The Test of Discipleship
"IF any man be in Christ, he is a new
creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2
A person may not be able to
tell the exact time or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of
conversion; but this does not prove him to be unconverted. Christ said to Nicodemus,
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not
tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the
Spirit." John 3:8. Like the wind, which is invisible, yet the effects of which are
plainly seen and felt, is the Spirit of God in its work upon the human heart. That
regenerating power, which no human eye can see, begets a new life in the soul; it creates
a new being in the image of God. While the work of the Spirit is silent and imperceptible,
its effects are manifest. If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God, the life
will bear witness to the fact. While we cannot do anything to change our hearts or to
bring ourselves into harmony with God; while we must not trust at all to ourselves or our
good works, our lives will reveal whether the grace of God is dwelling within us. A change
will be seen in the character, the habits, the pursuits. The contrast will be clear and
decided between what they have been and what they are. The character is revealed, not
occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words
It is true that there may be
an outward correctness of deportment without the renewing power of Christ. The love of
influence and the desire for the esteem of others may produce a well-ordered life.
Self-respect may lead us to avoid the appearance of evil. A selfish heart may perform
generous actions. By what means, then, shall we determine whose side we are on?
Who has the heart? With whom
are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our
best energies? If we are Christ's, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts
are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe
His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.
Those who become new
creatures in Christ Jesus will bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, "love, joy,
peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Galatians
5:22, 23. They will no longer fashion themselves according to the former lusts, but by the
faith of the Son of God they will follow in His steps, reflect His character, and purify
themselves even as He is pure. The things they once hated they now love, and the things
they once loved they hate. The proud and self-assertive become meek and lowly in heart.
The vain and supercilious become serious and unobtrusive. The drunken become sober, and
the profligate pure. The vain customs and fashions of the world are laid aside. Christians
will seek not the "outward adorning," but "the hidden man of
the heart, in
that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." 1 Peter
3: 3, 4.
There is no evidence of
genuine repentance unless it works reformation. If he restore the pledge, give again that
he had robbed, confess his sins, and love God and his fellow men, the sinner may be sure
that he has passed from death unto life.
When, as erring, sinful
beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in
the heart. Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a
delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness,
becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness.
The loveliness of the
character of Christ will be seen in His followers. It was His delight to do the will of
God. Love to God, zeal for His glory, was the controlling power in our Saviour's life.
Love beautified and ennobled all His actions. Love is of God. The unconsecrated heart
cannot originate or produce it. It is found only in the heart where Jesus reigns. "We
love, because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19, R.V. In the heart renewed by divine
grace, love is the principle of action. It modifies the character, governs the impulses,
controls the passions, subdues enmity, and ennobles the affections. This love, cherished
in the soul, sweetens the life and sheds a refining influence on all around.
There are two errors against
which the children of God--particularly those who have just come to trust in His
grace--especially need to guard. The first, already dwelt upon, is that of looking to
own works, trusting to anything they can do, to bring themselves into harmony with
God. He who is trying to become holy by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an
impossibility. All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin. It
is the grace of Christ alone, through faith, that can make us holy.
The opposite and no less
dangerous error is that belief in Christ releases men from keeping the law of God; that
since by faith alone we become partakers of the grace of Christ, our works have nothing to
do with our redemption.
But notice here that
obedience is not a mere outward compliance, but the service of love. The law of God is an
expression of His very nature; it is an embodiment of the great principle of love, and
hence is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth. If our hearts are renewed
in the likeness of God, if the divine love is implanted in the soul, will not the law of
God be carried out in the life? When the principle of love is implanted in the heart, when
man is renewed after the image of Him that created him, the new-covenant promise is
fulfilled, "I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write
them." Hebrews 10:16. And if the law is written in the heart, will it not shape the
life? Obedience--the service and allegiance of love--is the true sign of discipleship.
Thus the Scripture says, "This is the love of God, that we keep His
commandments." "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is
a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 5:3; 2:4. Instead of releasing man from
obedience, it is faith,
and faith only, that makes us partakers of the grace of Christ,
which enables us to render obedience.
