Friday, March 23, 2012

What Is The Victorious Christian Life?

As a Christian I strongly believe that the Bible is a manual for Christian living.  It is certainly more than that but surely it supplies God's will for how he wants us to live so that we might glorify him.  But too often we read it as if its main purpose is to help us have financial success or a good marriage or a great bunch of children or how to get our act together in any number of ways.  We begin to read it as if we are the subjects and not the Lord.

Here lately we have seen that when the Bible speaks on marriage or being a slave or even asking for or giving forgiveness, how it affects us is not really dealt with at all but instead how it honors Christ or not.  Let me give some examples, 1Pe 3:7  Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  Notice that the reason to be a good husband is not so that you might have a happier, more satisfying marriage but that your relationship to the Lord would not suffer.  In verse one we see a similar thing, 1Pe 3:1  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.  He doesn't say that wives should submit to their husbands so that he might treat you better but so that this rebel might cease from his sin and submit to the gospel of Christ.  If you read through Eph. 5, where Paul speaks about how a husband and wife are to relate to each other, I think you will see the same principle.  The effect on the marriage isn't the reason to love and submit, but the honor of the Lord is the ultimate reason and the only reason referred to.

Notice how he puts it in Tit 2:3-5, Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.  The health of the church and the family and whether we feel fulfilled in our marriages or not is not the reason put forth.

Later on when speaking of how slaves deal with all the injustices and emotional problems that would arise from being abused by a master, the motivation to do right, be faithful and show love is not so that he can "deal" with life and find emotional stability and fulfillment but that he might display honor for the Word of God especially where it speaks of the person of God, Tit 2:9  Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, Tit 2:10  not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. 

I think this is something that is mostly lost on at least us in Western Culture today. So many of our books seem to show how serving the Lord will lead to making things better for us.  It is all about us finding release from bitterness, stable emotions, fulfilling family life and so on so we will be happy and satisfied.  Certainly those things are not unimportant but they are a by product at best in serving God.  And in some cases serving God doesn't lead to a better marriage or sound finances at all.  If we assume it will then we are going to be unprepared when it doesn't work.  If we endure all that God might be honored then it doesn't matter if our husbands treat us tenderly or not or if our master treats us fairly or not or if living within our means doesn't ever seem to bring financial security, because we aren't doing it first and foremost for these reasons to begin with.  We do what we do to honor our Lord and Savior.  

I recently read something from D. A. Carson that applies here, "But the fact remains that the psychological benefits do not receive primary stress in Scripture, where the emphasis is on the eternal benefits
of being right with God."  This is said in the context of our forgiving others of offenses against us.  Like in the above examples, the motivation to do so is always the gospel of Christ.  We do so because we are sinners saved by grace and only people who forgive are going to be the ones welcomed into heaven.  Here is an example, Mat 18:34  "And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. Mat 18:35  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."  

I think the ramifications of this are striking if we will think it through but let me offer a couple of examples.  If we make obeying the Lord all about what practical, immediate benefit we get from it then what do we do when we live with a husband who treat us coldly even when the wife is as loving and submissive as she knows to be and he does this until the day he dies?  What does the slave do when his master returns good for evil and in all likelihood he will die a slave?  If he is being a good slave with the hopes that he will be treated fairly or perhaps freed then his obedience hasn't accomplished anything.  Just like if a wife submits and loves only because she thinks her life will become better.  But what if it isn't the Lord's will for our lives to be better in the immediate sense?  What if serving the Lord makes our lives harder?  The satisfaction and fulfillment, peace, joy and overcoming bitterness is only found in our relationship with Christ and the promises he gives to those who have found salvation in his cross.

"Victorious Christian living" is being satisfied and fulfilled in having Christ whether our lives are outwardly blessed or whether outwardly our lives are in turmoil.  Success is having Christ and being content with him.  The beauty of this is that there is no circumstance in this life capable of taking it away.

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