Living a Life in Christ
Insight into living a life in Jesus Christ
Prepared by William R. Cunningham
How should a Christian live his/her life so that it is acceptable to God? This question is at the heart of every believer who honestly wants to live according to the will of God. The answer to this question is the topic of this study.
THE STEPS OF A LIFE IN CHRIST
Living a life in Christ means that your life (thoughts and actions) is guided by the principles given in God's word. It does not mean to be perfect because no one is perfect. When Jesus says "Be ye Perfect as your heavenly father is Perfect" He is speaking about a mature love and not some state of spiritual perfection. I have grouped the process of living a life in Christ into four steps. The four steps are:
REPENT (THE DECISION TO CHANGE)
Repentance is necessary for salvation and it is something that a Christian will do as he or she matures in his or her Christian walk. Therefore, I will discuss repentance in this section. To repent means to change your mind. Applied to Christians, it means to turn away from sin and turn toward God. Sometimes it can mean a feeling of regret. However, this feeling of regret is meaningless until we take action and turn away from the sin that we regret. We are born into this world with a sin nature (a nature dominated by sinfulness). If gone uncorrected or untaught we will naturally do those things that are contrary to the word of God - we will do evil. Therefore, before we can even begin to live a life in Christ we must repent of our sin-nature ways. To repent to God is to confess that you are making a quality decision (a real decision from the heart) to live according to his ways and not the former sin nature ways.
Repentance opens the way for you to accept what God has for you and tells you. Repentance paves the way for the unsaved person to become saved and the saved person to get back on track. The first message that Jesus preached was that of Repentance (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15). Why? We just stated that everything else follows a repentant heart. How can I live a life in Christ if I haven't denounced my sin and made the decision to live a life in Christ? Notice the key word here is DECIDE. All of our actions in our lives are based on the decisions that we make. If we make a decision to turn our lives over to Christ then He will enter in and guide our lives. It becomes our responsibility to obey. We will discuss this aspect later in this study.
BEING SORRY VERSUS FULL REPENTANCE
Many people have the idea that repentance means to be "godly sorry." For one thing what is "godly sorry?" Another thing is: "SO WHAT YOU'RE SORRY!" Being sorry alone will not get us any closer to God than we already are. Being sorry, I must admit, is a good place to start but it must be followed by the decision to change. Repentance is not an emotional trip though emotions may bring us closer to repentance. John the Baptist told the religious leaders that came to his baptism to "Show fruits worthy of repentance". That is to say, "Show me something that demonstrates your repentant heart". To be sorry is nothing in itself. It must be followed by a decision to change and actions based on that decision. Therefore, we say a complete repentance is to regret our sins, confess our sins, and to make a decision to turn away from our sinful ways and thus live a life in Christ. Again! Being sorry or feeling guilty is not enough to get you on the right track to living a life in Christ. We have to make the decision to change. I cannot emphasize this point enough. After we have come to the point where we really regret our unrighteousness (Saved or unsaved), we only have to MAKE THE DECISION TO CHANGE AND OBEY GOD.
SCRIPTURE STUDIES ON REPENTANCE
The first example we will examine is found in Exodus 32:10. Here we see God was angry with the people for worshipping a golden calf that they made as their god. However, Moses spoke up for the people and basically reminded God of His promise. The Bible then says that God repented of the evil he thought to do to the people. That is, God changed his mind. The fact that God changed his mind doesn't mean that God himself changed. His decision to RELENT of what he was planning to do was in response to the praying of Moses. You must realize that God does not change even though he may change his mind!
The second example is found at Jeremiah 18:1-10. Here we see that God would repent of his thoughts based on the actions of a nation. If the nation turned from their evil ways then He would repent of the evil He thought to do to them. If a nation does not obey God's commandments then He would repent of the good He thought to do to them. In both cases repent is used to illustrate a change in mind. That is, God would change His mind. Jeremiah 26:3-13 also speaks of God changing his mind. Note again that God does not change even though he changes his mind in response to something (prayer, requests, sin, etc.)
