What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity/Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2005
What is the “mother of all sins” that Christians are guilty of? How should we deal with this sin?.

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What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity—Part 3

Dr. John Ankerberg: Do you remember the day you placed your total trust in Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and come into your life? It was a wonderful moment. But what’s happened since? How is your day-by-day relationship with Jesus Christ? Is your relationship growing deeper, more intimate, more joyous? Or is it only an abstract idea that you talk about at church but not something you experience moment by moment in your everyday life? For many Chris­tians, that is the case. But I want you to understand that it is not the normal Christian life. If you settle for that, you will be missing out on a deep relationship with God and the joy and peace only He can give. Many of us have lived that way because we didn’t know any better. No one ever told us that God doesn’t want us to live that way. He has provided so much more for us in Christ. Well, how can we get it? How can we experience it? My guest, Dr. Bill Gillham, knows what it was like to live a flat, powerless, non-victorious Christian life. He talks about the prob­lems he had, and the wonderful solutions he discovered in God’s Word to empower him to live the Christian life. Listen:

Dr. Bill Gillham: Gang, we’ve got to understand something, that when we come into the world, we come in thinking we’re supposed to be world-beaters, that we’re supposed to some­how get our little corner of the universe under control and run that thing. And actually, that brings you into conflict with God. You see, God’s job description is, He runs things. That’s what He does when He goes to the office. He runs the universe. Now, there’s one true God and upwards of six billion “wanna-be’s.” See, we don’t want to handle the heavy stuff. We’re willing to let God, you know, manage the sunrises and create birds and stuff like that. But we want to run our little segment of the universe. We want to be in control. We want to be able to prophesy the next five minutes of what’s going to come into our lives.

Now then, God gave Christ for you just so He can enjoy a one-on-one, intimate relationship with you. But He had to break through this barricade that we’ve all built around ourselves of trying to run our own lives. He had to penetrate that. And He did that by sending Jesus Christ here. Now, God never intended for you—after you became a Christian—He never intended for you to live the Christian life. There’s only one Person who has ever lived the normal, overcom­ing Christian life–and that’s Jesus Christ.

Now, then, here’s the slick deal. I think this is wonderful. He put Christ “in you” to express this life “through you” because you and the Spirit of God together bonding there inside your earth suit are going to begin to develop this wonderful, intimate, love relationship. And this is what God wants from you. He wants to love on you and have you return His love voluntarily.

Now, Adam blew this whole scene. We all know that. But how did he blow it? Well, he didn’t break the Ten Commandments because they hadn’t been given yet. What this guy did was, he expressed the first personal “declaration of independence.” In effect, when he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he said, “I’ll decide what’s good for Adam. I’ll decide what’s evil for Adam. I don’t need you looking over my shoulder giving me your opinion. I’ll do it my way.” And he did it his way and he passed it on down to the rest of us and we showed up on planet Earth trying to do it our way. And that’s the way we got in trouble.

Ankerberg: Now, when Adam committed the first sin, what changed in his life? How did his relationship with God change? And what did Adam pass along to you and to me that has in­fected us with the mother of all sins? Dr. Gillham explains:

Gillham: We were talking about how Adam blew it in the garden. And what this guy did was, he made the first personal declaration of independence from God. He decided that he would do it his way. He would decide what was good and what was bad for Adam. And God told him, “If you do that, the very day that you do it, you’re going to die.” So if he did it on Wednesday, he died by suppertime on Wednesday. Now, how did he die? Well, obviously, his body didn’t die because Eve wasn’t pregnant and none of us would have shown up. His soul, his personality, didn’t die or he would have become a robot that couldn’t think, feel, or choose and we would have all been born robots. Well, that’s not the case. By the process of elimination and looking at Scripture in the New Testament we see that he was spiritually dead. By God’s definition, he died spiritually.

Now, when you and I showed up on planet Earth, then, we showed up with this same spiritual identity as a result of being a product of Adam. So when you showed up, what you did was, you drew an imaginary circle around yourself and you homesteaded it. You declared yourself god with a little “g”—god of this circle. You’re going to run this circle. Your attitude is, “This is my life. I’ve got my rights. I do things my way.” So you can see now that this independence, this self-reliance, is the mother of all sin. All sin spins off of that attitude of living independently.

Now, then, I use Tolkien’s phrase and so I call this person, the god of the circle, I call this person “lord of the ring.” So all of us, then, have been lords of the ring. So here, then, is a pic­ture of you. I’ve got you cut up like a slice of a three-layer cake. You’ve got a body and then you’ve got this dead spirit. You were spiritually DOA—Dead on Arrival—when you showed up on planet Earth, with a “lord of the ring” soul, and a “lord of the ring” personality. So there’s a very uncomplimentary picture of you as a lost person. By living this way, then, you are an enemy of God.

