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.

We are the Body

The United States of America has a long history of embracing personal liberty and self-determination.  From its pioneer spirit to its entrepreneurial energy to its capitalistic economy, America has been an immigrant magnet to those seeking an independent life.  There appears to be a spirit here, even beyond our materialism and consumerism, of freedom and independence.

Fast forward two hundred thirty-six years from its founding and nearly every political debate in the USA today is essentially about the balance between our libertarian ideas of personal freedom and the role of central government in promoting the common good (or not so good).  Where the balance lies in a democracy like ours, I will leave to the political types.  My interest is what happens when the individualism so celebrated in our country enters the church.  Quite frankly, it is a recipe for disaster.

The most common analogy for the church used in the New Testament is the physical body.  “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is the body of Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (I Cor 12:12-13).  The church – the body – is made up of many members and from the outside may look like any other affinity group such as a club, a political party, a bowling league, etc.  But that is not the case.  The church is not a group of like-minded people whose membership is based on some shared interest, talent, or skill.  The church is so much more; held together by something much greater and more unique than having something in common.

The church is a body.  “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (I Cor 12:27).  Why?  “So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (I Cor 12:25-26).  In short, as a body, the church is the antithesis of the hyper-individualism that is so prevalent in today’s America.

But this antithesis is rarely seen in practice.  Instead, we listen to sermons in megachurches or on the Internet and process them in individualistic ways.  In our “quiet time” we read the Bible by ourselves.  We often carry out our Sunday morning assignments in the local church completely separated from adult interaction.  Even our singing has become an individual worship experience since the music is so loud we can’t hear anyone else around us singing.  Instead of being the antithesis, our churches have become a reflection of the hyper-individualism of our age.

What is the answer?  The answer is for the church to be the body.  In the physical body, every member is dependant on each other.  There is no room for individual mandates among our body parts.  The church is to operate the same way; a pattern Paul explains in I Corinthians chapter 12 in describing our roles and interdependency in the body of Christ.  A pattern that I call “hyper-socialism”, the opposite of hyper-individualism.  Putting it into practice is what the next several posts will be about.

Costume Jewelry or Tarnished Silver

How do we know “It’s In There!” – the raw ingredients for living the victorious Christian life?  We know because the Bible tells us so.  The Bible says:

  • You are holy and beloved. (Col 3:12)
  • The seed of God lives in you. (I Jn 3:9)
  • You have a new heart. (Ez 26:36)  Your old deceptively wicked heart has been removed.
  • Your new self is created in the likeness of God; in righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:24)
  • When you look in the mirror, you see a representation of the glory of the Lord. (II Cor 3:18)
  • He who has died with Christ has ceased from sin. (I Pet 4:1)
  • The time for sin is in your past. (I Pet 4:3)
  • God’s divine power has granted to you everything pertaining to life and godliness. (II Pet 1:3)
  • You share the divine nature. (II Pet 1:4)
  • You have a moral resemblance to Christ. (I Jn 2:29)
  • You are a new creation. (II Cor 5:17)
  • Your old nature died with Christ (Rom 6:6)
  • Holiness is your new default mode.  (All of the above and more)

Add to this the fact that the apostles’ exhortation to ethical behavior is always based on our new identity (Eph 4:1); not a new list of qualities to strive for or an ABC formula for spiritual success, and it all adds up to a fundamentally positive description of believers.   At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I keep getting up on my New Covenant soapbox and celebrating all that became new when we accepted Christ because the “miserable-sinner Christianity” that runs through so many Protestant confessional formulas and catechisms is still alive and well in the twenty-first century church.  (See the recommended article by Robert Saucy, “Sinners” Who Are Forgiven or “Saints” Who Sin?)

I am reminded of the word picture Dwight Edward’s uses for this issue in his book, Revolution Within, and I quote.  “Costume jewelry is essentially worthless metal covered with an attractive coating.  So many believers see themselves in that way – sinners through and through, yet covered by the blood of Christ.  Tarnished silver is a much truer image of who we are after conversion.  While we are covered by the infinite righteousness of Christ, we are also new creations in Christ (silver) clothed in an earth suit that is sin-saturated (tarnished).  The new you isn’t a sinner but rather a saint who struggles with the tarnish of sin.”

Is this talk of costume jewelry and tarnished silver and forgiven sinners and sinning saints just theoretical and theological splitting of hairs?  On the contrary, I think it has tremendous implications for how we live.  Let’s see if we can flesh out some of the practical implications next time.

