“Prayer in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ” by Dr. John F. Walvoord

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Prayer in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ by Dr. John F. Walvoord

Dr. Walvoord, one of evangelicalism’s most prominent 20th century leaders, was a man of remarkable depth and breadth. Though best known for his encyclopedic grasp of Bible prophecy, he was also a man who understood and taught the core of Christian theology with unusual clarity and conviction. Wikipedia/ Dr John F Walvoord

Introduction

The Gospel of John is singular in many ways. One of its characteristics is that about half of the entire content is devoted to the last few days  of Jesus on earth.

In this portion of Scripture we have a revelation of the parting message of the Christ to His disciples which transcends the other accounts. It is to be expected that in these last important words Christ should not only sum up His previous teaching to them, and endeavor to impart to them what they needed for the coming trying days, but also that new revelation should be given for which their years together had been the preparation. In this revelation, Christ looks forward beyond His death and resurrection to this age. It is not surprising, then, that we should find in such a place the key to availing prayer.

The disciples had gathered for the last supper and had finished their celebration of the Passover feast. Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet. Judas Iscariot had left the company of the disciples. Jesus begins His parting address to His disciples. It was the intimate fellowship around the table, with the background of their years together. Christ proclaimed the new commandment, that they should love one another; He had told them that He was to go to prepare a place for them; He had shown Himself to be the revelation of God the Father. He had given them a vision of their coming task: the greater works that they should accomplish.

Then, as if coming to the heart of His message, as indicative of how these greater works should be accomplished, he solemnly speaks these words,

“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13,14).

We learn from John 16:14, that the disciples had asked nothing in the name of Jesus up to this time. It was a new command; a new challenge; a new revelation. The statement was clear.

There was only one condition: “in my name.” There is no greater revelation concerning prayer, nor a greater challenge to enter into and claim God’s promise than in this verse. Here, then, is the key to availing prayer. But what did Christ mean by asking “in my name”?

A. The Meaning of the “Name.”

The name by which the disciples knew their Lord was Jesus. This was the name which had been given Him by the angel at the time of the annunciation. ”Jesus” represents for us the work of Christ as Savior, meaning in itself “Savior.” As ”Christ” emphasizes His kingly and messianic character, and as ”Lord” points to His deity and eternity, so ”Jesus” points to His work as Savior.

It is this name Jesus which exalts Christ.

We read in Philippians 2:9, 10, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth.”

It would not be so unexpected that all peoples should bow to Christ as King, or Christ as Lord, but the use of the name “Jesus” here stands out in emphasis. It will further be noted that the disciples did their miracles in the name of Jesus. Sometimes the name “Jesus” is used with “Lord” and sometimes with “Christ,” but “Jesus” is used in every case but one. By the use of the word “name” then, the idea centered in the name of “Jesus.”

It is significant that the emphasis is on this title of Christ. It was nothing new to do things in the name of the “Lord.” Christ himself is said to come in the name of the “Lord.” “Lord” simply meant God, the God of the Jews.

Only once, as far as I know, is the phrase “in the name of the Lord” used referring specifically to the second person of the trinity. This is in James 5:14, where the elders are told to anoint the sick with oil “in the name of the Lord.” In verse 10 of this chapter the phrase “in the name of the Lord” is used clearly referring to God without reference to person. It is not at all clear that verse 14 refers specifically to Christ, but it could be easily understood when taking into consideration the Jewish atmosphere of this book, that the Old Testament usage should creep in.

In any event, the reference to the name “Jesus” in the phrase “in my name” is well marked, whether or not this positively excludes other titles. “In the name of Christ” is no where found. This can be explained by the fact that the manifestation of Jesus as the Christ, the King, is still future, and related to the millennial rule. Without dogmatic assumption, then, we can take the phrase “in my name” to refer to Christ largely as the Savior, Jesus. Prayer in the name of Jesus is, then, based first on His office as Savior.

The general significance of “in my name” can be comprehended partially from common usage.

