Tom: Dave, last week we started discussing chapter 9, “What is the Christian life?” which you begin by quoting Habakkuk:2:4: “The just shall live by faith.” Now, that statement is repeated in the New Testament three more times in the epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and to the Hebrews. It would seem, therefore, that this is quite important for us to understand. So can you give us a brief review of what “the just shall live by faith” means?
Dave: Well, I guess if you take it in the order that it comes, the just—who are the just? Well, the Bible says there is “not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” So we’re going to have to be justified—“Being justified freely by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” the Bible says, “whom he hath set forth to be a propitiation for our sins.” So we receive this new life by faith. So now we continue to live the Christian life by the same faith.
I like the way Paul puts it in Colossians 2: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” Well, how did I receive Him? Well, I came as a helpless, hopeless sinner—wretched, on my way to an eternal hell, separated from God forever by my sin and by my rebellion, and I could not do anything to save myself, and He saved me. I just believe in Him and trust in Him. Well, then, that’s the way I live the Christian life—as a helpless, hopeless person. I can’t do anything; He has to do it through me. So “the just shall live by faith.”
Tom: Right. And He does do it through us. He gives us His Holy Spirit who dwells within us, which we mentioned last week, and that enables us to live a life that’s pleasing to God.
Dave: Well, we’ve said it many times, and other people have said it as well: the Christian life isn’t difficult—it’s impossible! No one ever lived the Christian life but Christ. Now, if I am going to try to imitate Christ in my strength, in my flesh—I am going to try to live up to His standard…. Some people think that! Well, Buddha set high standards, and Confucius set high standards, and they couldn’t live up to it. But Jesus set the highest standards. Now we’re going to try to live up to His standards? Well, we would fall even farther short of Christ’s standards than we would of Buddha’s or anyone else’s. And, in fact, sin is defined in the Bible as “coming short of the glory of God.” Man was made in the image of God, and we have warped and defiled and deformed that image. We have come far short of what God intended for us to be: His glory to be manifest in us as human beings!
So if that is to be restored, then Christ is going to have to do it. That’s, in fact, why He became a man. God became a man. God and man have met together in the person of Jesus Christ, and now He is the perfect Man, everything that God wanted a man to be, and His Spirit comes to live within us. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ. “In Him dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily, and you are complete in Him,” Paul says in Ephesians 1. So Christ, living in us, living in the Christian…see, a Buddhist doesn’t have that; a Muslim doesn’t have that. No one has that promise that God himself has come as a man and that He will live His life through those who put their faith in Him. So this is wonderful! It’s fantastic. But many Christians don’t realize this, and they are struggling in their own flesh somehow to live up to a standard that they could never meet instead of allowing Christ to live His life through them.
Tom: Right. Dave, I think we find an illustration of this, which I think is a terrific metaphor for what we’re talking about: Jesus walked on the water! This was, I think, an analogy for the miraculous Christian life. But somebody else did—that was Peter, and as he stepped out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus…
Dave: At Christ’s…
Dave: Yes, His invitation: “Come on, Peter!”
Tom: Right! He began to sink. I think the reason he began to sink was he took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at his circumstances and surroundings.
Dave: Well, and thought that somehow he was the guy who was walking on water, and it was some trick that he had learned, or whatever, you know. And as soon as he looked at the wind and the waves and realized, Wait a minute! What am I doing walking on water? he began to sink.
Tom: And I think that’s a good illustration, a good metaphor, because that’s what we do a lot. Again, going back to Paul to the Galatians: “O, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” We began in the Spirit; we began trusting Christ. Sometimes I think, as a young Christian…
Dave: Let’s take a minute for that, Tom. We began in the Spirit—what does that mean? Well, God did something miraculous: it’s called the new birth. This is not some idea that some fundamentalist group came up with: “You must be born again.” That’s what Jesus said to Nicodemus, who was a very religious leader of the Jews: “You must be born again.” Now, I can’t “born again” myself, you know. I can’t—“born again” means not as a human being over again. As Nicodemus said, “Well, how can a man who is old enter his mother’s womb again and be born?”
No, no, Jesus says you’re going to be born into the family of God; you become a child of God. We are all the children of God, Paul writes to the Galatians, through faith in Christ Jesus. That’s how we become children of God. Until that time, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and his works you do.”
So, this beginning in the Spirit, it is something that the Spirit of God did for us in our hearts. I can remember 63 years ago when it happened to me—believe it or not, I can remember that long ago—something happened. I was born again, a changed person. And I was a babe in Christ, and I wasn’t mature; I did not know everything, and so forth, but something happened. It is a miracle of God, and the Christian life is miraculous! It has to be, because we can’t do it, only God can do it. And so instead of struggling ourselves, let’s allow Christ to live through us. And if we say, “Lord, I can’t do it, but I’m willing. Would You do it through me?” Amazing what He can do!
