Discerning the Life
Over the years I have become increasing conscious of inner drives that cannot possibly have their origin in ‘ME’. When I sense a strong impulse to be generous, humble, loving etc., this must be the work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. The importance of being able to discern the difference between Jesus and ‘ME’ came to a head recently in discussion with some folk involved in ministry to the severely broken. They had been very excited about the response of one man to the gospel and could see much fruit of change in his life. In the end however everything went sour, and those ministering were left wondering how they could have been so misled. This is not a new situation; none of the original disciples seemed to have recognised that one of them was “a devil” (John 6:70; Matt 26:20-22) and the New Testament speaks of “false brothers/prophets/teachers” who “secretly” enter the Church and work destruction (Gal 2:4; 2 Pet 2:1). From my own pastoral experience several well disguised wolves in sheep’s clothing come prominently to mind (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29). This serious and repetitive problem requires spiritual discernment to prevent Satan from gaining a foothold amongst us (2 Cor 2:11).
Most people come to Christ today in response to a message about a “changed life”; better health, improved marriage and family relationships, greater peace of mind, financial prosperity and so on. “I” remains at the core of much contemporary spirituality: ‘MY’ health, wealth, relationships etc. This contradicts the gospel preached by the early Church. At the heart of the good news is what the great theologians have called “the wonderful exchange”. Christ took my sin on the cross in order to give me his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), he adopted my poverty so that I might share in his riches (2 Cor 8:9). In contrast to today’s popular “Get Out Of Jail Free” the cross does not mean I am free from suffering and death, but that Jesus’ sharing ‘MY’ death makes it possible for me to share his death (Rom 6:5). Paul puts this concisely; “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me….” (Gal 2:20 ESV). Conversion means exchanging ‘MY’ life for the life of Jesus.
Living For Another
The spiritually aware believer who is conscious of this wonderful exchange is moved from self-centredness to Christ-centredness; “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor 5:14-15 ESV). Jesus himself spoke about discerning the difference between true and false testimony, ““You will recognise them by their fruit.”” (Matt 7:13). The fruit of moral virtuosity does not grow out of the root and trunk of ‘MY’ life but is a manifestation of the indwelling life of Christ (John 15:4ff.) A believer’s patience is a share in the “perfect patience” of Jesus (1 Tim 1:16), our humility is a sign of “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:3-5), my experience of peace is the fulfilment of the promise, “my peace I give to you” (John 14:27) and so on. Understood in this way all genuine desire for personal transformation has at its heart the revelation of the character of Jesus. This helps us to discern spiritual phoneys; such persons never desire to share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Cor 1:18)
Jesus’ agony is summed up in the expression “the blood of Christ”, which is a reference to the pain of life taken violently (1 Pet 1:2 etc.). The power of the blood of Christ is that it testifies of voluntary sacrifice for another’s good. Jesus stands out from all false/hired shepherds as the one who is slain for the sheep; it is as the one who died for us that the voice of Jesus can be recognised as that of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 27). The impact of the Son of God giving up his life for the world in this way is limitless. The one who now shares the heavenly throne of God is a Lamb, “standing as slaughtered” (Rev 5:6). At the pivot of all God’s plans is a voluntarily bloodied life. This understanding holds the key for discerning where Jesus is at work in any life. In my last teaching I used the diagram below to illustrate the reign of Christ on a throne at the centre of the Christian life.
Christian discipleship involves an exchange of the ‘ME’ life for that of Jesus which always involves “bloody sacrifice”. This does not necessarily mean physical pain, but always involves the agony of letting go of precious personal things as part of what it means to be joined to “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil 3:10). Where such Christ-centred pain bearing is present the fruit of the life of Christ will be undeniably visible. Where it is absent a form of godliness may appear but there can be no inner power (2 Tim 3:5). There is a “throne point” at the centre of every life, on that throne is seated either Jesus or ‘ME’. This difference is the discernible contrast between true and false profession of faith.
We live in a day where the plausible emphasis is on enjoying an “abundant life” (cf. John 10:10). This however may have little to do with being united to the “life of Christ”. An improved self-life can be very much at odds with manifesting the life of Christ; the failure to discern such a difference is at the root of the discipleship crisis of our time.
The first verse of an old hymn by a famous revivalist puts the situation well.
Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone. (A.B.Simpson)
May the Lord’s Spirit help us to discern for ourselves and others what it means to have Christ living in us. Paul’s warning is sober but strategic; “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13:5 ESV)
 Including, or especially, those who are sincerely deceived about their spiritual status.