This is the second of a planned four article series on what it means to live “life as it ought to be.” In the previous article, I described my experience of spiritual renewal in 2017. Since that time I have been seeking to understand how to live what missionary Norman Grubb calls “continuous revival.”2
Is it possible to actually live Paul’s prayer that we are to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) as the norm for life? The answer I believe is a qualified but confident, “yes.” We always live imperfectly in this life. But we can more and more expect to experience “all the fullness of God” as we walk the path of the gospel by faith. I define walking the gospel path as “participating in the power of the gospel through three gospel dynamics unleashed in three gospel practices which more and more produces gospel awakened people.” In this article, I seek to describe what it means to participate in the power of the gospel.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). This salvation includes more than our initial justification (the initial declaration of righteousness that begins the Christian experience) but also our sanctification (the ongoing process of becoming more and more righteous in our living). Paul calls the gospel the surpassing power of God in 2 Cor. 4:7. The practical question is, “If the gospel is powerful, how do we experience this power in our daily living?”
Participating in the power of the gospel
Gospel power is experienced through participation. We bring our weakness and our small-as-a-mustard-seed faith and God brings His strength. In Romans 8, Paul speaks of a representative list of difficulties: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, danger, and the sword. But then he says “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who strengthens us” (Rom. 8:37). We experience the power of God “through” union with God Himself. We participate with God through the gospel.
At Christ Community Church, where I pastored for 35 years, we explained gospel participation in this relational way: we are to live in Christ, by the Spirit, and to the glory of the Father.
Those three gospel dynamics are faith dynamics. Faith is the instrument through which we participate in the gospel. Faith is how we live “life as it ought to be.”
Union with Jesus is one of the Apostle Paul’s most loved concepts. Together, he used the phrases “in Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in the Lord,” and “in Him,” approximately 164 times in his letters.4
Here are a few examples:
- So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
- Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith… (Phil. 3:8,9).
- There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).
Union with Jesus is Our Essential Identity
Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. “In Christ” is who we are. For the believer being in Jesus – not race, occupation, nationality, politics, or whatever – is our essential identity. If the believer is asked to explain who she is, the first thing that comes to mind should be, “I am united with Jesus.” Union with Jesus is our essential identity. But union with Jesus is also to be our lived reality.
In Gal. 2:20, the Apostle Paul declares, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Union with Jesus is not simply who we are, it is how we live. Union with Jesus is more than a doctrine to be understood; it is an experience to be had.
How do we live in union with Jesus? Here is an imaginative illustration. Suppose that I am an artist who paints and I consider myself a good painter. In fact, I am quite proud of my painting. My hero is the great painter Gerhard Richter [who I have read is the most famous living painter]. Suppose I am invited to visit Gerhard Richter in his home and I go. I see the beauty of his art, I watch with wonder as he paints. I am in awe. As I watch the master paint, as I behold the beauty of his work, suddenly I realize that I am not nearly so good a painter as I thought I was. I see the flaws in my painting as never before. All my painting now seems as the scribblings of a young child. I realize that I will never be a painter like Gerhard Richter. I am not able.
But then (stick with me here) Gerhard says to me, “It is possible, if you will allow it, for me to take up residence within you and to paint with you and through you. You will still be painting, but as you participate in me and I in you, you will paint better than you ever thought possible.” That imaginative story illustrates union with Jesus. When we see the wonder of His glory, we begin to see the depth of our failure and inability. But Christ-in-us (or us-in- Christ – Paul uses both expressions) forgives us and lives in us and through us which enables us to live better than we ever thought possible.
Recently (Dec. 2022), as I walked my daughter’s dog Jesse on the path along the Savannah River, I stopped to talk to some new friends, Jack and Marcy. We talked about the weather and our plans for the day. Our conversation turned to the gospel. I asked them “What does it mean for us to live in union with Jesus today?” Marcy’s answer was both simple and profound: believe it and live it. Exactly! We need to believe that we are united to Jesus (essential identity) and to live as those united to Jesus (lived experience). When we live in Christ we experience the presence of God.
By the Spirit
The second dynamic of gospel power in which we must participate is the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is an email I received in the Spring of 2017 from a man in our church: “I wanted to comment on last week’s sermon. It was among the best I’ve ever heard you give. The content was solid… but there was something different about your delivery. You were vulnerable, but confident. Maybe it was your body language, or the topic, or what you had for breakfast – I’m not sure. But you were definitely ‘in the zone.’” Here is my response: “Thanks for the encouraging words. I think it was the Holy Spirit. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…” And today, six years later, I see no need to change that story.
I have begun to discover, in the months and years following 2017, what it means to “walk by the Spirit” and to “…keep in step with the Spirit.”5 The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. It is through the Holy Spirit that the power of the gospel is experienced. The Holy Spirit is the One who fills us (Eph. 3:19; 5:18), guides us (Acts 13:1-4; Luke 4:1), empowers us for newness of life (Gal. 5:1-26), and empowers us for ministry (Acts 1:8). In Eph. 3:16, Paul prays that …according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.”