Tom: Now, Dave, some people may be listening to this saying, “I like what he’s saying, but I’m fearful of it because”—I’m talking about Christians, as well!—“I like what he’s saying, but how do I do this practically? Isn’t there a practical side where I just keep waiting to hear, or being moved spiritually?” How does that work?
Dave: Well, let’s say that—here’s a person who has a temper, and he’s always blowing up at his wife. Now, you’ve got two choices. Well, I can go to my psychologist, and I can learn some anger control, techniques…. (And, by the way, I remember the article—you probably saw it—of this man who taught anger control seminars, and he blew up and killed somebody!) I can learn to count to 10 or whatever, or I can say…
Tom: Need ventilation therapy, punch a bag.
Dave: Yeah, work out your frustrations and so forth ahead of time. Or I can say, “Lord, I’m not going to reform my person. I’m not going to change who I am. I can’t do that! But, Lord, I’m trusting You; You have come to live in me. The scripture says, ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me....’ It’s no longer I but Christ. Lord Jesus, I believe that; I know that you’ve come to live in my heart; I want to see this lived out in my life. I’m not going to try to change myself, I can’t do it. I’ve turned over so many new leaves. Lord, I’m willing for you to do it.”
Tom: So his heart is there; he desires—he wants to change.
Dave: Right. “Would you, please, begin to manifest your life through me, Lord?” And you would be amazed what He can do.
Tom: “The just shall live by faith.” He’s taking a step of faith. I think that’s the thing that scares people—although the example that you gave, Dave, it’s a practical, reasonable example. People could apply that. But it has to be by faith, trusting that God will do what He says He will do. Will work in… again, we may stumble, we may fall, we may fall back here and there, but God is faithful. I mean, He will stand by what He says.
Dave: Well, this is the promise of the Christian life, and this is what the Christian life is, and it is totally different from anything that Freud, or Jung, or Rogers offered; from anything that Muhammad, or Buddha, or Confucius offered. This is the promise of Christ. He said, “Because I live, you will live also,” and He promised to give us a new life, resurrection life. Resurrection life, of course, is only for dead people. You have to be dead to qualify for it, and we are dead in sins, we’re dead unto God; but “you who were dead in sins, He has made alive.” But it’s not something that happens apart from my faith and trust; it’s not something that just overwhelms me, and now I become a robot or something. No, it requires cooperation, requires trust and willingness on my part, and if I am willing, I can say, “Lord Jesus, please, I want this life. Would you please live your life through me? Do it, Lord. I can’t do it,” and He will do it.
Tom: Yeah. And, Dave, I think the reinforcement—the encouragement—to this is getting into God’s Word. If the Christian life really is pleasing God, you have to know what pleases Him. I’m not talking about rules and regulations and laws and all of these things, but you find throughout God’s Word things that He wants us to do. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Now, He wasn’t talking about the Ten Commandments, per se; He was talking about everything that He wanted us to have. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” So these are the things that…how do we find these things? We don’t make them up on our own. We look to God’s Word, and that’s a continual encouragement to know Him and to know what He desires, what pleases Him, and also to know what He will do in our lives to transform our lives.
Dave: Mm-hmm. Amen. So let’s put those things together: The just shall live by faith, and then the Word that you’ve been talking about. Well, that’s what God said to His people in Deuteronomy 8, and that is the verse that Christ quoted to Satan in His temptation in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God shall man live.” Jesus said in John 6: “I am the bread of God that came down from heaven; whosoever eateth of this bread shall live forever.” Now, He’s not talking about something physical, He’s obviously talking about this spiritual life that comes by faith. So, “eating” Christ means believing in Him and trusting Him.
And as you said, “Well, how do we know Christ?” We’re going to try to do some research and go back and try to dig up some ancient books…. Well, we have His Word. Jesus is called the “living Word”: “In the beginning was the Word….” He is the one, He is the Word, and He is the truth.
So, we begin to read His Word; we feed on His Word. We allow His Word to begin to transform us. It’s not going to happen instantly. There is an instant transformation in our hearts when we come to Christ. But now Peter, of course, says, “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby.” Now, if you have a baby, and you’re not feeding it anything—it’s not nursing, it’s not getting its mother’s milk—then that baby is not going to grow, obviously. And yet we have Christians who think that they can grow without feeding upon the milk of the Word of God! And then there’s strong meat in the Word, too, as we mature, and they’re trying instead therapy, or some psychologist, or all kinds of books out there, with techniques. “If you follow these principles, you can get in control of your life, you can control your anger, you can become more loving,” or whatever. No, no, this comes through the Word of God, comes through Christ living in us.
