Is it true that “Life is what you make it”?

“This life only comes round only once, son, and we only get one shot at it, so give it all you’ve got, because life is what you make it.”

But what’s the most that anyone can make of this life? Suppose we grew up in a perfect home full of fun and healthy food, with dozens of friends and the finest schools, and enough money to develop every talent we’ve got, followed by a lucrative career, happy marriage, successful kids, exotic vacations, and we even became famous because of our exploits and community service. In other words we led an ideal life in today’s terms, and we made the most of it.

And what happens? We end up in a box surrounded by grieving people. None of what we accomplished, accumulated and crafted to live this life to the full goes with us. Others may benefit from what we accomplished and did for people – and our legacy may remain for centuries – but when we die it’s all over for us personally. The enjoyment, the challenges, the friendships, all our success stories and memories – all come to an end.

So “Life is what you make it,” eh? Seems like a poor investment of time and energy when it all fizzles out in the end. Would I buy a house with my life-savings if I knew in thirty years time it would self-destruct into a pile of useless rubble, and I’m on the street with nothing? So why invest my best efforts in a life that doesn’t last?

“Well,” comes the reply, “what else are we supposed to do? While we’re here we might as well make the most of it.” And I couldn’t agree more. We’ve got this amazing miracle throbbing away in our bodies called life, so wouldn’t it be worth everything we’ve got trying to figure out how we got it – and why?

Which, to me, is where Jesus comes in. If anyone knows what to make of life, he does, because he made human life in the first place, and then he lived it himself. He was the first to make of human life what could be made of it. He not only lived life as God meant it to be lived, he also lived a life that lasted beyond death, neither of which ANY other human has been capable of doing. That’s why Jesus came as a human to live what we couldn’t, and now lives what we can’t in us. My life now, therefore, can become what Jesus made of life, which is exactly what God gave us life for, to share in Christ’s life as he lives it.

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“The life you see me living is not mine”

Colossians 3:4 says Christ is our life. And fortunately for us he’s willing to be that for us, because he was the only human being who lived life the way it was meant to be lived. None of the rest of us even come close. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), meaning God designed a glorious, wonderful life for us, but we totally blew it.

So what God did for us was send his Son in human form to live that glorious human life himself. He lived the “glory of God” life we could have lived, but didn’t. Then, after Jesus returned to his Father, they sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to unite us with the resurrected human Christ so he could live the human life he’d just lived – all over again – in us. His human life could then become our human life. It would take time, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, but that was the plan, that “our lives (would) gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” (The Message).

It meant, however, destroying the pathetic substitute of human life that we’d created by our efforts. That’s why Jesus united us with his death, first of all – to kill off that old life we lived, that fell so abysmally short of what it could’ve been. He crucified that useless existence for all humanity on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:14) so we can start afresh – this time with Christ living his gloriously perfect human life in us instead.

When Paul cottoned on to this, it did wonders for him, because in his words “(I’d been) working my head off to please God,” thinking it was totally up to him to live life as God meant it to be, Galatians 2:19. But he knew in his heart of hearts – and through bitter experience too – that it wasn’t working, because he too was “falling short.” Despite his best religious efforts, he could never get control of all his thoughts. He was determined to succeed, but, as the old saying goes, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

What a relief for Paul, then, to discover he didn’t have to sweat buckets trying to live the way God designed him to live. Instead, the resurrected Christ was more than willing to live it in him, verse 20. And after going that route for a few years Paul was then able to make a remarkable announcement, that “The life you see me living is not mine,” meaning HE wasn’t the engine driving his life anymore, Christ was.

How do we know God will raise us from the dead?

God’s speciality is raising dead people, like Lazarus, Dorcas, and those who came out of their graves after Christ died. We’ve also got Colossians 3:1 that says we’ve ALL been raised with Christ, and Ephesians 2:5-6 that we’ve all been made alive in Christ and we live in the heavenly realms already.

So God loves raising dead people, which is good to know because “We were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5, we lived in “bodies of death,” Romans 7:24, we were “dead because of sin,” Romans 8:10, and we were totally under the power of “the law of sin and death,” Romans 8:2.

