The Normal Christian Birth (Part 4)

Through Water Baptism we are affirming what has happened to us as a result of our faith in Christ: we died with Him; we were buried with Him; and we are being raised with Him to walk in newness of life. One of the features of this new life is that it is free of sin – we are able to live a sin-free live because sin no longer has power over us. But that’s not. Now you will learn that this new life is also one where you will be set free from YOURSELF.

In Galatians 2:20 (ESV), Paul declares: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

“I have been crucified with Christ.” This is a perspective that is different from what most Christians today have. Their perspective is such that Christ died for their sins so that they would not have to. While this is true, that they were spared physical death, they have failed to see that they also died, having been crucified with Christ (see Rom 6:6). As a result, their lives go on un-altered, un-renewed, un-regenerated, and un-surrendered.

Paul was different. He understood very well what it meant to believe in Christ and has demonstrated to us how a believer ought to live. His statement here, in Galatians 2:20, encapsulates the key ingredients for a life that is lived wholly for the Lord. There are three key ingredients that I would like to highlight to you: “it is no longer I who live”; “but Christ who lives in me”; and “I live by faith”.

I no longer live

Paul had many things going for him. He was “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; with respect to the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; with respect to the righteousness which is by the law, blameless” (Phil 3:5). But he knows that it was not for these reasons that God appointed him as an apostle. It was purely “by the grace of God”. And the same grace was what enabled Paul to accomplish what he did thus far (1 Cor 15:10). Those qualities and attributes and accolades that were, at one time, cherished by him and profitable for him, he now counts them as “loss” (Phil 3:5).

What did Paul mean that he counted them as “loss”? There is more to it that we think. According to Strong’s, the Greek word Paul used here can also be taken to mean “damage” and “detrimental”. In other words, they were not only unnecessary; they were indeed undesirable and even dangerous. And he cannot wait to be rid of them.

For many years now, I have greatly reduced and limited my consumption of sodas, especially Coke. This decision was made after I learned that these drinks did not contain anything that was good for my health. On the contrary, they were harmful. So, I avoided them like poison.

In the same way, everything in our lives connected to our past is harmful – damaging and detrimental – and must be gotten rid of. This is why God made us new creations in which all the old has passed away and all things have become new (see 2 Cor 5:17). If you fail to see this, you would want to hold on to the things from your past, and they would later affect your future.

The reason why the qualities and qualifications and accomplishments of our past are damaging and detrimental to us is because they limit what we (think we) can do. If Paul, for example, had held tightly to his identity as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he would not have been able to be “all things to all people” just to save some (1 Cor 9:22). His identity that came from his ancestry was crucified together with Christ. It was dead. Thereafter, Paul assumed a new identity. Every time he introduces himself, he would only say, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1; Eph 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1).

If you have been crucified with Christ, everything about you died too. Take a few minutes now to make a list of the things your have, tangible and intangible, that you can place the pronoun “I” or “my” in front of. Here are some suggestions:

  • ·      my time;
  • ·      my money;
  • ·      my relationships;
  • ·      my family;
  • ·      my education;
  • ·      my accomplishments;
  • ·      my knowledge;
  • ·      my wisdom;
  • ·      my understanding;
  • ·      my convictions;
  • ·      my character;
  • ·      my personality;
  • ·      my talents;
  • ·      my strengths;
  • ·      my weaknesses.

Yes, weaknesses too. Sometimes it is not just our accomplishments that can limit us; often times it is our failures too. I still remember the time when God spoke to me about becoming a missionary for Him. My biggest question was not where or when, but how: How will I be able to learn a foreign language since I had not done well in learning a second language in school? (As a matter of fact, I failed miserably through my high school years.) By faith and in obedience I went and I picked up not one…but two foreign languages.

So, if all these things (that you have just listed) are dead, should you still be talking about them or making reference to them? Certainly not. If you must speak of them, use the past tense only. You no longer live. You are alive because Christ lives in you. He is your new identity; your new personality; your new character; your new destiny, and your all. In him you live and move and have your being” (see Acts 17:28). And apart from Him you can do nothing (see John 15:5).

It was to this that Christ was alluding to when He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV). Through Paul, the apostle, further revelation was given about what it means to take up the cross daily. Now we know that it means to be daily reminded about our death and burial; that we are dead because we have been crucified with Christ. As such, the right thing to do is to deny ourselves. Mind you, God is not here saying that we should deprive ourselves, but to deny ourselves. There’s a big difference between the two. When you deprive yourself (of food, for instance), there is still an awareness of your SELF. A struggle ensues. But when you deny yourself, there is no awareness and acknowledgment of the SELF whatsoever. It is a surrendered life.

Lovers of self

I cannot overemphasize the importance of denying ourselves. According to Jesus, we cannot follow Him until we have successfully denied ourselves (see Luke 9:23). What’s more, if we do not deny ourselves then we will likely end up loving ourselves. Paul warned Timothy that in the last days people will be, among other things, “lovers of self” (2 Tim 3:2). Are we in the “last days” yet? Well, going by how Paul characterizes the “last days” in 2 Timothy 3:1: that they will be “violent” (God’s Word Translation), “perilous” (NKJV), and stress-ful (RSV), I would say, “Yes, we ARE in the last days”.

