By Tom Wells
Christianity thrives on knowledge. That is not always understood, but it is true. Christianity is not mysticism. It does not seek to deny reason. It does not try to produce experiences that are wholly outside our mental processes. In fact, it does the opposite. It aims to inform the mind. The Christian life is lived on facts.
I may illustrate this by reminding you what this book is like. What I have been doing is telling you truths. I have brought up facts about God and about yourself, facts found in the Scriptures. I started to say that I have deliberately avoided any talk about trances or self-hypnosis or anything else that might induce some kind of experience that bypasses the mind. But the truth is that I have not "deliberately avoided" that approach. It did not occur to me. It would not occur to any man who takes the Bible for what it professes to be. Like every other book it has a character of its own. And "mystical" is not the word to describe it. That is not to say that no man who has been called a "mystic" was a Christian. No, I would not want to say that. But it is to say that the center of Christianity is elsewhere. It does not lie in any process that disengages the mind. You will need your wits about you at all times if you hope to be a Christian. The appeal to reason is found everywhere in Scripture. Here, for example, is a word God gave through an Old Testament prophet. He appeals to men like ourselves to turn from sin and to seek forgiveness.
In the New Testament we find the same emphasis. Here are words of Christ Himself:
That is, man must hear and understand what God has to say. Then he can "live". Otherwise, what he goes through will be a kind of walking death. Truth alone can keep him alive.
I do not want to labor this point, but you can easily check the matter for yourself. Turn over the pages of the Bible. Note how much of it is history, for instance. Over half the New Testament is the story of Christ and the early church. That is history. And notice something else too. There is little or nothing in it to induce an unusual emotional or psychological state of mind. Even its hymns are brimming with facts about God and His works.
What are we to think about this? It is not hard to answer that question, is it? It seems clear that God is telling us that our minds need to be taught. And one other thing seems plain also. Judging from the size and contents of the Bible, we need very much more instruction than we would have thought possible. That goes for me, and that goes for you too.
Now in the Bible Christ is our teacher, especially in the New Testament. As we have seen, when He sent the Holy Spirit to His church Jesus had two things in mind. First, He wanted the Spirit to produce the New Testament. Second, He sent the Spirit to give us the inclination to follow it. The Spirit, of course, has done both these things. We now have the New Testament. And if we are Christians - even feeble ones - the Spirit has begun to move us to do the will of Christ as we find it in His word.
How does the Lord Jesus Christ teach the man or woman who comes to Him? He has many ways of doing that. I want to take them up in the rest of this chapter. To make a start we will need to look at two of the most important: Jesus' own words, and His character while He was here on earth. For the most part the first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospels, will be our source.
First, let me show you what value Jesus attached to His own words. We have seen His statement about God's words. Here is His verdict on His own sayings:
These words are plain enough. They show that Jesus thought His own teaching was greatly important. Once He told us that men must live by Gods words; here He says the same of His own. Make His teaching the foundation of your life and succeed. Or, ignore it and fail. Those are the choices. It would be hard to make a higher claim than that. But again Christ says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35).
Now suppose that one of us were to talk in this way. It would sound quite ridiculous, would it not? For one thing there would be a jar and a clash between our lofty words and what any bystander could see us to be. The whole thing would be absurd. It is not that Jesus' words are impos-sible. That is not the problem. It is just that it takes a man of the Lord Jesus' stature to make them believable. For this reason, hearing Christ's words has always led men who have taken them seriously to examine His person too. And this, in turn, has brought them to learn from what they have seen Him to be. Jesus teaches us by His character as well as by His words. What He is backs up what He says.
Let us start with the things Jesus says about how we ought to act. We like this test best when it is not being applied to ourselves because we know how it is likely to turn out. Let a man tell us all the ways in which we need to improve and we are pretty sure what will happen next. Sooner or later - and generally sooner rather than later - he will trip up. And when this happens, we are ready to gloat over his failure and to excuse ourselves from following his advice, even if it is sound. Somehow we manage to think that the fall of others relieves us of much of our own duty.
But what happens when we apply this test to Jesus? Let us see. Here is one of His commands to us.
How will our Lord stand the trial of His own words?
First, listen to Peter telling of Jesus' conduct on the cross:
And that is not all. Keeping in mind Jesus' words about praying for our persecutors, listen to this:
It is true, of course, that to teach us how to act was not the main thing Jesus had in mind when He prayed for His persecutors. His prayer shows us what He was like much more than it tells us what He wants us to be like. But that does not keep us from profiting from His example. It teaches us. It rebukes us. And it does it in the best way possible. Now we see what praying for those who hate us means. We can no longer say we do not know.
But the cross - or rather, Jesus on the cross - has more truth to give us. Let me take up another point. We do not like the theme of judgment. It reminds us that we are not gods. We are answerable to the One who made us. We prefer a cheerier note, but the word "judgment" was often on the Lord Jesus' lips. Once some of His listeners told Him of a disaster in Galilee that cost many lives. Here is Jesus' response:
Then He reminded them of another calamity.
