A New Allegiance
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians Chapter 5 Verse 17).
"That sense of newness is simply delicious. It makes new the Bible, and friends, and all mankind, and love, and spiritual things, and Sunday, and church and God Himself. So Iíve found." Ė (Temple Gairdner of Cairo)
"He knew that he had entered upon a war in which there was no discharge, and that ease was not for him on this side of the grave." Ė (Buchan's Life of Oliver Cromwell)
A Christian is one who has been intellectually convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for the sons of men on the cross, and therefore for him personally. He is morally convicted of his own need for such a Saviour as this Jesus, who alone can deal with the problem of his sin.
Finally he has been spiritually converted from a life of self-will and rebellion against God to a life lived in allegiance to the One who died for him. Christ "died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again." This means that the Christian is one who has entered upon a new life. He has, to use our Lord's own words, been "born again," "born from above," "born of the Spirit." He possesses a totally new form of life, "eternal life."
Let us read on a little further in this same section of Paulís letter to the young Church which was struggling to represent Christ in that sink of iniquity, the Greek city of Corinth: "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, they are become new."
Some of us look back with delight to the day when we first entrusted Christ with our lives and the new life began. For some, this has been a sudden experience. It was so for a certain Cambridge undergraduate who had been feeling for some time his urgent need of mastery over sins of fear and selfishness.
One day in his first term, having heard what Christ had done for his friends, and having noticed the difference in their daily lives, he himself knelt beside his bed and committed his soul there and then to his Saviour. He rose to his feet filled with a sense of joyful relief, feeling that he had at last found that for which he had been looking for so long.
The "Jesus of History" had become a reality to him. So real was this experience that he vowed he would tell the first person he met, whoever it might be, about his new-found Lord. Tremblingly he opened the door of his "digs," peered apprehensively each way, and then, his landlady being discreetly absent, triumphantly descended on the nearest living soul - a beggar selling boot-laces by the roadside. The beggar was somewhat taken aback, but the student cared only that he had opened his mouth for his Lord and could not go back. He had crossed the rubicon.
Some readers may be able to recollect a similar experience in their life, the dawning of a new day in the soul which entirely overshadowed even the highlights of the years before. It is the memory of a day when, on the threshold of the new life, they took Christ, as it were, with both hands, prepared for anything - ostracism, unpopularity, or the apathy of indifference. Like Philip of Macedon, in one of his historic assaults, they threw down their ladders to make retreat impossible.
But not all experiences of conversion are so sudden or so clear-cut. The Christian message has attracted men and women of different temperaments and varied outlooks. So we are not surprised to find that God's message of good news is presented in the Bible with a diversity of phraseology and illustration. Any one of these aspects may have been the one that influenced the reader to make the great decision. And the steps leading up to this point may possibly have been slow and gradual.
But if we have no memory of a great spiritual crisis, that is no reason for doubting the fact of one's conversion. There may be some who read these paragraphs who feel that they cannot look back to any definite date when a conscious decision was made. Maybe they have been brought up in a Christian home and cannot remember a time when they were not Christians.
"Conversion" simply means turning round, and refers to the moment when a man's life is re-orientated to God; when he passes out of a state of spiritual death into spiritual life. It is the time of entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Revised Version the word "turn" is used for the more familiar Authorised Version "converted" in one of our Lord's sayings:- "Verily I say unto you, except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Similarly, the name "Christian" was first given to those in Antioch who "believed and turned unto the Lord." A Christian, then, in the Biblical sense, is one who, in response to an irresistible urge within him, has turned from the way in which he was going to face in a new direction, towards God. In other words, he is a "converted" man.
The truth to grasp is that when a man or woman enters into such an experience, no matter what the phraseology may be which is used to describe it, a definite transaction between the individual and God takes place that is always fundamentally the same.
In order that our Christian life may progress and develop as it should, we must understand clearly from the beginning exactly what "becoming a Christian" involves. Whether or not one can recollect the moment of "turning," there need be no doubt about one's actual position now.
A converted man knows whether he is facing towards or away from God. His certainty concerning his spiritual condition is based partly on his own experience, but chiefly on the authority of the Spirit of God speaking through the Scriptures, where God has clearly disclosed the conditions upon which we are admitted to His family.
