Our Life in Christ

Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (April 2011)

“To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Our life in Jesus Christ is totally different from the natural life with which we are born. What does the new life embrace?

1. A spiritual birth

All people enter the world as sinners, without God and without hope. There is no one righteous as we are all under the control of the depraved nature which we inherited from Adam. Our life with the Lord Jesus begins with a spiritual birth, or rebirth, when, from God’s perspective, we are passing from death into life (John 3:3; 5:24). When that happens we become believers who were saved by grace and imbued with the holy nature of Christ. The new life is a gift from God which is offered to us through His Son: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). To us, to live is Christ.

2. A daily walk with Christ

After being made alive spiritually we are called upon to grow up in the new life in Christ and to daily walk with Him as His disciples. We must not, like Demas, be lured back to lead a life outside of Christ in the world. There are unfortunately those who try to do just that, and they are described as carnal believers who cannot say with conviction: “To me, to live is Christ.” They dot not really know what is most important to them – the Lord Jesus or the world.

There are two conditions with which we have to comply if we wish to qualitatively enjoy the benefits of a life in Christ. The first one is that we must die to ourselves (Luke 9:23) and the second one that we must be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

We should so completely identify with Christ’s death on the Cross that we will die with Him to the world and to sin. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). A cross was planted in between him and the world, and for that reason he could say, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Dying to oneself is a condition for the life in Christ and not only a once-off experience during rebirth – it is a continuous process. We should be united together with the Lord Jesus in the likeness of His death if we wish to practically experience His resurrection life on a daily basis (Rom. 6:5; Phil. 3:10).

In reaction to a complete surrender of this nature the Lord Jesus will fill us with His Holy Spirit. When that happens, the new life in Christ will fully manifest because the Holy Spirit instils in us the daily consciousness of Christ’s presence (John 16:14). When the Lord Jesus is increasingly formed in us (Gal. 4:19) we will grow up to the stature of a perfect man or woman in Christ, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:13-15). We will become spiritually matured with good discernment and strong convictions.

3. Together with Christ in conflict with the depraved world

If we are serious about following the Lord Jesus with the confession that He is our whole life, we should be mindful of the fact that throughout the church dispensation we are following the suffering Christ who is still rejected by the great majority of people. We should expect opposition and be willing to bear His reproach when actively serving Him. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world… therefore the world hates you… A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also… In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 15:19-20; 16:33).

We can expect to meet with antagonism and even open resistance when proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not kings and queens now, but soldiers for the cross. We must be prepared to put on the full armour of God that we may remain standing against the wiles of the devil. Are you prepared to fulfil this role by being the salt of a corrupt earth and the light of a dark world? Paul says it has been granted to us on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but to also suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29).

The truth of the gospel is controversial in the world because most people love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). We have the command to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). That means that, in practice, we should have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them (Eph. 5:11). We have to take a clear stand against evil.

Because of this situation, it is often a lonely journey which awaits us if we want to be faithful followers of the Lord Jesus. We should not only be crucified to the world and to sin but also turn away from among those who only have a form of godliness by denying the power of the gospel and only paying lip service to the Lord (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We cannot associate with deceptive teachings and half-truths as that will undermine us spiritually and cause us to depart from the truth.

The life in Christ is a life of contending against unbelief, sin, compromising and a delusive form of godliness. The backsliders and apostates are worldly-minded as they only pursue material rewards and blessings. Because of their secular approach they are not inclined to heaven and do not proclaim the soon coming of Christ for His church. There are many false teachings against which we have to express ourselves when we proclaim Christ.

Paul said to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). In his second letter to Timothy he said: “Endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). If we suffer for the truth with Christ we will one day be glorified together with Him (Rom. 8:17). We are engaged in a battle and should not expect kingdom conditions to prevail during this dispensation.

4. Persevere with Christ

With a view to all the hostility against the truth, the Lord expects from us a spirit of single-mindedness in order to persevere on the right way despite the negative consequences. The Lord Jesus set the perfect example to us in this regard: “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:3).

Some Christians dishonour the name of the Lord by allowing trials and hardships to bog them down spiritually. They backslide and allow bitter feelings to take root in their hearts. They blame all people, even the Lord, for their negative experiences. We must resist this spirit of apostasy and persevere on the Lord’s way of holiness to the end: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14). We should commit ourselves to Christ without wavering, not looking back after putting our hand to the plough. Do not be discouraged by opposition or criticism.

All Christians should often investigate the nature of their relationship of faith with the Lord and immediately put things right that have gone wrong. Don’t allow circumstances to prevail through which we leave the Lord no choice but to assess us in a similar way as He did with the congregation in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). If we say that to us to live is Christ, we should take care that we do not grow cold in our love towards Him. Make a fresh surrender to be endued with power from on high, so the fire of the Holy Spirit will not be extinguished in our lives. We must pursue complete sanctification to be blameless on the day when Christ comes again.

