Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Dr Guthrie on true Christianity - doing good and being good

What is true Christianity?  There are so many churches and so much confusion today that we desperately need to answer this question.  Knowing and understanding what constitutes true Christianity is critical not only for our own salvation but also so we can preach and defend true Christianity against false Christianity.  It shouldn't really surprise us that there are people claiming to preach Christ when they are preaching error.  Christ said that 'many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many' Matthew 24 v 11.  Many

So what is real, genuine Christianity?  Dr Guthrie, in his book 'Man and the Gospel', entitles his sermon on James 1 v 26, 27 'Doing Good and Being Good'.  In it he gives a helpful summary of true Christianity.  Christianity is about truth and love, faith and practice.  As Dr Guthrie says;

'It is not, therefore, what we profess, but practise; it is not what a man says with his tongue, or signs with his hand, but what he does with his heart, that settles his religion in the sight of God, and on that great day of judgement shall settle his fate.'

Later on in the sermon he also says;
'Still it should not be forgotten, lest any deceive themselves, that to talk about religion, ministers and sermons, missions and missionaries, religious schemes and books, revivalists and revivals, in not religion.  Some have been the most fluent talkers about things who felt them least.  Shallow rivers are commonly noisy rivers; and the drum is loud because it is hollow.  Fluency and feeling don't always go together.  On the contrary, some men are most sparing of speech when their feelings are most deeply engaged.'


James was probably the earliest New Testament book written after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  The fledgling church was struggling with all sorts of issues; their founder was dead and had ascended into heaven, they were impatient, there was bitterness amongst them, some had become materialistic, there was spiritual apathy, they lacked focus, purpose, direction and vision.  Sound familiar?  James was seeking to teach these early Christians what the true characteristics of the faith were.  At the end of chapter 1 he gives them what can only be described a sort of early 'mission statement' of the early church.  How does James define true Christianity?  Well in keeping with this incredibly practical book, often described as the 'Proverbs of the New Testament',  James seeks to define true Christianity as more than just belief in God and a range of doctrines.  Faith in Christ, according to James, is connected to;
  • What we say

  • Who we love and,

  • What we seek

1. True Christianity is directly related to what we say
James 1 v 26 is a powerful verse against hypocrisy.  It says that our words betray our hearts.  The 19th century United Presbyterian minister Robert Johnstone translates the verse like this; 'If any man among you think himself to be observant of religious service, whilst at the same time bridling not his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, that mans religious service is vain.' 

Why the strong emphasis on our words?  Well surely it is because our words reveal what is in hearts and it is our hearts that is the source of sin.  This is very much in keeping with Christ's teaching in Matthew 15 v 17-20.  It is not our surroundings, our background, our social class or even peer pressure that makes us sin.  Some of these problems may make our lives more challenging but we can't blame anything except our own hearts when we sin against God.  What is the evidence of what is in our hearts?  The stuff that comes out of our mouths.  We see this connection between the heart and the mouth again and again in the bible; 'The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil' Proverbs 15 v 28.  James (in chapter 3) describes the tongue as a forest fire, corrupting the whole person, set on fire by hell and just like the rudder on a ship, small but incredibly influential in terms of our direction.

Somebody has said 'the tongue is the hinge on which the whole personality turns.'  James tells us that if we can't bridle out tongue our religion is vain, useless, devoid of power, of no purpose.

2.  True Christianity is connected to who we love
In James 1 v 27 we read that true religion is also connected to who we love.  One of the main characteristics of Christianity is love for the needy.  If we claim to be followers of Jesus we need to follow his example of loving the marginalised.  If Christ loved with no strings attached we need to do the same.

The Bible often mentions our duty to love and care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  In Deuteronomy 10 v 17,18 we are told 'He administers justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.'  Time and time again God was identifying himself with the three groups of people who were most marginalised and often despised in society.

Why are these groups of people mentioned again and again?  Well it is because these groups have nothing and the little they have is often swept away in a moment.  None of these groups have anything to repay if we show them kindness and generosity.  If we love God we must love those who God loves; the marginalised, the rejected, the unloved and the unlovely.   We must love with no strings attached.  Christian love is active, risky and costly.  As Dr Guthrie says;

'Religion does not consist in doctrinal or prophetical speculations; no lie like a corpse entombed in old dusty confessions.  She lives in action, and walks abroad among mankind - calling us to leave our books, to shut our bibles, to rise from our knees, and go forth with hearts full of love and hands full of charities.'

3.  True Christianity is connected to what we seek
It is not good enough to do good - the bible commands us to be good, to seek holiness.  Goodness and righteousness are bound together in scripture.  As Thomas Manton says 'let the hand be open and the heart pure'. As Micah 6 v 8 commands us; do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. James 2 v 27 tells us to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We are literally to guard our hearts like a fortress.  The 'world' is the sinful system around us that includes what we see and hear every day. As Christians know only too well the world can defile or stain us.

The extent to which we seek the world is an evidence of true religion.  We are called to be in the world but not of it. Just like certain toxic paint that can cause brain damage Christians need to use a filter as we live in this world. We need to view sin as a deadly viper rather than as a house pet that we welcome in and feed.  Holiness can be an incredible witness.  As Manton says 'a holy life and a bounteous heart are ornaments of the gospel.'

Conclusion
So what do these two verses teach us about true Christianity?

Well we see that true faith is active. Visible obedience testifies to inner commitment.  A good tree bears good fruit.

We also see that the Christian who wants to bring glory to God needs to bridle their tongue.  We need to pray that the Lord would set a guard over our mouths (Psalm 141 v 3).  It is in the multitude of words that sin is not lacking (Proverbs 10 v 19).

We also see from these verses that God loves the needy and therefore it should be part of our DNA. Do we love the lonely?  Do we care for the old?  Do we support the sick?  This is the calling of the true Christian.

This passage also show us that true faith involves crucifying the world.  Always remember that the world is a dangerous place for the Christian.  Let's not have a legacy like Demas who forsook the godly because he loved this present world (2 Timothy 4 v 10).

Lastly true Christianity is about seeking Christ.  None of us can display pure and faultless religion without grace. We need to receive Christ by faith if we want to display that religion that God is pleased with.  God calls us to a high standard but not as a tyrant but as a father.  As Manton says;

'We serve God most comfortably when we consider him as a father in Christ.  Duty in the covenant of grace is far more comfortable, not only as we have more help, but because it is done in a sweeter relation.'

True religion is more than Sunday religion, it is a love and obedience from day to day.  Are we fit for Christ's service?  Are we pure?  Are we loving?  Are we guarding out mouths?  Let's remember it is grace that saves but it is also grace that enables us to serve him. Let's seek more of that grace and pray for greater fruit in his service.









1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Andy...I look forward to reading much more.

    ReplyDelete