Deep union that brings vitality


Here’s a question: Was A. B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, possessed?

I think he was. Even a casual reading of his life or books can lead to no other conclusion. A. B. Simpson was possessed and was not ashamed to admit it. More than that, he said that being possessed transformed his life and his ministry. He even went so far as to say that being possessed was the only way anyone would experience the deeper life we Christians often talk about.

Consider these words from his 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.”[1]

In a performance-driven, strive-to-achieve culture, these words are amazing, relevant and full of hope for every frustrated believer who has been worn out trying in vain to attain spiritual depth through personal effort. Simpson believed that you have to be possessed—Christ possessed—to live the Christian life. Why? Because 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 sanctify a person into the likeness of Christ. What we need is transformation, not strategies for self-improvement. We all need something to change, deep inside, a transforming transaction at the very core of our being. Christians who have walked through a season of brokenness know this to be true. When believers finally come to the end of their rope, they seem to not only meet Jesus in a new way but also to 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 Simpson reached 40 years of age, 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, something 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: “It is glorious to lose ourselves and rise again in new life in Christ.”[2]

And rise again in new life in Christ Simpson did. The second half of his life was amazing; he founded a movement and a training institute and wrote a 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.

The disciples were possessed like that. They grew to love Christ during their three years with Him. But after Pentecost, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, their relationship with Jesus went to a new level. They became Christ possessed. The Book of Acts is 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 (1 Cor. 4:10). That is why he wrote: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20); “to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21); and “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 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 meaning 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.[3]

Come, Holy Spirit!

1 A. B. Simpson, The Christ Life. Christian Publications, Inc. 1980

2 Ibid, p. 27

3 A. B. Simpson, The Holy Spirit, or Power from on High, Vol. 2, Christian Publications, Inc.

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