Man (Part 3)
Chapter 8 — The Gift of Life
In our pursuit of life we found that:
1. Life is being truly human.
2. Life is being rightly related to God, ourselves, others and the environment.
3. Life is being whole —physically, socially and spiritually. It is total health.
4. Life is total compliance with the whole law of God in our physical, social and spiritual relationships.
At first the law may have seemed easy enough. In fact, learning about eating and sunning our-selves and getting fit was fun. But when we reached right mental attitude and saw what we ought to be and must be to have total health, we were tempted to say, "Let's turn back and settle for something easy like deep breathing or running around the block." But health means wholeness —all or not at all. We had come to the great mountain called Sinai, which was impossible to climb. It was dark as we faced that awful chasm called alienation. There was no way across and we could not turn back.
Then we heard good news. The gospel revealed a Man who was all that we ought to be:
1. He was truly human, the one true specimen of humanity
2. He was rightly related to God, man, the world and Himself, for He had no conscience of wrong.
3. He was whole — physically, socially and spiritually.
4. His was a life of total compliance with the law of God in all His relationships.
Jesus Christ was life and righteousness and total health. He was all this for us. He was our "ought." In the judgment of God He became what we actually are so that we could stand in the judgment of God as He was — and is. His love made the great exchange, and by faith, given by His grace, we accepted it.
God now sees us and judges us on the basis of what Christ is on our behalf. In this divine judgment or estimation we are:
1. Truly human.
2. Rightly related to God, man and the world.
3. Whole — wholesome, holy, healthy.
4. In harmony with His law —justified.
We have all this by faith. We say by faith because perfect health, wholeness, holiness, absolute harmony with God's perfect law; is not in us but in Christ. It is like a fabulous inheritance given to a child. It is not yet his in actual possession, but it will be when he reaches adulthood. Yet it is his even while he waits for it. He can live in the security and the dignity of knowing this. He can even draw upon the inheritance for his present needs. So it is with this life which God has actually given us in Christ. It is reserved for us at God's right hand, and when Christ comes again He will bring it to us (Colossians 3:4). There shall be a great resurrection. This mortal shall put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53-55). "We shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2). This will be no phantom existence. Even the environment will be restored, and we will then be in the ideal relationship with God, with the community and with nature itself (Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21, 22). But faith even now possesses this future because it has been secured by what Christ has already done.
What then constitutes total health? It is salvation of the whole person. It is eternal life — life in its fullness, life without end, life as God meant it to be. It is God's gift. We may have it by faith. To have faith is to have life and righteousness and total health. Paul summarized it all when he said, "He who by faith is righteous shall live" (Romans 1:17, R.S.V).
So, my friends, we may have eternal life now It doesn't matter how old we are or how sick we are or how bad we are. It doesn't matter what our past has been. We may have eternal life now—if we believe. "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:11).
Faith at Work
When we began our pursuit of life, we eagerly heard all the good advice on what to eat, how to exercise and how to have a right mental attitude. And doing these things is beneficial. But all our efforts to secure life proved as useless as climbing a molehill to reach the moon. At the moment of our despair the gospel caught us up, not to the moon, but to the judgment bar of God. There we saw ourselves sitting with Christ, with the free gift of life lavished on miserable, undeserving, alienated sinners. The best things in life are free, and the best of all is the freest of all.
This does not mean we have nothing to do. God made man to be His co-worker. His love is not lavished upon us to make us slothful. It inspires us to know that our work will not be in vain. If God graciously accepts us as being ideal sons, that is what we will strive to be. He sends His Spirit into our hearts and sends us down to earth with work to do. But it is a different kind of work. It is not work on our own account. How can we work for something we already have? If we have been accepted and given life, we don't have to work for it.
The whole world is divided into two classes. The great majority work and strive and toil to be accepted. This burning human passion drives them on. But the road is all uphill. They are anxious, worried, guilty, full of self-doubt. In the end they are either deluded or utterly despondent. They either think they have arrived or they realize they cannot reach their goal. For some the tension becomes so great they break under the strain.
We too are called to work and strive and toil. But we may now do it because we are accepted. We can take up life's burden with a new attitude. This makes the yoke easy and the burden light (Matthew 11:28-30). We are not to work toward acceptance but from acceptance. Because God defines our value, we can run life's race with joy and confidence.
In bringing this good news the Spirit of God gives us a whole new attitude. It is faith. What a person believes at the center of his existence determines his actions, good or bad. Faith, planted in the heart by the gospel, becomes active in love to heal all our relationships (Galatians 5:6).
Believing what God has done for us in Christ, our hearts now begin to give Him His worth. That is to say, we give glory to Him. This means loyalty, submission, reverence and devotion. Worship means giving God His worth rather than going about to establish our own. This is faith working by love. It takes us out of ourselves and into God — to go His way and not our own.
This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God has overcome the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. — 1 John 5:3, 4.
The apostle John frequently uses two expressions: keeping God's commandments and loving our brother. They generally mean the same thing. God is so unselfish that He wants our service not for Himself but for our brother. God is gratefully served only by helping our brother.
