Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: The way in is the way on

Why did you become a Christian?

Theologically, the answer is because God, in his grace and mercy, ‘made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions’ (Ephesians 2.5). It is indeed by grace that we have been saved! But, at the level of our human perception, there are many different factors which bring men and women to repent and believe the good news. Of course, the expectations with which we became believers may have to be refined biblically, as we go on in the Christian life, and this can be a painful experience of adjustment to spiritual reality. Evangelists sometimes promise heaven on earth! What God promises, however, is the wonderful adventure of being transformed into the likeness of Christ, the perfect image of himself.

Divine nature

There’s an interesting section at the start of the apostle Peter’s second letter, where he speaks about God’s divine power and his ‘very great and precious promises’, enabling Christians to ‘participate in the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1.3-4). Of course, Peter is not saying that we mere mortals can become divine. Scripture is clear that there is only one Son begotten of the Father, and experience clearly explodes any pretensions we might be tempted to have about our divinity. We are still all too finite, weak, sinful and mortal. So what does Peter mean?

At the heart of the ‘divine nature’ is the mystery of the holy Trinity. This is not only the revelation that God is three persons in one undivided unity, but that the constant inter-relating of the three persons to one another is the definition of the dynamic we call ‘love’. So, when John says ‘God is love’ (1 John 4.8), he is saying more than that God loves, though, of course, he does. Rather, he is affirming that at the very heart of God’s being is the love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that God is love, in himself. This is the essence of the nature of the divine being, in whom we ‘participate’, through Christ and the gospel. There is a deep sense in which Christians are sharers in the life of this God, who is love, as we are united to him by faith. All that God is, in his essential being, he is to us, his repentant and believing people.

How it works

Think about how it ‘works’. When I turn from my sin and trust the amazing grace of God, in the gospel, I am energised by the Holy Spirit to do so. He is the only way that I can come to confess ‘Jesus is Lord ‘ (1 Corinthians 15.3). The cleansing power of the blood of Jesus is then applied to my life, so that the forgiveness he died to bring, of all my past, present and future sins, is reckoned to my account. Into this cleansed heart, God pours the life-giving presence of the power of his Spirit, who is the agent by which I am raised from spiritual death to eternal life. This is the ‘new birth’ which Jesus spoke of and which produces the changes of progressive restoration of the image of God in me, as I make progress on the path of discipleship. The way ‘on’ in the Christian life is exactly the same as the way ‘in’; it is repentance, faith and obedience. All this is evidence of God’s love.

Moment by moment

The gift of this Spirit, then, is not an abstract principle of godliness, but the actual moment-by-moment experience of the life of the God of love within us. Sadly, I meet many Christians who seem not to realise this in practice. They know their sins are forgiven, that heaven is assured if they persevere, but they seem to think God has left them to get on with it as best they can here on earth in the meantime. Rightly sceptical about inflated claims and spiritual excesses, they come to act almost as if there were no Holy Spirit. Christian experience becomes a relentless grind of disappointing failure and God seems increasingly remote. This was not their expectation when first they believed, nor is it the product of the God who is love.

Rather, we are ‘partakers of the divine nature’. We shall still have to wrestle and fight and pray. We shall still make many mistakes and our discipleship will always be less consistent than we would like it to be, in this world, but we are being transformed. Day by day, we need consciously and deliberately to offer ourselves to God, to live and work for him. Day by day, we need to call upon his Spirit to transform us from the inside out, and so to draw on the divine resources to control our thoughts, fashion our wills and empower our actions.

Then, like John Newton, we shall be able to rejoice that while we are not yet what we long to be, we are not what we once were, and it is by the grace of God that we are what we are. That is why we became Christians.

David Jackman writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the July 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057