A Christian All the Time
The actual wording of the question that was submitted is: “Is it possible to live successfully a Christian life according to the principles laid down by the Founder, the Lord Jesus Christ, if, through economic necessity, one must earn a living? Can one live a Christian life twenty-four hours a day?”
There are one or two things in this question that I think need to be answered. In the first place the questioner says, “If through economic necessity one must earn a living.” Now I would respectfully say that you do not earn a living because of economic necessity. You earn a living because the Word of God says “six days shalt thou labour.” Six days, not five! The Scriptures lay down, therefore, that man is such a creature that he earns his living by working, and this is not by economic necessity, but by divine command. That is the method of life.
If that be true, obviously a Christian life must be lived within the context of a work-a-day week. This is perhaps where some people have made such a tragic error in imagining that to live the Christian life you must withdraw into a monastic existence, and cut yourself off from every day living, and live within a little circle of your own. This is escapism and is utterly false. The Christian faith would not be valid at all unless it can be lived in the context of that which God commands, that we should work six days a week. Therefore, if He commands it, He must surely give us an indication of how we ought to live in such a setting.
Then, in the second place, I would really like to know what is meant by the word “successfully.” If the questioner means by that that the successful Christian life is something the evidence of which is seen in the circumference, in some spectacular results such as decisions for Christ that are evident through his testimony and so on, if there is something dramatic and exceptional about it, something unusual, I do not find this to be the definition of success in the Bible. You do not find that word, of course, in the Word of God, but its implication is there. A successful Christian life in the New Testament sense of the word is one which reproduces Christian character, the fruit of the Spirit given in Galatians 5:22. Success in living is character. Therefore, if the questioner means just this, “Is it possible to live a Christian life reproducing Christian character according to the principles laid down by the Lord Jesus, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?” then our question is clarified for us.
There is one other thing that I must ask that leads into the answer, what does the questioner mean by “a Christian life?” I will dispose of a few things which it is not. It is not simply an attempt to live a good life. It is not only something that is identified with church and religion. It is not an effort to live this life in one’s own strength. It is not reforming our lives and attempting to be good. It is not simply making a decision for Christ. These things do not constitute a Christian life, but I would give you three things that do.
I. The Christian Life is that which is Saved by the Provision of God.
God has made provision for the past, for the present, and for the future in our relationship to Him and in our relationship to other people. He has done that in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, crucified, risen and ascended. He died upon the cross as our Saviour. He rose from the tomb as our Lord. He ascended into heaven that He might receive the promise of the Holy Spirit, that He might be our life. Therefore, in the person of His Son, God has made provision for our salvation and for Christian experience in the past, the present, and the future.
A Christian, therefore, is one who having received Christ as his Saviour, has appropriated Christ to be his life.
There has been a moment in his life when he has come into vital contact with God through faith in Jesus Christ crucified for his sin, judged in his stead, bearing the punishment and blame, the burden and responsibility of all his sin. The Christian is one who has received the Lord Jesus as his Saviour, but not only so, for he has yielded to the risen Lord as his Master. He has discovered a new authority, and realized that Christian experience is being submitted in totality to the authority of Jesus Christ. Then he has taken one more step, and has appropriated, or taken hold, of the Lord Jesus to be his life.
II. The Christian Life is that which is to be Conformed to God’s Pattern.
God’s pattern, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and the whole purpose of this new experience is that your life should be conformed to the likeness of the Lord. I suggest that He is the pattern for life in three ways.
(a) Concerning the will of God. From the manger to the cross the will of God was at the very center of the life of Jesus Christ. He came to see that the will of God should be done on Earth as it was in heaven. The one distinctive feature about our Master is that He always said “Yes” to His Father in heaven. There was no place whatsoever for self-will. The will of God was at the very center of His life, and in that respect He is our pattern, for He said “I come, I delight to do Thy will, O God” (Psalm 40:7-8; Hebrews 10:7, 9).
(b) He lived a life of transparent and positive holiness. That is not negative but positive. So positive, in deed, that His life compelled heaven to break its silence on three occasions to say, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”
(c) His life was one of love that could never be quenched. He was despised and rejected of men; He was crucified by those He came to save, but in answer to that there was no bitterness or malice, no retaliation or rebellion. He never pampered Himself although He was sometimes weary and hungry. The need of one woman from Samaria detained Him while His disciples went to secure food. He was prepared to forfeit a night’s sleep to talk to a man who was afraid to come to Him in the daytime. It was a love that never died out, and that was never quenched in spite of the treatment He received at the hands of others.
