Christianity can be way better than you think

the-christian-life-word-press

In his book ‘The Life You’ve Always Wanted’, John Ortberg says…

“I am disappointed with myself. I am disappointed not so much with particular things I have done as with aspects of who I have become. I have a nagging sense that all is not as it should be…

I attend a high school reunion and can’t choke back the desire to stand out by looking more attractive or having achieved more impressive accomplishments than my classmates. I speak to someone with whom I want to be charming, and my words come out awkward and pedestrian. I am disappointed in my ordinariness.

But some of this disappointment in myself runs deeper. When I look in on my children as they sleep at night, I think of the kind of father I want to be… I remember how my daughter spilled cherry punch at dinner and I yelled at her about being careful as if she’d revealed some deep character flaw; I yelled at her even though I spill things all the time and no one yells at me; I yelled at her—to tell the truth—simply because I’m big and she’s little and I can get away with it…

And it’s not just my life as a father. I am disappointed also for my life as a husband, friend, neighbor, and human being in general… I am disappointed that I still love God so little and sin so much. I always had the idea as a child that adults were pretty much the people they wanted to be. Yet the truth is, I am embarrassingly sinful.

I am capable of dismaying amounts of jealousy if someone succeeds more visibly than I do. I am disappointed at my capacity to be small and petty…  I can convince people I’m busy and productive and yet waste large amounts of time watching television. These are just some of the disappointments. I have other ones, darker ones that I’m not ready to commit to paper.

The truth is, even to write these words is a little misleading, because it makes me sound more sensitive to my fallenness than I really am. Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much. And I am disappointed at my lack of disappointment.”

Ortberg’s vulnerability is incredibly powerful because we see so much of our story in his story. Christians don’t always act like Christians. And it’s somewhat comforting to know that we’re not the only ones who struggle.

But the question needs to be asked: IS THIS THE BEST THAT CHRISTIANITY HAS TO OFFER? 

Certainly we have much to celebrate. The moment we placed our faith in Jesus, we were forgiven for all our past, present and future sin, we were guaranteed a place in heaven, and we were adopted into God’s family. But what about overcoming the power of sin? What about the hope of transformation? What about living the kind of life that we were created to live?

The good news is that Christianity can make a radical difference in our lives here and now…

THE MOMENT A PERSON PLACES THEIR FAITH IN JESUS, THEY RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT. HE DESPERATELY DESIRES TO WORK POWERFULLY AND DRAMATICALLY IN US TO PRODUCE AN ABUNDANT AMOUNT OF FRUIT.

Sometimes when people describe the role of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life, they talk as if He only makes a minimal amount of difference. Suppose a Christian finds themselves in a situation where they’re tempted to gossip, perhaps the Holy Spirit will make them 10% more able to avoid temptation. Or suppose a Christian is feeling ungrateful, perhaps the Holy Spirit will remind them of something good that happened to them that day.

Certainly the Holy Spirit is willing and able to do these things. But the Bible describes Him doing far more than just a bit here and a bit there. Charles Swindoll says: “The Spirit of God does more than just ‘help you out a bit.’ He provides the complete enablement to live a life that those without Christ can’t even imagine.” 

Consider the following…

Acts 1:8
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.

Ephesians 1:18-20
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know… his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead.

Romans 8:11
The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you.

Ezekiel 36:26-27
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Romans 6:14
Sin shall no longer be your master.

John 15:8
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Mark 4:20
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.

So while the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit desires to work powerfully and dramatically to produce an abundant amount of fruit, we should also note that not every Christian experiences this…

UNFORTUNATELY NOT EVERY CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCES THE POWERFUL AND DRAMATIC WORK OF THE SPIRIT. SOME CHRISTIANS WILL GET TO HEAVEN HAVING ONLY PRODUCED A MINIMAL AMOUNT OF FRUIT.

Consider the following…

1 Corinthians 3:10-15
No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.  

Ephesians 4:30
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. 

So if all Christians have the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit wants to produce an abundant amount of fruit, but not all Christians are experiencing this, what’s the problem?

THE RABBIT VS. THE EAGLE

One way to think about this is to consider a rabbit and an eagle…

Suppose there’s a rabbit who tries to fly. He jumps and jumps and jumps and does everything he possibly can to take to the skies, but no amount of commitment or self-discipline will get him there. Eventually the rabbit gets tired of jumping. He loses hope and gives up. He stops reaching for the skies and embraces everything the ground has to offer.

Then one day, the creator decides to act and the rabbit is magically transformed into an eagle.

Now you would think the eagle would automatically know that to reach the skies all he needs to do is spread his wings. But the eagle is so conditioned to acting like a rabbit that it’s difficult for him to think any other way. Sometimes the eagle goes back to jumping. Sometimes he loses hope and gives up. But every now and then, he reminds himself that he’s an eagle and that all he needs to do is spread his wings and allow the wind to do its work.

Now what has all of this got to do with the Holy Spirit working powerfully and dramatically in a Christians life to produce an abundant amount of fruit? 