Holy Temples

In the area of lifestyle issues, we must teach our children – and understand ourselves – the important distinction between the sacred and the profane, between the holy and the carnal, between godliness and worldliness.  By virtue of our relationship (children of God) and affinity (moral resemblance) to God, we now inhabit the world of the sacred, the holy, the godly.  Not because we keep a certain list of do’s and dont’s, but because God has placed us there by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Look at these New Testament labels for believers.  “As those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved…” (Col 3:12), or “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…” (I Pet 2:9).  Over and over, the apostle Paul calls believers “saints”, or literally, “holy ones.”  The import of this for Christian living is the idea that godliness is not only our destiny; it is our capacity as well.

Think about the word “holy” for a minute.  It is the ultimate attribute of God.  Holy, one-of-a-kind, unique, off-the-charts, and unlike any other are all attempts to describe God’s unique character.  And everywhere God dwells is holy.  In His interaction with man in the Old Testament, God’s presence was largely geographic.  He inhabited the Holy Mountain (Mt. Sinai), the Holy Land (Palestine), the Holy City (Jerusalem), and of course the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple.

But under the New Covenant, the veil has been torn and the physical temple destroyed, and God now lives in the heart of every believer by the Holy Spirit.  The fact is we are made holy by the Holy Spirit living in us.  This is not an exclamation of pride or perfection or self-righteousness; it is a simple fact of the New Covenant.  We are living stones (I Pet 2:5) and our bodies are holy temples (I Cor 6:19).

Framing the discussion about lifestyle issues in terms of our bodies, God’s temple, takes the focus away from the Christian life as a legalistic set of rules to follow.  It turns our attention to a lifestyle that reflects who we already are; a lifestyle that reflects our relationship with the Father.  What this looks like in the specifics is a topic for next time.

A Flood of Dissipation

Our last post included a quote from I Peter chapter 4.  I include it again here, extending it to verses 1 through 5.  “Therefore, since Christ has suffered death in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered death in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (I Pet 4:1-5).

Beginning in verse 1, follow these powerful word pictures with me.

  •  Christ died “in the flesh,” i.e. as a man.
  • Because our flesh “died” with Christ, sin is no longer our normal practice (“he who has died has ceased from sin”).
  • In fact, with the time we have left on earth (“the rest of the time in the flesh”) we should be following “the will of God,” not our former lusts.
  • Following the “lusts of men” was our former course and many of these activities are described here in verse 3.
  • But these activities are clearly in our past (“the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried these out”).
  • For those who have not “died with Christ,” (i.e. have not become His children by embracing His message), they continue on their sinful path, our former path; a path described as a “flood of dissipation.”
  • They are “surprised” or “shocked” that you no longer join them, and they “malign” or “heap abuse” on you because of it.
  • But take courage under their persecution, God the righteous judge is on your side.

“Flood of dissipation” is an interesting phrase.  It is translated from two Greek words; ANACHUSIS, meaning overflow, and ASOTIA, meaning wastefulness.  In physics, dissipation is defined as “a process in which energy is used or lost without accomplishing useful work.”  In other words, dissipated energy is wasted energy, energy that is not captured for any useful purpose during an energy exchange.  Peter is painting a picture of our culture’s fascination with sin – in its entertainment, debauchery, and idolatry – as an overflow of dissipation, a flood of waste.  And who, if we have been paying attention to our entertainment and news culture, wouldn’t agree with Peter’s assessment, and who among us hasn’t felt that sense of waste when we have been caught up in it.

We somehow have the mistaken idea that evangelism happens when we join the culture in their “flood of dissipation.”  That somehow our “good” will rub off in these sinful situations.  That somehow engaging the culture around its sewer enhances our “identification” with unbelievers.

This passage suggests just the opposite.  Our witness and our allegiance to Christ shines brightest when our friends and family are “surprised” by our lack of participation.  This does not mean we become isolationists.  We still engage our unbelieving friends across the family, neighbor, work, sports, etc. spectrum throughout our circle of influence.  We are brothers and sisters with our unbelieving friends under the tent of all of us being created in God’s image, an origin that all humanity shares.  But as far as where our steps go from there, we are to be radically different, not in an obnoxious way, but in a winsome way that invites our unbelieving friends to join us in something better.  Join me in thinking about and praying for all the winsome ways that we can shine the message of Christ in our relationships.