My Spiritual Pilgrimage to the Christ-Life
by Brad C. Shockley
For nineteen years I struggled as a Christian with besetting sins and desperate feelings of inadequacy, unable to get off the roller coaster ride of spiritual up’s and down’s. From time to time the Lord revealed life-changing truths or principles in His Word that would lift me up – “golden hours” as John Bunyan called them – and each time I thought, “This is it; this is the answer I’ve been searching for.” But every “Mt. Everest” experience was followed by a “Death Valley” which left me groping for a stable walk again. Even after being called into the pastoral ministry, this malady persisted. I was traveling dangerously close to the end of myself.
The roller coaster ride began to slow down in the summer of 1999 when seminary work required me to take a long-distance course entitled “Christ-Centered Counseling.” This course confronted me for the first time with the truths of what Hudson Taylor called the “exchanged life” and others call the “Christ life,” “resurrection life,” or the “grace walk.”
“There was more to the cross than just the forgiveness of my sins”? “The only way to live the Christian life was to stop trying in my own strength”? “Christ not only gives me life, He is my life”? “I am no longer a sinner but a saint”? “I have actually taken on the divine nature of Christ”? “The flesh can’t produce good works”? These questions and many more surfaced as a result of my studies, and they began a battle in my mind and heart that would continue for months.
At about the same time God brought a new pastor friend into my life. He was older, wiser, and there seemed to be something different about him. He exuded a peace and quiet confidence unlike any I had seen in other Christians, even other pastors. His life verse, Galatians 2:20, was familiar to me: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” He wrote it inside the cover of a book, a gift to me, adding his own words, “May this little book be a source of help as you travel in the Land of Rest. Remember, your land of promise is the Spirit-filled life.” The book was The Land and Life of Rest, by Graham W. Scroggie. Though Scroggie and his work were unfamiliar to me, the prospect of experiencing “rest” after two decades of struggle sounded very enticing.
Scroggie took the Old Testament account of Joshua’s leading Israel into the Promised Land and related it to the pilgrimage of a Christian into the fullness of God’s promises, much like Major Ian Thomas in his book The Saving Life of Christ. His major premise rested upon the idea that a Christian must by faith and diligence appropriate what was already His in Christ Jesus, just as the Land of Promise had already been given to the Israelites; they needed only to occupy it. Scroggie declared that “the teaching of the Epistles distinguishes between what, by divine grace, we are in Christ by virtue of His death and resurrection, and what experimentally we may and should become by faith and effort in the energy of the Holy Spirit. In other words, there is in thought, and too often and too largely in fact, a difference between our spiritual standing and our spiritual state.” That described my condition! There was a scandalous difference between the person I was in standing as a Christian and how I behaved and felt.
Everything W. Graham Scroggie wrote reinforced the significance of another book I had just read for seminary entitled The Handbook to Happiness, by Dr. Charles Solomon. He called upon biblical anthropology to help spell out the details of how one discovers his true identity in Christ. Man is a trichotomous being possessing a soul, spirit, and body. The spirit is the God-conscious aspect of man (relating to God); the soul is where one’s personality resides (relating to others); and the body is the tangible part of man that relates to the physical world. At the center of this trio resides the flesh, the control center of a person living out of his own resources. The unsaved naturally function out of the flesh because their spirits are dead to God, a result of the Fall.
Thankfully, salvation brings life to the spirit and death to what a person was in Adam. With this new life comes assurance, something founded on Scriptural fact and not feelings. Assurance leads to security and security to the believer’s reckoning of Christ’s acceptance of him. Christ’s acceptance is automatic; the need for works to earn it is not necessary!
Dr. Solomon called upon all believers to exchange their identity based upon “personal history and indwelling sin” for the perfect identity one has in Christ. This happens when one reaches the point of “total commitment,” that place where the flesh begins to decentralize with Christ taking its place.
This all made sense to me intellectually, but how could it become real in my life? Solomon outlined four aids. First, I must be willing to commit to the Lord, engaging in a concentrated study program using both Scripture and books on Spiritual growth. Second, when intellectual understanding of the exchanged life comes, I must continue to study God’s Word so that comprehension of one’s position in Christ takes place. Third, there must come a reckoning in or appropriation by faith that these things are so. Finally, after total commitment and reckoning begin to dawn, I need to prepare for the natural onset of struggle and suffering. Whether gradual or sudden, this “crucifixion” process consummates what could be called “spiritual resurrection life.” Dr. Solomon advised that this would be a continuous operation and it entails losing, regaining, and maintaining victory once the exchanged life has taken place.
That did it. It was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Except in my case, it was just what the camel needed. All of those “puzzle pieces” God had been giving me since the day I met Christ came together and formed an image of the cross I had never seen before. And on August 8, 2000, I entered by faith into that promised rest, the spiritual land of Canaan.
What a revelation to finally understand that who I was (identity) and what I did (behavior) were not synonymous. In other words, my behavior did not determine my identity. My identity is in Christ (Galatians 2:20), and I had perfect acceptance in Him (Ephesians 1:6). For years I focused on me and my failures searching for a reprieve. My identity had been bound up in my behavior rather than in Christ. Everything I needed to live the Christian life and actually enjoy it had been mine all along through Christ’s work upon the cross, His death, and His resurrection.
According to Paul in Romans, chapter six, when Christ died, I died; when He was raised from the dead, I was raised to walk in the newness of life with Him. That “newness of life” had been the object of my search for twenty years. Through faith, I reckoned this liberating truth to be so, and God in response firmly planted it in my heart. The battle in my heart and mind was over. This was truth, validated in the Scriptures and by my spirit.
This new walk brings a victory and stability unlike any I have known before. Now when failure comes I ask His forgiveness and move on. Why? Because Christ is my life, the focus of my existence, and all that I need to live the Christian life is found in Him. Christ is my strength, my righteousness, my wisdom, and my sanctification. My gaze must be locked ever upon the One who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Now, rather than a drudgery and chore, the reading of God’s Word and prayer are a great blessing and source of daily encouragement. Why? Because I know that God through Christ accepts me and willingly obligates Himself to hear me. The roller coaster ride has come to a halt, and I have exited the terminal.
The message of the cross is so much more than God’s forgiving of our sins. It is the import of our death to sin and our new life in Him. The cross is not just a hope to be enjoyed in the future; it is a life to be lived in the here-and-now. The cross not only bridges the gap between God and man in a theological sense, it travels the road from truth to practical, contemporary, experiential reality.
Brad Shockley pastors Lancaster Baptist Church, www.lanbaptist.org