5. Unbroken prayer contact with Christ

The quality of our daily walk with Christ is reflected by the nature of our prayer life. We should acknowledge the Lord in all our ways and develop the practice to always pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18). We must often, in prayer, draw near to the throne of grace on the new and living way which Christ has opened for us. All our requests must be made known to Him with thanksgiving, while accepting His promises in faith. He will guide us through His Word and also through circumstances, give us power to prevail in every crisis, and give in our hearts a peace which surpasses all understanding.

If we privately, in our room, pray for the Lord’s help He will keep us standing outside in the world where the demands for Christian living are high; He will carry us and open to us doors of opportunity. People will be able to recognise us as followers of the Lord Jesus.

6. Active in the service of the Lord Jesus

The main purpose for which we are on earth is to be witnesses for Christ and thereby to bear fruit which is worthy of repentance. In order to do so we need the power of the Holy Spirit, as promised to us by Christ: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me…” (Acts 1:8). Since the enduement with power from on high is available to all of us we will not have any excuse if it is wanting in our lives. We should avoid living carnal and powerless lives and therefore appear empty-handed before the Lord.

All of us should in one or other way be involved with executing the Great Commission. If we cannot do it through our congregation then we should find suitable interdenominational structures, or do it on a small scale from our homes. We must never remain idle as there is still much work to be done. Time is busy running out in the dispensation of grace and we should use every opportunity for evangelisation and the spiritual building up of believers. We will have to give account of our lives to the Lord.

When we are actively working for the Lord we can expect to experience more resistance from the enemy of our souls as he will, in various ways, try to oppose and discourage us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is also available to us to remain standing against his attacks. We should learn to use the spiritual weapons at our disposal, namely faith, the blood of the Lamb, prayer, the word of our testimony, and the Bible as the sword of the Spirit. If we prevail we will be able to proceed with our spiritual work and be used of the Lord. But if we spiritually stumble and succumb to evil powers we cannot be instruments in the hand of the Lord as the Holy Spirit only uses clean vessels.

Our personal problems should first be solved before we can offer solutions to the problems of other people. If people can see Christ in us they will also be drawn to Him.

7. With Christ in His kingdom

To a Christian, the best is always ahead and for this reason we forget the things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead. The Lord is busy preparing a kingdom and an eternal home for His servants. Are we aware of this? Like Abraham, we should have a vision of a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). That is the new Jerusalem in heaven. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). That will be a place of unspeakable joy (1 Cor. 2:9).

Paul said: “I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). To die would therefore be gain to him. We are working for the kingdom of Christ which is still hidden on earth, but we are looking forward to the day when He will return in power and majesty to reveal His kingdom. We are members of His heavenly kingdom, and for that reason we are sojourners and pilgrims in the present evil world: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:2-21).

To a Christian, death is not bad news since it is only a transition from our imperfect earthly life to a perfect life in heaven. We should have the desire to be with Christ, where it is infinitely better than here on earth. Parting with this life is only traumatic to loved ones who remain behind, but they can take courage from the promise of our future reunion: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18). That is our glorious destination. The end of our earthly pilgrimage is only the transition to a new beginning in heaven where we will have glorified and incorruptible bodies. Glory be to our Saviour.

After the second judgement the heavenly Jerusalem will come down to earth and God will live among the people. All the miseries of our present earthly life will be past: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Honest soul-searching

It is important that, from time to time, we ask ourselves critical questions on how we are progressing on the path which we are walking with the Lord Jesus. Not all of us assess ourselves with equal sincerity. Paul said to fellow believers: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). This examination is firstly aimed at determining whether they are true believers or only nominal believers who are content with an outward form of godliness; and, secondly, if they are indeed true believers, to probe into the quality of their life of faith. Many people are inclined to avoid such direct, personal questions and, to their own detriment, keep on pretending that everything is in order with their spiritual lives while it may not be the case.

When you approach the end of your life and are confronted with the reality of eternity, as well as the obligation to give account of your earthly life before the judgement seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12), you often have thoughts which divest you of all pretence and insincere forms of self-assessment. You critically consider yourself – even to the point of questioning your integrity and worthiness as a believer. You are inclined to look into the precarious and less successful side of your life, and consider all your failures and wrong decisions. You have bitter remorse over the ills in your character, your career, your Christian ministry, your marriage, the handling of your finances, and also in your relations with other people. You are less inclined to criticise others but rather see yourself as the guilty party in many of the things that have gone wrong.