A word about being lovers of self. Mankind has been lovers of self from the beginning of time. Eve was easily tempted to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because she saw what the fruit could do for her: to make her wise (see Gen 3:6). Seeing that men were already lovers of self, perhaps too much, God gave this command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18 ESV). If everyone would just do that, the world would certainly be a better place. But it hasn’t; mainly because men continue only to love themselves. And, to make matters worse, through psychology, traits of self-esteem, self-worth, self-love and self-confidence are ever-increasingly being promoted. The thing is, these traits are nowhere to be found in the Bible. To the contrary, we will find just the opposite. In the place of self-confidence, the Bible tells us to have “no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3); instead of self-esteem, the Bible says we must esteem others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3); instead of self-love, the Bible teaches denying ourselves (Luke 9:23); and Jesus warned that we should not measure our self-worth by the respect others show us because as His disciples we will be hated by the world and no one will want to associate with us (Luke 6:22). Ignoring the warning, Christians are reading books and attending courses to increase their “like-ability”. If they do succeed (in being liked by many), then they should consider this other warning: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).

Men (and women) are showing that they are lovers of self by paying a lot attention to their bodies, in improving their appearances and even modifying their looks. As Christians, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we are to glorify God with them (1 Cor 6:19). This means that we ought to keep our bodies healthy, and not to mistreat it or abuse it. However, like it or not, our bodies are decaying. It is a natural process that cannot be stopped. What we should be ensuring, then, is that our inner man (spirit) is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). Our inner man can only be renewed and strengthened as we tap into the power of the God through daily fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16).

The old has passed away

There is another verse of Scripture that I would like us to consider as we conclude our discussion on how Water Baptism sets us free from ourselves. The verse is this:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17).

This might be an often quoted verse but, from what I’ve seen, it is one of the less understood verses also. If more Christians had understood that they are new creations, character development, for example, would not be so hard.

Right now, classes on Character Development are being offered in nearly every church. It is also frequently taught in Children’s Ministries. But after all that teaching, we still find Christian Character grossly lacking in Christians. Why is that so?

I posit that if we really understood that we are new creations in Christ, and the old has passed away, then Character Development would become Character Discovery. And instead of saying “I will try to be this and that”, we will be saying, “I can be this because I already am this in Christ”.

A proper understanding of this verse will also change our view about Generational Sins and Curses. Right now, many Christians are seeking help from those who specialize in helping others be set free from Generational Sins and Curses – sins and curses that they have inherited from their ancestors.

From Romans 6 we learn that sin has lost its dominion over us because we are no longer under the law and because we died and were buried with Christ. If this works for the sins we have personally committed, then it should also work for sins committed by our ancestors. Likewise, curses only affect those who are living. But since we have died with Christ, any and every existing curse must fall off our bodies like old Post-it stick pads. Generational Sins and Curses have no power over one who is born again because he is “a new creation: the old has passed away and the new has come”.

Ask yourself this: What verse of Scripture is always used to support the concept of Generational Sins and Curses? It is always Exodus 20 verse 5 and 6: “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Are any other verses of Scripture used? I can’t think of any. What’s the context of these verses? They are found in the book of Exodus which is part of the Mosaic Covenant. And the Mosaic Covenant was the covenant God made with the entire nation of Israel. What this means is that when one Israelite sins against God, it is as good as the whole nation has sinned. We saw this in the incident with the Golden Calf. There was a group of Israelites who instigated others to worship the idol. But not everyone did – Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and the Levites didn’t. But it didn’t matter to God. It was reason enough for Him to destroy the whole nation and start again with Moses. So, because the covenant is with the nation, rather than with the individual Israelites, any outstanding, unconfessed and unforgiven sin becomes a problem, a blockage that prevents God’s blessing from flowing to His people.

Having said this, the so-called Principle of Generational Sin and Curse is not consistently applied in the Bible. For example, when the first generation of Israelites who left Egypt did not enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief and disobedience, their sin was not borne by the next generation. I say this because the next generation was allowed to enter the Promised Land, albeit after a significant delay.

As believers of Jesus Christ, we are not under the Mosaic Covenant but under the New Covenant. Under this covenant, we are redeemed, justified, have forgiveness of sins and an inheritance.

I used to be very worried as a young believer about my marriage ending in divorce. My fear came from the teaching I received about Generational Sins and Curses. Because my parents’ marriage ended in divorce, based on the teaching, there is a high possibility that my marriage, too, will end in divorce. I lived with this fear for many years of my life until I learned that I had been believing a lie. The only reason my marriage would end in a divorce is if I had not been a good and faithful husband. As such, I began to focus on becoming a better husband. It wasn’t easy because I had many character flaws. Ask my wife, and she will tell you all about them. But, because I know that I am a new creation, instead of taking the route of Character Development, I took the path of Character Discovery. I can be a better husband because I already am one in Christ.

