Two, Part III: Life-Life – God’s Optimal Believer

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Every believer deep down wants to hear Jesus Christ say “Well done, good and faithful servant” on the Day. All we have to do is ask ourselves and listen within; if we listen deep enough we’ll find the Holy Spirit way down there resounding with a great “Yes!” But the question many of us have is “How do I get there? How do I change? How do I become ‘Christ-like’?”

The usual answer I’ve heard is to read more, pray more, go to church more, start a Bible study, work in the soup kitchen, and any of a number of “do this and don’t do that” kinds of thinking. While all those things can be good actions, they can spring from the wrong source – the wrong Tree. Pretty soon we are doing this and doing that to try to become more sanctified.But that isn’t God’s way. He says in Isaiah 55, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

More twos: His thoughts vs our thoughts. His ways vs our ways. God’s way is that fruit comes from His implanted Word, the rain of His Holy Spirit watering it. It will not return to Him void. Yet He bases the amount of fruit on a believer’s level of trust. Thus, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:6-8).

Here we have another pair of things: the faith-in-Christ way, or being spoiled through “our ways”: deceptive thinking and traditions modeled after the satanic principles of the world and not after Christ. Once again, we see the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Growth in Christ – or “growth” according to satanic principles. We can be built up – or robbed of fruitfulness.

This echoes 1Cor 3, where Paul says he laid the foundation of Christ in the Corinthians, and other teachers build upon that foundation. Paul warns that every man take heed how he builds on the foundation; teachers are to build Christ upon Christ, faith in Him upon faith in Him; that’s building with gold, silver, precious stones. The teachers are responsible for what they teach; we are responsible for accepting or rejecting true or false teaching. So here I ask a question, to which I think I have in part the answer: What does God’s optimal believer look like? Here’s at least a partial answer that goes a long way; bear in mind that this is not some sort of method, but a picture:

treelife.jpg

God is looking for faith in His Son. I don’t mean merely trusting Jesus “up there” to save us from our sin-debt and take us to Heaven. I mean a present-tense, here-and-now faith in Jesus who lives by the Holy Spirit inside you, inside me. We have to renew our minds to the new-creation reality: I am not an independent self trying to be good and make life work by my own effort. I am a human container, a cup, a vessel, who has an indwelling Lord. I am a slave with a inner Master, a wife with an inner Husband, a subject with an inner King, a son with an inner Father – a need with an inner Supply.

“Well, then,” some will say, “Why, if I am all those things, do I still sin? I’m trying to be this new inner man, trying to do what God wants me to do, trying to follow the Master, and I keep on failing. Where is this abundant life of faith and victory?”

That’s the unrenewed mind, the wrong Tree; that’s the trap of Romans 7. The Christian does not have to become holy; he already is holy. He is a man set apart. The believer does not have to become a good person by his human effort; he is a good person because the only Source of goodness in the universe lives inside him.

”Well!” some will say, “We’ve still got to act like it! Faith without works is dead!” To this I wholeheartedly agree. What I disagree with is the common, satanic, legalistic method of “getting there.” Any Way which does not begin and end in a wholehearted reliance on the One who said, “I am the Way,” is doomed to failure. Whether legalism or license is of no consequence; they both fall off this narrow Way, the width of a single Man. Works that spring from anything but God’s life through the channel of faith will burn in the end.

God is looking for faith-people. Faith-ers. A peculiar people, the uncommon folks who will rely on Him every step of the way. Like Aragorn, through faith and endurance they slash through demonic hordes, deception, and lies to find their real identity, their true kinship and kingship.This kind of faith, the faith that recognizes God’s truth as Reality even though circumstance says otherwise, is what brings us to the expression of our real identity; we say in faith that we are loved when we feel unloved; we say in faith that Christ in us is our strength when we feel weak. We don’t deny our feelings, but we put them in their proper place. Trinity says to Neo, “…the Matrix cannot tell you who you are.” God is the Teller of our identity. If we hearken to Him, and put that new-creation identity in our mind-mirror daily, it will begin to show in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

God only. That’s the Tree of Life. Christ alone has redeemed us; Christ alone has cleansed us, justified us; Christ alone has perfected us forever by His one sacrifice, and now is transforming our daily expression of life into His image. All we do is rely on Him, believe what He has told us in His Word, and step out on that Word as if it were true (because of course, it is). That Word, when mixed with faith, washes away the grit and grime of the wrong Tree, and so we learn to stand.

We’ll discuss “the old man” in Two, Part IV.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


11 Comments

  1. Jill L

    I visit the Rabbit Room often, but have never posted any comments until now. I have been anticipating getting to reading Part III since reading Parts I and II last week, and I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you, Ron, for allowing GOD to use you and speak through you. He has really spoken to me through this series of postings regarding how He needs to change my mindset. I look forward to Part IV.

