Discover--or Rediscover--the Exchanged Life
"We do not live our own lives. We live the life of another--or, more accurately, another lives His life through us. Until we grasp that as the key to the mystery of Christian living, we have not graduated from the kindergarten level of the Christian life." (Ray Stedman)
On a recent Thursday a college friend of mine dropped by on his motorcycle, and according to the usual custom of our times together we decided to study an entire book of the Bible. Nine hours later--in two sessions--we had gone through all of Romans verse by verse in considerable detail.
Romans has been an all-time favorite book of mine for many years. I've come to believe it ought to be taught and studied regularly by every follower of Christ. Covering the entire book in two study sessions gave Wayne and me a great overview of this magnificent epistle.
I was especially struck this time through Romans concerning the importance of transitional Chapter 7. When a person becomes a Christian he or she is called to live a radically different life style. For many professing Christians the dynamically different nature of Authentic Christianity is not always obvious, and can be easily overlooked.
"We have all been inoculated with Christianity, and are never likely to take it seriously now! You put some of the virus of some dreadful illness into a man's arm, and there is a little itchiness, some scratchiness, a slight discomfort -- disagreeable, no doubt, but not the fever of the real disease, the turning and the tossing, and the ebbing strength. And we have all been inoculated with Christianity, more or less. We are on Christ's side, we wish him well, we hope that He will win, and we are even prepared to do something for Him, provided, of course, that He is reasonable, and does not make too much of an upset among our cozy comforts and our customary ways. But there is not the passion of zeal, and the burning enthusiasm, and the eagerness of self-sacrifice, of the real faith that changes character and wins the world." --A. J. Gossip, From the Edge of the Crowd 
The Apostle Paul announces at the beginning of his letter to the Romans that he has some extraordinarily good news for the house churches in Rome, (which he hoped to soon visit). Writing from Corinth, he dispatched his letter via a Christian business woman named Phoebe. She hand-carried this priceless treasure to Rome by boat (16:1,2). In closing his letter, Paul sent greetings to the many Christians he already knew who were living in Rome--they were Jews, Greeks, slaves, rich Romans, and even believers in Caesar's household. We do not know who founded the church in Rome but it was not Paul and not one of the other original apostles.
Instead of immediately launching into the very good news which he has for the Christians in Rome, Paul goes into great detail describing the very bad news of the true human condition. No one is excluded from his all-encompassing legal indictment (Chapters 1:18-3:20).
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says that man before the Fall surely found it normal and natural and delightful to serve God willingly all day, every day, even though the freedom to choose something other than God was open to him,
"Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator--to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy. Lest we should think this a hardship, this kind of good begins on a level far above the creatures, for God Himself, as Son, from all eternity renders back to God as Father by filial obedience the being which the Father by paternal love eternally generates in the Son. This is the pattern which man was made to imitate which Paradisal man did imitate--and wherever the will conferred by the Creator is thus perfectly offered back in delighted and delighting obedience by the creature, there, most undoubtedly, is Heaven, and there the Holy Ghost proceeds.
"In the world as we now know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain. Even in Paradise I have supposed a minimal self-adherence to be overcome, though the overcoming, and the yielding, would there be rapturous. But to surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death. We all remember this self-will as it was in childhood: the bitter, prolonged rage at every thwarting, the burst of passionate tears, the black, Satanic wish to kill or die rather than to give in. Hence the older type of nurse or parent was quite right in thinking that the first step in education is 'to break the child's will'. Their methods were often wrong: but not to see the necessity is, I think, to cut oneself off from all understanding of spiritual laws. And if, now that we are grown up, we do not howl and stamp quite so much, that is partly because our elders began the process of breaking or killing our self-will in the nursery, and partly because the same passions now take more subtle forms and have grown clever at avoiding death by various 'compensations'. Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive. That this process cannot be without pain is sufficiently witnessed by the very history of the word 'Mortification'…" (from Chapter 6, The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis)
Lewis goes on to say that modern man thinks all is well between him and God if he is reasonably happy and nothing much is going wrong in his life. George Barna's research shows that most all Americans expect an open door to heaven when they die. Nothing could be further than the truth! Lewis says in effect that people need to hear the bad news first or they will not be willing to hear the exceedingly good news of God's great love for them.
I have long felt the opening chapters of Romans fit me very well in regard to my motives, thoughts, words and deeds.
"There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips"; "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…" (3:10-23)
The good news Paul moves on to describe is very good news indeed--if only one will receive it, believe it, and put it into effect in daily life. Romans is replete with legal terms and words we don't commonly use in daily life such as righteousness, justified, imputed, expiation, propitiation, and so on. A good commentary helps immensely. and Ray Stedman's online library offers three. (http://raystedman.org/).