But to those who accept this is the awful state they’re in, there’s hope. How? In Jesus Christ, because “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection,” Romans 6:5. To accept that Jesus took us all with him to his death to free us from the law of sin and death (verses 6-7) is to realize he took us all with him in his resurrection too. And what happens then? Verse 11 – “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead raises us from the completely dead state we are in too.

So it’s great being dead, because raising people from the dead is God’s speciality. He loves it when we’ve finally reached the stage “we despaired even of life” and “felt the sentence of death,” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, because we’re at the point (at last) we can experience something truly extraordinary – mentioned in the last part of verse 9 – “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” When we’re at the end of our rope and we cry out to God for help, that’s when we experience God himself lifting us out of our despair and hopelessness. And after we experience that a few times, it dawns on us that this is how God works. This is his speciality. This is what he’s brilliant at. And this is what he loves doing any chance he gets.

Paul gained so much confidence from God rescuing him from his pits of death that he knew in the future “he will deliver us” too, verse 10. But that’s what this life is for, it’s to experience the proof again and again that God raises the dead, so that there’s no doubt in our minds that when we die our final death, he’ll raise us from that death too.

Is Jesus alive right now?

Jesus had better be alive right now because “he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies,” Romans 8:11. God raising Christ is the proof he’ll raise us. It’s also vital that Jesus is alive because HE’s the one who resurrects us, John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” Jesus being alive is both the proof and the source of our being raised from the dead.

And if he ISN’T alive? Well, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” and in verses 14, 15 and 19, “our preaching is useless,” we’re “false witnesses about God” for saying he “raised Christ from the dead,” and “we are to be pitied more than all men,” because we put all our hope and trust in Christ for nothing.

It’s critical to both our credibility and belief, therefore, that Christ is alive, but how do we prove he’s alive? Well, Paul continues, it’s easy to prove that God “did NOT raise Jesus,” verse 15 – the proof being? “IF IN FACT THE DEAD ARE NOT RAISED,” verse 15. We’ve got no evidence at all that Jesus was raised from the dead if people aren’t being raised from the dead, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either,” verse 16.

So where’s the evidence that dead people are being raised?

Look no further than our own experience, Paul says, because “you were dead,” Ephesians 2:1. Remember what our lives were like before we became Christians? Our lives were utterly useless – we simply “followed the ways of this world” and the “spirit” that ruled the culture, verse 2, merely “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” verse 3. We were dead fish floating downstream with all the other dead fish, living for ourselves in a useless, dead existence, and at death we disappeared, as though we’d never existed at all.

“But,” verse 4, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” God raised us up out of that dead existence to a life of “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” There’s our proof that God is raising people from the dead: He’s raising human beings from a dead existence to a completely new life. And it also proves Jesus is alive too, because it’s only being “alive in Christ” that made it possible.

“Pray in the Spirit”? – What does that mean?

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul wrote, “Pray at all times in the Spirit,” which, by his own definition in Romans 8:5 means “in accordance with the Spirit,” which in turn means having “our minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

To pray in the Spirit, according to Paul then, means, “praying with our minds tuned to the Spirit’s desires.” And we can do that because the Spirit is constantly communicating with our minds the things that God wants us to know, think and live by, verse 16. To have the Spirit of God living in us means a steady trickle of God’s mind and heart seeping into our minds and hearts, so that what God finds when “he searches our hearts” is “the mind of the Spirit,” verse 27. And if at times we’re not in tune with the mind and desires of the Spirit “the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” verse 26, by reaching down into our inner being and tuning our thoughts to his.

That’s why Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16 that God would “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” because the Spirit can get right down to what makes us tick, to the engine that drives us, to the “real us” – much of which we probably have no idea exists. No wonder we have trouble praying and need the Spirit’s help, because it’s only by the Spirit that all those hidden thoughts and yearnings tucked away in the depths of our inner being can be brought to the surface.

