I have lived a sinful lifestyle throughout the course of my life. I’ve been mean, arrogant, self-centered, selfish, and self-seeking. I’ve been sexually immoral. I’ve lied, cheated, and stolen. I’ve hurt others and hurt myself. Sadly, the things I’ve done are nothing compared to the wickedness I’ve conceived in my heart. I’ve put on a good show at times. I’ve successfully given an appearance of living a life more moral than others. The good I’ve attempted to do in my life, however, is nothing compared to the hurt I’ve caused myself and others because of my sinful ways. In all my sin, I have found no lasting joy. I’ve been loved by my family, been comforted by good friends, known the love of an amazing wife, become the proud father of three wonderful children, obtained titles, done honorable deeds, made money, and had, to some extent, what the world calls success. Despite all of that, some of which has been a true blessing from God and some of which has been vanity, there has been an emptiness on the inside of me. Those who’ve felt and acknowledged the same emptiness have tried to fill it with various things. Personally, I’ve tried to fill it, or perhaps more accurately, ignore it, with alcohol, sex, pornography, video games, gambling, movies, television, and seeking the approval of others. I’ve found it to be inescapable, however. Apart from Jesus, it cannot be extinguished, and though it can be ignored for a time, being replaced with much vanity, I have still sensed it the recesses of my soul. You’ll have to forgive the title I gave this post. Some will think it strange. Others will know what I’m talking about. For those that think it strange, you will find the rest of this post strange as well. I’ve written this mostly for the benefit of other Christians, to help them understand what the Bible says regarding what Jesus did for them at the cross. I hope that some of you, however, might also come, through this post, to see the hope that you have in Jesus. It’s about much more than Salvation from eternal punishment, although that is one aspect of it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified is also about Salvation from our sinful selves. It’s about our own death: the death of self. At the cross, there is deliverance not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the dominion of sin, which finds its expression in self-seeking, self-dependence, and self-glorification. That’s what this post is about. My testimony. The death of that old, sinful man. The death of Matt Peine. Fourteen years ago, in the midst of my sinful life, I found Jesus. That man who was once nothing but words on a page and a confession at the end of an empty sinner’s prayer came to live in my heart. Came to bear witness of His love for me. Came to testify of His death on the cross for my sins. Sins that separated me from God. Sins that prevented me from fulfilling the purpose for which I was created, which was to have a relationship with God. Fourteen years ago, Jesus came to fill that God-shaped vacuum in my heart that nothing in this world could ever fill. All my life, I knew of Jesus, even considered Him my Savior, but knew Him only as a man from history. Fourteen years ago, I came to know Him as the One who loved me, and gave Himself for me, that He might deliver me from this present evil world. I’m speaking of the day I was truly born again, which is what Jesus said must happen if one is to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3). This happened the day the knowledge in my head became faith in my heart resulting in an experiential encounter with a living Savior. According to the Bible, it was on that day that Jesus saved me. I was so immersed and absorbed into Jesus and into His death on that day that I could rightly say, “Matt Peine is crucified with Christ, nevertheless he lives. Yet not him, but Christ liveth in him.” (Gal 2:20). Matt Peine was united with Christ in His death, all his sins were nailed to the cross, all his evil affections and lusts were crucified, and Matt Peine was laid to rest in a tomb outside Jerusalem. When Jesus came out of the tomb, having risen from the dead, the old, sinful Matt Peine didn’t come out with Him. Instead, a brand new creation in Christ Jesus, raised up together with Him, created in the image of God in righteousness and true holiness, free from the penalty of sin, free from the law as an agent of condemnation, free from the evil desires of the old Matt Peine, possessing a nature like the nature of Christ Himself, rejoicing to obey God, to live for God, to love God, and to lay down his life for God and others, came out of that tomb. The death of Matt Peine, on the cross with Christ, was the Narrow Way through which I entered into newness of Life, the Life of Christ in me. My part in this was very little. I simply believed in my heart that I was a sinner separated from God and that Jesus loved me, and died on the cross for my sins. It was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ and His death on the cross alone. It was a free gift. That was in 2005. Those of you who knew me from 2005 to May 8th, 2016 would rightly take issue with such claims as I’ve made above. During that period, there was very little of Jesus to be seen in my life and a whole lot of the old, sinful Matt Peine. Even since May 8th, 2016, I cannot boast that Matt Peine has been extinguished from my walk before the world. Nor can I boast that Christ is perfectly on display. Far from it. I do believe, however, that I’ve learned how that sinful old man is put to death.
