In speaking to millions of Christians around the world, I have found that most defeated, frustrated, fruitless believers want to change, but they do not know what to do. I have a message of hope and help for them and for you: You can change from living a defeated, fruitless life. You can experience the full and abundant life God has promised to all of His children through Jesus Christ.
One day as I was driving in an unfamiliar city, I made a wrong turn and found myself driving against traffic on a one-way street. People on the sidewalk called to me that I was going the wrong direction. But I had already realized that in the split-second after I turned.
My problem was not to decide whether I was going in the right direction -- it was how to get turned around! Soon, through the help of a friendly policeman, I succeeded in changing my direction and went on my way relieved and happy, driving with the traffic.
It is the same in the Christian life. If you make a wrong turn and find yourself defeated and frustrated, you do not just need to be told you are traveling in the wrong direction, you need someone to help you get turned around. In this booklet, I want to show you how you can get turned around.
The Bible, God's holy, inspired Word, provides this guidance. Paul wrote:
The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God's way of making us prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone (2 Timothy 3:16,17,TLB).
The Bible not only instructs you, but it can show where you have turned in the wrong direction, give you assistance in making your course correction, and then train you to continue in the right way.
To understand the problem of misguided, unfruitful Christians, it is important to know what the Bible says about the problem. It reveals that there are 3 kinds of people in the world: the natural person, the spiritual man, and the worldly believer. Let me share briefly the characteristics of these types of people.
Before you became a Christian, you were what the Scripture calls a "natural" person:
The circle represents your life, and the throne represents your control center or will.
You were living under Satan's dominance, and your fleshly nature -- directed by Satan -- was "on the throne," controlling your life. Christ was outside of your life, knocking at the door, wanting to liberate you from Satan's dominance by bringing you His love, forgiveness and eternal life.
The natural person considers things of the Spirit of God as foolishness. Paul writes:
The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14, New King James).
Relying entirely on your own resources, you were spiritually dead to God and separated from Him because of sin.
Then you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ:
At your invitation, Christ entered your life and took the throne to guide you and strengthen you to live for Him. At that moment, His Holy Spirit indwelled you, gave you new birth, sealed you for heaven, and baptized you into the body of believers. With Christ (Spirit) on the throne, you are "filled" (directed and empowered) by the Holy Spirit.
The spiritual man understands the things of God. The apostle Paul records:
The spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can't understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord's thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15,16, TLB).
The act of staying "filled" with the Spirit is the act of deliberately keeping Christ on the throne of your life. He will not demand control against your will. If, despite His guidance and warning, you wish to yield to the influence of your flesh and wrest control away from Him for a period of overt or covert sin, He will sorrowfully step down. When you are in this state of unconfessed sin, God's Word describes you as one who is "worldly" or "carnal".
There is a vast difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Scripture clearly teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Also, "Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did" (1 John 2:6, TLB).
But often, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, the worldly Christian acts like the non-believer, and it is very difficult to tell the difference between them.
The worldly Christian is one who has received Christ but who also has allowed his sinful nature to reclaim the throne through sin. God still has possession of this person, and Christ is still in his life, but the individual has fallen into sin in one or more areas of his life. Not yielded to God, the worldly believer is in a period of stunted spiritual growth because he is not confessing and repenting of his sins, and Satan has succeeded in influencing and controlling him through the flesh.
Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth:
Dear brothers, I have been talking to you as though you were still just babies in the Christian life, who are not following the Lord, but your own desires; I cannot talk to you as I would to healthy Christians, who are filled with the Spirit. I have had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn't digest anything stronger. And even now you still have to be fed on milk. For you are still only baby Christians, controlled by your own desires, not God's...In fact, you are acting like people who don't belong to the Lord at all (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, TLB).
The worldly or carnal Christian certainly experiences the conviction of the Holy Spirit and will not continue in his sins indefinitely; otherwise, he is possibly not a Christian at all. But defeated and fruitless, he depends on self-effort and energy to live the Christian life instead of drawing on the supernatural, inexhaustible resources of the Holy Spirit.
Grasping self-interest in one hand and groping for God's blessing with the other, this person fails again and again to live the Christian life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.
The state of carnality, or unconfessed sin, is a miserable existence. Yet, sadly, this is where millions of Christians rest today -- back on the throne of their lives -- and they often don't realize that they are in this fleshly category. One man told me he had heard his pastor talk about worldly Christians all of his life, but he always thought his pastor meant somebody else. It surprised and shocked him to discover that he was a worldly Christian.
Paul knew what it meant to be worldly. In Romans chapter 7 he records:
The law is good, then, and the trouble is not there but with me, because I am sold into slavery with Sin as my owner.
I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can't. I do what I don't want to -- what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can't help myself, because I'm no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can't make myself do right. I want to but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't; and when I try not do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don't want to, it is plain where the trouble is; sin still has me in its evil grasp (Romans 7:14-20, TLB).
Does this passage of Scripture describe your present relationship with God?
In Detroit, Michigan, an elderly couple was taken to the hospital, suffering from malnutrition and starvation. When police began to search through their rubbish-cluttered home, they discovered $40,000 in cash hidden away among their belongings. They had long since forgotten that they possessed such wealth.
In a similar manner, the worldly Christian lives in spiritual poverty, much like a practicing atheist: Professing to believe in God, he acts as though God doesn't exist or is unwilling to help. He fails to understand the significance of Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
Christ not only paid the price for his sins, but actually broke the power of sin in his life.
Paul understood the anguish and frustration of attempting to live the Christian life in the energy of self-effort. He records:
It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God's will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God's willing servant but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.
So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in. Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? (Romans 7:21-24, TLB).
Have you ever asked, "Who will free me from my ugly self, my failures and defeats?" There is good news! Look at Paul's answer:
Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free (Romans 7:25, TLB).
A pastor of a large church came to talk to me after I had presented a message on how to experience God's love and forgiveness. He was filled with hatred and resentment toward the lay leaders of his previous church because he felt they had done him great harm and had even tried to destroy his ministry.
The pastor had now realized that in his attempts to get even he had turned into a mean, critical, worldly Christian. He had come to the point of either getting right with God or getting out of the pastorate. As he put it, "This cancerous worldliness is destroying my life and ministry."
As we knelt together to claim the love and forgiveness of God, his tears of repentance were followed by tears of joy. Several days later he went to visit the church leaders whom he had hated before, and when he told them that he loved them and asked them to forgive him, the leaders responded with joy and Christian love. This dear pastor returned to his second church with a heart burning with love and zeal for our Lord.
A businessman from another church came to see me one day, greatly distressed because his church was splitting.
"Half of our members are going to move out and start another church," he said.
This distressed me, too, because I cannot think of anything more tragic than for a body of Christians to be divided.
As we talked, the man discovered and admitted that he was a worldly Christian. I explained to him how God had made provision for him to be a spiritual person. He did not need to continue to live as a worldly, carnal Christian. Finally, we knelt together and prayed.
He asked forgiveness for his sins and invited God to fill and control his life by the Holy Spirit. As we rejoiced together over what God had done, he said, "You know, there won't be any problems in my church now. You see, I'm the one who has been causing all the trouble."
Unfortunately, the acid of worldliness doesn't just burn into churches. It also dissolves marriages, homes, families, and jobs. You may have felt its affect in your life as relationships with loved ones have deteriorated and friends have become mere acquaintances.
Adapted from the Transferable Concept: How You Can Experience God's Love And Forgiveness, by Dr. Bill Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. © Cru. All rights reserved.
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