Chapter 7—The Test of Discipleship

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“Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place when he gave his heart to God. He may not see the steps that brought him to Christ. But this does not prove that he is not a child of God. Christ said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8.

We have faith when we not only believe God’s Word but ask Him to guide all our choices. We show our faith when we give our hearts to Him and love Him. This kind of faith works by love and makes us pure. It changes us until we become like Him.

We cannot see the wind, but we can see what it does. We cannot see the Spirit of God as He works on the heart, but His power brings us new life. That power creates a new person in the image of God. Although we cannot see or hear the working of the Spirit, we can see what He has done.

If our hearts have been changed by the Spirit of God, our lives will show the change. We cannot change our hearts or make our characters like God’s. We must not trust in our own strength or believe that our good deeds will save us. But our lives will show whether we have the grace of God in our hearts. It will change our characters, our habits, and the way we live. Other people will see the difference between what we used to be and what we now are.

The character is not shown by one good deed or even a bad one. The character is shown by the way we speak and act day after day.

It is true that we may act in the right way without the power of God. We may do good so that other people will think well of us. We may even avoid evil because we want to look right in the sight of our friends. Even a selfish person may give to a good cause, or help the needy. How can we know, then, whose side we are on?

Who owns our hearts? Whom are we thinking about? Whom do we love to talk about? Who has our warmest love and our best work? If we are Christ’s, we think often about Him, and our kindest thoughts are of Him. We have laid at His feet all we have and are. We want to be like Him and have His Spirit in us. We desire to follow His way and to please Him in everything.

If we become new persons in Christ Jesus, we will have the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. They are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22, 23. Followers of Christ will no longer act as they did before. They will follow by faith in Christ’s footsteps. They will show His character and be pure, just as He is pure.

Those who follow Christ will love the things they used to hate. They will hate the things they used to love. The proud will become humble. The foolish will become wise. Those who used to get drunk will stay sober. Impure people will become pure. Those who loved the proud fashions of the world will lay them aside.

Christians will not try to gain attention by the things they wear. “Instead, your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:4.

True repentance changes a person. The sinner will confess his sins and return what he has stolen. He will love God and other people. When the sinner does these things, he will know that he has passed from death unto life.

When we come to Christ and accept His pardon and grace, love develops in our hearts. Our work does not seem hard, and what God asks us to do becomes a pleasure. The path that used to be dark is made bright by rays from the Sun of Righteousness.

The beauty of Christ’s character will be seen in His followers. Christ was delighted to do what His Father asked. Love to God was the guiding power in our Savior’s life. Love made all His acts kind and beautiful.

Love comes from God. It cannot come from sinful hearts. It is found only in hearts where Jesus lives. “We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19. In hearts made new by God’s grace, love is the guiding power. Love changes our characters, rules our feelings, and controls our desires. It drives out hate and helps us be true to those we love. God’s love in our hearts sweetens our lives and has a good influence on every-one around us.

Children of God need to guard against two mistakes in thinking. People who have just started to trust God especially need to watch for these. The first, which has already been explained, is the mistake of trusting our good works to bring ourselves to God. If we try to become holy by obeying the law in our own strength, we will find it impossible. Everything we do without Christ is spoiled by selfishness and sin. Only the grace of Christ, through faith, can make us holy.

The second mistake is just as dangerous. It is the idea that we do not need to keep the law of God when we believe in Christ. Since the grace of God is received through faith alone, some people think that what they do has nothing to do with their redemption.

The Bible teaches that obedience is more than just doing right. It is more than doing what we are told to do. Obedience is the service of love. God’s law shows us what He is like. Love is the very center of the law. God’s government in heaven and on earth is built on His law of love.

Will not the law of God be carried out in our lives if we are like Him? When love is in our hearts and when we become like our Creator, God keeps His promise: “I will put my laws in their hearts and write them on their minds.” Hebrews 10:16.

If the law is written in the heart, will it not shape the life? Obedience is a true sign of love. It also is the sign that we are followers of God. The Bible says, “Our love for God means that we obey his commands.” “If we say that we know him, but do not obey his commands, we are liars and there is no truth in us.” 1 John 5:3; 2:4. Faith does not excuse us from obeying the law. Through faith, and faith alone, we share the grace of Christ. And grace makes it possible for us to obey His law.

We do not earn salvation by obeying God’s law. Salvation is God’s free gift, and we receive it by faith. But obedience is the fruit of faith. “You know that Christ appeared in order to take away sins, and that there is no sin in him. So everyone who lives in union with Christ does not continue to sin; but whoever continues to sin has never seen him or known him.” 1 John 3:5, 6. This is the true test.

When we live in Christ and His love lives in us, our feelings and our thoughts will agree with what His holy law shows us God wants us to do. “Let no one deceive you, my children! Whoever does what is right is righteous, just as Christ is righteous.” verse 7. God’s holy ten-commandment law given to Israel on Sinai tells us what righteousness is.