When an individual does something in the name of another, it indicates union which may be of different kinds.

Andrew Murray has pointed out that this union may take three different lines: legal, life, or love. Legal union is a part of our everyday life. Men in partnership in business are joined so that what one does is done in the name of the other and vice versa. The employee who runs a business for his employer constantly acts in the name of his employer. He may have extended to him all the privileges going with the power of his name insofar as the business is concerned. He can buy or sell with the power given him through his use of his employer’s name.

This is a common example of legal union. Another type of union is that of father and son. The son bears the father’s name and because he has that name there fall to him certain privileges. The union is one of life: there is blood relationship. Then there is union in love. The bride takes the name of the bridegroom. She then has certain rights and privileges in virtue of the fact that she has taken a new name. These modern analogies come far from representing what Christ meant by “in my name.”

He meant legal union, life union, love union, and yet more than all of this. The central fact lies in the power of the “name.”

B. Significance of Prayer in His Name.

The basis of our prayer life, it is evident, is our union with Christ. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray. This first of all has its relation to our position before God. We are joined in “legal union” with Jesus. We are His partners, His servants. We are working in His name. This is our position in virtue of our redemption and new birth. We are carrying out His task in His name. We are joined in “Life union” just as the father is with the son. Our position is not that of one outside the family of God, but one of God’s kin; we are sons of God. We are joined vitally to God through the new birth. Then, there is the “love union.”

We are the bride of Christ. In one sense we have taken His name. We are betrothed. We are joined to Christ as the object of His love in this age as well as in the future consummation. This all can be said to be part of our position in Christ. It does not depend on our spirituality or the quality of our life. It is grounded only on our salvation and our new birth. It is certain that this aspect was included when Christ told His disciples to ask “in my name.”

While it is certain that these positional aspects form a part of this truth, it is also evident that this supreme condition in prayer dealt with more than our position before God. In the discourse recorded in John 14, in the 15th verse, immediately after the reference to asking in His name, Christ continues, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

The condition of the believer is evidently vital in availing prayer. Obedience is a part of asking “in His name.”

But it is not simply a battle to do the Lord’s will that wins answer in prayer. It is not a barter of our good works for what we want in prayer. It is infinitely higher than this. From the teachings in the parting counsels of Christ, we learn that the key to the condition of the believer which corresponds to being “in my name” is found in the ministry of the Holy Spirit and in our abiding in Christ. It is evident that these two features are bound intimately together.

After exhortation to obedience which followed the revelation of the supreme condition in availing prayer, Christ immediately proceeds to the revelation of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit was to be the key to all their work for Him, their obedience, and their prayer. While it is not possible here to treat the subject of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we can take without discussion the conclusion that the essential ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers which concerns us here is the “filling” of the Holy Spirit. The disciples in Acts are constantly being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is clear that this has a vital relation to the condition of our spiritual lives.

While each Christian possesses the Holy Spirit and has all the ministries which are accomplished incident to his new birth, all Christians do not continually experience the filling of the Holy Spirit. It is not that the Holy Spirit leaves the Christian and comes back again, but the Scriptures teach that the Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit when he is in the complete charge of the Holy Spirit: when the Holy Spirit has all of him, filling his life, governing his activity. It is evident that this has a vital relation to availing prayer. Praying in the name of Jesus is only possible in the condition of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

As we are filled with the Holy Spirit we are praying in the name of Jesus. As we examine the Scripture revelation concerning the part the Holy Spirit has in the prayer of the believer, we easily establish this idea. Romans 8:14 tells us that the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. The Spirit leads us in prayer, guiding our requests that they may conform to God’s will. We learn, too, that the Spirit makes intercession for us in Romans 8:26. While the Spirit makes intercession for every Christian, it is only possible for the Spirit to lead those who are yielded to His leading. To those who are grieving the Holy Spirit, it is necessary for the Spirit to leave His work of ministering to take up the work of reproving.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit in filling the believer is, therefore, a most vital part of praying in His name. In all true prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit is inherent. When Jesus told His disciples to pray in His name, He was most certainly contemplating this ministry of the Spirit. It was the Spirit who was to inspire them, guide them, fit them, for praying in His name. It was only as their mortality was lifted into the realm of immortality that they would be able to pray in His name. This ministry of the Spirit depended on their yielding to the Spirit in all things. As such it forms a great conditional element which not only determines the spirituality of a Christian, but also the effectiveness of his prayer.