But if we have Jesus in us, then why do we need the Spirit? We need the Spirit because the Spirit is the one who applies the gospel (Christ in us) to our hearts and lives. The Spirit is the One who unites us to Jesus and the Spirit is the One who unleashes gospel power into our living. So, we are to live “in Christ” and “by the Spirit.” Union with Jesus and life in the Spirit are two aspects of one reality.
The Bible calls us to live a supernatural life both directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul shows us the path into the supernatural life of God in Gal. 5:16-25, Walk by the Spirit, he says, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Walk by the Spirit and He will produce in you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… (Gal. 5:22,23). To walk by the Spirit is equivalent to being led by the Spirit (vs. 18) and keeping in step with the Spirit (vs. 25). The Spirit empowers us to live a transformed life. By the Spirit, we can put off the old way of life and put on a new and better way of life. “To walk by the Spirit” we must rely upon the Spirit’s power rather than our own resources. “To walk by the Spirit” we must yield to the Spirit’s direction rather than our best ideas. By the Spirit there is a new power to live, lead, serve, and be.
How then do we live in the power of the Spirit? We intentionally seek to rely upon the supernatural power of the Spirit, expecting the Spirit to empower us. We stop seeking “to make things happen.” We put off hurry and we begin to intentionally seek to keep in step with the Spirit. We live life as an ongoing prayer of Spirit-dependence. When we live by the Spirit we experience the power of God.
To the Glory of the Father
The third dynamic of gospel power in which we must participate is the Father’s glory. Christians of all sorts recognize the glory of God as the ultimate end of all things. We often append “for your glory” to our prayers. After all, 1 Cor. 10:31 tells us whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. But too often we don’t understand in any practical sense what it means to live for God’s glory and not for our glory. We fail to realize that to live for the glory of God means giving up our own agendas.
This basic truth is found in the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9, 10). The Lord’s Prayer is first of all a prayer for God’s glory (hallowed be your name). But to pray for God’s glory means that we must desire His kingdom to come (not ours) and for His will to be done (not ours). To seek the Father’s glory is to give up your agenda for life. This truth is exemplified later in Matthew’s gospel in Jesus’ passionate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will (Matt. 26:39). Jesus was in agony, knowing that He would soon suffer and bear the sins of humanity. In His humanity, He did not want to be crucified. But He said “no” to His human desire so that He might embrace God the Father’s greater agenda. God’s will for us is always better than our will for us.
Our problem is that we want our will to be God’s will. We do want God’s will, but only if it coincides with what we want. But it doesn’t work that way. We must be willing to say “no” to what we desire, if we are to discover God’s better “yes.” In 2022, I learned to seek God’s agenda, not my agenda.
One of my retirement ministry ideas (and I had many) was to continue to serve as a Regional Leader with the ministry of the 6:4 Fellowship6, and to expand that role in my new phase of life. In October of 2021, three months into my retirement, Dennis Henderson, one of the leaders of the 6:4 Fellowship, called me and asked me to consider serving as the Regional Director for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the 6:4 Fellowship. Regional Directors oversee the various Regional Leaders in a particular region of the country. The position was supposed to require one day a week. Dennis invited me to fly to Austin, TX, for a meeting of the Regional Directors in November of 2021, which I did. After that meeting and because I knew that my wife Patricia was hesitant because of my tendency to overcommit. I agreed to serve as an acting Regional Director for the several months until the 6:4 Fellowship National Conference in Katy, TX, (March 1-3, 2022). The idea was that if, after the conference, I had seen fruit from the ministry and Patricia felt I “should” serve in that role and not simply say that I “could” – then I would do it. I wanted her to be enthusiastic about whatever new ministry role I might take on. Dennis Henderson agreed and that is what I did. In March 2022, both Patricia and I attended the National Conference.
The week following the conference, I knew that I needed to give Dennis an answer as to whether I would serve as a Regional Director. So, Patricia and I talked. As we talked, Patricia did not express the level of enthusiasm for this new role for which I had hoped. Still, I managed to convince her and myself that this was a very significant ministry opportunity and that I could make a real contribution and I would keep it to one day a week, etc. etc. etc. I think I may have even said something like, “This may be the most significant ministry I will ever do!” How could she protest that? So she said, “Okay.” This response was less than the full endorsement I had said that I wanted, but I went with it. Based on that, I told Dennis that afternoon that I would serve as Regional Director for the mid-Atlantic region of the 6:4 Fellowship. He asked me what Patricia thought and I said that she was okay with it. And that was that… or so I thought.
The next morning I awoke and realized that though Patricia had said “okay,” Jesus hadn’t said “okay.” I realized that in accepting the 6:4 Fellowship position, I was seeking my own glory not God’s glory. And then I knew that I had to do something that was very difficult for me. I had to call Dennis back and say “no.” So I called Dennis back that morning and told him that I couldn’t do it and why. I told him that though Patricia had said “okay,” I hadn’t told him the whole story. He was very affirming of my decision.