There are certain dangers that should be avoided when a Christian engages in introspection. The first one concerns our past sins. If we are truly born again with the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we are children of God whose sins have been forgiven (Rom. 8:16), we must discipline ourselves not to think about these sins again and not to mention them in conversations. The enemy of our souls will always try to remind us of these sins in order to establish a renewed guilt consciousness in our mind. If we yield to his influence he will eventually instil thoughts in our heart which will question our salvation. Forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead (Phil. 3:13). The Lord said about His wayward people who return to Him wit repentant hearts: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34). He also says the same to us.

The second danger against which Christians should guard is to compare themselves with other Christians, and then regarding themselves as failures because they cannot do what others are doing. Our only example is the Lord Jesus, and we should follow His footsteps (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). He guides us through His Holy Spirit and uses each one of us in a different manner. Not all of us are preachers, singers, writers, or good business people who can support the work of the Lord financially. But all of us can be good intercessors, witnesses for Christ, and committed believers who persevere on the way of the Lord without deviating from it. From those believers who may have received more talents, more will be required (Luke 12:48).

It is precisely with regard to Christian service that we should search ourselves. All Christians are saved by grace without works, but that is only the beginning of our new life in Christ. Subsequently, we are all commissioned to be witnesses for Christ in a dark world. This big task cannot be fulfilled in our own strength, and that is the reason why the Lord Jesus commanded all of us to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8). Can you testify about this enduement with power from on high? (Luke 24:46-49).

If we can testify of a surrender of this nature we should ensure that it is subsequently often renewed. The disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, later called on the Lord for help during times of great distress, made a new surrender and were again filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31; 13:52). If we fail to regularly renew this surrender we may drift away from the Lord, lose the power of the Holy Spirit, and again start relying on the flesh (our natural human abilities). There were even entire congregations that were guilty of such backsliding. Paul confronted the church in Galatia because of this problem: “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3).

There are various works which the Holy Spirit does in our lives and also various reasons why we should be filled with the Spirit:

·       He firstly convicts us of our sin and lost state, as well as the righteousness of Christ who lay down His life as a ransom for the sins of the whole world (John 16:8).

·       If we react positively to this conviction and approach Christ’s throne of grace with the confession of our sins, the Holy Spirit will regenerate us. This experience is also described as a spiritual quickening, or baptism, whereby we are baptised into the body of Christ (John 3:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:13). This experience is not to be confused with water baptism, which cannot save a person as it only testifies about the spiritual baptism, or regeneration.

·       If we subsequently make a full surrender the Holy Spirit will fill us to become effective witnesses of Christ who are able to bear fruit which is worthy of repentance (Acts 1:8; Matt. 3:8).

·       The Holy Spirit instils divine characteristics in us by which the Lord Jesus is formed in us, so the world can see that we are disciples of Jesus (Gal. 5:22; John 13:34). The most important of these characteristics is divine love (agape) which He pours out in our hearts (Rom. 5:5).

·       The Holy Spirit gives us power to prevail over the lust of the flesh: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). He equips us with spiritual armour through which we can prevail over the temptations and attacks of the devil (Eph. 6:10-11).

·       The Holy Spirit is our Teacher who will guide us into all truth, and also tell us things to come (John 16:13). He gives us enlightened eyes of the mind to be able to understand the Bible (Eph. 1:18), and reminds us of all things that Jesus taught His disciples (John 14:26; 16:14).

·       He is also our Comforter who comforts us during the physical absence of the Lord Jesus, while we have to find our way through a hostile world (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:17). He testifies about Jesus, and also about our reunion with Him after He has prepared a place in heaven for us (John 14:1-3).

·       The Spirit also endues us with spiritual gifts. These gifts may also be described as a special anointing (1 John 2:20,27). In this way the Spirit teaches and equips us spiritually to serve the Lord with our particular talents. A natural ability without the anointing of the Holy Spirit is of no spiritual value. Even if I have certain natural abilities, whether they are hereditary or developed through training, I still need the anointing of the Holy Spirit to sanctify these talents in the service of the Lord.

Why do so many believers lose direction and backslide? Because they do not rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Why are their priorities and decisions so often wrong? Because their fallen nature (the flesh) has not been surrendered to be crucified (cf. Luke 9:23; Gal. 6:14). This is the most important reason for their failures, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17).

The Lord Jesus wants us to be faithful witnesses who can, with boldness, give account of our lives – also of the way in which we used our talents. It is in this regard that so many of us have not performed well in the Lord’s kingdom. Some of us will even appear before Him empty-handed, saved as through fire (1 Cor. 3:15).

It is good to be aware of any deficiencies at an early stage, as that will allow us to ensure that we are not only saved but also filled with the Holy Spirit, which will enable us to be faithful servants of the Lord Jesus. All of us would one day like to hear the following words from the Lord Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt. 25:21). To receive such a positive assessment we need to have undivided and pure hearts that are filled with the Holy Spirit. This will allow us to say with boldness and under all circumstances: “To me, to live is Christ.”