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Letting things slip

June 2000 | by Paul Cook

I hear it from many ministers. It seems to be a general concern that there is a lack of commitment in the churches. These days many Christians, particularly young Christians, seem reluctant to make any real sacrifice for the cause of Christ.

This raises serious questions about their profession. After all, faith in Christ is surrender to him as both Lord and Saviour. He must reign over us, not in part, but in the whole of our lives. ‘You are not your own’, says Paul to the Christians in Corinth, ‘for you were bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). And the price was the life-blood of the Saviour – such was his sacrifice for us and the measure of his commitment to the Father’s will. But what of ours to him?

Cost of discipleship

One writer, who perished in Hitler’s death camps, expressed the cost of discipleship in this way. ‘When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die’. That is true, and there is no other form of discipleship acceptable to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus put it in these terms: ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9:23). That is the path of discipleship, which every true believer has to tread. If we are unprepared to die to self-will, and be totally committed to Christ, then we are not one of his disciples. Jesus said, ‘whoever does not bear his cross after me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:27).

The implications of all this need to be spelt out. One thing is clear; the person who is unwilling to let Christ rule over his life cannot be a disciple. To profess faith in Christ, and at the same time withhold large areas of our life from his sovereignty, is to practise a pseudo-Christianity. Not only must we be willing to obey God’s Word in every aspect of our life, but we must recognise that faith in Christ involves a submission to him in all we do.

Matters of priority

One thing I have never done in my ministry is to lay down rules and regulations for believers, or tell Christians exactly what they should do in the details of their lives. What we must all grasp are the principles of spiritual life set forth in Scripture, and seek to apply them to our particular situation. But this general approach does not exclude certain exhortations which arise from scriptural teaching.

For example, the character of the church as a fellowship and a spiritual unity means that individual church members should be aware of their obligation to attend regularly, as far as possible, the meetings of the church. Our attendance at the Bible study and the prayer meeting should be a matter of priority. We ought not to allow other activities, except work and family duties – and I mean duties – to take precedence over this.

The issue of priorities is a crucial one in following Christ. The Christian student who accepts state support and fritters away his time in non-academic pursuits, neglecting his studies, is a disgrace to the cause of Christ. But the conscientious student, who allows his studies to invade the Lord’s Day, so that he fails to attend worship, has got his priorities wrong too.

And we must remember that the patterns of life we follow in early years tend to persist throughout life. Many things are important, but not all things are equally important, and we must learn to get our priorities right.

If our application to daily work or business becomes obsessive, it will threaten our devotion to Christ. This devotion to Christ is not to be regarded as distinct from the affairs of life, but something that permeates life. It should make a Christian a better husband, a better wife, a better employee, a better everything!

Does it suit me?

Christian discipleship means that we seek to serve Christ, and not our own self-will, in all the situations and relationships of life. Paul, reminds the Ephesians of their duties to their earthly masters, urging them to be obedient, ‘not with eye service as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart’ (Ephesians 6:6).

We are to be servants of Christ twenty-four hours each day. And there should be an eagerness on the part of every believer to promote the cause of Christ, and to make whatever sacrifices it may entail.

But the impression being given by many professing Christians today is that they will only agree to do something providing it suits them and does not inconvenience their personal arrangements. They desire to be lords over their own lives. And that, according to the sociologist, is a virtue. But it is not Christianity.

What sort of Christians?

Let each one of us ask ourselves whether we are the sort of Christian who adds to the life of the church or acts as a drag upon the fellowship. Do other believers thank God for us? Do we encourage others? Are we on the lookout for opportunities to serve? ‘By love serve one another’ (Galatians 5:13) is one of the golden precepts of Christian fellowship.

When the faith of a church is being tested by discouragement the members need to be particularly on their guard. We all find it easier to be bright and eager Christians when there is evident blessing and success.

But when difficulties arise, and the work is not prospering as in former days, we are tempted to lose heart and not to pull our weight. We become impatient and crabby with one another. We might even be tempted to withdraw a little, and become somewhat distant from the fellowship.

We must beware of giving place to the devil. Rather let us ‘rise in faith’, as the old Primitive Methodists used to say, to seek a new vision and prove the sufficiency of our God in all things.