Is Being a Christian Enough?
Is Being a Christian Enough?
Perhaps I should consider my actions.
Tom Watson’s business was successful and growing. He did not mind hard work and expected the same from his employees. He had no patience with laziness and did not hesitate to reprimand an employee who was not producing enough. And Tom was a Christian.
He was active in his church and brought the same zeal to his responsibilities there as he did to his job and business. But many times he felt his way of doing things was resented by other Christians. Often sermons seemed to speak against his actions while they appeared to praise the results his actions produced. Tom was forced to admit to himself that though he could defend his actions as being right, sometimes he did not feel pleased about them on the inside. One thing he was sure of: there was a conflict in him that had not been resolved. Maybe you’ve asked yourself, “What is my true self? Am I what the Bible says I am, or am I what I feel I am?” Even when we study the Scriptures, it may be hard for us to understand what we are. Are we soldiers or peacemakers? Courageous or meek? Patient or aggressive? In this lesson we will compare what the Bible says we are with our own experience and actions. We will discover what God considers to be important. Then we will study how we can actually become what God expects us to be. This is our true goal.
How God Sees Us
As we try to discover how God sees us, let us begin by examining what the Bible says we are.
What the Bible Says
We may hear some Christians talk about what they are “in Christ.” It almost seems to be a language of fiction or fantasy. But in fact, the Bible does describe our position.
In Ephesians 1 we are told that we have blessings in the heavenly world (v. 3). We are holy and without fault (v. 4). We have been chosen to be God’s people because of His purpose and decision (v. 11). In chapter 2 we read that we are alive with Christ and have been raised with Him in the heavenly world (vv. 5-6). God has made us what we are (v. 10), and we are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of His family (v. 19).
We find these same ideas in 1 Peter 2:9. We read there that we are a chosen race, royal priests, and a holy nation. And there are many more descriptions besides these. What higher names or titles could be suggested?
What We Experience
Yet in our actual experience, we find a struggle. We are subject to tiredness, hunger, thirst. We have ambitions and dreams. We feel driven on the inside and find attractions on the outside. Temptation to sin is not taken away. When we think we have conquered in one area, we find that the battle has just shifted to another.
Some of us as children of God do not find ourselves in perfect harmony with other believers. We experience fear, hostility, and frustration. God seems to give us names with meanings that reach to the sky. We are all too well acquainted with our limits, and they are more identified with the earth than the sky.
In addition, our actions seem to come more out of our earthly nature than our heavenly one. It would be easy if really praying one time were enough to solve our problems. But instead we often find that our prayers did not solve the problems at all. We still faced temptation and frustration.
How do all of these difficulties relate to finding God’s design for our lives? It is relatively easy to make life decisions—such as deciding whether to be a teacher, pastor, or doctor. But God’s will for us includes more than simply making life decisions. It includes all our actions. The real difficulty is how to do what we already know we should do.
We place importance on things that are unimportant and treat things that are important as if they were not. Our relationships become complicated. Our goals show that we are double-minded. When we have trouble making life decisions, it is because our daily decisions are not good.
It becomes evident from this, then, that knowing about our position in Christ is not enough if it has little to do with our attitudes, actions, goals, or desires.
What God Sees
After children are grown, parents often remember only the good times of their children’s earlier years. The difficulties of raising them are forgotten—the nights without sleep, the childhood sicknesses, the vomiting, the toilet training, all the “unpleasant” times. Only the moments of closeness and affection are remembered. A child who was difficult to train is often remembered as an angel. Is this how God sees us—through biased eyes? Absolutely not!
God has an unyielding, absolute standard of righteousness. He calls us “saints,” “His children,” “priests.” What does He see when He looks at us?
