HOW SHOULD A CITIZEN OF THE MASTER PLAN LIVE?
The objective of this section is to discover how we should live our lives as a result of our commitment to Christ. This objective will be met by considering our life in Christ in three parts:
What are we committing ourselves to? We will be looking at what Christ requires us to do for him in our lives.
What are the Christian principles that we must hold to as our guide through life?
How will God help us in our life of service to Him?
A life in Christ means that our whole mind set should be changed to be like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2v5). God gave Israel laws and statutes to follow in the Old Testament and they found them impossible to follow. Now He has given us an example of a perfect life in His Son Jesus. A life in Christ means to be like Christ in our life.
3.1 What does Christ require of us?
Jesus was once asked the question "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10v25). We must take heed to his answer because we are asking the same question in our lives. Jesus replied, "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself'" (Luke 10v27). James elaborates on this by describing religion that God our Father accepts as "pure and faultless" as this: "to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1v27). Paul also picks up on this in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 5v14).
We learnt in the previous section that after baptism we become a ‘new man' in Christ and put off the ‘old man' (2 Corinthians 5v17). Our lives after baptism should therefore reflect this. The ‘old man' which manifests characteristics as described in Galatians 5 verses 19 to 21 should die as we know " those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5v21). In its place a ‘new man' should rise manifesting characteristics of the Master Plan, the fruit of the Spirit, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5v22,23). "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5v24).
Christ requires everything of us if we want to be his disciples. "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14v27). In our lives we can either live to ourselves or live to Christ. If we live to ourselves we can expect nothing more than a futile life leading to a meaningless death (Ecclesiastes 1v1-11, 9v5). If we live to Christ we will be blessed in this life (1Timothy 4v8) and will be given the gift of eternal life in the future (Romans 6v23; Matthew 25v31-46).
To answer this question more specifically we need to see how the first Christians led their lives after baptism. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer" (Acts 2v42).
3.1.1 Apostles' Teaching
We are required to hold fast to the true teaching of the scriptures. This includes all that Jesus and the apostles taught (Matthew 28v20, 1 Thessalonians 4v2). It also includes all that Jesus based his teaching on, that is the Old Testament which was a shadow of good things to come (Hebrews 10v1). To obey the commandments of Jesus is important as by this "we know that we have come to know him" (1 John 2v3), we live in him, and Christ in us (1 John 3v24), and it is a proof of how much we love God (1 John 5v3).
The Greek word for fellowship used here is "koinonia" and originates from the word for partnership. It also means communion, distribution and to communicate. This is an active word and has a lot to do with the commandment "to love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 19v19). We have to be willing to give to those in need, to remember Christ's death with others of like faith and to communicate with each other. As we read in Malachi 3 v 16 and 17 "Then those that feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard ... ‘They will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession'..."
We should realise how important it is to meet together regularly. "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10v25).
3.1.3 Breaking of Bread
This is a symbol of the Lord's supper which is a memorial meal, recalling Christ's life, death and resurrection for us. The bread is a symbol of Christ's body and the wine is a symbol of Christ's blood. Whenever we eat the bread and drink the wine we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11v23-30). Disciples of Christ should break bread as often as possible or at least once a week as the apostles did on a Sunday (Acts 20v7), as was commanded by Christ (1 Corinthians 11v23-26).
The saying "Seven prayerless days makes one weak" is indeed very true. What a wonderful blessing we have in a communication link with our Creator 24 hours a day.
We have a faithful mediator in Jesus who intercedes for us (1 Timothy 2v5, 1 John 2v1). There are many reasons why we need to pray - for the kingdom, for strength, in worship, in thankfulness, for those who are sick spiritually or physically, for safety, for guidance ... the list is endless.
The Lord's prayer for example starts by asking God to bring about the Master Plan. "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6v9,10). Not only does prayer improve our relationship with God and His Son but it gives us strength to walk on that narrow path which leads to His kingdom.