The third example is found in Ezekiel 14:6. Here we see God telling the people to repent from their idol worship. Here the emphasis of repentance is on the denouncing of the sin or rather the decision to stop sinning by idol worship.
Let's look at Luke 13:1-5 for another example concerning repentance. Here we read that unless we repent we will perish. Repentance is a necessary step for salvation. Acts 2:38 is the account at Pentecost where Peter pleads with the people to repent so that they can be saved.
GETTING OUR LIVES RIGHT - THE TRUTH
There is a certain teaching that states that we have to get our lives right with God before we can fellowship with Him or be saved (Born Again). Many people will apply that to their lives and believe that they have to get their life in order before they can get to God. We do not have the capacity to get our lives right. It is God who molds us into what we should be by his Holy Spirit. Only God has the power to change our lives. The only thing that we can do is to be willing and repent of our sinful ways and allow God, by His Spirit, to regenerate us and thus enabling us to live for Him and according to his way. This brings us to the next step, namely salvation.
SALVATION (THE NEW BEGINNING)
The second step to living a life in Christ is to obtain the salvation that Jesus has provided for all people. That is, we have to be born again. What does it mean to be born again? The answer to that question is a topic for an in depth bible study. However, we will cover it briefly here.
To be born again is to be renewed by the Spirit of God. This is part of the doctrine of regeneration, which is beyond the scope of this study. We are made alive to God. Once this occurs the old man or old nature is dead and no longer has dominion over your life (See Romans 6:6-7, Colossians 3:9-10). You become a member of the body of Christ by the reconciliation that has taken place. The process of being "born again" is a prerequisite to having fellowship with God and to know and understand the things of God (See John 3).
When you are born again you become saved. The two terms are usually used synonymously (they happen at the same time) though I believe they are separate entities. Being born again is to receive the Spirit of God, which regenerates the inner person. That is, the Spirit of God brings us to true life. Being saved is the state you enter when you are born again. You are saved from the penalty of sin which is death (See Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ died so that the price for our sins would be paid. All we have to do is accept this payment and have the penalty for our sins covered or met. If we do not accept this payment then we will have to pay for our own sins which is what Revelation calls the second death (Revelation 20:6, 20:14). So the act of being born again is the activity that takes place in the salvation process and being saved is the consequence of that new birth (this is just a simplification).
Salvation is the state that we enter when we become born again. When we are born again we obtain a new spirit. This "regeneration" causes us to escape the penalty of sin by accepting what Jesus did for us on the cross: He died for our sins so that we won't have to. According to Romans 10:8-13 and John 3:16 we basically receive the salvation of Jesus Christ by believing (through faith). There are no works involved such as stop drinking, smoking, etc. All we have to do is believe. A change of heart is not dependent upon what we do physically rather what we do spiritually - believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. To believe in Jesus or to believe in His name means that we believe who Jesus is (the Messiah) and that we accept what He has done. It means that we have to come to a realization that we cannot save ourselves (via rules, regulations, protocol, rituals, and other such things). Believing in Jesus means that we need Jesus to obtain salvation and that we have nothing to do with the actual activity of salvation except to believe and accept it. This is difficult for many people because we want to be in control. We want to know that we have something to do with it (salvation).
I stated earlier that we must come to a realization that we cannot save ourselves. We must realize that true salvation comes from Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross. Following a set of man-made religious rules and regulations cannot save us. Religion deceives us into believing that our righteousness is dependent on our ability to follow rules and regulations. It deceives us into thinking that if we go to church every Sunday, Give tithes and offerings to the church, read the Bible every day, and more that we will be righteous and maintain our salvation. None of these things have anything to do with obtaining salvation. If that were so then works could save us. Instead we are saved by grace through faith. Grace because God, without our involvement, provides salvation for all. Faith because we have to believe in order to receive. See Galatians 2:16.
