From time to time across the centuries there have been movements which have arisen which have emphasized the truth that salvation is in Christ and Christ alone. Usually this emphasis has come into focus in response to a time or a system where much emphasis has been placed on man, on human works, and on rules and regulations. One such outstanding movement which comes to mind is the reformation of the sixteenth century. Another one, of course, is the 1888 message/movement in the SDA Church, which was initiated by elders A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner.
There is a danger which always seems to accompany such movements. There always has been and there always will be. It is the danger that as the emphasis is placed on Christ and on the reality of His life in us people may begin to think that there is no more need of the written word, now that we actually have, and live the very life of Christ. This was the thinking of the fanatical munsterites who arose in the days of Luther. Their cry was “the Spirit, the Spirit.” They concluded that since they now had Christ Himself there was no longer any need of the written word and that Christ Himself through the Spirit would lead them to automatically know, and to do what was right. Having cast away the word of God they depended on their feelings to direct them and of course the result was that they drifted into fanatical and disorderly behaviour. We see much the same thing happening in the Pentecostal churches today.
On the other hand, perhaps as a safeguard against such extremes, there are many who speak about righteousness in Christ, who refuse to emphasize the reality of His life in us. Their main focus is on what Christ has done for me, but they say very little of what He does in me. The consequence is a religion in which there is a great deal of talk about Christ and justification, but very little manifestation of the life of Christ.
Righteousness in Christ is a wonderful truth. In fact, it is all truth wrapped up into one. When we understand it, not only do we see man's deliverance as a simple, complete thing but we are filled with admiration and love for God and His Son. But the question must be asked, and especially as we are now seeing Christ with clearer vision, how can we escape these two extremes? One which throws us into the fires of fanaticism and the other which leaves us stranded on the ice of formalism?
In every case, faulty knowledge leads to wrong beliefs and of course wrong beliefs lead to wrong experience. We see then that the foundation of Christian experience is correct knowledge (Rom. 10:14). It is true that knowledge in itself will not benefit a person, but at the same time there is no development, no change without knowledge. If people will believe when they learn the truth, the result will be seen in lives in which Christ is revealed. So as we move forward in the experience of the life in Christ let us be certain that we proceed with correct knowledge and understanding. This is the only way to ensure that we are shielded from the pitfalls into which others have stumbled.
Experience contrary to truth
Christ Himself lives in the believer. This is a truth which the Bible clearly, emphatically and repeatedly teaches. This life of Christ in us gives us complete victory over all sin. This is also something about which there can be no question if we accept what the Bible says. Yet in spite of these facts, we still very much need the Bible. Why? Will not Christ Himself teach me personally? Will I not automatically know to do what is right since it is Christ who lives and not I? What need do I still have of written words if I actually have the living word inside of me?
Questions such as these are the reason why it is vital that we understand what is involved in true Christian experience.
First of all, let us settle this matter: All things, absolutely all that we need or will ever need have already been provided. All things are already ours (1 Cor. 3:21,23). God took everything which man could ever need – wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, power, life etc. (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3; 1 John 5:11) and He put them all in Jesus Christ. There they exist as a reality independent of our experience. Whether we want them or not, whether we believe or not, they are there. When a person receives Christ, then all these things are His, because they are Christ's and he and Christ have become partakers of the same one life (1 Cor. 12:13). In Jesus there dwells the fullness of the godhead bodily and we are complete in Him. All that He is and has is what we are and have.
But why is it that we see so little of the life of Christ in so many Christians, even in those whom we believe to be honest and sincere? If we do indeed have the life of Christ with all these qualities, why is it that the theory and the reality are so far apart?
The Written and Living Word
In order to answer this question we must understand the place of the word of God in the experience of the Christian. Consider the following verses
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Pet 1:23)
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)
Now it is true that a person may read these verses and conclude that the words themselves, the actual phrases and sounds are what actually accomplishes these things in us but this would contradict the passages which teach us clearly that it is Christ Himself by means of His spirit who actually lives and works in us. The key to understanding this is to see the relationship between the work of Christ, the living word, and the Bible, the written word.
