The true Christian acts on the basis of faith, saving faith, true faith, genuine faith, that quality of trust without which it is impossible for any human being to please God. The faith, which every believer needs, is the faith of Jesus, which purifies the soul. It is that faith which the True Witness asks us to “buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich” (Revelation 3:18). The Bible discloses for us the normal path of a Christian’s walk in such passages as: “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17); “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20); “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7). By faith are we to live. But while this principle may be quickly grasped in the mind, it is not so readily experienced in life.
The obvious question then would be, Why is faith for many Christians only an intellectual concept but not an experimental reality? The late Professor James Orr of Scotland, in one of his sermons entitled “Science and Christian Faith,” said, “In many quarters the belief is industriously circulated that the advance of ‘science,’ meaning by this chiefly the physical sciences—astronomy, geology, biology, and the like—has proved damaging, if not destructive, to the claims of the Bible, and the truth of Christianity. Science and Christianity are pitted against each other. Their interests are held to be antagonistic. Books are written … to show that this warfare between science and religion has ever been going on, and can never in the nature of things cease till theology is destroyed, and science holds sole sway in men’s minds.” The Fundamentals: A Testimony, (Testimony Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1910), vol. 1, 334.
We can all agree that science, falsely so called, has eroded the pure faith of Christianity for too many Christians, hence, there is for the majority of professed Christians a form of godliness, because the real substance is lacking in their lives which is to produce a holy, Christlike character. I would hasten to say that the pressures and tensions of modern life require a mature faith based on an intelligent understanding of religious truth and not on magic or superstition. Of course, it always has been hard for men to recognize, and much harder to understand, that the Christian needs to believe with the mind as well as with the heart. Yet true faith, as stated so admirably by Alexandre Vinet, theologian and literary critic (1819), “consecrates the mind, the heart, and the will to God and His purposes.”
Absolute Reality and Purposefulness of Christianity
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” I John 3:3. In the “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 950, 951, we see a wonderful explanation of this text and what will form the basis of this study. It reads as follows: “Does this text [I Peter 1:22] mean that the human agent can remove one stain of sin from his soul? No. Then what does it mean to purify himself? It means to look upon the Lord’s great moral standard of righteousness, the holy law of God, and see that he is a sinner in the light of that law. ‘Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin’ (I John 3:4, 5).
“It is through faith in Jesus Christ that the truth is accepted in the heart, and the human agent is purified and cleansed. … He has an abiding principle in the soul, that enables him to overcome temptation. ‘Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not.’ Verse 6. God has power to keep the soul that is in Christ who is under temptation. …
“A mere profession of godliness is worthless. It is he that abideth in Christ that is a Christian. … Unless the mind of God becomes the mind of men, every effort to purify himself will be useless; for it is impossible to elevate man except through a knowledge of God.”
It is through faith in Christ that the truth is accepted in the heart, and the human agent is purified and cleansed. Fundamentally, we must take God at his word for the transformation of our characters. Our faith in Christ acknowledges Him as an abiding Saviour who is able to keep us from practicing sin and eventually overcoming every sin! So who is a Christian? It is he that abides in Christ! “Unless the mind of God becomes the mind of men, every effort to purify himself will be useless.” The Youth’s Instructor, March 1, 1894.
This clearly shows that it is extremely important that sinful man agrees with God in order that he becomes purified of sin.
The remaining portion of the quotation is significant to our understanding of how God defines a Christian. It reads, “The outward gloss may be put on, and men may be as were the Pharisees whom Jesus describes as ‘whited sepulchres’ full of corruption and dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:27). But all the deformity of the soul is open to Him who judgeth righteously, and unless the truth is planted in the heart, it cannot control the life. Cleansing the outside of the cup will never make the vessel pure within. A nominal acceptance of truth is good as far as it goes, and the ability to give a reason for our faith is a good accomplishment, but if the truth does not go deeper than this, the soul will never be saved. The heart must be purified from all moral defilement.” Ibid.
For God, Christianity is practical godliness based upon righteous principles, which permanently controls the believer; it is not motivated by a faith that is based on feelings. As Watchman Nee puts it in his book, The Spiritual Man, (Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., New York, 1968), vol. 2, 240, “The life of faith is not only totally different from, but also diametrically opposite to, a life of feeling. He who lives by sensation can follow God’s will or seek the things above purely at the time of excitement; should his blissful feeling cease, every activity terminates. Not so with one who walks by faith. Faith is anchored in the One Whom he believes rather than in the one who exercises the believing, that is himself. Faith looks not at what happens to him but at Him Whom he believes. Though he may completely change, yet the one in Whom he trusts never does—and so he can proceed without letting up. Faith establishes its relationship with God. It regards not feeling because it is concerned with God. Faith follows the One believed while feeling turns on how one feels. What faith beholds is God whereas what feeling beholds is one’s self. God does not change: He is the same in either the cloudy day or the sunny day. Hence he who lives by faith is as unchanging as is God; he expresses the same kind of life through darkness or through light. But one who dwells by feeling must pursue an up-and-down existence because his feeling is ever changing.”