SALVATION MAKES US ABLE
We are able to live a life that is directed by the Spirit of God once we are born again. The Bible states,
(John 3:3 KJV) "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
What is the kingdom of God? The word kingdom in this verse comes from the Greek word basileia (pronounced bas-il-i'-ah) which means royalty, i.e. a realm (kingdom reign). The word "see" comes from the Greek word ido and means to perceive, be aware of, to know or to behold. This spiritual realm has many principles or laws that govern it such as faith, love, seed principle, grace, etc. Jesus was referring to the understanding or revelation of the system of the Kingdom of God. We can therefore conclude that we cannot live in the Spirit unless we have been born again. After being born again we are capable of comprehending the spiritual things of God since we are of the same Spirit now.
SCRIPTURE STUDIES ON SALVATION (BORN AGAIN)
Let's look at Romans 10:9-10. It says, "That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." By proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, you are turning your life over to God and accepting Jesus as the Lord of all. By believing that God raised him from the dead, you are receiving what Jesus did for you as far as your sins are concerned.
Another illustration is found in Acts 2:38-41. Here people heard the word, the Gospel from Peter, they accepted what was said and were saved. This is a sequence that the Christian will follow for the rest of his/her life. That is, the Christian will hear the word, believe the word, act on the word, and bear fruits from the word.
TRANSFORMATION After we are born again we have to transform ourselves into what God wants. Romans 12:2 says that we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We must realize that just because someone is born again does not mean that they will at once stop doing the sinful things they have done in the past. It will take work to rid yourself of the undesirables in your life (not to be confused with obtaining salvations). I feel the transformation step is where many Christians lack. I believe that this is due to the fact that many local churches do not really stress the spiritual development of a person once he/she is saved. My experience indicates that many local churches are too busy doing religious things instead of edifying each other. Transformation takes place when edification occurs.
What does it mean to be transformed? To be transformed is the process by which your life and actions converge to those that are guided and acceptable to God. You no longer live according to the flesh rather the Spirit of God (See Romans 8:1-11. Notice that I defined transformation as a process. We will never get to the point where we are totally led by the Spirit, totally obey God, and totally sinless. There is a constant war between the flesh and the spirit that causes us (by our decision) to fall short sometimes during our life because we submit to the sinful flesh (See 1 John 1:8, Galatians 5:16,17). Therefore, transformation is the process by which we conform to the image of Christ and the total will of God. This process involves edification, sanctification, and basic spiritual growth.
How do we get transformed? The Bible plainly says in Romans 12:2 that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Notice that even though we have a new spirit we do not have a new mind. Our minds must be transformed into the likeness of Christ by renewing it. How do we renew our minds? The condition of your mind or the state of your mind is a direct consequence of what you have been feeding yourself. If you feed your mind worldly things, even being saved, your mind will be worldly or carnally oriented. If you feed your mind spiritual food then it will be spiritually oriented.
RENEWING THE MIND
The first thing that we should do to renew our minds is to fill it with the word of God. We have to train our minds to think heavenly or godly things as opposed to the fleshly natural things. We have to continuously decide to do what is righteous (because we are righteous) and stay away from sins (unrighteous acts). Please note that this is an ongoing process that continues for the rest of our lives. We therefore see that it is essential to continually fill yourself with the word of God in order to have your mind renewed and to maintain what you have accomplished in the process.
LEGALISM VS. OBEDIENCE
There is one great danger that every Christian faces. There are religious people that teach that you have to follow a set of rules and guidelines in order to live a life in Christ. For example they may tell you that you have to stop smoking, drinking, going to movies, listening to the radio, etc. This theory or doctrine, called religious legalism, is far from the truth. Living a life in Christ is not dependent on doing these types of things or following a set of rules and regulation (this is self-righteousness). Living a life in Christ involves simply obeying God. First you repent of your sinful ways. You then accept Jesus Christ and become saved and then you allow yourself to be transformed.
