CHAPTER 4: HOW DOES CALVARY BECOME REAL IN THE BELIEVER’S DAILY LIFE?

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By Reginald Wallis


CHAPTER FOUR

HOW DOES CALVARY BECOME REAL IN THE BELIEVER’S DAILY LIFE?

The Art of Reckoning

Here we come to the blessed theme of the triumphant “reckoning” of faith. Turn to Romans 6 again. What do we find the apostle exhorting in verse 11? His logic is perfect. Having emphasized the believer’s death with Christ, he now says, “Likewise you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin” (6:11).

Reckon on what? Reckon on God’s fact that “the old man was crucified” with Christ, and that you have been raised again with him into “newness of life”. The fact, of course, is eternal. Even my unbelief does not alter the truth of God, though it will rob me of the blessing of it (Ro. 3:3).

What does it mean to “reckon”? Surely it is simply counting on a fact. I am told that a lake covered by ice is strong enough to bear me. Immediately I stand upon the ice, however, and commit myself to it, I reckon on the fact and actually prove it true.

A sum of money is credited to my account in the bank. Even though it is now mine, it may long remain unenjoyed and unappropriated. Immediately I draw my check, however, when I present it at the bank for payment, I reckon on the fact that the money belongs to me and I actually possess my possessions.

“This is the Victory… Our Faith”

Now this is tremendously important. The Christian life, from its Alpha to its Omega, is essentially a life of faith. “This is the victory… our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). What does real faith accomplish? It turns God’s promises into facts of experience (Hb. 6:12). No blessing in Christ becomes real to me until it is appropriated, and that by the victorious art of “reckoning”.

A condemned prisoner may be offered a signed pardon, but it is only a “scrap of paper” until it is appropriated. It is potentially his immediately when signed, but it is not his experientially until he claims it and acts upon it.

Now how does this work out in the Christian’s experience? Very simply and very blessedly. God says in effect, “my child, as you reckoned on the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation, now go a step further and reckon on his representative work for your victory day by day”. You believe that the Lord Jesus died for you because God said so. Now take the next step. Accept by faith the further fact that you died with him, i.e. that your “old man was crucified with him”. Believe also that you rose with him into newness of life, and henceforth “reckon yourself to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God“.

Do you see that, my fellow believer? If so, you will appreciate at once that victory (1 Co. 15:57) does not come by struggling or agonizing, but by reckoning (2 Co. 4:10).

“Come Down From the Cross”

Let me suggest a further practical consideration along this line. What will happen if you reckon yourself dead to sin? Imagine the devil approaching you, as he doubtless often does, with temptation to sin (Jas. 1:13). What part of you can respond to him? Obviously not the new man, for, “whoever has been born of God does not sin” (1 Jn. 3:9). Any response, therefore, will come from “the flesh”. Exactly. The devil’s objective is to get the flesh into activity, for the flesh is the devil’s battleground. Yes, his temptation to the Savior is what comes to everyone who is joined to him: “Come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40). Thank God! – He won the victory in that supreme hour and was “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).

You and I also may share his triumph by reckoning on the fact that we are identified with him. Suppose, then, that in this moment of temptation you assume a simple attitude of faith and reckon yourself to be dead to sin; what is the result? We read, “he who has died has been freed from sin” (Ro. 6:7). Testify to the evil one that you are dead: “No, these hands cannot commit sin because they have been crucified with Christ.” Tell me, what can the devil do with dead hands? Do you see? “This is the victory… our faith.” Wherever or whatever the temptation may be therefore, there is a “way of escape” (1 Co. 10:13).

Dying – Not Doing

A dead man cannot respond to sinful inducements, however alluring. Imagine a man, addicted to alcohol, drinking himself to death. There is his lifeless corpse!  Now you may surround his body with all the strong drink you can discover. What is the effect? NIL! For what reason? Drink has exercised its full dominion over him, but now he is dead, and there is no further response. Alcohol has stopped to dominate, to control, him.

Apply the illustration. Sin exercised, as it were, its full dominion over the Lord Jesus – that is, He was “made sin” for you and me (2 C0. 5:21). Sin led to his death, but… you and I have been incorporated into his death! Therefore, argues the apostle, “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (Ro. 6:14). Is not that the victory you have been seeking? We can only conquer sin and self by picking up our cross daily.

I have heard of two “society girls” who were gloriously converted to God. A few days after they were saved, an invitation came from some of their former friends to go out with them. They had no further desire for the things of the world, however, and their reply was both courteous and interesting. It was to this effect: “Thank you for your kind invitation; we cannot accept, however, as we are dead! We died with Christ last week.” That is it!

