The Normal Christian Life
2 Corinthians 5:17
James C. Denison
A friend recently sent me some facts about small boys. Now that both of our sons have graduated from high school, I hope not to need this information. But many of you still may.
A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2,000 sq. ft. house four inches deep.
If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20×20 room.
When you hear the toilet flush and the words “uh oh,” it’s already too late.
Certain Legos will pass through the digestive tract of a four-year-old boy.
Super Glue is forever.
Always look in the oven before you turn it on, as plastic toys do not like ovens. The fire department in Austin, Texas has a five-minute response time.
The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. It will, however, make cats dizzy. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
However old we are, however old our children or grandchildren may be, we’re still the children of God if Jesus is our Lord. In our series on the church, the world’s only hope, we’ve learned that the Church belongs to Christ, her founder. It is made up of saints, people who belong to God.
Now we’ll learn in more detail how to become what we already are, how to defeat the tests and temptations which come at us every day and live in the victory Jesus died to give us. What worry or fear is keeping you from the joy of Jesus this morning? What temptation or sin is preventing your peace? How do we refuse the detours so we can arrive at the destination of God’s perfect purpose for us? Where do you need the victory of God in your life this morning?
Know your identity in Jesus
Paul claims for the Corinthians and us all: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (v. 17). How is this possible? We still look the same as before we trusted in Jesus, and unfortunately many of us still act in the same ways. How can trusting in Christ make us a “new creation”?
The key is the first phrase: “If anyone is in Christ.” To be “in” Christ is to trust him as our Lord, to ask his forgiveness for our sins and invite him to make us God’s children. This is a prayer he always answers.
But how does this forgiveness make us a “new creation”? What of our sin nature? Think about the last sin you committed. Why did you commit it? Why do God’s people still disobey God’s word and will? What changes sin nature into God’s new creation?
Here’s the mystery, the fact most Christians never discover. One of the most important verses in all God’s word is Romans 6.6: “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
If you have asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, in that decision God identified you with his Son. He put the person you were before Christ on the cross with him. If I put a piece of paper in my Bible, it is included with it. It goes wherever my Bible goes. When I typed my sermon into my laptop computer, it became part of the laptop. It goes with the laptop.
When you asked Christ into your life, Christ actually brought you into his life. He made you part of himself. The person you were before that decision “died,” and you were “born again” as one with him.
This is why Paul testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2.20).
In God’s eyes, the person you were before you trusted Christ no longer exists. Your sins have been forgiven because Jesus’ blood covered them. Your sin nature has been replaced with his divine nature. And so you and I are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” We are God’s children, with his genetics, his character, his nature as ours. This is our identity in Christ. The first step to God’s victory over the detours and defeats of life is understanding that fact.
Choose the life of Christ
But we still sin, don’t we? Lies white and black, failures small and large, sins private and public. Why? Because we don’t choose the Christ life.
Let me explain.
Earlier this week a friend called me about the 1965 Mustang convertible his grandfather had given him. It was having a problem, and since he knew that I’ve owned two old Mustangs and still love them, he wondered if I might know something that would help. We spent an hour on the phone getting nowhere. My advice didn’t get him one step closer to solving the issue. I was simply keeping him from calling a mechanic who could actually fix what was wrong.
Not long ago my laptop needed some work, but our church technician couldn’t fix it until I gave it to him. My efforts weren’t solving the problem, and they were only hindering him.
A lifeguard cannot save a drowning man so long as the drowning man tries to save himself. He’ll pull them both under. The lifeguard can only safely save a drowning man when the man has completely exhausted himself and has no strength left.
This is hard for us. We are self-sufficient people, used to fixing things ourselves. But this is one problem we cannot solve. So long as we are trying to please God in our own ability, to resist sin in our own strength, to grow in faith and serve God in ministry with our own gifts and hard work, we actually prevent his doing his work in and through us.
Instead, we must choose the Christ life. Listen to two crucial sentences: “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6.11-12).
“Count yourselves” means “to reckon, to choose to believe” that it is true. Choose to believe that you are dead to sin, that your sin nature died on the cross with Jesus. Choose to believe that his Spirit now lives in you, his character, his purity, his power. And by faith it will be so.
