The Christian Life

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - What Happens When We Become Christians

Our general subject is: What it means to be a Christian. Last week we were occupied with the immense significance of the Christian life; its setting in the eternal counsels of God. This evening we are going to consider what happens when we become Christians. May I repeat what I said at the commencement last week, so that we shall be drawn together in co-operation in what is being said. I have three classes or categories of people in mind: those (and in all probability there are some here) who have no definite experience of the Christian life, they have not yet begun. They may be in all sorts of conditions, but they form one category. Then those who are but newly in the Christian life without a great deal of experience or knowledge. And then the older stages who know all about it. Now, if something or a part of what is said does not seem to be fitting your position, just think that it may be for someone else; you enjoy your portion and try to enjoy someone else's as well. I say that because some of you might just feel, "Well that's far too elementary, we left that long ago" and you might feel bored. But remember, someone else might just be there, and so on. And you'll be very helpful to me if you will please take that attitude.

What happens when we become Christians? And we shall proceed this evening along the same lines as we took last week, not spending time on pointing out the misapprehensions, the misunderstandings and the misrepresentations of the Christian life, their causes, reasons, but rather shall we proceed to present the Christian life positively as to really what it is according to God's Word and leave you to make the comparisons and any necessary adjustments. The only thing that I will say in that connection is this, that we are seeking to be pre-eminently practical. That is, we are not occupied with the presentation of Christian doctrine in itself. Christian doctrine will be here, but in the abstract; we are not interested in presenting the doctrines of Christianity; important as they are. But what we are concerned with is to make everything practical and experimental - that which can be immediately put to the test - so that at once it becomes clear as to what things are and to where they belong and what the issues are.

There is, of course, a difference between the facts and the truths of the Christian life, and the explanation of them. That is, it is possible to have the experience, and therefore all the facts to be present in the life without the person concerned being able to explain those facts. That is a part of our business: to explain the facts, and to challenge as to the facts. Now, the explanation of the Christian life should be corroborated by the experience. That is, it ought to be possible for you to say, "Well, I could not have explained it like that, but I know exactly in my experience what you mean - that just does express my own life." So that the explanation must be borne out by the experience, the experience must corroborate the explanation.

Now then, come to this matter of what happens when we become Christians. We shall spend some of our time in seeking to get back behind this matter of becoming a Christian, to get to certain other facts - facts stated or revealed in the Bible, and true to human experience. This is where you will be able to give your own verdict upon the situation.

In the first place then, getting back behind becoming a Christian, we come to:

Man As We Know Him - As We Find Him by Nature.

And what we find to be the situation with man by nature is that his relationship with God is completely dislocated. We Christians say 'dislocated', because we believe what the Bible teaches: that things were all right once, and they've gone wrong. If you, for the time being, prefer to waive the word 'dislocated' it does not make any difference to the situation because things are not in order between man and God. Whether they never were, or were and have got into that state, need not worry us for the moment. Presently we shall come on that perforce. But the fact is, the relationship between man and God is in a broken-down condition. That is the basic, fundamental fact. The relationship is disjointed; it is in a state of strain. There is distance between man and God. The relationship, or the 'non-relationship', is a very unhappy thing: the situation is by no means a happy one where man and God are concerned by nature. The relationship is altogether unproductive; nothing coming from it. It is quite barren and desolate, unfruitful.

But that is more or less negative; it's worse than that in most cases, it is positively antagonistic in very many cases. Man is in a state of antagonism to God in his nature, and often in his mind, in his attitude, and in his reference to God; there is a state of conflict. There is much suspicion in man's mind or heart as to God. A great deal of resentment exists in many human hearts. And we can go further - for the Bible goes this far - and says that in some cases, perhaps not a few, there is even hatred in the human heart for God. We meet that sometimes, this very positive state of antagonism and hatred.

That is the first fact - the relationship between man and God naturally is all chaotic, broken-down, dislocated and marked by these characteristics and features which I have mentioned.

That is not all. We need to get inside of that and go further. Man has a set of senses belonging to his spiritual being which are not functioning - a set of senses which correspond to his physical senses. The physical senses, as you well know, are: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling. But man has another set of five senses which are not physical, but which belong to his inner man. The counterpart of those five physical senses, and in man by nature, these other senses are not functioning. The Bible speaks of all these senses in a spiritual way in relation to God.