Generally speaking, God does not act in us outside of our will and consciousness. Christ's life in us is manifested in our conscious and willing submission to His will as it is revealed to our minds. In other words, the life of Christ in us is manifested by a cooperative, conscious intelligent response to the truths which He reveals to us. It is not usually God's way to take control of a person's body or mind and induce him to behave in a certain way outside of his conscious intelligent choice.
Knowledge Precedes Faith
When we understand this then we can see that no matter how much God has given us, we can receive only as much as we consciously know and therefore believe. We may be kings, but ignorance will keep us living like paupers.
It is through the word of God that our eyes are opened. It is by the word that the life of the spirit, already ours, becomes known to us, thus enabling us to experience it. In other words we already are inheritors of all things, but we do not know it. We receive little, because that is what we expect to receive.
I would compare it to a man who has inherited a book from a millionaire friend, which is written in a mysterious code. As far as he knows the only thing which he has inherited is this book. But as he studies the book day after day, he gradually begins to understand the code. Finally he deciphers one page and learns that there is a certain bank account set up in his name with a million dollars!! All this time he was a millionaire but did not know it. Now that he knows he can begin to spend. But he is eager to get to page two because who knows what other treasures are waiting to be discovered!
The thing is, he was just as rich on day one, as he was on the day when he deciphered the code, but he did not know it, so could not benefit. This in a way illustrates the relationship between our experience and the word of God. Already given all things, yet we need to know and to believe. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17).
The life of Christ in me changes my nature, but does not supernaturally educate me. It is still by the word that Christ reveals his will to me. So though in Christ, I have a perfect spiritual nature - the nature of Christ, I still only have human knowledge and can only live that perfect nature in harmony with what I know to be right. Therefore Christ continues to educate me through His word, enlightened by His spirit so that day by day, already perfect in Christ, I become more mature and more perfectly manifest the image of Christ in my behaviour.
So all things have already been given to the Christian. In fact the Bible states that “ the world, ” has already been reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:19). But it is only by means of the word that we can enter our inheritance. Without the word of God we may just as well have nothing, for how can we believe if we do not know (Rom. 10:14) and if we do not believe we cannot receive. So Paul tells us that the gentiles are “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them.” (Eph.4:18)
The written word reveals the truth, it does not make the truth. It reveals the reality of Christ who is the truth, the living word, Himself the fulfillment of all the word of God, all it promises and requires.
For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. (2 Cor 1:20)
Faith Receives Life
But the written word, accepted by faith is a vital key. Although all things are already ours in Christ, the Christian life is lived ONLY by faith. Faith accesses all God has given, but unbelief receives nothing. All the omnipotence, all the blessings, all the might and grace of God mean nothing, avail nothing for the person who does not believe. It is the key which unlocks, releases, accesses all the infinite resources of God which have already been given to us in Christ, but of which we are so ignorant . The written word produces faith (Rom. 10:17) which receives the living word. But how much of the living word do we receive? Only as much as we expect to receive. Only in proportion to our faith Which is based on the written word.
So it is clear that as we learn more of the written word of God and believe in that word, there will be a corresponding increase in our experience in Christ, the living word. But let us consider, it is not because we have not ALREADY been given all things in Christ from the very beginning. No, it is only because our understanding and faith are limited and are only gradually being enlightened by the word of God.
This is why the apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened so that they could come to appreciate how much they had been given in Christ.
The story of Gideon is a good illustration of this point. Gideon lived in Israel at a low point in their history. It was a time when they had been overrun and subjugated by the Midianites. Their condition had become so desperate that whenever they reaped their crops the Midianites simply came and collected the fruits of their hard work and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it.
