I just realized today marks the 25th anniversary of a very significant spiritual milestone in my life.
For Buckeye fans (of which I am one), Oct. 12, 1984 will be remembered for one of the all-time greatest Ohio State football victories. OSU had fallen behind visiting Illinois, 24-0, but staged a fierce comeback to win, 45-38. Star running back Keith Byars ran for a then-school record 274 yards and tied OSU’s mark in rushing for five touchdowns, including a 67-yarder wearing only one shoe.
However, what I remember most about that day did not concern sports, but spirituality. I was in Minneapolis, Minn. and watched much of the game on TV, but was troubled about why the so-called “Christian life” didn’t seem to work for me.
I had learned verses like Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” and 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” The problem was, although I was a believer in Jesus Christ, I still felt like nothing had changed; I was still struggling with the same weaknesses. “If I’m a ‘new creation,’” I thought to myself, “why do I act like the same old guy?”
That weekend I was staying in the home of a man named Loren Helling and his wife, Betty, and we spent many hours talking about what he called “the real you from God’s perspective,” looking primarily at the book of Romans. We discussed what it means to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) and the reality that apart from Christ, the Christian life is not difficult to live – it’s impossible to live.
This is why Jesus told His followers, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The secret is not what I can do for God, but what He can do in me – and through me as what Romans 6:13 calls an “instrument of righteousness.”
Over that weekend I recalled meeting in 1981 with a man who had asked, “Bob, how do you live the Christian life?” At first I hesitated, then started listing “to-do’s” – things like prayer, attending church, reading the Bible, etc. In response, the man just shook his head and replied, “You can’t live the Christian life. Only one person has successfully lived the Christian life, and that’s Jesus.”
Three years later I was finally grasping the magnitude of his question and his answer.
As I think about the state of Christianity in America today, it seems we’re not doing very well. The reason, I believe, is not because we don’t have enough churches, or Bibles, or Christian books, or programs. We have more than enough of all of those. The problem, I believe, is we are determined to do for God, in our own strength – “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” so to speak – instead of relying on the power, wisdom and guidance of Jesus through His Spirit that lives in each of us that have trusted in Him.
That’s not to say I have it all figured out. Not hardly. But 25 years later I believe I’m closer to what God calls me to be as a husband, father, grandfather, friend, writer, editor, and mentor. The challenge, one day at a time, is to reflect the truth of John the Baptist who declared, “I must decrease so that He (Jesus) might increase” (John 3:30).