Companion to this essential feature of praying in the name of Jesus, is the exhortation of Christ that His disciples abide in Him. In the 15th chapter of John we have an analogy teaching the intimate relation between Christ and His disciples. In the opening verse, Jesus speaks of Himself as “the true vine.” In contrast to Israel, the fruitless vine, Jesus was the true vine. In the fifth verse of this same chapter, repeating the fact that He is the vine, He adds, “Ye are the branches.” It was an analogy which should have been clear to each one of the disciples.

They were the branches of the vine. They had been cut off the fruitless vine, Israel, and had become joined to the true vine, Jesus. It was a forerunner to the revelation of the church as the body of Christ, joined in organic union with the head. In the fourth verse in this chapter, Jesus bids His disciples to “abide in me.” “As a branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” The logic was inexorable.

If the disciples were to bear fruit, they could do so only in virtue of their union with Christ. It was necessary for them to draw their strength from Christ just as the branches drew their strength from the vine.

It is evident from the very command of Christ, “Abide in me,” that this is a conditional feature and not a part of the Christian’s position in grace. Yet it is an interesting question whether it is possible for a Christian to do anything else than “abide” in Christ.

It is clear that every Christian is a living part of the vine. Why then did Christ bid His disciples to “abide in me” if it is impossible for a Christian to do anything else? This argument has been advanced by those who believe a Christian can be saved and then lost.

The source of the trouble lies in a too literal interpretation of this figure which Christ is using. The obvious purpose of the figure of the vine is to make clear the secret of fruitfulness. The subject of salvation is not being dealt with at all. Christ is talking to Christians. Judas Iscariot was not in the company when these words were spoken. Christ was clearly speaking of a conditional element in the lives of Christians.

“Abiding” is not the condition of being a branch, but the condition of a branch. According as the branch abides in the vine, it brings forth fruit.

Rev David Brown comments on this verse, “As in a fruit tree, some branches may be fruitful, others quite barren, according as there is a vital connection between the branch and the stock, or no vital connection; so the disciples of Christ may be spiritually fruitful or the reverse according as they are vitally and spiritually connected with Christ, or but externally and mechanically attached to Him.”

It is obvious, then, that “abiding” in Christ is an essential condition of fruit bearing, and also has a vital relation to effectual prayer.

In the seventh verse of this same 15th chapter of John, we have a definite link with our problem of praying in the name of Jesus. It is another great prayer promise with a condition clearly parallel to the condition of praying in His name. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”

The condition here is twofold in character. First, it involves abiding in Christ. This connotes our drawing our strength and nourishment from Him, living in organic union with Him, and bringing forth fruit accordingly. The second condition in this prayer promise is if “my words abide in you.” It should be noted that there is a change here from the previous statement in verse four, “Abide in me, and I in you.”

The fact that Christ is in us can hardly be said to be conditional. The change from the indwelling of Christ in the believer to having His words abiding in the believer was a preparation for the promise of answered prayer. It is necessary not only that we draw our strength and nourishment from Christ, but also that His words purge the vine and cleanse it (verses two and three).

It is only as Christ’s words and the words of the Scripture abide in us that we are able to pray according to the purpose of God, and according to our purpose, if we are Spirit-filled.

The promise that “if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” clearly is parallel to asking “in my name.” Each interprets the other. To pray in the name of Jesus involves as an essential characteristic, then, not only the filling of the Spirit, but what that filling involves: our abiding in the vine of Christ Jesus, and His word abiding in us.

