9. The Necessity of a Consistent Christian Life
“My Sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me . . .” John 10:27
As the old saw says, “If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.” What is it I’ve heard? It is the story that the churches are full of hypocrites, that professed believers don’t live at all like their Lord, and that the prostitutes, thieves and drug dealers down on skid row behave better. There are several responses to this old charge.
First, it is often just an excuse to avoid going to church and coming face to face with one’s own sin. Sometimes, the behavior referred to is how people in the church used to behave before they were saved--in that case, the old saw is just a confirmation of the power of the gospel. Often, the churches referred to, and the people doing the bad behavior, are not really biblical churches; they have long ago left the teachings of the Bible, and they are just religious social clubs.
However, while the cases above are often true, it is also sadly true, and far too often, that professing believers in Bible-teaching, evangelical churches live a life that makes their faith seem a lie. The fact that God saves us totally as an act of Grace on His part is not a license to live as we please. We stand before Him justified, free, and blameless because of faith in the sacrifice of Christ, but we also are now a part of His family, we are members of His royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). Believers in Christ are supposed to act like it.
It is difficult to write on this subject for several reasons. First, the writer knows his own failings, and how many times he has fallen short of God’s will in his life--that is a daily problem. Second, we don’t need any more lists of laws coming from outside the Bible to imprison believers and put them on spiritually depressing and false guilt trips. Far too often, people teaching, preaching, or writing on the subject of practical behavior fall into cultural patterns, prohibiting activities that the Bible leaves in the area of personal judgment, and creating a totally false standard. Legalism, the adding of human requirements to the gospel, is a Grace-killing and soul-chilling thing. However, it is even more prevalent today for there to be falsehoods in the other direction. Many today teach standards of behavior that are far below those the Bible exhorts us to strive for--what the Bible calls “sin,” some modern teachers excuse, ignore, or even celebrate as good.
The purpose of this chapter is twofold. First, we need to understand the principle of Following Christ In Our Lives. Second, we need to understand the Basic Specific Guidelines for Behavior found in the Bible.
Following Christ In Our Lives
For 40 days after His resurrection, our Lord carried out a vigorous ministry among His disciples. He appeared to as many as 500 of them at one time. In the last three verses of Matthew’s gospel, we read the challenge He gave to His inner circle, the eleven. This challenge is commonly called “The Great Commission:
Matthew 28:18-20 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””(NIV)
Look at the phrases in the verses above: “Make disciples” and “teaching them to obey” Do these phrases match the activities of the American church? Does our evangelism and our teaching of new believers reach below the surface and do these two things? Our evangelical churches grow numerically; people profess salvation. These people begin to live a type of “born-again” lifestyle (at least on the surface)--they listen to Christian music, read Christian self-help books, and regularly attend church. But, as we noted in the beginning of this book--where is the dramatic effect on society that the early church wielded? What have we wrought by our efforts at evangelism? According to our Founder, the goal of our evangelism is not to create church members, convince people who profess a little Christianity, or encourage them to adopt a surface lifestyle change. Our goal as a church, and as individual congregations and believers, is to make disciples who are learning to follow Christ.
What does it mean to be a disciple, to follow Christ? As with so many other things, we need to say just a bit about what it does not mean. As already mentioned, it certainly does not mean to make a few religious gestures and change your outward style of living a bit. It also does not necessarily mean to make a lot of religious gestures and change your outward style of living radically, though that might be a part of the process depending on your former life style. It does not mean to wear black clothing and a somber facial expression, and to walk around in your life as the morals proctor for all you see. Following Christ begins with an inward change of heart, repentance, and faith, the total experience we call the New Birth--it continues to grow into discipleship from the inside out. This inside-out transformation does not occur by some sort of cosmic “auto pilot”--it doesn’t just happen.
Discipleship begins with being “added to the church” ( Acts 2:47), and becoming involved in the “four legs” of the church mentioned earlier, teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. A person who wants to be discipled apart from a visible, functioning congregation of believers in Christ wants the impossible. Discipleship occurs in the local Church. This means a new believer needs to seek a congregation that accepts and follows the Regula Fidei (see introduction), and that is active in teaching new believers. A new believer should not choose a church based on worship style, though active, vigorous worship is important. A new believer should not choose a church based solely on a friendly atmosphere, nor one where the people are of the same socioeconomic class and ethnic group. The first thing a new believer should look for in a church is one that is faithful to the basic orthodox teachings of the Bible, and one that has a solid teaching ministry. Once a member of a congregation of believers, the new Christian should seek to become active in attendance in as many of the worship and teaching meetings of the church as possible. Certainly Sunday School, preaching, and prayer services are a must. If there are home Bible studies available, the young disciple should seek one out that ministers to their need for teaching and fellowship. If there is a discipleship program in the local congregation, the new convert should become a part of it.
