LIVING FOR JESUS

 

 

Some Thoughts by

Gary Ray Branscome

 

What does the LORD require of you, but to do what is right, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

 

          Without faith in Christ it is impossible to please God, and thus impossible to be reconciled to Him (Hebrews 11:6). And, without that reconciliation we have no hope. Therefore, without faith in Christ our life would be less than meaningless, it would be tragic. However, once we come to faith in Christ that all changes. Through faith in Him all the treasures of heaven are ours. And, all of the sorrows of this life pale in comparison with those treasures, and with all that lies in store for us as citizens of His heavenly kingdom.

          At the same time, once those who come to faith in Christ realize that they are not saved by what they do, but by what He did for them by dying in their place on the cross, they are often confused as to how they should live. On one hand they know that Christ has freed them from the law (Romans 7:4), yet on the other hand they realize that faith cannot exist in a heart that is unrepentant (1John 1:6). They know that they should do what is right, and they want to honor Christ with their lives, but they do not know where to draw the line.

In attempting to remove this confusion, while avoiding some common pitfalls, let me begin by saying that when a person comes to faith in Christ, the first thing he should do is get rid of those things that hindered him from coming to faith in Christ. That being said, it should be obvious that no two people are going to be exactly alike, nor are they going to face the same hindrances. However, all men struggle with the problem of sin, and all need to deal with that sin. The difficulty lies in the fact that most men excuse their sin, blind themselves to their sin, and rationalize it to the point that they no longer feel any guilt over it. For many that is the biggest hindrance to coming to faith in Christ. Now, I realize that there are always exceptions. There are always some who are so burdened down with a sense of the magnitude of their own sin that they worry that God’s grace may not be sufficient for them (2Corinthians 12:9). Such people need the assurance that God’s grace is sufficient (Romans 5:20, John 6:37). However, I believe that most people have a problem seeing their sins, and in many cases feeling any guilt over them. I am not saying that they do not see any of their sins – although there are people like that – but that they are blind to most of their sins. Therefore, when they do come to Christ, they need to prayerfully seek God’s help in peeling back that blindness, so that they might see – inasmuch as is humanly possible – all of the sins that God sees in them (Isaiah 64:6). At the same time, they should keep their eyes on Christ, looking to Him for forgiveness.

 

          Because of this blindness to sin, many people assume that they are righteous if they do not openly break the Ten Commandments, at least in a “big” way. In other words, they think they are righteous as long as they do not commit the act of idolatry, murder, adultery, or bank robbery etc.. However, what they fail to realize is that in ancient Israel, The Ten Commandments were given to Moses as the basis of civil law, not religious law. There were religious laws, and Aaron was in charge of carrying them out. But, the Ten Commandments were the basis of the political law. That means that everyone living in Israel, both believer and unbeliever alike, was expected to outwardly do what the Ten Commandments require. There was no special merit in such outward compliance. Outwardly doing what the Ten Commandments require should be the norm in any civilized society. When God gave those commandments, He never intended for people to think that mere outward observance would make anyone righteous. On the contrary, it is written, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20).

          God certainly wants you to keep the Ten Commandments, and willfully transgressing them can bring His wrath. However, God’s standard requires far more than mere outward compliance. God looks at the heart. When you are tempted to misuse God’s name, skip church, disrespect your parents, blow someone away, commit adultery, or take something that is not yours instead of patting yourself on the back because you did not commit the actual act, God wants you to say, “Forgive me O Lord for I have a wicked heart that continually yearns to do evil” (Luke 17:10). That is what Micah 6:8 is talking about when it says, “walk humbly with your God”. Humility requires us to confess our sin before God. Therefore, instead of making us righteous, the Ten Commandments show us how wicked we are, for if were really righteous we would never want to do what is wrong in the first place. Nor would we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are righteous when God plainly says that we are not (Romans 3:10-20).

