Some of the Basics

Contemporary Christian living may have its special challenges, but there are some basics to consider, reflected in my answer to this recent question.

QUESTION: Joanne asks: "What are some aspects of living the Christian life that you would highlight for a contemporary believer?"

ANSWER: Thanks for your interesting question. I did smile at it a little, because of the word "contemporary." There is really no difference, at the most basic level, between what living the Christian life involved in the early church and what's called for today. Human nature and human needs remain the same. And God's provision for us is just as relevant now as it was back in apostolic times.

Below are five things each believer needs to do regularly. I'll try to make a few observations about each, as they occur to me. But realize that I don't know how new you are to the Christian life. If you've been on your spiritual pilgrimage for awhile, some of the things you may already be doing.

1. Study God's Word daily.
Just as the physical aspect of our beings needs regular nourishment, so it is with the spiritual. The Bible exhorts us, "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (I Pet. 2:2). And we are told, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:16-17). (Other Scriptures that relate: Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:1-3; Isa. 8:20; Matt. 4:4; II Tim. 2:15.)

It is good (and needful) to hear sermons on the Bible, or read books that explain it, but all of this is second hand. Each Christian needs to study and meditate on the Scriptures personally, and regularly for himself or herself.

Much more could be said here, but led me add a few tips:

A) Get a reliable Bible version for study, a version that represents the literal meaning of the text with clarity. I use the New King James Version, which is excellent. The New American Standard Bible is also good. Many use the New International Version (NIV). It is very readable, though I'm not always pleased with its loose paraphrasing of certain passages. In study, it is helpful to use these and other versions, but you need one accurate translation that becomes your basic Bible.

B) It is useful to have a reliable commentary and a concordance in your library. The Believer's Bible Commentary is a good one. So is the Bible Knowledge Commentary. The latter is based on the text of the NIV, but it is still reasonably easy to follow using other versions. Another option is to get a good "study Bible" that contains helpful notes on the text. Here, I would recommend the MacArthur Study Bible. Many excellent notes. As to a concordance, the best is Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. It enables you to locate all the verses containing a particular word (prayer, faith, etc.), and also helps you to understand the Hebrew and Greek words behind our English translations.

You might consider downloading the Online Bible onto your computer. It is a free program, with a small fee required if you want to add a modern version that is under copyright. I use mine nearly every day. Another free program that is excellent is an entirely new translation called the NET Bible.

C) A sound method of study is also essential. Over 40 years ago, I started using a technique that I have labelled "the best Bible study tool" I've ever found. If you give it a try, I think you'll agree, as many others have. It takes a bit of work to set up, but once you do, it can serve you for a lifetime. I've provided full instructions here in another article for the Bible Card System.

2. Spend time each day in prayer.
In a real sense, Bible study and prayer are the two sides of a conversation. Through the Scriptures, the Lord speaks to us, and in prayer we respond to Him. Our prayers should include such things as:

A) Praise and Thanksgiving (I Thess. 5:18; Heb. 13:15)

B) Confession of Known Sin (I Jn. 1:7, 9; 2:1)

C) Requests for Ourselves and Others (Ps. 119:133; Phil. 4:6; Heb. 4:14-16)

Frequently, I find that my meditation on God's Word leads into prayer. There are things I've read for which I can praise and thank the Lord, and areas of weakness and failure identified that I need to confess to Him, and other things that come to mind that I can request for myself and others.

It is valuable to have a prayer list that you keep up-to-date. Pray for your own needs, for the needs of Christian workers and ministries the Lord lays on your heart, for government leaders, for family and friends, and for those who are suffering and in special need. And take note of how the Lord answers in time to come. It will encourage you to see God working.

3. Commit to believing and obeying God consistently.
This is known as the Christian's daily walk–a term the Bible uses a number of times. Step by step faith and obedience need to characterize our walk. As the gospel song puts it:

Trust and obey,

For there's no other way

To be happy in Jesus

But to trust and obey.

This involves the application of both the relevant commands of Scripture and the application of biblical principles, day by day. Many passages refer to the need of this.

"I say then: Walk in the Spirit [guided by the Spirit of God, and depending on His enabling], and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).

"As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:6-7). "He who says he abides in Him [Christ] ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I Jn. 2:6).

"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass" (Ps. 37:4-5). "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him [as Lord of your life], and He shall direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6).

In addition to faith and obedience, our Christian walk should exhibit a couple of other qualities: godly wisdom, and Christlike love.

☼ Godly wisdom is learned through the Word of God, and it's characterized particularly by giving the priority to spiritual and eternal values (as opposed to merely material and temporal ones).

☼ Love, as the Bible presents it, might be described as the sacrificial giving of ourselves for the good and blessing of others.

4. Regularly attend a good, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church.
Some groups that call themselves churches aren't worthy of the name. My article on what constitutes A Healthy Church may be of use here.

We need the consistent Bible teaching that regular attendance at a good church provides (cf. Matt. 18:20; Eph. 4:11-16). We also need the opportunities for corporate worship, for fellowship with other believers, and for involvement in the various avenues of service for Christ that become available through a local church.

Sadly, there are those for whom "contemporary Christian living" does not include the local church. Other times, church-goers have what we might call an "entertainment mind-set." They expect to enjoy themselves at church--and if they don't, they'll often go elsewhere! And some churches have fallen into the trap of trying to build their numbers by appealing to this attitude. With music and drama, and short, catchy "sermonettes," they may draw a crowd, but often the people who come are there for the wrong reasons, and are not being fed adequately.

Instead of asking, "What I can I get out of church?" we need to ask more, "What can I give?" We need to see church attendance as an opportunity to minister to others. We ought to have a sense of personal responsibility for the growth and spiritual welfare of our home church. There's a little couplet that comes to mind:

What kind of a church would my church be

If all of the members were just like me?

The Bible says, "Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day [of Christ's return] approaching" (Heb. 10:24-25). And, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3;16).

As indicated by my blog on the background of our hymns and their authors, Wordwise Hymns, I believe congregations need to learn and use our traditional hymns and gospel songs. When leaders abandon the hymn book in favour of using only contemporary songs, the congregation is being robbed of its heritage. It may be seen as a personal prejudice, but I would never feel at home in a church that does that. Use the best of the new, of course, but don't forget the treasures of the past. There's a reason why they've endured.

5. Serve the Lord, using the gifts and resources He supplies.
This one grows out of the last, in the sense that the local church is a serving agency that can administer various aspects of ministry for Christ. But of course Christian service goes far beyond that and relates to our personal lives too. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We are not saved by our good works, but saved for service, so that we can serve the Lord.

"This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men" (Tit. 3:8). "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (I Pet. 4:10). "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

Part of this involves our Christian witness, telling others what the Lord has done, and is doing for us. "We are ambassadors for Christ" (II Cor. 5:20). "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy" (Ps. 107:2). "Be ready to give a defense [an answer] to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (I Pet. 3:15).

These five things do not include everything Christians should be doing, but they are foundational, and essential to healthy Christian living--for contemporary Christian living.