From the pen of inspiration we are reminded: “Many pass long years in darkness and doubt because they do not feel as they desire. But feeling has nothing to do with faith. That faith which works by love and purifies the soul is not a matter of impulse. It ventures out upon the promises of God, firmly believing that what he has said, he is able also to perform. Our souls may be trained to believe, taught to rely upon the word of God. That word declares that ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17), not by feeling.” The Youth’s Instructor, July 8, 1897.
The apostle John states of faith, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” I John 5:4. The faith which overcomes the world is the faith which works by love and purifies the soul. The importance of this faith is brought out in The Review and Herald, October 6, 1891: “The Lord is represented as opening the hearts of men and women to receive the word, and the Holy Spirit makes the word effective. Those who receive the truth have that faith which leads to decided action, which works by love, and purifies the soul. Thus the truth is a sanctifier. Its transforming power is seen on the character. When it has been admitted into the inner sanctuary of the soul, it does not operate superficially, leaving the heart unchanged; it does not awaken the emotions merely, to the neglect of the judgment and will; but it goes down to the very depths of the nature, and brings the whole being into harmonious action.”
For many Christians today Christianity has to do with an emotional experience, which has its roots in self-love. There is no willingness to agree with God or to conform to His way of life, thus Christianity is reduced to an intellectual experience without any transformation of character, for there is no willingness to be obedient to Jesus. More and more many of those who profess to be Christians display attributes very much different from that of the Christ they profess to follow, obviously not caring that they “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” I Peter 2:9.
We are told that only “Few have that genuine faith which works by love and purifies the soul. But all who are accounted worthy of everlasting life must obtain a moral fitness for the same. …
“You must experience a death to self, and must live unto God. ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God’ (Colossians 3:1). Self is not to be consulted. Pride, self-love, selfishness, avarice, covetousness, love of the world, hatred, suspicion, jealousy, evil surmisings, must all be subdued and sacrificed forever.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 705.
The veneer of human hypocrisy is the order of the day in Christianity. The prophet states, “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men.” Isaiah 29:13. Also, the prophet Ezekiel wrote, “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as My people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” Ezekiel 33:31.
God requires perfect, loving obedience from us, for this will then prove that we possess that faith which works by love and purifies the soul. That’s why Paul wrote, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” Galatians 5:6. The apostle James shows the importance of loving obedience: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:20. He also states, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Verse 26.
Our obedience to Christ is not a legalistic obedience, for the Scripture states, “We love Him, because He first loved us.” I John 4:19. And the apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead.” II Corinthians 5:14. The servant of the Lord confirms this teaching when she wrote: “By faith the soul catches divine light from Jesus. We see matchless charms in His purity and humility, His self-denial, His wonderful sacrifice to save fallen man. Contemplation of Christ leads man to place a proper estimate upon himself, for he realizes that the love of God has made him great. ‘And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure’ (I John 3:3). The possibility of being like Jesus, whom he loves and adores, inspires within him that faith which works by love and purifies the heart.” The Review and Herald, October 7, 1890.
When we take God at His word, believing that Christ is the Saviour of the world and that without Him we would be completely hopeless, love springs up in our hearts for Jesus and we willingly obey Him because He becomes our Lord and Master, thus He works by the Holy Spirit to purify our minds making us His true followers.
So what will this faith, which works by love and purifies the soul, do for the believer? From the book, In Heavenly Places, 118, we are told: “It is a great thing to believe in Jesus. We hear many say, ‘Believe, believe; all that you have to do is to believe in Jesus.’ But it is our privilege to inquire, What does this belief take in? and what does it comprehend? There are many of us who have a nominal faith but we do not bring that faith into our characters. … We must have that faith which works by love and purifies the soul, that this belief in Christ will lead us to put away everything that is offensive in His sight. Unless we have this faith that works, it is of no advantage to us. You may admit that Christ is the Saviour of the world, but is He your Saviour? Do you believe today that He will give you strength and power to overcome every defect in your character?”
From The Bible Echoes, April 15, 1893, we read the following: “When you respond to the drawing of Christ, and join yourself to Him, you manifest saving faith. But to talk of religious things in a casual way, to pray for spiritual blessings without real soul hunger and living faith, avails nothing. … The faith which avails to bring us into vital contact with Christ expresses on our part supreme preference, perfect reliance, entire consecration. This faith works by love and purifies the soul. It works in the life of the follower of Christ true obedience to God’s commandments; for love to God and love to man will be the result of vital connection with Christ. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (II Corinthians 5:17).”
May we ever keep in mind the words of our Saviour, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. Also, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21. So for Jesus, being a Christian means perfect, loving obedience to the word of God, a practical application of that word in the life of the believer every day of his or her life.
John the Revelator in vision saw all the Christians of all ages stand at last before the throne of God and the testimony concerning them is: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:14. I appeal to each one who reads to make every sacrifice to be among that number.
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.