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October 23, 2011

“The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.” Galatians 2:20 

We are looking at “the inside story of the Christian life.”  How do we make sense of the Christian life?  How do you make sense of your experience of it and all that the Bible says about it?

The Contradiction of the Christian Life

If you are a Christian you have died to sin, but sin seems very much alive in you!  You feel the pull of sin in your life.  Its presence is real and obvious to you.

Have you noticed the contradictions of your Christian life?  You love Christ and yet you are tempted to sin.  You trust Christ and yet you struggle with many fears.  I often find that I am a mystery to myself, and I expect that you do as well.

Maybe you have struggled to hold together what the Bible says about the Christian life and your own experience of it.  You read about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), God working in you with the same power that He exercised in raising Jesus from the dead, and here you are struggling with a sickness, looking for a job, trying to raise a family and it doesn’t seem quite so grand.

We turn today to one of the greatest statements of the Christian life in the whole of the Bible, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Spurgeon says about this verse…

“Your life is a very strange one: ‘I am crucified, nevertheless I live.’

What a contradiction!  The Christian’s life is a matchless riddle. 

No worldling can comprehend it; even the believer himself cannot understand it.  He knows it, but solving all its enigmas, he feels to be an impossible task.” [1]

Matthew Henry speaks about the “mysterious life of a believer.”  He has died and yet he lives.  He lives and yet it is not he, but Christ.  He is crucified with Christ and yet Christ lives in him.

Our purpose today is to look into this mystery, as we explore the inside story of the Christian life.  I hope you have your Bible open at Galatians 2:20.  For all its mystery, I have found this verse to be more helpful than any other for getting a handle on the Christian life.

I want to draw your attention to two statements about the Christian life that come in this verse: 1. Paul describes the Christian life as “the life I live in the body,” 2. then Paul says that he lives this life in the body, “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The Christian life is lived “in the body,” and “by faith in the Son of God.”  These two statements will give you a good handle on the Christian life.

 

Your Christian life is lived “in the body”

“the life I live in the body…” Galatians 2:20

You will always feel the pull of the flesh.  You will find yourself lacking courage, losing heart and lamenting your failures.  You will experience sickness, weakness and eventually death.  Until then you may struggle with depression, anxiety, doubt, fear and loneliness.  This flows from the fact that the Christian life is lived in the body, but it’s not the whole story.

 

Your Christian life is lived “by faith in the Son of God”

“the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.” Galatians2:20

Christ is for you; Christ is with you.  His Spirit lives in your body.  That means you can look to Him and count on Him for every circumstance of life.  Christ’s presence is what makes it possible for you to live this life in the body, and His power is appropriated as you exercise faith.

Think about the Metra train going into Chicago.  It runs on twin tracks.

Here are the twin realities of the Christian life: You are “in Christ” and you are “in the body.”  Just as the train needs two rails to get to Chicago, so you need to grasp these two realities to make sense of the Christian life.

The Christian is “in Christ” and “in the body.”  Sin dwells in you by the flesh; Christ dwells in you by the Spirit.  You are always up against the world, the flesh and the devil.  And the reason you are able to engage in this struggle is that Christ lives in you.

Being in Christ means you have new life.  Being in the body means you have new battles.  You will find these twin realities of the new life and the new battles all over the Bible.

I’ll give four examples:  All of them are drawn from 2 Corinthians, the letter in which more than any other, Paul gives us the inside story of his own experience of the Christian life.

Example #1: The battle is not behind you now, Christian

New battle: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life… in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.”  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 

New life: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

Paul experienced the new battle and the new life at the same time!  He does not say, “I was once in a terrible battle, but now I am in Christ—all that is behind me.”  No!  The new life in Christ is what makes it possible for him to stand in the battle!