After I got off the phone I realized that the 6:4 Fellowship wasn’t all that I had to say “no” to, I realized that I needed to say “no” not only to being a Regional Director for the 6:4 Fellowship but also to my whole list of ministry ideas. I had to say “no” to my whole agenda! I needed to die to my agenda. I had to surrender the control of my future. I needed to understand that the greatest obstacle to God’s agenda was my agenda!
I went downstairs and told Patricia what I had done. I hadn’t told her what I was going to do before I called Dennis for fear that she would try to talk me out of it. When I told her what I had done – not only saying “no” to the 6:4 Fellowship position but saying “no” to my whole list of ideas – she said she was “stunned”– she said it twice! She didn’t think I was capable of saying “no”, for her sake, to something that I wanted to do. I am not proud of this. In saying “no” to the 6:4 Fellowship and to my list of ideas, I was saying “no” to my search for my own glory and significance. I was saying no to me, O Lord, not to me, but to Your name be glory! (Psalm 115:1).
As Patricia and I talked and prayed that morning, we decided that for the next months we would just spend time together, seek Jesus together, laugh together, and hear God’s voice together. We decided that I would take a sabbatical from any formal ministry commitment as we together sought God’s agenda for us. The fruit of seeking His agenda may not always be evident in this world. But, from the perspective of eternity, it will be seen that God’s agenda is always better than ours.
Two weeks after my “no” decision to Dennis Henderson, my brother Gere wondered aloud what impact my “no” decision would have in a year. Well, it is now a year later and I can readily see the fruit of that decision. The months of sabbatical are now past.
While in Ireland, which was the end point of our sabbatical, as I walked a lonely but majestic Irish beach the Lord gave me clarity on the ministry path I believe I should pursue. It seems so much better than all my ministry ideas! If I hadn’t said, “no” to my agendas, I couldn’t now say “yes” to His much better agenda.
To live the gospel well, we must seek His agenda rather than our agenda; we must be willing to say “no” to our agendas so that we can say “yes” to His better agenda. That is what it means to live to the glory of the Father. I am learning to cease seeking to do great things for my glory and instead seek to do small things to the glory of a great God. We live “in Christ, by the Spirit, and to the glory of the Father.” When we live to the glory of the Father we experience the purposes of God.
I learned from the theologian Francis Schaeffer to seek to live the power of the gospel moment-by moment. Schaeffer says, “The real solution [to living the Christian life] is being cast up into the moment by- moment communion, personal communion, with God Himself, and letting Christ’s truth flow through me through the agency of the Holy Spirit.”7 Schaeffer taught me that I can only live this one moment. In this one moment, I must participate in the power of the gospel. I must live “in Christ, by the Spirit, and to the glory of the Father” – present tense.
Norman Grubb tells us “to walk is a step-by-step activity. Given the main destination, all that matters is the next step. Christian living is concerned, therefore, just with the implications of the present moment, not with the past or the future… Let us remember that all we are asked to do is to ‘WALK WITH JESUS,’ and that means simple concentration on things as they are with me just this moment… then the next… and so on.”8 The question, then, is “Am I living in this one moment in Christ, by the Spirit, and to the glory of the Father?”
The Trinitarian Gospel
This is a Trinitarian approach to gospel living. The gospel is about Jesus but not just Jesus. The Father sent the Son to fulfill His purpose. The Son accomplished salvation. And, the Spirit applies this salvation to human hearts. Michael Horton explains that the three persons of the Trinity are always working together: “It is not different works but different roles in every work that the divine persons perform.”9 The three persons are at work in our becoming Christians and the three are at work in our living as Christians. Thus, when I live “in Christ,” I am living “by the Spirit” and “to the glory of the Father.” When I live “by the Spirit,” I am living “in Christ” and “to the glory of the Father.” And, when I live “to the glory of the Father, I am living “in Christ” and “by the Spirit.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are to live every moment “in Christ, by the Spirit, to the glory of the Father.” This is how we participate in gospel power.
As I write this I am beginning a new day. I very much want to participate in the power of the gospel today. This means that I must believe that I am united to Jesus and I must by faith live as one united to Jesus. I must rely upon the Spirit’s power and yield to the Spirit’s direction. And, I must say “no” to my agenda so that I can say “yes” to God’s greater agenda. Today, however imperfectly, I want to step into the supernatural! But this gospel power must be unleashed in three daily gospel practices. That is the topic of the next article. For now, seek to live each moment in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, and to the glory of the Father.
1. BFC OneVoice, Spring 2023.
2. Norman Grubb, Continuous Revival (Fort Washington: CLC Publications, 1952).
3. Thus, the church mug pictured at the beginning of this article.
4. Marcus Johnson, One with Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013) p. 19.
5. Galatians 5:16, 25.
6. The 6:4 Fellowship is a fellowship of “pastors committed to prayer and word powered ministry.” The name is based on Acts 6:4.
7. Francis Schaeffer True Spirituality (Carol Stream, Ill: Tyndale House, 1971), p. 88.
8. Grubb, Nelson, 12,13. 9. Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), p. 38.
by Dennis Cahill, retired BFC Pastor To share comments or ask questions contact Dennis at email@example.com