Steps to Christ
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 7: The Test of Discipleship
If we abide in Christ, if the love of God dwells in us, our feelings, our thoughts, our purposes, our actions, will be in harmony with the will of God as expressed in the precepts of His holy law. "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." 1 John 3:7.
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:
old things are passed away; behold, all things are
become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17.
A person may not be able to tell the exact time
or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in
the process of conversion; but this does not prove
him to be unconverted. Christ said to Nicodemus,
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest
the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh,
and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the
Spirit." John 3:8. Like the wind, which is invisible,
yet the effects of which are plainly seen and felt, is
the Spirit of God in its work upon the human heart.
That regenerating power, which no human eye can
see, begets a new life in the soul; it creates a new
being in the image of God. While the work of the
Spirit is silent and imperceptible, its effects are
manifest. If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of
God, the life will bear witness to the fact. While
we cannot do anything to change our hearts or to
bring ourselves into harmony with God; while we
must not trust at all to ourselves or our good works,
our lives will reveal whether the grace of God is
dwelling within us. A change will be seen in the
character, the habits, the pursuits. The contrast will
be clear and decided between what they have been
and what they are. The character is revealed, not [p. 58] by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds,
but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.
It is true that there may be an outward correctness
of deportment without the renewing power of
Christ. The love of influence and the desire for the
esteem of others may produce a well-ordered life.
Self-respect may lead us to avoid the appearance of
evil. A selfish heart may perform generous actions.
By what means, then, shall we determine whose side
we are on?
Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts?
Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our
warmest affections and our best energies? If we are
Christ's, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest
thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated
to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe
His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.
Those who become new creatures in Christ Jesus
will bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, "love, joy, peace,
long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness,
temperance." Galatians 5:22, 23. They will no longer
fashion themselves according to the former lusts, but
by the faith of the Son of God they will follow in
His steps, reflect His character, and purify themselves
even as He is pure. The things they once hated they
now love, and the things they once loved they hate.
The proud and self-assertive become meek and lowly
in heart. The vain and supercilious become serious
and unobtrusive. The drunken become sober, and
the profligate pure. The vain customs and fashions
of the world are laid aside. Christians will seek not
the "outward adorning," but "the hidden man of [p. 59] the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the
ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." 1 Peter 3: 3, 4.
There is no evidence of genuine repentance unless
it works reformation. If he restore the pledge, give
again that he had robbed, confess his sins, and love
God and his fellow men, the sinner may be sure that
he has passed from death unto life.
When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ
and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love
springs up in the heart. Every burden is light, for
the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes
a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that
before seemed shrouded in darkness, becomes bright
with beams from the Sun of Righteousness.
The loveliness of the character of Christ will be
seen in His followers. It was His delight to do the
will of God. Love to God, zeal for His glory, was
the controlling power in our Saviour's life. Love
beautified and ennobled all His actions. Love is of
God. The unconsecrated heart cannot originate or
produce it. It is found only in the heart where Jesus
reigns. "We love, because He first loved us." 1 John
4:19, R.V. In the heart renewed by divine grace,
love is the principle of action. It modifies the character,
governs the impulses, controls the passions,
subdues enmity, and ennobles the affections. This
love, cherished in the soul, sweetens the life and sheds
a refining influence on all around.
There are two errors against which the children
of God—particularly those who have just come to
trust in His grace—especially need to guard. The
first, already dwelt upon, is that of looking to their [p. 60] own works, trusting to anything they can do, to bring
themselves into harmony with God. He who is trying
to become holy by his own works in keeping the
law, is attempting an impossibility. All that man
can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness
and sin. It is the grace of Christ alone, through faith,
that can make us holy.
The opposite and no less dangerous error is that
belief in Christ releases men from keeping the law of
God; that since by faith alone we become partakers
of the grace of Christ, our works have nothing to do
with our redemption.
But notice here that obedience is not a mere
outward compliance, but the service of love. The law of
God is an expression of His very nature; it is an
embodiment of the great principle of love, and hence is
the foundation of His government in heaven and earth.
If our hearts are renewed in the likeness of God, if the
divine love is implanted in the soul, will not the law
of God be carried out in the life? When the principle
of love is implanted in the heart, when man is renewed
after the image of Him that created him, the new-covenant
promise is fulfilled, "I will put My laws into
their hearts, and in their minds will I write them."
Hebrews 10:16. And if the law is written in the heart,
will it not shape the life? Obedience—the service and
allegiance of love—is the true sign of discipleship.
Thus the Scripture says, "This is the love of God,
that we keep His commandments." "He that saith,
I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is
a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 5:3; 2:4.