Example #2: Outwardly wasting away; inwardly being renewed

New battle: “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake…”  2 Corinthians 4:11

New life: “…so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body… We do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, [there’s the reality of life in the body] yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” [there’s the reality of life in Christ]  2 Corinthians 4:11,16

Example #3: Harassed body; comforted by God

New Battle: “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within.”  2 Corinthians 7:5

 

New Life: “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”  2 Corinthians 7:6

Here he is, a man in Christ, and he is experiencing conflicts and fears.  He says that he is harassed at every turn, and yet, at the same time, in the middle of this, God comforts him by sending Titus.

Example #4: Thorn in the flesh; sufficient grace

New Battle: “There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”  2 Corinthians 12:7-8

New Life: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

Do you see how clearly and strongly and consistently these twin realities of the Christian life are present—in Christ and in the body?

The Twin Realities of the Christian Life

  1. The Christian is at peace with God; at war with sin

A true Christian is known as much by his war as by his peace.  You have peace with God because you are in Christ.  You have a war with sin because you are in the body.  Grasp the one without the other and you really haven’t got hold of the Christian life.

  1. Christ lives in me by the Spirit; sin lives in me by the flesh

The Christian does not live in sin, but sin lives in him.  He is not in the flesh, but the flesh is in him.  It’s well said in one of the songs we sing…

In my heart there is a treason
One that poisons all my love
Take my heart and consecrate it
Wash it in Your cleansing blood [2]

There is never a day when I do not need the washing and cleansing of the blood of Christ.  Christians arrive in heaven, not because they have lived good, Christian lives, but because of the blood of Christ.

  1. The Christian is done with sin; sin is not done with the Christian

We have died to sin (Romans 6:2).  There has been a decisive break.  As John says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (1 John 3:9).

You cannot go on sinning because you have been born of God.  But, at the same time, “If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

  1. The Christian lives in the power of the Spirit; experiences the weakness of the flesh

Don’t expect life in the power of the Holy Spirit to feel like standing on the winner’s podium, taking your bow for your triumphant performance in the Christian life.  The power of the Holy Spirit is what makes it possible for you to persevere in the challenges of life you are facing.

A few weeks ago Karen and I visited “SNapN” – a group from our church for parents of children with special needs.  We sat in a circle and listened to their stories.  One couple said that they were thanking God that they had enjoyed a night of unbroken sleep for the first time since their son was born—he is 13 years old.  There’s the power of the Holy Spirit—persevering through 13 years without a single night of unbroken sleep.

  1. In Christ you are a new creation; your struggles are shaped by your experience, environment and temperament

All of us are tempted, but our temptations are not the same.  The great battles of your life will be shaped by your temperament, your experience and where you live in the world.  The spiritual dullness of a comfortable Christian life is not a noticeable battle for Christians in our sister church in Haiti, but it is for many of us here in the suburbs.

  1. Sin is no longer your master; it will always be your enemy

Imagine a war taking place between two armies.  Picture yourself on the field of battle.  Your unit comes under heavy fire.  Your way of escape is cut off and in the end you are captured.  You surrender your weapons, and you are carted off together with the others in your unit.

Eventually you arrive at what looks like a massive cage.  There are some people in there, and all of them look miserable.  The cage is opened and you are pushed inside.  The man in charge looks quite terrifying.  He shouts orders, and you notice that when he does, the people in the cage do exactly what he says.  You value your life, so you decide to do the same.

For the next year, your whole life is in the cage.  You sleep, you are fed, and you exercise—all in the cage.  And all the time you are under the power of your enemy.  As long as you’re in the cage, there’s absolutely nothing you can do.

Then one night, you hear a dreadful noise.  Your captain has come with all his forces to set you free.  The locks on the gate burst open.  You climb onto a jeep and off you go up into the hills.  The captain hands you a weapon, “You’ll need this,” he says.  “You’re back in the battle now.”

The next day the man who runs the cage comes looking for you and he has a whole company of men with him.  He shouts orders, telling you to come back.  But you do not move.  You are no longer under his power.  You’re not in the cage.  You are out in the field.  You can move.  You have a weapon.  You can engage in the battle.