The Bible speaks of a seeing of God, which is not physical at all; it's not with the natural eye. There is that little fragment known to most: "The pure in heart... shall see God". That is certainly not a physical matter. Seeing.

Again, hearing. There is a spiritual hearing of God which is not audible through the natural or physical ear. It's something in the heart. It's not a voice, but it corresponds to that in a spiritual way. People are able to say they have heard the Lord speak to them, but they never heard anything with their natural ear. Hearing.

Tasting? Yes, the Bible says: "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good", and no one thinks that to be a physical matter.

Smelling... that seems to be difficult, perhaps. But you see, after all, we know what we mean, without any physical factor coming in, when we say that we are scenting something. We go into a room, and it is not physical through the sense of smell by the organ of our noses, but there's something in the air... people have been talking, and we see looks on their faces, and when we go in they suddenly become quiet and look at one another, and we 'scent' something. And you know, it is possible to scent the presence of God.

See what I mean? A whole set of spiritual faculties which relate us to God when they are in proper order and function, and in the natural man, the unregenerate man, those senses are not functioning at all. There's no seeing God, in that way; there is no hearing God speak to them; there is no feeling God - feeling God - it's a tremendous thing to feel God, not with your hands, but in an inward way. There is no tasting that the Lord is good, there is no sensing God or scenting God in the natural man. All these things are out of order - and yet the Bible speaks of them a very great deal. If you like to go and look it up again, the Bible teaches that man's condition, man's condition confirms and corroborates that where God is concerned, man is blind, man is deaf, man is numbed - has no feelings - man is insensitive to God. I said we're being practical. Is that true? That is the trouble with any one of you who may not have had a definite Christian experience: you don't see God in this way, you don't hear God, you don't feel God, you don't sense God; God is unreal, remote, far off, if He is at all. You don't know Him.

But the Bible goes further still, it says that man by natural birth is lacking in that other thing which corresponds to his (and I use the phrase) his "biological existence", that is, life. We have a biological existence which we call "life". And it is, of course, a very significant thing that the New Testament puts two different words over two different classes of people. It uses that one word bios for natural life, but it never uses that word of the life of the Christian, it uses another word entirely which means something altogether different. But the Bible says that man by nature lacks not only those functions of his spiritual senses, but he lacks that which corresponds to his natural existence - life. In a word, the Bible says that man is dead; not only blind and deaf and insensitive to God, but he's dead. He's dead! "Death passed upon all men", says the Word of God.

Man is Dead to God by Nature

He is dead to the true meaning of his own existence. Man by nature doesn't know why he was born, why he has a being. We've all sorts of accounts of his being in the world - explanations and excuses, shelving responsibility, and so on - all proving that he is entirely dead to the real meaning of his own existence. He makes the best of it - and sometimes that is a very good best that a man will make of his life; but, after all, when set in relation to God and set in relation to eternity, he doesn't know why he is alive, why he has a being. He is dead to that. He is dead to eternal and heavenly things and values. What a futile and hopeless thing it is to talk to man by nature about the things of Heaven and the things of God! He looks at you, he gapes at you, he doesn't know what you are talking about. That belongs to a world with which he is not at all acquainted; far off, something different, and he is utterly bored. And he may be a very good man from certain standpoints, a very educated man. He may be occupying a position of high esteem and respect amongst men and he may be a very religious man. And there was such a man who came to Jesus, an outstanding specimen of the best product of humanity outside of Christ; and over him was suspended one big question-mark. He was full of the interrogation: "How...? How...?" And Jesus said, "Well, it's no use talking to you about heavenly things at all. You don't belong to that realm; you're dead to that."

Well, that's on the negative side, now, is this true? I said at the beginning that you can put everything to the test. This is not just a statement of abstract Christian doctrine. This is a statement of fact which is verifiable. Some of you may know it now in your own experience. Many of you did know it in time past, but thank God, you know it no longer. Man is dead, according to the Bible. There is, where God is concerned, no response; it is useless to speak to a corpse, you'll get nothing back. There is no correspondence, no interchange, no communion, no fellowship and that is exactly what the Bible and human experience say as to man's condition by nature.

