Paul’s Testimony To It
When Paul wants to put into one phrase the essence of the revelation he has brought to us, he uses a sentence of three words. It is the most important pronouncement of the sacred commission given him in all his writings—in Col. 1:23-28. He says he has a twofold ministry. The first, of immeasurable importance, is to take the gospel to the word (23). The second is the consummation of the first, of such supreme perfection of glory that it was an honor to suffer for the proclamation of it (25); it is not a ministry now to the world, but to the Church; it is the revelation of a mystery, a treasured fact which had always been a fact, but had been hidden through the centuries except to the few who had found it, Moses, Abraham, David, and such like; but is now public property to all who have received the benefits of God’s free grace. And this is it—Christ in you. Christ for you is the gateway; Christ in you is the highway: Christ for you the foothills, Christ in you the summit. And he piles on words to express the wonder of it: “the riches of the glory of this mystery”; glory enough now to know it, and yet our present experience of it is merely “the hope of the glory” which is going to come from it.
Christ in you. This then is the heart of the mystery of God in His dealing with men. Here we reach the summit of His ways. And coupled with this, the other side of the same relationship, we in Christ, as Paul adds: “that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (28). But this is exactly what we have seen eternal life to be: Three Persons dwelling in each other, in everlasting union and fellowship; therefore when we are given the gift of participation in eternal life, we must of necessity share in this union, for there is no other life. Life is God in Three Person dwelling in each other; the gift of life to us, therefore, is our introduction into this same mutual indwelling. It is the life of union, the one with The Other, distinct from each other, yet one in each other, interpenetrating. Mystery indeed, and foolishness to the natural man. The only life we know in our fallen condition, in this three dimensional world is one separate from the other, communing with each other over space that divides us, I here, you there; and, as we shall see more clearly later, that same sense of distance and separation is what we carry over into our faith relationships with the Lord, and is the prime cause of our spiritual frustrations and defeats.
Look at Paul’s own testimony. It comes in the particular letter in which he is defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone; by faith in the One “evidently set forth crucified among you,” and in no way by the works of self-effort—the letter to the Galatians. To a superficial reader this might appear to be a merely external presentation of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. But is it? No, indeed. Galatians is the letter of the Spirit, as Ephesians is of the Father, and Colossians of the Son. What was the promise Abraham received when his faith was counted to him for righteousness? Paul asks. Was it merely a promise of forgiveness? No, the promise of the Spirit (3:14), the promise of inner union by God sending forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (4:6); and Paul presents all through the letter the fact, not of an outer coming of the sinner to the foot of the cross, but of our inner faith-union in His cross, crucified with Him; for he writes in three separate statements of himself being crucified with Christ, of himself being crucified to the world, and of crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts. And then, when he introduces the word of personal testimony into the letter, he marvellously presents this hidden relationship of union as the only true consequence of salvation by grace. He speaks first of his experience of regeneration in 1:15, 16. We all know that story from his testimony in the Acts, how the exalted Savior spoke to him from heaven on the road to Damascus. Yet here, so many years later, what does he say of it? “When it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me.” So he lays down for all time that true regeneration is no formal, objective faith by itself, but is only true if it is accompanied by an inner revelation of union with the Son within.
Again, he describes how what had happened in him was seen and apprehended by him in fuller and more glorious form in Gal. 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ…Christ liveth in me.” His turbulent independent ego, derived from Adam the first, had gone to the cross in the substitutionary death of the second Adam on his behalf; he took that place by faith, crucified with Christ; and now as a consequence, yes, he was alive, but no longer the important person. Another was living in him, Christ Himself. An indissoluble union had taken place; he was there himself, but also an actual Other Person with His own will, feelings, mind, faith, love, living His own life in Paul. That is a marvellous thing, quite incomprehensible to fallen man; not Paul living his own life by power and grace derived from this Other; but Christ living His own life in and through Paul. In this secret of “exchanged strength” (Is. 40, 41: marg.), we reach the inner core of eternal life, and that is why we are searching into it so thoroughly. The most we often seem to reach is that He stands by within to help us through; but it isn’t that at all. It is HE living His own divine life and fulfilling His own plans from before the foundation of the world in us. If anything happens to me, it doesn’t happen to me, but to Him in me, and He can take care of that. It is an end of false burdens and false worries. We do not think our thoughts; “we have the mind of Christ,” His thoughts expressed through our mental faculties. We do not speak our own words; it is “the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you”; not speaks to you, but speaks within, so that we are, as John the Baptist said, merely the voice of the One within, crying in the wilderness. We do not exercise our own feeble wills or do our own faulty deeds; “it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” It is not even we that move from place to place, for “I will dwell in them and walk in them…saith the Lord Almighty.” So Paul commented that he now lived, not by his own flickering faith but by the Believer within him, whose faith never fails and who now exercised His faith through Paul: “the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” This was Paul’s testimony to sanctification, not some static experience of a thing called holiness, but an organic relationship with an indwelling Christ living His own life within him, the most delicate conceivable interaction of grace between the redeemed human personality and the Redeemer within, of which we say more later.
In one other sentence, he revealed the secret resources of his life of service, and it is the same again. The One who worked effectively in Peter in his ministry to Israel, he wrote in 2:28, “the Same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles.” Remarkably phrased again. Not making Paul mighty, but being Himself the mighty One in Paul; only this time that gracious and holy Self not merely shining out through Paul’s personality, but working His mighty works of salvation in others through Paul. Here was Paul’s dynamic of service, his enduement with power from on high; and this threefold experience of inner union with Christ in regeneration, sanctification and service, this profound realization that this alone is eternal life, make him write in 4:19 that he travailed in birth, not until the Galatians came to Christ, but until he was formed in them, the Son of God in His full stature living His life in them.
Could anything make more clear that what Paul told the Colossians was his greatest ministry—to reveal Christ in them as the hope of glory—was also overwhelmingly his own experience? And it was only a more exact exposition of what the Savior Himself had made plain to His disciples on their last intimate conversation on earth in John 14-16. His heart was set then on one thing only, to explain to them that the final purpose of His coming sufferings was one only. As He lived forever in union with the Father, so they were now to come into that same eternal union, the only life of heaven; and that was the meaning of the coming of the Spirit. They were no longer to know a weak and failing outward relationship with Him. It was good and necessary that He leave them for that very reason. By the coming of the indwelling Spirit a new dimension of life was to be opened to them, eternal life, the eternal union of one personality with another, God with man through marvellous grace. That alone was the purpose of His coming on earth. He knew that they would not understand until the Spirit came, but He told them beforehand, so that when He did come, they would remember that it was just as He had told them. After the conversation was finished around the table, and they were moving towards the last dread hours in the Garden, it appears as if He was not yet satisfied that He had explained what He wanted to them, so, as they passed through a vineyard, He pointed and said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches…without Me ye can do nothing.” Union again. Vine and branches one organism. Not the vine the tree, and the branches some external additions, but one tree with one life, the inner sap. Christ Himself within all.