The Christian Life

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Divine Purpose and Principles Governing the Christian Life

May I repeat what I have said on each former occasion at the commencement, that in what we are saying, we have three classes of people, mainly in mind. Firstly, those who have never had a definite experience of what the Word of God calls being born anew. That is, they have never entered by a living experience into the Christian life. There have been some such with us on each occasion, and we don't want them to be overlooked while we are speaking of the Christian life. Then, in the second place, those who have but a little knowledge and experience of the Christian life, those who have but recently, more or less, entered into that experience and need to be helped at its beginnings. And then in the third place, there are the old stagers who know all about it and my point in saying this is that you will understand that if it doesn't just meet you where you are, it may be meeting someone else and you shouldn't be bored and impatient. Just try to think that that may be helpful to someone else. And so we shall keep the level and tone of the gathering fresh and living if we have that in remembrance.

Our subject, as you know, is generally what it means to be a Christian. In the first place we considered the immense significance of the Christian life. Then last week, what happens when we become Christians. Now tonight, the Divine purpose and principles governing the Christian life - Divine purpose and principles. Firstly then:

The Divine Purpose.

And it is very necessary for us to be fully aware of the fact that purpose does govern the Christian life. That word 'purpose', that thought, is very much in view in the New Testament. Most of you are familiar with one statement relating thereto, although it is usually cut in half and only the first half taken: "All things work together for good, to them that love God, and are the called according to His purpose". I say, we usually take the first bit: "all things work together for good". We might go on: "to them that love God"; but that is not the real statement: "and to them that are the called according to His purpose". Called according to His purpose. Then we have another word, not so generally known: "Predestinated according to the purpose of Him that worketh all things after the counsel of His will". According to the purpose. Again: "according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus". Once more: "according to His own purpose and grace". These are sufficient to indicate at least, that this word 'purpose' is a governing idea in the Christian life: that we are not saved, we do not become Christians just to be saved and just to be Christians. That is only the beginning of something; that is unto something very much more in the thought and in the intention of God.

You are asking, "Well, what is the purpose?" Well, there are quite a lot of things said with regard to it, as to what it is, and what it is unto, but I am not going to take time to cite from the Scriptures this evening, we must not take too much detail. But, when all things said about it are gathered together, there is one thing which includes them all, embraces and covers them all, of which they are all just parts. And that one inclusive and comprehensive thing, which sets forth the Divine purpose is in a clause in one of Paul's letters: "till we all attain unto the... fullness of Christ". The fullness of Christ is the purpose with which we are called, which governs the Christian life, which gives to the Christian life its meaning.

The Fullness of Christ

We are going to spend a little time in looking into that, but I'm sure you will instantly recognise that that makes Christ very great. Surely, if all the Christians that ever have been and are and will yet be are called with that purpose of attaining unto the fullness of Christ - and the number is just countless in all the centuries, in all the generations since the first Christian - all put together, this vast, uncountable number are called with the same calling, the fullness of Christ, then Christ must be very great indeed.

Yes, and the Christian life must therefore be something very great. If it takes its character, its meaning, and its dimensions from Christ, then the Christian life corresponding to Christ must be a very great thing. It makes the Christian life necessarily a progressive thing. No Christian at any time in their experience or history here on this earth can ever say that they have reached that end. It means that the Christian life is one of progress and development. It is all moving toward that ultimate fullness. So we find in the New Testament that the Christian life is set forth in three tenses: we are Christians, we are becoming Christians, and we are going to be Christians. There are three distinct words in the New Testament that are in the original language indicating those tenses.

I believe it was Bishop Handley Moule who was travelling on one occasion, and either he first or she first, however, a Salvation Army lassie got into the same compartment as he. And when they had got settled and on the way - although he was a bishop, or I believe, a Dean at that time, in his canonicals - she interrogated him: "Sir, are you saved?" Whereupon the kindly old bishop looked at her and said, "Do you mean..." and then he quoted the three Greek words. Sounds a bit pedantic to me to quote them to you! "Do you mean..." and he quoted the word "I was saved", and then the other Greek word, "I am being saved", or the other one which means "I am going to be saved". Of course, she was completely bowled over! It was a bit rough on her, and she didn't know what to say, but it led to a very profitable talk about the beginning, the growth, and the end of the Christian life.