 

Seeing Yourself as God Sees You

          In my own life, once I realized how blindness to my own sins had hindered me in coming to faith in Christ, I spent over a year prayerfully seeking God’s help in seeing all of my sins. I wanted to see for myself why all of my “righteousnesses” were as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). I wanted to look at all five levels of sin in my life: 1- a heart that is so wicked that it continually yearns to do evil, 2- the evil feelings and desires engendered by that heart, 3- the evil thoughts that those desires produce, 4- the evil words that evil thoughts and passions produce, and 5- the evil actions that are the end result of evil desires, thoughts, and words. At the same time, I wanted to impress upon my heart the fact that certain sins are not trivial just because they do not involve an outward act. On the contrary, without the forgiveness that Christ died to secure for us, any one of those sins would be enough to consign us to an eternity in hell. As it is written, “whoever keeps the whole law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of all” (James 2:10).  

          What I discovered during this time was that, as long as I thought that I had any righteousness at all, even a little bit, I saw freedom from the law as freedom to be unrighteous. It was only as I came to see that all of my own efforts at righteousness were as filthy rags, and that I had no righteousness of my own, that I understood that freedom from the law is what makes us righteous, not what makes us sinners. In other words, my whole perspective changed once it became clear to me that I had no righteousness of my own. It was only then that I truly hungered and thirsted after righteousness. And, it was only then that I could see clearly that the law was what kept me from being righteous. Far from making me righteous, the law constantly condemned me. It condemned every evil desire, urge, thought, word, or deed that reared its ugly head (Matthew 5:48). It was only then that I truly longed to be free from the law, not so that I could do evil, but so that I could be righteous. I longed to be free from the law so that I could be a good citizen, a faithful husband, and a godly father without being constantly condemned by God's law (Romans 6:18).

          It is only as I came to that point that I understood what it really means to walk by faith. To walk by faith is to live your life confident that as you try to do what is right at home, on the job, and in your life you are not condemned by God – not because of anything good in you, but because of the forgiveness you have in Christ. Once a person knows that he has no righteousness of his own, and has felt the condemnation of God’s law, he no longer feels the need to look for some rule to keep in hope of gaining God’s favor. On the contrary, the time he has spent condemning his own sins will have inscribed the law of God upon his heart (Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10). At that point, he simply needs to walk in a clean conscience before God, trusting in His promise of forgiveness in Christ (Galatians 3:6 and 5:16-18).

 

A Clean Conscience Before God

          When it comes to a clean conscience, I want to make it clear that having a clean conscience is not what makes us righteous. If we trust in our own conscience we will be condemned for everything in our life that falls short of perfect righteousness (1John 1:9 and 5:17, 1Corinthians 4:4). However, when our faith is in Christ, as long as we do not sin willfully (as David did in the matter of Uriah) no sin will be imputed unto us (1Kings 15:5, Romans 4:6-8, Hebrews 10:26-31).

          Now it is important not to confuse conscience with guilt. Our conscience is our inner knowledge that something is wrong. That inner knowledge is rooted in the law of God written on the heart (Romans 2:15). Guilt, on the other hand, is the condemnation we should feel when we do something that we know is wrong. People often think that they are walking in a clean conscience if they feel no guilt over what they do, but that is not the case. One of the problems that believers need to deal with is the fact that it is possible to feel no guilt at all over things that are clearly contrary to God’s law. I once pointed out certain sins to a man only to have him say, “that isn’t sin that’s just human nature”. If you are under that delusion, then you need to retrain your conscience in order to bring your thinking into accord with God’s Word (Romans 12:2, 2Corinthians 10:5).

          In retraining our conscience we need to learn to recognize the self-deception involved in rationalizing sin. To rationalize sin is to find some excuse for it so that committing that sin no longer bothers the conscience. Rationalizing sin is the way of the world, but it is just another form of rebellion against God, and rebellion has no place in the life of a believer (Jeremiah 17:9, John 1:47, 1John 1:9). We only walk in a clean conscience when we do what is right without trying to excuse or justify what is wrong. 

