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TEXT: I Corinthians 7:23
SUBJECT: Six Rules for Young Christians #5: Imitate Christ
This afternoon, with the Lord's blessing, we will move on in our study and discussion of Six Short Rules for Young Christians by Brownlow North. He was a leader in the Irish Revival of 1859, and published the little work to help new converts grow in grace.
As I read them, two things stand out about the Rules. In the first place, they are practical. There's nothing mystical about them; they don't depend on elevated thoughts or powerful stirrings of the heart; they also don't require a lot of free time! Ordinary believers, living busy lives, can keep them-and when we do (from the heart) we will grow in grace.
In the second place, the Rules are integrated, by which I mean, they're not stuck on to your life-like jury duty-but are blended into it-like brushing your teeth. Disciples are sometimes like dieters. Lazy and impatient, we're looking for the quick fix. Lose fifty pounds by Christmas by eating grapefruit three times a day while standing on one foot in the bath tub! Will this diet work? In the short term, it will. You'll drop the fifty by Christmas-and gain it all back and more by New Year's Day! Fad diets don't work; it takes daily discipline to lose weight. The same is true with growing in grace. I'm not against retreats or seminars or books or programs, as such, but only when they promise to do in one weekend, or two hundred pages, what takes a lifetime of praying every day, reading the Bible every day, doing something for Christ every day, and every day keeping your heart tender before God.
This is what the Six Rules offer: not a magic pill to make us mature in one hour (or forty days), but a way of life that produces holiness and ends in glory.
Today's Rule in Number Five-
Never take your Christianity from Christians, or argue that because such and such people do so and so, that therefore, you may. You are to ask yourself, 'How would Christ act in my place?' and strive to follow Him.
The Rule is a little wordier than I like, but it's meaning is fairly clear: Don't imitate other people; imitate Christ.
IMITATING MENThe standard for Christian conduct is not Christians. Not Christians you know, not Christians you read about in Church History, and not even Christians in the Bible! The best of these people were wrong on some points. Some are sincerely wrong; they want to do the right thing, but they don't know what it is. Others are less sincere-wrong, not by an innocent mistake or weakness-but because they're proud and stubborn and won't listen to anyone.
This means you cannot be followers of men. You should respect good men, of course, but you cannot allow them to dictate your life or get inside of your conscience.
Think of the bad men who have palmed themselves off as servants of God, and the damage they have done. Jim Jones comes to mind, taking his people off to the jungles of South America, and ordering them to drink poison. Or David Koresh, down in Texas, sleeping with all the pretty wives in his cult and making their husbands 'okay with that'.
We have a word for religious people who follow the Leader no matter what: We call them Moonies. The man they're named after, Sun Yung Moon, is a heretic, of course, but there are better teachers than he who demand a loyalty that belongs to no one but Jesus.
These are the people who threaten us. For us, the real danger is not following wicked heretics into gross immorality, but letting good people get into our heads. People who know the Bible and live pious lives can slowly and subtly become our masters-even without meaning to! Let me give you some warning signs:
If you feel this way about anyone-including me-you have made that person what he isn't, and given him the place only Jesus Christ has a right to. You have become what Paul has told you not to become-
Servants of men!
And worse than that, you've denied the first Christian Creed---
Jesus is Lord.
Never allow other people to rule your conscience. Think about them when you make a choice, but don't let their opinions make the choice for you. If this sounds hard, it is. This is why dictators of conscience are so popular: they make the Christian life easy. Don't think for yourself; don't spend months in prayer and study and waiting on God-just do I what I want you to do.
To help you avoid this, keep three things in mind: (1) No one knows everything, (2) there are worse things in life than making a mistake, for example, depending on others to think for you; and (3) On the Day of Judgment, you won't answer to the brother you respect so much, but to Jesus Christ, who only wants to know if you did what He wanted you to do. As Brownlow North says-
Never take your Christianity from other Christians.
This does not mean, however, that you make it up as you go, or that you design a Christianity to fit your lifestyle. No, Don't follow men includes you. The Bible says-
The way of the fool is right in his own eyes.
The alternative to following men is following Christ.
What does this mean? It does not mean trying to re-live His life at every point. His calling was different than yours or mine, and this means, for example, we're not allowed to accept worship (which He could do) and we are allowed to marry, have kids, and buy a house (which He couldn't do).
Following Christ means accepting His priorities and developing a Christ-like character.
What were His priorities? Doing God's will, loving others, or looking out for Number One? How do His priorities compare to yours and mine? As long as we're putting our wishes over God's and our neighbor's, we are not following Christ! To follow Him means-
Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
.And only then worrying about what you'd rather do with your time or money.
What kind of Man was when He walked among us? He was a Man content with what He had though He had less than most others. He was a patient man, not giving up on His friends, but bearing with them, forgiving them, and loving them, even when they didn't deserve it. He was a brave Man, standing up to evil when it would have been easier and safer to do nothing. He was an honest Man, not twisting the Word of God to His own wishes, but rather, submitting His wishes to God's Word. He was a Man who didn't feel sorry for Himself, a Man who put His anger to a good use, and a Man who loved women, and didn't leer at them with eye or mind. This is the kind of Man He was.
And this is what it means to follow Him. In the words of Paul, it means to-
Let this mind be in you,
Which was also in Christ Jesus.
I hope this doesn't undo all I've said, but I ought to say it anyway. Though no one should take his Christianity from you or me, let's face it, some will. Therefore, while always pointing young Christians to the life of Christ, let's be sure our examples do not contradict His.
Do you want to grow in grace? If you do, don't model your discipleship on me, but reflect on the priorities and character of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and follow Him.
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