In modern parlance, lifestyle is largely about style rather than substance. It’s the way we indulge ourselves as much as the way we live our lives. A Christian lifestyle could be easily confused for adding a little Christian veneer to a glamourous and comfortable life much like anyone else’s. Originally the word lifestyle was about how our values influence the way in which we live. The world constantly challenges our values and behaviour and seeks to erode a distinctively Christian lifestyle. It would be easy to think that a Christian lifestyle is simply what reflects our personal tastes and what we feel comfortable with. We could not be more wrong. It is not about what pleases us but about what pleases God. If we have been bought with a price, we belong body and soul to God and are to glorify Him with all that we are.
The apostle Paul emphasises frequently the Christian’s responsibility to live in a way that pleases God. We need to live with a purpose and this is the highest possible goal to glorify and enjoy God. This purpose can motivate and influence every action whether consciously or in the principles that govern our lives. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 for instance, Paul exhorts both lovingly and seriously in the name and authority of the Lord Jesus and for His sake. He exhorts them that they should live according to the teaching they had formerly received from him while he was with them. He points out both the necessity and manner of a life that might be acceptable to and please the Lord. They must abound more and more, making continual progress and outstrip themselves by their future diligence and fruitfulness. The directions he gave them were not his own but the Lord Jesus Christ’s. He had proclaimed them in the name and authority of Christ as His herald. The Greek word used literally means a commandment proclaimed in the name and authority of another. In another passage (Ephesians 5:10) Paul shows the need to make diligent enquiry into God’s will revealed in His Word so that we will know what is acceptable and well-pleasing to Him in every step of our way. When we bring these together, we can see the guiding principles and motivations of a lifestyle that pleases God. James Fergusson helps us to see how in the following updated extracts.
1. We Cannot Earn Salvation Through the Lifestyle that Pleases God
Good works and a holy walk are not things that lead to justification (Romans 4:5). They are, however, required in those who have been justified to make evident the reality of their faith and claim to belong to Christ (James 2:18). Such things are part of making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10), glorifying God (John 5:8) and winning others (Matthew 5:16). Holiness is necessary for attaining the ultimate actual possession of eternal life, as being the way that leads to it (Hebrews 12:14). Yet it is not by any means a price to merit or buy it (Romans 6:23). The word “ought” in the original, indicates how you must of necessity walk (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
2. Free Grace Leads to the Lifestyle that Pleases God
The doctrine of salvation through free grace in Jesus Christ is far from providing an occasion of complacency, ungodliness or profanity. So much so that there is no stronger argument to induce people to the conscientious practice of holiness in all its duties than sanctified knowledge, saving faith, and serious consideration of that doctrine. The principles of free grace do in many ways engage the believer to lead a holy life (Romans 6:2-23). The freely gifted salvation grace offers cannot be embraced unless the promised strength for carrying us on in the way of holiness is embraced also (Romans 8:1). Paul infers the pursuit of holiness from the doctrine of salvation through free grace; the former is, as it were, the natural result, and inseparable companion of the latter.
There is a necessary connection between embracing the doctrine of salvation through free grace and the pursuit of a holy life. Yet such is our natural aversion from holiness (Romans 8:7) and so many are the difficulties in its way of it (2 Timothy 3:12), even the best need the spur of earnest and vehement exhortation to stir us up to it. Even though Paul maintains upright living as the result of embracing free grace, he deems it necessary to exhort them that they walk worthy of their calling (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
3. The Word of God Defines the Lifestyle that Pleases God
In order to walk as a Christian so as to please the Lord, we must search the Scriptures. The revealed will of God delivered by his prophets and apostles and committed by them to sacred writing is our guide, both in what way we should walk and how. Paul teaches this in saying that they had received from him how they ought to walk and please God, so ye should abound. He now commits to writing a summary of what they had received from him by his preaching to this purpose (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
4. Genuine Christians Seek the Lifestyle that Pleases God
Whatever way we walk and in whatever manner, we do not do so as Christians unless we sincerely endeavour to please the Lord. We cannot have any real or solid comfort concerning our walk unless we do what we do as service to God (Ephesians 6:6-7). Paul makes their endeavour to please God a necessary ingredient in a Christian walk in emphasising how they ought to walk and please God.