 

Walking By Faith

          Once you come to faith in Christ you should be baptized as soon as possible. However, let me make it clear that baptism is not a requirement of the law. It is not an act of obedience. In fact, it is not even something you do, it is something that God’s representative does to you. On your part, it is a public testimony to your faith in Christ. You come to baptism as an acknowledgement that you are a sinner, and that you believe that there is forgiveness in Christ. God then has His representative wash you with water as a way of telling you that when you looked to Christ for forgiveness your sins were washed away. On the day of Pentecost, every Jew who went forward to be baptized was (by his action) testifying to his faith that Christ was the Messiah. Likewise, our baptism is a public testimony to our faith in Christ. The promise of forgiveness in Christ that we receive is the same promise that God gave to Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9). And, to be baptized, “In the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,” is to be baptized believing that there is forgiveness in Christ (Acts 2:38). For that reason, if a person refuses to be baptized there is a problem with his faith. Such a refusal may even be seen as a denial of Christ. And, Christ said, “Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33).

 

          Having come to faith in Christ, you should also want to be with other believers, you should want to join with them in worship, and you should want to support the work of His church. Since a tithe was required of those living under the old covenant, some believers make that their standard of giving. However, if we really appreciate all that Christ has done for us we should want to give more than just a tenth. At the same time, we are not under the Old Testament law, and we are not required to give a tithe. Here I am going to make some people angry because those who have a weak faith want to be motivated by the law, and want to believe that they can earn God’s favor by what they do. In their zeal for works they would place believers back under the law. But, that is a delusion. Now, there are times when God does reward giving, and God is able to “make every blessing abound” to those who give (2Corinthians 9:8). But, He is under no obligation to do so. There have been times in my life when I have seen giving followed by a great outpouring of His blessing, and other times when it has not. At any rate, our motivation should be our love for Christ, not our hope of gain, and certainly not the misguided belief that God will cause bad things to happen to us if we do not give (Romans 8:1). God loves a cheerful giver, but only those who are not being forced to give can truly give cheerfully, and what God loves is not our money but our kindness and compassion for others (2Corinthians 9:7-9).

 

            All who come to faith in Christ should likewise take seriously the responsibility they have to their family. There is no place for immorality or divorce (for any reason other than adultery Matthew 19:9) in the life of a Christian, and those who persist in such behavior need to be placed under congregational discipline (Matthew 18:15-20). Then, if they refuse to repent they need to be delivered unto Satan in hope that they will (in time) repent, put that sin out of their life, and come back to faith in Christ (1Corinthians 5:1-5, 2Corinthians 2:6-8, 1John 1:6). Because of our sinful nature it is hard to totally eliminate strife from our homes. However, Christian husbands and wives are expected to deal with each other with the same love that Christ has shown us, and to forgive each other as God has forgiven us.

          Now, I realize that Christians are sometimes the innocent victims of divorce. In some cases their spouse has been unfaithful, in others their spouse has ended the marriage for no good reason. God allows remarriage in such cases, but only in the Lord (1Corinthians 7:10-16). However, God still hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and for that reason it is not an option for believers.

          We also have a responsibility to see that our children are brought up in the faith (Deuteronomy 6:7). That responsibility rests on our shoulders, not someone else’s (Proverbs 22:6). And, just as it would be wrong for us to send our children to a Buddhist school, or a Muslim school, it is equally wrong to send them to an Atheist school. Knowing that they will be indoctrinated in the Atheist religion. Knowing that Atheist doctrines are clearly contrary to Christian teaching.  We talk about freedom of religion, but if we really had freedom of religion in this country, government schools would not be allowed to interfere in the religious instruction of our children by teaching contrary to God’s Word. Nor would we be forced (through taxation) to support a school system that indoctrinates our children in an atheist [i.e. secular] worldview, and teaches them atheist doctrines that should be abhorrent to every Christian.