Instead of releasing man from obedience, it is faith, [p. 61] and faith only, that makes us partakers of the grace
of Christ, which enables us to render obedience.
We do not earn salvation by our obedience; for
salvation is the free gift of God, to be received by
faith. But obedience is the fruit of faith. "Ye know
that He was manifested to take away our sins; and
in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him
sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him,
neither known Him." 1 John 3:5, 6. Here is the true
test. If we abide in Christ, if the love of God dwells
in us, our feelings, our thoughts, our purposes, our
actions, will be in harmony with the will of God as
expressed in the precepts of His holy law. "Little
children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth
righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous."
1 John 3:7. Righteousness is defined by the standard
of God's holy law, as expressed in the ten precepts
given on Sinai.
That so-called faith in Christ which professes to
release men from the obligation of obedience to God,
is not faith, but presumption. "By grace are ye saved
through faith." But "faith, if it hath not works, is
dead." Ephesians 2:8; James 2:17. Jesus said of
Himself before He came to earth, "I delight to do Thy
will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart."
Psalm 40:8. And just before He ascended again to
heaven He declared, "I have kept My Father's
commandments, and abide in His love." John 15:10. The
Scripture says, "Hereby we do know that we know
Him, if we keep His commandments. . . . He that
saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk
even as He walked." 1 John 2:3-6. "Because Christ also [p. 62] suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should
follow His steps." 1 Peter 2:21.
The condition of eternal life is now just what it
always has been,—just what it was in Paradise
before the fall of our first parents,—perfect obedience
to the law of God, perfect righteousness. If eternal
life were granted on any condition short of this, then
the happiness of the whole universe would be
imperiled. The way would be open for sin, with all its
train of woe and misery, to be immortalized.
It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form
a righteous character by obedience to God's law.
But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our
natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves
righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot
perfectly obey the holy law. We have no righteousness
of our own with which to meet the claims of
the law of God. But Christ has made a way of
escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and
temptations such as we have to meet. He lived a
sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to
take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you
give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your
Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His
sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character
stands in place of your character, and you are
accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.
More than this, Christ changes the heart. He
abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain
this connection with Christ by faith and the
continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as
you do this, He will work in you to will and to do [p. 63] according to His good pleasure. So you may say,
"The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the
faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave
Himself for me." Galatians 2:20. So Jesus said to
His disciples, "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit
of your Father which speaketh in you." Matthew
10:20. Then with Christ working in you, you will
manifest the same spirit and do the same good works
—works of righteousness, obedience.
So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast.
We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only
ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ
imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit
working in and through us.
When we speak of faith, there is a distinction
that should be borne in mind. There is a kind of
belief that is wholly distinct from faith. The
existence and power of God, the truth of His word, are
facts that even Satan and his hosts cannot at heart
deny. The Bible says that "the devils also believe,
and tremble;" but this is not faith. James 2:19.
Where there is not only a belief in God's word, but
a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is
yielded to Him, the affections fixed upon Him, there
is faith—faith that works by love and purifies the
soul. Through this faith the heart is renewed in the
image of God. And the heart that in its unrenewed
state is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed
can be, now delights in its holy precepts, exclaiming
with the psalmist, "O how love I Thy law! it
is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97. And
the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, "who [p. 64] walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
There are those who have known the pardoning
love of Christ and who really desire to be children
of God, yet they realize that their character is
imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt
whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy
Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in
despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep
at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings
and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged.
Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not
cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ
is at the right hand of God, who also maketh
intercession for us. Said the beloved John, "These things
write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin,
we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ
the righteous." 1 John 2:1. And do not forget the
words of Christ, "The Father Himself loveth you."
John 16:27. He desires to restore you to Himself, to
see His own purity and holiness reflected in you. And
if you will but yield yourself to Him, He that hath
begun a good work in you will carry it forward to
the day of Jesus Christ. Pray more fervently; believe
more fully. As we come to distrust our own power,
let us trust the power of our Redeemer, and we shall
praise Him who is the health of our countenance.
The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty
you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision
will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen
in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature.
This is evidence that Satan's delusions have lost their [p. 65] power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of
God is arousing you.
No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the
heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. The
soul that is transformed by the grace of Christ will
admire His divine character; but if we do not see
our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence
that we have not had a view of the beauty and
excellence of Christ.
The less we see to esteem in ourselves, the more
we shall see to esteem in the infinite purity and
loveliness of our Saviour. A view of our sinfulness drives
us to Him who can pardon; and when the soul, realizing
its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will
reveal Himself in power. The more our sense of need
drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more
exalted views we shall have of His character, and the
more fully we shall reflect His image.
Click here to read the next chapter:
"Growing Up Into Christ"