Live The Life!
I. Learning How
Imagine a girl who has just seen and heard an inspiring talk given on television about Beethoven and his music. During that programme several pieces of Beethoven's music were played. This girl was so thrilled with the music that she straight-away decided to learn to play the piano so that she could enjoy playing that music herself. Since she really wanted to play, and had a lot of potential musical talent, it seemed that her wish would soon come true.
But years later the neighbours have to endure the daily agony of listening to Beethoven being badly butchered! What had happened to get in the way of her good intentions to play well?
To put it bluntly, she never bothered to learn the technique. She never went to a music teacher, or even used an instruction book. She never struggled with five-finger exercises, musical scales and so on. Without these, not even strongest desires or untapped potential can produce fine music.
Many of us are not producing the music of fine Christian living for much the same reason. We also have heard inspiring descriptions of the Christian life, and we've seen some good examples of it. We've been brought up within the covenant community. We know the place that Jesus Christ should have in our lives. Yet, in spite of all this, the result is often disappointing. And the reaction to our Christian living from those around us is very similar to the reaction of the neighbours to that girl badly abusing Beethoven on the piano.
That girl needed to learn how to play. The Christian needs to learn how to live. Attention must be given to method, to technique, to practice.
Often we have heard sermons that encourage us to live the Christian life. But it's not often that we've been told how to live it. The end, that final place for us in the new heavens and the new earth, has been painted for us in glowing colours. But the means, the way, in which that end is reached, has often been ignored.
In these Studies, we'll be looking at living the Christian life, as we see the way to the end.
II. What We're To Be Before We Learn How
Before we go on to see how to live the Christian life, we first have to ask, “What is the Christian life?” So we need to define, to understand, what the word Christian means.
The New Testament tells us that a Christian is: A person who has met God, in Christ, and who is trusting in Him, as Saviour and obeying Him, as Lord. We see that the Christian life is a personal relationship. So, in other words, what my standing is with the Lord. We cannot pass the buck here, and say, “Oh, I'm okay because my parents go to Church!” No! It is a personal relationship between you and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This relationship has two aspects. We see these two aspects in our definition of what a Christian is:
First, we have to trust in Jesus as Saviour. The Christian life is a gift from God in Jesus Christ, and this gift must be received if it is to be possessed. No man can earn salvation by his own strenuous efforts - it can be received only as a gift from God Himself. This gift is faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour.
This eternal life, this true life, begins when a person receives Jesus Christ the Saviour. And this life continues as that person abides in Jesus, through faith. Through our union - that relationship by faith with the Saviour - the Holy Spirit works out in us that which Jesus Christ did for us on Calvary. By this working of the Holy Spirit we are brought out of death into life - this is regeneration; we are also brought out of darkness into light - this is revelation; and we are brought out of sin into holiness - this is called sanctification. No dead man can make himself live, and no blind man can make himself see. The Saviour through the working of the Holy Spirit makes us what we are, and we depend totally and absolutely upon Him.
The Christian life that begins with an act of receiving must continue as a life-long attitude of receiving. The Christian life is life in faith. Some words that we read in our Bibles that show this are: believing, receiving, abiding, trusting, and depending.
Secondly, we have to obey Jesus as Lord. This is the other side of the relationship. As it says in Psalm 127, “Unless the LORD builds the house, it's builders labour in vain.”
Notice how those who work still have to do it, in spite of the fact that it is the Lord who builds the house! God does not build the house of our Christian character for us while we look lazily on, with folded hands. God does build - through our building. God does work in us when we stir ourselves to work out our own salvation. We read of this from Philippians 2:12-18.
As we can see from this Bible passage the work of the Holy Spirit within us depends for its progress and completion on our response, our co-operation, our obedience. God's creative action takes places through our obedient action, and He is able to work when we work. So we are workers with God. We have received the new life as a free gift. But we must practice this gift, if the music of true Christian living is to come from us.
It is not possible to live a proper Christian life without obedient action, deliberate effort, and careful discipline. As the New Testament tell us, the Christian must “fight”, “wrestle”, “run”, “work”, “suffer”, “endure”, “resist”, “agonize” - all words which clearly show that we must try hard.
III. The Way To Learning How
We have just described the Christian life as a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, having two main aspect - trusting and obeying. Or, to put it another way - receiving and doing. But knowing this doesn't help us live the Christian life. We cannot reach the end without having gone through the process of reaching.
You cannot be in Sydney by just imagining you are there. To get to Sydney you have to arrange an aeroplane ticket. It takes practical work. Or we can think of the work of an architect. He has in his mind a clear picture of what the building will eventually be like. But the actual construction of that building will involve many different things - both big and small.
In a similar way these Studies will consider how our Christian character is built for the glory of God - for His worship and service. In other words, we are asking: “How do we receive? How do we obey?”
But these two aspects - receiving and obeying - cannot be separated. For example, prayer is a receiving. Through it we take for ourselves the grace and power of God for our lives. Yet, it is a human doing. It needs method and discipline.
Another example is witnessing. This is our active human obedience to Christ. But it is also a way of receiving more fully the grace and truth of Christ. As with every aspect of the Christian life we are all the time concerned with Divine and human action. And in these Studies we'll be seeing how we both receive and obey.
The living of the Christian life is our theme. This will involve such things as our devotional reading of Scripture, personal discipline, overcoming temptation, seeking Divine guidance, fellowship with other Christians, serving God, and witnessing for Christ. These can all be ways of grace - ways in which we grow to be more like our Lord Jesus.
But to be ways of growing they must be practised. We cannot just know about something - we must also put it into practice. Matthew 7:21 says: “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
A famous piano player once said: “If I stop practising the piano for a day, I notice the difference; if I stop for two days, my family notice the difference; if I stop for three days, my friends notice the difference; and if I stop for a week, the public notices the difference.”
So what we are about to do is to study together seven different aspects of Christian living, which if practised will help towards making our Christian lives into beautiful music for the Lord.
IV. The Importance Of “The Way” To Learning How
In the time of the Apostles, Christianity was called The Way. This came from the Old Testament and meant that the early Christians lived according to the laws of God. So these Christians had a clearly set out path, which was the method of salvation.
What we will be concerned with is learning about the Christian way. But this doesn't mean that our way of living is more important than having the right doctrine. We cannot live a life of Christian living without having a Christian belief. So when someone says: “It doesn't matter what a man believes as long as he acts the right way,” he is quite wrong!
Believing is the basis of the way that we live. Therefore it is impossible to have belief that does not show itself in a way of life. We cannot say of someone: “He's a real rat-bag, but at least his theology is right!” This isn't right, for true faith is a personal relationship of trust and obedience, and so you cannot separate it from the way you live.
We are to live the Christian life. And the Christian life is about our relationship with a Person - Jesus Christ Himself. Let's never forget that. Jesus Christ is not only the end, but He is also the way to the end. One hymn put it this way: “Christ the path, and Christ the prize.”
So we are concerned with Christ, not only as the end towards which the method leads, but also we are concerned with Him in the method itself at every stage. And since the Christian way is a personal way, its methods are personal. Like the movements of a great symphony our studies have a simple theme running through them. This theme is:
How can I walk in Him who said, “I am the true and living way?”