We do not earn salvation by
our obedience; for salvation is the free gift of God, to be received by faith. But
obedience is the fruit of faith. "Ye know that He was manifested to take away our
sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath
not seen Him, neither known Him." 1 John 3:5, 6. Here is the true test. If we abide
in Christ, if the love of God dwells in us, our feelings, our thoughts, our purposes, our
actions, will be in harmony with the will of God as expressed in the precepts of His holy
law. "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is
righteous, even as He is righteous." 1 John 3:7. Righteousness is defined by the
standard of God's holy law, as expressed in the ten precepts given on Sinai.
That so-called faith in
Christ which professes to release men from the obligation of obedience to God, is not
faith, but presumption. "By grace are ye saved through faith." But "faith,
if it hath not works, is dead." Ephesians 2:8; James 2:17. Jesus said of Himself
before He came to earth, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within
My heart." Psalm 40:8. And just before He ascended again to heaven He declared,
"I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." John 15:10. The
Scripture says, "Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. . .
. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked." 1
John 2:3-6. "Because Christ also
suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye
should follow His steps." 1 Peter 2:21.
The condition of eternal life
is now just what it always has been,--just what it was in Paradise before the fall of our
first parents,--perfect obedience to the law of God, perfect righteousness. If eternal
life were granted on any condition short of this, then the happiness of the whole universe
would be imperiled. The way would be open for sin, with all its train of woe and misery,
to be immortalized.
It was possible for Adam,
before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God's law. But he failed to
do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves
righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law. We have no
righteousness of our own with which to meet the claims of the law of God. But Christ has
made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and temptations such as we have
to meet. He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and
give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour,
then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous.
Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just
as if you had not sinned.
More than this, Christ
changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection
with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as you
do this, He will work in you to will and to do
according to His good pleasure. So you may
say, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,
who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20. So Jesus said to His
disciples, "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in
you." Matthew 10:20. Then with Christ working in you, you will manifest the same
spirit and do the same good works --works of righteousness, obedience.
So we have nothing in
ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of
hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit
working in and through us.
When we speak of faith, there
is a distinction that should be borne in mind. There is a kind of belief that is wholly
distinct from faith. The existence and power of God, the truth of His word, are facts that
even Satan and his hosts cannot at heart deny. The Bible says that "the devils also
believe, and tremble;" but this is not faith. James 2:19. Where there is not only a
belief in God's word, but a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is yielded to
Him, the affections fixed upon Him, there is faith--faith that works by love and purifies
the soul. Through this faith the heart is renewed in the image of God. And the heart that
in its unrenewed state is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, now
delights in its holy precepts, exclaiming with the psalmist, "O how love I Thy law!
it is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97. And the righteousness of the law is
fulfilled in us, "who
walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans
There are those who have
known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they
realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt
whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not
draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus
because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are
overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ
is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Said the beloved John,
"These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an
advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." 1 John 2:1. And do not forget
the words of Christ, "The Father Himself loveth you." John 16:27. He desires to
restore you to Himself, to see His own purity and holiness reflected in you. And if you
will but yield yourself to Him, He that hath begun a good work in you will carry it
forward to the day of Jesus Christ. Pray more fervently; believe more fully. As we come to
distrust our own power, let us trust the power of our Redeemer, and we shall praise Him
who is the health of our countenance.
The closer you come to Jesus,
the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and
your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This
is evidence that Satan's delusions have lost their
power; that the vivifying influence of
the Spirit of God is arousing you.
No deep-seated love for Jesus
can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. The soul that is
transformed by the grace of Christ will admire His divine character; but if we do not see
our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the
beauty and excellence of Christ.
The less we see to esteem in
ourselves, the more we shall see to esteem in the infinite purity and loveliness of our
Saviour. A view of our sinfulness drives us to Him who can pardon; and when the soul,
realizing its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will reveal Himself in power. The
more our sense of need drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more exalted views we
shall have of His character, and the more fully we shall reflect His image.