Does this mean that we do not have to worry about such things as smoking, drinking, or gambling? Of course not! We will gradually shed all those things that are not godly and are harmful to us through the transformation process that we discussed earlier. The point is that you have to engulf yourself in the spiritual things and God will guide and direct your life.
LEGALISM (SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS)
This doctrine basically is that our standing (righteousness) with God is based on what we do in life. That is, we have to follow a set of rules and regulations in order to be accepted by God and to please God. This is similar to the doctrine of the Pharisees that bloated in their own righteousness. Some rules that the legalists teach are: Women can't wear pants, women can't wear makeup, watching movies are forbidden unless they are religious in nature, listening to the radio is forbidden unless the program is religious in nature, drinking, smoking, and gambling are forbidden. These are only a few rules that you have to follow, according to the legalists, in order to please and be accepted by God. The main theme of the legalist's belief is that you are justified by your works. This type of righteousness is called self-righteousness and is unbiblical.
THE BIBLICAL WAY (GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS)
We learn from the Bible that it is impossible to please God without faith and be justified by our works. Our works do not justify us, rather we are justified by faith (See Galatians chapters 2 and 3). In order to live a life in Christ we have to follow Christ (Mark 8:35). Our only requirement for living a life in Christ is to obey God as Jesus obeyed God. When we obey God we will find that God is molding us into what He wants, thus ridding us of all the undesirable things in our lives. We are righteous in God's eyes because he declared us so through Jesus Christ and not because we performed a certain way.
The primary differences between the legalist's (self-righteousness) and Biblical (God's Righteousness) approaches is the focal point. When following the doctrine of the legalists we are forced to focus on our sins and what we can do and have done. We become self-righteous. When following the "Biblical" way we are forced to focus on Jesus Christ and what He did. We receive God's righteousness by faith. Focus on Jesus Christ to live a life in Christ.
OUR LIBERTY MISUNDERSTOOD
There is also a danger of misunderstanding the Biblical approach to living a life in Christ. People may get the misconception that once they are saved they can do whatever they want (See Romans Chapter 6). This is not true since the Bible says that we will be held accountable for what we do (See Romans 14:12, 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, 1 Peter 1:17). If we are truly living by the Spirit then we will do the things of the Spirit and not of the flesh (See Romans 8:5). Therefore, having the same Spirit as Christ we will tend to do those things of the Spirit. I say tend to because sometimes we do sin and do those things which are not of the Spirit of God.
THE MIND OF CHRIST
The key thing that we must have in order to live a life in Christ is a mind of Christ. How do we obtain the mind of Christ? First let's ask ourselves, what does it mean to have the mind of Christ? This simply refers to the focal point of our mind. A mind of Christ is a mind of the anointing. The anointing is the Holy Spirit (see the study on The Power of God for more information on this). Therefore, having a mind of Christ is to have a mind saturated with the influence of the Holy Spirit. Having a mind of Christ means that your mind is in agreement with the anointing. Having a mind of Christ is to be in the will, in your thinking, of God. A person with a mind of Christ is focused on the Spiritual things of God.
OBTAINING THE MIND OF CHRIST
Now Let's go back to the original question which I will repeat here for reference: How do we obtain a mind of Christ? The answer may be clearer if asked this way: How do I get my mind to be focused on the spiritual things of God? The question, by principle, is "how do I seek God's Kingdom and righteousness first?" Let us consider this. The human being is a product of influence. From the day we are born we are molded by outside influences and environments. A kid that spends a lot of time with basketball players will develop a basketball players mind whether he plays or not (He will know the game well). A person who is surrounded by computers will at least know much about the computer whether he uses them or not.
Therefore, we can conclude that the mind has to be saturated with the word of God in order for us to acquire the mind of Christ (the anointing). We can acquire a mind of Christ if we spend much time with Christ and allow Him to influence our minds. Remember that when you are saved you are babes in Christ fresh and wide open for spiritual revelations and influences. Saturating your mind with the anointing involves much Bible study, prayer, and fellowship time with God. The more time you spend in the word of God and in prayer/fellowship, the more transformed your mind will be.
