I wrote “In my last post on this book [this week’s], Stott explains the Christian’s responsibilities.” quote from my previous post on September 22…
This post was supposed to be the “last post” on John Stott’s book Basic Christianity.
It is not. There will be this one and then another.
This post will deal with the responsibilities of a personal commitment to live for Jesus Christ.
I see the responsibilities of the Christian two ways.
Number one, we have a private responsibility to work toward living a more righteous life.*
Number two, we have a responsibility to do God’s work within the church and God’s work within this world.
Let’s focus on number one because our efforts at private growth are the bedrock of everything else.
Some would disagree; their efforts are all about church work and work within the world but I know if I don’t have my private commitment to my Father and His Son right, everything else is “just a show.”
Some feel that responding to “the call” is all that is needed. It is a privilege to be a child of God but we don’t have responsibilities to go along with the privileges. Just give your life to Christ and that takes care of it. After being born again, you can resume your regular life and be assured that you are saved. There is a problem with this. New Christians don’t want to return to their regular life; they want something different because they are new creatures in God.**
John Stott writes that “Everybody loves children, but nobody in his right mind wants them to stay in the nursery” . But this is the problem with many Christians who focus on privileges and aren’t interested in responsibilities. They are born again in Christ but they never grow up. Stott says “Others even suffer from spiritual infantile regression.” God intends us to become “mature in Christ;” birth should be followed by growth in righteousness. Justification leads to sanctification.***
When I first read Basic Christianity I knew very little about what lay ahead in my life. I knew that something special had happened to me [I was born again] but I really did not know what God expected of me [long term]. I knew of His Son but I did not know how to grow closer to Him. What I needed to understand was I had to develop my mind. I had to learn about my faith. I also needed to understand that I needed to work on my relationship with my new Father and His Son.
Obviously the place to start is the Bible. Good Christian literature helps with growth also [books like Basic Christianity]. I started with the New Testament and I soon began to understand that Jesus advocates for Christians to love their fellow man. Jesus also intends for us to conform to His character and behavior. God wants us to obey His commandments and with help from our Holy Spirit, He wants us to do His will. Our bodies are our temple and God dwells within us. Not only are we are supposed to take care of our bodies, we are also supposed to make the effort to monitor what goes into our bodies. Harmful temptations are real and our “original sin” nature makes us vulnerable to making horrible choices. God expects us to submit to His authority and if we do, good things will appear in our behaviors.****
“Our relationship to our heavenly Father, though secure, is not static” [Stott, 137]. Most of us are very busy and don’t want any other things added to our list of things to do, but arranging time for God every day is a must. I know many Christians who have never opened a Bible. I know many Christians who say they cannot pray. Stott comments that the road to victory in the Christian life is simple, an alarm clock, self-discipline, a Bible reading plan, a Bible, good Christian books, but most of all an honest desire to know God more and decrease the distance between yourself and Him. Add an honest desire to live a more “Christ-like” life and you have all the basic ingredients for growth.
Let me also add some very personal needs for growth. Prayer is our effort to communicate our concerns to God and that is important. We all have problems and God can help us if we ask Him.***** Often I hear that prayer is like a wish list, with God as our Santa; some say I am not sure I do prayer right. I am certain that God hears all our prayers, whether they are about our own needs or the needs of others. It is also important to listen in the process of prayer as God may speak directly to our Holy Spirit.
To listen requires silence and as we grow in our faith it is important to learn to meditate on the world of God. I have personally read the Bible from cover to cover many times and that is good, but what can happen with a rigorous Bible reading plan is there is no time to reflect on God’s Word. Stott recommends “Pray before you read, asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and illumine your mind. Then read slowly, meditatively and thoughtfully. Read and reread the passage. Wrestle with it until it yields its meaning” . Keep a notebook about your reading and read other books about the Bible [a good commentary is helpful]. Overall, look for Jesus Christ.
He is there.
When we commit to follow Jesus, we have a new Father. It is important to realize that life after our commitment is a life-long effort to know Him better and better. We may make an effort to emulate Christ in our lives and that effort is extremely commendable, but it is important to be realistic in our efforts. Christ lived among us and He never committed a sin. We are not built that way and He knows it. We will sin but the most important thing is to confess it. We will have remorse about sinning but don’t dwell on the sin too long. God does not want a relationship that is static. He understands us, He made us and He wants us to continue our efforts to know Him more. Find a way to accept His forgiveness and move forward, getting even closer to Him.
Let me close with the ideas of privilege and responsibility. To be a child of God is a wonderful privilege and no one should take it for granted. However, it is just the beginning to giving ourselves to Christ. Obligations or responsibilities are very important. We are obligated to grow up as Christians. We are responsible for our own commitment.
It is not good to be classified as one of those Christians who are born again but do not grow. Stott writes “To neglect to grow in your understanding it to court disaster” .
I don’t know about you, but I want to get out of that nursery.
*By righteous life, I mean private righteousness, not public righteousness. No human can be like Jesus but we can all make an effort to get closer to the Son of God and God Himself. I use the word “work” cautiously, because I am not advocating legalism.
**”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2nd Corinthians 5: 17.
***Of course justification is giving our lives to Christ [we are made right, or justified]; sanctification is growing in righteous, Christ-like behavior.
****These “good things” are called fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
*****There are many books on prayer but one of the most thorough is W. Bingham Hunter, The God Who Hears. I discussed this book on “St. John Studies” beginning with my November 10, 2016 post entitled “Exposing my Bias.”