That surely brings us to a very practical point in approaching this question: "What happens when we become Christians?" There are two fragments of New Testament Scripture which I think sum this up for us very concisely and very fully. The one is that statement, so familiar, and yet so little understood even by Christians, the statement made to the man to whom I referred just now, who came with his big question, his multiple, "How...?" And Jesus simply looked at him, and didn't try to answer his question at all, He knew how hopeless a thing it is to talk to a dead man. He looked at him, and said: "You must be born again", or literally, more correctly: "You must be born from above". The other passage is also very well known, from one of Paul's letters: "Wherefore if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation". Those two words sum up what happens: "born anew", "a new creation". And that takes us right over the ground which we have just covered in reverse. When we become Christian in this sense (and I don't know of becoming a Christian in any other sense, that is, properly and rightly - I said I'd keep off negative ground and on positive) but it is not becoming a Christian just to accept the tenets of the Christian religion and give a mental assent to them, or joining some society which is called a Christian institution, though it might go by the name "church". That is not becoming a Christian in the New Testament sense. The only true 'becoming a Christian' is along these lines: born anew, a new creation - which means you become a different species from what you were before, and from what all other people are who have not had that experience.

But when we so become Christians, what happens? Our state of death gives place to:

A State of Life.

This other Life, this reserved Life, which no man by nature has ever yet had, excepting Jesus Christ; this Life - which we will not even give in the New Testament terminology - this Life is given in the day of our faith-exercise toward the Lord Jesus as Lord and Saviour. A new aliveness takes place.

It is the first wonderful, basic experience of the Christian. The Christian at that time leaps into life and immediately begins to talk a new language about now knowing - knowing the meaning of life, what it is to live, and so on. But that is it; we have to begin right at the beginning: what happens when we become Christians? Well, we are alive from the dead! We become alive, but not just the resuscitation of something. It is the impartation of what was never there before: a new life, belonging to a new creation; that is, a new order, which is a heavenly order because this is a being "born from above". Jesus never said a truer thing than that. "You must be born again." And if there is someone here tonight who has not had that experience, you know, you know because of the truth of what I've said about the natural condition, you know quite well that, well, if you are going to see God in this way, and hear God in this way, and feel and sense God in this way, something has got to happen to you which is nothing less than that which corresponds to being born all over again in another realm. You know it, you ought to confess that. Jesus is right at any rate, on that, isn't He? It is true. "You must..." it is not just the imperative of a command, it is not just a declaration that you have got to become a Christian to be accepted with God, it is the statement of a fundamental and constitutional fact that you can never, never even sense God in a real way, to say nothing of having living fellowship with God, unless something happens which is absolutely constitutional. You've got to have a new life, which is God's own Life, to make you understand what God is, to know Him.

This new Life then immediately introduces:

A New Consciousness About God.

It is a consciousness of God. It is a consciousness of God. Immediately you're alive to God - you sense God. God becomes a reality, a living reality: no longer remote, far off, indefinite,  now very dear, very real, very wonderful, the greatest reality in your whole life: God. In a new way, a new consciousness of God.

And then to the next aspect: a new consciousness of the meaning of your own existence. Every Christian who is truly founded upon this basis of beginning, of resurrection, almost immediately leaps into this consciousness: "Now I've got the explanation of life! I've got the key to life! I know that I was born for something! I never before knew that I was really born for something, but I know now. There is a sense of meaning in my being here, and of destiny, wrapped up with this new experience. It gives an explanation to my own life." Is that not true, Christians? It is just like that, "Now we know, now we know why we are here" - a new consciousness.

And, to carry that just one step further - it's a new consciousness of purpose and vocation; not only that there is a meaning in our being alive, but there's a purpose that has come in with this new life, a sense of vocation. We are called for something. And you don't have to get a lot of instruction about that. You don't even wait for it. The true born-again child of God spontaneously, instinctively, begins to talk to other people about it. You can test your Christian life by that. You just begin, you must tell them, you must talk about it, you must let them know. That's vocation coming out. You feel you are called for something, there is business on hand. And that can develop, as you know, to specific vocations. But it is the consciousness of purpose, meaning and vocation which springs up with this new life.

And then it's:

A New Set of Relationships, of Interests, of Desires.