For the first 11 years of being a Christian, the old Matt Peine continued to rule and reign in my life. Some who I’ve known over the years might even be surprised to learn that I’ve been a Christian for so long. Those first 11 years were miserable. A vicious cycle of sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting, and at times, just drifting almost completely back into the world. Knowing almost nothing of true, biblical Christianity, I sought help in pseudo-Christianity. Psychology, fads, programs, religious activity, and empty wisdom of men. The idols of the modern church. Salvation for man, by man, and through man. Using the Bible, speaking of God and Jesus, naming the cross, but always ultimately pointing you to self. YOU do it. YOU change your ways. YOU work harder. YOU want it more. God will help you, they say, but only upon X,Y, and Z conditions, that depend entirely on YOU, being fulfilled successfully. Personally, the “word of faith” doctrine was the form of pseudo-Christianity I spent most of my time trying to make work. I also tried good, old-fashioned spiritual disciplines, which, in and of themselves, or used for the wrong purpose, offer a form of Christianity just as empty and powerless as the nonsense “word of faith” doctrine. Meanwhile, God was implementing a plan to bring me, and many others like me, back to the victory Jesus won for us at Calvary. Back before I was even born-again, a man named Jimmy Swaggart had a testimony much like mine in at least one way: he was a Christian struggling with sin. My friends and family saw my sin on display. The whole world saw Jimmy Swaggart’s sin on display. Long before I was ever crying out to God for help, Brother Swaggart started having three prayer meetings a day at his church. Night and day he would seek God, asking Him to show him the solution to his problem. After much prayer and much study, years if I’m not mistaken, Brother Swaggart says God spoke this to his heart: “The answer for which you seek is found in the cross. The solution for which you seek is found in the cross. The answer for which you seek is found only in the cross.” In asking where the Holy Spirit comes into play, Brother Swaggart says that God, I believe years after He told him the answer was in the cross, spoke this to his heart: “The Holy Spirit works exclusively within the parameters of the finished work of the cross.” As he tells it, that was spoken to him back in 1997. Since then, he has been proclaiming that message to all who will hear. God has revived his defamed ministry and given him a 24/7 network, Sonlife Broadcasting Network, to proclaim to billions all over the world that the answer to the problem of the old man, or the sin nature, is only the cross of Christ, as it is only through faith in the cross of Christ that the Holy Spirit can operate in the believer’s life to bring about victory.
In 2001, my current pastor, Mike Chorey, was a struggling Christian as well. Depressed, discouraged, and contemplating quitting the ministry, he was flipping through the channels and came across SBN. Listening to Brother Swaggart preach, he says he felt the Holy Spirit speak to his heart and tell him to go down to a Campmeeting in Baton Rouge hosted by Jimmy Swaggart Ministries because there was something he needed to learn from Brother Swaggart. He went, and I don’t remember how long it took him altogether, but his testimony is that it was through Jimmy Swaggart Ministries that God showed him there was victory in the cross, if we will just look to the cross alone. Fast forward 15 years to May 8th, 2016. I’m sitting in Pastor Mike Chorey’s church, in a hotel conference room, for a Sunday morning service. I had been going to the church for only a couple months. My faith was hanging on by a thread. I was miserable. I was weary. I was tired of living the way I was living. Tired of bringing shame to the name of Jesus. Tired of living a defeated Christian life. Tired of being dominated by the old Matt Peine. I won’t tell it all here, as I’ve told it all before, but Pastor Mike called me back to that old, rugged cross where Matt Peine died. Told me how to take it up daily so that I could experience the death of Matt Peine daily. Told me how to walk in newness of life just as I received it, which was by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified alone. That day, I went up to an altar with tears running down my face and determined to never again seek victory anywhere except in my Savior and what He did on the cross to save me. I determined that I would never again seek any other answer or any other solution, save the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ, by whom I was crucified unto the old Matt Peine, and the old Matt Peine unto me. Since that day, I have been walking in ever-increasing victory over the old Matt Peine. I’ve learned that his existence, along with the existence of his evil desires, will not be extinguished from my presence until the