Christian Perfection – 05: Being a Whole Christian
By: Frank L. Hoffman
Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
(Wesley’s writings are in bold)
John Wesley considered it to be an absolute impossibility to be half a Christian, and I agree. One person may not have matured in Christ as much as another, but all must have given themselves wholly and completely to God. Let’s look at how Wesley phrased it in the fourth part of “A Plain Account Of Christian Perfection”:
A year or two after Mr. Law’s Christian Perfection and Serious Call were put into my hands. These convinced me more than ever of the absolute impossibility of being half a Christian, and I determined, through His grace (the absolute necessity of which I was deeply sensible of), to be all devoted to God, to give Him all my soul, my body, and my substance. Will any considerate man say that this is carrying matters too far? or that anything less is due to Him who has given Himself for us, than to give Him ourselves, all we have, and all we are?
This leaves us with the question, what is the status of the people who haven’t surrendered their heart, soul, mind and all they are completely to the Lord? According to Wesley’s definition, they aren’t really Christians, no matter what they call themselves. This may sound very “cold hearted”, and we cannot necessarily “judge” or discern where someone is in their relationship with the Lord. I believe Wesley is talking about absolutes and not necessarily observations. The key is in a person’s “heart relationship” with the Lord.
Do you remember the Biblical account of the time when Saul failed in his position as king over Israel, and when God told Samuel to go to the home of Jesse and to select a new king from among his sons?
Let’s refresh our memories by looking at two verses that describe Samuel’s first impression and God’s response (1 Samuel 16:6-7 NASV):
6. Then it came about when they [the sons of Jesse] entered, that he [Samuel] looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.”
7. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
As individuals, we each know what our relationship is with the Lord no matter what we say or do before others. If a person seeks the acceptance of the members of a church and lives apart from the Lord the rest of the time he or she is being hypocritical, and such a person has not truly been “born again”, or filled with the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul gives us an excellent “check list” of the difference between the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, for by these we can judge ourselves before our God and those who observe us (Galatians 5:16-25 NASV):
16. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
17. For the flesh sets its desire [or lusts] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
18. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
19. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20. idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21. envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not enter the kingdom of God.
Verses 19-21 are describing the people whom John Wesley doesn’t consider to be Christians or who are faking it as “half Christians”. But let’s go on with Paul’s “check list” and look at the character of “whole Christians”.
22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23. gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
24. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires.
25. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by [or follow] the Spirit.
This ties in very closely to the simple but soul convicting Beatitudes that Jesus spoke forth as part of His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5:3-11). I wrote an article for the Church Silence Promotes Violence series following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the United States in which I referred to the Beatitudes and consider that portion useful to republish here for our consideration.
Think about what we are taught in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11):
3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – If we are truly poor in spirit then we will also feel the pain and anguish of every other living creature, whether human or non-human, and do something to help eliminate their suffering.
4. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – We mourn over the loss of a loved one whether a human or a companion animal, or for those caught in the tragedy of 11 September 2001, but those who truly mourn, also mourn over the pain of every human and animal, and do something to comfort them, and end their suffering.
5. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” – There is no gentleness in hunting, factory farming, or in acts of terrorism, and we are to be the gentle ones to set the example for the whole world.
6. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – If we truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, then we will take a stand against all evil forces in our society, and no longer accept those corrupt things that give us personal, short term, satisfaction.
7. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” – If we are not merciful to the whole of God’s creation, how can we expect to receive mercy for ourselves? The simple answer is, we can’t!
8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – If we are pure in heart, then we will not participate (directly or indirectly) in any act of violence that is inflicted upon any human, animal, or the environment.
9. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [children] of God.” – The apostle Paul tells us that the whole of creation anxiously awaits the revealing of the children of God to eliminate its suffering (Romans 8:18-25). Based on the amount of suffering in this world, there seem to be very few peacemakers, and thus very few children of God.
10. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – We hear of very little persecution of this type, because it is far easier to close our eyes and ears to the evil around us and to keep quiet, than it is to go against the “norm” of society that promotes violence.
11. “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.” – If we aren’t experiencing these things, then we are probably not doing much to promote the peaceful kingdom of God, and thus evil and violence flourish in the world.
If the Church all over the world began to live by these principles, we would indeed change the world, and eliminate the violence around us.
We should be making people who participate in violent activities (directly or indirectly) to feel uncomfortable about what they are doing, until they no longer do such things. It’s time for us to stand up, speak out, and be counted as true peacemakers.
The same comments that apply to the Church also apply to each of us as individuals, for we make up the Church. Our following and our desire to follow the fruit of the Spirit and Beatitude examples is part and parcel of being a whole Christian. We each need to look at every aspect of our own life and our relationship with God and decide if we truly want to be a child of God; and if we decide this is what we want, then we should totally and completely give our heart, soul, mind, and everything we are to the Lord, and strive to live the way the Lord desires us to live. This is being a “whole Christian”!