C. Conclusion: Praying in His Name in Relation to God’s Program.

It is the clear testimony of the Scriptures that God is carrying out an eternally planned and decreed program. Every element is foreordained and foreknown. The salvation of every Christian is predestinated and a part of God’s plan from the beginning.

How then can prayer be said to really change things? What is the solution of the problem of the relation of effectual prayer and God’s eternal decree which cannot be changed? The solution lies simply and clearly in “praying in His name.”

It is difficult at best to correlate man’s will and God’s eternal purpose. It is difficult to comprehend that God’s plan is unchangeable and yet that man is a free agent. It is not so much that it is contrary to reason as that it is above reason. It is in a realm for which man has little capacity. It is outside our realm. But, clearly, praying in His name solves the problem, insofar as we can solve it. Just how is the problem solved?

It is evident from previous material that praying in the name of Jesus involves first of all the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as He fills the Christian not only teaches and guides, but prays through the believer what has been in the eternal counsels of God from the beginning.

In this condition of being filled with the Spirit, in which all the fullness of abiding is realized, the Christian literally prays just as Christ would pray. Insofar as this end is realized the Christian prays in the name of Jesus. He stands not only in his position as a child of God, but he stands in a condition where he is a free channel for the Holy Spirit to speak through him the prayer which God wants him to pray.

This praying is a marvelous reality. The free agency of man is in no wise taken away, but the will is definitely given over to the will of God. It is an entering into not only the position of partnership, but the condition of partnership.

We become literally, fully, God’s partners in His work on earth. This, then, is what Christ meant when he spoke of praying “in my name.” The wonder of this privilege of praying in the name of Jesus is something beyond human expression. It speaks eloquently of God’s love, of His provision for our Christian lives, of the opportunity in prayer which we all have.

It brings us face to face with the unrealized possibilities in praying in the name of Jesus. There is no privilege which is more blessed or speaks more of the grace of God.

The secret of an abundant, fruitful life lies in prayer; the secret of prayer lies in praying in the name of Jesus. Enough could never be written on this theme, nor could it be adequately treated. Praying in the Name of Jesus is infinite in its possibilities, infinite in its privileges; it is at the center of God’s gracious provision for our lives on earth.

Summary

Prayer, then, can be said to be a pivotal theme of the Scriptures. God has a definite plan for prayer as revealed in the Scriptures. Prayer is an essential part of God’s program. Prayer rests both on a Christian’s position, and his condition.

As to his position, God has wrought completely for every Christian all that enters into his position, and thus opens to every Christian equal opportunity in prayer.

As to his condition, the Christian is hindered in prayer by his inherited sin, by his acts of sin, and by the person and work of Satan. Restoration into fellowship with God lost through sin is complete for the Christian by simple confession of sin. Prayer in the name of Jesus is the key to overcoming the hindrances to prayer.

This is found first in the character of the “name,” in that it rests on the work of Christ as Savior. This involves all that Christ did and is doing. Prayer in the name of Jesus is characterized and conditioned by our abiding in Him and our being filled with the Holy Spirit.

In relation to God’s eternal decree, predestination, and all that enters into the immutability of God, prayer in the name of Jesus solves the whole problem in that such prayer is just as Jesus would have prayed it. Prayer in the name of Jesus is therefore the means for accomplishing on the part of the Christian and on the part of God what would not otherwise have been accomplished. It is the highest work of every Christian; it enters into the loftiest privilege; it is the key to every spiritual treasure.

Dallas, Texas
for more information and biblical teaching from Dr. John F. Walvoord go to http://www.walvoord.com

“The Heart Religion”, of John Wesley by Dennis Bratcher; Christian Resources Institute. (Christian Ethics, Sanctification, Pure Heart)

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The Heart Religion of John Wesley, by Dennis Bratcher

One of John Wesley’s greatest contributions to the Christian faith was his recovery of “heart religion.” . For centuries the focus seemed to be more on getting people to believe the right thing rather than to call them to discipleship in Christ.