The story of the rabbit and the eagle really represent 5 different spiritual states…

THE RABBIT WHO JUMPS AND JUMPS: Represents the unbeliever who is trying really hard to earn they’re way to heaven.
> They are very much like the Rich Young Ruler and the Teacher of the Law who both asked Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25, Luke 18:18). They live in fear of condemnation, worrying that they haven’t done enough. Others are like the religious leaders who Jesus described as being “confident of their own righteousness” (Luke 18:9). Either way they are approaching Jesus via the Law rather than Grace.   

THE RABBIT WHO SETTLES FOR LIFE ON THE GROUND: Represents the unbeliever who is living as a slave to sin.
> Perhaps they’ve tried to earn their way to heaven and realized it’s futile, or maybe they were never interested in the first place. Nevertheless, they’re not trying to live their life according to God’s laws. Like the younger brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, they’ve set out to live life apart from their Father.

THE EAGLE WHO JUMPS AND JUMPS: Represents the Christian who is trying really hard to produce fruit in their own strength.
> They believe that they’re saved by faith but have never understood that they’re also to live the Christian life by faith. They’re like the branch trying really hard to produce fruit by exerting themselves rather than simply abiding in the vine. They’ve lost sight the fact that the Christian has been “released from the law… so that [they] serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6).

THE EAGLE WHO SETTLES FOR LIFE ON THE GROUND: Represents the Christian who is living as though they are still a slave to sin.
> They believe that they’re forgiven, that they’re a child of God, and that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for them in heaven. But there’s still an incredible sense of defeat. There’s no hope of transformation. For the most part, they’ve given up on becoming the kind of person God wants them to be.

THE EAGLE WHO SPREADS HIS WINGS: Represents the Christian who is allowing the Holy Spirit to work powerfully and dramatically to produce an abundant amount of fruit.
> They agree with Bill Bright who said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”. They believe that apart from the Holy Spirit they can do nothing (John 15:5).  And their primary focus is to allow the Holy Spirit to take control on a moment by moment bases.

So the obvious question remains…

HOW DOES A CHRISTIAN SPREAD THEIR WINGS AND ALLOW THE WIND OF THE SPIRIT TO TAKE THEM TO WHERE HE WANTS THEM TO GO?

The Bible describes a Christian who is empowered by the Holy Spirit in a number of ways: “Living according to the Spirit”, “Led by the Spirit”, “Walking by the Spirit”. But perhaps the most commonly quoted phrase comes from Ephesians 5:18. It says: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit”. 

There’s a lot of confusion about what being ‘filled with the Spirit’ actually means. This is mostly due to the fact that when we hear the term ‘filled’, we often picture a container holding a certain amount of fluid. But this doesn’t make any sense:
> Firstly, the Holy Spirit is not a fluid. He is a person.
> Secondly, just as a container can be filled, it can also be emptied. This implies that we can somehow lose the Holy Spirit, or that we might only have part of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible is clear that all Christians have the Spirit and we are sealed with Him to the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13).

So rather than picture a container holding a certain amount of fluid, we need to ask if there’s another definition.

Over and over again the Bible uses the term ‘filled’ to mean ‘driven’ or ‘controlled’. If someone is ‘filled with joy’ it means they are driven or controlled by joy. If someone is ‘filled with anger’ it means they are driven or controlled by anger. Charles Stanley explains: “Paul used the term fill in tandem with drunk… To be drunk is to be under the control of alcohol, to surrender one’s body, mind, and spirit to its influence” J. Oswald Sanders agrees: ‘The person who is filled with the Spirit will be dominated and controlled by the Holy Spirit even as a drunkard is dominated and controlled by his intoxicating wine.'”

So what does this all mean? 

It means that the Christian doesn’t need to try and live the Christian life. And it means that the Christian doesn’t need walk around in despair. Rather the Christian is to constantly remind themselves that without Jesus they can do nothing. And then they ask the Holy Spirit to take control of their life on a moment by moment basis.

Charles Swindoll explains:

“I don’t know of a more important verse in the New Testament for the Christian than Ephesians 5:18… You may be agreeing with me right now, saying, ‘Lord, I want to be filled by You. I want to be used by You.’ Two hours from now, you may need to pray that again. There’s no singular moment where you experience the fullness of the Spirit and from then on you are on an all-time high that never wanes. This is by God’s design. He wants us to be aware of our moment-by-moment dependence on Him. Instead, we are regularly to pray, ‘Fill me, Lord, for this moment … fill me in this hour … fill me as I’m facing this challenge. I want to be used. I want to be available. I deliberately make myself dependent upon You.’”

Bill Bright suggests the following prayer:

“Dear Father, I need You. I acknowledge that I have been directing my own life and that, as a result, I have sinned against You. I thank You that You have forgiven my sins through Christ’s death on the cross for me. I now invite Christ to again take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit as You commanded me to be filled, and as You promised in Your Word that You would do if I asked in faith. I now thank You for directing my life and for filling me with the Holy Spirit.” 

More can be found here: “The Spirit-Filled Life” by Bill Bright.

The following table may also be of help (click to enlarge):

Spirit Filled Life - 5 States

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