5. We Must Continue in the Lifestyle that Pleases God
God does not permit any to come to a stop in the way of grace. When much is attained we ought still (forgetting those things which are behind Philippians 3:13) to enlarge our desires and incline our endeavour after yet more and more, seeing there is still more to be had (Philippians 3:13). The Lord allows our desires after grace to be insatiable and boundless (John 16:23-24) though they are constrained by His provision in other enjoyments (Hebrews 13:5). Paul presupposes they already had grace in great measure yet he still exhorts them to abound more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
6. Christ’s Commandments Show the Lifestyle that Pleases God
The Lord’s ministers should not make anything a rule of faith or living for their hearers except that which has authority from Christ. They are merely ministers of Christ and only proclaim His will to His people; they are not lords of their faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). Thus, the Lord’s people should receive nothing from them except that for which they can produce such authority. The injunctions which Paul gave to them and they were to receive, were only the commandments which he gave them by the Lord Jesus.
The more we know our duty and are convinced of an obligation laid on us by God himself to do it, the greater should be our concern to make conscience of it. If we do not our knowledge will be our condemnation (John 3:19) and our sin will have no cloak or excuse (John 15:22). The strength of this argument lies in their knowledge: they know what commandments Paul gave them by the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:2).
7. Avoiding What Suits Us in the Lifestyle that Pleases God
We cannot walk as a child of light, or in a way appropriate to that gracious condition to which we are called unless we are conformed to what is acceptable to God. This is prescribed to us as the rule of our duty in His Word. We must not conform ourselves to this world (Romans 12:2) or to what may bring about our own advantage and so gratify our lusts (Matthew 5:29). Proving what is acceptable to God, is not something merely required for its own sake and for us to rest in the mere knowledge of that. We are to regulate our conduct according to it (as verse 11 goes on to show). It is required as a necessary consequence of walking as children of light. The grammar of the original verse 10 is connected with the close of verse 8 in the following way “Walk as children of the light…proving what is acceptable”.
8. Everything is Included in the Lifestyle that Pleases God
It is not enough to make this effort to determine God’s will in just a few more weighty actions in our life. We must do this in everything, whether of greater or lesser concern, whether advantage or loss is likely to follow from conforming ourselves to this rule. The direction is indefinite without any limitation or restriction and therefore it ought to be extended to all things. “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord”.
9. It Requires Effort to Discover the Lifestyle that Pleases God
We cannot conform ourselves to what is acceptable to the Lord nor walk as children of light unless we make a serious search and enquiry into the rule of duty and acceptance revealed in the Word. We must then do what we do to conform ourselves to that rule. We will not, therefore, walk in a way acceptable to God when we either do things rashly without consideration (Proverbs 19:2) or doubtingly after deliberation (Romans 14:23). Neither is right and acceptable in itself if we do it only to gratify our own lusts (Matthew 6:2) or to please others (Galatians 1:10) rather than on this basis. Paul requires them to prove what is acceptable to the Lord, as the rule by which they were to walk.
It is not easy to find out what is acceptable to the Lord, especially in some intricate cases. There must be an accurate search together with engaging in the practice of the things we already know to be acceptable. By practical experience, we then know them to be acceptable to the Lord and get better knowledge bettered in those things in which we are yet ignorant (John 7:17). The word translated “proving” means accurate proof, not so much by argument as by trial and experience, as gold is tried in the fire (James 1:12). “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord”.
It is easy to neglect to find out what kind of lifestyle pleases God. After all, it requires hard work and may run contrary to our preferences or require too much of us. But if we understand the nature of free grace and what we owe to the Lord, nothing will be too much for Him. Scripture is full of loving calls to us to walk in love towards God and live in a way that glorifies Him most. Most of it can be connected back to the Ten Commandments which teach us how to love God and our neighbour and summarise the rest of Scripture’s teaching. Meditation on the way that the Westminster Larger Catechism expounds the Ten Commandments will lead us to a fuller and deeper appreciation of what it means to live in a way that is acceptable to God.
TEn Ways the Ten Commandments Go Further than you think
Christ showed us how the commandments were spiritual, positive and reach into all aspects of our thoughts, words and actions. Reading this booklet will give you ten biblical principles for understanding and applying the Ten Commandments properly, going beyond a mere superficial interpretation.
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