Consider these words from A.B. Simpson’s classic book, The Christ Life:
Christ life is a vital and divine experience through the union of the soul with the living Christ himself . . . it is Christ reliving his life in you and enabling you to be and to do what, in your own strength, you never could accomplish . . . (it) is not personal character slowly attained, but union with the Lord Jesus . . . We have not to climb by slow and painful ascent the heights of holiness, but to receive the Holy One himself to dwell within us and lift us to all the heights of grace and glory which he himself has attained.”
In a performance driven, strive to achieve culture, these words are amazing, relevant, and full of hope for every frustrated believer who has worn himself or herself out trying to attain spiritual depth through personal effort. Simpson believed that you have to be possessed to live the Christian life . . . Christ possessed. Christ wants to give us, through surrender, what we will never gain by our own effort; the deeper Christian life.
No amount of personal effort will ever shape a person into the likeness of Christ. What we need is transformation, not strategies for self improvement. We all need change deep inside, a transforming transaction at the very core of our being. Christians who have walked through a season of personal brokenness know this to be true. When a believer finally comes to the end of their rope, they seem to not only meet Jesus in a new way, but also understand that the secret to the deeper life is union and surrender, not striving and performance.
A.B. Simpson spent the first half of his life working hard for Jesus. Before he reached forty years old, he came to the end of himself. But at that tipping point he discovered the key to the deeper life. It was what he called the exchanged life. Instead of trying to live his life for Jesus, which he had been doing for almost four decades, he learned to allow Jesus to live His life through him. He described this exchange quite beautifully when he said, “It is glorious to lose ourselves and rise again in new life in Christ. And rise again in new life in Christ Simpson did. The second half of his life was amazing, founding a movement, a training institute, writing one hundred books and countless hymns. And all of this was the fruit of a deeper life with Christ, not through performance, but through union and surrender.
What is the key to being possessed like A.B. Simpson? The infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is a hand-in glove relationship: get filled with the Holy Spirit . . . be possessed by Christ. I have watched this happen to people, and when it does, they just can’t get enough of Jesus. They want to spend time with Jesus, become more and more like Jesus, hang around people who are passionate about Jesus, dedicate their lives to Jesus, all the while doing things through Jesus, mystically connected to Jesus, until they spend all eternity with Jesus. Christ-possessed people get to a point where Jesus himself is living his life in and through them. It is just like Simpson said.
The disciples were possessed like that. They grew to love Christ during their three years together. But following Pentecost, once they were filled with the Holy Spirit, their relationship with Jesus went to a whole new level. They became Christ possessed. Read the book of Acts and you find a great story about men and women consumed with Christ. Everything about them became Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
What was true of the disciples was equally true of Paul. This ex-legalist who once hated Christ became, after the infilling of the Holy Spirit, consumed by Christ. Paul was Christ crazy. People couldn’t take Paul anywhere without him going on and on about Jesus. He was tireless and yes relentless about preaching Christ and the cross. Read any of his epistles. What are they about? Christ. Stem to stern, lock, stock, and barrel, kit and caboodle, all about Christ. Paul was a fool for Christ (I Corinthians 4:10). That is why he wrote;
"I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). To live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21) “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ" (I Corinthians 2:2).
According to Simpson, the more the Holy Spirit fills our lives, the more we will be consumed with Jesus. We will want Christ, live Christ, press on for Christ, delight in Christ, surrender all to Christ, do everything through Christ. We will be Christ possessed. And it is that relationship of deep union that brings vitality and depth to our spiritual lives.
I’ll end with Simpson’s admonition.
Friend, let’s not lose one minute before we receive the Holy Spirit! There is not an hour to spare. We are in solemn days, and we are neither ready to live, nor die, nor to meet our coming Lord without the Holy Spirit.