A great many people make the mistake of trying to live the life before they receive the life. The hardest thing I know is to try to live the Christian life when you do not have it to live. There must be a Christian life first before you can exemplify and manifest it. To try to live a Christian life when you have never been born again is just as hopeless as for a chimpanzee to try and live a human life. I have seen some chimpanzees that could copy things people do in a remarkable way. At a zoo in Philadelphia, they once said to me, “Come along and see a couple of your ancestors.” I went along; there were two trained chimpanzees who had learned to mimic human beings to a remarkable degree. They wore clothes, sat at a table, ate, and drank, and in a clumsy way handled a knife and fork. When they got all through, they settled back and put cigarettes in their mouths, and a keeper lit them, and they looked to me exactly like a lot of our own people do when smoking cigarettes. I never was in such difficulty in assuring myself that there is no truth in evolution. But although those chimps could do all those things, they did not know anything about real human life. They did not know anything of the principles controlling men and women. They were simply imitators. Many people imitate Christians and try to behave like them. They do not know anything of the power of the Christian life. They have never been born again.
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Some people are seeking holiness of life when they need to be born again. They have joined the church; they have observed certain ordinances. They hear people talk of a deeper, more wonderful life, and they say, “That is what I want. I must go on and get into this richer, more blessed life.” They try and try, and never get anywhere, because they have never begun right. They did not get in by the wicket gate. You remember in Bunyan’s immortal allegory how Christian is going along a road, and a couple of fellows come jumping over the wall. “Who are you, and where do you come from,” he asked.
“We come from the town of Carnal Security,” they say to him. “We are going to the Celestial City.”
“Well, you didn’t get in where I did,” says Christian in surprise, “I got in at the wicket gate.”
“Oh, that is the old-fashioned way,” they reply, “we have a short cut over the wall. After we are over the wall, what difference does it make? You are in the way, and we are in the way, and we are all headed for the same place. You’ll see we will come out just as well as you.”
But they didn’t have the seal on their forehead. They had never been to the Cross; they did not have the robe of righteousness. You remember one fell over the cliff, and the other was lost in the forest. They never made their way to the Celestial City.
A lot of people get over the wall and not in by the wicket gate; never born again, they go striving for holiness, purity, and higher life, but it will be all in vain until they confess their sins in the presence of God and trust the Savior for themselves. They must give up all hope of righteousness in themselves, of being able to do anything to retrieve their condition, casting themselves wholly on Divine mercy. Then they are in the way and can grow in grace.
(Excerpt from Changed By Beholding)