3.2 The Foundations of the Master Plan
As citizens of the Master Plan we need to understand the foundations of this Plan. These foundations are essentially fundamental concepts of the new covenant. Here are three of the most important concepts of the Master Plan. We will discuss each in a little more detail:
3.2.1 Love - the First and Greatest Commandment
Love is the most important aspect of God's plan with the earth. It is central to His character. It is the theme of His actions toward man. As would-be citizens of God's kingdom we need to learn to love. As we discussed in an earlier paragraph, Jesus explained that loving God and loving Man were the two most important commandments (Luke 10v27).
When God revealed his character to Moses in Exodus 34 you will remember that love was an important part of His character.
"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in LOVE and faithfulness." (Exodus 34v6).
Love must be our motivation for good works. If we develop love for God and our neighbours we will do good works not because it is our duty but because we want to. A good example of this are the righteous in Jesus' parable in Matthew 25. These righteous people had not remembered all the good deeds they had done. "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?"(Matthew 25v37). This had come naturally out of their care and love for their fellow man. Such is the love that citizens of God's Master Plan must learn to develop.
3.2.2 Faith - Essential for Righteousness
Faith is an essential characteristic to please God. The writer to the Hebrews defines faith as being:
"Sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11v1).
We have to develop a sureness about God's Master Plan. A confidence that it will happen! This faith is essential if we are to please God (Hebrews 11v6).
The important thing is that Faith is counted to us as righteousness. It is through our belief in God and our confidence in His plan, that is our faith, that God looks on us as righteous (Romans 4v5, 16-25).
3.2.3 Saved by Grace
The third foundation of the new covenant is Grace. Grace is God's divine gift which he offers to those who strictly speaking do not deserve it. The Bible makes it clear that we will only find a place in God's kingdom by Grace. We can try as hard as we like but we will never be able to reveal God's glory on our own. We cannot earn a place in God's kingdom. It is a gift (Romans 6v23, Ephesians 2v8).
Paul explains clearly in Ephesians 2v2-10 that we are saved by Grace and not by our own works. This concept actually has an important bearing on God's Master Plan. In fact faith and grace work hand-in-hand. It is through faith that we reach out to God for salvation, and it is through grace that God reaches out to save us - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith"(Ephesians 2v8).
If it were possible to earn salvation, the world might be filled with people who had earned their own place in God's kingdom. The problem with this is that the glory for their position would really belong to them - they earned the right. God's intention is to fill the earth with His glory and not man's. If we are saved by God's grace then the glory is God's and all praise belongs to Him. This is what God has planned for and this is how it will be.
3.3 What guiding principles do we have?
As we travel through life we are bound to encounter issues where we will need to know where we stand as Christians. Before we look at specific issues we must realise that our most important guiding principle is love (1 Corinthians 13). This love is not a romantic love, it is a love that considers as first priority the spiritual well being of those around us. A love that motivated God to give His Son to die in order to give us eternal life (John 3v16).
3.3.1 Principle - Christ is our King
When we are baptised into Christ we accept him as our King. We take on the principles and citizenship of the Kingdom of God. "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3v20).
Christians should submit to the government of the country they are in. "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Romans 13v1). However the laws of God take priority (Acts 4v19). Christians should pay taxes and be honest in all their financial dealings. "Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes" (Romans 13v7).
We have no part to play in politics as we have voted for Christ.
We will only enter conflict at the command of Christ, until then we obey his command to love our enemies (John 18v36, Luke 6v27).
3.3.2 Principle - God is in control
God is in control of not only our lives but also of the world. ".. the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men" (Daniel 4v17). God has promised that if we seek His kingdom as our first priority He will look after us (Matthew 6v33).
We do not become involved in protest movements following the example Christ left for us (1 Peter 2v20,21)
3.3.3 Principle - We bring Glory to God in our families
Marriage is sacred in the eyes of God. Like baptism it is a commitment for life. "What God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19v6).
Christians should bring up their children in a loving environment where the eternal principles are upheld and obeyed. "Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6v4).
Christians should only marry those who have the same commitment to Christ. Throughout the scriptures believers are warned that marrying an unbeliever will become a snare to them and could cause them to stumble. "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6v14).
If we bring glory to God in our families we should avoid
Divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5v31,32; 1 Corinthians 7v11,39).
Homosexuality (Romans 1v26,27).
