Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Christian Character

If you've ever tried to have a discussion about holy living, with someone who claims to be a Christian yet is resistant to everything you mention on the topic, you already know how frustrating that can be. If that person is someone close to you and dear to your heart, it moves beyond frustrating and slides straight into anguish.

Earlier this week over at Steve's, I noticed he'd posted the short article by J.C. Ryle called ARE YOU BORN AGAIN? It's a short but a very good article that defines six character points that should be found agreeable by any professing believer. I would encourage you to read the original article there, because I'm going to address the points from a bit of a slightly different perspective. The perspective that I deal with on a regular basis.

1. A person who has been born again does not live a life of sin. (John 5:18, 1John 3:9)

One of the more common arguments I've come across is that these are weaknesses, or mistakes, or 'something I'm struggling with'. The problem with this excuse is that there is no struggle to remove, resist or run from these sins. Sometimes it seems like it's all the more dangerous to the self-deceived that they even know the Christian language to give themselves excuses like this, but this is exactly what they do. They know enough to offer up an excuse but its all head knowledge and not heart felt at all.

2. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1John 5:1)

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and yet in our theologically/religiously liberal culture there are all kinds of people that affirm their brand of Christianity out of one side of their mouths and turn right around and affirm other religions as valid expressions of faith. Christianity is in fact a narrow road, and there is only one way to eternal life - through faith in the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

3. Every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him (1John 2:29)

JC Ryle wrote "The man who is born again, or regenerated, is a holy man. He endeavors to live according to God's will, to do the things that please God and to avoid the things that God hates." In the heart and mind of every true believer, there is a genuine desire to rid their lives of all the things God's word clearly tells us that He is against. It doesn't matter if that is a lifestyle, musical choices, habits, gossipping, anger control issues or anything else. If its something that is detrimental to growth as a believer, its something that has to go. In far too many cases however there is an eagerness from professing Christians to defend such things and make excuses for them and an efforts made to justify them. Rather than humbly receiving correction and instruction in righteousness, a wall goes up and the words that they most desperately need to hear, and to heed, fall flat on deaf ears.

4. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren (1John 3:14)

The regenerated man or woman, boy or girl, truly enjoys being around other believers. There is an instant familial bond that you sense with fellow believers, even if you're just meeting them for the first time. Sadly this is not the case at all with many who call themselves Christians. They have no desire at all to be among other believers. They'll make excuses not to be in a local church often by recalling stories of emotional turmoil in past churches. They have no problem with calling other believers hypocrites or judgemental, and they have little or no use for them at all.

5. Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world (1John 5:4)

JC Ryle wrote "A man who is born again does not use the world's opinion as his standard of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the world's ways, ideas and customs." I cannot pretend that this is an easy thing for any Christian. For some I am sure it is not nearly as hard as it is for others, but to one degree or another we all face this. I know for myself personally it was very difficult for me in the first few years of my Christian walk, to not cave in to the pressure of the ungodly influences around me. Someone with much wisdom told me at the time that to combat this, we have to literally surround ourselves with strong believers that will support us in this area, and be an encouragment to us and help keep us accountable. That is exactly what I did, and it made all the difference then, and now.

In my own (limited) experience with many who profess Christ, not only do they indeed base their decisions and opinions on the world's standard, but they desperately want you to accept that too. "This is normal" "this is what everyone does" "this is how everyone speaks" "this is what everyone wears". Does any of that sound familiar? Indeed this is setting your standard alongside the world's standard and not God's. Its a way to not stand out, and not take a stand for your faith in Christ, lest you be thought less of, in the minds of those you are most concerned with impressing.

6. He that is begotten of God keepeth himself (1John 5:18)

JC Ryle wrote "A man who is born again is careful of his own soul. He tries not only to avoid sin but also to avoid everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He knows that evil communications corrupt the heart and that evil is more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the use of his time; his chief desire is to spend it profitable".

For a variety of reasons, it was hard to read that without a lump forming in my throat. How many times and with how many things/people/circumstances has this dilema come up in the life of every believer? In fact it is an ongoing issue that we'll each face for the rest of our lives. As long as we live in this world filled with ungodly things, and ungodly people, we'll deal with the issue of keeping ourselves from such ungodliness.

Unfortunately, not all professing believers will choose to do that. The rather recent issue among many evangelicals of cussing and using scatalogical humor is one example that comes to mind. The example list could be a mile long but the other things that come to my mind immediately, that professing Christians make excuses for would be ungodly music, raunchy movies, and clothing choices - both men and women (and teens).

In each of these points in the original article, JC Ryle encourages the reader to examine oneself. Asking yourself the questions "what would the apostle (John) say about you? Are you born again?" Self examination is often a brutally honest and terribly uncomfortable thing to do, but its something that we have to do, if we truly have a desire to grow in Him.

Its a very difficult thing to discuss these things with those that profess Christianity, yet have no interest in actually living a Christian life. Its been said many times before that we can say it all we like but that doesn't make it so. As JC Ryle asked:
"What would the apostle say about you?
Are you born again?"