Lining a Canoe Upstream

Writing about the river’s flow in our last post reminded me of the idea of “lining a canoe”.  The basic principle is this:  when seeking to take your canoe upstream against the current, you tie a rope near the front of the canoe and, walking upstream along the shore, you provide the power by pulling the rope and the river’s current keeps the boat from running into the bank.  When I googled “lining a canoe” to learn more, I found this explanation on The Alaska Hunting Forum:

“I can tell you from personal experience that lining any boat upstream any appreciable distance comes down to one thing – HARD WORK.  There’s just no easy way around it.  The truth is that you will be in, on, and around that river for a considerable amount of time.”  The author goes on to explain the details of the process and ends with these encouraging words, “If you decide to do this during the spring or summer, be sure to pack a big lunch and bring the bug spray!  You’re gonna be there awhile.”

I used to think that living the Christian life was like “lining a canoe” upriver.  I was always going against the current.  I was always going upstream.  And it was always hard work.  I justified this feeling with the idea that we were counter-cultural, always swimming upstream against the world’s current.  Always going against the flow.  In a sense that is true.  We are going against the world’s current.

What I was unaware of was that there is another river flowing; the river of God’s rest for the new covenant believer.  In this river, we are very much going with the flow – the rushing current of God’s infinite grace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, and indwelling.  This river never slows down or runs dry and God’s desire is that you find your rest in it.

This is the rest Jesus Himself offered his followers in the gospel of Matthew.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Mt 11:28-30).  Jesus’ offer of rest is not just for the world-weary in need of salvation, but for walk-weary believers as well, striving to “keep up” the Christian life.

You see, in this journey called the Christian life, Christ is inviting us to join Him in the yoke.  He is yoked with us.  Have you ever wondered how Jesus could give such a serious call to discipleship in the gospels; counting the cost, the hardship, and the promise of suffering, and then turn around and say, “My yoke is easy and My load is light”?  How do we reconcile what seem like opposites?  The key is to recognize that it is Jesus in the yoke living the Christian life through us.  He is doing the heavy lifting.  Is there nothing for us to do or contribute?  Our role is to join Him in the yoke, in the work, and to release the rushing rivers He has already put inside us.

Can I encourage you?  If you are striving to “line the canoe” upstream in your Christian walk, take a minute to study the situation.  Am I experiencing the “never thirst” that Jesus promised?  Do I see the work of the Holy Spirit – that flowing river within me – in my daily experience?  Have I believed all that became new under the provisions of the new covenant at my salvation?  Thank your heavenly Father that there is a believer’s rest and a river’s flow for the children  of God.

The Tug of Sin’s Power

We have all heard the story of how baby elephants are trained.  A chain is placed around the baby elephant’s foot and attached to an iron stake driven into the ground.  The young elephant pulls at the chain but does not have the strength to dislodge the stake.  Eventually, the elephant gives up.  As the story goes, when the elephant is fully grown, he can be easily contained by a chain and a stake – something he could now easily uproot – because he is conditioned by his past experience to believe the chain is a sufficient constraint.  I have been unable to determine if this is a true method of elephant training or a story used by life coaches to identify the chains in your life that limit your potential.  But I do like the picture it brings regarding the tug of sin’s power.

When you received Christ at your new birth, a thousand new things happened to you.  One of these was your infusion of a new nature.  The old nature, the flesh, died with Christ (Rom 6:6), and you were given a new nature filled with Christ’s resurrection power (Rom 6:4).  However, even our dead flesh still carries some influence in our lives based on both the teaching of Scripture and our own experience with sin.  So that even though we are controlled by the new nature, we still feel the tug of sin’s power.

But the sheer beauty of the exchanged life – Christ’s resurrection life now living inside – is that sin’s power is only a tug.  Satan would have us to think that it is an irresistible force.  But the tug of sin’s power, the chain you feel around your foot is attached TO NOTHING!  Satan would have us believe it is attached to an immovable stake in the ground, tied to our past failures.

Christ would have us believe that it is attached to nothing.  It is a chain without power, a chain without the power to constrain.  Our past sins are forgiven; our present lives defined by Christ’s power, not by our failures.  Just like the adult elephant, unaware of his power over the chain, so many Christians are unaware of the resurrection power dwelling inside them, yearning to break free.

Can I encourage you?  Throw off your chain!  It is not attached to anything.  You have the power to sling it aside.  Sin shall not be your master.  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Heb 12:1-2).  Would the author of the letter to the Hebrews suggest we “lay aside the sin that entangles us” if it were impossible to do so?  He is asking us to throw aside our chain, we have been set free.  “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  Christ has set you free!

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.