Below are some reflections I have been working on for some time now about the power of the Gospel to change a life. I’m ashamed to say that for many years as a professing Christian I did not have faith in that power or give much respect to those who claimed it for themselves or others. I know I’m not alone in that. I know that much, if not most, of the church world today lives as what Stanley Hauerwas called in the opening convocation service at Duke Divinity, “practical atheists.” We live as tough there is no God – a real Presence and Divine Power who is actively engaged in the affairs of this world and our lives.
For me, that Power became intimate as I got lost in the Scriptures and read them with a determination to live. Rather than reading them as a means to teach others, write a sermon, win an argument or publish a blog, I was reading them because my life depended on these words. I desperately wanted them to be what they claimed to be!
They did not disappoint. In fact, it is because I am so thoroughly convinved that the Bible contains what we need for “life and godliness” I enrolled last month for a Masters in Biblical Counseling with Baptist Bible College. I was accepted last week and begin in August. I’m excited to learn more about how I can effectively use Scripture to help others like myself. With school beginning soon and my primary ministry being at home, I don’t forsee spending much time blogging, but I want to be available to men who need a word of encouragement or prayer. Amy will the primary voice here, and with good reason! She has a powerful testimony of God’s healing power in her own life and I pray daily that God would be glorified through her desire to give back what she has received.
I pray the following reflections gives you hope that you, too, can be free.
“[I] left Christianity behind as I rarely see transformed lives.”
I appreciated her honesty when she left that comment on my testimony. It’s not only honest, it’s true. When was the last time you, church person, saw a radically transformed life? When was the last time you thought of yourself as radically transformed? But I’m getting ahead of myself…
I was a hair’s breadth away from joining her exodus a year ago. When I arrived at Pure Life in November I was at the end of my rope. Having been through one divorce already (back in 2001) because of my addiction I was now facing another. I had tried everything I knew to try. I was an avid supporter and member of SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) for years, attending 1 to 3 meetings per week while working the steps. I (and my wife, both together and separately) had gone to numerous counselors. We even forked up over 6 grand to spend time in Houston (twice) with a therapist who specialized in sexual addiction having studied under Patrick Carnes.
And I prayed. A lot.
Needless to say, when I showed up at Pure Life I was a hopeless wreck. I knew nothing could fix me. I knew I was destined to be forever tormented. I knew that I would die an addict, and probably soon. In fact, I had already made up my mind that after this 7 month stint (actually, truth be told, I didn’t think I’d last one month, let alone seven. I was sure I’d quit or they’d kick me out), if I was still the same Chad who arrived I was done.
Forget about just walking away from Christianity. I was prepared to walk away from life.
Perhaps you, friend, are reading this and can relate. Perhaps you, friend, have spent more tears than you can count and have bruised hands from slamming the steering wheel while crying out to God, “Why!?!! Why won’t you fix me!! Where are you??!!”
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Those are words I have heard countless times. I’ve even preached them. But for reasons I can only chalk up to the mysteries of God, they went into me the night I heard them on my 3rd day at Pure Life. The man who read them, who was sharing a bit of his own testimony, followed up with this statement:
Men, God didn’t bring you here to make you better. He brought you here to make you new.
Friend, do you believe that? Do you believe God can make you new? Well, I didn’t. But I wanted to. I desperately wanted to believe that I could be transformed. I desperately wanted to see God show up and be real in my life.
But before God could do anything I needed to be humbled. I needed to reckon with the reality that Paul’s promise of new creation is conditional. It is a given fact so long as the first part is fulfilled: If anyone is in Christ.
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.
Was I in Christ? My lack of transformation presented me with a few options:
1) Paul was wrong
2) Jesus doesn’t really transform lives
3) I was not as “in Christ” as I thought
The first 2 were easier to stomach than the 3rd. After all, I had built a reputation on the proclamation that ALL were in Christ! ALL are saved! ALL are children of God! My popularity was soaring (along with my pride) and I was convinced that God was behind the message because everything I wrote or said was being eaten up! Surely the number of blog hits or Facebook fans or Retweets one gets is a sign of God’s approval. Right?
But the truth is, if I really believed the first two options than I have no reason to call myself a Christian. Everything seemed to hang in the balance of option #3.
If I was already in Christ, then Christ’s word is null and void for my reality proves that I am anything but new.
I was not in Christ, and did not yet know with my heart what I thought I knew with my head.
