February 29, 2012

Imitating Christ does not work

When Jesus Christ came into my life, my sister told me to read the Bible every day (which I’d been doing for years anyway). She said God would speak to me, and when He did, I should write down the verse and my understanding of what He was saying. I accumulated a three-foot stack of journals before using a computer for daily devotional readings and thoughts. 

Now I’m using Logos 4 for devotions, Bible study, and preparing lessons. It has a new feature that allows adding my own files that will be indexed and searchable like the many books already in the program. I’ve decided to do this with my spiritual journals, starting with the computer files. I’m also using speech recognition software to do the hand-written files. I might not live long enough to finish, but reading those old journals is both a blessing and sorrowful.

One thing that stands out is how long it takes me to actually learn something. God teaches it, gives me opportunity to obey, and when I mess up, the cycle starts over again. It has taken forty years to get some truths into my head and showing up in my life. 

I’ve noticed some instances where I’ve absorbed less than correct teaching. This has interfered with deeper realities. Perhaps as a new Christian I would not have “got it” anyway, but I can remember one example. The first time I heard that I was to be like Jesus, I understood that as He is my example and I’m to copy what He does, but this isn’t how it works.

Without a devotional reading in my guide for this Leap Year day, I opened a book on Logos called Our Brilliant Heritage by Oswald Chambers. In the first chapter he uses these verses to begin a wonderful explanation of how it does work.
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31)
Chambers says, “Whenever Paul speaks of sanctification, he speaks of it as an impartation, never as an imitation. Imitation comes in on a different line. Paul does not say, nor does the Spirit of God say anywhere, that after we are born again of the Spirit of God, Jesus Christ is put before us as an example and we make ourselves holy by drawing from Him. Never! Sanctification is Christ formed in us; not the Christ-life, but Christ Himself.”
After many years of trying to imitate Jesus, I now understood that much. My salvation is not by my own effort, nor is my spiritual development. Jesus lives in me and being holy means letting His life become my life. As Chambers says, this is a mystery, hard to explain yet a joyful truth that can be seen in the lives of those who finally “get it.”

Chambers adds this: “In Jesus Christ is the perfection of everything, and the mystery of sanctification is that we may have in Jesus Christ, not the start of holiness, but the holiness of Jesus Christ. All the perfections of Jesus Christ are at our disposal if we have been initiated into the mystery of sanctification. No wonder men cannot explain this mystery for the joy and the rapture and the marvel of it all, and no wonder men see it when it is there, for it works out everywhere.”

Basic to this truth is the fact of sin. It’s root description is that each of us “go our own way” even to trying to work out our salvation in our own way, even after Jesus comes into our lives. Not that we have no role, but the Bible is clear about how this is done.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
God tells me to obey, to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, but He does the work. He gives me the will to obey and the ability. This is His life in me, not mine. In fact, my will and my efforts always interfere with His and with what He wants to do in and through me. My sinful flesh runs contrary to Christ — who lives in me — all the time and in my every effort to become what He wants. Instead of helping Him by my zeal and determination, I get in His way. And like the slaves delivered from Egypt, He lets me wander in the wilderness until I figure it out.

Jesus, if I’ve figured out anything, it is because You have been incredibly patient. I can see that apart from You I am nothing and can do nothing. You are my Savior in salvation and sanctification. I’ve tried to be holy, but the flesh cannot be made holy. Any righteousness that is in me is Your righteousness. It has to be. The rest is merely human foolishness at trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

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