John Wesley came to realize that a religion that does not impact how people live their lives in the nitty-gritty of day to day experience is not much of a religion. When a person allows the transforming presence of God into their life, He will begin re-creating the person from the inside out.

Growth is a vital part of the ongoing Christian life. That growth is not only personal and internal.

Genuine heart religion will always result in a turning outward.

Martin Luther defined sin as “a person turned in on themselves” (Phil 2). In modern terms, we call this self-centeredness or selfishness.

Sanctification and a life of holiness could well be described as “a person turned outward to others.”

John Wesley wrote, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” That is, vital, growing religion of the heart will always seep out into every area of a person’s life as they respond to the call to love one another as God has loved them.

—-The dynamic of the Wesleyan holiness tradition lies in this balance between personal devotion emphasizing growth in grace, and the living out of that vital devotion in the day to day arena of public life. England never experienced the violent social revolution that swept other European countries. Some historians see the Wesleyan revival that swept England in the middle of the 18th century as a factor. In that revival and the spiritual awakening that followed Christianity impacted people where they lived. They not only had a heart “strangely warmed, as Wesley described it, they also lived it.

What does the Lord require of us?

Some of the same tendencies that faced Wesley in eighteenth-century England face us today. Many people of our society don’t claim to be Christian, so they feel no obligation to live a Christian lifestyle. Many others claim to be Christian but show no evidence of it in their lifestyles. For these people, there seems to be no external guideline for how to live life. The only standard of decision-making is: what’s in it for me? Even some people in the church have been so influenced by the self-centeredness of our prevailing culture that everyday decisions of ethics and lifestyle are largely unrelated to any idea of God or morality, let alone to any understanding of a self-emptying Christ-like model.

Many people have been inoculated with just enough of the Gospel to make them immune to the call for purity of heart and life of a servant, both of which lie at the core of the Gospel.

On the other extreme, the emphasis on correct belief as the standard by which righteousness is measured has seen a new upsurge among some Protestant groups. It is especially evident among conservative evangelical groups. Lifestyle and ethical decisions are based on conformity to a set of doctrinal beliefs or to a rigidly legalistic view of Scripture. How those beliefs are put into practice sometimes leads to a violation of the most essential elements of the Christian faith. This was illustrated in a graphic way a few years ago as someone protesting abortions in the name of God and the Church shot and killed a doctor who provided abortions.

So, as the theologian Frances Shaeffer asked in the 1970s, “How, then, shall we live?” Or in the words of the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require of us?” (Micah 6:8).

Of course, the simple answer is that because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ we are to love one another. This love, modeled for us by the One who died on a cross that we might have life, flows from a transformed life.

Loving others is not the cause of our relationship with God nor a requirement for it, but is the result.

Morality and Ethics

As soon as the subject of morality or ethics comes up, many people immediately think of rules and prohibitions. This negative response is partly the result of the fact that we humans simply do not like rules. It is also partly from the misperception that church and religion are primarily about prohibitions, as if church membership would prevent them from doing anything that they would enjoy.

However, to understand vital and dynamic Christian living in terms of rules and prohibitions is drastically to misunderstand the nature of the Christian Gospel.

Christian lifestyle is not simply or even primarily conformity to rules. It is a living out in positive ways the transforming power of the gospel.

—Married couples who care for each other deeply do not get up every morning and moan about the fact that they cannot commit adultery that day. Their marriage vows are not rules. They are expressions of the love that they share. Faithfulness to each other in the marriage does not come because of rules; it is a positive outworking of the relationship. Growing Christians do not simply obey rules; they live out the results of being a new creation in Christ.