Let me pause here a moment. Perhaps, friend, you are like me and weighing the extremes of those two options. Perhaps you are like me and already thinking of other possibilities. You, like me, are saying something like, “But wait! I’ve given my life for the cause of Christ! I have been a pastor, gone to seminary, studied the Bible most of my life. I was a pastor’s kid and was raised in the church. I have a Christian blog and write lots of things about Jesus. I do this and that and this and….”
Jesus warned that there will be plenty who present a biography just like mine, and yet, He will send them away as complete strangers.
All of this and much more was beginning to knead its way into my heart over the course of several months. What made me break was something that from all appearances seemed a small thing. It was the end of December and we were given a couple sheets of paper written by revivalist Charles Finney titled, “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground.” We were challenged to take it seriously and spend some time writing out our own responses to each of the prompts in the letter. Never being one to back down from a challenge, I took it, and spent the better part of a day in the chapel, alone, writing out page after page of stuff I never before considered. 20 pages later, the evidence of my wretchedness was written before me. I saw how truly far from Christ I was and how easily seduced I was by pride.
I was undone. For the first time in my life I experienced what Paul calls “godly sorrow.” It’s unlike any sorrow I have ever known. I saw my sin and all its ugliness. But I also saw God and all His holiness. I saw a powerful God who died for me, for even me, while I was yet a sinner. I saw Jesus on the cross, bearing my sin and shame. I saw my Savior by whose stripes I am healed, who came to set captives free, who has the power to break the hold of the sin on my life and anyone who will seek Him.
That was the day I know I became a child of God. That was the day of my salvation. I became new!
I think it’s fair to say that the degree we do not experience transformation in our own lives is the same degree to which we are not in Christ. If you are someone who self-identifies as a Christian, as I did, yet find your life is not all that different to what it was like before you became a Christian, like mine, then friend, perhaps you are not as “in Christ” as you like to think. Which is not uncommon, as the comment I began this post points out. Sadly, what constitutes for being “in Christ” among Christians these days, particularly in America, is little more than showing up to church for an hour on Sunday (isn’t God pleased with me!), saying thanks before eating dinner, and praying for a safe trip to the beach.
We are blind even though we claim to see. Jesus’ indictment of the Laodiceans is apt for us today:
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked (Rev. 3:17).
The Bible teaches us that there is divine power available to us, at work within us, to teach us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Really Peter? Well, yes. But again, it’s conditioned upon the “knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” We have to know Jesus. Really know him!
Peter seemed to have caught a glimpse of this early on in his walk with Jesus. He was the one who, after Jesus told the crowds that He is the bread of life – very different from the bread of this world which only perishes – said, “Only you have the words of life, where else can we go?” You’ll recall that many walked away from Jesus that day. We would much rather depend on the bread and wisdom of man rather than the Bread of Heaven.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jesus, in John 5:39-40).
I spent a lot of time and a lot of money going to everyone and everything but Jesus for life. Today, because of my time spent at Pure Life, the driving force in my life is to know Jesus. Today I can say with Paul that I desire to know nothing apart from Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10). Knowing Jesus, and knowing that I am known by Him, and striving to nurture that relationship above all else, is the difference between living a life in victory over sin versus one fraught with addiction, strife and defeat.
My prayer today is that others would know Jesus. I pray that we as a Church would once again believe in the supernatural regenerating work of the Spirit of God – the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead is at work in us!– and believe that the Word of God is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, making us thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
Do you believe that? Will you echo Peter’s confession that we have no where else to turn for only Jesus holds the words of life? Or will you continue to search for life through anyone or anything but the Author of it?
In closing, I need to share that I am so grateful for the time God granted me to seek Him at Pure Life. There may be other places which allow for this, but I don’t know of any yet. Given my pride, arrogance and very liberal leanings (cynicism) upon my arrival, I was looking for any reason to bolt, and would have had any of the staff or counselors given me enough reason. Yet they consistently showed the love and humility of Jesus. The stuff that I only wrote about, they modeled day in and day out. While the world offered me all sorts of gimicks, models, therapies and programs, the men at Pure Life, who are themselves living testimonies of the transforming power of God, consistently pointed me to the Cross. It is there that I found the answers I had been seeking.
Friend, if you are reading this with new bruises on your hands from the steering wheel, I hope you’ll find a glimmer of hope in these words, and salve for your soul by running to the only lover and maker of your soul – Jesus.