Don’t be a Christmas Tree Christian

John 8:32 New King James Version (NKJV)
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”.

I was sitting in a counselling situation a few years ago with a guy who was struggling with many different issues in his life. He was a great guy, had gone through Bible college and had been involved in ministry for some time and yet he was struggling to walk in victory over sin. I was teaching him about grace and how it is the power to set us free and eventually he interrupted and said to me, “I know all of this. I know the truth. I suppose I just have to do the truth; my problem is that I am not doing what I believe.” What he said didn’t sit well with me and I realized that it was because Jesus didn’t say, “you shall know the truth, do the truth and be set free.” No, Jesus said that when we come to know the truth, the truth will make us free; in other words, the truth does the work in setting us free.

Yes, there is a place for us to step out in faith and do what we believe but that is a natural reaction when we believe something. What causes us to walk in knowing the truth. I am not talking about a mere intellectual knowledge but rather an intimate knowing, like Adam, knew Eve and they conceived and bore a child (Genesis 4:1). When the Bible is talking about “knowing” it’s not just an intellectual knowing, it’s an intimate knowing. When we come to know the truth in our hearts it produces freedom. We shouldn’t take a legalistic approach of putting the burden on ourselves to do something in order to become something – that will only produce frustration. Freedom is a natural result of coming to intimately know the truth.

The lies that we believe are holding us in bondage. For example, if we believe that God wants us sick, which is a lie, it holds us in bondage and we cannot receive healing or walk in divine health. If we don’t know the truth that we are 100% righteous because we are in Christ, and if we believe the lie that we are sinners we will be kept in bondage and we will continue struggling with sin. We need to come to an intimate knowledge of the truth so that we can walk in the freedom that God’s got for us.

Galatians 2:20 New King James Version (NKJV)
I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me.

The problem is that we get saved and then we feel like our whole Christian walk is something that we have to put a lot of effort into. We need to continuously try and be right or do right in order for God to accept us. We tend to make Christianity about self-improvement when it’s got nothing to do with self or effort. Legalism is about self, effort and self-improvement. Legalism focuses on your need to please and appease God; to clean up the outside and look good even if you’re not good on the inside.

Matthew 23:27-28 New King James Version (NKJV)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Jesus is talking to religious, legalistic people and he calls them whitewashed tombs. They appear beautiful on the outside but inside they are full of dead men’s bones – there is no life in them. This is not Christianity. Christianity is not merely about looking good and doing good to appear good. Christianity isn’t about trying to produce an outward change. True Christianity is about an inward change that results in an outward change. Legalism doesn’t care about the heart or the inside. Legalism cares about outward appearance and your performance. Legalism makes us feel that God’s forcing us to do the right thing to make Him look good, but God isn’t worried about His reputation, He’s more worried about your heart. When you realize what happened to you when you got born again it will cause you to see change on the outside, in your actions, thoughts and all of life. The more you become familiar with that and the more you accept your new identity the more you will start to transform on the outside. Legalism takes the “Christmas tree Christian” approach. You put decorations on a Christmas tree but the tree didn’t produce those decorations and there is no life in the decorations and thus no life to sustain it. Many Christians are like this. They try their best to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in their lives but because it’s birthed in self-effort it will only last as long as their willpower hold on. Trying to have peace, trying to have joy, trying to love other people – it’s all about you trying hard to be right and do the right thing. That’s tiring and that’s not Christianity. Christianity is about Christ living in us and us allowing Him to flow through us. “Fruit” is a natural by-product of being. An apple tree produces apples because it’s what an apple tree does and it doesn’t put a lot of effort into it. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is a natural byproduct of having the Spirit of Christ in you. Every believer has the fruit of the Spirit in them (already) and living in the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control should be extremely natural and completely effortless for us because it’s Christ in us and Christ through us. It’s all about surrendering to the nature of Christ in you.

The Word says that we are crucified with Christ; one of our biggest problems is that we think that our old man (the sinner) is still alive and well, but we are dead and you can’t improve a dead person. We have new life in us (the Christ-life). This is one of the first steps to living a victorious Christian life: realizing that you’re dead, and any efforts for self-improvement are just like spraying perfume on a corpse – It doesn’t make the corpse any less of a corpse and the nice smelling perfume isn’t going to last forever; it’s going to fade away eventually and you’ll be left with the odour of a rotting corpse. “I’m crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” If we want to live in the victory that Jesus has for us we’ve got to become more familiar with Christ living in us than we are with natural us living.

You may still have carnal desires but it’s not because you have a sinful nature. Your sinful nature died the moment you became a Christian and you no longer have one (Romans 6:2-14). The problem is that your sinful nature trained your mind to think in a certain way and now you’ve got to retrain your way of thinking. If you can change your way of thinking you can change your life (Proverbs 23:7).

There is no self-improvement in Christianity. It’s about Christ in me and Christ through me.

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