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Sunday, 1 January 2012

What is a Christian?

This afternoon, I watched most of the BBC programme Songs of Praise - sub-titled "The Big Sing"!  I say 'most' because there were times when I switched over for few minutes, just to get away from the programme!

The first time was when a young lady informed us, in the space of a minute, that winning "The X Factor" was the most important thing that had happened to her in her whole life; and then that she never went on to the stage without praying .  The latter statement, in the context of that particular programme, suggested to me that she would consider herself to be a "Christian".  However, if that is the case, then surely the moment when she committed her life to the Lord Jesus would be the most important thing that had ever happened to her!

It made me think, as we commence a new 'year of grace', on the essentials for being a Biblical Christian, rather than a 'nominal' one (i.e., someone who uses the term to describe him/herself, but who does not display the required characteristics to show that they have been reborn).  I came up with three simple things, found in Paul's letter to the young church in Philippi, 4:4-7. 

First of all, I would suggest, a Biblical Christian is someone who enjoys a Presence - and that Presence is the Presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.  He is, Paul tells us, "at hand" and, while this may refer to the Second Advent (which, for the true disciple of Jesus, is always imminent), one commentator suggests that it may be translated "the Lord is at your elbow"!  If I am not conscious of the Presence of Jesus in my life, then it is unlikely that I am truly His.  If I am not aware of the prompting of God the Holy Spirit in my life, that may indicate that He is not indwelling me.  Writing to the church in Rome, Paul shares the inner struggle that he constanty experienced between his desire to do that which pleases God, and his failure to live it out, fully, in practice (ch.4).  Such discernment is the fruit of a regenerate mind!  It is only those who have been born again who are so conscious of the sin that consistently seeks (and, so often, succeeds) to pull them down.

But a true Christian also forms a practice.  "Rejoice in the Lord, always; and again, I say, 'Rejoice!'"  Now, Paul was writing from a prison cell - but more like one in China than one in the UK!  No time to describe fully, here, but certainly not the sort of place in which most of us would wish to spend our summer holiday!  Yet it's almost as if Paul tells his amanuensis (scribe) to write "Rejoice" - then stops.  He recalls the many hardships that he had experienced as a disciple of Jesus; he thinks of what lay ahead - his own, almost certain, beheading; he thinks of the dangers and difficulties that these Philippian believers would experience.  And he says, in effect, "I know what I'm talking about; I've considered every possible eventuality; I've counted the cost; and still I say it - 'Rejoice!'"   Part of the evidence of that rejoicing (which is not, necessarily, synonymous with 'happiness'!), is a life of praise.  On an earlier occasion, Paul and his friend and co-worker, Silas, were thrown into jail - in the very city of Philippi!  It was an unjust charge; it was totally undeserved; they should not have been incarcerated in that way.  But what do we find?  "But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying, and singing hymns to God." (Acts 16:25).  Prayer, and praise, in any and every set of circumstances, are the practice of the true child of God.

But, underneath all of this, is the fact that a Biblical Christian trusts a promise.  It's the promise that is found in v.7.  "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Those words remind us of the adequacy Christ brings - in the spiritual realm.  And that, I would contend, is every bit as important as having an adequacy in material terms.  "I can do all things", Paul shouts out a few sentences later (v.13), "through Christ Who strengthens me" or, we might put it, "through Christ Who gives me adequate resources."  There's also an anxiety that He stills.  As we pray; as we share everything with Him; as we realise that He is able; our anxious hearts are stilled and quietened, and we truly know that "peace that is beyond human understanding."; peace that is only of God's giving.

May 2012 find you enjoying that Presence - even the Presence of the Lord Jesus - in your daily living.  May it find you forming that practice - of taking everything to God in prayer, and praising Him in every situation.   And may you trust that promise - experiencing the adequacy that Jesus brings, and allowing Him to still every anxious and troubling thought.

A happy, peaceful, and God-honouring, New Year to all.

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