Sin will always be your enemy but it is no longer your master.  When you are in Christ, you are in a different position.  You are free, but you are also in a fight.

Beware of monorail teaching about the Christian life

Here’s how you can be discerning with regard to teaching you hear about the Christian life.  Ask two questions:  1. Does this teaching take the power of indwelling sin seriously?  Is it realistic about the fact that we live this life in the body?  2. Does this teaching take the power of the indwelling Christ seriously?  Is it faithful to New Testament teaching about the power of a new life and the presence of the Holy Spirit?

Over the centuries, a line of Christian teachers have come up with a formula for the Christian life that they claim is like a “silver bullet.”

They say there is a “higher form” of the Christian life that involves yielding to Christ, full surrender, baptism in the Spirit or letting go and letting God.  The list goes on and on, but the quest is always the same—to resolve the tension that runs all through the New Testament.

The invitation is always the same:  “Get off the old train tracks and join us on the monorail!”  Teaching like that about the Christian life is a distortion of the New Testament and, for the good of your soul, you should avoid it.

How to Hold It Together

You live in the body, so…

  1. Get real about the battle

You are living this Christian life in the body.  You are up against the world, the flesh and the devil.  This is not going to be easy.  You will be tempted.  You will feel your own weakness.  Things will transpire in your life that you cannot understand.  They will be a mystery to you.

When our sons were at high school, I remember an occasion when one of them asked if he could go to a party.  I asked a few questions, and it soon became clear to me that this was not going to be a good scene, and that the answer was going to be “No.”  Walking into temptation makes no sense for a Christian.  Parents, you know how these conversations go…

“Well, Dad, can I go?”

“No, son, that’s not the place for you.”  You know what comes next…

“Don’t you trust me?”

To which I said, “Of course I don’t trust you.”  He looked quite stunned.  “From what you have told me, I wouldn’t trust myself.  And you are made of the same stuff as I am.  You shouldn’t trust yourself either!”

It’s so easy to get into the habit of watching what you know you shouldn’t see on TV or the Internet.  You say to yourself, “This isn’t going to affect me.”  Of course it will!  It’s going into you.  It’s shaping your thoughts and your attitudes.  It’s gaining a grip in your life and its making your battle harder next time.  You live in the body, so get real about the battle.

You live by faith, so …

  1. Trust Christ for the outcome

In the battles and struggles that you face this week, you can say, as a Christian, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  The Son of God is with you and He is totally for you.  You live the Christian life by actively exercising faith in Him whatever you face.

Living by faith means…

You don’t despair

There will be times when you feel completely defeated.  You will say, “I have failed here so many times before.  Will I ever overcome in this battle?”  Look to Christ.  The Son of God is with you.  He has not left you. He is at your right hand.

Living by faith means…

You don’t presume

Some Christians are picking up on the fact that the New Testament describes believers as “saints.”  That is wonderfully true.  But it is a dangerous thing to affirm yourself as a “saint,” and then to forget that you are also a “sinner.”

Remember the monorail.  A believer is a “saint,” but only because he or she is “in Christ.”  Without Christ, I am completely lost.  I have no standing before God without Him.  My new life flows from Him, my hope rests on Him and all my good is in Him, “by the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Living by faith means you don’t despair and you don’t presume.  So, where there is faith, there will be hope and humility—humility that knows I have nothing without Christ; hope that knows in Him I have all things.

Look to the Christ, and when you do, you will see that He is ‘the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you” (Galatians 2:20).  Having paid such a price to redeem you, this Savior will never let you go, “If when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

I invite you to exercise faith in Christ today…

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed.
By war without and fears within,
I come to thee for rest.

Be Thou my shield and hiding-place
That, sheltered near thy side
I may my fierce accuser face
And tell him Thou hast died. [3]

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Christus et Ego,” Sermon #781, November 17th 1867

[2] Eric Grover from the song,“In My Heart,” Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2000

[3] John Newton from the hymn, “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat,” 1779

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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