Most of us have experienced the uneasy feeling of being in an unfamiliar setting where we’re conscious of being outsiders who have very little in common with those who “belong.” After finding ourselves in that environment, it’s a welcomed relief to come to a place where we are “no longer a stranger,” but where we’re known and accepted.
As Christians, we can identify. There was a time in each of our lives when we were separated from Jesus Christ—strangers to Christ and everything God desires for us (Ephesians 2:12). This separation came about as a result of sin.
Your iniquities have separated you from your God… (Isaiah 59:2 NIV; cf. Romans 3:23; Ephesians 4:18).
However, for believers, a time came when all that changed as a consequence of what Jesus did on the cross. When we put our trust in what he accomplished by dying in our place, the Bible says to us as believers:
You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).
Whereas previously we were separated from God, “without hope and without God in the world,” we have now “been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12 NIV).
No longer a stranger! What welcome news that we have been brought back into a right relationship with our Creator!
And yet, if this is true…
…why is it that so many professing Christians live as if Christ is still a stranger to them? Why is it that many new believers and even others who are not-so-young-in-the-faith experience so much difficulty in growing spiritually, seemingly falling back two steps for every step forward? (If the truth be known, perhaps most of us can identify with those questions because they are part of our personal experience.)
Paul the apostle faced the same kind of struggles with the accompanying sense of confusion and defeat. By his own admission, he wrote about his experience at one point in his life:
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me (Romans 7:15-23 NLT).
In frustration, Paul concluded…
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:24 NLT).
The encouraging thing is that there is hope! There is, as Paul goes on to express, an answer not only to the yearning of his heart, but ours as well.
Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25 NLT).
With that beacon of hope before us, let’s take a closer examination of what else the Bible has to say about this critical need in the lives of so many believers.
In this first part of our “No Longer a Stranger!” series, we will be discussing a common roadblock to Christian growth: a misunderstanding of how change and transformation happen in the life of the believer.
The Change Agent
For many, the issue has to do with a failure to understand how God brings about change and growth in the life of the believer. Though they believe they were saved by faith alone from sin’s penalty, yet somehow many believers are endeavoring to live the Christian life in their own strength.
This was the experience of a group of believers who lived in the first century. The apostle Paul wrote the following to them:
Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3 ESV).
To put it another way:
Having begun [your new life spiritually] with the Holy Spirit, are you now reaching perfection by dependence upon the flesh? (Galatians 3:3 Amp).
It is a rhetorical question that Paul answers succinctly elsewhere in his writings:
As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him (Colossians 2:6 NASB).
The gift of salvation whereby man is restored to a right relationship with God is offered to us fully as an expression of God’s grace—undeserved, unmerited, unearned. It becomes ours simply on the basis of our faith, our trust, our confidence in God as the gracious Provider.
But it doesn’t stop there! In the same way, God has made it possible for us to live in daily fellowship with himself, free from the bondage of sin.
And how is that? How can we, as believers, experience the change and growth that God wants to bring about in our lives? It’s BY FAITH alone! This is not a meaningless “having faith-in-faith” sort of mind game but a faith that is grounded in the truth of God’s Word. It’s a dependence upon God alone that makes it possible to live our new lives in Christ as God intends. Just as it was impossible for any of us to do anything to save ourselves from sin and its deadly consequences, it is equally impossible for us to live the Christian life in our own strength—by our own human effort.
In writing to the believers in Rome, Paul stated that:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16 NIV).
The same power of God that set us free from the penalty of sin (justification) at the point of our conversion is the power that provides the only enablement that can deliver us moment by moment from the power of sin (sanctification) as we grow and mature in our Christian walk.
In the second part of this article series, we will be discussing the nature of the change: what we might refer to as our new identity in Christ and what it means to experience the reality of the grace of God at work in our lives.
Going Deeper series: Each of GoodSeed’s tools is written to provide the reader with a foundational overview of the Bible’s core message so they may clearly understand the gospel. We do this by presenting key stories from creation through the Cross. We at GoodSeed don’t attempt to be exhaustive in our approach nor is that our goal. There is too much that could be said about life, death and life after death. Likewise, we don’t want the reader to get sidetracked from learning the Bible’s primary message regarding salvation—perhaps for the first time.
However, we also recognize that the Bible is a rich spiritual treasure trove, deserving of a lifetime of study and consideration. With that in mind, each month the Going Deeper series is going to examine some nuggets to encourage your heart, enlighten your mind and motivate you to dig further into God’s Word yourself!