A Forgiven Life
A person living the new life of Christ reflects a confidence that his sins have been forgiven, and God will never forsake him. Paul told the Colossian Christians that “you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” As a result of this new status, they were free to forgive others who offended them. He said “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” A forgiven life is a forgiving life. Instead of seeking revenge, or passing judgment on someone else who wrongs them, people who live the forgiving life remember that they too have been forgiven, and follow Christ’s example and forgive. A negative example of this reality is found in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant:
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Jesus’ story reveals some helpful parallels in the subject matter of sanctification. First, the grace by which the master forgives the servant is the result of the master’s choice. Second, it is unmerited by the servant. Third, the servant’s choice to not forgive his fellow servant for the lesser debt was wrong. Now, notice this: if the servant had not been forgiven by his master, he would have been under no obligation to be lenient on his debtor. But, since he had been forgiven a great debt, he was not under obligation because of grace to forgive the lesser debts. Since he had been saved, he was now expected to imitate the kindness and generosity of his savior.
The forgiven life implies more to us than the mere fact that we should forgive others. It also means that we can live outside of the condemnation that our debt had put on us. Having been forgiven, we are free to live and love as never before. Thus, we can express our love for others because we are no longer under the bondage of self-condemnation. An example of this aspect of the forgiven life is found in the Gospels:
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he canceled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Simon’s concept of life was minimalistic. He gave only to the extent that he perceived others deserved it. He felt only what he perceived was appropriate. This sinful woman, however, had been set free. Her encounter with Jesus removed the bondage that had inhibited her life. It was not the gift that Jesus was impressed with. He knew this woman’s heart. She gave not in order to be forgiven, but because she knew forgiveness already. The love she showed Jesus was not the means of her reconciliation, but the method she used to proclaim it. It is the same for Christians as they live the forgiven life. We love, not in order to be forgiven, but because we have been forgiven.
An Obedient Life
A person living this life submits to the lordship of Christ, obeying his commands. The commands of Christ are important to him because he has a relationship with the commander. Jesus gave numerous commands to his disciples, which can be summarized as follows:
- Invest your life in eternity. Seek PERMANENCE, don’t get sidetracked with the things that are only temporary.
- Put God first. Make DEVOTION to him your reason for living.
- Be what you claim to be. Let your GENUINENESS declare to others the veracity of your testimony.
- Rely on God to do what you cannot do. TRUST him to provide for the needs which are beyond your capability.
- Keep in contact with God. Make PRAYER the link between your life on earth and your Master in heaven.
- Learn, proclaim and keep God’s Word. Let his TRUTH guide your mind.
- Be used by God to fulfill his will. Let his POWER flow through you as a conduit.
- Live in expectancy of Christ’s second coming. Let his ADVENT be the focus of your actions.
An Eternal Life
The eternal life we have in Christ is real but not yet actual. It is a promise. Christ promises to raise us to immortality at his second coming. But one of the keys to living the sanctified life is living out that promise, putting less emphasis on the things that are temporary, and more on those that are permanent. Our present needs are real, but they have less importance because of the future in which all our needs are going to be met. Therefore, we can forego meeting some needs for a time, and concentrate on meeting other peoples’ needs.
Knowing that we were created to have an eternal relationship with God allows us to make the kind of decisions that put him first. We see our devotional life as a necessity, and thus are not likely to put it aside when things get busy. Nothing is more important when seen from the standpoint of eternity – not even other people. The one relationship which we are going to have forever is our relationship with God.
Someday we will be able to look back on all the deeds that we have done in this age and see them for what they really were. Everything done out of false motives and for wrong reasons will be clearly exposed. The Christian seeks to live in such a way that his genuineness will never be called into question. It is not just a matter of appearances. The Christian knows that he has only one life. He does not have a public life and a private life. His entire life is public before the one who matters. God sees all. The Christian does what is right in order to be honest to God.
This life will put us to test. All of the famous biblical saints were tested as they sought to live out the life given them. The same will be true for anyone who dares to proclaim Christ. Suffering will be the rule rather than the exception. The trust involved in living the Christian life in spite of suffering is a testimony to the reality of the faith.
The Christian life is lived on the knees. Through prayer we keep the link between our temporary present, and our eternal hope. Every Christian who tries to live the Christian life without regular, sustained prayer knows how difficult it can be. Those with genuine faith all know that prayer is essential. Prayer does not change things. God changes things. But God keeps us safe in the transition by sustaining us in prayer.
The Christian life is a biblical life. God has sent us a text message, and we rely upon it. We look for answers in his words and keep looking because we trust him. The Bible is not an object that we venerate, but a subject we investigate. We look to his word because we want him. His truth guides us.
The Christian life takes advantage of power that the world does not know. We have the advantage of being able to see beyond the laws of nature, and gain access to another set of laws altogether. We can trust our mustard seed prayers to do what all the nuclear bombs cannot. We have access to the power that God had when he said ‘let there be light’ and when Jesus said ‘little child, arise.” That is power.
The Christian life is also lived with the awareness that even if we fail, we will eventually win. We are free to take enormous risks, because we know we are on the winning team. The eternal life we are living has a king who is coming soon. The things we endure for him are worth it, because he is returning. Nothing is going to prevent his keeping his promises.
A Community Life
In systematic theology, having first dealt with the reality of the saved person as an individual, we then naturally progress to study the saved as a whole: the church. Who and what the church is and what the church does, is always important because Christ died not only for me, he died for all of the redeemed. The life that we live in Christ is not just an individual life. It is part of a greater whole.
By Rev. Jefferson Vann
(Rev. Jefferson Vann is a graduate of Berkshire Christian College, Columbia International University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife Penny have been involved in Advent Christian ministry since 1984, serving as missionaries in the Philippines and New Zealand. Jeff is the author of “An Advent Christian Systematic Theology” and “Another Bible Commentary” and is a contributing editor to “Henceforth …”)