The Exchanged Life

When our preaching wanders into the realm of motivational speaking, we play right into Satan’s hand by delivering a less than complete gospel message.  When our teaching takes the form of self-help pop psychology delivering ten steps to a better life, we have stripped the power from the gospel.  But when we let the Bible speak for itself, the message of Christ is a message of an exchanged life.  It is not a message of life improvement; it is a message of life transformation.

For the unbeliever, it is the exchange of my sin for Christ’s righteousness.  This is the basis of my justification, my being reconciled to God.  “God made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor 5:21).  When Christ died in our place, as our substitute, the penalty of sin was removed, and our “certificate of debt was cancelled being nailed to a cross” (Col 2:14).  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6).  Christ died on our behalf.

Satan would prefer to keep this message quiet and have us teach a message of life improvement because without a recognition of our sin and it’s penalty; without an understanding of Christ’s substitutionary death in our place; and without placing our faith in Christ for salvation, we will never “receive Christ”.  We will never become part of God’s family, a citizen of God’s kingdom.  Satan would like to keep us in the dark regarding our need for salvation and Christ’s finished work on the cross to satisfy the need.

But what happens after our initial salvation, our justification, our reconciliation with God?  All true ministers of the gospel agree with the concept of the exchanged life – Christ’s righteousness exchanged for our sin – regarding our justification.  But it is uncanny to me how many times we stop here and, leaving the exchanged life concept behind, we address living the Christian life as a ten step process of self-improvement.

Again this plays right into Satan’s hand.  He knows we cannot live an effective and growing Christian life in our own power and is happy for us to try.  What we need to preach and understand is that our ongoing sanctification, growth, and maturity is, just like our justification, totally dependent on the exchanged life.

The great exchange – Christ’s life for mine, His moral purity for my moral depravity, His supernatural man for my natural man, His new nature for my old nature, His new heart for my heart of wickedness, His humility for my selfish ambition, His Holy Spirit for my ambivalence – is the complete foundation for living the Christian life.  But too often, like the Galatians of old, we accept the concept of the exchanged life for our justification, but ignore its ramifications for our sanctification.  “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified?  This is the only thing I want to find out from you:  did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:1-3).

Rather than being perfected by the flesh, the New Testament teaches we are perfected by the Spirit of Christ who lives inside, who dwells in our new heart.  Look at this recurrent theme.   “Since Christ is in you (Rom 8:10)…Your life is hidden with Christ (Col 3:3)…Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27)…Christ who is your life (Col 3:4)…It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).  And finally, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

The saving death of Christ took away our sins and reconciled us to God.  The saving life of Christ now carries us forward.  When we appropriate by faith the saving life of Christ and believe all that God promised regarding His indwelling presence and power, we will begin to experience the true joy of the Christian life; the joy of the truly supernatural life in Christ.

A Message of Confusion

Both Jesus and the apostles stressed the central need for unity within the Christian community.  Satan, on the other hand – having lost the war already and still losing individual battles every time someone joins God’s kingdom – is focused on just the opposite:  disrupting the unity of our message through planting seeds of envy, strife, and disharmony.

It is imperative that we get a handle on what Satan is up to in this world.  We often relegate Satan to the make believe world of fairies and elves and in so doing have dropped our defenses against him.  Peter warns, “Be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet 5:8).  And Paul writes, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:11-12).  The New Testament makes clear; Satan is our number one sworn enemy.

Let me say it again, because in many ways we act like he doesn’t even exist.  Satan is our number one sworn enemy.  And one of his world wide operations is to disrupt the gospel message through disunity in the church.  If you ask the man-on-the-street, “What is the gospel or Christian message?”, I think he would be hard pressed to answer even if he has been exposed to it.  The various “Christian” labels we attach to all kinds of messages we send has left an incredible confusion and biblical illiteracy on believers and unbelievers alike.  And it starts with our preaching.  We are not letting the Bible speak for itself.

What do I mean by the Bible speaking for itself?  We have a brand of preaching today that looks more like motivational speaking.  It downplays aspects of the gospel message that some consider offensive or confusing to modern ears.  Doctrines like sin, atonement, moral depravity, and judgment are softened, and our preaching focuses on felt needs such as how Jesus helps us with life’s challenges, or helps us succeed in our jobs, finances, and relationships.  This presentation style appears to be a topic looking for a Bible verse rather than context-driven Bible exposition.  If we, in any way, “water down” the gospel message to make it, in our minds, more acceptable to a modern audience, we are not letting the Bible speak for itself.

In response to the perception that our preaching has “gone soft”, it is easy to go to an equally unbiblical approach in the other direction.  Beneath the veneer of expository preaching is often a rigid theological construction that fails to recognize all that changed with the coming of the New Testament; the coming of the New Covenant.  In my experience, there is a plethora of Bible teaching today that takes Old Testament concepts – the consequence model of sin, the wicked and deceitful heart, the lack of power to keep the law – and overlays them onto the New Testament.  This teaching is in opposition to what Paul instructed us to do in Romans 7:6.  “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”  Too much that passes as expository preaching today is in the “oldness of the letter”.

How both of these preaching styles play right into Satan’s hand will be the topic of our next post.

A Good Name

Prosperity teachers, name-it-claim-it theology, and the word of faith movement have all combined to give the power of words a bad name.  But words do carry power.  We believe the written Word of God carries supernatural power.  And we empower our believing community when we properly use the words of Scripture to describe ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am a firm believer that kids and adults live into the expectation we set before them.  And that expectation often takes its form in the words and labels we use.  If we practice a ministry of condemnation (II Cor 3:9); labeling believers as sinners, telling them how poorly they are doing, and not holding out much hope for improvement, can we be surprised when our parishioners live into that expectation.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but I believe a constant diet of chastising individuals and the church in general for not looking much different than the world will produce a church that is…not much different than the world.

But if we practice a ministry of life (II Cor 3:6), new life in the Spirit, we will be ever vigilant to remind our Christian brothers and sisters that they carry an incredible new identity – God Himself dwelling on the inside – and a new everything that comes with it; a new nature, a new heart, a new disposition, a new power over sin and so much more.

The apostle Peter writes that our lack of holy qualities is fostered by a bad case of spiritual amnesia.  “For he who lacks these qualities – diligence, faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love – is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (II Pet 1:9).  Our number one problem, the sin that underlies all others, is forgetting the precious and magnificent promises of God regarding all that became new at our new birth, especially our new found freedom from the power of sin in our life.

Likewise, the apostle Paul begins nearly every letter with an explosive description of who we are in Christ.  Take the letter to the Ephesians for example.  In the first few verses of chapter one, we find that we are “blessed with every spiritual blessing…chosen…holy and blameless…adopted as sons…bestowed on by His grace…redeemed…forgiven…lavished upon…heirs…sealed with the Holy Spirit…God’s own possession” and so much more.  This new identity in Christ becomes the foundation for Paul’s call to holy living in the second half of these letters.  “Therefore [based on everything I have just written about who you are in Christ] I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1).

And finally, John draws a clear picture of the believer’s relationship with sin in his epistle.  He goes so far as to suggest that since we have been literally “born of God” we have a moral resemblance to Christ Himself.  “Since you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (I Jn 2:29).  John compels us to live into our righteous identity.

The New Testament is awash in joyous encouragement to live into our new identity.  As a confirmed affirm-aniac, I just don’t think we say it enough.  In fact, I don’t think we teach it, preach it, say it, and live it enough.  Next post, I will take a stab at explaining why this is so as well as some suggested remedies.