Without faith it is impossible to really love our brother The meaning of the word love has become so corrupted that its fussless, unsentimental, New Testament meaning often escapes us. Good intentions, warm feelings, and sentimental platitudes on nostalgic occasions are only flattering substitutes for the real thing. Although feelings may sometimes accompany it, love which grows out of faith is not a feeling at all. It is a principle of action.
Without faith in our dignity and value with God we will only use our brother to establish our own value. Helping him will be merely a means of proving our own worth. "Saving souls" will be like getting scalps for the Lord. Only the Lord knows how many white headhunters have roamed around Africa. Splendid charity can easily become a splendid idol or status symbol. Faith alone can make the Christian free — free for his brother, free to give and hope for nothing again and to forget himself in the giving.
Faith works in our unconditional acceptance of people, whether they please us or not — whether they follow our ways, belong to our party or are on our side. We cannot love any man unless we love every man without distinction, for love is absolutely impartial.1 If we think God's acceptance of us is based on something in us, we cannot accept people unconditionally. The moment we define the terms for accepting ourselves, we define the terms for accepting others.
We cannot love others in a godly way unless we love them God's way—unconditionally—just as He loves us. If we do not accept people God's way, how can it be a loving way? For God is love.
We cannot forgive in a godly way until we have accepted God's forgiveness. Realizing that our fellowship with Him is based on continual forgiveness, we can relate to our brother on the basis of forgiveness. This does not mean moral indifference. We may not approve his actions, but his value as a human being is defined by the cross of Christ. Because we ourselves have been freed of a great debt, faith works to make us tolerant and magnanimous. We will not be short on mercy to others if we believe we have been saved by overwhelming mercy.
Faith also works to heal our relationship with the material environment. But some may reason, "If health is God's gift by faith, does complying with the laws of health really matter? Why give up those darling indulgences which injure our bodies? By complying with sensible breathing, drinking, eating, exercising, resting and moderate habits, we may add three or five or ten years to our lives. But by believing the gospel, God will add eternity! What are ten years compared to eternity? Why bother with a single decade?"
What shall we say to this reasoning?
1. Those who are righteous by faith will strive to be righteous in practice. Righteousness embraces all the relationships of human existence. It means fulfilling the obligations of all relationships. Earth and the animals are man's responsibilities. God gave him dominion over the earth to act toward it as God would act toward it, to care for it as God's gift. The Bible says that a just man cares for the life of his beast (Proverbs 12:10). The God who notices the sparrow fall and who clothes the lily with beauty is not indifferent to the way we treat the earth. Nor is He indifferent to the way we treat the body, which is called "the temple of God," "fearfully and wonderfully made" (2 Corinthians 6:16; Psalm 139:14, K.J.V.).
2. Christians are commanded to follow after holiness (Hebrews 12:14). This includes the body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Holiness is closely related to wholeness. In Old Testament times anything which destroyed the wholeness of human life and tended to death was counted as defilement. Disease is an enemy in God's creation. It is our responsibility to do all in our power to ward it off. The commandment declares, "You shall not kill." This means we should reverence rather than destroy human life. Unfortunately, too many Christians have separated body and soul. The body has often been treated as a sack of dung, and the world has been treated with indifference as if this indifference were a sign of spirituality This "Grecian" spirituality has led to a world-denying, dehumanizing view of Christian existence. Non-Christians have thus been given a distorted view of the gospel and an unattractive view of God's salvation.
3. The indivisible oneness of the human person means we cannot impair one relationship without impairing all relationships. If we injure our physical health, we diminish our social and spiritual health.
4. The law of life may be summarized, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength" and "your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30, 31). Since we are on this earth to serve God and neighbor to the best of our ability, we sin against both if we neglect our physical habits.
Receiving total health as a free gift will not make compliance with sensible living habits irrelevant or unnecessary On the contrary practicing the principles of health will be seen as a privilege and responsibility The laws of life are God's laws. Gratitude for His gift of life will be manifest by respect for all His laws of life.
The ten laws of life provided good advice. But in the end the good advice will accomplish little without the good news of Jesus Christ. This good news will be of greater benefit than all the good advice. Without the good news we are like the farmer who saw no need to buy a book on good farming. "Look," he reasoned, "what's the use of all that good advice? I'm not farming now half as well as I know how" But the good news will give us willing hands and feet and a ready heart to carry out the good advice.
In this life of faith we are not left to our own resources to fulfill our new resolutions. The Holy Spirit is given to dwell with all God's children. He renews and transforms our hearts so that we want to live as man was meant to live. He gives us strength to move in this new direction. This is a foretaste of the life we have in Christ. In this present life we realize it only in part. But that part is the pledge and guarantee of the whole.
We have seen how faith works in our relationship with God, with others and with the environment. Now, how does faith work in our relation to the self? The answer can be summarized in two words: Forget it! This is life indeed!
1 We are not talking about affections.