Our life in Christ does not end with just acquiring a mind of Christ and knowing His ways. We have to do what we have received from God in His word. That is, we have to obey. The Bible says that we have to be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). Are we contradicting ourselves with what we said about legalism? Of course not! We are not working to be approved or justified by God. Rather, we are working because of God. If we obey God and do what He says in his word than we are doers of the word. JUST OBEY GOD! After receiving the word and obeying, we will be able to transform our lives from the ways of the old nature to the ways of our new spirit, the Spirit of God. There is power in obedience. The bible tells us,
(Ecclesiastes 12:13 KJV) "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."
Bible study is very important to the Christian that is renewing his/her mind. By studying, reading, and meditating over scripture, along with prayer, we begin to transform our minds into the likeness of a Christ-like mind. Our focus is always on the spiritual things of God. All of our knowledge and revelation starts from a good Bible study. This Bible study program is the basis for a strong word life and prayer life (See 1 John 5:14-15).
Prayer is also very important for the renewing of your mind. Through prayer we commune with God the Father. Prayer changes our lives. Jesus taught that we should always pray (Luke 18:1). The Bible teaches us that we should pray for things according to the will of God (1 John 5:14-15). By doing this we will have whatever it is that we prayed for and we will have confidence before God.
We must realize that living a life in Christ involves maturity. That is why I said earlier that transformation is a process. One does not just wake up one morning with total revelation and total obedience to the word of God. We learn to trust and obey God. We learn how to live a life that is in accordance with the kingdom of God. We mature from the point of babes in Christ to a level that pleases God. This level, I believe, is never obtained due to the infinite nature of God (See the study "Who is God" for more information). However, we constantly approach this level as we walk according to the word of God.
THE NEW SPIRIT AND THE OLD NATURE
When we accept Christ in our lives we immediately receive a new spirit. The Spirit of God wants above all to live according to the word of God and in accordance with the laws of the Kingdom of God. Even though we receive this new spirit, we are still influenced (or tempted) by the old nature. This old nature continually tempts us to do the things that will please the flesh. However, the Spirit, at the same time, is continually prompting us to do those things that will please God. This is the war that Paul spoke of in Romans chapter 7.
FEEDING THE SPIRIT
Christians need to feed their spirit, which is a babe when we are first saved, so that it dominates the old sin nature. Every time we study the word, meditate on the word, fellowship with God, and pray, we build up our spirit. The same thing happens when we do those things that please the flesh - We build the flesh up. Whoever is stronger will most likely dominate your mind thus your life. If you feed the spirit more than the flesh then your spirit will dominate the flesh. If you feed the flesh (satisfy the carnal mind and desires of the flesh) more than the spirit, then your flesh and the desires thereof will dominate the influence of the spirit in your life.
We can more clearly see that the transformation process is an ongoing process. We are constantly feeding the spirit or the flesh. You will eventually begin to do those things that are of the flesh if you stop feeding your spirit even if you are the most spiritual person on the face of this planet. If you stop eating food then your body will eventually die because of malnutrition - It didn't get enough energy to live. A lot of times our spirit man lies dormant because we simply do not feed it.
Let's make one point very clear! You can be transformed to any state even if you are saved. What does this mean? A person who has accepted Jesus as their savior can continue to feed the flesh to such a degree that the flesh dominates their life even if they love God and want to do His will. We call this situation "Living a defeated life". The unrighteous things that they don't want to do they do because of the DOMINATING force of the flesh. The righteous things that they want to do they don't because of the DOMINATED spirit man. For this reason we see how important our daily and continual Bible studies are. We also see the importance of the church in spreading the gospel AND edifying the saints.
