In previous articles we have been looking at the importance of balance in the Christian life, following the lead of William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717-91) who wrote a letter at the end of his life in which he said, ‘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’.
This month, I want us to consider the third element Williams identifies, the practical character of the Christian life: transformed life and conduct.
The gospel is, of course, totally opposed to any hint of salvation by works, that is being accepted by God on the basis of what we do. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and the basis of our acceptance is not what we do, but what Christ has done for us in his life and death, what Paul calls, ‘the obedience of the One’ (Romans 5:19).
However, this is far from saying that how we live as Christians is irrelevant. When we are saved, a two-fold change takes place. Firstly, a change of status. We are no longer under God’s condemnation for our sins; rather, we are justified. That means we are fully forgiven and freely accepted by God as righteous, because the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is counted by God as ours.
Secondly, there is a change in nature. We are no longer dead in trespasses and sins; rather, we have been made alive together with Christ. This means that we have been born again by a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and we have been made new.
We have a new love for God: we love him, because he first loved us. We have a new Lord: our old idols are taken away and we begin to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a new direction: the law of God is written on our hearts and his commandments are not burdensome. We have a new power to obey: the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
We were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord, and so are to walk as children of light. The ruling power of sin has been broken: we are dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Sin still indwells us and tempts us, and the devil still attacks us, but he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, and we have our Lord’s promise that if we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
So, what does this new life look like? It looks like Jesus Christ, it conforms to God’s law, it displays the fruit of the Spirit, and it produces good works. None of this merits forgiveness, or anything from God, that would be to turn the whole thing on its head.
It is the new life in us that produces the new lifestyle, we do not work for life, but from life. In the same way, a branch has to receive life and sap from the vine if it is to bear fruit, but, if it is truly in the vine, then bear fruit it must. And the aim of it all is that we might walk in a way that pleases God, we live for him who died for us.
In practical terms it means that when we become Christians our hearts and our lives are changed for the better, and this should become obvious to those around us. In our day, we hear all too often that there is little discernible difference between true Christians and others in such areas as their interests, their spending habits, and their use of time.
But there should be a difference, and it should pervade all areas of our lives and all our relationships: our family lives, our work lives, our leisure pursuits, and our involvement with our neighbours.
How great is the need to recover a balanced Christianity where the truth grasped by the mind ascends to the heart and is worked out in the life, and where the Lordship of Jesus Christ is recognised over the whole of our lives. After all, ‘you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s’ (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Such a changed lifestyle has great value: (1) It is good in and of itself. Good works are those things we do that are good in the sight of God, coming from pure motives, and being in accordance with his will. Also, they do good to others.
(2) It is a testimony to the power of the gospel. Nothing short of the power of God can produce a truly transformed life.
(3) It shows that the Lord Jesus Christ is worth loving and serving. Christians are those who have turned from idols to serve the living God, and they follow the Lord through pleasant pastures and in deep valleys. They overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they do not love their lives to the death. He truly is the pearl of great price.
What does this look like from day to day? Williams gives us a taste: ‘while they cherish malice, we are forgiving; while they are proud, we are humble; while they are vain babblers, we are thoughtful; while they are liars, we are truthful; while they are deceitful, we are honest; while they seek to injure everybody, we seek to do good to all; so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, which saith, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”’.
Mark Thomas is pastor of Borras Park Evangelical Church, Wrexham, and General Secretary of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.