Now it is clear that victory comes through the reckoning of faith and not through struggling and striving. “But”, it may be asked, “are we not exhorted to “fight the good fight” (1 Ti. 6:12)? Yes, that is so; but you must please finish the phrase, “Fight the good fight of faith“, and faith never struggles for victory. Faith stands in victory, and what it combats is the forces of darkness – from a victory position.

Standing In Victory

Yes, the Christian does not fight for victory but stands ina victory already won. But are not Christians exhorted to “resist the devil” (Jas. 4:7)? Certainly; but here again, please, remember the other word, “Resist him, steadfast in the faith(1 P. 5:9). You see it is faith holding a position, and not struggling for a position. What a blessed secret is here revealed! Reckon! Reckon! Reckon! Rest on God’s fact.

I heard of a Christian who asked another to pray for him, particularly that he “might be nothing“. “There is no need to pray for that, brother”, answered the other, “you are nothing; accept it by faith.”

Apply this death-principle to all fleshly manifestations.  Are you tempted to jealousy? Then reckon yourself to be dead. Can a dead man be jealous? Are you subject to the tyranny of a hasty tongue? Does the unkind word slip out? Reckon yourself to be “crucified with Christ”. Can a crucified man say unkind things? Are you sensitive to the opinions, the criticism or the eulogies of others? Reckon yourself dead. Can a dead man be offended? Go to a cemetery; find the grave of a man you knew: make a trumpet with both your hands, and shout over that grave all the praise or blame, eulogy or hatred, of which you are capable, and you will only waste your time! He is dead, and quite impervious to other people’s opinions. Simple enough, yes, but that is the way of victory. God’s way is simple.

Dead Men Cannot Sin

“Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, and blind as the Lord’s servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe; opening the ears, but he does not hear.” (Is. 42:19-20)

The servant of God may see, and yet be blind; he may hear, and yet be deaf. He may have lips, and yet be silent.  He may be dead, and yet live.

“I am not now what once I was,
Nor am I what I ought to be,
But what I am, I am by grace
And when I see him face to face,
I shall be like him perfectly.
I once was dead, yet thought I lived,
And now I live, yet dead I am -
I live in him with whom I died,
I to the world am crucified,
My life, my song, is Calvary’s Lamb.”

A Christian man recently wrote, concerning his relation to a certain important work in connection with which one of his suggestions had not been acted upon, “I just want to keep a humble out-of-sight place in my relation to that work, and be everything else. I am nothing, anyway, and I don’t want anyone ever to succeed in making me think that I am anything; for if they do, from that time on I’ll be nothing in the worst sort of sense. So just feel free to write me anything that is on your heart, critical or otherwise, and ask God to give me grace to take it in the way that a WISE DEAD man ought to take it. I am his bond slave.” Yes, we can be dead; and we can be wise at the same time. Indeed, until we have accepted our own death through crucifixion with Christ, we can never let the wisdom of God have free course in our life.

“But Alive To God”

Then, remember the other side and reckon also on the fact that you have been “raised together with Christ”.

“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”
(Gal. 2:20).

Do you see that? Your whole being has come under a new control – a business under new management. While it is true, therefore, that we are to be dead to sin, we are not to be corpses. Victory is Life! Having been identified with him in his risen life, these same members, this identical body, this very mind and intellect, these same faculties -reckoned dead to sin – are now to be alive to God. Your whole being is to come under the domination of the new nature which is energized by the Christ-life. When the devil knocks at the door with his seductive suggestions, he is told to go away, for the old and loyal friend (the “old man”) who used to welcome him has ceased to exist. Such an attitude alone can overcome his subtle devices. Yes, Calvary is Victory.

Then, there comes another appeal! Here is a request, or urge, from the Holy Spirit to some service for the kingdom of God. What is your response now? “Yes, Lord, here am I; here are my hands, my feet, my mouth, my mind, my time, my money; they are all yours, Lord, and I am ready for your commands. Take me, use me, fill me, and keep me ever responsive to your will. I am not my own, I am bought with a price.”

You see it is simply saying “no” to the devil, and “yes” to the Lord, i.e. dead unto sin but alive unto God. Victory is yours therefore, by Calvary becoming experientially real in your life day by day.

Nearly two thousand years ago the devil was overthrown; the world was overcome, and the “old man” was crucified, at Calvary (Gal. 2:20, cf. Ro. 6:11). There “the Seed of the woman” (Gn. 3:15) bruised the serpent’s head; there the evil one was ignominiously defeated on his own battleground. Calvary, blessed Calvary! Only as Calvary is worked out in the believer day by day, by a consent to the “sentence of death” (2 Co. 1:9) upon “the old life,” and a recognition of the claims of him with whom we have risen into newness of life, can we discover victory in practical experience.