My point is, that there it is in the New Testament. We were saved, we are being saved, and we are going to be saved. They're all there. We shall be saved is the word, we shall be saved - the final stage. We were accepted in Christ, we are growing in Christ, we are to be perfected in Christ. Christ, then, is spread over the whole life of the Christian, at its beginning, continuation, and consummation. That is a statement to which you all agree and needs no labouring, but what does this mean? What is the "fullness of Christ"?

Well, what is the beginning or simple, elementary nature of Christ, into which we come at the beginning? When we come into Christ, we say we have come into Life, we have come into Life, we have found Life in Christ. The great secret of the first experience is we have received "the gift of God", which is "eternal life". And, we know it, as we were saying last week. There is no doubt about it - we know that Life has been given to us. Let us hold that for a minute.

Then at the beginning we speak of having received our sight, or having come into Light, into the Light. But Light, although we may not be able to define or explain everything that has become illumined to us, altogether new as another world, we know, we know our eyes have been opened. We have come to see; light has broken upon us. We are able to say: "Whereas I was blind, now I see. I was in the dark - now it's all light." Put it how you will, the beginning of the Christian life is just that.

Life, Light - and then Liberty. Liberty - one of the great things of the beginning of the Christian life is a wonderful sense of release, of emancipation, having been set free. It's a great, great sum of teaching in itself, the liberty that Christ brings us into - it's a great reality, is this liberty, this wonderful setting free.

Further, when we come into Christ, we come into Love, Divine Love, and Divine Love comes into our hearts.

These are four of the things which, in an elementary form, we come into and come into us, right at the beginning. Of course, there's much more to it and there are many more things, but that's enough to provide for the answer to our enquiry.

Life - a new Life and a different Life. I don't mean now the way we live - that follows, of course - but a new dynamic power in us, which is called "Divine Life". A new life, another one altogether, and that Life has in it another nature. It belongs to another realm, and has the nature of that other realm. It's the realm of God Himself. With that Life there comes into us a new nature. I don't mean now at this point of course, that we are altogether other creatures; but this is the beginning. We are conscious that there is a new nature at work within us, working for certain things and against certain other things - which was never true of us before - a new and different life, an energy. And Life is an energy, isn't it? A wonderful energy, is Life; see what Life will do! Life really demands difficulty to prove its energy. I remember, some years ago, going down into Cornwall and staying on a farm and this farm had fields on a slope, and one of the fields was just strewn with large, white stones over the whole field. It was the time of the year when seed was in, and nothing was appearing. And I said to the farmer, "Surely you'll never get a crop of wheat in that field with all those stones!" "Don't you make any mistake, I thought that when I first came to this farm, so I cleared them off. And I had a very poor crop, so I put them back again. And I get a very much better crop with the stones - much stronger and healthier than I had before." Life, you see, proves itself by difficulties and opposition. Here is a new Life-force, an energy of a different kind, of another kingdom, that is given to us in our new birth. It's different.

Light - a new intelligence, a new understanding, a new clearness about things. Everybody who has had a genuine Christian experience knows that. They see what they could never see before. They were always striving and struggling to see, now they see, and it's another world that is open before them, just as a new world is given to any person who has been born blind and at some time gets their sight. They are given a world. They have heard about it, talked about it, had it explained to them, but they have never been able to say, 'Now I see!' Here it is, a new world given! Light.

Liberty - release, and with the release enlargement. What a large thing the Christian Life is! There's something wrong with a Christian life that is small, mean, and petty, limited, and narrow. The Christian life is a large thing; it's a "land of far distances". With that enlargement, there comes a new inward sense of prospect. Prospect! Things are ever and ever beyond. The further you go in the Christian life, the more conscious you are of how much more there is. You can never exhaust this, a real sense of prospect and future, of a large, wide-open door.