The attitude a believer should have in discipleship is very important. We need to keep constantly in our mind that we are undergoing a process of transformation that involves two sides--one we see and feel, and the more important one, the ministry that God is doing within us in secret. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil. 2:12). This shows the side we see and feel--and it looks like we are doing a lot of original work. The rest of the sentence, however, is in verse 13, “ . . .for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” The important action is what we don’t see--it is the omnipotent, sovereign God working in our lives to accomplish His will.
Basic Specific Guidelines for Behavior
Whenever we deal with this issue in the church, we will find ourselves fighting the “don’t judge me” syndrome. People attempt to ignore and dodge the plain meaning of Bible texts, and their life applications by an ad hominem (against the man, or personal attack) argument against the person pointing out the problem. Let’s not kid ourselves, if we are in a situation of habitual rebellion and sin, and are a professing Christian, “shooting the messenger” doesn’t solve the problem. People who use the “don’t judge me” argument misuse several Scriptures, such as Matthew 7:1-5, which tell us how to judge properly with the right attitude, and try to say that judgment is never proper in any case-”it is all between me and God.” This is purely an attempt to hide behind a supposed technicality. We are not to judge in the sense of self-righteous condemnation, but as individual believers, we have an obligation to confront open sin, prayerfully, lovingly, humbly.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (NIV)
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (NIV)
Corporately, the truth is that the local church MUST judge its own people when they are caught up in a real sin problem, or it is dishonoring both our Lord and other congregations. In 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, Paul severely chastens the church in Corinth because they were not taking care of business by judging an openly rebellious believer, and they were committing disputes between members to the secular courts. The real perspective is that we are to do as Jesus told us in John 7:24, and “judge righteous judgment.” Professing Christians are not independent actors--we have an obligation both to our Lord and to other believers, our local congregation, and the church in general to live as Christ would have us to live.
Once we are past the “don’t judge” syndrome, we have to realize that there are many instructions in the Bible for how Christians are to behave. Our lives are not to be centered on what we don’t do--BUT there are lifestyle rules, things a Christian should Do and should NOT do. Rather than give a laundry list, we will talk about general categories of Scripture teaching in this area, along with a few hot specifics.
A believer’s personal values are not for him or her to decide--the Bible tells us what they should be. The Christian Worldview from Chapter 1 of this book is a good place to start--if we know why we are here and what Truth is, we are already on the right track to an obedient life. We need to combine this with a recognition of the continuing influence of sin in our lives and the necessity to combat sin in our lives with God’s help.
Believers in Christ should have a Respect for Human Life, because God is the author of each life, and He tells us not to commit murder. This places Bible-believing Christians in direct opposition to the pro-death agenda (abortion and euthanasia) so dominant in our society today. Christians should have a Respect for Government. This applies to God’s providence in our individual lives and the secular government He has established to govern society. We should have a Respect for the dignity of humanity in general and of individual people over and above the plant and animal kingdom, as well as above personal needs, desires, and material possessions. God created people to live with Him eternally--we are created in God’s image. People are more important that animals, and the movement to equalize animal rights with human rights is sheer paganism. This doesn’t condone needless cruelty, but it recognizes the Bible teaching that we have dominion over the animal kingdom, and they are ours to use for our benefit.
Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NIV)
Christians should exercise Personal responsibility--we should always live our life with the willingness and effort to work to support ourselves by honest means.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (NIV)
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. (NIV)
The hottest issue today for believers is probably Submission to God’s rules regarding sexuality--specifically, that legitimate sexual activity is restricted to relations between a man and a woman who are married to one another. This recognizes that the Bible teaches that same-sex relations, adultery, premarital sex, incest, and bestiality are wrong behaviors, and are not to be accepted by Christian believers in their own lives. Not only are we not to live that way ourselves, we may not, as a body, tolerate that kind of behavior in a congregation, nor can we as a congregation or as individuals approve of it in the lives of others--we must express ourselves in love, but we cannot affirm and approve lifestyles that are contrary to God’s laws.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV)
Romans 1:25-27 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator-- who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (NIV)
To guide us in our behavior, we have the portions of the Old Testament Law and writings repeated or re-emphasized in the New Testament, or which are consistent with the New Covenant. For example, we find 9 of the 10 commandments repeated in the New Testament--the exception being the Sabbath. We find in the Old Testament Law specific prohibitions against sexual immorality and perversion which are repeated and augmented in the writings of Paul. We find in the Old Testament specific prohibitions against idolatry and pagan religious practices, and we find a wealth of practical advice and warnings from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Finally, we have the many examples from the Historical narratives of how people struggled with sin and found hope and help in God. Paul tells us that these things “occurred as examples.” (1Cor 10:6) to help us in our daily lives. In the New Testament, we have many commands (I have read that there are over 1300 commands in the New Testament, but I’ve never counted to see). In general, however, these commands tell us how we are to live in the Church, how we are to live in the Family, and how we are to live in Society. Our Savior calls upon us to follow Him in our lives--let us do so.