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That Incredible Christian
How Heaven's Children Live on Earth
By A. W. Tozer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1964 Zur Ltd.
All rights reserved.
That Incredible Christian
The current effort of so many religious leaders to harmonize Christianity with science, philosophy and every natural and reasonable thing is, I believe, the result of failure to understand Christianity and, judging from what I have heard and read, failure to understand science and philosophy as well.
At the heart of the Christian system lies the cross of Christ with its divine paradox. The power of Christianity appears in its antipathy toward, never in its agreement with, the ways of fallen men. The truth of the cross is revealed in its contradictions. The witness of the Church is most effective when she declares rather than explains, for the gospel is addressed not to reason but to faith. What can be proved requires no faith to accept. Faith rests upon the character of God, not upon the demonstrations of laboratory or logic.
The cross stands in bold opposition to the natural man. Its philosophy runs contrary to the processes of the unregenerate mind, so that Paul could say bluntly that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. To try to find a common ground between the message of the cross and man's fallen reason is to try the impossible, and if persisted in must result in an impaired reason, a meaningless cross and a powerless Christianity.
But let us bring the whole matter down from the uplands of theory and simply observe the true Christian as he puts into practice the teachings of Christ and His apostles. Note the contradictions:
The Christian believes that in Christ he has died, yet he is more alive than before and he fully expects to live forever. He walks on earth while seated in heaven and though born on earth he finds that after his conversion he is not at home here. Like the night-hawk, which in the air is the essence of grace and beauty but on the ground is awkward and ugly, so the Christian appears at his best in the heavenly places but does not fit well into the ways of the very society into which he was born.
The Christian soon learns that if he would be victorious as a son of heaven among men on earth he must not follow the common pattern of mankind, but rather the contrary. That he may be safe he puts himself in jeopardy; he loses his life to save it and is in danger of losing it if he attempts to preserve it. He goes down to get up. If he refuses to go down he is already down, but when he starts down he is on his way up.
He is strongest when he is weakest and weakest when he is strong. Though poor he has the power to make others rich, but when he becomes rich his ability to enrich others vanishes. He has most after he has given most away and has least when he possesses most.
He may be and often is highest when he feels lowest and most sinless when he is most conscious of sin. He is wisest when he knows that he knows not and knows least when he has acquired the greatest amount of knowledge. He sometimes does most by doing nothing and goes furthest when standing still. In heaviness he manages to rejoice and keeps his heart glad even in sorrow.
The paradoxical character of the Christian is revealed constantly. For instance, he believes that he is saved now, nevertheless he expects to be saved later and looks forward joyfully to future salvation. He fears God but is not afraid of Him. In God's presence he feels overwhelmed and undone, yet there is nowhere he would rather be than in that presence. He knows that he has been cleansed from his sin, yet he is painfully conscious that in his flesh dwells no good thing.
He loves supremely One whom he has never seen, and though himself poor and lowly he talks familiarly with One who is King of all kings and Lord of all lords, and is aware of no incongruity in so doing. He feels that he is in his own right altogether less than nothing, yet he believes without question that he is the apple of God's eye and that for him the Eternal Son became flesh and died on the cross of shame.
The Christian is a citizen of heaven and to that sacred citizenship he acknowledges first allegiance; yet he may love his earthly country with that intensity of devotion that caused John Knox to pray, "O God, give me Scotland or I die."
He cheerfully expects before long to enter that bright world above, but he is in no hurry to leave this world and is quite willing to await the summons of his heavenly Father. And he is unable to understand why the critical unbeliever should condemn him for this; it all seems so natural and right in the circumstances that he sees nothing inconsistent about it.
The cross-carrying Christian, furthermore, is both a confirmed pessimist and an optimist the like of which is to be found nowhere else on earth.
When he looks at the cross he is a pessimist, for he knows that the same judgment that fell on the Lord of glory condemns in that one act all nature and all the world of men. He rejects every human hope out of Christ because he knows that man's noblest effort is only dust building on dust.
Yet he is calmly, restfully optimistic. If the cross condemns the world the resurrection of Christ guarantees the ultimate triumph of good throughout the universe. Through Christ all will be well at last and the Christian waits the consummation. Incredible Christian!CHAPTER 2
Time Cannot Help Us
Sin has done frightful things to us and its effect upon us is all the more deadly because we were born in it and are scarcely aware of what is happening to us.