  2. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I heard an expression that is a new favorite of mine from a pastor over the week-end “Christianity is not about transportation, it is about transformation.” You have rightly noted here and in prior parts that the power of the Gospel is Christ in us — our hope of glory. Out of the indwelling of the Spirit comes sure fruit. At the end of all things, those that belong to Jesus will all hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Those that don’t hear that were never His to begin with.

    There’s the tension. Even my “self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit. So, when people are struggling in their walk with Christ, we might counsel them to act (i.e. serve and the feelings will follow) much like we do in a love relationship by telling a husband or wife that real love is a verb. However, when it’s a crisis of assurance (am I a child of God?) then I’d push that person to read and reflect on God’s revealed will — His Word. As the body has its own defense mechanisms, the body of Christ, His Bride the Church, prompted by the Spirit, rushes to the aide or defense of its connected members.

    My study of Revelation 7 this morning yielded some insights that might apply here. As it relates to being in Christ, a believer is sealed. This seal is a guarantee in three ways.

    First, our caring and capable Father in heaven “protects us from tampering” (John 6:38-40). Second, Jesus “marks [us for] ownership” by His death and resurrection. His sacrifice purchased our pardon and redeemed us. The commentator I’m using here and in my study (William Hendriksen) tied this beautifully to Song of Songs 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thy heart.” This ties in nicely to your marriage allusion above. Finally, the Spirit “certifies genuine character” as He is an abiding presence in the life of a true follower of Christ.

    The Spirit gives us the ability to live out our faith by producing in us the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as we walk in Him. I’ve thought for some time now that this list that Paul gives in Galatians 5 is progressive (i.e. love leads to peace, peace leads to patience, etc.) with the key being love. The more we love Christ, the more that love compels us to live for Him. That love is rooted in obedience but to start with obedience is legalism and to love without obedience is license. But, to love Him leading us to obey Him because our love for Him is born out of the love He has for us leads to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hmm, sounds familiar. 🙂

    By the way, I’ve been listening to “Raising Sand” while writing this post. It was on before I came across Part III and seemed fitting, so I kept it rolling. Now, listening to “Your Long Journey” I’ll click submit and look forward to other comments before my second post in part III. 🙂

    P.S. To hear the message go here: http://www.perimeterchurch.org/index.php?module=pfamily&submodule=content&section=37 click on “Following Jesus”

  3. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jill,

    Thank you for your encouraging spirit (or Spirit, really…).

    Tony,

    I start with the knowledge, founded on experience, that in and of myself I don’t have that God-kind of love that dies for its enemies. My humanity was originally constructed as an outer form which is sensitive to its environment – that means subject to temptation. Jesus had this same outer form which was sensitive to environment. So in and of itself, our humanity is just a weak vessel incapable of real love – I mean God’s kind of love. Of course we have the human sort of love – loving those who love us. It is need-love.

    It is precisely to “doing” the higher kind of love that God wants to raise us – the love that loves no matter what the object of love does with that love. It is agape – which is not “God’s love” as many say, but “wholehearted commitment love” as we can see in the verse where it says “men agape darkness rather than light…”

    So once we get this straight, this cup/Wine, branch/Vine, slave/Master concept of our humanity, things begin to roll a lot more quickly.

    And of course ultimately what God is aiming for is that the oneness we have with Him in our spirit (“he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit”) should be expressed out through our psyche and body to others.

    But beginning this process is faith. Faith is the connection. It’s the power cord that we plug into the Outlet. Without faith we cannot express this kind of Love.

    So before Love, in the Galatians 5 list, I would put Faith – because that is what Paul has been talking about for chapter after chapter. They had to get the wrong Tree out of their minds and plug into the right one – Christ in them. Once plugged in, love flows, which gives joy, which brings peace, and leads to endurance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    Even beyond the Spirit enabling us, as if we “use” what He’s got, the Spirit drives us – God as Pilot. His attributes, His character, far from being something that “I” use, become something that I am – in Him. In Him I am holy, beloved, accepted, a king, an overcomer, strong. It is in Him, and Him in me, that makes “me” into what He is, because it’s really Him living through me.

    But we’ve got a choice – we can try to wrest the wheel from Him through unbelief (which is really faith going in the wrong direction). What God is aiming at is, as Luther put it, “a universe of little Christs,” a peculiar people in whom Christ is the Driver and they the human cup. And of course I’ve heard people say that that makes us into robots, but that’s the paradox – it really gives us our real personality, because we are designed to be indwelt and in willing cooperation with Christ. When we walk there, we are truly our Selves.