Paul explains that none of us can save ourselves, yet we are all desperately lost and desperately in need of rescuing, healing and transforming. (We are usually oblivious to the big picture, preoccupied instead with such things as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic). Religion is an escape mode for many--but religion can not save. Trying harder is to no avail and self-improvement programs don't work. The default mode for man is self-righteousness, which is highly offensive to God. All sorts of things are terribly out of kilter in us--we are all in desperate need of God and we don't usually believe it.
True righteousness belongs to Jesus Christ alone and is only credited to one's account when we trust Jesus. Paul carefully explains that our willingness to be identified with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection allows God to transfer all our sins into Christ on the cross--(and from the cross out into eternity, totally removed from us forever). With Christ on the cross, God also quietly puts to death our old sin nature, killing the old natural life we inherited from Adam while making us brand new persons on the inside. These amazing cosmic events take place in the invisible realm of the Spirit without us usually feeling much of anything, except a new sense of peace and hope. (see The Crucified One, http://ldolphin.org/crucified.html).
In Chapter Six Paul explains that, as new persons in Christ, our freedom to choose between good and evil is liberated for the first time ever. Previously we were not free to serve God at all, and we could do nothing to please God or to earn favor with Him.
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:1-10)
The book of Romans seems to provoke endless discussions about election, predestination and free will. Suffice it to say that in Chapter 6 Paul limits the discussion by telling us that we were all be born to be slaves--we are destined to be the servants of another forever. As followers of Jesus, we are now able to give ourselves freely as voluntary bond-slaves of Jesus. If we decline, we default to being the slaves of sin--which leads to death. There is no third choice. Serving self is not on the list! Our freedom as slaves consists of the fact that we are free to chose one of two masters only. This is how we are created.
So radical is the change within us when we become Christians that by nature we are enabled to serve Jesus gladly and willingly, going on to enjoy greater freedom and a higher mode of life than our original parents knew before the Fall. Being a slave of Jesus takes getting used to, but the result is what Paul calls in Chapter 8, "the glorious liberty of the sons of God."
Romans 7 teaches several key things about being a Christian. We were previously "married to sin" as it were, but now we are joined inseparably to Christ. Though we are free from the Law, the law is still alive and ready to expose hidden sin and thus draw us closer to God. The Law is a description of the very character of God--if we are going to live in harmony with God as the Person He is, we are the ones who have to adjust and change. When we pay attention to Christ, the Law is fulfilled in us day by day by the indwelling life of our Lord. Meditating on the Law, as seen for example in Psalm 119, is more than profitable for us because (properly understood) the Law allows us to know God ever more deeply. Romans 7:1-4 illustrates how all sin can be thought of as spiritual adultery. The root problem of evil in the human heart is our not loving God wholeheartedly, and our allowing other rival loves to displace Jesus as Number One in our minds and hearts.
The tricky part of being a Christian is discovering that we are actually utterly helpless to do anything good as Christians. Likewise we have no natural powers to overcome temptation and sin. Here is where the lost teaching of the "Exchanged Life" needs to be taught again in our day. Short summary: Our natural life in Adam is called "the flesh," in the Bible. The flesh has obvious bad traits such as lying, stealing, cheating, drunkenness and immorality. But the "best of the flesh" (doing our best to serve God in our own effort for example), is equally as bad as far as God is concerned. King Saul's experience recorded in First Samuel 15 illustrates this point vividly. On the cross, God has said "no" to the flesh, to the law of self-effort, for all time and eternity.
When Wayne and I got to Romans Chapter 7 in our time together, I told him about a pivotal experience in my life which took place some forty some years ago. One morning Ray Stedman dropped by my house and took me to a men's retreat where the speaker was a slightly built enthusiastic speaker named Norman Grubb. Grubb's specialty was teaching on the truths of Romans--6, 7, and 8 especially. I was soon convinced the man was a heretic. What he said sounded very unconventional and strange--though I admit his ideas were strangely attractive. If he was a false teacher, why was he the featured speaker at the men's retreat of a sound church?
Not long after that weekend, Major Ian Thomas visited our church and gave a dynamic, unforgettable series of messages on this new "Exchanged Life." I have been very grateful for the truth of the exchanged life ever since.
I explained to Wayne, though I think he already knew, that the whole secret of being a follower of Christ is to learn, (and to relearn), that only Jesus can live the Christian life. We must give Him permission to live His life through us day by day. Paul calls this mode of living "our reasonable service" in Chapter 12.
In Romans 7 Paul shows us that when "I" to do anything to serve God in my own strength "I" will always fail, and when "I" determine to avoid sin by my own will power, "I" am found to fail. A daily death-to-self is what God asks of me.