One thing sin has done is to confuse our values so that we can only with difficulty distinguish a friend from a foe or tell for certain what is and what is not good for us. We walk in a world of shadows where real things appear unreal and things of no consequence are sought after as eagerly as if they were made of the very gold that paves the streets of the City of God.
Our ideas rarely accord with things as they are, but are distorted by a kind of moral astigmatism that throws everything out of focus. Through a multitude of errors our total philosophy is out of line, somewhat as our mathematics would be had we learned the multiplication table wrongly and not been aware of our mistake.
One false concept to which we cling tenaciously is time. We think of it as being a sort of viscid substance flowing onward like a sluggish river, bearing upon its bosom nations and empires and civilizations and men. We visualize this sticky stream as an entity and ourselves as helplessly stuck in it for as long as our earthly lives endure.
Or again, by a simple shift in our thinking we picture time as a revealer of the shape of things to come, as when we say, "Time will tell." Or we imagine it a benign physician and comfort ourselves with the thought, "Time is a great healer." All this is so much a part of us that it would be too much to expect that the habit of referring everything to time could never be broken. Yet we may guard against the harm that such thinking carries with it.
The most harmful mistake we make concerning time is that it has somehow a mysterious power to perfect human nature. We say of a foolish young man, "Time will make him wiser," or we see a new Christian acting like anything but a Christian and hope that time will someday turn him into a saint.
The truth is that time has no more power to sanctify a man than space has. Indeed time is only a fiction by which we account for change. It is change, not time, that turns fools into wise men and sinners into saints. Or more accurately, it is Christ who does the whole thing by means of the changes He works in the heart.
Saul the persecutor became Paul the servant of God, but time did not make the change. Christ wrought the miracle, the same Christ who once changed water into wine. One spiritual experience followed another in fairly rapid succession until the violent Saul became a gentle, God-enamored soul ready to lay down his life for the faith he once hated. It should be obvious that time had no part in the making of the man of God.
My purpose in writing this little piece is not to engage in an exercise in semantics but to alert my readers to the injury they may suffer from an unfounded confidence in time. Because a Moses and a Jacob lost the impulsive, headstrong sins of their youth and in their old age became gentle, mellow saints we tend to take it for granted that time wrought the transformation. But it is not so. God, not time, makes saints.
Human nature is not fixed, and for this we should thank God day and night. We are still capable of change. We can become something other than what we are. By the power of the gospel the covetous man may become generous, the egotist lowly in his own eyes. The thief may learn to steal no more, the blasphemer to fill his mouth with praises unto God. But it is Christ who does it all. Time has nothing to do with it.
Many a lost man is putting off the day of salvation, vaguely hoping that time is on his side, when actually the likelihood of his ever becoming a Christian grows less day by day. And why? Because the changes taking place in him are hardening his will and making it more and more difficult for him to repent.
"Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6–7).
See the change-words in this text: "seek ... call ... forsake ... return." These all denote specific changes the returning sinner must make in himself, acts that he must perform. But this is not enough. "Have mercy ... pardon"; these are the changes God makes in and for the man. To be saved the man must change and be changed.
To enter the kingdom of God, our Lord explained, a man must be born again (John 3:3–7). That is, he must undergo a spiritual change. This accords completely with the preaching of John the Baptist who called upon his hearers to prepare the way of the Lord by bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance, and with the apostle Peter who reminded the early Christians that they had been made partakers of the divine nature and had escaped the corruption the world had suffered by lust.
The initial change, however, is not the only one the redeemed man will know. His whole Christian life will consist of a succession of changes, moving always toward spiritual perfection. To achieve these changes the Holy Spirit uses various means, probably the most effective being the writing of the New Testament.
Time can help us only if we know that it cannot help us at all. It is change we need, and only God can change us from worse to better.CHAPTER 3
What It Means to Accept Christ
A few things, fortunately only a few, are matters of life and death, such as a compass for a sea voyage or a guide for a journey across the desert. To ignore these vital things is not to gamble or take a chance; it is to commit suicide. Here it is either be right or be dead.
Our relation to Christ is such a matter of life or death, and on a much higher plane. The Bible-instructed man knows that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and that men are saved by Christ alone altogether apart from any works of merit.
That much is true and is known, but obviously the death and resurrection of Christ do not automatically save everyone. How does the individual man come into saving relation to Christ? That some do we know, but that others do not is evident. How is the gulf bridged between redemption objectively provided and salvation subjectively received? How does that which Christ did for me become operative within me? To the question "What must I do to be saved?" we must learn the correct answer. To fail here is not to gamble with our souls; it is to guarantee eternal banishment from the face of God. Here we must be right or be finally lost.
