The Truth Concerning the Experience of Christ
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man – Appendix
Testimonies from the Churches
Writing in the eighteenth century, William Law said, “Yet the church is filled with professing Christians whose faith has never gone beyond a conviction that the words of Scripture are true. They believe in the Christ of the Bible, but do not know Him personally. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is sound doctrine to their minds, but their lives are empty of His manifest power either to overcome the power of sin within, or to convert others to Christ” (The Power of the Spirit, p. 103).
Any honest observer of the Christian scene must admit that Law’s statement is as true today as when he wrote it. In this article we will set forth a major reason for the weak, immature, worldly condition which prevails among today’s Christians. In order to understand the situation and its remedy, we first present a biblical picture of a Christian. Second, we will briefly examine the condition of today’s Christianity. Third, we will state the problem. Fourth, we will offer the biblical answer to the problem.
A Brief Biblical Picture of a Christian
A Christian is one who has been born again of the Spirit of God (John 3:5-6) and has been made a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). Christ now indwells him (Col. 1:27). He is one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). The Christ who died for him now becomes in him, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). God the Father has delivered him from the domain of darkness (Satan’s kingdom) and transferred him into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13). He has been made a member of that spiritual organism, “the church which is his body” (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23). He is called to such utter consecration as to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” his Lord (Phil. 3:8, NASV). He is in the world, but not of it and thereby incurs its hate (John 17:14). All that is in the world, the believer is forbidden to love (1 John 2:15-17). He keeps himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27), does not cling to worldly goods (1 John 3:17), and therefore uses this world, but does not abuse it (1 Cor. 7:31). He is not subject to the spirit of the world (1 Cor. 2:12), the wisdom of the world (3:19), the fashion of this world (7:31), or worldly lusts (Titus 2:12). Rather, provision is made for the believer to escape the corruption that is in the world by partaking of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). He may partake of the divine nature by taking in the milk of the word and growing into salvation (1 Pet. 2:2). Thus he will be transformed by the renewing of his mind (Rom. 12:2) and will be a blameless, innocent, shining anti-testimony to this crooked and perverse generation.
The book of Acts gives us a clear account of the activities of the early Christians. Their whole life was Christ and the church. They continued in the apostles’ training and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers, house-to-house fellowship, and unceasing gospel preaching (Acts 2:42-47; 4:23-37; 5:42).
The Picture of Christianity Today
Today we view an anemic Christianity divided into multitudinous organizations and married to the world. We look with utter amazement upon a Christianity characterized by forms and ceremonies, ornate buildings, choirs, solos, quartets, rock bands, dramas, fund-raising banquets, and haunted houses to celebrate Halloween. Christians hurry home from the Sunday morning “holy hour” to spend hours before the parlor god, watching the season’s sports craze. It seems never to enter their consciousness that all this has no relevance to the purpose of God for which they were created. They seem unaware that the Lord will one day ask them why they thus spent so many hours of their fleeting life. Because of the way they spend their time and money, indulge in pleasure, and give themselves to cares and worries, it is virtually impossible to distinguish most Christians from rank unbelievers. If not engaged in outright sinful things, they are at least fully consumed with eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (Matt. 24:38). There is very little maturity and very little separation from the world. Furthermore, it is abundantly clear, even from secular statistics, that of the millions with their names on the rolls of religious organizations, many are not “born again,” and therefore not Christians at all.
The Problem Stated
What has God’s enemy, Satan, done to create the present weak, worldly, immature, divisive situation among Christians today? He has veiled the subjective experience of Christ. The subjective experience of Christ is the direct, personal, conscious, interaction with Christ who indwells the believer. The bulk of Christians have some knowledge of objective truth about God (doctrine), but little or no subjective experience of that truth, or, more specifically, of the God who is the Truth. Whether theologically educated or not, they live in a dream world under the delusion that their knowledge of the Bible is equivalent to knowing God Himself. Some have the doctrine of experiencing the indwelling Christ, but honesty would force the admission that their inner life is virtually void of such experience.
However, when we speak of our direct experience of Christ within, some immediately raise the cry, “We don’t care for experience; we only care for the Word of God…experience is abstract…experience cannot be depended upon…” We reply that we love and honor the Word of God as much as anyone. In the book, The Bible the Living Word of Revelation, John Montgomery says, page 205: “When the objective truths of God’s Word…are brought to bear on human life, they have the power to transform existence totally.” We submit that no one’s existence could be transformed totally but by far-reaching subjective experiences which affect his whole being. Since salvation is in its whole nature the inward birth and life of Christ in the believer, the Christian life must be one full of the subjective experiences of this Christ.
