What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity/Part 2
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2004|
|How are you doing in your walk with Jesus Christ? Are things going the way you thought they would, or are you puzzled because things don’t seem to be working out? Dr. Bill Gillham tells us about the wrong assumptions he had about living the Christian life.|
What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity—Part 2
Dr. John Ankerberg: Would you mind if I ask, “How are you doing in your walk with Jesus Christ? Are things going the way you thought they would, or are you puzzled because things don’t seem to be working out?” Well, if that’s true, I think you’ll be encouraged by listening to my guest today, who has written a book entitled, “What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity.” His name is Dr. Bill Gillham and I’d like you to listen as he tells us about the wrong assumptions he had about living the Christian life. Listen:
Dr. Bill Gillham: You know, maybe the Christian life is not working for you, and I understand that. I became a Christian when I was an adult; and as a Christian, I was really a hard charger. I really was doing everything I thought I was supposed to do to be a good Christian. And one time, I woke up and I was chairman or president of 12 different groups in the church simultaneously, so you can see how I was just under the pile, you know, burning my candle at both ends. And I thought that I was supposedly to be helping God and little did I know that He wasn’t that hard up that He needed me helping Him. But that was the party line. That was what I was hearing and well meaning people were telling me that I was supposed to get out there and help God do His work.
Little did I know that Christ lived in me to do it all for me and through me. I was to take the same faith I used to get saved with, only instead of trusting Christ just as Savior and Lord, I was to trust Him as Life itself, to express life through me, to live the overcoming Christian life.
Now, the Scriptures say that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” Now, look at this, gang. God Himself was “in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” Jesus Christ, as C. S. Lovett said, was God in an earth suit. I think that’s a marvelous description. The Scriptures say, “All the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Him.” That’s all, gang.
Now, gang, I don’t understand that, that I’ve just explained it to you. How in the world could the Father be in Christ and seated in the heavenly places simultaneously? I don’t know. I don’t have a clue. But it’s not so important that I know exactly how it all took place but just believe that’s the way it is and then act like it’s true. Just move on with my Christian life.
Okay, now then, the Scriptures do not say that God was in Muhammad reconciling the world to himself. Or God was in Buddha reconciling the world unto himself. God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. And maybe that sounds bigoted to you, but, gang, when you’re God, you get to make the rules. And the way He made the rules is that God was “in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” And Jesus said He is the only way. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” and that’s it. It’s a closed deal.
Ankerberg: Now, did you hear what Bill just said? He said he never knew that Christ had come to live in him so that He could live the Christian life through him. What does all of that mean? Listen as Bill explains:
Gillham: Now, once you get saved, once you invite Christ to come into you and change you, now then, sure, you’re going to go to heaven when you die, but there’s a tremendous gap between the time you get saved and the time you go to heaven. And so we come down to the point of, “What are you going to do with the gap, man?” Because there’s Monday morning to look at. Well, God has provided a way to take care of the gap and that is, Christ in you will face the gap for you and through you as you just allow Him to do so, as you cooperate with Him to allow Him to do so.
Now, let’s say that the Gospel is kind of like a coin with two sides to it, a heads and a tail, and the head side is Christ in me and He’s in me for many reasons, one of which is to express life through me. The tail side is, “I am in Christ.” And by being in Christ, that’s where I’m going to get my new identity. The way I got that was by being crucified in Christ and then being resurrected or re-birthed, rather, in Christ’s resurrection as a new spirit critter in Christ. Formerly, I was a sinner man, but after my salvation I became a saint man—a saint who has the capability of sinning. But I really don’t want to live that way anymore.
Now then, how am I going to overcome the sin temptation that comes to me? Answer: I’m going to trust Christ to do it all for me. Here’s what the Scripture says now about me and you: “For you have died.” Now, when did you die? Well, when you got crucified in Christ. That’s when you died. “And your life is hidden with Christ and God.” Gang, your life is hidden now. It’s a mystery. You’ve got to see it through the eyes of faith. It isn’t so much to be understood as it is to be believed. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
Now, let’s don’t focus so much on the last part of that verse. My purpose is that we focus on the middle part–that Christ is our life. Now, I have arms, legs, feet, hands on my body. But all of those things are different. Yet they all have the same life. One life then activates or animates all these different parts that I’ve been mentioning here. It’s this way in the Christian life. The Scriptures say you are Christ’s body now and individually members of it. So let’s say, then, that you are a thumb on the body of Christ and I’m a finger on the body of Christ. You and I are different. We’re completely different. Yet we both have exactly the same life—Christ Himself.
