Richard is bubbling over with excitement when he shares the liberating truth of the gospel that he heard as a young man.
At 69, Richard’s energy and enthusiasm for life is infectious. The retired physician talks animatedly about animals, plants and nature, and can readily answer questions about the history of Israel or the prophecies of the end times in the Bible, but especially about what it means to be a Christian in daily life. Conversations with him are exciting, with lots of interesting facts and funny stories. But apart from this, there is one truth that has had the deepest significance in Richard’s life. It can be summarized in a few words: “Christ manifested in the flesh.”
Struggling to be a “good Christian”
Richard grew up in a non-religious family. When he was a young medical student, he converted to Christianity. As a Christian, Richard believed in the forgiveness of sins that Christ had brought to mankind. His conversion gave him great happiness, and he sought to repay the love of Christ by being a “good Christian.” But soon he realized that no matter how hard he tried to practice God’s Word, he constantly fell short. Richard often “wept bitterly” like the apostle Peter did after denying Jesus (Matthew 26:75), and he felt dependent on Jesus’ forgiveness and comfort.
Things improved for a while when Richard made a radical break from worldly company and the pursuit of being “somebody” in the medical world. He decided that Jesus had to be Lord of his life, and began a new chapter of devotion to obeying God’s Word in a rural hospital. After a few months he met the young Christian nurse, Eileen, who was later to become his wife.
Christ manifested in the flesh: the liberating truth
One weekend during their engagement, Richard and Eileen were invited to visit a Christian family that Eileen had come to know through her midwifery training. Sitting in their living room, Richard noticed how the father spoke with goodness, love and understanding to his children, how the husband and wife supported each other in beautiful harmony. God’s Word was central to everything. Richard sensed his longing for such a life in his future marriage.
He also heard the phrase “Christ manifested in the flesh” for the first time that day. This understanding, a “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16) as written in the Bible but not commonly preached, had spread through the work of a navy officer, Johan Oscar Smith from Horten, Norway, in the early 1900s. With the efforts of like-minded Christians, this message had traveled to other countries in Europe. And now, in Taunton, England, Richard experienced how this revelation about Jesus’ life and work while on earth opened a new perspective in his life.
“Jesus didn’t come as a perfect man, as Adam before the fall. He actually came down to earth and was born with the fallen human nature, the same flesh and blood as us. (Hebrews 2:14) He was tempted like us in every way, but was the first one to overcome all sin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore He never sinned!” (Hebrews 2:18)
Richard felt like a great door was opened when he heard that Jesus had paved such a way for Christians to follow. (Hebrews 4:15) He thought of his own will and nature that had hindered him from being a “good Christian” all these years, and cried out with excitement, “Oh! That makes everything possible!”
In need of the Holy Spirit
Richard received faith that it was possible for him to overcome sin in the flesh just as Jesus did, but he experienced that putting this to practice did not come by default.
A few months after they were married, Richard was once again kneeling beside his bed, desperately praying to God for help. Praying next to him was his wife, Eileen. The young Christian couple had determined to have a perfect marriage just as it is written in the Bible, but they were surprised to find out how reality was quite different from what they expected, even though they were deeply in love with each other.
“In marriage, we found that we still have our own strong will. When my wife didn’t do what I thought she ought to be doing, I actually started to become bitter towards her. I was very sad about that. And my wife, she wanted to be a supportive wife, but how can you be submissive to such a stupid husband?” Richard laughs and sighs.
Richard and his wife prayed to God for help, “This is not the marriage we wanted!”
As they cried to God in their need, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they knew for sure the answer to their prayers had come. They couldn’t help praising God with an exceeding hope and joy. God would help them, and it would succeed! They knew that Jesus had made a way through the flesh and now He could strengthen them by His Spirit to go the same way and overcome all sin.
“You have to come to a point where you realize your total incompetence to live a victorious life in your own strength. So that all your confidence is in Jesus, and it is only through Him and the power of the Holy Spirit that you can get victory.” Richard says and continues with a big smile. “Otherwise, we could have become proud if we could obtain victory just through our own efforts.”
Victory by the power of the Holy Spirit
One particular morning, Richard learned an unforgettable lesson in this. Once again, his hot-tempered nature gained the upper hand, and he failed to respond in patience and meekness to his family. “I was actually so angry that I put my fist through the door! And I was deeply sorry. I prayed all morning, ‘God this has to be the last time, you have to give me victory over this temper!’”
Although it wasn’t the last time he was tempted to anger, Richard can testify that it was the last time he felt bound to give in to the temptations. He experienced how the Holy Spirit came to his aid when he could admit his own weakness. “The hatred against sin came into my heart, and the desire to be good and warm, to respond in meekness, became stronger. I received faith that it was the last time! I sensed the power from God – the enemy was on the run now!”
“With the power of the Holy Spirit, I never have to give in to the temptation again. I am no longer a slave of sin! (Romans 6:17-23) When you are obedient to the Word of God, it brings peace and joy and blessing!”
Not a well-received message
That must be a message all Christians would love to hear! However, when he shared with some of his Christian friends about “Christ manifested in the flesh” and the possibility to be perfect like Him, Richard discovered that not many people were interested at all. In fact, they turned against him.
“They got so angry! They said, ‘This is heresy; this is blasphemy! This is reducing Jesus to the level of us sinners!’”
Looking back now, Richard understands. “Satan does not want Christians to believe that Jesus overcame sin in a flesh like ours, because then we have no excuse as to why we can’t or won’t do the same. But if he can get people to believe in another Jesus, a Jesus who was somehow different from us, a Jesus who wasn’t tempted by actual lusts in His flesh as we are, a Jesus who wasn’t able to commit sin, then Satan is satisfied. Because people who believe in only the forgiveness of sins, and not victory over the root of sin, the lusts in the flesh, are still slaves of sin. Satan still has power over them.” (1 John 3:8)
Richard and his wife understood that they had to leave behind their old friends. Instead, they found fellowship with like-minded people, a fellowship which is built upon the unpopular teaching of “Christ manifested in the flesh.” He found brothers and sisters from all continents, varied backgrounds and life situations, yet they are all warriors in the same battle – the battle to be free from the sin that has bound all people since the days of Adam. This is a life that is well-pleasing to God, a life in which we learn to bless and give rather than demand our rights. A life of peace and harmony in all circumstances.
Is the price too high?
“God adds to His church those who allow themselves to be saved, and are willing to give up everything to be Jesus’ disciples. He knows who they are, and their desire to be saved from sin. He leads them to His church in many wonderful ways.” Richard has experienced this over the years. In all of the people who have entered this precious fellowship with Christ, Richard has observed one thing in common: they are tired of sin, and they long to please God and do His will.
“…by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Peter 1:4.
Richard is excited when he reads about God’s promises in the Bible. “Think that God actually wants us to live with such a nature; with all wisdom, all love, with Him for eternity!”
“Compared to that, what is it to become free from human relationships that would keep us back; what is it to give up honor and money, things in this world that we cannot keep? And what is it to deny our wretched nature, when we can be partakers of divine nature?” Richard smiles. It is his sincere desire that more people can find the way to such promises! And the key to start on this way, is to be willing to believe in the truth – “Christ manifested in the flesh”.