The Christian life, therefore, is to be conformed to the pattern which our Lord set. The believer acknowledges Christ as his Saviour, and at that point the will of God becomes absolutely central. He yields to Christ as His Lord, and at that moment holiness becomes the thing that matters to him more than anything, a radiant purity of life. He appropriated Jesus Christ to be his life, and from that moment love for God and love for other people is the principle upon which he lives.
When our questioner says, “Is it possible to live successfully (to reproduce Christian character) within the context of the economic necessity of daily living?” he is really asking, “I see that as a Christian I am to live a life conformed to this pattern, in which I have acknowledged Christ as my Saviour and, therefore the will of God is the central thing; in which I am yielded to Christ as Lord and therefore this transparent holiness is the ambition of my life; in which I have appropriated Christ to be my life, and therefore love for God and love for other people will be the principle of daily experience. If this is the kind of life that we are called upon to live, is it possible to do so daily in that context?”
III. The Christian Life is that which is Empowered by the Indwelling Presence of God.
Can one live this life successfully? My immediate answer is “No!” Many Christians discover that it is impossible to live the Christian life by themselves, but then they find the reality of the secret that Jesus Christ is alive in order that He might live His life in them and reproduce His character through them. That is the secret, and the only secret, of Christian living. It is a life that is empowered by the indwelling presence of God.
When we think about a life being transformed to God’s pattern in which to know the will of God as its central pivot, to know holiness as its experience and aim, to know love for God and others as its principle, we might well say to ourselves that this is something that is absolutely beyond us. But, you see, conformity to the pattern that God set is not realized through imitating the example of Jesus Christ, but through the power of the living Christ within. It is only the man who can truly say “Christ lives in me” who can then go on to say, “For me to live is Christ.” It is not the imitation of Jesus which makes a man like Him, but the indwelling of the ascended Lord in his heart that makes this life a wonderful and glorious reality every day.
What a tremendous challenge it is to recognize that what Jesus was you and I are to be because of what He did on the cross, and because of the fact that His is ascended into heaven to give back His life to live within us! It is only when I am one with the Lord in my life and in my heart, only when He lives within me, that there can be likeness to Him.
In order that we may understand this principle of Christian living, the answer to our questioner is that you yourself cannot possibly live that life in the context of a work-a-day week, but God can. Jesus can, and He is within you right now to do it in answer to your assent.
It may be the questioner has asked this question a little wistfully. Perhaps he or she has attempted this, and been defeated and failed, and now finds Christian living hard. Perhaps it is someone who has begun to settle down and live, as it were, on a low level. Have you ever stood looking away into the distance where there is a great mountain range? The sight left you breathless, and you thought to yourself, “I would like to set out to climb to the top of those mountains!” But it would be an exhausting thing to do, for you would get tired and weary and then give up altogether. Yet somehow in your heart there was a desire to get there, for you knew the air would be clearer and the view would be more wonderful and glorious if only you could make it.
I wonder if perhaps in spiritual experience that is just about what has been happening, and someone may be saying, “Is it really possible? I have tried so much, and it doesn’t work, I have sought to do this thing, and it seems a sheer impossibility.”
I have been preaching from a question towards a text which you will find in Ephesians 3:17-19, and herein lies the secret. “That Christ may dwell in your heart by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” I cannot think of anything more wonderful and magnificent and tremendous than the possibility that you, in the context of a seven-day week, working in your daily job, may know what it is as an ordinary individual to be filled up with all the fullness of God. That makes Christian living a glorious possibility, for it is the only possibility! Maybe some of you have just settled down, as it were, to live in the valley while the mountain range is unexplored, and you have never gone up to the place where God would have you to live. Now He is calling you to that today.
Are you a Christian, or are you just trying to be good? Are you born of God’s Spirit, and do you know the Lord Jesus as your Saviour? Have you yielded to Him as your Lord? Have you appropriated Him to be your life? If you have done that then your life is saved by the glorious provision of God. But tell me, is it being conformed to the pattern of God? Is the will of God right at the very center? Is that the thing you want above everything else? Is holiness the desire of your heart? Is your one great concern that your life may be like that, and have you learned to love as Jesus loved, not to retaliate nor answer back, not to take revenge, not to be bitter? Have you learned that kind of life? Well, of course, it is an absolute impossibility until you understand it is to be empowered by the presence of the Lord.
So as you go back tomorrow to your daily task to live this life in the power of the indwelling Christ, you will be able to say, “The life that I now live…I live by faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).