God the "great I AM" has taken up residence in my heart--the Holy Spirit has come to join Himself with my spirit. My human spirit is now the lesser, subservient "i am." This new inner partnership, or union of two spirits--my spirit with God's Spirit--is really a Lover-beloved union of two persons, not a mutually convenient arrangement such as a business partnership. Knowing God as He wishes to be known is an interactive relationship of intimate love which fulfills the great commandment.
This subtle transformation of our ego--our deepest sense of self--is also noted by Paul in Galatians:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (2:20)
The first time any of us imagines turning over all of his or her life to Jesus, giving Jesus permission to run things one-hundred percent, most of us imagine that we'll be forced to live dull, churchy, boring lives. Why can't I run my own life, or at least those areas of my life where I have the most experience? The answer is that we were not created to live in independence from God! It a big lie (in fact, THE lie of the garden) that we can be our own gods, run and our lives, determine our own future, and pretty much do as we please.
"The Christian life is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, "Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires, which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself; my own will shall become yours." (C. S. Lewis)
We tend to underestimate the nature of God's great love for us. "God is Love" --He created us for relationships of love. He understands us. His deep desire is to fulfill us. The world stifles individuality and uniqueness, Jesus liberates us so that we become whole and well-rounded--realizing in the end all that was originally created in us. God's nature is to pour himself out for others. He does not live "for Himself" as we are prone to do. The fulfillment for all eternity for the Persons of the godhead is to be always pouring out love, and responding to love. Love requires at least two persons, both must give their consent or there can be no relationship, and real love involves both initiating and responding. (see A Personal God, http://ldolphin.org/personalgod.html).
Then there all those paradoxes Jesus taught us about losing one's life in order to find it, about taking up one's cross daily, and the necessity of a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying in order to live. These ominous-sounding teachings are all part of the joyful good news of the Exchanged Life.
Norman Grubb said that we could think of Jesus being "the real new you" inside. As we allow Jesus to live in and through us we become more "ourselves," our individuality is neither stifled nor replaced, it is unfolded like a blossom. We are not unlike a butterfly emerging from a cocoon when we become new creations in Christ yielded to our maker.
Christians are indeed "predestined to be confirmed to the image of God's son," but we shall not find that we have become clones of the historical Jesus in the end--we'll simply be the men and women we always wanted to be--unique, one of a kind, whole and free, without spot of blemish. God made no automatons--every single person ever created is one-of-a-kind, and of great value and worth to our Creator. "Rarely for a righteous man will one dare to die…but God demonstrates His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly." (5:8)
"People who equate orthodoxy with authenticity find it hard to even consider the possibility that, despite the correctness of all their doctrinal positions, they may have missed the deepest reality of the authentic Christian life. But we must never forget that true Christianity is more that teaching--it is a way of life. In fact, it is life itself. "He who has the Son has life," remember? When we talk about life, we are talking about something that is far more than mere morality, far more than doctrinal accuracy. Life is a positive quality, not negative--a description of what we fundamentally are, not what we are not. The eternal life that Jesus brings to us is radical, not superficial. It is humble, not self-promoting. It is compassionate, not indifferent. It is courageous, not timid or retiring. It is a far cry indeed from the mild compatibility, agreeability, and affability that passes for Christianity in thousands of churches across the land. In fact, the Great Imitation is so widely accepted as genuine Christianity that the real thing is often regarded as a threat or a heresy whenever it appears." --Ray C. Stedman , Authentic Christianity
Wayne and I had time for prayer and quality discussion on the practicalities of the exchanged life during our grand tour of Romans. After breakfast the next day, Wayne saddled-up and continued on his journey. We plan to go through the Epistle to the Hebrews next time we get together, should the Lord tarry.
Meanwhile, if you have not already done so, please try the exchanged life. If you have already granted Jesus the title deed to your life do bring to mind daily the importance of not slipping gradually back to those old dull ways of the world and the mediocrity of the common counterfeits. We can have as much grace as we need, and the resurrection power of Jesus is quite unlimited.
1. Books and messages by Norman Grubb, http://normangrubb.com/
2. Major Ian Thomas, http://torchbearers.gospelcom.net/html/major/major_index.html
3. False Consecration, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/romans1/0016.html
Authentic Christianity, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/authenxnty/
Classes: Our Sunday morning studies at Peninsula Bible Church continue in the Book of Isaiah, http://ldolphin.org/Isaiah. MP3 audio is available on my web site or by Podcast. Isaiah is a fantastic book of the Bible, sadly neglected by many these days. The Wednesday Brothers of Thunder is nearly finished reading through The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis--we are taking one paragraph at a time with lots of discussion.
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