The Biblical Answer to the Problem
The objective knowledge of God is useless and frustrating unless God can be experienced. Our human life is made up of a succession of experiences. To know everything about a piece of apple pie is meaningless to us unless we can eat it. Just so, the revelation of God is meaningless to us unless we can experience Him according to that revelation. What a frustration to know the doctrine, “You must be born again,” yet be void of the experience in our being. What a frustration to know the doctrine, “Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), yet be unable to have the actual, conscious, day-by-day experience. How useless to have knowledge of the transformation of Romans 12:2, without the actual realization and enjoyment of the renewing of our mind.
Mental assent to doctrine will not produce regeneration. William Law said:
No one can know the truth of salvation by a mere rational consent to that which is historically said of Christ. Only by an inward experience of His cross, death, and resurrection can the saving power of the gospel be known. For the reality of Christ’s redemption is not in fleshly, finite, outward things – much less in verbal descriptions of them – but is a birth, a life, a spiritual operation.
Most so-called churches of today can be joined by mere mental assent to a set of doctrines. It is readily acknowledged that church rolls are filled with the names of unregenerated people. The Christian life must begin with the subjective experience of the new birth. What a glorious experience when the human spirit is born of the Spirit of God (John 3:6).
Knowledge of the letter does not produce a transformed, mature Christian life. The Apostle Paul’s ministry was not of the letter, but of the Spirit. The result was believers who were “a letter of Christ…written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God,…on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3). The conclusion of this same chapter is that the inner experience of the indwelling Spirit will transform the believer into the image of Christ. In his commentary on Colossians 1:27 Dr. John Eadie reveals glorification by the subjective work of Christ.
The glory of Christians is yet to come, but it is certain…. What is partially and progressively enjoyed in time, is fully and forever possessed in heaven…. the basis of this hope of glory is also the subjective work of Christ – by His Spirit within the saint. Not only has he the title to heaven, but he gets maturity for it.
Yet today we see Christians resting in their doctrinal soundness, but with lives void of the fruit of the spirit, void of the divine image, and thinking that because they know the letter of the Word, they know its truth and power.
God’s goal is to produce the Body, the church today, which transformed and transfigured becomes the New Jerusalem eternally. The Body of Christ can only be produced by a succession of subjective experiences. We must first be regenerated (John 3:6). Following the new birth, we are baptized into the Triune God (Matt. 28:19). We are baptized into one Body (1 Cor. 12:13), and become members of the Body of Christ (vv. 12, 14).
In Ephesians 3:16 through 21 Paul tells us how the believer may be transformed individually and thus the church corporately. It is entirely subjective experience. We quote the following statements from Dr. John Eadie’s commentary on Ephesians, pages 243 through 247:
He bestows according to the riches of His glory – His own infinite fullness…It is by the infusion of power into the man within…. The Spirit of God is the agent in this process of invigoration…He has free access to man’s spirit to move it as He may, and it is His peculiar function in the scheme of mercy to apply to the heart the spiritual blessings provided by Christ….And as the design of a temple is that its god may inhabit it, so Christ dwells in the heart. This inhabitation is not to be explained away as a mere reception of Christian doctrine, nor is it to be regarded as a mystical exaggeration.
This passage shows us that the Spirit infuses all the riches of God’s glory into our inner man. Christ then dwells in our hearts. All our faculties of mind, emotion, and will are filled with Him. Because of Christ’s indwelling we are rooted and grounded in love. Then marvelously, corporately “with all saints” we comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of that habitation of God into which we are being builded in spirit. Eventually we are filled with all the fullness of God. When the church has been builded by all these subjective experiences of Christ, Paul can triumphantly say, “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Surely it is clear that from the day the Lord Jesus said, “I will build my church,” He has brought His chosen ones through a continuing subjective experience of Himself until they are transformed individually and corporately. And at His second coming we will experience the transfiguration of our mortal bodies. Then the church transformed and transfigured will be that glorious Bride, that eternal city New Jerusalem, which the Triune God has builded as His eternal dwelling place.
This present subjective experience and enjoyment of our God is only a foretaste of the eternal. For when the goal of God has been consummated in the New Jerusalem, what is there but the river of life and the tree of life for our eternal drinking and feasting! Hallelujah! For eternity we shall feast upon Christ, the Son of God, the redeeming Lamb, as our life supply, and drink the water of the life-giving Spirit.
The last call of the Bible is to a subjective experience -“And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” We call upon all to drink with us of this water of life which today is a fountain in our innermost being springing up unto eternal life.
This is the fifth of five articles in this series.