"As many as received Him (Jesus Christ) to them gave He (God) the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born . . . of God." Christ told Nicodemus that "Except a man be born 'from above,' he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The way in which this miraculous spiritual birth takes place in us is, according to these passages of Scripture, on the human side, by believing on Christ and receiving Him into the whole of one's personality. This appears at first to be a thing quite incomprehensible, but when we turn to the Bible we discover why such a rebirth is necessary.
We learn first of all that sin separates from God. All of us know the desire to avoid the presence of any one whom we have offended in some way. This is but a dim picture of the barrier which guilt sets up between us and God, an obstacle which no amount of resolution on our part can surmount; a gulf which only God can bridge.
An even more important aspect of sin is that it has brought about spiritual death. In the non-Christian man or woman there is something lacking. There is no response to God, no power to see Him truly revealed either in Nature or in the pages of the Bible. There is no love reaching out to Him; no warmth of gratitude; no expression of obedience. Until the Spirit of God has awakened a response in a man's heart and shown him his need, he is cold, indifferent, dead to spiritual things.
These two results of sin, separation from God and spiritual death, are intimately connected. The sacred Scriptures declare that those who do not possess Christ are without life - eternal, divine, spiritual life. They are cut off from Him who is the source of all life. They are "dead" through their sins.
One of the laws of dynamics is that "lifeless systems run to stagnation." One of the laws of the spiritual realm is that the end-result of sin is death and separation from God, the Source of life. Now Christ came to give men life, and to give it to them in a greater degree than ever.
He also said "I am the Life." And since, as a result of His resurrection, Christ is alive today, we can go on to accept the Bible's assertion that "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life."
In the animal world, life is regarded as beginning as soon as the newborn takes its first breath. In the spiritual world, eternal life begins whenever anyone, believing in Christ, receives Him as their Life, and is consequently "born again."
Paul could write to the Galatian Christians and tell them in no uncertain terms: "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." It is the life of God Himself entering the soul of man that makes him a child of God. He becomes a partaker of the divine nature. He receives the gift of eternal life.
Previous to his conversion Scripture regarded him as a "natural man"; subsequently he is called a "spiritual man." He passes from the kingdom of this world into the family of God. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God; and such we are."
This change is more than a psychological integration of the personality. It is much more than a moral spring-clean. It is also something quite different from turning over a new leaf.
A clue to its meaning lies in the new understanding of and the new relationship to Christís death. It may quite likely be along these lines: "It was when my University course was over, and at a time when much outward success attended my path, that a profound conviction of the fatal guilt of sin, the sin of a resistance of the will to the blessed Maker and Master of my being, found its way to my deepest heart.
No striking occasion brought it: I cannot recall word or incident as the exciting cause. But however it came it was there in deep and dread reality. That dark time ended in a full and conscious acceptance of our crucified Redeemer in His complete atonement as peace and life." The speaker here is Handley Moule, Principal of Ridley Hall, and later Bishop of Durham.
God's act of redemption on Calvary is the only ground upon which anyone can approach God, or live for Him. The initiative has always been with God whose heart of love found a way of reconciliation for sinful men in the death of Christ.
Recognising, then, His love from the depths to which He stooped on our behalf, we find ourselves driven to devote our lives "Henceforth unto Him."
The impelling motive behind such a changeover is Christís death. It is because He died for me on the cross that I determine to live for Him; it is because He died for my sins that I henceforth turn my back on sinful ways; it is because He died to win my allegiance that I devote my future energies to doing His will. Nothing but the constraining love of that unique sacrifice on Calvary could account for the complete reorientation of the life which marks the beginning of the Christian's progress.
This brings us to the next question. "To what extent can a Christian be absolutely certain of his status with regard to God?"
"If I could only be sure of how I stand, a burden would be lifted off my shoulders" is a remark to which many have given expression. In the uncertainty of the modem world, where humanism and agnosticism hold out to their adherents scarcely a shred of assurance about anything, the true Christian message comes with convincing power.
The early Christians did not turn the world upside down by propagating fancies and fables. In the New Testament we find the words "we know" repeated on page after page. "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen."
The Christian has a message of certainty. And this sense of conviction is based, not only on his own subjective religious experience, but also upon objective facts revealed by God to man, and recorded for us in the pages of the Bible.
After the new birth has taken place, there is often a sense of exhilaration, of peace of mind and of supreme happiness. But it is the experience of some that after a while doubts begin to creep in. Nothing very spectacular seems to have happened after all. They still have to go through the hum-drum experiences of every-day life.