Tom: Yeah, or they’re not eating on their own—they’re being spoon-fed by somebody and their faith becomes misplaced. It’s in that person, or what this individual said, or this celebrity, or whatever it might be.
Dave: They are failing to “search the scriptures daily,” as the Bereans did, to check everybody out.
Tom: Well, they don’t have a discipline of eating the meals—that is, going to God’s Word, taking this bread, devouring it themselves.
Dave: So, instead of…well, it’s like processed food today—“junk food,” we call it. That’s one of the problems in America. That’s why we have so many—part of why…well, we won’t get into that, but so many people who are flabby—lack of exercise for one thing; we need to exercise our faith as well. But all of the vitamins have been taken out, you know, and it’s processed, and it tastes good, but it won’t sustain life very well—certainly not healthful life, healthy life, and that’s what most people are feeding on. Well, I think we could say most—much, if not most of the time they’re getting something that’s been watered down, that’s been made palatable, that tastes good. It’s not the sharp edge of God’s Word; it’s not the power…
Tom: Doesn’t bring conviction.
Dave: No, it’s not the power that there is in the Word of God, but someone now has sort of refined it and taken the bran out, made it taste a little better, made it more appealing. No, we have to get back to—and I’m not criticizing that; I write books myself—but we need to get back to the Word of God, and see what God himself has said, and let God speak to us through His Word. So every book that some Christian author writes shouldn’t stand on its own—it should be based upon the Word of God, and it should point people back to the Word of God.
Tom: Right. Dave, what’s available in the Christian life, it’s called the “fruit of the Spirit.” Some people, when they consider those things—and what’s not to consider that you wouldn’t be excited about? Love and joy and peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance—these are wonderful things, but some people don’t view them as fruit, in which you have to…they’re seeds: they grow, they develop in your life. They see it as the kind of gifts that—“Oh well, I’ve got that. I ought to be having this,” like a farmer who wants a great crop but doesn’t do anything to help produce that crop.
Dave: Tom, we’ve known one another for many years, and you probably remember some of my old illustrations that I haven’t used for many years, but you just brought one to my mind here. [We’re] talking about fruit now. It’s not the fruit of therapy; it’s the fruit of the Spirit. But I remember years ago, I used to use the illustration—well, here’s a crab apple tree, and it wants to become a Golden Delicious apple tree, the Cadillac of the apples (at least I think so, anyway), and so what does it do? Well, it tries to strike the stance of a Golden Delicious apple tree, tries to look like one. It buys some Golden Delicious apples and has them pinned on its branches, you know, and so forth. No, it won’t work; you have to change the root to change the fruit. Now, if we know Christ, we’ve opened our hearts to Him, we’ve believed the gospel, the root has been changed; we have a new root, and Jesus calls Himself the true vine; we are branches. But now, it’s not by works. Living the Christian life, is no more by works than being saved was by works. Now I must rely upon Christ, His life to flow through me. That’s how fruit is produced. A grape vine, or an apple tree, whatever it is, can worry and try somehow to produce fruit. It can’t do it; this is something that God has to do. God has built this in, of course, and He has built it into us, if we will allow that fruit to be born. And it’s exciting, it’s wonderful, it’s thrilling what God can do.
Tom: Right. Again, the fruit of the Spirit—if I were a psychotherapist out there, and I had my shingle out on my door, if I could put these things on my shingle: “Love. Joy. Peace.” just those three, I’d be the wealthiest individual in the world, because this is what everybody wants, but that’s not the way to go about it. It comes from a life that is based upon those who have been justified by Christ and live by faith.
Dave: It’s miraculous, Tom. We cannot escape it, the Christian life. You have theologians, you have seminaries where they try to deny the miracles that Jesus did, even denying that He was literally raised from the dead. Christianity not only is miraculous, it must be miraculous; it has to be miraculous, [and] there must be miracles involved. Now when you talk like that, people think, Oh, well, I’m going to go to a miracle service, some healing, or whatever. We’re talking about something even more wonderful, and that is the miracle that God can do in our hearts, in our lives, in our spirits, in transforming an angry, frustrated, selfish person into someone who no longer thinks of themselves, who has taken up the cross, is willing to die with Christ, has died with Christ, and has a new joy, a new outlook on life, a new generosity, a new kindness and compassion and love. This is the life of Christ himself; it’s not what we can do, but what He can do for us.
Tom: Dave, we’re out of time for this segment, but next week we can talk about the other side of the Christian life. You make a statement in your book: “The Christian life is too glorious to be easy. It must involve trials and testing.” That’s what we’re going to go over next week.