Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Exchanged Life

“Hudson Taylor’s… years of toil and hard work for the Lord in the mission field yielded many saved Chinese. Ironically, this work (that) revealed life to so many, also sapped the life and energy from the man who was behind it. Hudson Taylor strove to do his best for the Lord he was serving. His greatest desire was to be an imitator of Christ. To achieve his goal, he did what seemed more fruitful: he studied the Bible more fervently, prayed continually and fasted more often. He was so engrossed in his effort that his life became an endless effort to please God rather than to know Him. In a moment of divine insight, Hudson Taylor suddenly understood the Truth about his relationship with God. Jesus said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ He realized that the vine is not merely the root that provides nourishment to the branches, but is itself the whole plant - root, branches and leaves. Jesus is not merely our provider, but is a part of all who have called on His name. Fruitful labor was far more dependent upon an ever-deepening fellowship with Jesus than upon works designed to please Him.” (Copied with permission from, emphasis mine).

Hudson’s life of toil and hard work “for the Lord” was suddenly changed by the realization that it was all about God’s union with him - not his work for God. A branch doesn’t work to bear fruit for the Vine. A branch abides, rests, in the Vine. The essence of this fellowship is the natural flow of Life throughout the whole Vine, including all the branches. Each branch is far from unproductive or lacking in substance. Each branch simply understands that the full substance of his life - all the activity, all the production – doesn’t come from his own attempts at being a good, hard worker for the Vine. Hudson had come to this realization. He could now cease from his labor and rest in the sufficiency of the Vine’s Life, allowing the Vine to be the sole, sufficient, source of Life and Fruit. Hudson’s son, Howard Taylor, coined the term “Exchanged Life” to describe his father’s life changing realization.

Steve McVey had spent many “successful” years in the ministry, in which his hard work as a pastor of several churches had paid off, consistently resulting in growth. But after 29 years as a Christian (17 of those in the ministry), and after a year in a new church, he found himself in a completely new situation, devastated that all his dedication and hard work for God was now proving to be ineffective. He felt like a failure – as a pastor and as a Christian. He relates his frustration in his first book, Grace Walk: “Couldn’t He see that I was doing everything I knew how for Him? I couldn’t imagine what more He expected from me than my best. And I had done my best. God, what more do you want from me?” Steve has shared that coming to this low point in his life was exactly what God had intended. It was through these daunting circumstances, in which his “best” – his dedication and hard work - weren’t paying off, and were even working to the contrary, that Steve came to find out that it wasn’t that God wanted something from him. God simply wanted him.

There is no amount of human righteousness or dedication that can actually produce a godly life or godly fruit. One can dedicate one’s life to God and to holy living, and one can re-dedicate one’s life over and over again, but no matter the amount of dedication, it still falls short of God’s glory, and it falls short of real Life. Imagine offering God a bunch of shiny, tasty looking plastic grapes - along with a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich, with arsenic sauce. Do you think He’d bite? That’s what our dedicated lives amount to. Isaiah used the term “filthy rags.” But the Apostle Paul said, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). He said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God…” (Gal 2:20). Paul’s Crucified Life, Taylor’s Exchanged Life and McVey’s Grace Walk are summed up in this: I have laid down “my” life (I have died, I no longer live) and I have received His all-sufficient Life in exchange. The Christian life isn’t mine to live. Instead of God depending upon me to live for Him or to dedicate my life to Him, He had me lay my life down! It was only when I died that He could raise me up again (the new birth) in Him. It’s not about my futile offering of grapes. The grapes are His fruit to begin with!

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