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Why one more book on the Christian life? All through the many years since I became a Christian, I have been reading books on the Christian life, since it was my desire to live the kind of life that the Lord Jesus Christ wanted me to live, for which He had to give His life. Different books look at different aspects of this life. But looking back now, especially after many years as a Bible teacher dealing with misunderstandings about the Christian life, and as a Christian counsellor trying to help people deal with their practical difficulties, I have come to see the need for a different type of a book.
Most books on the Christian life define what God has prepared for us and what He has already done to make it available to us, from the teachings of the Bible. That is fine from that point of view! But when it comes to us actually living that kind of life, we also need to understand how we can get to experience in our practical life what God has already prepared. Many teach simply that since salvation is by grace (undeserved favour from God), we can just receive this life by faith. They say that it would be legalistic for anyone to demand that we ought to do anything from our side to receive this life. On the other hand, there are others who teach that it is only by obedience that we can get to experience the life that God has prepared for us. Both groups are wrong in assuming exclusivity to their approach, but there is truth on both sides! When the Book of Hebrews describes why the people were not able to enter the Promised Land, which is a picture of us experiencing the life of God, it says this. “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb.3:18,19). In almost in the same breath, the author talks of disobedience and unbelief, as if they were synonymous! Actually unbelief led to disobedience. What we can learn from this is that we ought to have faith and then obey what we believe in! In this book we seek to address both.
Another thing that many Christians differ on is how they read and interpret the word of God. Most serious Christians agree that the Bible is one of the most precious gifts from God to man. He inspired the authors to write the books of the Bible in such a way that He was able to convey what He had in His mind for our teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness so that we may become fully equipped for life (2Tim.3:16,17). The Bible is our ultimate point of reference and authority when it comes to our understanding of God, His dealings with man and what He has in mind for us. But it becomes obvious that how we interpret the Bible is extremely important for us to understand Him accurately (2Tim.2:15). In order to be able to interpret the Bible passages rightly and to avoid errors, there are a few guidelines we ought to adopt. As I go through this book I try to identify the right understanding of the doctrines from the Bible and also to point out common errors people get into. (Please see more details on this subject at the Appendix – Interpreting the Bible rightly).
You will notice as you read this book two sides of the coin – what God has prepared for our Christian life, and also how we ought to respond to what God has prepared for our salvation. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” and died, it meant that all that God needed to do to provide us salvation was accomplished and completed. At the same time it is clear from the word of God that there are things we need to do to receive and experience that salvation to the full. Salvation is given freely by God and there is nothing we can do to qualify to receive it. At the same time, we do not experience it automatically but only as we respond to God in the right way. Justification is something we can experience instantaneously when we go to God in faith, but sanctification is a lifelong process by which God transforms our life as we cooperate with Him.
Many times when the Bible tells us about what God has prepared for us, the language implies that they have already been accomplished. The fact is, they are finished – from God’s side and point of view. But it does not mean that they have automatically become true for us in our practical experience. For example, from God’s side we have been already sanctified (1Cor.1:2;6:11;Heb.10:10). But we are yet to experience the fullness of that sanctification and we are to pursue after it (1Thess.4:3;2Tim.2:21;Heb.12:14)! Since God’s word says something has been already done, some people make a mistake by asserting that it is already true in their lives, even though it is obvious that they have not yet come to the fullness of that experience. When our practical experience does not match with what the Bible seems to say, it is not right to pretend our experience is in line with the Bible! That is not how we glorify God by trusting in His word, because there are other words also that He has given! It is dishonest, and it does not please God at all! To be honest is to say that God is going to fulfil what He has promised in His word, that our experience has not reached there yet, and then to take all the steps that God has shown us in His word in order to go towards that fulfilment.
On one hand, when our experience does not match with what we think the Bible is saying, it would certainly be wrong to go with our experience and discredit the Bible. But it would also be wrong to assert that what the Bible says is true in our life when it is not so. God wants us to have ‘truth’ (reality) in the innermost part of our being (Psa.51:6). When we find a mismatch between what the Bible tells us and what we really experience in our lives, the first thing we need to do is to check if we are doing anything wrong because of which our life is not in line with the Bible. But after that it would be also good to see if we have interpreted the Bible in the right way.
In The practical Christian life we want to be honest about our life, facing the truth about our experience squarely. We want to understand what the Bible really promises us as Christians, and we also want to see honestly if our practical life agrees with it. We want to learn what we should do when we see all the discrepancies in our life with respect to the word of God. We certainly do not want to pursue after some unrealistic standard of life, but at the same time we also should not give up or lower the standards below what God’s words promise us. As you continue reading, ask God to speak to you through the working of the Holy Spirit in your heart and mind.
Another practical thing to remember is that God has some specific ministry or ministries planned for each of His children, and He gives us spiritual gifts according to our calling. It also happens that the way we live and the priorities we show in life will also depend on our calling. For example, a Bible teacher spends more time studying the Bible and reading Christian books, and an intercessor spends many hours praying for others, and they are not necessarily the pattern for people with other callings. What we say here in this book is about the common factors in every Christian’s life and not in any particular calling.
With this introduction, and a prayer to the Lord, let us get on to the main part of the book.
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