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    It is impossible to love God and not obey Him. For my son to truly love me, and not just have affection for me, means he trusts me, and obeys me. So yes, in that sense, love is a verb. But I’d also say at the root of it, when it goes from a lower thing to a higher, love also involves trust.

    So those who are falling into license are not trusting or loving God. They are not fulfilling the command “Love God” because they are not trusting Him and doing as He says. And in not trusting Him or doing what He says, we are not loving our neighbor. We may have feelings of love for God; we may be trusting Him for “salvation,” meaning “I won’t go to Hell” and “Jesus paid my sin debt” but we are not trusting and loving Him in our daily walk.

    It is also possible for my son to obey me out of sheer fear. If he is afraid I will lose my temper, insult him, make him feel small – in other words, if I abuse my authority over him he may obey when I’m looking out of fear, not out of trust and love. This may look like trust and love, but it isn’t, and it leads to sin – it leads to a teenager who rebels against authority once he gets a little freedom. That’s the legalistic believer – trying to be good out of fear.

    The optimal believer is rooted in God’s love and faithfulness. He knows God delights in him. He knows Christ has saved him, but he doesn’t stop there at Forgiveness of Sins. He knows Christ has indwelt him. He knows, and delights in the Father’s love, not insulting it by refusing to trust (and so refusing to love by refusing to obey). The obedient believer is a trusting lover of God because he knows God loves him, and lives in him, and wants to use him for Kingdom work.

    But this mindset takes a radical reprogramming of our thinking, which is why the Word is so crucial in our daily walk.

  5. Mark Timmons

    Speaking of reprogramming….I just came across this great word from Jerry Bridges: (kinda fits the theme of “two’s” Ron:) )

    “There are two ‘courts’ we must deal with: the court of God in Heaven and the court of conscience in our souls. When we first trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ.”

    – Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 1994), 54.

  6. Kevin E

    Thanks Ron.

    One of the things I used to despair over before I started to understand Romans 6,7 and 8 was my lack of self discipline and motivation to do the things Christians were supposed to do. If Christianity was works based, then the biggest mansions in heaven would certainly belong to those who through their upbringing or natural personality, energy level, etc had the greatest amount of self discipline and ambition to do the “things of the Lord”. That wasn’t really me. It is when our walk is based on on relationship and acting in love and in respronse to love that that the playing field is leveled between all people regardless of intellect, natural gifts, and personality types. Responding to love is something that is open for all. Understanding His love comes through hearing and believing and creating relationship. And just as for Abraham we can believe and it will be counted as rightousness to us.

    I think it is important to remember that we need to come to Christ as little children. The implications of this are too many to list, but it certainly is not about our natural strenths or understanding of some “complex salvation”, but rather this Christian walk is as simple and accessible to all as what we believe. It sometimes seems that the older we get the more layers of wrong beliefs and systems we have to peel away in order to once more uncover the “childlikeness” that we once walked in.

    Kevin E

  7. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kevin,

    Definitely it is childlike faith in the Father. My kids have no consciousness of belonging to me because of things they have done or haven’t done.

    The Gospel is both simple enough for a child and complex enough to fascinate a lifetime scholar, but the bottom line is that we must trust God in every area of our lives – in our need to be loved, our need to be important, our need to feel secure, our need to do good work, and every other human need we’ve got. It’s all based on a trust relationship with a Being that is infinitely benevolent toward us.

    Romans 6-8 to me is the key in the lock of the Christian walk. Without understanding it we may flail around in the foyer of Forgiveness without entering into the rest of the Mansion. Rom 6 states what happened at the Cross – we died to sin, died to the old life, died to the old man, and were raised to walk in newness of life, a slave of righteousness. The 6 focus is “dead to sin and alive to God.”

    Rom 7 is the new man trying to live life by the old consciousness (performance based, Tree of Knowledge of G & E, “Me4God@aol.com”). It’s the Law-consciousness, flesh-consciousness, sin-consciousness, rather than Christ-awareness (like Gal 2:20). The focus of Romans 7 is to show us that we’re not only dead to sin – we’re also dead to a striving, self-righteousness consciousness that thinks it has to “be like God” by its own will and effort.

    Rom 8 is when we begin to really trust God, that He in us is our inner good and the power to perform it, that we are to walk according to the Spirit (trusting in the Spirit) rather than walking according to the flesh (trusting our own human power). The mind set on the flesh is death – it works death and sin into manifestation – but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because it fulfills our true purpose.