Love - a new motive power in the life, in the heart. A new motive power: Love. The hallmark of a true Christian, a true Christian life is love. At its very beginning it shows itself (as we said last week) in an instantaneous desire to share, to let someone else know all about it, to come into the good into which you have come. It's a great heart overflow to all the world that the world might know. And it is, in its character, so selfless. Selfless! Self goes out. You'd do anything, you'd make any sacrifice, you never consider yourself; this "love of Christ constraineth" - a great care for the interests of others, and a deep, warm devotion to their interests. It is a new love. We, of course, cannot expand upon each of these - perhaps least of all this wonderful love of God which is shed abroad in our hearts - but you see these four things alone are there right at the beginning in an elementary form.

Now, what is the fullness of Christ? It is simply the continuous and ultimate finality of those very things. The continuous growth of Life - the Life, the freshness, this dynamic force of God within the life - this motive power, this Divine nature, which is in His life - should never, never come to a standstill. It is supposed, according to the eternal purpose, to grow and grow and grow more and more. More Life! Oh, dear friends, do take this to heart. To receive eternal Life may be a gift once and for all, but you have yet to discover how wonderfully full that Life is, and how that Life can become more and more abundant as you go on. The longer we as Christians live, the more should we be characterised by this mighty Life of Christ - "the power of His resurrection", it's called. It should just be there all the time, and the same of all the others. The fullness of Christ is progressively the enlargement and development of those very things which came to us, and into which we came at the beginning; and if we attain unto fullness - which we shall never do here in this life, but ultimately move right out into the fullness - it will be the universality of all these things.

Now you can see how vast Christ is, and how vast the Christian life must be! For here the Scripture speaks of Christ "filling all things" - Christ filling all things - "that He should fill all things". How is Christ going to fill all things? Well, just in this way, that when that comes about, all things - and it is a vast 'all' - will be full of His Life and there will be nothing else; full of His light; full of His liberty; full of His love, filling all things. And it is just all that Christ is, expressed in the whole creation. That is the purpose of the Christian life, and we have failed of the purpose if that is not true, in a progressive way, now. If it is not true that these things are increasing in us, we have missed the very object of the Christian life. Yes, if there's not more love, and still more love, and yet again more love, we've missed the very purpose of the Christian life. And that is true of everything else.

Christ filling all things - and all things filled into Christ. I don't know how best we could illustrate that. And perhaps a very good illustration is from the Old Testament, because it is an illustration which is there for this purpose. And everybody knows something about King Solomon, well, you read the story of Solomon, his great wisdom, the very synonym for wisdom: "the wisdom of Solomon". If anybody shows particular wisdom or acumen, we immediately dub them 'a little Solomon'.

I saw recently this (perhaps you saw it) a class of boys were being told about the incident of the execution of John the Baptist. You remember that the girl Salome danced before Herod, and he was so pleased that he said, "What's your request? What you ask for I'll give it to you, even to half of my kingdom." She went away and consulted her evil mother, who hated John the Baptist because of what he had said about her evil ways. And so the mother counselled the daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist and she did so. And Herod was very, very distressed. He looked for a way out and found none, and because of the oath that he had made, he commanded that the head of John the Baptist should be brought. And the teacher turned to the class, and said, "Now, what would you have done if you had been Herod?" And one bright boy chirped up, "I would have said to the woman, 'That belongs to the half of the kingdom that I did not promise!'" And so, over the story is: "A Young Solomon". That just by the way.

But Solomon is the synonym for vast wisdom, also of vast wealth, "the riches of Solomon". Vast power: for his kingdom reached beyond all the kingdoms that had ever been in Israel. And his vast glory - even the Lord Jesus referred to that - it was proverbial, He said: "Even Solomon in all his glory..." All his glory! Now then, that was Solomon and his kingdom: so great in wisdom, riches, power and glory - his people were in it; they were in it, right in it! For it says when the queen of Sheba came to prove for herself all this, her verdict was: "The half was never told... I heard, I heard fabulous stories, but the half was never told!" And Solomon's people were in it - they were in the good of that. Well, in certain senses, it was in them; it was in them as well. You know, I'm quite sure, as you get a description of his table, and when those who fed at his table got up from the table his glory was in them, his richness was in them and they knew it! It worked both ways: they were in the greatness of Solomon, but the greatness of Solomon was in them.

