Below is a chapter from Thomas Finley's Book "The Victorious Christian Life". It deals with an extremely important topic: the Christian's position in Christ and the benefits and privileges therein and his actual experience of those things. Much of what God has for us in Christ does not fall into our lap automatically. In fact, without understanding this distinction, many might conclude there is contradiction in the Scriptures because it says we are dead to sin and elsewhere it says we are to put to death that which is earthly (sinful) in us. This articles goes far in clearing up this seeming paradox. You can find this book online at:
You can read it there online or download it in Word or PDF format. Links to download are on that same page. You can also order the print book. Details are there too. I only wished I had this teaching under my belt as a baby Christian. I hope you will be blessed also.
Our position in Christ and our experience are two different matters. We must understand this clearly and not confuse the two. Even Christian teachers today are still confusing the two, which leads to misunderstandings about the believer’s walk. Our position relates to spiritual facts that are true in the spiritual realm before God. The positional truths show us our victorious position in Christ. These facts are not necessarily true at all of our daily experience.
This arrangement of two realms, position and experience, may seem complicated, but this is God’s way. By virtue of this arrangement, the overcoming life requires a seeking heart and a living faith. We dare not think that our victorious position is something that is translated automatically into every believer’s experience. Such an expectation will cause confusion and disappointment. On the other hand, we must not think that the experience of our victorious position is unattainable.
Look at the verses in the table at the end of this lesson. The verses under “Our Position” tell us that our old man has been crucified and now Christ is our life. Similarly, they tell us that the old man has been put off by us and we have already put on the new man. Yet, the other column, relating to our experience, tells us that we must put certain things within us to death. Further, Ephesians 4:22-24 charges us to put off the old man now in our experience and to put on the new man. So, we see that the truth of our position must be worked out in our experience; it is not automatic.
The victorious life requires that what is true of us in our position must be transferred into the realm of our experience. So, what is involved in this transfer? It seems that there are four basic things involved. These four items are the word of God, our seeking after God, faith, and the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps some would include our seeking in the matter of faith, and this may be so. I have indicated this matter of seeking separately because I do not want believers to think that “faith” is just some kind of mental exercise in believing the word. In Hebrews chapter eleven, the great chapter on faith, consider what verse six says: “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6, KJV) Here it seems that faith is explained in the latter part of the verse as including both belief and a seeking after God. Regarding this matter of seeking, I think it is safe to say that no one has consistently lived the victorious life unless he was really seeking the Lord.
Now, putting aside for the present that matter of seeking the Lord, let us look at the factors of the word, faith, and the Holy Spirit. Many teachers have illustrated the reality of the believer’s experience as a train. The engine is the word, faith is the middle car, and experience is the caboose. This means the word must come first, then our faith is based upon the word, and as a result, experience follows. If we look for experience first, we will fail. We must place our trust, our faith, in what the word says, and then experience will follow. Actually, when the stage of experience is realized, that is just the operation of the Holy Spirit in our living.
So, we must start with our trust in what the word declares, and this means we must disregard our feelings, or what seems to be our experience contrary to the word. The Bible says: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7, KJV). We must not put our belief in what appears to be our situation. No, instead we disregard what seems to be true to our senses and the evidence presented to our mind, and instead, while seeking God, while coming to Him in our spirit, we place our trust in what His word says about our situation. William Newell describes this act of faith, not sight (or appearance), in the following way:
The matter of which we are told to take note here is the great federal fact that our old man was crucified with Christ. Perhaps no more difficult task, no task requiring such constant vigilant attention, is assigned by God to the believer. It is a stupendous thing, this matter of taking note of and keeping in mind what goes so completely against consciousness, — that our old man was crucified. These words are addressed to faith, to faith only. Emotions, feelings, deny them. To reason, they are foolishness. But, ah, what stormy seas has faith walked over! What mountains has faith cast into the sea! How many impossible things has faith done!*
* William R. Newell, Romans, Verse-by-Verse (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1994), p. 212.
Another illustration of fact, faith and experience in given in The Normal Christian Life:
You probably know the illustration of Fact, Faith, and Experience walking along the top of a wall. Fact walked steadily on, turning neither to right nor left and never looking behind. Faith followed, and all went well so long as he kept his eyes focused upon Fact; but as soon as he became concerned about Experience and turned to see how he was getting on, he lost his balance and tumbled off the wall, and poor old Experience fell down after him.**
** Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1977), p. 78. © 1957 by Angus I. Kinnear.
So we see how vital it is to steadfastly focus upon God’s word, especially the truths of our position in Christ, in order to live an overcoming Christian life. In our experience of this, we will find that there is a spiritual struggle here, but as we maintain our steadfastness in spirit, we find that we can “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (Ex. 14:13, KJV). As we stand upon God’s word in faith, dependent upon Him and seeking Him, then the Spirit works in us death and resurrection experience.