My Bible is black, whether I can see it or not. My sight makes the color real for me; it does not create the color itself. With faith I simply choose to make real in my life what was already real before I believed it.
So choose to believe that your sin nature died on the cross, and it will be true for you. When you do this, you can fulfill the second sentence: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” When you choose the Christ life, Christ defeats sin for you.
You’re not trying harder to be pure–you have his purity. You’re not working harder to be godly–you have his godliness. You’re not striving to control your mind–you have his mind. You’re not struggling to speak holy words–you have his words.
If you are a believer, you have within you all you need to live victoriously and abundantly, to defeat sin, to fulfill God’s purpose, to find true satisfaction and significance. Because you have the Christ life in you.
Live in the power of Christ
Know that you are God’s new creation, with the Christ nature living in you. Choose that nature when you are tempted by sin and self-sufficiency. But what does this choice mean practically? How does this work in our lives daily?
To experience the life of Christ, we need the power of Christ. Here’s how we live in that power every day.
First, stay surrendered to Jesus. Romans 12:1 commands that we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. Our Lord will only give us his power to fulfill his purpose. When our boys were small, we wouldn’t let them play where we knew they’d get hurt. Every day, surrender that day to Jesus. Your ambitions, desires, decisions, problems. Ephesians 5:18 instructs that we be yielded to the Spirit daily. Do this first thing every morning.
And second, stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to him, as a plug to its socket. He taught us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The character of the branch is determined by the vine. The vine produces the fruit through the branch. So the branch must stay close to the vine.
Meet him in his word and your personal worship every morning. Consult him in prayer all through the day. And you’ll live in the power he can only give when you are close to him.
This is the price we must pay to live the Christ life in the Spirit’s power. But the rewards so far outweigh their cost: living above the sin nature, experiencing the purpose and power of the Lord of the universe. We give up nothing of value, to gain everything that matters.
Whenever I have tried to find my destination and direction in life through my work, I have failed. There has been no peace. Whenever I have tried to find fulfillment and significance through hard work for God, I have failed. There has been no joy. The reason is simple: I am not what I do. I am not a pastor, or preacher, or teacher, or evangelist. I am the child of God. Preaching, teaching, evangelizing, writing–these are just ways to serve him as he leads me.
The same is true for you. You are not a lawyer, or teacher, or student. You are God’s child. What you do is just the place he has called you to serve him. When last did you throw everything over to him, yield it all, and ask his Spirit to work through you?
There is enormous peace in letting God have my life, to do with as he will. I cannot make it significant–only he can. All I can do is pray, abide in him, and serve him as he leads me. Then he will bear fruit through me. As only he can.
It all starts with a day when we decide. We know that we are God’s children, with his nature living in us. We choose to live in that nature. We choose to abide in him through prayer, worship, and obedience. We believe that his Spirit’s power will work through our lives. And so we give ourselves completely over to him. We are his, and his alone.
Watchman Nee, in the classic spiritual work, The Normal Christian Life, wrote: “A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ…there must be a day when, without reservation, we surrender everything to Him–ourselves, our families, our possessions, our business and our time. All we are and have becomes His, to be held henceforth entirely at His disposal. From that day we are no longer our own masters, but only stewards. Not until the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a settled thing in our hearts can the Holy Spirit really operate effectively in us. He cannot direct our lives effectively until all control of them is committed to Him. If we do not give Him absolute authority in our lives, He can be present, but He cannot be powerful. The power of the Spirit is stayed.
“Are you living for the Lord or for yourself? Perhaps that is too general a question, so let me be more specific. Is there anything God is asking of you that you are withholding from Him? Is there any point of contention between you and Him? Not till every controversy is settled and the Holy Spirit is given full sway can He reproduce the life of Christ in the heart of any believer” (pp. 134-5).
Is today that day for you? Is this the day that you choose the normal Christian life? Let me close with the strongest call to such commitment I have ever found. Once a year or so, it seems the Lord calls me to share my favorite declaration of faith with you again. If you’ve heard me quote these words before, make them your own again today. If they are new, make them your own for the first time today. They come from a young African pastor martyred for his commitment to Christ. In his journal was found this statement of faith:
I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up ’til I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go ’til He comes, give ’til I drop, preach ’til all know, and work ’til He stops.
And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.