Now two further points concerning the reckoning of faith need to be emphasized here:

It is Not a “Once for All” Reckoning

Reckoning ourselves as dead indeed unto sin is not a final crisis, but a continuous process. It is not a “second blessing” (nor is it a millionth blessing, for that matter). It represents blessings innumerable every day. The Christian life is essentially a “moment-by-moment” life. It is a continuous dying, and a continuous living. Of course, there may come a particular crisis in experience where the Spirit of God brings the soul face to face with a definite issue as to a willingness for the cross, and full surrender of the whole life to God. Yes, the first revelation of the secret of victory also may constitute a real crisis in the life of the believer, but that crisis or experience can never, in itself, avail for the future.

There is a subtle danger in relying upon some isolated experience of “sanctification” so called. The victorious Christian life is a Person, not an experience. Following the crisis, whatever phase or landmark in the life that may represent, there must be the daily reckoning, the moment-by-moment abiding, and the unceasing control of the Holy Spirit. “Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Co. 4:10). Whatever may have been your experience of holiness and the measure of spiritual attainments in the past, you can never get beyond the need for abiding in Christ (1 Jn. 2:28) and the continuous reckoning of faith. Fail to reckon, and “the flesh” is at once “resurrected”!

In other words, to forfeit the faith position is to offer capital to the enemy (Eph. 4:27) and a battleground upon which he may pursue his challenge. Flesh not put to death is the devil’s hunting ground. The Christian life, therefore, is one continuous impartation of life from above, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, made possible by the continuous dethronement of the self-life.

Beware of depending upon externalities for the subsistence of your Christian life. God has graciously given to his people means of grace which indispensably contribute to the outworking of his purpose, but these agencies must never be depended upon in themselves, or allowed to be substitutes for a moment-by-moment fellowship with the Lord Jesus. HE is your life, not things (Col. 3:4)!

Some of God’s dear people are “Conference Christians”, for example. They almost live on conferences; they seem to attend every meeting with scrupulous regularity, and by the end of a particular series of meetings, with its fresh impetus, they are “charged up” like an electric battery, and go their way again in the wistful hope that they will hold out until the advent of the next conference! Friends, that is not God’s way. Thank God for conferences, with their spiritual ministry and delightful Christian fellowship. They are undoubtedly divine appointments and means of grace and strengthening to the Church. Never allow them, however, to become the basis of your spiritual experience.

Nothing can substitute for a constant, personal, moment-by-moment fellowship with the Most High. Indeed, one of the real tests of the victorious life is an ability to go on with the Lord in constant, joyous victory, even though there may be an unavoidable severance from conference ministry and the fellowship of other believers. The Word of God declares that “though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him” (Ec. 4:12). The two are the believer and his Lord!

Now the other thing that needs to be said in this connection is:

Reckoning is Not a Mere Mental Effort

It is a mental reckoning, of course, but not solely a process of the mind. Some young Christians have been bothered because they have tried hard to reckon themselves dead to sin, but somehow it did not work. Why is this? The main reason is that God always links “reckoning” with “surrender”. In Romans 6, these injunctions are associated (Ro. 6:11, 13). To attempt to reckon yourself dead to sin without yielding your will to the Holy Spirit will inevitably lead to failure and discouragement. A mental reckoning, in itself, can never sustain victory. The “old man” can only be reckoned dead by the power of the new life. Such power is imparted by the Holy Spirit when the whole being – spirit, soul, and body – is surrendered to him (8:13).

If your will is not “presented” all your reckoning will be futile. Your will must be handed over to the Lord and be energized by divine power (Jn. 5:30). Only as you are occupied with Christ in the power of an ungrieved Spirit, can you successfully “reckon” on being dead to sin. The flesh cannot mortify the flesh; only the indwelling Spirit can impart the power to do so. The function of the Holy Spirit is to make the life of the Lord Jesus real in the believer day by day. That is a liberating life. The gateway into resurrection-life is by way of death, and the way to die is to yield to the new life. The two are inseparable.

Pardon a personal allusion just here. For years I was a smoker, though a Christian. One day the Lord spoke clearly to me in conviction about this habit. I wanted to be free, but I knew very well that so long as my will was not surrendered, and the “want to” was there, all my reckoning would end in failure! The supreme need was to let go, and present my members to the Lord for his supreme control. By his grace I consented, and at once there was a wonderful accession of divine life and a loss of appetite for the weed. Praise his Name, since then I have possessed the spiritual ability to reckon that dead men do not smoke! This side of reckoning is vastly important. Only as you yield, can you reckon. “By the Spirit you put to death…”

“But if it Dies”

Now, it is clear that the Holy Spirit will bring the believer face to face with a definite issue along this line. Am I prepared to say “Amen” image013to a real outworking of the cross? It is not sufficient to give assent to this truth as a matter of objective doctrine. Indeed, it is sadly possible to have a very high doctrineand very low practice. The real issue is this: Am I willing to die? This is an experiential death, a real death. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (Jn. 12:24). Of course, this has primary reference to the Lord Jesus, but it is essentially the way of blessing for all his followers.