    Only then can we begin to move into Romans 9 and be intercessors where we willingly give our lives for others to know Christ. You see Paul in 9 burning with passion to even give up his own salvation for his brothers, the Jews. That’s where we’re meant to live.

  8. Tony Heringer

    “[Our] humanity is just a weak vessel incapable of real love” – Amen brother! That is our flesh or sin nature. When Paul prays for the Philippians he asks:

    “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
    Philippians 1:9-11

    That phrase “real knowledge” is born out of a growing love for Christ a love that is really love. The two greatest commandments are rooted in love (love of God and man). This love slays both the legalist and the licentious aspects of our sin nature–“the mortification of the flesh.” The Christian life is a war and it’s a fight we win which gives us the will to fight on.

    Your take on agape threw me at first as I guess most folks focus on agape love in the positive light. In fact, I can’t recall hearing anyone prior to this point seize upon that particular usage. It made me bust out the concordance, lexicon and dictionary. Dude, I love you for pushing this matter to its roots.

    In summary, here’s what I found. There are three Greek words for love: eros, phileo, and agape. Eros is sexual or erotic love. Phileo is brotherly affection. Agape, according to Thayer’s lexicon is “a purely biblical and ecclesiastical word” and according to the New Bible Dictionary “the commonest Greek word in the New Testament for all forms of love…This is one of the least frequent words in classical Greek, where it expresses, on the few occasions it occurs, that highest and noblest form of love which sees something infinitely precious in its object.”

    Thayer defines the “loved” in John 3:16 as “the benevolence which God, in providing salvation for men, has exhibited by sending His Son to them and giving Him up to death”. Whereas he defines the “loved” of John:3:19 this way: “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” or as Gullum would say “It is precious to me.” Either way, whether its God’s love for us or our love for sin apart from Christ, this type of love is all-consuming.

    That is why those in sin and apart from Christ are dead, spiritually speaking. I am literally “a dead man walking” without Christ. If we are not in Christ, we will “surely die” – to counter Satan’s deceitful hiss to Eve. That’s because our agape love is naturally inclined to sin and without the regenerate work of the Spirit in our hearts we have no inclination to truly love as God loves – wholeheartedly and selflessly. God doesn’t need us, we need Him. Therefore, in Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love born out of a faith that is not of ourselves but is a gift from God not by works lest any man should boast. (a mash up of Pauline thought from Galatians and Ephesians).

    “Without faith we cannot express this kind of Love.” I agree. That faith comes from the Spirit who does the work in our heart that is the second birth calling us from death to life thereby allowing us to act or as you say “faithe”. Once we are alive spiritually, we have the ability to plug into the Spirit. He is the Christian’s power. That is why we can move mountains with the faith of a mustard seed because it is not my faith that is the power, but the Spirit working in me for God’s glory.

    “So before Love, in the Galatians 5 list, I would put Faith” – Good thing Paul wrote this chapter then. 🙂

    I love this word picture: “we can try to wrest the wheel from Him through unbelief (which is really faith going in the wrong direction).” This pictures our child likeness in Christ or as I like to say “No me do it daddy!” As parents we seen little ones saying this often because they are expressing their need to be self-sufficient. But, in our faith we are to be like these little ones who are ultimately dependent on their parents. Every time I hear “Jesus Take The Wheel” I laugh thinking “honey, you never had the wheel.” God is in control and yet we are responsible. The Bible clearly states both as true.

    The tension between these two is where we are debating. I’d say we are in agreement on the whole but are at odds as to the presence of a sin nature. I would see it as present but powerless and you would see as absent. The transformation process is active and God will complete it in those He’s called to himself. The more we lean into His promises, i.e. “faithe” as you’ve noted, the more we realize them because His promises are true. Here is where we experience liberty.

    I think this conversation breaks down a bit because we’ve pulled the believer out of his or her context. A follower of Jesus is not alone. First, the Spirit indwells her. Second, she is connected to the body of other believers. The Spirit uses the body as a primary means to purify the members of the body. So, I’d say a person not inclined to the things of God (spiritual disciplines such as mediating on His Word and prayer) and His people, is not a follower of Jesus and not a carnal Christian, just carnal through and through.

    The inclination or growth of a follower of Jesus may be imperceptible at times. Andrew Peterson’s song “The Good Confession” is a good example of a Christian’s journey. Here’s Barliman’s summation of that song and it captures my thought here perfectly:

    “This song is my way of coming to the conclusion that all I know for sure is this: Christ not only saved me, he’s continuing to save me. Every morning, his mercies are made new. I’m saved again. And again. My only plea now and always will be the same thing I confessed when I was nine and bawling into my dad’s hip: “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, my Lord and my Savior.”

