As Christians, most of us would agree that we've not been called simply to gain knowledge about Christ, but to gain more of His Life to give to others. We would concur that true Christianity is not about "head knowledge," but about Christ's Life being personally experienced and then passed on.
The problem is, most of us don't know how to make this happen!
In other words, we don't know how to make choices to yield ourselves to the Lord, so that His Life can come forth. Consequently, rather than bringing people closer to the Lord, our behavior often pushes them away and prevents the Gospel from being passed on.
This is the subject we want to explore over the next few months in this series of articles. How are we able to exchange lives with Christ on a daily and moment-by-moment basis?
An Example: Searching For A Reason To Live
Many years ago, a woman called our office who had been searching for a reason to live. She was a Christian but didn't have the slightest idea as to how to experience Christ's Love, either for herself or for others. She had read Romans 8:35 to the end of the chapter, but didn't know how to apply it personally to her life. Thus, she never saw God's Love at work in her relationships, nor did she experience walking in the power of His Spirit.
Without personally experiencing these things - His Life at work in her and through her - she had no basis to understand what true Christianity was all about. To her, it had all been "rules and regulations."
When I questioned her about laying her life down to God, she immediately said, "I've done that!" However, when I asked her about making faith choices or non-feeling choices in order to do this, she had no idea what I was talking about. There was the problem!
Knowing how to make faith choices to yield ourselves to God, regardless of how we feel, what we think or what we want is absolutely imperative to experiencing the abundant Life. Without this step of saying, "Not my will, but Thine" (when we don't feel like obeying), it's impossible to genuinely yield our lives to God unless, of course, we bury our real feelings.
Doing God's will goes hand in hand with making choices we don't feel. As an example, how many of us, in all honestly, "feel like" surrendering ourselves to God when our flesh is screaming just the opposite? None of us do, especially when it means dying to our own desires! We're still human and we still naturally value our "selves."
That's why Jesus tells us we must learn to deny "self," pick up our cross and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24) To "deny" does not mean hide or bury our real feelings, but to allow God to expose and bring them up, so that He can then replace them with His own. In other words, we must learn to get beyond ourselves! And this can only occur when we learn to make choices by faith, not by our feelings.
The woman mentioned above ultimately rejected Christianity and began seeing an analyst and searching for happiness elsewhere. During a later phone call, I asked her if she had found what she was looking for and she yelled back at me, "Are you kidding? I am more angry, hopeless and empty now than I ever was before!" She went on to admit that she hates herself and cannot accept the fact that God still loves her.
I believe there are thousands of Christians out there just like this precious woman, who have tried to live the Christian life by their own natural love, wisdom and abilities, and just like this woman, have failed miserably. They have never heard of faith choices or contrary choices or non-feeling choices, and thus they have simply gotten tired of the hypocrisy and quit trying. Many of these wonderful people have strived for so long to be "model" Christians - doing, doing, doing - and yet, like this woman, they never really experienced Christ's real Life at work in or through them. And, because of this, they have finally just given up. The tragic part is that they never really experienced true Christianity at all!
Therefore, it's essential that we not only know what God's goal and purpose is for our lives as Christians - that Christ may be formed in us and lived out through us - but that we also know how to make faith choices so that goal may be reached!
God Wants Us to Exchange Lives
Being a Christian doesn't mean simply "copying" or "imitating" Jesus' Life, but actually exchanging lives with Him! We give Him ours; He then gives us His. In other words, He wants to replace us with Himself. He wants us to exchange our image for the image we were created to bear from the very beginning, which is His image.
The dictionary tells us that an image is an exact likeness of something. (Hebrews 1:3) It's a visible representation or reproduction of the form of a person. As we allow God to conform us more and more into His Image and His Likeness (Romans 8:29), it will be His Image and His Life that we'll portray to the world and not our own.
Thus, as Christians, it's not our job to fix up, repair or mend our "self life." That's what psychology teaches! God wants us to learn how to make choices to set that "self" aside so that Jesus can live His Life out through us.