 

          Once we understand that righteousness comes only through faith in Christ, it should be clear that the job of a minister does not make the man who does it any more holy than anyone else. That job has no inherent merit in it just because it is religious. In fact, it can bring great condemnation to those who abuse it. Therefore, you do not need to go into the ministry in order to serve God. You can serve Him just as well where you are. You can serve Him by serving others, by paying a fair wage, charging honest prices, putting in a good day’s work, and dealing with others in the way you would want Christ to deal with you. Christians ought to conduct themselves in such a way that any employer would prefer to hire Christians.

 

Because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Acts 10:17), Christian growth involves Bible study. We need to learn what the Bible says, so that our faith rests on what God says in His Word not what men have told us it says. At the same time, when reading God’s Word it is important not to let your imagination run wild. We dare not read our own ideas into the text of Scripture. The only legitimate aim of Bible study is to learn what God says, and He plainly tells us that the message He wants us to get from Scripture is nothing “other than what you read” (2Corinthians 1:13). That is why Dr. Francis Piper said, “The first and foremost duty of the exegete consists in holding the flighty spirit of man to the simple word of Scripture and, where he has departed from it, to lead him back to the simple word of Scripture.” [“Christian Dogmatics”, Vol. 1, pg. 360]

Therefore, concentrate on the plain meaning of the words, and begin by learning what is taught in passages that are so clear that they need no interpretation. Once you learn what those passages teach, you can interpret everything else in the light of what they teach.

         

          In our everyday lives, we should be an influence for what is good and right and godly. If God places us in a position of authority, then we should use our influence in a way that brings honor to Christ. I am not talking about cheap shows of piety, or foolish attempts to make people righteous by passing laws. I have already explained that the law cannot make anyone righteous (Romans 3:20). I am talking about honest, honorable conduct – conduct that is above reproach – the kind of conduct that marked the life of Joseph and Daniel. Every decision we make should be fair, just, and totally honorable. We should conduct ourselves in such a way that even those outside the faith will prefer to have Christians in authority. In saying this, I know that there will be some who will hate us simply because we are Christians. There will be others who hate us because we cannot be bribed. There will be some who try to kill us, just as there were some who tried to kill Daniel. But, we should live our lives in a way that brings honor to Christ.

          When it comes to government. The Bible clearly teaches the “Rule of Law”. By “Rule of Law”, we mean that rulers must obey the law. We mean that rulers should never be free to kill whomever they please, rape whomever they please, and rob whomever they please. Nor should they be free to take bribes, overthrow justice, condemn the innocent, or let the guilty go free. Our freedoms are only secure when the law does not allow our rulers to disregard the Ten Commandments. When it does not allow them to force us to worship false gods, forbid us to gather for worship, indoctrinate our children contrary to our religious beliefs, rob us, slander us, kill us, and so forth. People talk about “separation of church and state”, but Satan has twisted that cliché to mean the total opposite of what it originally meant. If we really had “separation of church and state” in this country, a Christian congressman could stand up in Congress and say, “I am introducing this bill to stop abortion, because the Bible says it is wrong”, and everyone there would say, “Put it to a vote, he has just as much right to his opinion as anyone else”.

 

Conclusion

Repentance is not a one-time thing. On the contrary, our life should be a life of repentance. Every day, we should subdue the flesh by condemning its evil desires, and looking anew to Christ for mercy. Those who claim to trust in Christ while willfully continuing in sin, have a false faith. It is impossible for someone who does not want to stop sinning to have faith in Christ, because they do not want what he offers. They do not want to be delivered from sin; they want to be allowed to sin. They do not want Christ to take away their sin, they want Him to help them continue in sin, and that is not what He died for. That is why the Bible says, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we are lying, and are not living the truth” (1John 1:6).

As Christians, we should want our lives to honor Christ. We should want to honor Him in all we think and do. And, for that reason, we should conduct ourselves in a way that is above reproach.