Living Life Over Before It’s Over, Pt. 10
Study Guide, March 6, 2016
We recently had a really nice visit with Sharon’s parents in Myrtle Beach. And we were looking at and talking about some of the artifacts they had brought back from their Mission work with the Asmat people in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. And as we were marveling at how they could sculpt such intricate figures and designs out of hardwoods from their forest trees we were talking about how sculptors tend to see the figures in the wood even before they begin. It’s an often repeated quote, even though it’s not certain of the exactness of it, but the quote goes that Michelangelo was once asked how he could sculpt such an amazing work as the figure of David out of a block of marble. And he said that he simply removed everything that didn’t look like David.
If you think about that, that’s not only a good way to think about how you go about sculpting figures out of marble or wood, but it’s also a very accurate way to think of how you go about revealing more and more of the image and character of Christ in a Christian’s life. For when we talk about things like our need to represent Christ to others around us, we could very well think of that in terms of re-presenting Christ to others around us, by letting more and more of the image and character of Christ be revealed or to come through us. It’s actually an important way to understand what spiritual growth and maturity is all about. And if there is one thing we need to live out or to live over, before our life is over, it is to live out the Biblical process for spiritual growth or spiritual maturity, because this process is actually quite different from how many believers usually think about it. Actually, it has more to do with how sculptors bring out these figures from rough cuts of wood or marble than many would even imagine.
The eyes of many Christians tend to fog over when they begin thinking about concepts like spiritual maturity or spiritual growth; like what is the process for this growth and even how do we measure this maturity? Plus, much of their focus of Christian living then gets centered on their condition; focusing on what they have learned and what they have done, along with what they have yet to learn and what they have yet to do and not do and on and on. And soon this track of learning and doing becomes their focus of measuring their maturity. And although these efforts are undertaken with good intentions, they are often filled with lots of frustrations as they go round and round this track of learning and doing and hoping for self improving. And it’s no wonder many become frustrated because Christianity is not a rehabilitation program nor is it a self improvement program … it’s a ‘living out the life of Christ’ in us process.
When we came to understand our need to give our lives to Christ in repentance and to receive Him into our life by faith, we also learned that our need was not rehabilitation; our need was total regeneration. We needed a new birth of our spirit and an implantation of a new nature, a new self that was united to God Himself. God birthed a new spirit within us, and that spirit was united to Christ’s own Spirit. And then we learned that as far as our old self, in which sin resided, this old self was not set apart by God for improvement…rather it was taken to the Cross and was crucified with Christ. That’s why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 up for me.” Gal 2:20 NASU
Remember, as our Substitute Jesus went to the cross alone, without us, to pay the penalty of our sins; as our Representative, He took us with Him to the cross, and there, in the sight of God, we all died together with Christ. That’s why we may be forgiven, because Christ died for us, in our place; and that’s why we can also be delivered from our old selves, because we died with Him.1 And God’s way of deliverance was to create a new self in us that was united to Christ Himself. 2 Cor 5:17 NASU – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” A Christian is one who is ‘in Christ’ and Christ is ‘in him or her’.
Again, God is not working on helping you to be a better you or me to be a better me. No, God is working on forming Christ in you, or even revealing Christ through you. And that brings us back to the sculpture picture. Think about it: In Christ God was made manifest to the world. Now, in Christians, Christ is to be made manifest to the world. In other words, the focus of my life now is not to be on the improvement of myself in order to be a better me for God to then show a better me to the world and others. No, the focus of my life is now to be on Christ and not me, with the goal of revealing more and more of Christ through me. It’s like the Sculptor working to bring out a particular image from within the material he is working with. It’s like God as the Potter working with us, His vessels, to bring out the shape or image of Christ from the inside of our lives to the outside of our lives.
This is the key work of God in our lives. That’s what the Apostle Paul was saying to us.
Take a look at that passage in Rom 8:29 NASU – “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” Here is the primary answer to the question of “What is God’s will for my life?” The foremost thing that God has for you to do in life is to become conformed to the image of His Son. That’s what Paul revealed to the Galatian believers in Gal 4:19 NASU – “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…”
Again, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God was made manifest or revealed to the world. And now, in the persons of you and me, Christ is to be made manifest or revealed to our world. And so, just like with these pieces of marble or wood, we are now to simply remove from our lives anything that doesn’t look like the image and character of Christ, so that we cooperate with the Master Sculptor in letting Christ’s image and character be formed and revealed through us!
Okay, we get this! However, back to the process: in order to do this there must be a shift in our focus from this ‘condition’ of our life to the ‘position’ of our life. In theological terms this is known as the difference between Progressive Sanctification and Positional Sanctification. So let’s explore this…
First lets look to understand Positional Sanctification. And we turn to Heb 10:10-14 NASU – for this: “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
What this is describing of course is that through the complete sacrifice of Christ the penalty for our sins was completely removed from us. This is also known as Justification, where God can now declare us both ‘Not Guilty’ and also ‘Righteous’ in His sight because Jesus both removed our guilt and gave to us the merits of His own Righteous life. This removal of the penalty of sin and the crediting of Christ’s righteousness gives us a secure standing or an eternally saved ‘position’ as a son or daughter of God’s, whereby we are completely set apart or ‘sanctified’ as God’s own child forever.
But along with our ‘position’ as a completely sanctified child of God’s, we are now also called to ‘progress’ in our life here on Earth as God’s children. Our position as a Justified, Sanctified, Reconciled, and Secure child of God’s is complete. And now God’s will is that our ‘practice’ or our ‘progress’ in righteous living should increasingly correspond to our ‘position’. And we are to ‘progress’ in this cooperative work with God more and more throughout our lives.
