Palau was there to speak on vital Christian living and evangelism. I had appreciated his evangelistic ministry around the world and sensed a spiritual integrity about him. I jumped at the opportunity to learn from him in person.

Since it was a two day seminar, I decided to save the travel time and spend the night at the school dorm. After the first day of meetings, I phoned home. My wife, Linda, was expecting our fourth child and was scheduled for an ultrasound that day. I was eager to check in with her and hear how her appointment went. When we spoke on the phone, she asked, “Are you sitting down?” I took a seat. “OK, I’m sitting, why?” “It’s about the ultrasound today,” Linda continued. “I went in to the hospital and had the procedure. While the technician was operating the machine, I jokingly mentioned to him that I had a dream about expecting triplets. After a closer look at the screen, the fellow said, ‘Well, you’re only off by one; you’re having twins!'” Yes, I was glad I was sitting down. The following July, Stephen and Jared arrived safe and sound. Whenever I think of that seminar with Luis Palau, I recall the startling and joyful message from my wife: “We’re having twins!”

Similarly, I’ve noticed that people are often startled when they perceive new insights of abundant life in Christ. The Corinthians were probably amazed to first read, “But of Him [God the Father] you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30, brackets added). Writing on this text, Andrew Murray highlighted God’s gracious work of spiritually uniting believers with Christ: “The whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ … Most essential to the abiding in Christ is the daily renewal of our faith’s assurance, ‘I am in Christ.’… Nothing will exalt free grace, and make man bow very low before it, than the knowledge of the mystery, ‘OF GOD in Christ.'” [1]

How often we let weakness, guilt, anxiety, and depression weigh us down. Abundant life involves renewing our minds to reckon true what God says about our significance and security in Christ. Murray continued, “Of God I am in Christ: created anew, made a branch of the Vine, fitted for fruit-bearing. Would to God that believers would cease looking most at their old nature [the flesh], and complaining of their weakness, as if God called them to what they are unfitted for! Would that they would believingly and joyfully accept the wondrous revelation of how God, in uniting them to Christ, has made HIMSELF chargeable for their spiritual growth and fruitfulness! How all sickly hesitancy and sloth would disappear, and under the influence of this mighty motive… their whole nature would rise to accept and fulfil their glorious destiny.” [2]

In Luis Palau’s autobiography, he recalls his personal struggles as a first year student at Multnomah School of the Bible in Oregon. His Spiritual Life teacher always opened his class by quoting Galatians 2:20, yet its meaning seemed to just taunt the young evangelist. Palau confessed, “If I were to describe myself in those days, I would have to say I was envious, jealous, too preoccupied and self-centered, and ambitious to a wrong degree. No amount of wrestling with myself would rid me of those sins. And yet I tried. I knew it was terrible, but I felt despicable; I hated the idea that I was a hypocrite.” [3] So, being a devoted follower of Christ does not guarantee an understanding or appropriation of victorious life.

I have been startled to learn some essential insights about the life of grace. If you are born from above (John 3:3) you are IN CHRIST. Consider some of these blessings:
1. In Christ, you are spiritually ONE WITH HIM (1 Cor. 6:17). Not only did Christ die for you, but YOU died WITH CHRIST. “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him…” (Rom. 6:6; Cf. Gal. 2:20). In fact, you were also buried with Him, raised with Him, and have even ascended with Him (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:5-6). This has radical implications for your spiritual life!

2. In Christ, YOU ARE FREE from the authority of sin. The “old man” is now out of the picture: “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should NO LONGER BE SLAVES of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom. 6:6-7       ). What liberating truth! (John 8:32).

3. In Christ, you are a PARTAKER OF HIS RESURRECTION LIFE: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him … For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but ALIVE TO GOD in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:8,10-11). This resurrection life is our resource for living victoriously (Eph. 1:16-21).

4. In Christ, you have a NEW IDENTITY. Although you still have a relative identity based on your gender, race, personality, family status, etc., these are now secondary: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28). Since your essential identity is based on spiritual rebirth, you are called a believer priest, a fellow citizen with the saints, a member of God’s household, an ambassador for Christ, and His workmanship! (1 Pet. 2:9; Eph. 2:10, 19; 2 Cor. 5:20). This inspires us to dignified words and actions that adorn the doctrine of the grace of God (Titus 2:10).

5. In Christ, you have a NEW NATURE. As Paul testified, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). Living righteously corresponds with the REAL YOU! “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His [God’s] seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9, brackets added). [4] Since a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, sinful desires are attributed to the flesh. This carnal aspect of the soul is IN us, but it is NOT us. Does this sound like theological hairsplitting?–apparently not to the apostle Paul. According to Romans 7:20, he specified: “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20). Of course, this does not excuse our responsibility for our actions. Yet, it is reassuring to know that your essential nature (spirit) is holy and completely on GOD’S SIDE. When the believer is born again, God’s DNA is placed into his human spirit–to use Peter’s phrase, “…you may be partakers of the divine nature…” (2 Pet. 1:4).

Luis Palau came to discover these truths of abundant life in Christ. Major Ian Thomas spoke at a chapel service at Multnomah on the topic, “Any old bush will do.” As God was in the burning bush when He called Moses (Exodus 3:3), so He needs to work in and through ordinary believers to accomplish His will. [5] The message hit home to Palau: “I realized that I was that kind of bush: the worthless, useless bunch of dried up old sticks. I could do nothing for God. All my reading and studying… and trying to model myself after others was worthless… Only He could make something happen… Thomas told of many Christian workers who failed at first because they thought they had something to offer God… I thought, ‘that’s exactly my situation. I am at the end of myself.’

“When Thomas closed with Galatians 2:20, it all came together for me. ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ You can’t imagine the complete release I felt as a result of that little chapel talk. My years of searching had come to end. There would be many, many more problems that had to be worked out on the basis of the principle in Galatians 2:20, but my biggest spiritual struggle was finally over. I would let God be God and Luis Palau be dependent on Him.

“I ran back to my room in tears and fell to my knees next to my bunk. I prayed in my native Spanish. ‘Lord, now I get it. I understand. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The whole thing is ‘not I, but Christ in me.’ It’s not what I am going to do for You, but rather what You’re going to do through me.'” [6]

Perhaps you have been looking for something more in your walk with God. He has provided a unique quality of life in Christ –a life you may not have been expecting. As a child of God, Jesus is your Savior, Lord, and LIFE! This is your birthright. It may startle you, but this message is scriptural and practical. Let’s spread the Good News of how God delivers sinners and saints by His grace.

[1] Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ, (CLC, 1968), p.39, 41.
[2] Ibid., p.42-43. [emphasis added]
[3] Luis Palau and Jerry B. Jenkins, Luis Palau: Calling the Nations to Christ, (Moody Press, 1980), p.145.
[4] Although the apostle does not declare that we can be totally sinless in this life (1 John 1:8-10), he seems to be saying that sin never arises from our regenerate human spirit. See David Needham’s discussion in Alive for the First Time, p.116-123.
[5] See Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ, (Torchbearer Publications, 1961), p.61-71.
[6] Palau and Jenkins, p.152-153.

Art image by Norman Rockwell

Rev. John Woodward M.Div., D.Min. serves as Director of Counseling and Training for  Grace Fellowship International

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