So how do transformed people, new creations in Christ, make decisions and live life differently than they used to? Here, we need to make a distinction between morals and ethics. Morals are those abiding principles that are basic and universal. These principles do not change with circumstances and are the baseline from which all of life must be lived. For some people, everything is a moral issue. In reality, however, there are only a few moral principles that provide the basis for ethical decisions. For Christians, as well as for Jews, the Ten Commandments provide that solid moral base. The New Testament “royal law of love” is also a governing moral principle (John Wesley’s phrase from James 2:8: “Love your neighbor as yourself”; see Mark 12:30-31 and parallels). Even these, however, should not be seen as simply rules. They are the positive expression of relationship with God lived out in a real world. They are love of God enacted in life.

Unless we live like a hermit, most of what we do on a daily basis involves making ethical decisions. Ethics can be described as the way in which we order our attitudes toward issues and situations that involve other people. It can also refer to the actions that arise out of those attitudes. Ethics is how we apply the unchanging moral principles to the changing and sometimes ambiguous circumstances of day to day living.

Ethical living involves making decisions about attitudes and conduct in particular situations based on moral principle. The Ten Commandments and the royal law of love are the moral basis for ethical decisions.

For people in the Wesleyan holiness tradition, ethics are the highest expression of a heart in tune with God, because it is in the interaction with other people that heart holiness can be best expressed. For holiness people, ethics is just another way of saying “holy living.”

A clear understanding of the moral principles and how we let them affect our daily lives is crucial for Christians who want to grow in their faith. It is also important to speak of them as principles rather than laws or rules. Life is too complex and fluid to be able to cover everything with rules even if we wanted to. The Pharisees were notorious for trying to add law upon law to cover every circumstance in life. Their efforts were futile and had destructive effects. Sadly, the same tendency to reduce relationship with God to conformity to rules is common in some Christian circles. We cannot make enough rules fast enough to cover all aspects of being Christian in a rapidly changing world. So we must be able to apply the principles that guide our Christian existence to the changing circumstances of life.

The question is, how do we make these ethical decisions as Christians? First, we can consider some common ways of making ethical decisions that are inadequate expressions of a Christian lifestyle.

Emotion.

For some people, emotion or feeling is a major gauge in relating to others. This is the idea of “If it feels good, do it.” The basis for the decision is what a person wants or needs to make them feel good at the moment. This a totally self-centered approach that allows us to use others to meet our own physical or emotional needs.

Expediency.

Some people are more pragmatically oriented than others. They make ethical decisions based on “what works” and say, “The end justifies the means.” They are willing to do whatever is necessary to reach a goal or accomplish a task, regardless of the impact on other people.

Consequences.

A common attitude among children, or even among adults who are emotionally immature, is to avoid negative consequences. This approach makes ethical decisions based on whether it results in pleasure or avoids pain. This can have two aspects. One attitude is that an action is acceptable “as long as I don’t get caught.” The other perspective is to avoid anything that might bring pain or discomfort, or require extra effort or cost.

Rules.

Some people want the Bible or some other authority, like a book of church disciple or a person in authority, to spell out in black and white every rule that would govern every conceivable action before they can make ethical discussions. While both the Bible and church documents do provide guidelines for ethical actions, they do not and cannot cover every circumstance. Too often, people then assume that since there is no specific rule governing a certain situation, then there is no restriction on what can be done in that situation. Unfortunately, people then either follow their own often selfish instincts or they allow their prejudices to govern their behavior rather than seeking an authentically Christian course of action. People who need a rule for every possible situation have not yet learned to apply biblical principles to their lives and are immature decision makers.

Situation.

All ethics involves making decisions in particular circumstances. However, to have no guidelines beyond the immediate situation is to have no reference point at all. It is a total relativism that says things like, “I know what’s best for me,” or “You don’t understand my situation.” The decision depends totally on what a person thinks is best to meet the immediate situation.

How to make holy decisions

So, if those are the inadequate ways to make decisions, what are the adequate ones? First, let’s consider some larger issues, some boundaries within which we live in relationship to God, that will help shape our decision-making process.

As Christians.