Already Dead

It amazes me to hear how often Christians talk about the need to died to Self. Such a concept is alien to the Scripture. Instead of dying to Self, we should consider ourselves dead (Rom 6:11). As long as we do not see ourselves as dead (but dying), we leave for ourselves an excuse not to do what we ought to. It is easy to commit a sin and then say “Clearly I need to die more in this area”.

It is only when we see ourselves as dead that we can truly live for Christ.

Let me ask you: “Do you fear death?” If you are honest, you would answer “Yes”. And the devil knows it. That’s why he almost always uses the threat of death against us. How do we counter this strategy? The ones who do not fear death are those who are already dead.

Paul, obviously, was one man who had already died. He had total disregard for his own well-being and life. When the time came for him to go to Jerusalem, he went even though he knew that “imprisonment and affliction” awaited him (Acts 20:23 ESV). It was precisely because he did not count his life as of any value or precious to himself that he was able to finish his course and the ministry which he received from the Lord Jesus: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

There was someone else like Paul in the Bible. Four of them, to be precise. They are Daniel and his three friends. Twice they demonstrated that they had no fear of death in them. Daniel more times than his three friends.

In the opening chapter of the book of Daniel, we read about them rejecting (politely but with resolve) the food that was served to them from the king’s table. The reason: they did not want to be “defiled”. This would be a great insult to the king – when a bunch of privileged foreigners telling you that your food is not good enough for them, and they would rather have just vegetables and water. With a total disregard for their lives, but want to please their God first, they put forth their request in the form of a challenged: “Test us … then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see” (Dan 1:12-13 ESV).

Later, the faith of Daniel and his three friends, and their love for God, were tested again. This time through a decree that when “the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music” is heard, the people must “fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up” (Dan 3:5 ESV). “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace” (verse 6). Not long after the decree was passed, the king was told of certain Jews who had not bowed down to the king’s image when the music was played. In a furious rage, the king summoned Daniel and his friends to appear before him. He gave them a chance to repent of their insubordination and escape capital punishment. Daniel and his friends stood their ground and refused to worship the image. When asked, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hand” they boldly answered “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king” (Dan 3:17 ESV). But that’s not all they said. The best is yet to come. “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (verse 18). They were not afraid to die because they were not living for themselves; they were living only for their God.

Unless you have died, Christ cannot live in you.

Christ living in me

If you have played any video games, you would know that if you have done well you could be rewarded with “Extended Play”. This allows you to continue playing and improving your score. The Christian life, or the new life in Christ, is not “Extended Play”. God did not give you the new life because you have done well in living the old life. As a matter of fact, you have failed miserably and were destined for death and destruction. But in the riches of His mercy, He redeemed you. The Christian life is a new life, not a continuation of the old. Before you can start living the new life, you must declare “Game Over” over your old life. And when you start living the new life, you do so as a “New Player”. The new player is none other than Christ in you.

I like the way The Message Bible renders the last part of this verse. It reads: “You are not in the driver’s seat – I (meaning Jesus) am”. Unfortunately, Christ is not in the driver’s seat of many Christian’s life. He is not the Lord; merely a consultant, a “go-to” guy when they have reached the end of themselves. This makes me sad, and I know it breaks the Lord’s heart too.

In his old life, Paul rose through the ranks of the religious hierarchy. He became a man with authority. In Acts 8:1, we read that he gave his approval to the killing of Stephen. And when he was standing before King Agrippa, Paul testified that he was convinced that he “ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9 NIV). In other words, he was not direct to do so but did it on his own discretion. And, given authority from the chief priests, he began to imprison the saints and voted in favor of their execution (verse 10).

Now, recognizing that he has been crucified with Christ, Paul no longer acted on his own accord. He demoted himself from master to “bond-slave”. He made no further decisions regarding his own life: neither its destination nor its itinerary. Paul went wherever Christ was leading him and did whatever Christ was commanding him, even if he knew that what awaited him were “prison and troubles” (Acts 20:22-23).

He also said that “the life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” If you think about it, Paul was doing exactly what Jesus said in Luke 9:23. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Paul denied himself by counting all that was gain in his life as loss. Paul also took his cross daily. Besides being a symbol of suffering and sacrifice, the cross should remind us of our status as being crucified with Christ. I can see Paul reminding himself everyday that he has been crucified with Christ and that it is no longer he who lives. Are you taking up your cross daily? And, thereafter, Paul went wherever Christ may lead and did whatever Christ may command, even if he knew that what awaited him were “prison and troubles” (Acts 20:22-23). Never once did he say, “I can’t do this”. Instead, his confession was always “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). What is Christ (through the Holy Spirit) telling you to do? What is your response to Him?

Summary

In summary, I wish to remind you that Water Baptism is a burial. It is your funeral that we are attending. And one of the outcomes of Baptism, as we have seen in the previous lesson, is that it sets you free from the bondage of sin. In this lesson, you should have seen that through Baptism, you are also set free from yourself. And if you allow Christ to live through you, there would be no limit to what you can do and accomplish for His name’s sake.

 

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