When God looks at us, He sees us exactly as we are. He sees our natural appetites which are not sin but He also sees the old or sinful nature that takes a lifetime battle to conquer. He sees selfishness manifested in a variety of ways. He sees good beginnings that too often end in less than hoped
God saw Noah with faith to survive the Flood (Genesis 7:6-10), yet He also saw him drunk (Genesis 9:20-21). He saw Moses in his faith (Exodus 14:13-14) and in his anger and impatience when he smote the rock (Numbers 20:11-12). He saw David writing great psalms or songs of praise and worship (2 Samuel 22; Psalm 18). Yet He also saw him with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). He saw Peter with his inconsistencies (Matthew 16:17; Luke 22:54-62) and Paul with his impatience with Mark (Acts 15:37-40). And which of the Twelve were faithful to Christ through His suffering? None! He was alone (Matthew 26:56).
Imperfect, failing saints. But still saints!
God sees us as clearly as He saw the people we read about in the Bible. And if our lives were recorded in as vivid detail as theirs are, the same pattern would be visible. It is visible to Him.
What is Important to God
We have considered what the Bible says we are and the facts of our daily experience. But what is important to God? Does He place more value on our position as saints or on our behavior?
This question can be answered clearly; the answer to it includes two aspects that must be considered.
The Work of Christ
God places priority or highest value on the work of Jesus Christ on His righteousness, His perfection, His obedience. Both Scripture and reason indicate this clearly. The message of salvation is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. He is the cause, while our coming to God is the effect. His righteousness causes our righteousness!
So when God calls us saints (and we do not feel or behave as saints), He is not seeing a false picture. He is seeing the final result of a process—the cause of which is already clear and complete and the effect of which is already perfectly assured. He is not limited to time in the sense of needing unfolding knowledge. He sees the end (or the process) from the beginning. He sees the end in the beginning.
Fulfilling God’s Expectations
The wrestling, the battle of the Christian experience, the unsureness, the tensions of the Christian life all arise because we are trying to find an answer to this question: How do we daily choose God’s design for us?
Most of the instruction of the New Testament relates to this question. Its passages that tell us how to become Christians are short; its passages that tell us how to act like Christians are comparatively long.
The ability to change comes from two basic storehouses of strength. The first is the reality of the work of Christ in His defeat of the law of sin and death. The second is the particular power of good to overcome and replace evil.
Christ Was Victorious Over Sin
The first reason why we can fulfill God’s design in our lives is because Christ won the victory over sin. Sin no longer has dominion over us. It has influence, but not dominion.
How real was the victory and work of Christ? Christ’s work was not an idea or thought. It was a real event; it happened at a certain time in a certain place. And it was a real battle. There was real bloodshed, real death, real resurrection, real victory. It was real because the power of sin was real.
In the history of humankind, no one has ever escaped from the power of the law of sin (Romans 3:23). This is enough evidence of its reality. But though there is evidence to prove the reality of this law, there is also evidence to prove the victory Christ had over it. The resurrection was examined for forty days by many people (Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). There was no question. Christ had risen!
The power of sin was based on Adam’s fall. The victory over sin is through the obedience of one, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:18-19). This victory is the “life” triumphing over the “law,” hope over hopelessness, the purpose of God over the foolishness of humanity, love over impulse.
You can have righteousness and freedom from the law of sin because, in a real sense, Christ died for your sin. He was your substitute. Satan’s method of tempting you is to discourage you, make you doubt the reality of your victory. He uses intimidation, accusation, deceit. But you are free!
Good Overcomes Evil
The second reason why it is possible for us to fulfill God’s design in our lives is because good (from God) triumphs over evil (from Satan). Scripture reveals this fact to tell us how to defeat the old or sinful nature that causes so much heartache.
Sinful practices are not just stopped. They are replaced. Sin is not creative; it is perversive. That is, it is the wrong use of energy, skills, and action that could be used in a right way. So the Bible gives several examples to show the good that will replace evil. These good deeds are not just superficial actions; they are expressions of the new nature instead of the old. Our part in the warfare that rages between flesh and spirit is to replace evil with good.