HOW TO FEED THE SPIRIT
How can I feed my spirit and starve the old nature such that I am truly living a life full in Christ. I believe that the primary way is to baptize (engulf) yourself with God's word. Every chance you get study, listen to, meditate over, or talk about God's word. Keep the word of God before you at all times as much as possible. Make time to study your Bible to obtain revelations from God. Make time to fellowship with the Father and pray. Make time to meditate on His word. Make time to worship Him and to tell others about the Glory and the love of God. Keep your eyes stayed on Jesus no matter where you came from or how you used to be. The most sinful person in the world can have his/her life completely turned around by the Spirit of God.
FOCUS ON JESUS NOT SIN
Don't be concerned about your sins past, present or future. Live a life in Christ the best you can constantly improving and getting closer to the mark (See Philippians 3:12-16). If we are concerned about our sins then we will focus on them and thus leave Jesus Christ out. We will subconsciously try to do things by our own strength. Stay focused on Jesus the author and finisher of your faith. With Jesus you can do all things and without him you can do nothing (Philippians 4:13, John 15:5). At all times just keep going forward in your faith and life in Christ. Don't turn around to see your old ways - just keep going moving closer and closer to the mark before you. Jesus said that the person that puts his hands to the plow and looks back is not fit for service in the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
What's really involved in transforming your life? Everything sums up to Jesus Christ. Focus on Jesus Christ to transform your life and thus live a life in Christ.
(John 14:6 KJV) "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
Focusing on Jesus Christ will point our thinking and lifestyle to that of God's kingdom since Jesus is the way to the Father. Focusing on the rules and regulations only keep you focused on your sins. You will look at the problems instead of the solutions.
I believe that Satan has deceived the church into focusing on their sins. He has done this in a very clever manner. He has tricked the church into believing that if we focus on our sins then we will defeat the sin. This even sounds logical in the natural. The church took this and ran with it because it does sound logical. However, we will never obtain our goal in Christ if we focus on our sins. We will never reach the goal by focusing on our sins. YOU WILL SIN MORE BY FOCUSING ON SIN INSTEAD OF JESUS CHRIST. If you focus on something you will be engulfed in it and have a mindset towards it. Therefore, if you focus on sin you will be ever more conscious of sin and entangled by it. Yes we all sin. However, the person that focuses on Jesus will move closer to Jesus. The one who focuses on sin will move closer to sin. Let's look at an example to illustrate the point.
What does a basketball player focus on when he is about to shoot the basketball at the hoop? Does he focus on the hoop or the basketball? Legalistic religion would teach us to focus on the basketball. After all you want the basketball to go into the hoop. The subject or focal point must be the basketball. Now that we look at it this way you see how silly the principle is that Satan used to deceive the church. A basketball player focuses on the hoop when he is about to shoot. By focusing on the hoop you will increase your chances of making the basket then if you focused on the ball. Now doesn't that make better sense? Focus on the Goal not what you have or where you are. You will remain relatively stagnant in your Christian growth by focusing on where you are or what you have.
There is another important point that I would like to reveal to you. DO NOT ENTERTAIN YOURSELF WITH TEMPTATION! What does that mean? Do not make the object of your sin convenient. For example suppose you are praying for deliverance from pornography. Well don't carry Playboy, Playgirl, or any other pornographic magazine with you. Instead, carry your Bible and engulf yourself in that. Before long you will realize that you have spent so much time reading or studying your Bible that you hadn't thought about pornography. If you are a smoker than don't carry cigarettes with you. "If you don't want to drink then don't go in the bar." Keep those things that would make you stumble far from you.
SUMMARY We can say that living a life in Christ involves repentance, salvation, transformation, and obedience. Living a life in Christ is an ongoing process of being transformed into the image of Christ. This is a daily activity of growth as we are edified by each other and the Holy Spirit. The church is important because it provides an environment of growth. The church I am referring to here is the body of Christ and not necessarily a church organization such as the "First Baptist Church." Many churches have fallen away from the WAY and have embraced legalism, religion, and self-righteousness. We see that living a life of Christ is not dependant on legalism or religion (self-righteousness) because these lead to pride and away from Christ. ??
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