Now here, in the New Testament, Jesus says: "but a greater than Solomon is here..." A greater than Solomon is here! Christ infinitely transcends Solomon, and therefore the people of Christ are that much greater than Solomon's people. His fullness is to be their inheritance: they are to be in it - it is to be in them. The purpose of God is that. What God has purposed is to have a people eventually in great prosperity, great wealth, great spiritual riches, great spiritual glory. We are called, says the Word of God, unto His eternal glory. That's the purpose; briefly and very simply.

The Principles Governing the Christian Life

The first is this, and mark you, there is no realising the purpose apart from the principles. The principles are basic and governmental to the purpose. We'll never get on in the purpose, either progressively, or to it finally, only by way of the Divine principles. Now, if the purpose lays hold of our hearts, and we, we do respond and say, "Yes, it's a wonderful thing to be a Christian, a wonderful thing to be called according to that purpose, and I want to attain unto that", it is necessary to know some principles which govern that and without which, apart from which there is no getting on in the purpose and no development of the purpose in us.

And the first basic principle of the purpose is:

The Cross.

The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Cross operating in two ways or the Cross as on both of its sides: firstly His Cross and what it means for us, and then His Cross and what it means in us. Those are two sides of the Cross which occupy a vast amount of the New Testament teaching.

The Cross is a work fully and finally done; it is a work which is finished on one side. That is, as to our being allowed to come to God, having access - that's the New Testament word - access to God, and having union with God and having fellowship with God; all the work for that has been fully finished. We are "made nigh through the blood of His Cross". We have been made one with Him by the Cross. The Cross on that side is a fully accomplished work for our approach to God, our access to God, our union with God, and there is nothing more to be done apart from our accepting of it by faith.

But there's the other side to the Cross - what it is to mean in us. The Cross is also an abiding power in our lives. It's a principle to be continuously at work in us. On the one side, it is what the Cross meant in itself, then and there. On the other side, it is what the Cross requires of us.

What did it mean? Well, all-inclusively and comprehensively, the Cross meant the removal from God's sight of one kind of man. Jesus Christ at a given point assumed the representative capacity of all men, as they were in God's sight: in sin, under judgment. "He", says the Scripture, "was made sin for us, He who knew no sin". Again, He was made a curse in our place. That's where we were, all men were there - sin. Not only sinners, but they were sin in God's sight: under judgment, under condemnation, in rejection. And Jesus at that given point took that place - your place, my place, the place of every man as in God's sight under that rejection - and entered into all the conscious meaning of that rejection which you and I have never known, never known. To have the slightest taste, the slightest sense of having been rejected of God is enough to disintegrate the very soul. If you and I should have any little consciousness of being forsaken of God, it would be devastating to our moral being, intolerable and unbearable. He took the sum of that in full consciousness. It disintegrated Him - His very heart ruptured under it and broke - because He knew and endured in that one awful eternal moment being forsaken of God, on our behalf. "My God, Thou hast forsaken Me!" That was done for you and for me. We never need awake to that, if we will accept what He has done for us.

But it was, you see, the setting aside of a kind of man which He had voluntarily accepted, voluntarily allowed Himself to become, or to take the place of that kind of man in that awful hour. It was God saying, "I close the door to that forever; to that kind of creation." That's what the Cross means, that in Christ's death you and I have been set aside in what we are naturally - men and women by nature. God has in Christ disposed of and removed a kind of being, a species of creation put out of the way. In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that's all done: that man's gone; it's not that man that is raised from the dead: a new Man - Another, He has now put off that man, and now assumes the place of a new creation Man.

And there the Heaven is opened, God accepts that Man! That Man is installed and instated forever before God as the type of man that God has ever had in mind. The Cross, on the one side, sets aside one man, and on the other side, it instates and installs another kind of man. "Wherefore", says the apostle, "if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new". The Christian life is just that. In principle the Cross, the Cross has registered this: that there's a difference, a difference between where we were, and how we were, and what we were in God's sight before, and how it is now: a different man, a different creation, in Christ. In Christ, by faith in Christ. Another man is placed where the other was, in the resurrection of Christ.