Ankerberg: Now, what Bill was just talking about is hard for many Christians to understand; and yet this is the normal Christian life. Christ has come to live in us so that He can live His life through us. As our Lord Himself said in John 15, “He is the Vine, we are the branches.” But understanding this with our mind is one thing, experiencing this in our life is another. I asked Bill to give us another illustration to help us understand that we can’t live the Christian life unless we become totally dependent upon Christ to live it through us. Listen:
Gillham: Now let’s switch gears here a little bit and talk about my workshop. I have electric tools in my workshop. Boy, do I have electric tools! I love tools. I’m not very good at them but I love them. So let’s say I’ve got a grinder and a drill and—I always want to say “blender” but that’s a “girly” tool—a sander. All right, now, all my tools are different, gang, but they all have the same life. They’re all plugged into the outlet which is connected to a huge atomic generator outside Fort Worth, Texas. Now, so long as the life is flowing through my tools, they demonstrate their identity. They demonstrate what they really are, what their purpose is here on planet Earth.
You know, you’ll hear people say this argument. They’ll say, “Now, Gillham teaches that Christ is to live through us, but don’t listen to that guy because that would make you a zero. That would make you a nothing and Christ would be flowing through you and you’re just a little Jesus walking around on planet Earth. You lose your identity.” Don’t listen to that stuff. That’s not true.
Well, I would agree with that statement that it’s not really true that you lose your identity. You gain your identity. Gang, as long as the life, the electricity, is flowing through those tools, they demonstrate their identity. I’ll tell you when they lose their identity, it’s when I unplug them. They all become exactly the same. They’re paperweights. Now, what did Jesus Christ say about us? He said, used this metaphor: “I am the vine, you guys are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit.” Now, look at this: “For apart from me you can do nothing.” Now look up the word nothing in the dictionary. It means “nothing.” You can do nothing, “zippo.” Now, I didn’t say that; God said that.
You see, gang, it’s the life of Christ through you by faith that gives you your identity. God never designed you to be an independent, self-reliant person. He put the Spirit of Christ in you so that you could be totally dependent upon Christ to live life for you and through you. And that, my friend, will enable you to “life out” your true identity as a new creation in Christ.
Ankerberg: Now, to say that we are to be totally dependent upon Christ to live His life through us doesn’t mean we are to sit by passively in the process of our spiritual growth and let God do everything. In Church History, this position is called Quietism. It teaches that Christians must exert no energy or effort in the process of spiritual growth whatsoever. The opposite of Quietism is Pietism, which teaches believers must work hard and practice extreme self-discipline to achieve personal piety. They stress aggressive Bible study, self discipline, holy living through diligent obedience and pursuit of Christian duty. Pietists tend to overemphasize human effort and thereby inflame people’s pride or lapse into legalism; whereas Quietists totally downplay the believer’s efforts and thereby risk promoting spiritual irresponsibility and apathy.
But what is the proper balance? The Apostle Paul shows us in 1 Corinthians 15:10. He says, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” Here Paul sounds like a Quietist, that God did everything. But he immediately adds, “But I labored even more than all of them.” There he sounds like a Pietist who is emphasizing his own human effort. And then Paul immediately closes the verse by saying, “Yet not I, but the grace of God within me.” Again, Quietism. Paul’s view was neither solely Quietistic nor Pietistic, but a perfect balance of both. God was making Paul what he was and Paul was working hard alongside Him. Yet he acknowledged that all was a work of God’s grace in him. Paul didn’t take credit for God’s work in his life, but neither was he content to sit around idly counting on God to do something in him apart from his active participation.
Look, let’s not confuse things. God’s gift of salvation and eternal life is totally based on Christ’s death on the cross and requires no works of ours to get it. It is God’s gift. But once we receive God’s gift of salvation by faith in Christ alone, from that moment on, we are to cooperate with the Lord Jesus. We are to read God’s Word and obey it; but we are to obey it by being totally dependent upon Christ to live His life through us. We are to abide in Christ. These are Jesus’ own words found in John 15:5. What do they mean? How do we abide in Christ moment by moment? Bill explains.
Gillham: Okay, now, John 15:5 says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Let me break this verse down. God says, “He who abides in me”—Jesus said that. Now, what does it mean to “abide” in Christ? Well, it means to live with somebody, to reside there; to bond with this person, to go through thick and thin—for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health—like the marriage vows. That’s what it means to abide with someone. And Christ says that we are to abide with Him and as we do that, we begin to bond with Him.
Now, notice what He says: “He who abides in me….” Now, remember the coins illustration we used a minute ago? There’s your tails side of the coin—that you are in Christ. Now then, coming up, you’re going to see the heads side of the coin: “And I in him.” There is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That’s completely different from you being in Christ. That’s the heads side of the coin. And He says, “He bears much fruit.”
Gang, this is so powerful. A branch cannot produce fruit. A branch can bear the fruit that is produced by the sap, the juice, that’s in the vine. And it’s a perfect metaphor that Jesus selected to demonstrate how a Christian must depend on Christ as life through him if he’s going to bear the fruits of the Spirit. Gang, these are the fruits of the Spirit, not the fruits of Bill or Sally or Susan. They’re the Spirit’s fruit and only the Spirit of Christ in us can produce this fruit.