We know that; this is what happens. It's no use talking to anybody who has not had the experience about these things. They have their relationships, their interests, their desires, and they just despise you for not doing what they do and going where they go and engaging in the things which are everything to them. And they do not understand you - do not understand. They think you have missed the way, that you have lost everything that is worth having. But you know quite well that it's just the other way. You don't despise them, but you pity them, are sorry for them. This is a transcendent, superlative set of relationships. Christians know the meaning of that little phrase about those early servants of God who were arrested because they were doing this very thing - fulfilling, expressing, the sense of vocation, and not keeping it in and keeping it to themselves - arrested and brought before the authorities and threatened and what-not. "And being let go, they went to their own company" - instinctively, instinctively to their own company. Well, we know what that means. There is a new 'company' - a new relationship, a new fellowship, a new set of desires and interests - no one else can understand or appreciate, but the Christian knows them. That's what happens! That's what happens.

And further:

A New Set of Capacities.

And this is a wonderful thing about the new creation life, this that is called the 'born-anew' life, this true Christian life, it's a wonderful thing that you get a new set of mental capacities, something different from, and additional to, and transcending natural mental capacity. I mean a new understanding of things, and it's a wonderful thing this, one of the wonders of the Christian life. You may find a person who has had no great advantages academically, educationally, or in any other realm; a very ordinary person, and yet, coming into a real experience of the Christian life, they become remarkably intelligent, and knowledgeable and understanding and they've got an insight into things that the man of the highest education and the biggest brain is entirely incapable of grasping or understanding.

The thing that we Christians know to be so true, that very often we think that the person, a certain person, because of such academic achievements and qualifications, is bound to be able to understand, and we're bound to have some good interchange with them when we begin to speak about the things of the Lord, and we meet a blank. They don't know what we are talking about. But here is this simple man or woman who knows. It's a new mental faculty, a set of capacities and powers for understanding the things of the Spirit of God, knowing what no natural man can know - not by the way of study, but by the way of communion with God. Wonderful!

New capacities for understanding, for knowing, and these develop and grow as the Christian goes on. New powers of transaction and enaction - of 'doing'. The Christian has the power of doing things that other people cannot do: a power of endurance, a power of overcoming, and a power of working. Many of my friends here tonight will understand me when I say that sometimes - and very often, it seems - that the Lord takes pains to undercut our natural ability for doing, in order to lead us into a life where we can do without any 'do', and that without any natural explanation at all. If you look at much that has been done through true Christians in history in this world, you'll not be able to account for it at all on natural grounds. They were weak things, frail things, things at a discount in this world. But look what God has done through the "weak things" and the "things that are not"! Powers to achieve, to accomplish, to do, which are altogether new!

A new consciousness, a new set of relationships and interests, a new set of capacities.

A New Hope

A new hope - that is characteristic of the true Christian. An altogether new prospect has leapt into view; we shall see more of that later in the course of our evening. But here it must be stated that the Christian, if a true Christian, is not one characterised either by despair, by hopelessness, by a sense of final frustration and disappointment, but a Christian is one, deep down in whose very being there is rooted the consciousness that there is something wonderful ahead, something beyond. The final argument for the afterward is not in any system of teaching about heaven or its alternative. It's found in the heart, it's found in the heart, its found in the life - it's found in a mighty dynamic. What is it that has kept Christians going in the face of unspeakable difficulties and sufferings and opposition? What is it? What is it? Others capitulate, give up, let go, fall into despair, the Christian just goes on - not because the Christian is of better natural calibre than others, with more tenacity and doggedness. Not at all. Again, it's so often the weak ones, as counted by men; but there's this going on. What is it? This is something, something that has gripped within: this is not the end and this is not all, and there is that which lies beyond. There is this hope, which has come from the "God of hope".

Now, when I have said all that, what is the explanation of it all? A new life, new consciousness, new relationships, and all things new (and I do not exaggerate the Christian life). What does it amount to? What is the inclusive secret of it? You see, it is not just that the Christian receives some abstract things. You may call it life, you may call it understanding, you may call it hope, you may call it power, but these are not abstract things. The true, born-anew Christian has received, not abstractions, but a Person. God gives His Spirit to them that obey Him. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the inclusive explanation of it all. And I say that in order to carry things into their right realm.

You see, the Holy Spirit is God! Is God; no less than God, and the Holy Spirit has all the intelligence and knowledge of God, all the power of God, the eternal prospects of God; the elements of eternity, timelessness. All that is true of God is true of the Holy Spirit. Now, if, if God gives the Holy Spirit to become resident inside a person, and that person learns like a babe from the beginning, day by day, year by year, to walk in fellowship with the indwelling Holy Spirit, that person is bound, bound to grow in all these things that I have said. Bound to know Divine Life - God's own Life within.