Since moral principles are unchanging and universal, morality is not restricted to Christians. There are people who make no claim to be Christian who live decent, moral lives. However, our concern is how we live as Christians. Here there must be a genuine commitment to allow our faith and belief in God, the transforming presence of God in our life, and the regeneration of our whole being through Christ to work itself out into everything we do. How we handle circumstances or relate to people should reflect our commitment to Christ and should reflect who we are as Christians.

Ethics of the Kingdom.

Paul said, “Walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” (Phil 1:27). In other words, “Live a lifestyle that reflects who you are.” Since we live out relationships with others as an expression of our relationship with God, that lifestyle should reflect the model that we have in Christ, living by a different value system and a different standard of behavior than is dominant in our culture.

(see The Poured-Out Life). The ethics of the kingdom calls us to look out for the needs of others ahead of our own needs (Phil 2:4), to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27), and even to lay down our own life for another (John 15:13).

Biblical Principles.

For Protestants, the Bible is the primary source of our beliefs and actions as Christians. It cannot be a rule book for our actions, but does provide guides and helps to holy living. As such, Scripture repeatedly and often calls us to practice justice toward the helpless and weak, to demonstrate selfless love for others, and to live life prudently before God (Micah 6:8). As noted earlier, the Ten Commandments give us some moral absolutes, examples of what this kind of living would do in real life. The Bible does not have all the answers in intimate detail of every ethical question that could ever be asked. That would make it simply a rule book. But the moral principles are there, as well as numerous examples of that kind of love in action. It is up to use to learn how to use them to live a transformed life in Christ.

The real question, then, is “How?” How do we make ethical decision in particular situations as Christians? There are no easy answers here. But there are some guidelines that may be helpful. These all have their roots in Scripture.

Will this compromise faith and commitment to God? This is the standard of righteousness and loyalty, which must always be a primary consideration. If we are going to act like Christians, then no attitude we hold or anything we do can compromise that commitment to God. This does not simply mean obedience to anything that we might think is God’s rule. The idea here is that our attitudes and resulting actions cannot interfere with loyalty to God on any level.

What would Christ do?

This is the standard of the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). A good test of any action is to allow the light of Christ’s example to shine on it. The potential problem here is that we sometimes have a very narrow view of Jesus. We sometimes see him as a somber, monk-like figure who avoids all pleasure, and so we conclude that “good” ethics steers us away from any enjoyment of life. Yet, in the Gospels we see Jesus attending parties, laughing with children, and enjoying the company of others. He comments about beautiful flowers and buildings, and enjoys music. It is mainly in his positive response to people who have desperate needs, or in his negative response to religious hypocrisy, that we see Jesus modeling a different lifestyle. Sometimes it is much easier to have a high standard of ethics that relate to things than it is to have an equally high standard that reflects how Jesus treated people.

How will this affect others?

This is the standard of community and attitudes toward others. We live in a society dominated by individualistic ways of thinking. This makes it difficult for many people to consider the implications of their attitudes and actions for a larger group. However, what is good or acceptable for the individual may not always be good for the larger group.

This does not mean that we have to be slaves to majority opinion. It does mean that we cannot have an attitude that demands personal “rights” at the expense of the well-being of others. The heart of a servant does not look inward to personal rights; it looks outward to the needs of others.

Is it fair to everyone involved?

This is the standard of justice and love of others. Justice is more than people getting what they deserve. More often in biblical usage justice refers to fairness and equity in treatment of those who are powerless to defend themselves against injustice. A college student reported that he quit a badly needed summer sales job because he was trained to use high pressure tactics to sell a product to people who did not need it and who could not really afford it. People of God are often called to accountability for how they have treated the powerless and marginalized people around them.

How will it affect who I am?

This is the standard of integrity. This may be a difficult question to answer. We cannot always directly tell how our actions affect us. Yet, it is still an important question to keep in mind, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves constantly that how we think and who we are comes out in what we do. And what we do also shapes how we think. The person who, for example, cheats ever so slightly on their income tax has undermined their own character. If a crack in a wall is not repaired, more pressure simply widens the crack.