Now, He says, “Bill, if you try to do it on your own, if you try to get out there and live the Christian life, keep my laws, keep my ways, do it on your own, rely on yourself and call on me for help when you run out of gas, you’re living just like the Old Testament Jew lived—and that is not Christianity. Because, Bill, apart from me you can’t do anything. You cannot produce fruit. You can only bear the fruit that I produce through you.”
Ankerberg: You may say, “John, I’m starting to understand what it means to let Christ live through me and to abide in Him, but I still need some more help. Well, Bill gives two more illustrations that I think will clearly help you to understand whether or not you are trying to live the Christian life in your own strength, or in the power of Christ. Listen:
Gillham: Now let’s talk about this thing of Christ living through me. And I’m going to use a real “Mickey Mouse” illustration here of picking up a pen. Okay? All right now, then, I can pick up that pen as the Bible says “in the flesh.” In other words, depending upon myself. I can do it that way. Or I can actually pick up that pen in the Spirit. A Christian has two ways he can operate— either according to the flesh or in the Spirit. Now, “in the Spirit” means trusting Christ through you to do it.
First of all, I’m going to pick this pen up according to the flesh: “Okay, pen, I can pick you up. I don’t need Christ in me to pick up a crazy pen. I can do that!” My soul! So I’ll just pick that up. I did that myself.
Now, gang, that little action you saw there is going to become part of that great wiener roast in the sky someday where all of our earthly work is going to be burned up that we do on our own. Now then, I’m going to do it the spiritual way. I’m going to trust Christ to do it through me by faith. That’s walking in the Spirit.
“Now, Jesus, you told me that without you I can’t do anything. So I can’t even pick up a pen and have it amount to anything eternally. So by faith, I believe you’re my life and I’m going to trust you to pick up that pen through me. Good job, Jesus. Thank you for picking up that pen.”
Now, crazy as it sounds, gang, you’re going to be standing there someday and you’re going to see me get a reward in heaven for doing that little “Mickey Mouse” activity there of trusting Christ through me by faith.
Okay now, so let’s use this illustration, gang. Now here we see a grape arbor and Jesus Christ is the root system and the vine itself. And all those little curly Q’s up there on the top represent various Christians. We Christians, then, are the branches on this grape vine and there you are. Now, you and I have the choice. We can either go it alone. We can think to ourselves, “Ah, all that vine and branches stuff—I don’t understand that. That’s just nonsense. All I need to do is just know I’m on my way to heaven and that’s all I care about.”
Oh! That is such a foolish, foolish position to take! Because, gang, Jesus wants to express life through you and that’s the only way you’re really going to begin to develop this sweet fellowship here on planet Earth that He wants. He craves this with you. He passionately searches for you to get you to let Him be your very life. Won’t you give up? Won’t you give up and allow Him to do that today?
Now, let’s move to the other side of the coin. What does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus”? Well, this is how your identity got changed. Let’s look at your old identity, who you were in the first Adam. The word “adam”, as you probably know, means “man.” All right, the Scriptures say you were a child of God’s wrath; you were spiritually deader than a hammer; you were God’s enemy, separated from Christ, a sinner man, without God and without hope. Now, gang, you didn’t “perform” to get any of that stuff. All you have to do to get that identity is just show up on planet Earth. Your birth certificate is your ticket to hell, troops. That stuff takes you to hell.
Now, let’s see what God did—how He solved your problem with your sinner man identity. He crucified you with Christ and then He re-birthed you in Christ’s resurrection. Jesus is spoken of as “the last man,” the “last Adam.” And so now you are spiritually alive. You’re not identified by your flesh anymore. You’re identified by your spirit: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a retread job.” No. No. No. He’s “a new creation in Christ.” The old things are gone; new things have come. You’re righteous. That means you’re all right; you’re acceptable to God; you’re a child of God; you’re seated in the heavenly places in Christ. You’re a saint. Over 60 times after the cross God calls you a saint. Never does He address the church as, “To all the sinners saved by grace at Corinth.” It’s “to all the saints at Corinth.”
Birth determines this stuff, gang. Birth determined that you are now a partaker of the divine nature of God. Wow! And you know why that’s important? Because you will “life out” whatever you believe about yourself to keep from feeling like a phony. That’s exactly what will control you.
So, gang, we’ve talked about two things: that in Christ Jesus God crucified you and then re-birthed you to change your identity from sinner man to a saint; and then He filled you with the Spirit of Christ Himself to live life through you. And as you bring those two things on line and walk with God at that level, you’re going to form an intimate bond with Him that will give you an inner joy that will be incredible.