I was impressed some time ago by the words which preceded the divine description of those seven downward steps of the Lord Jesus from the Glory to the cross in Philippians 2. You will recollect that the climax is his “obedience unto death, even the death of the Cross.” Notice the preceding sentence, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (verse 5). Yes, have I the mind of Christ to this same end (1 Co. 2:16)? Am I willing, for example, that my reputation should go to Calvary (Phil. 2:7)?  Am I willing to humble myself and become “obedient to the point of death” (2:8)? Nothing short of this is involved in the Lord’s appeal. Until the cross means this to you and me, it means little. “If any one desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me!” (Mt. 16:24).

What is the cross, after all? It is not a fetish, or an object to be admired, or a charm to be hung round the neck. No, indeed! There is only one cross, and that is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, with which every believer has been identified. The cross is essentially a symbol of death. It is something to die on. To take up my cross is to consent to a sentence of death upon myself. Self-denial is not forfeiting a few luxuries during a certain period, and then returning to their indulgence again with a sigh of relief when the period has ended! No, “self-denial” is not a forfeiting of things, but the abandonment, the rejection, the dethronement and crucifixion of SELF.  The cross is the big “I” crossed out!

crossed out

As Erny Pace suggests in one of his cartoons, the word “Christian” stands first of all for “Christ“, while the “i-a-n” stand for “I Am Nothing” (Jn. 3:30). Here we come to the crux of the whole matter concerning personal victory and an effective, holy, happy Christian testimony. There can be no crown without the cross. There can be no life without death.  There can be no “Canaan” without “Jordan”.

The Eternal Fact

Let us not think of the cross as an isolated event in the history of the universe. It is the great eternal fact in the purpose of God. It was no afterthought, or merely an unhappy termination to a wonderful life. It is not a postscript of God’s letter to men. Way back in eternity past there was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Look into eternity future and see the redeemed multitudes surrounding the throne of God and of the Lamb – “a lamb as though it had been (freshly) slain” (5:6). Calvary lies between the two eternities, and during this interim the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to work out the meaning of the cross in the Church and in the individual believer. Thus He enables the Body to function effectively in the life imparted by the risen Head. No flesh can intrude in this sphere (1 Co. 1:29). It must die.

The Real Issue

My friend, before we pass on to a more definite consideration of the risen life of the Lord Jesus in the believer, shall we, you and I together, face this question? Am I, are you, willing to die? Are we prepared for the Holy Spirit to plant the cross upon our flesh-life? Shall we say “yes” to the nails of the cross going through those ugly things which have marred our testimony and over which we have never gained victory? Shall we tell the Lord that we are “willing for Jordan” as the only way into the promised land of Canaan? The “stones of the self-life” meet their death and burial in the waters of death (Josh. 4:9). Twelve other stones were taken from the bed of the river and placed on Canaan’s soil (4:8); a beautiful picture of resurrection-life out from the waters of death. The word comes in freshness to writer and reader alike today, “Go over this Jordan” (Josh. 1:2).

The power of God makes this possible as we go through with him. There is no other way. Nature itself illustrates this abiding principle in all the works of God. All life is born out of death. The autumn leaves fall to their death, by the power of, and in order to make way for the advent of, new life, and notice how God paints them with special tints – red and gold, the red to remind us of the cross, whilst the gold speaks of the Glory. How often the sufferings of Christ are linked with his glory (1 P. 1:11)!

His way is your way, dear Christian. Watch that magnificent sunset at the close of a calm, summer day. See that exquisite glory which illuminates the heavens. The sun’s light produces its most exquisite radiance after it has sunk below the horizon. Yes, there is a glory in the cross (Gal. 6:14); and, further, there is no real gloryapart from the cross. Does that sound like a paradox? The cross is a paradox, unexplainable by the natural mind. The cross is God’s masterpiece.

Seek the power of the Holy Spirit that it may become real to you every day and every moment of the day. Listen again to the apostle Paul, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Phil. 3:10).

Study Guide

Define “reckoning”.

How is “reckoning”, our identification with Christ, similar to our salvation experience?

What is “the devil’s battleground”?

Why does sin not have dominion over the believer?

“The Christian does not fight __________ victory but stands __________ a victory already won.”

What does it mean to you to be “dead to sin”?

The position side of “reckoning” is that we are __________ to __________.

Give Scriptures that show that “reckoning” is not a once-for-all experience.

Why is “reckoning” more than mental assent?

How does John 12:24 illustrate the deeper work of the cross in the believer’s life?

Is the cross an isolated event in the history of the universe?

How do you respond to the issue of complete surrender and identification with Christ in his death?