trump sounds and Jesus returns. I’ve also learned, however, that he was utterly defeated by Jesus when he was crucified with Jesus. The wages of his sin, which is separation from God, have been paid, and I was delivered from the dominion and rule of his evil desires. Now, as I take up my cross daily, something I didn’t know how to do for the first 11 years of being a Christian, I can experience the benefit of the cross, the death of Matt Peine, daily. How do I do it? I reckon myself dead to all that is Matt Peine, daily. Dead to the condemnation he accrued under the law, dead to his will, dead to his need for the approval of others, dead to his vain, self-glorifying religion, and dead to his evil affections and lusts. How do I reckon it? Through my great efforts or willpower? No. I reckon it through Christ, the One who Matt Peine was crucified with. I reckon it through the death of Matt Peine that occurred at Calvary. I BELIEVE that what Jesus did to deliver me back in 2005, crucifying the old Matt Peine for me, is SUFFICIENT to provide me with all that is needed to live dead to Matt Peine, but alive to God, today. Whenever the Holy Spirit shows me something about Matt Peine that I’m not living dead to, which He will be showing me until the trump sounds, I take it to the cross. In other words, I begin reckoning myself dead to it through Christ, not as a passive thought, but as an active faith through which I know that I need not obey the behests of the old man that pull me in that direction. This might sound like some empty mental exercise, but I can tell you for sure, it’s nothing short of miraculous. After eleven years of utter failure followed by three years of success, I can testify that what Jimmy Swaggart says God told him back in 1997 is true: the answer to crucifying and living dead to the sinful desires of the old Matt Peine is only in the cross. The day that I don’t take up my cross (the death of Matt Peine that occurred when he was crucified with Christ), is the day the dominion, reign, and rule of the old Matt Peine regains a foothold in my life. As well, when the Holy Spirit shows me areas in my walk where I’m not living dead to the old man, the only place I can go to experience freedom from those old desires is the cross upon which I first died to them. It’s not my efforts. It’s not my willpower. It’s not the words I speak. It’s faith in what my Savior did to crucify the old man, through which grace, one aspect of which is the help of the Holy Spirit, works in my life to give me experiential victory over the old man. I’m being made conformable unto the death of Jesus, which was also the death of Matt Peine, that it might be Christ, and not Matt Peine, that is put on display for the world to see. That means that by grace through faith exhibited in the sufficiency of the cross as the only means of providing both positional and experiential freedom from Matt Peine, I am putting off that selfish old sinner and being conformed into the image of the One who lives to love God and love others. I must decrease. He must increase. Contemplating the death of self, in all asepects including self-improvement and self-dependence, will cause the old man to rise up in you and cry out. The old man doesn’t want to experience daily the death that occurred once for all at Calvary. “You can have this and that, it will whisper, but not that.” It will also try to deceive you. Self loves to believe it can defeat self because such victory glorifies self. “Look what I did to improve this about myself,” it says. Meanwhile, it refuses to touch those other areas the Holy Spirit wants crucified. Not to mention that self-improvement only ever deals with symptoms, as self is completely unable to deal with the root issue, which is self, and only the cross is capable of crucifying self. I assure you, however, the death of Matt Peine I’ve been experiencing progressively as I look daily to the death of Matt Peine that occurred once for all time at Calvary, is triumphant victory and glorious liberty. There is love, joy, and peace to be experienced walking in Christ. Walking in the ways of Matt Peine brings only misery, pain, and emptiness, not to be taken away (only covered) by temporal pleasures. When Matt Peine gets what Matt Peine wants, destruction, death, and depression are always the ultimate result. When God gets what God wants, however, which is the death of Matt Peine and his ways leading to a manifestation of the Life of Christ and His ways, the result is joy unspeakable and full of glory. That’s why I’m pressing, my friends. Pressing to apprehend the death of all that is Matt Peine that I might experience the Life of Christ in me: the hope of glory. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 “And He said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lost himself, or be cast away?” Luke 9:23-25 Scripture references: Matthew 7:14, Luke 9:23-27, Rom 6:3-11, Gal 2:19-20, 5:24-25, 6:14, Col 2:6-15, Phi 3:3-16