One day Gideon was threshing his wheat. He was not threshing it at the threshing floor, he was threshing it at the wine press, hoping to deceive the Midianites and so preserve some of his precious crop from their piracy. Gideon lived in a nation of dispirited and defeated people. He was just like them, a man without spirit or hope. All he could hope was that by changing his habits and hiding from the Midianites he might be able to obtain enough food to live.
Suddenly he was startled to hear a voice behind him which said,
“The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour ….Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (Judg 6:12-14)
Gideon looked around in amazement to see who this person (an angel) was talking to. Surely it could not be him because he certainly was not a mighty man of valour! But when it dawned upon him that it was indeed he to whom the angel was speaking he replied,
“Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” (Judg 6:15)
Basically Gideon was saying, “my Lord, you are wrong. I am not a mighty man of valour. My father's house is little in Manasseh (which is one of the small tribes in Israel) and I myself am the littlest, the weakest, the least significant in my father's house. So basically, I am nobody and I have very little might or valour!”
Now who was right? Was it the angel, or was it Gideon?
If God said that Gideon was a mighty man of valour, was Gideon a mighty man of valour? Of course he was! God cannot lie. Even if it were not true before, as soon as God said so it became true. However, the fact is that in spite of the fact that he was a mighty and valiant man, Gideon could only live like a weak, puny wimp because that is what he believed himself to be!! All the might which was already his was of no avail unless he believed it. So God had to do something to strengthen his faith (not to increase his strength – he already had all the strength he needed). He put out the fleece two nights to prove God. On one night it was wet all around but dry on the fleece, on the other night it was dry all around but wet on the fleece (Judges 6:36-40).
Finally Gideon believed the word of God because God was gracious enough to give him some evidence. But long before he received the evidence, Gideon was already a mighty man of valour, the problem was that he did not know it. When he finally believed, God did nothing to him that He had not already done. The only difference was that now, Gideon believed and because he believed he was able to live the reality of that life of might and valour. He went out with three hundred men and totally devastated the army of hundreds of thousands of Midianites. Because he finally believed.
When a person believes, God needs to do nothing to accomplish his salavation which He has not already done. It was already done before He believed, but now, because he believes, he is able to access the reality, to realize and experience what was already true before he believed.
We can see then the true meaning of the phrase, “grow in Christ.” This is not saying that we should become more like Christ, but that we should receive more of Christ by believing more (as the word reveals more of Christ to us). We expand and increase in the life, privileges, authority and power of Christ as the word leads us from faith to faith (Rom. 1:17).
A Guide of Right and Wrong
While the word reveals the life of Christ and all the glories present in that life, all given to us in Christ, it also reveals more perfectly God's character and standard of righteousness. Though we are already complete in Christ, partakers of His righteous nature, victorious over sin, yet again it must be emphasized, we do not have perfect knowledge. It is possible to be one hundred percent obedient to God and yet still to be doing something which is not in harmony with His perfect will! A genuine Christian desires only to please God. He only wants to do good because he has the nature of Christ and this is how the nature of Christ reveals itself – in a desire to do only good. However, he does not have all the knowledge of Christ and so his concept of right and wrong may still be faulty. He may do something wrong, sincerely believing that he is doing right. This does not mean that Christ is not living in him, but simply that he is a babe in Christ. A baby has the nature, the life, but not the knowledge of an adult.
God does not count such faulty ignorant behaviour in a Christian as sin – no more than we would regard it as sin if a baby of two years old, in imitating an adult used a bad word, or bowed before an idol. However, such faulty behaviour certainly misrepresents God's character and it is not God's plan to leave any of his children in such a condition. So there we see again, the vital place of the word of God in educating us, in revealing God's character, and His will to us so that we may not only live the life of Christ sincerely, but that we may also live it perfectly.
There is perfect balance, harmony and interdependence between the written and the living Word. Often we become unbalanced on one side or the other and we set these agencies against each other. We say “the spirit, the spirit,” or “the word, the word.” But in the proper understanding of the place of both, a wonderful beauty emerges and we find that the various elements of God's work come together in perfect harmony.