A large part of praying in the Spirit, then, is simply realizing what the Spirit is up to in our inner being. The Spirit is gradually transforming us into the likeness of Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18, which, Paul tells us, involves the Spirit doing a lot of digging away inside us “putting to death the misdeeds of our bodies,” Romans 8:13, much like getting at the guts of a seized engine and clearing out all the gunk to get it running smoothly again.

Jude picks up on that thought too, in Jude 20. He contrasts those with the Spirit to those who “follow their own ungodly desires and natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit,” verses 18-19 . Those without the Spirit are still clogged up like a seized motor by the accumulated gunk of acting purely on instinct and wrong desires.

But those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” Romans 8:23, are having the core of their inner being steadily cleaned up by the Spirit, so that our prayers to God and our relationships with each other are running ever more smoothly “in accordance with the Spirit,” and in tune with “what the Spirit desires.”

How can good people do terrible things?

After a ghastly shooting the shooter’s mother or friends will often say, “But he was such a good person.” They sound genuinely surprised that he was capable of such horror, because in other ways he wasn’t a bad person at all. He cared for animals, got on well with older people, and he was generous to his friends. 

So here’s a good person doing horrible things. How is that possible? Paul explains in Romans 7:21, and from his own experience too, that “I find this law at work. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” And the more he tried to do good, the worse it got too. He eventually concluded that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (18).

So, what was his problem? It was what he called his “sinful nature.” It was so powerful it wouldn’t let him do the good he so desperately wanted to do, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work…waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin.” (23). Even when he wanted to do something as good as keeping God’s law, he still couldn’t do it.

And what is our experience as humanity in general? Well, for those who want to be good people and want this Earth to be a happy, peaceful place, it must be terribly disappointing, because for all our desire and effort to do good, multiple millions of people are still suffering from acute poverty, endless wars and terrible diseases. The facts speak for themselves, that our experience today is exactly the same as Paul’s. In our inner beings we’d love to make this world a better place for everyone, but we still can’t do it. At our heart and core we want to do good and be good people, but we’re stuck with a nature that makes us do horrible things too. 

The answer Paul gives, then, to “How can good people do terrible things?” is that our desire to do good is constantly being “weakened by the sinful nature,” Romans 8:3. And there’s only one way, according to Paul, for dealing with that, and that’s having the Spirit of God living in us (9). That, and that alone, is the source of “life and peace,” verse 6. We need a another nature in us warring constantly against the evil we’re so easily capable of too, so that, verse 9, we “are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” 

Do we all have a spirit, non-Christians included?

All humans beings have a spirit, but while we were “dead in our transgressions and sins,” Ephesians 2:1, that spirit lay dormant. And while it remained dormant, our sinful minds continued on their merry way being “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7) and not the least bit interested in God or in anything he had to say. Our minds were tuned to “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” verse 2. As such we were totally taken up with “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” verse 3.

That all changed dramatically, however, when “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” verses 4-5. When Christ died and rose back to life again, all us humans who were stuck in our dormant state were brought to life with Christ. Our spirits that were totally under the control of the spirit ruler of our world were released to have a chance at experiencing life as it’s supposed to be. That condition now exists for all human beings, non-Christans included, which is exactly the good news that Christians want everyone to hear.

God isn’t exclusive, he wants all of us to be saved from the dead empty life of simply gratifying our selfish desires, and he sent the Spirit to enable that to happen (Galatians 5:16, 24). And how the Spirit does it is remarkable, Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit himself testifies with OUR SPIRIT that we are God’s children.” Suddenly, we come alive to the fact that God isn’t some distant ogre, he’s actually our Father who loves us dearly (Galatians 4:6), and it’s the Spirit in connection with our spirit that does that. We always had that spirit in us, but it’s not until “the Spirit of God lives in you,” verse 9, that our spirit clues in that we have a Father and son relationship with God, just like Jesus has with the Father (John 17:26).

When “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,” verse 11, that’s when our spirit comes alive, verse 10, and it comes alive in a most noticeable way. Where before we couldn’t care less about God or see any value in what he had to say, we now welcome him as our Father and look to him to take care of our every need. We literally “live to God,” Romans 6:10, rather than living to gratify self.

And in every human being this spirit exists, just waiting to be brought alive by the Spirit of Christ.