In looking at the table at the end of the lesson, you can see that the Spirit is involved in putting certain things to death within us. The verses show us that we must put off the old man, and we must put on the new man. Also, we must put to death the sinful members of our body and the deeds of our body. Yet, we do all this by the Spirit, by the power, the action of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is brought in through our faith in God’s word. Paul, in contrasting the way of the Law in obeying God to the way of grace, emphasizes this relationship between the Holy Spirit and faith, as seen in the following verses:
This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . Does He then who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal. 3:2-3, 5, NASB) For we through the Spirit, by faith, are awaiting the hope of righteousness. (Gal. 5:5, NASB)
Let’s look at an actual experience to see how these ideas work out. Suppose you are tempted to sin in a certain way. The sinful lusts within you have been stirred up and are pulling you towards a sinful action (see James 1:13-15). What should you do? It is at this point that you must turn your inner being towards God and come forward to Him in your spirit. At the same time, you should begin confessing a useful identification truth in prayer to Him. You may pray, for instance, “Thank you, Jesus, that I was crucified with you on the cross. (Rom. 6:6) Now, Lord, it is no longer the old I who is living, but you are living in me as my very life. (Gal. 2:20) You are my sanctification in this matter (1 Cor. 1:30). I am trusting in You as my righteousness. (1 Cor. 1:30).”
There will be an inward struggle as the sinful impulses pull at you, even while you are praying. This “evidence” that you are still a sinful person and that you will end up sinning, must be disregarded as you appropriate the truth of who you are in Christ, and what He is to you. The presence of sin will be there. But, our job is to come forward to the Lord for His grace and power (Heb. 4:16). As we seek Him in spirit and stand upon the truth of His word with regard to our position and His available supply to us, then the Holy Spirit begins to put to death the rising power of lust within us so that we do not have to carry out its desire. In depending upon Him in this way, we will feel strengthened to stand in the position He has given us and not yield to the temptation.
Will there be failures along the way? Yes, we are still learning and are still in the unredeemed body where we may succumb to temptation and failure. Sometimes our heart is not pure; we may secretly love the sin and not desire victory that badly. We may feel cold towards the Lord at the time of temptation.
Another problem is that we may unwittingly try to combat the sin in the energy of our own effort, without full dependence upon the Lord. We will talk about this matter in future lessons. Suffice it to say for now that this is one of our biggest reasons for failure, and it takes most believers years to be weaned from this defeating habit. Also, if we are not spending time in the word of God, feeding our faith and our spiritual life, then we will be weak in faith (Matt. 4:4, Rom. 10:17)
Finally, as Watchman Nee points out, we must realize that our “reckoning” (Rom. 6:11) of ourselves to be dead to sin is based upon our “knowing” that our old man was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). To know that we have been crucified with him requires some spiritual revelation. This may come in different ways to different believers, but this knowing usually comes only after some time of seeking the Lord for truth and victory. Once we “know” that we were crucified with Him, it is easier to apply faith to that fact in the midst of the battle.
With the thoughts in the preceding paragraph in mind, we need to conclude that there is the matter of time involved in the development and improvement of our experience. The victorious life is progressive in its manifestation. If we continue to seek the Lord and follow the principles of the overcoming life, victory will unfold in greater and greater measure. Some truths that are appropriated by us through faith may actually take a long time, perhaps years, to become fully manifested in our experience. Let me give a quote on this thought.
All temptation is primarily to look within, to take our eyes off the Lord and to take account of appearances. Faith is always meeting a mountain, a mountain of evidence that seems to contradict God’s Word, a mountain of apparent contradiction in the realm of tangible fact — of failures in deed, as well as in the realm of feeling and suggestion — and either faith or the mountain have to go. They cannot both stand. But the trouble is that many a time the mountain stays and faith goes. That must not be. If we resort to our senses to discover the truth, we shall find Satan’s lies are often enough true to our experience; but if we refuse to accept as binding anything that contradicts God’s Word and maintain an attitude of faith in him alone, we shall find instead that Satan’s lies begin to dissolve and that our experience is coming progressively to tally with that Word.
It is our occupation with Christ that has this result, for it means that he becomes progressively real to us on concrete issues. In a given situation we see him as real righteousness, real holiness, real resurrection life —for us.
Finally, I would again emphasize that our overcoming experience is based upon our position. If you read the New Testament admonitions concerning putting sin to death within us, or putting on the new man, you will usually find that these commands are preceded by some mention of spiritual fact (positional truth). For instance, take a look at Col. 3:1-11. The practical instructions of dealing with certain sins in the verses in the latter portion of this passage are based upon the truth of our position in verses 1-4. Verse five begins with a “therefore”, indicating that our dealing with sins has its basis and ability rooted in positional truth. So, we see that faith in our position, regardless of our feeling, is critical in the matter of victory.
Let us memorize and meditate upon those truths that are true of us in Christ. Let us seek after God and His holiness. Let us forget about and disregard the “evidence” of the inward presence of sin and all of our failures! Let us not try to live the Christian life in our energy, but let us stand upon the word of God regarding the truth of who we are in Christ and what has happened to us in Christ. Then, the experience of Christ living within us will grow and blossom.