As I have “ping-ponged” back and forth between The Cross of Christ and Basic Christianity, I have been heading toward conclusions, the final summaries of each book. The Cross is considered by many theologians as John Stott’s magnum opus, the crowning glory of all his writings. Basic is a much earlier work, designed to be helpful to the person who has made a commitment to Jesus but is not that familiar with what that entails. They seek more basic knowledge about their new faith.
We are in the final chapter of Basic and after navigating through introducing Christ as a person, man’s need for Him, and His work here on earth, Stott is discussing man’s response to Jesus’s sacrifice for us, His death on the cross.
I find it very interesting to read these words: “Yesterday really was an eventful day!…Up until now Christ has been on the circumference and I have but asked Him to guide me instead of giving Him complete control. Behold He stands at the door and knocks. I have heard Him and now He has come into my house. He has cleansed it and now rules in it.” These are words from a diary, and the next day’s entry is “I really have felt an immense and new joy throughout the day. It is the joy of being at peace with the world and of being in touch with God.”
These words are from John Stott’s own diary, written when he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
What is next in his days ahead? Life…
The day we find Jesus is pivotal, but life goes on, with its good days and bad days. Many feel a spiritual high as they realize a freedom from the bonds of sin they have never felt before, an exhilaration of a brighter future with a new approach to life. That “high” may last for a while but eventually life interferes and we find ourselves confronted with problems and some of them are so severe that our new faith is sorely tested.
We cannot just freeze time and enjoy one bright, shining moment forever.
There is much more to the Christian life than this. We have to find a way to grow our faith in the midst of what life offers, and we know that life will offer challenges that can suck any enthusiasm we felt out of our “eventful day”. Stott points out that wise new Christians make commitments to joining a church, hoping that fellowship with other Christians can inspire us and guide us through the good times and the bad. Christians interested in growth will start the process of learning as much as they can about God, seeking to do His will. Sinning does not stop in a new Christian’s life so it is essential to understand the grace of God, for we need it every day as we are tempted to do what is not right. Many Christians look around and see that there are places where there is great need and they decide they can spend their energies serving their fellow man.
As John Wesley says, being made right with God is not the end, it is just the beginning. We are supposed to move from justifying grace to sanctifying grace.
I remember my own experience of justification. I like to think it was a pivotal moment. Before that moment, I was someone who worked very hard; my whole life was centered around pleasing my boss. I loved the attention I got because when I took on big projects, I succeeded. I was climbing the ladder of success. My problem was that I did not have a “relationship” with Jesus Christ. I had been committed to my goals in life so much that I had quit going to church [even though when I was “going to church” it was just a duty, not for the worship of God]. I fell into the habit of needing Sunday to rest a little and prepare for the work in the upcoming week. I had life under control. I was very effective in my job and that was all that mattered.
I realized one morning that I had left my family behind. That is where it started. I had a wife and I had a son. I barely gave them one percent of my attention, but one morning I awakened to find that I was about to lose them and that shook me to my core. I needed them but instead of being in their lives, I took them for granted. I just assumed my family was ok as I selfishly pursued my life vision.
I remember the “pivotal moment” that morning when I took the family dog on a walk. I had heard the most crushing news I had ever heard in my life. My world was crumbling and the guy who thought he was under control suddenly realized that his “control” was just a figment of his imagination.
My direct address to God that morning was “What do I do Lord?” He spoke to my Holy Spirt that morning, giving me a message that at the time made little sense: “Go to work, have the best day you can have and wait for help. I am sending you help.”
John Stott gave his life to Christ and felt that Jesus was taking over. The next day he knew Christ was in his life, controlling his life and [cleansing it and ruling it].
My point is this: everyone’s experience is different. I embarked that morning on a process that took a long time. It was a full year of commitment to Christ before my wife would even utter the words “I love you.” I did not deserve those words but maybe she saw a penitent husband who was trying to live a better life, a life dedicated to God, my wife, my son and my church. Work was good but it was not number one anymore. My whole experience taught me that putting work “center stage” in one’s life is folly.
My experience taught me that justification is just the beginning. The real work of the Christian life is beyond the “pivotal moment.” Do some make that walk to the altar, declaring their new-found faith and stop? Yes they do.
Stott writes after one lets Christ in the door of their lives, this is just the beginning of the Christian life. “Becoming a Christian is one thing; being a Christian is another.”
Taking that first step is important. You cannot be a child of God without it. It is truly a miracle. God has given you a new life. You are a “new person” in Christ. You are a new member of a new family, the family of God. When you were born, you were not conscious of the event. With the new birth of Christ, you are fully conscious and you know something has happened, something needed, something very good. You have become a new creature in Christ.
But it is only the beginning. Stott’s final chapter of Basic Christianity is dedicated to the rest of your life.
I love the title. It is so appropriate.
“Being A Christian”