December 1, 2007
 Seeing the
Christian Life As
A Quantum Leap

Christ's Power in Our Life
Vastly Exceeds Our Expectations
    
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Nate and I went for a bike ride one evening when he was seven, and then returned just as it was getting dark. As we were putting our bikes into our storage shed, Nate asked whether the shed was dark inside during the day. I remarked that it was fairly dark but that a small window in the back let in some light. He then asked, “Why doesn’t the darkness flow out?”

Nate was not joking. He was genuinely intrigued with the fact that darkness doesn’t affect light. Though I’ve often mused over this before (it’s a favorite analogy of preachers), hearing the observation come unprompted from a child’s mind made it seem very fresh to me. It is striking that darkness has no effect on light. If you open the door between a lighted room and a dark one, light spills into the one but not vice versa.

Scripture frequently compares the power of Christ over Satan to that of light over darkness. By the same token, it speaks of Christ’s power in our lives as that of light dispelling darkness. Yet we don’t grasp the impact of these parallels until we appreciate the absolute power that light has over darkness. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,” John reminds us in the introduction to his gospel (Jn 1:5).

Many Christians assume that light and darkness coexist in about equal measure in our Christian experience. While they wouldn’t deny that Christ’s power is immense, they still assume that the power of evil exercises about an equal influence in their life--a perspective not greatly different from the Taoist yin yang philosophy. Scripture, however, puts matters on a much more triumphant note. “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” Jesus declared (Jn 8:12). His light within us substantially erases the darkness. His power is exceedingly greater than Satan’s. The Christian life, in short, is to be lived in a spirit of victory, not defeat.

A Matter of Emphasis

This emphasis permeates biblical doctrine at every point. It comes across strongly in the New Testament teaching on our two natures, for instance. In his insightful book on Christian self-image, The Christian Looks at Himself, Anthony Hoekema notes that Christians typically think of themselves as being partly in the old nature and partly in the new. In reality, Scripture teaches that we who are in Christ are primarily new nature. This doesn’t mean that we can’t fall into an old nature way of living. But then we are acting contrary to whom we really are.*

Consider the absolute way in which various biblical statements about our new nature in Christ are worded:

"Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him . . . that we should no longer be slaves to sin." (Rom 6:6 NAS)

"Seeing as you have put off the old nature with its practices, and have put on the new." (Col 3:9-10 RSV)

"Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away, behold the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17 RSV)

"You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you." (Rom 8:9 NAS)

"And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him." (Col 2:13 RSV)

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." (Gal 5:16 NAS)

Each of these verses, in one way or another, views our new nature in Christ as antithetical to the old. We are not partly new nature and partly old; we are either in the new or in the old. If Christ has made us a new creation, then the old nature has no ultimate power over us.

Paul, of course, might seem to be saying the opposite in Romans 7. “The good that I would do I do not,” he declares (v. 19 KJV). Yet a close examination shows that he isn’t describing the normal Christian life, but what happens when we attempt to live the Christian life through our own strength rather than by the Spirit’s power. It’s the picture of one who reverts to an old nature way of living, denying his real nature in Christ. Paul shows God’s intention for the Christian life in Romans 8, not Romans 7. And there he makes clear that one who responds to the new life in the Spirit lives victoriously.

A Reason for Courage

Scripture, then, through many forms of expression impresses on us that the power of light is indescribably greater than that of darkness. We need to meditate on this fact often. The power of suggestion is enormous in our lives, and our theological perspective to a large extent determines the degree to which we draw upon the power of Christ. If I believe that the power of darkness in my life is equal to that of light, I’ll live like it. Convinced that I’m doomed to a certain measure of failure and backsliding, my experience will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If, on the other hand, I understand the power of Christ in my life to be as great as Scripture declares it to be, I’ll be much more inclined to say no to temptation and to find the heart to obey God at points where I find it challenging to do so.

My ability to think big about my life and my possibilities will also increase by a quantum leap. I’ll find it much more natural to trust Christ to meet my needs, even long-standing ones, and to show me ways to solve “impossible” problems. And I’ll be more willing to do those things that will help me to best realize my potential for Christ and to employ the gifts he’s given me--to take the initiative that walking in faith implies, even when it feels risky to do so. I’ll also be more prone to give attention to prayer and to make bolder requests. As I take these sometimes scary steps to respond to God’s will, I’ll be wonderfully surprised to find that Christ empowers me and brings his blessings to bear on my life in ways I never thought possible. And that experience will encourage stronger faith, which will benefit me in countless ways--strength will lead to strength, in other words. 

Waking Up to All It Means

Nate raised the question about light and darkness with me again sometime after our bike ride. I was putting him to bed one evening, with the lights off in his room, when he asked where the light originated from that was coming through his bedroom window. I explained that light from the bedroom next to his was pouring out that of room’s window and into his. He then asked why the darkness from outside didn’t flow in also. Again, it only seemed logical to him: if light can pour through the window, why not darkness? Although I had explained it before, it was still puzzling to him that darkness has no effect on light.

By the same token, it continues to seem unnatural to us to think that Christ’s power in us is as extensive as Scripture says it is. Yet Scripture declares it to be as great as that of light over darkness. We need to remind ourselves constantly of this.

May this Christmas season be a time when we reflect often on this unspeakable aspect of Christ’s power, and on his ability to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” in and through our life (Eph. 3:20). And may our emphasis upon light in decorations at this time of year be a constant reminder to us that Christ’s birth was a time when “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9). Let us dwell on the fact that Scripture not only describes Christ himself as light, but declares that his light indwells us who believe in him--and let us give careful thought to all that this means for our Christian experience.

Of course, the most familiar image of light from the Christmas story is the star of Bethlehem . God provided this great light, in part, for a practical reason--to provide the Magi illumination in the darkness of night, and direction to the stable where the baby Jesus was lying. Yet I suspect God also meant it to be a symbol of the unfathomable power Christ would exert in the lives of those chose to follow him--a power comparable to that of light over darkness. Scripture tells us that when the Magi saw this light, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Mt 2:10 NAS). May we take equal joy in realizing that his light can dispel the darkness in our own life at every point, if we allow it to. And may we strive in every way to live accordingly.

The Christian life is not meant to be a halfway experience.
   

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