They still mix and talk with the people they knew before their conversion. Although there is a difference, it may not be of the kind that they had perhaps expected. A sense almost of disappointment begins to creep in, mingled sometimes with a feeling of failure. They begin to doubt whether, after all, their experience had any foundation in reality.
We should realise that all such doubts and fears are dishonouring to the One whom we have taken as Saviour, and to His Father, to whose love we have responded.
In effect we are making our feelings the criterion of the reality of our salvation, instead of the pledged word of God.
Feelings are notoriously unreliable.
Our moods vary considerably from day to day. We cannot judge by them whether salvation is ours or not.
Thank God our faith has something much more secure on which to build. Facts are unchangeable, whatever the attitude of the one who is interested in them. Whether he believes them or not, whether he is uplifted by them or not, they do not alter. The truths of God, upon which our salvation depends, are facts.
We have seen the sure word of God that in response to our faith, and irrespective of our feelings, He has made us His children. Common experience tells us that we cannot be a member of a family one moment and not the next. When we enter into a relationship by birth, it is permanent. I may wander like the prodigal from the circle of the family, but that does not alter the fact that I am still one of its members.
So it is with the new birth. God is now our heavenly Father, in a new and intimate sense, and no one can pluck us out of His hand. Such promises as these that come to us as unconditional pledges on the part of an Almighty God, ought to be marked in our Bibles and learned by heart.
Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote "Little do ye know your own blessedness, for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." These words, while embodying their famous author's own religious outlook, also express the commonly held opinion that certainty is unobtainable in the spiritual realm, and that to say 'I know' is presumptuous conceit.
But in the light of the New Testament we realise that it is not until the days of our wanderings cease that our Christian progress can commence. In this sense, then, we can disagree with Stevenson, but not by that imply there is no going forward in the Christian life. That is a subject dealt with elsewhere.
The words of Paul, for instance, encourage us to certainty in spiritual things, as when he wrote to the Christians at Rome: "I am persuaded that neither death nor life . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And from a prison cell at the end of a hard and disciplined life of suffering, with the prospect of facing Nero the second time, he could write: "I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him."
Again, the beloved disciple of our Lord, writing in his old age, speaks to us with a similar assurance:
"Ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins."
"We know that we have passed from death unto life."
"We know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us."
"We have known and believed the love that God hath to us."
And finally, "These things have I written unto you . . . that ye may know that ye have eternal life."
The ring of conviction in these passages is no monopoly of first century Christians. It should be the very core of our faith and experience.
When a man can say, "I am quite sure" and shows the effects of this certainty in his life, people will listen to what he has to say, and want the same for themselves. When they ask, "How do you know?" He will reply, "In just the same way as you can say that you know anything - on good authority borne out by personal experience."
For scholars and students, the results of the main researches of leading authorities are brought together in the form of textbooks, and the principles of the various subjects are received on what is regarded as reliable and trustworthy authority. If the student has cause to doubt them he can usually verify the matter by personal experiment. And where the results of his experiment bear out the conclusions of the textbook, he has no further cause for question.
A great many of the doubts that trouble young Christians would be abolished if they applied this principle to their spiritual lives.
In the words of Christ, "a Gentleman," as David Livingstone used to say, "of the most strict and sacred honour, who never broke His word"; in the writings of Christís disciples, men far better able to assess the reality of His message than any theologian of today, in that they were first-hand witnesses; and in the promises of God given to us through His prophets and apostles and recorded in the Biblical narratives - in these lie inspired authority of the most reliable nature possible.
Their truth is borne out by the testimony of Christians down the ages. And today any believer in Christ can know for himself that his sins are forgiven, that he has eternal life, that God dwells in him by His Spirit, that he is born again and that nothing can now separate him from God simply because the authority that says so is utterly reliable.
This authority he trusts by faith, and believes not because of his feelings, but because of the reliability of the One whose word it is. And when, in addition, personal experience verifies this, all doubt vanishes, and the conviction arises which will make him cry out, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
That is the kind of Christian certainty which will revolutionise the world and for which it is hungry today.
Take as your motto, "Henceforth unto Him."
Make sure where you stand in God's sight, and which way you are heading. Refuse to look back, for that way lies failure. Set your heart and mind firmly to go forward at any cost. Thank God every day for the miracle of your redemption. Trust the facts of God's Word rather than the fancies of your feelings. Remember that a Christian's life no longer belongs to him.
It is a gift to be devoted to the service of the Christ who died for him.