A few months ago, through mutual friends and/or Facebook, I had the privilege of meeting Bill Giovanetti, Senior Pastor of Neighborhood Church in Northern California. I began reading his blog and then I had the privilege of reviewing his book, How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World. I found it to be a powerful book on the inner life of a Christian, one of the best I have read in a long time. Bill really gets it when it comes to the two natures, sin in the life of a believer, and the crippling effect of religious legalism.
Bill and I have chatted via email and Facebook since I’ve read his book and I discovered that his ministry roots originate here in the Chicago area.
1) I found Inner Mess to be one of the most thorough works on the inner life I have read in some time. You honestly laid out there what the struggles of a Christian look like. How long was this book forming in your mind?
The Inner Mess book began over 10 years ago, after I first preached a series on it. My church in Chicago responded so enthusiastically, I realized I’d struck a chord. I was speaking about real-life struggles in a deeply biblical way. I also realized that the church has largely gotten away from teaching on the inner life. There used to be steady stream of books on “victorious Christian living” and “the exchanged life” and “the walk of faith.” But that stream has dried up. Maybe it’s our generation’s preoccupation with doing stuff and being practical. I’m not sure. But I do know that followers of Jesus cannot experience his life flowing through us unless we know how to deal with our flesh (our Inner Mess), and how to walk in faith.
When I first started writing, I was clueless. My best friends told me it was boring. I was so crushed, I didn’t touch it for years. An author friend dragged me to a writer’s conference and taught me how to make it engaging and funny. So the Inner Mess was a book over a decade in the making. God used that delay to teach me more about the life of faith, and to deepen my understanding of how the “dark side” called the flesh works within our personalities.
2) Why do you think there is so much confusion out there on the teaching of the old/new natures?
Confusion in the church always stems from lack of clarity in the pulpits. Too many of us pastors have not worked through a systematic answer to the question: How to people change and become like Christ? Instead of helping people change from the inside out, we tell them what changes to make on the outside. That’s fine, and I’m all for practical preaching. But when we keep giving our people the practices of the Christian life, without instructing them in the supernatural resources that fuel those practices, haven’t we become legalists? Whenever we decouple the duties of a Christian from the supernatural power of Christ in us, we wind up whipping people into obedience through duty, guilt, and shame.
These three horsemen of doom rile up our flesh. Instead of walking in the Spirit, we’re trying to live Christianly in the power of the flesh. It doesn’t work. Jesus, in his earthly life, drew on the power of the Father and the Spirit; we need to do the same. We need preachers to explain how this works, and exactly what the Bible says. Every new generation needs to understand HOW to activate the life of Christ within us; HOW to walk in the Spirit; and how to rise above the dictates of the flesh. That’s why I wrote the book.
When they hear the word “flesh” most Christians think, “sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll.” But the flesh is so much deeper and more pervasive. We need to think of self-righteousness, self-centeredness, gossip, shame, self-hatred, shallowness, the love of money, and all the stuff that sabotages our relationships and makes God feel a million miles away. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and materialism” and Paul said, “If you are in the flesh, you cannot please God.” They didn’t say it was hard; they said it was impossible. Yet millions of sincere, but uninformed, Christ-followers scurry out every day to do the impossible by human power alone. Yikes! We need a revival of teaching on the Inner Life.
3) One of the things that struck me was the way you said, towards the end of the book, that our biggest struggle every day is not with sin, but with unbelief. I had never thought of it that way. Explain why this is true.
You cannot fight sin and win. But Christ can. He is in you to do exactly that. He indwells you and lives in you that he might reproduce his character within your life… That he might add color to your personality, and make you the most awesome you imaginable. Your primary challenge becomes, not to wrestle down the sin that so easily tempts you, but to unleash the power of Christ within you. That is a struggle of faith.
Faith itself is a great struggle. It is not simply a passive nod to an abstract truth. It is, rather, a profound YES to the person of Christ who, by his Spirit, indwells you. You have to “sic him” on the temptation. Not you alone, but you plus Christ. Christ becomes at home in your heart by faith. We walk by faith. When you face a big temptation — say sexually or morally — in that moment, your crying need is to believe that Jesus will be who he said he would be in you. To trust him enough to act as if his Word is true, and then to behave accordingly. Your enemy isn’t as much the sin, it’s the unbelief that will result in you caving in to the sin.
If you set yourself to fight sin, you’re going to lose. You are, in essence, fighting the flesh by the power of the flesh — a losing plan for sure. Only the Spirit of Christ can overcome sin. By faith, you must keep letting Christ be Christ in you. That’s the fight of faith. That’s why faith IS the victory.
Our job is faith, especially in temptation. God’s job is outcomes.
4) You grew up around some prominent evangelicals, like Dr. Lance Latham with Awana and Northside Gospel Center. Also it seems Dr. Erwin Lutzer of Moody Church has had in influence. What did these guys do for your theology and your ministry?
I entered full time ministry in 1979 as the children’s pastor at the birthplace of Awana. The people who started Awana were still there and I learned a lot from them. Lance Latham taught me the gospel of grace. I once asked him how so many friends of mine said they believed in Jesus, but I knew they weren’t saved. He clarified it for me. He said, “Bill, where is there hope for eternity?” That crystallized the gospel for me. It was Lance and Virginia (his wife) who planted the seed of church planting in my mind. I was driving them to O’Hare airport and we somehow got on the subject, and Virginia said that planting a church was so much easier, because “You avoid a lot of conflict.” Windy City Community Church grew out of that conversation — the wonderful church I planted and pastored for 16 years. Basically, whatever Scripture I know today, I learned as an Awana kid. I cut my ministry teeth at the North Side Gospel Center and am forever grateful for those people. The gospel of grace became by bread and butter.
Erwin Lutzer and I, along with Ed Peecher, led a prayer ministry for pastors in Chicago together. That was a highlight for me. Erwin is an amazing Bible teacher, and an encourager. He taught me that a pastor can go deep into the Word and broad into the world at the same time.
These influencers, and others, firmly embedded GRACE at the core of my theology. Want to know what I feel about legalism? Hatred. Pure hatred. I can’t stand it, and the slightest hint of it sets off all kinds of alarms inside me. Either we live by grace through faith, by the power of Christ himself, or we’re just faking it. Even worse, we beat people down by erecting a standard no unaided human can achieve. We need the good news of grace, not the bad news of human effort, legalism, duty, and trying to please people instead of Christ.
5) You pastored in Chicago and now you pastor in California. What’s the difference and do you miss Lou Malnati’s deep dish and Portillos Italian Beef?
Next to moving away from a lifetime and family and friends, I miss Chicago food the most. The upside is that Lou Malnati’s and Portillo’s both ship their food all over the US! So even Californians can indulge. We usually have a Lou Malnati’s pizza in the freezer for an emergency. They make great gifts too, and you can send me a package care of my church!