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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 12

What It Means To Be A Christian # 12

(a) The Cross, continued

And there the Heaven opened. God accepts that Man, and He is installed and instated forever before God, as the type of man that God has ever had in mind. The Cross, on the one side, sets aside a kind of man, and, on the other side, installs and instates another kind of man. "Wherefore," says the Apostle, "if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). The Christian life is just that, in principle. The Cross has brought about this - that there is a difference between where we were, and how we were, and what we were before, in God's sight, and how it is now. In Christ, there is a different man: by faith in Christ there has come about a different creation. In the resurrection of Christ, the old kind of man has been replaced by an altogether new one. Now there arises the necessity for our first of all accepting this position. We shall never get anywhere in Christ, anywhere on the way to the realm of fullness, until we have accepted that position into which God has put us in the death of Christ. In effect He says to us, 'Look here: so far as I am concerned, in yourself you are a dead man, a dead woman. I want you to recognize that, when My Son died, you died in Him, and when He rose, you rose in Him too, and there is now a new creation. Until you do that, you will never get anywhere at all. When you do that, then you are in the position to take your place in the reality of Christ risen.' Sooner or later our growth spiritually will come up against that principle in the form of suffering and discipline.

You see, first of all it is a matter of a position to be taken, deliberately taken by faith. This is something that needs constantly to be underlined. It is the basic principle of the Christian life, that we have got to consent to God's verdict upon us as we are by nature. We are not to dissect ourselves and say, 'This is good and this is bad, and this is not so good and this is not so bad.' God says: 'All of you has gone in My Son. I do not make distinctions between what you call good and what you call bad. I regard you as altogether under condemnation.' "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18).

Yes, that is basic, and it is vital that we should get hold of this fundamental principle of the Christian life. Many Christians do not make any progress at all, development and growth is stayed and arrested, because they have not got that basic matter settled. They are still trying to make something of the person, the "self", the nature, that God says He will never entertain at all. They are still thinking that they can be something in themselves, and trying to be something in themselves. They have never accepted this utter, ultimate position. God says, 'I have put you in a grave with My Son, and that was the end of that. Now everything has got to be of another kind, from another source altogether. It must all come from Christ risen, and NOT from you at all.'

That is the key to fullness. It opens up the way, throws wide open the doors. When you get that really settled and by faith take that position, there is no limit to what can be done in the Christian life. But then, when once the position, the utter position, has been taken and accepted, acknowledged, received by faith, then the other side begins - the application of the principle. We accept that ultimate position as a basis and recognize it as God's own verdict, and then the principle of the Cross begins to work in us. Yes, the tenses again, that we had earlier,are: firstly past - we were crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20). Then present - Paul says: "always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10); and again: "I die daily" (2 Cor. 15:31). And lastly future - his aspiration was: "that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death" (Phil. 3:10).

Here is the principle at work. It was accepted in a definite act, but now it is being applied as an active thing in the life, on the one side bringing to an actual reality our death with Christ, and correspondingly, on the other side, bringing into our experience our life union with Christ. As the death works, so the life works. This is just the meaning of the Christian life. What is God doing with us? Why all this trouble, all this difficulty, all this discipline - this chastening, this hard way, this difficult school? Why all this? 'I thought the Christian life was going to be one continuous song and picnic and joy-ride!' You find that it is not. It does not mean that joy disappears, but it does mean that we come into a lot of difficulties and into what, to that 'old man' of ours, is a very difficult way. What is the meaning?

Ah, God is applying the principle - getting the old man out of the way and making way for the new. Is it not true of a Christian, a true Christian, as differing from any other person, that suffering produces beauty, suffering produces the fruit, the nature, of Christ; suffering just brings out what Christ is? In others, so often, suffering brings out bitterness, resentment. Some of the most difficult people that I have ever met and tried to help have been people who, because of some great adversity in their lives, have turned against God, become bitter, sour. Suffering has done that. But that is not what happens to a Christian. The marvel of the Christian, the miracle of the Christian life, is just this, that you can find some dear children of God, in lifelong suffering and agony, either of body or of circumstances, who are just wonderfully radiant. You go in where they are, and it is the peace of God. The hymns they sing are hymns about the love of God. Such are their favorite hymns, and yet, if they sang at all, you would think, naturally speaking, it would not be about that. I have clearly in mind certain outstanding instances of such people, in my own experience.

What is it all for? Why, the principle of the Cross is at work, clearing the ground for Christ, for this new creation life, making way for the fullness of Christ. That is the first principle.

(b) Relatedness

The second principle can only be mentioned briefly before we close. This is a very important principle indeed. It is that of relatedness. You see, no individual Christian, and no number of Christians just as separate isolated individuals, can come to the fullness of Christ. Indeed, if you think about it, it goes without saying. If Christ is as big as we have said, how can anyone individual come to that? It is nonsense to suggest it. It would be arrogance to think it. It will require a vast, vast multitude to come to that; but they will never come to it as a multitude or congregation of individuals.

You see, the great conception that is given to us in the New Testament is of the aggregate of Christians as the Body of Christ. You have only to think for a moment about your body, and you know quite well that no one member of your body will grow if detached from the others. It requires not only all the other members, but all the members united, to make one body. There can be no development, either of any member or members, or of the body as a whole, without articulation. I believe that one of the first things that a student of medicine has to face is a box of bones - a box of bones is handed to him. It is all the bones of all the members of a human body. 'Now then, put those bones together and make up a skeleton!' That is the first lesson. And the very first lesson of spiritual fullness and growth is the articulation of Christians, the recognition of the fact that we belong to one another.

The second lesson is that we cannot get on without one another. Our spiritual life depends upon our relatedness with one another, and the maintenance of that adjustment one to another is the secret of spiritual growth. You will find that if satan can carry out his master stroke of separating Christians, he has effected their spiritual arrest. It is always like that. That is why he is after it. Divisions are the masterpiece of the devil, who is set against God's ultimate purpose - the fullness of Christ. If we would only look at our divisions - not only the larger ones, but the little ones, between us and somebody else - in the light of how it first of all affects our or their spiritual growth, and then relates to the larger interests of Christ's increase, we should have a motive for getting rid of those divisions, healing those quarrels, and adjusting our relationships. Relatedness is vital to growth. It is first of all articulation, member to member, and then it is mutually of life, dependence and interdependence, the recognition of the fact that we must have one another, that our very spiritual life depends upon it. Fellowship is essential, is indispensable. It is a principle of growth. You will be greater or smaller in your measure of Christ according to your recognition and observance of the principle.

But, mark you, it is not artificial, it is not institutional, it is not something that we organize: it is organic - it is by life and by love. It is not from the outside, by our arranging it, deciding to have it and fixing it up; it comes from the inside - it comes from Christ within. Paul put his finger upon that very thing in the church in Corinth, when he found rival circles there. One circle centered in himself, saying "We are of  Paul." Another circle centered in Apollos - 'We are of Apollos.' Another circle centered in Peter - 'We are of Peter'; and so on. His appeal to them was this "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:13). Of course, the answer is, "No, you cannot divide Christ." Then if Christ is in you and governs, this is all the contradiction to Christ, this is all not Christ.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 13)

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