Ankerberg: You know, it’s so true what Dr. Gillham just said. We constantly turn away from God and parade around exerting our independence, believing we are self-reliant. We leave God out and constantly try to do things our own way. In brief, we run our own lives. But this indepen­dence from God, this self-reliance, is the mother of all sins. Well, if independent living is the mother of all sins, does it continue to affect us even after we become Christians? Sure it does. Many of you who have placed your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins are now at­tempting to live the Christian life for God in your own strength—and it doesn’t work. Dr. Gillham explains why. Listen:

Gillham: Okay, so when we show up on the planet, then, and we practice this “lord of the ring” stuff, we find that we need to be loved and we launch a search for love. We try to milk it out of people. But when we finally hear about God, we try to milk it out of Him using the same techniques that we’ve used with people, i.e., trying to milk it out of Him by performance. So we try to perform well enough to merit His acceptance and, gang, that’s not according to plan. Remember now, God’s job description is that He runs things and when you’re God, you get to make the rules. And the rules say that all of our righteous performance is just like a filthy rag. Now, I think there’s a problem a lot of Christians don’t understand. This verse doesn’t only apply to a lost man trying to get God to save him, it also applies to a saved man trying to do righteous works on his own, independently. That won’t fly, gang. God will not put His Good Housekeeping stamp of approval on your Christian performance. You’ve got to trust Christ in you and through you to produce approved work.

Now, Paul addresses this to the Galatians in Galatians chapter 3. He says, “Hey, you guys, did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law or by hearing about Jesus’ sacrifice for you by faith?”

And, of course, the guy said, “Well, you know, by faith.”

“Okay,” he said. “Now, then, are you so foolish, having begun by the Holy Spirit, are you going to take over now and try to merit Christian growth by trusting in yourself?”

You see, we try to do this. We try to depend on our own talents, our own abilities, even our own spiritual gifts to live the Christian life. And gang, that’s not the plan. You were saved strictly by faith in Christ. We’re to live exactly the same way–strictly by faith in Christ, that He is ex­pressing life through me by faith.

Now, how do I do that? I just act like it. Faith is acting like God tells the truth. God’s Word says Christ is my life. Okay, I’m just going to haul off and act like Christ is living through me. And as I act like Christ is living through me by faith, how will I treat the lady at the checkout stand? How will I act at the four-way stop when there’s a tie? How will I treat my kids? How will I treat my wife? All of those things are no-brainers, gang. People are going to like to be around me— not that I’m trying to milk acceptance out of them—but they’re going to like to be around me because they’ll see something in me that they want, something that attracts them. And that something is Christ in me, the hope of glory.

Ankerberg: Now, Bill explains what needs to happen to fix the mess we have made of our lives.

Gillham: Well, brother, I’m going to shoot real straight with you. You’re a mess and your family’s a mess and you’re responsible for it. You and your family. You all have been running your own lives. You’ve been doing it your way. You have been flying in the face of the God of the universe who loves you passionately, who gave His only boy, His best friend, the One who carries His good name—He gave that person for you. And you have been ignoring that all these years and now you have come to Christ. And that’s wonderful. I commend you. But you’re come to Christ and you’ve got a lot of baggage. And you would admit that. You’d be the first to say, “Yeah, Bill, I’ve got a lot of baggage!”

Well, now the Bible has a term for that baggage. The Bible calls it “the flesh.” And the flesh is not just your body. The flesh is the mess that you guys have made of your lives. Those old ways that you have developed. Those old habit patterns for living on planet Earth. Living a life of survival. Living for self. And you have repented of that now, right? You’ve repented of that; you’ve turned away from that. You really do want to start with a new sheet of paper and God has given you that privilege by saving you. Now then, it’s going to be a whole different ball game. Whereas you’ve been trying to solve your own problems or else just ignoring them with your family, you’re going to turn all those things over to God.

Now, this is not passivity. This is “casting your burden on the Lord.” That’s a direct command­ment to you. That’s not an option. That’s like a general saying to his driver, “Son, you scoot over. I’m going to drive the Jeep today.” You just do it. You give it to God. And then you trust Him. Your prayer life—now, after you give it to God—your prayer life’s going to change. You’re not going to beg Him every day to take over, take over, take over. You’re going to thank Him that He has taken over. And you’re not going to be passive; you’re not going to be “out of here.” You’re going to stay right there in the middle of it all and be God’s vessel through whom He can work to let them see the difference in you. Then He’ll use that as you pray and trust the Lord, and as other Christians pray with you, He’ll use that to begin to influence the rest of your family.

Ankerberg: Now, if you’re a Christian, what difference does it make whether or not you let Christ live His life through you? The answer is, a big difference. Bill explains:

Gillham: Now, gang, in emphasizing trusting Christ’s life through us to do God’s will, I’m certainly not talking about gaining salvation that way. I’m talking to the person who is already saved. That in order for him to produce holy work that God accepts, sanctified work that God accepts, there’s only one way he can do it and that is by trusting Christ to do it through him. Because God accepts only His own work.