Now here is the thing to notice. If someone were to ask how much weight he should give to Jesus' talk about God's judgment on sin, the cross is the answer. I would have to say what I said before. To teach us that His words about judgment were true was not the main thing Jesus had in mind in dying. Besides, even if we knew nothing of the cross, we ought to believe the words of the Lord Jesus on judgment as on every other theme. But the cross is a tool to teach us. Christ's death makes it clear that God has not lost His will to judge sin. That is what the cross is about. The killing of Jesus was no accident. Not at all! In the cross we see our Savior receiving the punishment due to all who shall ever trust Him. In that way Jesus teaches us from the cross, even as He dies for sinners. In the midst of His agony He says to you, "Come to Me ...as Teacher!"
We must not think that when we move on from the story of Jesus' life on earth we also leave His teaching. It is still Christ who is teaching us when we read in the New Testament of the early church. That story is full of good things. And we have it because Christ, by His Spirit, moved men to write it down accurately. You may read that account in the book of Acts.
But I want to go a step further. Not all of the New Testament is history. It is all, however, the teaching of Christ. That goes for what is called "theology" as well Theology is the study of God and His relation to the things He has made. If we look at the theology of the cross, then, we are paying attention to what God was doing at the cross. The meaning of the cross is the theology of the cross. We must not let the word "theology" scare us.
In trying to show you the meaning of the cross, I was teaching you theology. But how can I know what God was doing when He sent His Son to die? One answer is found in the Gospels themselves. The Gospels give me hints and glimpses of what Christ has done on the cross. But there is a fuller source for the meaning of the cross, namely, the letters of Paul and others in the New Testament. These letters are also the work of the Spirit that Jesus sent. In that way Jesus Himself is still teaching us.
Christ's early followers, men like Paul, knew that their teaching was not their own. It was Christ's. Paul makes that clear in this passage:
An ambassador has no message of his own. He is not told to be original. His job is to speak the words of another.
In Paul's case, the words were Christ's. That means that if you come to Christ as Teacher, you will often find yourself pondering more than you read in the Gospels. All the words of the New Testament are His. You will need every one of them.
And now I am nearly done with this chapter. There is one more thing, however, that I must take up, the teaching of Christ that helps us look to the future. Make no mistake about it: a Christian has his eye on eternity. That is no accident. The Lord Jesus planned it that way.
But do not misunderstand me. I am not about to give you a detailed timetable of future events. I really could not do that, and it is not what you need What I want to do is both easier and harder than to supply a timetable.
My aim is to help you to get an attitude. It is much easier to explain the Christian attitude toward the future than it would be to tell you everything that lies ahead. On the other hand, it will be much harder for you to develop this frame of mind than it would be to memorize a list of future events.
Do you know what "pie in the sky bye and bye" means? Or, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"? We Use both phrases to describe attitudes toward the future. The man who looks for "pie in the sky" is an impractical chap, or so it is thought. But the world admires the fellow who thinks "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". He is not a dreamer. He has his feet on the ground. He takes what he can get while he can get it. He is the "practical" man. Or, at least, that is the popular wisdom.
What often goes unnoticed when we use these phrases is the vast amount that is left unsaid. At the very least we ought to ask a question. "Why does Smith wait, while Jones grabs what is at hand?" And we ought to insist on an answer. That will tell us who is the wiser man, even when we are dealing with everyday affairs. We will weigh their reasons. The chances are that sometimes Jones will seem to have the clear head. But sometimes it will be Smith, despite the fact that both phrases point to Jones as the man to follow!
To become a Christian means to give up the "sure thing", "the bird in the hand".
Jesus put it this way:
Jesus' point of view here is clearly future. Today's "sure things" are not what they seem. That is His message. Instead, a man needs to lose his life! And then, in a startling figure, He says that throwing away your life for flim and for the gospel is the only way to save it. What does He mean?
The Lord Jesus means two things. First, you are to 1ive your life for God. Use your energy to serve Him and to help spread His word. In a word, come to Jesus and follow Him, to death if necessary. That is the chief thing. But if you will not do that, then there is a second thing. You are to remember that Judgment is coming. Then the scramble for position and power and pleasure and money will be seen for what it is. And what is it? It is not life; it never was life. It is a fool's game, the game of death in which a man sells his soul and gets nothing eternal - except hell - in return.
The Lord Jesus stands over against the emptiness of a life without God. And He stands there as Teacher. "Come to Me", He says. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." On a later day He added, "My sheep listen to my voice" (John 10:27). Jesus* sheep learn from Him; that is the test. It has tested the resolve of millions of others, and now it tests you. Will you respond as He says, "Come to Me . . . as Teacher"?
May God help you to say, "I come!"