Your Basic Problem… According to Major Ian Thomas

Chapter 5 from
It Takes God to Be a Man: The Spiritual Theology of Major Ian Thomas (forthcoming).

Sometimes you have no choice but to amputate.

Of course, that’s never the first choice or the ideal choice. Amputation is always a last resort, something chosen only after trying every other option. And yet, sometimes there’s nothing left to do with a diseased limb or organ.

When the nerves die.

The soft tissue rots away.

The tumor spreads.

The organs fail.

And the doctors warn you there’s no curing it, healing it, or patching it up, you have to cut out the dead organ and replace it with a living one.

But some patients won’t let go.

They refuse to face the facts and insist against all the evidence that more can be done to save the organ.

They convince themselves there’s still a chance, that it’s all a mistake, and that they can get better, or at least get by, just the way they are.

So, the patient limps out of the hospital in complete denial about their real condition.

And they get worse, not better.

Something similar can happen in the Christian life.

The Flesh

In an earlier chapter, we saw that Major Ian Thomas believed man was trichotomous, having three parts: body, soul, and spirit.

That’s what makes us different from the animals—man and beast both have bodies and souls, but only man has a spirit. And when you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you become born again in  your human spirit:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

But even born again believers still have what Jesus and Paul call the flesh.

The flesh is the unregenerate part of you. It’s the inclination to sin that’s perpetually wars against the regenerate part of you.

The flesh is like a diseased organ.

There’s no saving it.

No hope for it.

You can’t fix it or repair it or keep it going with a heavy dose of antibiotics.

You have to amputate (so to speak).

And yet, many believers refuse. They’re in denial about it. They not only fail to recognize how bad the situation is, but insist on serving God on the basis their flesh!

I knew a man who suffered a dull ache in his arm for several months, but ignored it. Then one day he was leaning against a fence when his arm snapped in two.


A tumor had eaten away at his bone until it finally broke under the slightest pressure.

Can you imagine someone with bone cancer, competing in powerlifting?

Can you imagine someone with COPD, running a marathon?

Can you imagine someone with Parkinson’s doing fine calligraphy?

Can imagine a born-again Christian serving God on the strength of his flesh?


Major Ian Thomas knew how futile that was because he had tried to live that way, too.

He explained that his early years as a Christian were filled with evangelistic activity—from preaching in the slums of East End London to being the leader of the local Inter-Varsity Fellowship (a position this author has also held!). But all these activities were almost wholly ineffectual.

“The more I did, the less happened,” he explained. This fruitless activity went on for seven years and led to his depression. “Thus by the age of nineteen, I had been reduced to a state of complete exhaustion spiritually, until I felt there was no point in going on” (They Found the Secret, p. 169).

What went wrong?

Young Thomas tried to serve the Lord out of the strength of his fleshly nature.

And he failed.


And burned out.

Do you sympathize?

Do you feel like you’re busy—but busy doing nothing? That you’re ineffectual?

One night Thomas prayed to the Lord and confessed that he was “finished.” Done. He couldn’t go on. Not like before. He wanted to serve God and wanted to live the Christian life but desperately needed to know how to do it. Then, in a flash, he got an answer from God:

“You see, for seven years, with utmost sincerity, you have been trying to live for Me, on My behalf, the life that I have been waiting for seven years to live through you…You have been busy trying to do for Me all that only I can do through you” (They Found the Secret, p. 170).

What does that mean?

Thomas explained it in his book, The Saving Life of Christ. There he described what it meant to live, not from the flesh, but from Christ:

“The One who calls you is the One who does that to which He calls you” (The Saving Life, p. 13).

“The One who calls you to a life of righteousness is the One who by your consent lives that life of righteousness through you!” (The Saving Life, p. 15).

“If you will but trust Christ, not only for the death He died in order to redeem you, but also for the life that He lives and waits to live through you, the very next step you take will be a step taken in the very energy and power of God Himself” (The Saving Life, pp. 15-16).

There’s much more to be said about it, but for now, that gives you a summary.

Thomas had a choice to make that night: he could keep trying to live out of the resources of his old life, or he could live with Jesus as his new life.

So, Thomas began to live out of Jesus’ resources, and his life was dramatically changed.

A New Calling

The Major also found his life’s calling.

Some people are called by God to become evangelists, telling unbelievers how to be born again. But what comes next? Who’s there to teach new believers what it means to live for Christ? They need to hear the good news that Jesus not only saved them by His death, but also saves them by His life, by living through them.

That became Thomas’s ministry. He devoted the rest of his life to teaching Christians those truths about the Christian life.

But what, exactly does it mean for Christ to be your life? It is a wonderful goal—but how do you reach it? How do you go from what you are now to what God wants you to be? If you’re doing something wrong now, how do you change, and begin to do what God wants you to do?

Shawn Lazar is the Editor of Grace in Focus Magazine and co-host of Grace in Focus Radio. He received a BTh at McGill University, an MA from the Free University, Amsterdam, and is currently pursuing a DPT at McMaster Divinity College. He has written three books—Beyond Doubt: How to Be Sure of Your Salvation; Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life; and One-Point Preaching: A Law and Gospel Model.


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