Galatians 2:20 validates this, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
People often ask me, "What is the best thing I can do for my unbelieving spouse and my wayward kids," or "my wayward spouse and my unbelieving kids?" "What book should I get?" "What tapes should I listen to?" "What class would you recommend?" My answer is always simply, Live Christ's Life! Live His Love! Show that it works for you in the bad times as well as the good times.
The first Commandment tells us we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. Loving God - totally giving ourselves over to Him - simply means exchanging ourselves (our own thoughts, emotions and desires that are contrary to His) for His Self (His Love, His Thoughts, and His Power that are perfect).
Exchanging Lives Doesn't Happen Automatically
Unfortunately, this exchange of life doesn't happen automatically. How I wish it did! Wouldn't it just be great if we could push a button and automatically Christ's Life would be out there. I wouldn't even mind if I had to choose only once in the morning (like getting dressed) and then stay filled with Him all day long. But, this isn't the case. We must choose every moment of every day, to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him.
Thus, just because we are Christians does not mean that God's Life will automatically flow from our hearts out into our lives. It won't! It all depends upon our moment-by-moment choices! As we said, even as Christians we are still full of self, especially in trials. And the fears, hurts and justified feelings that we choose to hang on to (just to make us feel better) will end up quenching God's Life in our hearts, preventing us from reflecting Him.
Now, some of our feelings are fully justified by the world's standards, but if we mull them over in our minds or bury them, then these negative emotions will quench God's Spirit in our hearts. Note: The original negative thought is not what quenches God's Spirit. It's what we choose to do with that ungodly thought that makes it sin or not. In other words, if we choose to nurture, entertain and continually mull it over in our minds (rather than give it to God), then it will become sin and it will quench God's Spirit in us. If, however, we choose to surrender our negative thinking to the Lord and become a cleansed vessel for His use, it won't quench His Spirit, and He will be able to continue to pour His Life out through us.
Can you imagine what our marriages, our families and our churches would be like if more of us did this on a regular basis? Scripture tells us that the world will know we are Christians not by our words, our signs, our doctrines, or even our knowledge of Scripture, but by simply being open vessels genuinely showing forth Christ's Life. (John 13:35)
Reflecting God's Life Involves a Choice
But again, in order to genuinely reflect His Life, we must constantly make a choice - the choice to allow God to use us. For example, when we let God use us as an open vessel to love a very difficult person, we're not saying: "Lord, I will love this person if it kills me." We're saying "Lord, I choose to set my self aside (my own thoughts, emotions and desires) so that You can love this person through me." In other words, it's God's Love, His wisdom and His ability to produce these things in our lives.
Thus, only our willpower is involved (not our emotions, our thoughts or our desires), which, of course, is completely opposite from our natural, emotional way of loving. Consequently, it's absolutely essential that we know how to make faith choices - non-feeling choices - because they determine whose life will be lived in our souls - God's or our own.
When we choose to follow God's will, regardless of how we feel or what we think, God's Life from our hearts can freely flow out into our lives. When we choose to follow what we feel and what we want, we quench God's Life in our hearts and self life is shown forth instead.
Are You Willing To "Go Against The Tide"?
The question the Lord continually asks us is: "Are you willing?" Are you willing to go against the tide and choose, by faith, to follow Him? Are you willing to tear up that long list of justified hurts that that other person has done to you and choose, instead, to do God's will? Can you unconditionally forgive that family member, that Christian friend or that business associate who has humiliated and betrayed you over and over again, and for the hundredth time, choose to give yourself totally over to God?
If you are a believer, then you have the authority and the supernatural power to do so. The question is, will you?
Please understand that it's totally impossible to do the above things in our own strength. Unconditionally loving and forgiving those who have hurt, rejected or betrayed us is completely opposite to our own emotional way of thinking and acting. Only God can do these things through us. And it's only when we make faith choices to yield ourselves to Him that we give Him the freedom to do so.
The secret, the key, the truth that has changed my life, and that can radically change yours, is learning how to make choices that literally take away your negative thoughts and emotions, and in exchange, you're filled with His thoughts and His love. Again, we don't have to "feel" these kind of choices. We must only be willing to make them. God, then, will align our feelings with the faith choices we have made, make us genuine and restore our joy.
John 12:24 validates that, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
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