What Is the Real Difference In a Christian Life Versus the Unbeliever’s Life?

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
- JOHN 14:27
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
- ACTS 5:34-39 [NIV]

Before the observations are presented in this article, I want to establish a disclaimer of sorts, some thoughts to help clarify what I am not saying. Remember that there are always good hearts at bad meetings. Also, I have met men of God who do minister in huge churches because they are preaching Christ. Another point is that the flesh of man works constantly to turn the Christian Faith (what Jesus does for us) into the Christian Religion (what man can do). Also, keep in mind that sometimes—if not often— the first move we see can be something of God, but the copycat versions are generally a one-off (rarely is God doing something in the U.S. that applies to a village in Africa, with the exception of consistently lifting up Jesus). God’s dealing with an individual can be outside of our box of theology and yet easily within His bounds. David was leaping and dancing before the people and the Lord; some watching would have surely thought the cheese had slid off the cracker, but David’s actions were acceptable to God.

Having said all of that in preparation and as a foundation, in my nearly four decades as a believer there have been many waves come and go through the Church, washing the believers out to sea. For those “seduced”— many willingly—by the teaching, these waves have often waylaid them years. Most waves scream, “Jesus is not enough!” Interestingly, when these “spiritual” tsunamis hit there is generally havoc in the aftermath. I can remember when some called the deeds of the flesh “demons” and were constantly casting them out, the “spiritual umbrella” movement, the outpouring of laughter, the touching movement, the passive “ask Jesus to tell you” ministry, prophets proclaiming vague assessments of a crowd, the “demand of God movement” (shout and demand what you want until He gives it to you), healing of the memories, inner healing, and myriad baptized-psychology solutions. Of course, there is the “multiply your riches by giving to me” movement, and more. Where are they now? Though all of these waves were presented as absolutes, they have disappeared and were therefore, according to Scripture, man-powered activities. I suppose they had to leave, because something man-driven appeals to the flesh, and flesh will always want more and need variety, something different. In time we will see the prosperity movement and the mega church go the way of the waves that came before them to make room for something else. Many are struggling now in those movements because of the “economy.” Interesting, because if it were God-driven and not mandriven, the “economy” would have nothing to do with the problem. Well, amen. I read a secular quote refuting the prosperity gospel because there was no evidence indicating those who believe in God were any less likely to lose their jobs, homes, or retirement funds in a financial downturn. Another article opined about how the prosperity gospel betrayed our faith’s legacy of sacrifice and social justice. My point is this: The successful and blest Christian life is being defined improperly all the time. Many are insecure in their faith, so they crave some kind of spiritual experience for validation. This makes them easy prey for the promise of something spectacular, special, unique, secretive, and exclusive to them and their group. If someone were to say God allowed him to walk on water, that person could write a book, be invited to public meetings, and generally make a fairly good living, when the response to such an experience should be, “Yes, and your point? How does the experience help us?” Generally, the hearers are left craving a similar experience for themselves, again for validation. The speaker might not have known what he was doing, but he was setting a standard of “special” acceptance by God if they will but become some of the “special elect.”

Well, the benefit of being a child of God is great. Jesus said we would be hated by the world. Paul recounts the struggles of the early believers by saying they were “pressed down.” James makes it clear there are trials in our walk. Now we are getting the nut back on the bolt, because we do not hear these things very often! Read Hebrews, Chapter 11, and see what the life of a saint looks like. From beginning to end, the New Testament supports these claims in a variety of places. As you let the experience of those who have come before witness to what the Christian life is, you may discover that your life is more in line with the reality of the Christian life than those believers craving validation from the miraculous or monetary gain. Matthew 12:39, “He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’”

The purpose of life on earth is not comfort before going to heaven to be even more comfortable, having left behind all the uncomfortable people who encroached on our comfort. The purpose of life on earth is to discover Jesus. Remember, He was driven into the wilderness before His great temptation. What a great place, the wilderness! Nothing is there to stimulate the body or soul, so only a spiritual life could be pursued. In that dry and desolate place, His food was coming via the Spirit. He was not given happiness but joy; there were no grand thoughts, only revelation, no big plans, but rather the will of God, nothing spectacular, but instead the peace of God. At the end of the forty days of being filled with the things of God, the temptations were easily cast aside for what they really were: an attempt by the enemy for Jesus to validate Himself to God and man, when God had already validated Him for forty days with His peace.

Most believers would not be encouraged at being validated by oppression on all sides, but I would ask, “Hasn’t He kept you? Didn’t He bring you out of the darkness and into His light? Didn’t you discover that living through health problems, family crises, a death, or financial distress was not nearly as frightening as you thought it would be when viewing it from a distance? Once actually entering the situation, you found Him there to carry you, like in Daniel where the fellows walked in the fiery furnace with the One and not even the smell of smoke was on them. With Jesus, your situation was not as frightening as you thought it might be.” I want those who are in the middle of oppression to remember they, too, will come through.

The difference between a believer’s life and an unbeliever’s life is not to be expressed in the things of the world or the miraculous; the difference is that believers have peace. Yes, our emotions may be upside down when discovering what a child is up to, but be quiet for a moment and let the peace of God rule in our hearts. We have many of the same problems as unbelievers, and yet they have no peace, no one to carry them through, no hope, no confidence, no faith, no assurance, and no comfort. The things that separate the believer and the unbeliever are not of the world, because we both have bodies of flesh; what separates the believer from the unbeliever are things that cannot be seen. Often I have said to an unbeliever, “Let me shake your hand, because I would have crumbled under your circumstances without Jesus.” Of course, he secretly is crumbling. Jesus is keeping the believer, pruning, revealing Himself, filling daily life with LIFE, and permitting a need so He can meet it. It is a wonderful life. The believer is in school, and upon graduation he will understand how the Way on earth was the perfect Way for the child of God.

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