Let me illustrate that with the life of Abraham, the father of faith, you know, that God gave Abraham a promise. He promised that He would give him a son. Well, apparently, Sarah and Abraham and Hagar got tired of the wait. You know, we all get a little bit antsy. I think it was about 25 years before the son finally came. And so about halfway through there they got antsy about the whole thing and so Sarah came up with this great idea of, “Why don’t you go to bed with Hagar, Abraham, my maid Hagar, and that’s the way God intends to answer this promise, to deliver on the promise.” Yeah, right!

And so, sure enough, Hagar gets pregnant and Ishmael shows up. Now then, much later, when Isaac, the child of promise, was around 20 or 25 years old as I understand it, God spoke to Abraham and He said, “Take Isaac, your son, your only son, and sacrifice him up on the mountain.”

And I can hear Abraham, saying, “Wait a minute! What do you mean only son? I’ve got two boys. You’re forgetting Ish’.”

And God was saying, “No, no. Ishmael was your effort. That was your independent effort to try to help me out, help me bring about my promise. I will not acknowledge Ishmael as my gift to you. I’m a gracious God. I’m going to take care of Ish, but Ish is always going to be a thorn in the side of my promised son to you, Isaac.” Today, look what’s going on in the Middle East. It’s still going on today.

So, this illustrates, then, that God acknowledges only His own work and we must understand this principle of living on planet Earth as Christians. We cannot work for God. God will do His work through us. And this isn’t just churchy kinds of stuff like teaching Sunday School, gang, or deacon, or whatever. We’re talking about life. I’m talking about shaving yourself in the morning. I’m talking about selecting your wardrobe, mowing your lawn, hanging a ceiling fan for your wife. This is how you become intimately involved with God is bonding with Him through all of these activities. That’s the normal Christian life, gang.

Ankerberg: Now, as we mentioned before, God is working in our lives as believers, but we must follow and obey His Word at the same time. We saw in 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul could say, “By the grace of God I am what I am,” yet immediately added, “But I labored even more than all of them,” and conclude with, “Yet not I, but the grace of God within me.” He wasn’t content to sit around idly waiting for God to do something in him apart from his active participa­tion, but he looked to Christ as his strength when he acted in obedience. Bill talks about this as the difference between God’s total acceptance and God’s approval. Every Christian needs to know that at salvation we were totally accepted by God, but in our Christian life we are to serve and obey the Lord in the power of Christ. Dr. Gillham explains.

Gillham: You know, as little kids we learn very quickly that if our performance doesn’t mea­sure up to what the authority figures around us want, we get in trouble. So we’re talking mom, dad, teachers, and so forth. And so we try to clean up our act to get their acceptance. And so it’s natural for us to think that same way about our relationship with God. But God doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t get mad at Christians. He took out all of His mad on Jesus Christ for all who will come to Him through Jesus Christ. Admittedly, there will be God’s wrath that the lost man will suffer. But the saved man is not subject to God’s wrath. Now, He will discipline us, but that’s agape love. It’s like you with your own kid. Let’s say you’ve got a little boy and he insists on playing out in the street. He squats down by the yellow line and runs his little cars and says, “Dad, if you really love me, you’ll let me play out here because I really enjoy this. This is very fulfilling. All the other kids are doing it.”

You’d say, “No, now son, I’m not going to let you do that.”

And if he keeps on doing that, you’re going to discipline him. And that is a godly act. That’s an act of agape love.

Here’s a cornfield definition of agape: I will do the most constructive, redemptive thing for you that I can think of. And in the case of the little child right there, that’s disciplining him, even spanking him, to get him out of the street, to keep him from doing stuff like that.

Now, then, there’s a big difference, gang, between God’s acceptance and God’s approval. God’s acceptance is by faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And anyone who comes to God through Christ is a perfect “10.” He automatically is accepted by faith. We’re not on a performance-based acceptance with God, troops. We’re on a Jesus-based acceptance with God. It’s marvelous! It’s awesome what Christ has accomplished for us. But this is completely different from God’s approval. To hear God say, “Well done, Bill. Well done, good and faithful servant,” that’s not an automatic call, gang. I’ve got to merit that by my obedient faith. Now, what does that mean? Trying to keep the Ten Commandments? Not necessarily. It’s trusting Christ through me to keep the Ten Commandments. But it goes way beyond that. It’s trusting Christ through me to mow the lawn, to load the dishwasher, to treat Annabelle right and so forth. It’s not my works for Christ, gang; it’s Jesus’ work through me. God acknowledges only His own work.

All right, to summarize now, there’s a difference between God’s acceptance and God’s ap­proval. God’s acceptance is an automatic call. When we come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ, we are totally accepted people by our God. God’s approval, on the other hand, is not an automatic call and you would tend to think that you have to perform and try to keep the law and that would gain God’s approval. But, no. No, no. That would be an independent act. You must trust by faith that Christ through you is keeping God’s ways and keeping God’s laws. Then you “life it out” by believing that it’s Christ doing it through you and that is pleasing to God.

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