Saturday, December 2, 2017

John Stott on True Conversion

(from "Basic Christianity", an excellent book on what it really means to become a Christian)

In reference to Luke 14:25-33, Stott writes:

...All too many people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of so-called ‘nominal Christianity’. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity.

 They have allowed themselves to become a little bit involved; enough to be respectable, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder cynics complain of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism. The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or changed his conditions to make his call easier to accept. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.

[Stott then quotes Mark 8:34-38]
 At its simplest, Christ’s call was ‘Follow me’. He asked men and women for their personal allegiance. He invited them to learn from him, to obey his words and to identify themselves themselves with his cause. Now there can be no following without a previous forsaking. To follow Christ is to give up all lesser loyalties….

.….Let me be more explicit about what needs to be abandoned, which cannot be separated from what it means to follow Jesus Christ. First, there must be a renunciation of sin. The word for this is repentance and it is the first step in Christian conversion. There is no way round it. Repentance and faith belong together. We cannot follow Christ without forsaking sin.

Repentance is a definite turning away from every thought, word, deed and habit that we know to be wrong. It is not enough to feel pangs of remorse or to make some kind of apology to God. In essence, repentance is a matter neither of what we feel nor of what we say. It is an inward change of mind and attitude towards sin which leads to a change of behaviour. There can be no compromise here.

There may be sins in our lives which we do not think we could ever let go of; but we must be willing to let them go and ask God to deliver us from them. If you are unsure about what is right and what wrong, about what must go and what may be held on to, do not be too greatly influenced by Christians you may know and what they do. Go instead by the clear teaching of the Bible and by the prompting of your conscience, and Christ will gradually lead you further along the right path. When he puts his finger on anything, give it up. It may be someone you spend time with or something you do, or some attitude of pride, jealousy or resentment, or a refusal to forgive.

Jesus told his followers to gouge out their eye and cut off their hand or foot if these caused them to sin. We are not to obey this literally, of course, by mutilating our bodies. It is a vivid figure of speech for dealing ruthlessly with the ways through which temptation comes to us. Sometimes, true repentance has to include making amends. This means putting things right with other people whom we may have hurt.

All our sins wound God, and nothing we do can heal the injury. Only the atoning death of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, can do this. But when our sins have harmed other people, we can sometimes help to repair the damage, and where we can, we must. Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax-collector, more than repaid the money he had stolen from his clients and promised to give away half his capital to the poor to compensate for the thefts which he was unable to make good. We must follow his example.

There may be money or time for us to pay back, rumours to be contradicted, property to return, apologies to be made, or broken relationships to be restored. We must not be unduly overscrupulous in this matter, however. It would be foolish to rummage through past years and make an issue of insignificant words or deeds long ago forgotten by the person we offended. Nevertheless, we must be realistic about this duty. I have known a student own up to the university authorities that she had cheated in an exam, and another return some books which he had stolen from a shop. An army officer sent a list of items he had ‘scrounged’ to the Ministry of Defence.

If we really repent, then we shall want to do everything in our power to put things right. We cannot continue to enjoy what we have gained from the sins we want to be forgiven.

…So, in order to follow Christ we have to deny ourselves, to crucify ourselves, to lose ourselves. The full, inescapable demand of Jesus Christ is now revealed in full. He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. He calls us to make him our Lord.  [Mark 8:34-38; Luke 14:25-33]

Many people think that we can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s salvation without accepting the challenge of his absolute authority. There is no support for such an unbalanced idea in the New Testament. ‘Jesus is Lord’ [Rom. 10:9] is the earliest known summary of what Christians believe….

…God had placed his Son Jesus far above every other authority and given the highest possible status to him, so that ‘every knee should bow’ before him ‘and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ [Phil. 2:9-11].  He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. To make Christ Lord is to bring every area of our public and private lives under his control. …. 


-- John Stott. “Basic Christianity” (pp. 133-137). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.