    Each step along the way there is fruit and growth because our Father is the giver of good things. The more we recognize this the more we realize how free we really are in Christ.

    Thanks for working this out bro! I look forward to Part IV.

    P.S. This time I listened to “DoorWay” so I had your voice in my ear while constructing this post. For those who don’t own this great work of Ron’s you can get it here: https://store.rabbitroom.com/index.aspx#/details/380a1036-15aa-4bfe-aa0a-25b8c05ce0ce Great tunes for your time in the Room and all other times as well. “Above The Line” is playing right now, how cool is that!

    🙂

  9. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    Good comments, especially on “all-consuming love” for agape, whether God’s or man’s. I like that better than my phrase, or maybe in addition to it – “wholehearted commitment love.”

    You are correct in where we differ, and I don’t believe it is merely semantics, but there are some similarities. When I say “in and of itself, our humanity is just a weak vessel incapable of real love” I don’t mean that we became that because of the Fall. That’s how we were created. We were created to contain and express the One we contain; God did not make us strong and loving and able; he created us as a cup so as to contain Him and be in a willing cooperation with His love-purposes. For me, this weakness is bottom-line. It is my “cupness,” and in one sense that is all I will ever be. I will never “be like God” by the vessel becoming something; the only way to express the fruit of God’s life within us is by trusting in the Fruit Producer. This system God has created is right, and is exactly as God meant it to be.

    The Fall brought about something entirely different. It brought about humanity thinking it could be its own Source. What it really did was give us another source – Satan. We were infected with his desires, his thinking, his heart, his lies. Jesus said this of some of the Jews who had appeared to follow him when he told them, “You are of your father, the Devil, and his lusts you shall do.” They thought they were following their own desires and thoughts; really they were following Satan’s. That’s the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is to be cut off from the real Source of goodness and plugging into a false source.

    So Adam and Eve fell, and the human race along with them.

    But in Christ is the cure for the Fall. He came to replace the wrong wine in the vessel with the right one, to turn vessels of wrath into vessels of mercy, to bring springs of living water to live inside those who had only dry wells, life to those who had been eating Death (Satan) their whole lives.

    At the Cross, wrong spirit out. Right Spirit in. Bam. We die, we rise. By one sacrifice we are perfected forever. And then comes the process of being made holy in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Why? Because our flesh – the soul/body – has been programmed with years of satanically-charged thinking. Ruts have been dug in our consciousness that cause all the water to flow down those wrong channels. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to set that right again – with our cooperation. To switch metaphors, it is a cooperative job between God (the Doer) and us (the Faith-ers) to kick the Canaanites out of the Promised Land of ourselves. It’s a reprogramming of the way we think about everything – it is revolution.

    But I don’t identity with the Canaanites; I don’t identify myself with the ruts in my psyche and say, “Oh, I’m such a sinner.” It is a faith act to identify with Christ. I look at the ruts and say, “I hate those damned ruts and I want God to get rid of them.” And that is precisely what He is doing. The more I faithe, the more He works.

    This isn’t just semantics; it is a refusal to identify with Satan, a refusal to say I am a two-nature person, a refusal to say Christ’s work is not completed. It is completed; I am just in the process of appropriating my new nature (Himself in me) to cover all my inner land with His Spirit. “When I sin, it is no longer ‘I’ that sins, but sin that dwelleth in me.” It’s an invader that has no right to be there; it is not “me” but just a remnant of old thinking, old habits, old sinful coping mechanisms that must be driven out.

    Also, in both cases, whether an unbeliever or believer, the vessel is the same vessel. It’s just cleaned out, given a new heart and a new spirit so that it can contain the Wine, and then the Spirit-process begins of restructuring the way the person thinks.

    We must give credence to the believer’s will as well as God’s will. This is a paradox that must be maintained; else we end up with an ugly capricious God or a powerless one. Chesterton said it well in speaking of belief or unbelief in miracles:

    “A holiday, like Liberalism, only means the liberty of man. A miracle only means the liberty of God. You may conscientiously deny either of them, but you cannot call your denial a triumph of the liberal idea. The Catholic Church believed that man and God both had a sort of spiritual freedom. Calvinism took away the freedom from man, but left it to God. Scientific materialism binds the Creator Himself; it chains up God as the Apocalypse chained the devil. It leaves nothing free in the universe. And those who assist this process are called the ‘liberal theologians.'”

    His chapter “The Paradoxes of Christianity” is a great light.

  10. D'Anna

    Dear Ron,
    Thank you so much for everything you are writing – I’m soaking it all up – but most of it is so deep and new and Spirit-ful that I know I need little doses – I’ll be back again!

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