To this anxious question evangelical Christians provide three answers, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," "Receive Christ as your personal Savior," and "Accept Christ." Two of the answers are drawn almost verbatim from Scripture (Acts 16:31, John 1:12), while the third is a kind of paraphrase meant to sum up the other two. They are therefore not three but one.
Being spiritually lazy we naturally tend to gravitate toward the easiest way of settling our religious questions for ourselves and others; hence the formula "Accept Christ" has become a panacea of universal application, and I believe it has been fatal to many. Though undoubtedly an occasional serious-minded penitent may find in it all the instruction he needs to bring him into living contact with Christ, I fear that too many seekers use it as a shortcut to the Promised Land, only to find that it has led them instead to "a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness" (Job 10:22).
The trouble is that the whole "Accept Christ" attitude is likely to be wrong. It shows Christ applying to us rather than us to Him. It makes Him stand hat in hand awaiting our verdict on Him, instead of our kneeling with troubled hearts awaiting His verdict on us. It may even permit us to accept Christ by an impulse of mind or emotions, painlessly, at no loss to our ego and no inconvenience to our usual way of life.
For this ineffectual manner of dealing with a vital matter we might imagine some parallels; as if, for instance, Israel in Egypt had "accepted" the blood of the Passover but continued to live in bondage, or the prodigal son had "accepted" his father's forgiveness and stayed on among the swine in the far country. Is it not plain that if accepting Christ is to mean anything there must be moral action that accords with it?
Allowing the expression "Accept Christ" to stand as an honest effort to say in short what could not be so well said any other way, let us see what we mean or should mean when we use it.
To accept Christ is to form an attachment to the Person of our Lord Jesus altogether unique in human experience. The attachment is intellectual, volitional and emotional. The believer is intellectually convinced that Jesus is both Lord and Christ; he has set his will to follow Him at any cost and soon his heart is enjoying the exquisite sweetness of His fellowship.
This attachment is all-inclusive in that it joyfully accepts Christ for all that He is. There is no craven division of offices whereby we may acknowledge His Saviorhood today and withhold decision on His Lordship till tomorrow. The true believer owns Christ as his All in All without reservation. He also includes all of himself, leaving no part of his being unaffected by the revolutionary transaction.
Further, his attachment to Christ is all-exclusive. The Lord becomes to him not one of several rival interests, but the one exclusive attraction forever. He orbits around Christ as the earth around the sun, held in thrall by the magnetism of His love, drawing all his life and light and warmth from Him. In this happy state he is given other interests, it is true, but these are all determined by his relation to his Lord.
That we accept Christ in this all-inclusive, all-exclusive way is a divine imperative. Here faith makes its leap into God through the Person and work of Christ, but it never divides the work from the Person. It never tries to believe on the blood apart from Christ Himself, or the cross or the "finished work." It believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole Christ without modification or reservation, and thus it receives and enjoys all that He did in His work of redemption, all that He is now doing in heaven for His own and all that He does in and through them.
To accept Christ is to know the meaning of the words "as he is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). We accept His friends as our friends, His enemies as our enemies, His ways as our ways, His rejection as our rejection, His cross as our cross, His life as our life and His future as our future.
If this is what we mean when we advise the seeker to accept Christ we had better explain it to him. He may get into deep spiritual trouble unless we do.CHAPTER 4
How Important Is Creed?
Among certain Christians it has become quite the fashion to cry down creed and cry up experience as the only true test of Christianity. The expression "Not creed, but Christ" (taken, I believe, from a poem by John Oxenham) has been widely accepted as the very voice of truth and given a place alongside the writings of prophets and apostles.
When I first heard the words they sounded good. One got from them the idea that the advocates of the no-creed creed had found a precious secret that the rest of us had missed; that they had managed to cut right through the verbiage of historic Christianity and come direct to Christ without bothering about doctrine. And the words appeared to honor our Lord more perfectly by focusing attention upon Him alone and not upon mere words. But is this true? I think not.
In this no-creed creed there are indeed a few grains of real truth, but not as many as the no-creed advocates imagine. And those few are buried beneath a mighty pile of chaff, something that the no-creed people cannot at all imagine.
Excerpted from That Incredible Christian by A. W. Tozer. Copyright © 1964 Zur Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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