A faith in Christ which teaches that we do not need to obey God is not true faith. It is teaching something that is not true. “For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith.” Ephesians 2:8. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead.” James 2:17, KJV. Jesus said of Himself before He came to earth, “How I love to do your will, my God! I keep your teaching in my heart.” Psalm 40:8.

Before Jesus returned to heaven after being on the earth, He said, “I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” John 15:10. The Bible says, “If we obey God’s commands, then we are sure that we know him.” “If we say that we remain in union with God, we should live just as Jesus Christ did.” 1 John 2:3, 6. “For Christ himself suffered for you and left you an example, so that you would follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21.

The plan by which God gives us eternal life has always been the same. It is still the same as it was in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned. God gives eternal life to those who obey His law perfectly, to those who have perfect righteousness.

Eternal life cannot be given by any other plan, for then the happiness of all creation would be in danger. Sin would go on forever. Suffering and unhappiness would never end.

It was possible for Adam before he sinned to form a righteous character by obeying God’s law. But Adam failed to do this. Because of his sin, we are all sinners, and we cannot make ourselves righteous. Because we are sinful and unholy, we cannot perfectly obey God’s law. We have no righteousness of our own to do what God’s law requires.

But Christ has made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth, facing the same kind of trials and temptations we have to face. He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness.

We may give ourselves to Him and accept Him as our Saviour. Then, no matter how sinful our lives have been, we are counted as being righteous because of Him. Christ’s character will stand in the place of our characters. We are accepted by God just as if we had not sinned.

More than this, Christ changes our hearts. He lives in our hearts by faith. We are to keep Him in our hearts by faith and let Him guide all our choices. As long as we do this, He will work in us and we will do what pleases Him. We may then say, “This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.”Galatians 2:20.

Jesus said to His disciples, “The words you will speak will not be yours; they will come from the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Matthew 10:20. Then, with Christ working in us, we will act as He would act and do His good works. Our lives will show obedience, the works of righteousness.

So you see, we have nothing to be proud of and no reason to praise ourselves. Our only hope is in the righteousness of Christ, which God counts as ours, and in that righteousness His Spirit works out in us and through us.

We should understand the true meaning of faith. When we believe what we already know is true, we are not showing faith. We know God lives. We believe in His power. We know His Word is true. Even Satan and his angels know and believe these things. The Bible says that “the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19, KJV. But this is not faith.

We have faith when we not only believe God’s Word but ask Him to guide all our choices. We show our faith when we give our hearts to Him and love Him. This kind of faith works by love and makes us pure. It changes us until we become like Him.

If our hearts have not been made new by God, we fight against God’s law and do not obey it. But our new hearts delight in the holy law. We can say with David, “How I love your law! I think about it all day long.” Psalm 119:97. And the righteousness of the law is worked into the lives of people who “live in union with Christ.” Romans 8:1.

Some people know that God has pardoned their sins, and they really want to be His children. But they know that their characters are not perfect and their lives have many faults. Because of this they doubt that the Holy Spirit has made their hearts new.

To such people I would say, “Do not be discouraged and lose hope. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because we make mistakes and are not perfect. Yet we are not to give up. God does not turn away from us even if we are overcome by the enemy. He does not leave us alone.”

Christ is at the right hand of God. He is asking His Father to forgive us. John, the greatly loved disciple, wrote, “I am writing this to you, my children, so that you will not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have someone who pleads with the Father on our behalf—Jesus Christ, the righteous one.” 1 John 2:1.

We must not forget these words of Christ: “The Father himself loves you.” John 16:27. He desires to bring us back to Himself. He wants to see His own purity and holiness reflected in us. If we will give ourselves to Him until Jesus comes, He will continue the good work He has begun in us.

We must pray with great desire. We must believe more fully. As we begin to lose faith in our own power, let us trust the power of our Redeemer. Let us praise Him who is the light of our lives.

The closer we come to Jesus, the more faults we will see in our own lives. We will see our faults more clearly as we compare our sinful selves with the perfect Savior. This will show that Satan’s false ideas are losing their power over us and that the life-giving Spirit of God is leading us.

Deep love for Jesus cannot live in our hearts if we do not know we are sinful. If we are changed by the grace of Christ, we will admire the Savior’s holy character. If we do not see that we are sinful, this shows that we have never seen the beauty and perfection of Christ.

The less we find to admire in ourselves, the more we shall see to admire in Christ’s infinite purity and beauty. When we see how sinful we are, we turn to Him who can pardon. When we see that we have no power, we reach out after Christ. Then Christ comes with power to help.

Our sense of need drives us to the Saviour and to the Word of God. The more we see of His beautiful character, the more we shall become like Him.

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