Is it reasonable?

This is the standard of reason and responsibility. Scripture often calls us to be wise in making decisions. Since God has created our mind and intellect, he expects us to use it to evaluate circumstances, situations, people, and the impact of particular actions. God has entrusted us to make ethical decisions using biblical moral principles and solid ethical guidelines, all submitted under His Lordship in our lives. This is at the heart of Wesleyan holiness theology. God expects us to use the freedom that His grace has allowed us to live a lifestyle that reflects His nature and His heart. This is the essence of the call for His people to be holy, as He is holy (Lev 11:45).

The Second Mile

Much of what we have been considering relates to developing ethical attitudes and making decisions in response to circumstances of life. This is important for Christian holy living. However,

much biblical teaching concerns not just the avoidance of evil or the meeting of circumstances. God’s people are called to go beyond avoiding the bad things to the point of actively engaging the world as servants of God. We are called to go the second mile (Matt. 5:38-42),

to live out the implications of being redeemed and transformed people of God in positive ways. If we listen carefully to Jesus’ teachings and watch his actions in the gospels, we will quickly conclude that this goes far beyond witnessing to people.

In John’s Gospel, one of the last instructions Jesus gave his disciples was that they should love one another (John 13:34f). Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet. He had modeled for them the servant attitude they were to live out as his followers (13:5-17). They were to reflect the servant lifestyle that not only talked about serving others, but actually did it. The other Gospels also call for followers of Jesus to “go the second mile.” Matthew talks of visiting people who are sick and in prison, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked (Matt 25:31-46). He also reports Jesus’ teaching of tolerance and forgiveness, calling us to be more than just and fair with people who have been less than fair with us (Matt 5:38-48). Mark and Luke both tell us that Jesus went out of his way to contact and to help people who were not respectable in normal society: lepers, immoral women, members of other ethnic groups, people with physical disabilities, the poor.

All through both Testaments, God’s people are called to practice “justice.” For our modern western culture, justice often means judging and condemning, making sure people pay for wrongs done, usually for wrongs done to us. The biblical idea, however, is nearly the opposite. We are called to make sure that we, as God’s people, go out of our way to treat other people well, even if it means that we may not be treated fairly. In many cases, “justice” comes close to what we mean by compassion. That is why when Micah answers the question, “What does the Lord require of us?” his answer combines “practice justice” with “love mercy” (Mic 6:8). To paraphrase a famous quotation: ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do for others.

The truth is that a Christian lifestyle reflects a heart warmed by the love of God that turns outward to love others.

Christians are not required to live by rules and regulations. The Apostle Paul talks of freedom from such stifling laws (Gal 2-3; see The Role of the Law in Galatians 3:19-25). Living as recreated and transformed people of God, however, means that we are constrained by love. That is far more liberating, and at the same time far more demanding, than any set of rules could ever be. God does not demand that we love. That is a contradiction in terms. In Jesus, He has modeled for us what true love will do, and how far it will go. He has then called us to follow His example. There is risk in that. We become vulnerable when we risk living such a lifestyle. That is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of costly discipleship. But as Wesley rediscovered, there is really no other way to live out being authentically Christian.

When we have the heart of Christ, the world will recognize it. And people will not be surprised when we tell them we are Christians. They will say that we “act like it.”

Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2015
Christian Resource Institute

“A Raindrop’s Thirst”, a worship poem from L.Willows (Mercy, Spirit, God’s Love, Revival)

burstBB

Oh, Raindrop – burst,
your mercy fills thirst.
You are Love falling
the sweetness of birth.

Come heaven, tilled
to us, to earth.
Reap in our hearts
renewal; life’s First.

A raindrop’s thirst
for us in God’s tend.
A pouring that prays
in the midst of Love’s mend.

© 2019 Linda Willows

Isaiah 44:3
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

John 4:10
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

Romans 5:3-6
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.