The distinguishing mark of Vigorous Christianity
What do we mean by this term, ‘vigorous Christianity’? We mean that we urge on our people the life of dedicated discipleship, informed by, transformed by and conformed to the Word of God. The Bible is not merely a source of truth concerning who God is and how God may be known (and it is that), but it is a guide for living a life as God expects of believers.
Our world is not much on authority – young people are taught to be ‘creative’, to be free, to express their feelings and live their lives as they see fit. In our ‘anything goes’ culture, we are told that almost every kind of self-expression is permissible, bounded only by such things as might cause personal injury to another.
The modern Christian church is perhaps not as libertine as the culture at large (though in some cases it seems to exceed the culture!), but much is made of Christian liberty and much of Christian culture has become very little distinguished from the culture of the world.
The Bible addresses this spirit with such injunctions as these:
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. [NAU]
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. [NAU]
James 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [NAU]
As disciples of Christ, we take exhortations such as these very seriously. We wish to live in conformity to them. It is not that we believe our works will gain us credit with God! Far from it! The only credit we can have from God is that which is earned for us by Jesus Christ. No, it is not God’s credit or approval we seek. Rather, we seek to honour God’s name which we bear as Christians and to make God’s name glorious in the eyes of the watching world. There is nothing so embarrassing to us as our own sins. There is nothing so shameful as hearing of a professing believer whose failures cause the world to mock Christ. We deeply desire that we will not become such an example ourselves. We desire, by our turning away from the world and worldly living, to bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ.
As such, then, we mean to be vigorous in Christianity. We mean to examine ourselves by the Word on a personal level and on a corporate level. That means we encourage positive Christian devotion: prayers, Bible reading, Bible study, church attendance, and such like. That means we encourage personal accountability to one another, encouraging one another to walk with Christ and discouraging the walk in the world. We mean to watch one another, offering prayers, encouragement and even rebukes (if necessary) that stir up the soul to godly living. Our spirit is informed on this by Scriptures like these:
Hebrews 10:24-25 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. [NAU]
Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. [NAU]
Some have opposed vigorous Christianity by appealing to Christian liberty. They misuse such passages as Galatians 5.1:
Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. [NAU]
They forget that the very same chapter speaks of the changed Christian life this way:
Galatians 5:18-24 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. [NAU]
Instead of heeding such passages, Christians want to justify their liberty to do such things that lead to drunkenness, to dally with such elements of the world (it’s music, it’s entertainment, it’s theatres, it’s many arts) as will inflame the lusts of the flesh and not cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. Such things ought not to be.
We do not advocate the turning from the ways of the world for the sake of guaranteeing our purity or holiness. All too tragically, Christian men and women who have led what appear to be ‘model’ lives on the outside have been ensnared in many grievous sins. But we cannot say that since such failures occur, the solution is to abandon all restraint! No, on the contrary, we ought to pursue with great vigor the faithful Christian walk, shunning this world and loving the world that is to come.
Colossians 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. [KJV]
Finally, we contend that the attitude of the vigorous Christian towards worldliness is no innovation. While the writings of Christian men are not Scripture, they are an example to us of how men who are informed by the Bible think. We have many exhortations from the earliest ages of the church which counsel us to live the vigorous Christian life, to shun the world and its pleasures, to live apart and live for God. Such exhortations have been the theme of faithful, Bible believing Christians through every age of the Church.
Those who advocate for liberty are the innovators. They are those who must justify their departure from the Scriptures and from the historical attitude of Christianity and the church to the ways of the world.
As such, we are committed as a church to building up lives that promote vigorous Christian spirituality, as free from worldly influence and pollution as we can make it.
For your consideration, we add to this article a few comments from ancient Christians that echo our themes and concerns expressed above. What do you think? Though centuries old, these comments sound very contemporary:
And let not their ears be pierced, contrary to nature, in order to attach to them ear-rings and ear-drops. For it is not right to force nature against her wishes. Nor could there be any better ornament for the ears than true instruction, which finds its way naturally into the passages of hearing. And eyes anointed by the Word, and ears pierced for perception, make a man a hearer and contemplator of divine and sacred things, the Word truly exhibiting the true beauty “which eye hath not seen nor ear heard before.”
- Clement of Alexandria [c. AD 195], Paedagogus, 2.13, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Philip Schaff, electronic ed., (Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 2000).
There is no law forbidding the mere places to us. For not only the places for show-gatherings, but even the temples, may be entered without any peril of his religion by the servant of God, if he has only some honest reason for it, unconnected with their proper business and official duties. Why, even the streets and the market-place, and the baths, and the taverns, and our very dwelling-places, are not altogether free from idols. Satan and his angels have filled the whole world. It is not by merely being in the world, however, that we lapse from God, but by touching and tainting ourselves with the world’s sins. I shall break with my Maker, that is, by going to the Capitol or the temple of Serapis to sacrifice or adore, as I shall also do by going as a spectator to the circus and the theater. The places in themselves do not contaminate, but what is done in them; from this even the places themselves, we maintain, become defiled. The polluted things pollute us.
- Tertullian [c. AD 197], Works, 1.3.8, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Philip Schaff, electronic ed., (Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 2000).
If you are superior to the passions, you will despise all worldly things.
- Tatian [c. AD 160], Address to the Greeks, 19, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Philip Schaff, electronic ed., (Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 2000).
It is not possible for any one to enter into the kingdom of heaven, who has not been turned away from the affairs of this world, and made like unto the little children who possess the Holy Spirit.
- Origen [c. AD 245], Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Philip Schaff, electronic ed., (Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 2000).
Ye Servants of God, about to draw near to God, that you may make solemn consecration of yourselves to Him, seek well to understand the condition of faith, the reasons of the Truth, the laws of Christian Discipline, which forbid among other sins of the world, the pleasures of the public shows. Ye who have testified and confessed that you have done so already, review the subject, that there may be no sinning whether through real or willful ignorance. For such is the power of earthly pleasures, that, to retain the opportunity of still partaking of them, it contrives to prolong a willing ignorance, and bribes knowledge into playing a dishonest part.
- Tertullian, Works: de Spectaculis, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Philip Schaff, electronic ed., (Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 2000).