It's is a wonderful thing, when you think about it - not just an 'It', but Himself, God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, our very Life. I do like the way the Bible puts that about God: "He, He," or "Thou art the length of my days - Thou art the length of my days". Think about that. That means that if God really is our portion, resident within, then our duration, our spell, is not dictated by things, by natural things. He is the length of our days. We shall die when He says the time has come, and not before. You see, things are in His hand, and until that time the threats may be many. The threats may be many, but His Life persists, and we rise again and rise again and rise again. We thought the end had come, but we rise again and go on - there's a going on because He is our Life. It's a Person. The Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of Life" - to be resident within is a very wonderful thing.

And so, if He has all Divine intelligence, and we are in His school, living with Him, keeping fellowship with Him day by day, we'll grow in this intelligence, which no natural man has - growing in knowledge, growing in understanding, growing in ability to grasp the things of God, which no man, apart from the Spirit of God, can understand. I want to lay the emphasis upon that. It is the Holy Spirit Himself. I know that Christians, as such, believe in the Holy Spirit - the majority of evangelical Christians believe in the Person of the Holy Spirit. They put the article there - the Holy Spirit - whereas others speak of 'Holy Spirit'. But it's a part of our Christian faith to believe in the Holy Spirit as a Person and to have some knowledge of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit: His work, His power. But I find, my dear friends, I find amongst Christians a lamentable lack of understanding of what it means to have the Holy Spirit really dwelling within. And that is, that is disclosed and manifested by the very fact that they can act and speak so contrary to the Holy Spirit without being checked up by Him. We're amazed how many Christians can speak in a way that the Holy Spirit certainly does not agree with, and yet, and yet they are not conscious at all of that fact that the Holy Spirit disagrees with them. There's something wrong here about this, this practical expression of the indwelling Holy Spirit. So many Christians can believe lies about others, and repeat them, and never be checked up by the Holy Spirit within or never register the Holy Spirit's disagreement; for He's the Spirit of Truth. There's something wrong here.

Now, the true Christian life, and we've got to get to God about it if we're Christians, means that wherever the Holy Spirit is in disagreement with anything that we say or do, with the way we say it or do it, we should know it. We should know it! At once we should register - not a voice, but a sense - the Holy Spirit in effect saying, "I don't agree with you - that's wrong! That's not right, that's not true, that's not kind, that's not good, that's not gracious". There's a very great need for the reality of the indwelling Spirit to be expressed. Now, I'm not saying that that failure to recognise and sense and discern means that the Holy Spirit is not there; but I do mean that we are not walking in the Spirit if it's like that. There's something where we are concerned that is necessary in the way of adjustment.

But, coming to the positive (that's a word of correction) coming to the positive you see the true Christian life can be like this; it can be, and should be like this: the Holy Spirit resident within, and when you or I say or do anything with which He does not agree, we know it at once. We have a bad feeling right in the middle of us, and we don't get rid of it until we go to the Lord and say, "Evidently I was wrong in what I said, Lord, forgive me and put that out of the way. And if it's done someone any harm, well, let's try and put that right." That's a life in the Spirit; it's very practical, you see.

That's what happens when we become Christians. It begins like that. Well, the beginnings are very simple. If you are just early in the Christian life, you surely must know something like this in simple ways. Perhaps you go to do what you used to do, and something inside you says, "Oh, no, not now - that belongs to the past". Well, that's a simple beginning, isn't it? If you go on, you burn your fingers - and you know when you burn your fingers, because you're alive! If you were dead, you would do these things and not feel them, but because you're alive, you sense.

Well, that's what happens when we become Christians, in brief, very simply; but, while I know that many of you know all that, I do feel that with many coming to Christ in these days, the beginnings of the Christian life, it is important for them to know really what they have come into, really what has happened to them. They may be able to say, as I have said this evening: "Yes, well, I couldn't have explained it, I could not have put it into words or defined it; but I know what you mean. That's quite true, it's quite true in my experience." But, you see, it is something more than just feeling. We've got to understand, there's a lot in understanding, if we're intelligent about these things.

May God make us intelligent Christians - Christians who are going on in Life, fellowship with His Spirit within, and growing all the time. Oh, God forbid that if there are any young Christians here, in five, ten or twenty years' time you should be just where you are now, at the beginnings. That is not necessary, because you know that being born again is not the end of things - that's only the beginning!

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