Sex before marriage (1 Corinthians 6v18-20; 7v8,9,28).
Pornography (Matthew 5v27-30; Romans 1v28-32).
Adultery (Galatians 5v19-22; 1 Corinthians 6v9,10).
3.3.4 Principle - Life is sacred
Only God can give life and so only God has the right to take life away. "The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up" (1 Samuel 2v6).
Murder is clearly wrong but this principle also affects other issues like:
3.3.5 Principle-Love your neighbour as yourself
We have seen that this is an important principle which Christ requires from us.
We do not join the army as we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5v43-47).
We do not have the right to murder, get angry and take vengeance (Matthew 5v21-26, Romans 12v19).
We are to give to the needy (Matthew 6v1-4).
We do not take others to court (1 Corinthians 6v7).
3.3.6 Principle - Seeking first the kingdom of God
Christ tells us "do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6v31-33).
We must not seek and pursue after worldly wealth (1 Timothy 6v6-10, Luke 12v18-22).
We must not get ourselves entangled and absorbed in worldly affairs (James 1v27).
3.3.7 Principle - God dwells in us
For those who have been baptised our bodies are the temple where God dwells (1 Corinthians 6v19).
We must honour God with our bodies and not defile them.
We must flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6v18).
We must not lose control of our bodies to drink and drugs
(1 Corinthians 5v11).
3.4 Does God provide help?
The answer to this question is emphatically ‘YES'. God has promised us that "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13v5). We can take great comfort in knowing that God is watching over our lives. The ways in which He interacts with our lives are many and varied and we should never limit or predict the way God deals with us. God's intention with each of us is to mould our character as a potter moulds clay so that we reveal His character (Romans 9v20,21). This is of course the Master Plan and is ultimately to be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
We will look at some of the ways God helps us on our journey to the Kingdom of God.
3.4.1 The Bible
The Bible is the essential message from God. It reveals to us the Master Plan and the character of God. Men of God were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down God's message for all ages (2 Peter 1v21). It was written so that we would know the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2v9,10) and to guide and encourage us through life. "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15v4).
The Bible is the inspired word of God and equips us to be part of the Master Plan. "From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3v15-17).
Prayer is an open line of communication enabling us to turn to God for help. As we have seen, God wants us to turn and talk to him about our worries and anxieties (1 Peter 5v7).
God has many angels who are carrying out His will. Their purpose is to help us in our lives to reach God's kingdom. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1v14).
God shapes events in our lives to help us become more spiritual and to change our characters to become more like him. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8v28).
3.4.5 Other Disciples
God can use other disciples to help us through hard times. For example in the life of Paul he used Titus. "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus" (2 Corinthians 7v6). This is why fellowship is so important.
3.4.6 The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the power of God that is set aside for furtherance the Master Plan. It is therefore very important in God's interaction with man. We have seen that the Holy Spirit was the power behind the Bible. It was instrumental in the birth of the key to the Master Plan - Jesus! It enabled Jesus and the apostles to perform miracles to testify that they were approved of God (Mark 16v20). We do not know how the Holy Spirit works in the world or in our lives. "As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things" (Ecclesiastes 11v5). What we have is the comfort of knowing that God is powerful and able to save us.
There are some important points about the Holy Spirit that we do need to mention.
1. Claimed ‘possession' of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee salvation (Matthew 7v21-23).
2. Many will falsely claim to possess the Holy Spirit (Matthew 24v24).
3. Men no longer exercise control over the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 13v8).
4. It is important to realise that the power itself is nothing. The control behind the power, i.e. God, is what is important.
We have learnt that:
Christ requires a lifetime commitment from us in which we change our lives and follow his example.
Conversion is a lifelong process turning us into people who reveal God's character and fulfil the Master Plan.
We need to strive to practise God's principles on a daily basis.
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us very great promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1v3,4).
HOW SHOULD A CITIZEN OF THE MASTER PLAN LIVE?
We live a life as near to Christ's as possible, in faith and grace, motivated by love.
The exercise for this week is from Ephesians 5 v 8-10.
"For unto you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord." Ephesians 5 v 8-10
NB This exercise may take longer than a week to complete!