Now there arises all the teaching, the necessity for our, first of all, accepting that position. We will never get anywhere in Christ, into the realm of fullness, on the way to fullness, until we have accepted that position in which God has put us in the death of Christ. In effect He says to us, "Look here: in yourself you're a dead man, a dead woman, where I'm concerned. You have got to recognise that when My Son died, you died in Him. Until you do that, you'll never get anywhere at all. When you do that, then you are in the position to take your place in Christ risen. Christ risen - and there is a new creation!"

You see, first of all it is a matter of a position to be taken, deliberately taken by faith. This is something not new to many of you, but it needs constantly to be underlined. That's the basic position of the Christian life; it's the basic principle of the Christian life, that we have got to consent to God's verdict upon us by nature. We are not to dissect ourselves and say, "This is good and this is bad, and this is not so good and this is not so bad" and do that sort of thing. God says: "The whole lot of you has gone in My Son. I don't make differences between what you call good and bad, I regard you as altogether under condemnation. There is none good, not one".

Now, that's basic, and I say again, it makes all the difference when you get hold of the fundamental principle of the Christian life. Many Christians don't make any progress at all, and this development and growth in fullness is stayed and arrested because they haven't got that settled. They're still trying to make something of the one that God says He never will entertain at all - still thinking that they can be something in themselves, and trying to be something in themselves - they've never accepted this utter, ultimate position. God says, "I put you in a grave with My Son, and that was the end of that. Now everything has got to be from another source altogether, of another kind: it's all got to come from Christ risen, and not from you at all."

That is the key to fullness. It opens up the way, throws open the doors widely when you get that really settled and by faith take that position, there is no limit to what can be in the Christian life. But then, when the position, the utter position, has been taken and accepted, acknowledged, received by faith, then the other side begins - the application of the principle. We accept that ultimate position as a basis and recognise it as God's own verdict, and then the principle of the Cross begins to work in us. Yes, the tenses again are (Romans 6) - we were crucified with Christ. We were crucified with Christ, but then Paul says: "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life whereby Jesus conquered death should be manifested in us". Again he said: "I die daily". And his aspiration was: "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection". You see, the principle is at work: it was done, but now it's being applied as an active thing in the life, on the one side bringing, bringing to an actual reality our death with Christ, and on the other side, corresponding and balancing the bringing into actual experience our Life-union with Christ. As the death works, so the Life works. This is just the meaning of the Christian life!

What is God doing with us? Why all this trouble, all this difficulty, this discipline, this chastening, this hard way, this difficult school? Why all this? "I thought the Christian life was going to be one continuous song and picnic and joy-ride!" You find that it isn't. It doesn't mean that joy disappears, not a bit of it. The miracle of joy goes on in spite of everything, but it does mean that we come into a lot of difficulties and into what, to our 'old man', that old man, is a very difficult way. What's the meaning?

Ah, God is applying the principle - getting the old man out of the way and making room for the new. And is it not true of a Christian, a true Christian, as differing from any other person, that suffering produces beauty? Suffering produces the fruit: the nature of Christ. Suffering just brings out what Christ is! In others, so often, usually suffering brings out bitterness, resentment. Some of the most difficult people that I have ever met and tried to help, have been people who, because of some great adversity in their lives, have turned against God, become bitter, sour. Suffering's done that. That is not what happens to a Christian. The marvel of the Christian life, the miracle of the Christian life, is just this: that you find some dear children of God, in lifelong suffering and agony, either in body or in circumstance, just wonderfully radiant. Wonderfully radiant! You go in where they are, and it's the peace of God, deep joy. The hymns they sing are hymns about the love of God. They're their favourite hymns, and if they ought to sing about anything at all, well it ought not to be that, naturally speaking, but they're their favourite hymns - the love of God. You say, "This is marvelous! This is marvelous!" I have certain instances clearly in my mind of such people, outstanding in my own experience. It's like that.

What's it all for? Why, the principle of the Cross is at work, on the one side clearing the ground for Christ, for this new creation Life, for making way for the fullness of Christ. That is the first principle and it can only be mentioned in brief as we hurry to a close.