Progressive Sanctification can be seen in passages like Rom 6:19 ESV – “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
This ‘leading to sanctification’ is referring to living our lives in such a way that we are progressively becoming more and more committed to living holy, set apart, lives for the sake of pleasing God and blessing others, as well as enjoying these blessing in our own lives. This reveals that one clear way to help us better think about what spiritual growth and maturity means is that it simply means that we are to think of it in terms of ‘progress’ in our spiritual development and growth and experience. And what we are ‘progressing’ in is that we are more and more reflecting in our life and conduct what we are in our ‘position’ as a child of God’s.
And with that we come full circle, because the key to real progress in the Christian life is to focus upon or to dwell twice as much, or even more, upon our ‘position’ in Christ than our ‘progress’ as a Christian. Because it is in our ‘position’ in Christ that we find our union with God, our acceptance in the Beloved, our security for all eternity, and our purpose of maturity. The fact that one of the key phrases in the Epistles is ‘in Christ’ tells us how important it is to both identify ourselves that way and to then seek to live that way.
Remember; ‘Whose’ you are is to determine and direct ‘Who’ you are. The blessings of ‘belonging’ to God begin with the fact that you do ‘belong to God’. And as such, you and I are not our own. As we have said before, the house of our life is not a duplex, with us living on one side of the house and Christ living on the other side. No, when Christ came into your life He declared it to be His temple. And you and I became His priests of the temple. And there is a particular image in this temple that God is trying to now unveil or reveal to the world around us, and that image is the image and character of Jesus Christ, the Owner of the temple and the Lord and Savior of your life.
Christian growth or Christian maturity doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it out to be. It’s not like we have to run to and fro trying to gather up the materials and try to patch up or reform or rehabilitate or self improve our lives to look and be more like what we or others think a Christian should be. No, we just have to turn our eyes more and more upon the One who has moved into our lives and made it His temple. We just have to remove whatever there is of us that is keeping others around us from seeing Jesus in us. We have to remove the veil of self-pride, and take down the walls of our self-defensiveness, and sweep away the debris of our selfishness, and make it easier for people to see past us and into the temple of our lives to see something of the image of Jesus Christ who now indwells us. What we have to stop doing is to stop trying to show the world a better image of ourselves, and instead, to just try to point others to the image of Christ, Who has come to live in the home of our life and make us His temple. What the world needs to see is not you and me, but Jesus in you and in me. Let the Divine Sculptor carve away everything from and in your life that doesn’t look like the image of Christ.
And that is what others will then see as we turn our eyes upon Jesus and focus more and more on our position, on our relationship with Him, as His redeemed child and as His personal priest. And as we go about our priestly duties of offering up our sacrifices of worship and service to Him, who dwells above and even within, then we will turn our eyes from the burdensome tasks of straining to grow spiritually and trying to grow personally to simply thinking about how we can better show others the King who came to live within us when we invited Jesus Christ into our lives to be our Lord and Savior. The Christian life is kind of like inviting someone to come over to your house to meet and get to know the King who lives in your house as your honored guest for life!
This is what the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthians about in 2 Cor 4:5-7 (NLT)- “You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”
When we make Christian growth and maturity to be about trying to make better versions of ourselves, we set off on a course that is frustrating and wearying and confusing and becomes a heavy burden that God never intended the Christian life to be for us. But when we let go of these shackles of trying to improve or renovate the old self that was crucified with Christ, and just let it stay dead, then we can turn our attention to the One who was raised from the dead, our Lord Jesus, and who raised us up with Him to walk in a newness of life. And that’s a life of partnership between His priest, you and me, and Himself, as we share this temple of His, this body of His on earth.
Just think about that: Jesus lives within you and me. And the more we get to know our Lord who lives within our temple, along with all the glories and wonders of Jesus, the more we will then be able to forget about ourselves and let go of ourselves, along with all the frustrations and failings we feel about this and that in our lives, and to just live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave up His life for us. You see, Our attention will turn from ourselves trying to spiritually grow, to us now trying to spiritually show others more and more of Jesus in and through ourselves. And isn’t that just what Jesus was trying to get us to see and to enjoy? “I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit…” John 15:5 (NASU)
And isn’t bearing fruit a whole lot more enjoyable and less stressful than carrying a sack of burdens on your back of your failings and faults and expectations and on and on that you’re still trying to work out and work on? The Christian life is not supposed to be that hard. But we make it that hard when we focus on our condition of our life and on our feelings about ourselves and this, that, and the other thing, along with the frustrations ourselves and with others, instead of just dwelling on our position in Christ and our priceless privilege of knowing and serving the One who has come to indwell our temple now and to give us a new resurrected temple for our eternal dwelling with Him.
But we need to live with a focused faith: A faith that is focused on Jesus, who dwells in Heaven and also dwells in us, through His Spirit in us, so that we can then grow the fruit of Christ Spirit through us. Friends, the heavy burden is us; it’s our self; it’s our old self in us. But the joyful blessing is Jesus Himself, in us. So that’s why we just have to get out of the way and try to forget about ourselves and to then focus more and more on Him, on Jesus and His life in us and on His way and truths that He wants to show the world through us. And when we seek to let Jesus increase in us as we decrease in us, the more we will reveal Jesus through us, along with all the blessings that come to us and others.
And that is what spiritual growth and maturity is all about anyway.
And this is certainly something we need to try and live over and over… before our life is over.
- Miles J. Stanford, Principles of Spiritual Growth, pp 72-73
- Gleanings about ‘Position’ and ‘Condition’ from The Complete Green Letters, Miles J. Stanford, and from The Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald