The Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"
“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

12 thoughts on “The Subnormal Christian Life

  1. Is this saying a christian will never sin once saved? Also can a saved christian sin and lose their salvation if they do? Do we all really sin each day despite being true christians? If this is so does the bible lie? It demands perfection. How can sin be perfect?

    1. Kathy, hi, and thanks for visiting!

      No, of course Christians sin once saved. If anyone wants to deny this, a simple test would be: “Have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength today? No? Okay then, you fall short.”

      The point of my blog is that those who walk in the Spirit will be able to live in righteousness, with sin unfortunately mixed in. But those who do not walk in the Spirit are doomed to total failure.

      Thanks for sharing, come back again! Gary

  2. Your post is particularly timely for me as I preached on Galatians 5:7-15 last week and will be preaching on 5:16-26 this week.

    Here is the conclusion (at least in my notes!) for last week’s sermon:

    This is the one thing I want you to make sure you bring home with you this evening. That is why I saved it for the very end of the sermon: You were not only set free from something and for something. You were set free from something and for Someone.

    If you take the Holy Spirit out of the equation the only options left are legalism or licentiousness. Apart from being born again and having a personal relationship with the Father and the Son through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – the natural way that we will try to maintain the illusion of order, beauty, and moral virtue is by building a new fence made out of either manmade rules or a misapplication of the Law of God.

    Jesus provides a better way. Through His life, death, and resurrection Jesus has set us free from the bondage of trying to vindicate ourselves before God on the basis of our own performance.

    But that isn’t all that Jesus has done. You have been set free not only from something but for something. Jesus and the Father have also sent the Holy Spirit to dwell with and in us to empower us to a new life where we can genuinely love our neighbors, not to earn God’s approval, but as our response to the grace that we have already received in Jesus Christ.

    That is why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 3:

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

    Good theology is not enough. The purpose of good theology is so that we would not merely know more about God but that we would know and love Him.

    So let us cultivate our relationship with the Triune God this week through prayer, praise, and listening to Him speak to us through His word.

    And let us remember, that it is “For freedom [that] Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Amen

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, David, I do appreciate this.

      May I add two thoughts?

      First, in Galatians, as you say, “legalism or licentiousness” are the two main options that Paul mentions. Nevertheless, I think what he means to say with the works of the flesh is that legalists will eventually and inevitably exhibit them even though they are trying to be empowered by Torah and other rules; they will become licentious. Gal 5:15 – “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Legalists bite and devour, that is they follow the traits of carnality found in v. 20 – “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.”

      Paul lumps together the mental and social behaviors of the legalist with those of the pagan – if you are envious and angry, then you are in the same category of those who commit the stereotypical Gentile sins of idolatry and fornication. Not only are you powerless, your fate is exclusion from the future kingdom.

      Second, although legalistic carnality and pagan carnality are the two options he mentions, I do not think these are the only flavors of carnality = dependence on self. As I touched on briefly, the self-help industry could be viewed as a religion of the flesh; as can that delicious label, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism; as can Ophrah Winfreyism. All to say that, while it is important to pay close attention to what Paul actually says in the text, it’s also the preacher’s job to ask, “Were Paul with me here today, would he spot other religions of the Self that did not exist in the historical context of Galatia?”

      Just a thought. Blessings, thanks for visiting! Gary

    1. I see, and thanks for sharing your concerns. I do agree that the church has fallen way behind in the area you mention.

      I don’t think that the US is the fulfillment of the prophecy against Babylon in Jer 50-51; rather, I interpret it to speak to Babylon, as the text indicates. And then there are secondary applications to other nations.

  3. Wow!, I’m here because I liked your other essays. I’ve counselled people, Christians in trouble, and the very last thing I want to tell Christians with problems is that they are sub-standard.

    Isn’t it the Holy Spirit’s Job to help a person rethink the direction they’re going in.

    And these days, especially in America but all over our world, (look at those middle-eastern and also African Christians, now suffering terribly and some dying for their faith,) some of them must be really hurting.

    And now my point: As I look around, it’s unusual for a Christian to grow up and not hurt, that’s the nature world we live in today.

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing, although I am not sure I understand your point at the end.

      I don’t think we just “leave it up to the Spirit” to communicate that people are going in the wrong direction. This is also part of what the Spirit calls preachers to do, and I assume most Christian counselors. Or why would Paul write Galatians, which I quoted, and in which he spends 6 chapters telling them how they are so wrong that they seem spell-bound by false teaching?

      I write here, not about people with “trouble” but about those who reconfigure the gospel to suit themselves. It would doing them no favor to fail to show them what the problem is.


      1. I guess I didn’t say what I wanted to say, at least not well at all.

        Their is a difference between people who hurt and are unsure whether they are Christians, (for example,) and typically, such people have few Christian friends and struggle enormously as Christians. This is common today among younger Christians.

        And, looking at America (especially today,) and at the world, this problem is going to get worse.

        I don’t have any solution. But I’d like it if our churches were more willing to accept the hurting, the handicapped, the poor.

        As to changing the gospel — anyone who even things this is. well, at the minimum they are likely to be spending some quality time with the Holy Spirit (why?, because he’s not big on punishment, though he’s really big on repentance and re-thinking things.)

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