And this is a very important principle that I'm going to mention, the next, that is, the principle or law of fullness is:


See, no individual Christian, and no number of Christians just as separate isolated individuals, can come to the fullness of Christ. Of course that goes without saying, if you think about it. How could, if Christ is as big as that, if Christ is as big as we have said, how could any one individual come to that? It's nonsense to think of it. It would be arrogance to suggest it. It will require a vast, vast multitude to come to that, but they will never come to it as a multitude or congregation of individuals.

You see, the great conception that is given to us in the New Testament of the aggregate of Christians is the Body of Christ. You have only to think for a moment about that, about your body, and you know quite well that no one member of your body or all the members of your body if detached from the others will grow. It requires not only all the members, but all the members united, making one body. There can be no development, either of any member or members, nor even of the whole body together until articulation has taken place, has been made. I believe that the very first thing that a student of medicine has to face is a box of bones - at any rate very early in the course of things - a box of bones is handed over. It's all the members, all the bones of the human body, "Now then, put those together and make up a skeleton!" That's the first lesson. And the very first lesson of fullness and of growth is the articulation of Christians, the recognition of this fact: firstly, they belong to one another. Secondly, that they cannot get on without one another. Their spiritual life depends upon their relatedness with one another, and the maintenance of that adjustment to one another is the secret of spiritual growth.

And you will see that if Satan can carry out his master-stroke of separating Christians, he has effected their spiritual arrest. It's always like that. That's why he is after it. Divisions are the masterpiece of the Devil, set against God's ultimate purpose - the fullness of Christ. If we would only look at our divisions - not only the larger ones, but the little ones, between us and somebody else - in the light of how it affects our spiritual growth or their spiritual growth, and then relates to the larger interests of Christ's increase, we would have a motive for getting rid of those divisions, healing those quarrels, and adjusting our relationships.

Relatedness is vital to growth. It's like that. It is first of all articulation, that is, member to member, and then it is mutuality of Life. Mutuality of Life - dependence and interdependence, the recognition of the fact that we must have one another, that our very spiritual life depends upon it. Fellowship is essential, it is indispensable. That's a principle of growth, don't make any mistake about it. You will be greater or smaller in your measure of Christ according to the recognition and observance of that principle.

But, mark you, it is not artificial, it is not something that we organise, it is not institutional, it is organic - it is by Life and by Love. It is not from the outside,  our arranging it, deciding to have it and fixing it up; it comes from the inside - it comes from Christ within. Paul put his finger upon that very thing when in the church in Corinth, he found different circles. One circle centred in himself, a circle saying, "We are of Paul". Another circle centred in Apollos: "We are of Apollos." And another circle centred in Peter - "And we are of Peter"; and so on. His appeal to them was this: "Is Christ divided?" Is Christ divided? Of course, the answer is, "No, you cannot divide Christ." Then if Christ, if Christ is in you and governs, this is all a contradiction to Christ, this is all not Christ!

And no wonder the poor, mean, miserable measure of spiritual life there was at Corinth at that time. Thank God, we have another side to the story later on. They evidently got over it, got right, on the basis, the principle, of the Cross. Paul's second letter to them gives a very different picture of things there, but there it is. Christ cannot be divided, and all divisions, whether they be just between two Christians, or more, unto the great divisions of Christians, are a contradiction of Christ. And no wonder there's spiritual poverty, weakness, ineffectiveness, and lack of registration and impact upon this world - the Devil has triumphed there. We must take note of that. It's a great battle is this matter of fellowship, for that very reason that all the evil forces are set against it. And Paul says this is a matter about which we have got to be very diligent, it requires diligence: "give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit".

I close by just mentioning a third principle, I am not enlarging upon it. It is the principle of purity of spirit. You and I will not grow at all in the increase of Christ, toward the fullness of Christ, unless we maintain a very pure spirit. You ask me what I mean by a pure spirit? I mean an open heart. An open heart: free from prejudice, free from prejudice, free from suspicion; a readiness to receive, ability to adjust, no final closure, even though you may have been brought up in a certain way, open that if the Lord has "more light and truth to shine forth, to break forth from His Word", we are open to it. Never come to a final position that you know it all, you have got it all, you are in it all. A pure spirit. A pure spirit, an open heart, a ready spontaneity to every bit of light that God gives; obedience instant, without arguing. That's a pure spirit. And you'd be surprised how much hangs upon that.

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