Christianity is to affect the whole of life, and one of the great dangers Christians face is that of imbalance. They must always be on the lookout not to overemphasise some things and underemphasise others.
Church history teaches us that imbalances not corrected can lead Christians away from the faith altogether. If Christianity is predominantly in our heads (intellectual understanding of the faith), with little emphasis on the heart (what we experience and feel) or hands (how we live from day to day), then we are in danger of a dry or dead orthodoxy.
If we overemphasise experience and feeling, it can lead to a Christianity which is primarily emotional and loses its moorings in truth. If we only emphasise activity and lifestyle, we are in danger of mere moralism. We need to strive for a proper balance of understanding (head), experience (heart) and lifestyle (hands). We also need to be clear on the relationship between them.
The truth of God’ s Word, under the blessing of God’s Spirit, needs to be grasped by the mind, ascend to the heart and be worked out in the life. This is true Christianity.
A useful illustration of this is found in one of the final letters of William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717-1791), a Welsh pastor and hymnwriter who was greatly used by God in the eighteenth century in Wales, through his preaching, writing and pastoral counsel. He was regarded while alive as one of the most spiritually balanced men of the eighteenth century.
A few days before his death he wrote the following words to a younger friend — fellow-minister, Thomas Charles of Bala: ‘I have come to see that true religion consists of three parts: first, true light respecting the plan of salvation … [second], intimate fellowship with God … lastly … life and conduct, such as would reveal to the ungodly that there is a great difference between us and them’.
We rightly emphasise the central importance of the Bible to Christianity. The Bible is an inexhaustible river of truth, once described as ‘shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim’. But we must remember too that in it God’s plan of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ occupies the central place.
William Williams speaks of the plan of salvation as ‘God’ s eternal covenant with his Son to pay the debt of believing sinners, [and] all the truths of the new covenant, by which [Jesus] becomes all-in-all in creation, in all-embracing providence, and in redemption’.
He is telling us that true Christianity means seeing the centrality of Christ in God’s purposes, ‘that in all things [Christ] may have the pre-eminence’. In eternity, the Father gave a people to the Son, so that he might redeem them; and the Son willingly took the responsibility for their redemption upon himself. The whole outworking of human history is the unfolding of that eternal purpose.
Creation reveals the glory of the One who made it, and it continues in existence solely because the Lord Jesus Christ has a people to save. In providence, the Lord governs the world so that his great saving purpose might be fulfilled. To this end he exalts and humbles nations, protects and purifies his church, sends his servants to all the nations of the world to preach the gospel, and blesses it by his Spirit so that his people are saved.
In redemption, the capstone of all God’s works, Jesus secures the salvation of his people by offering himself as an all-sufficient sacrifice, and now, from the right-hand of the Father, he sends his Holy Spirit to apply this great salvation to each of his chosen ones.
Having called these to living faith in himself, he keeps them until the day of Christ Jesus — the Second Coming of Christ; no-one will pluck any of his loved ones out of his hand. And when he returns in power and glory, he will judge the living and the dead, condemn the finally impenitent, and dwell for ever with his glorified people in a new heaven and a new earth. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When we think of these exalted truths it is hard to know what they reveal most about God: his justice, his wisdom, his power, or his love.
But to have true light respecting the plan of salvation means more than just knowing these truths and learning more about them. This knowledge needs to be ‘mixed with faith’ in the heart. That is, the Christ they reveal must be trusted in as our all-sufficient and all-conquering Saviour, and each new truth we learn about him, and each insight we gain, must lead us to trust and adore him more.
We are blessed with so many written and other resources to help us learn more of Christ, but we must never fall into the trap of merely being content to know the truth without it leading us to stronger faith and deeper humility, heartfelt adoration and fervent praise. Let us pray that the more we learn about Christ and his salvation, the more we will love him.
Do you have this true light respecting the plan of salvation? Have you come to trust in Jesus Christ for yourself? If you are a Christian, are you growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour?
Mark Thomas is pastor of Borras Park Evangelical Church, Wrexham, and General Secretary of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.