Making that assertion is easy. Justifying it is another. In order to achieve this goal, at a minimum we’re going to have to outline Christ-like behaviour, and summarise correct theology. From here, we’ll need to outline the basic psychology behind self-control and willpower which are necessary in order to achieve what we all recognise is a hard task, namely achieving the goal of a virtuous life.
The most obvious place to start would be at the commandments of Christ. After all, these outline the way we should live our lives as Christians. There are 53 listed at the back of the Statement of Faith, and I’d like to read them all:
1. Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you (Matt. 5:44).
2. Resist not evil: if a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:30-40).
3. Avenge not yourselves: rather give place unto wrath: and suffer yourselves to be defrauded (Rom. 12:18, 19).
4. If a man take away thy goods, ask them not again (Luke 6:29, 30).
5. Agree with your adversary quickly, submitting even to wrong for the sake of peace (Matt. 5:25; 1 Cor. 6:7).
6. Labour not to be rich: be ready to every good work, give to those who ask; relieve the afflicted (1 Tim. 6:8; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:16; James 1:27).
7. Do not your alms before men: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Matt. 6:1-4).
8. Recompense to no man evil for evil: overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17).
9. Bless them that curse you; let no cursing come out of your mouth (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14).
10. Render not evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing (1 Pet. 3:9).
11. Pray for them that despitefully use you and afflict you (Matt. 5:44).
12. Grudge not: judge not: complain not: condemn not (James 5:9; Matt. 7:1).
13. Put away anger, wrath, bitterness, and all evil speaking (Eph. 4:31; 1 Pet. 2:1).
14. Confess your faults one to another (James 5:16).
15. Be not conformed to this world: love not the world (Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:15).
16. Deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts. If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off (Titus 2:13; Matt. 5:30).
17. Servants, be faithful, even to bad masters (Eph. 6:5-8).
18. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate (Rom. 12:16).
19. Owe no man anything (Rom. 13:7,8).
20. In case of sin (known or heard of) speak not of it to others, but tell the offending brother of the matter between thee and him alone, with a view to recovery (Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1).
21. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart (Matt. 22:37).
22. Pray always; pray with brevity and simplicity; pray secretly (Luke 18:1; Matt. 6:7).
23. In everything give thanks to God and recognize Him in all your ways (Eph. 5:20; Prov. 3:6).
24. As you would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Matt. 7:12).
25. Take Christ for an example and follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
26. Let Christ dwell in your heart by faith (Eph. 3:17).
27. Esteem Christ more highly than all earthly things; yea, than your own life (Luke 14:26).
28. Confess Christ freely before men (Luke 12:8).
29. Beware lest the cares of life or the allurements of pleasure weaken his hold on your heart (Matt. 24:44).
30. Love thy neighbor as thyself (Matt. 22:39).
31. Exercise lordship over no one (Matt. 23:11).
32. Seek not your own welfare only, nor bear your own burdens merely, but have regard to those of others (Phil. 2:4; Gal. 6:2).
33. Let your light shine before men: hold forth the word of life. Do good to all men as ye have opportunity (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 6:10).
34. Be blameless and harmless, as the sons of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15).
35. Be gentle, meek, kind-hearted, compassionate, merciful, forgiving (2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 2:2; Eph. 4:32).
36. Be sober, grave, sincere, temperate (Phil. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:13; 5:8).
37. Speak the truth every man with his neighbour: put away all lying (Eph. 4:25).
38. Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men (Col. 3:23).
39. Be watchful, vigilant, brave, joyful, courteous, and strong (1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:6-10).
40. Be clothed with humility; be patient toward all (Col. 3:12; Rom. 12:12).
41. Follow peace with all men (Heb. 12:14).
42. Sympathize in the joys and sorrows of others (Rom. 12:15).
43. Follow after whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseful (Phil. 4:8).
44. Refrain utterly from adultery, fornication, uncleanness, drunkenness, covetousness, wrath, strife, sedition, hatred, emulation, boasting, vainglory, envy, jesting, and foolish talking (Eph. 5:3,4).
45. Whatever you do, consider the effect of your action on the honour of God's name among men. Do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; 3:17).
46. Reckon yourselves dead to all manner of sin. Henceforth live not to yourselves, but to him who died for you, and rose again (Rom. 6-11; 2 Cor. 5:15).
47. Be zealous of good works, always abounding in the work of the Lord, wearying not in well doing (Titus 2:14; Gal. 6:9).
48. Speak evil of no man (Titus 3:2).
49. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16).
50. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt (Col. 3:8; 4:6).
51. Obey rules; submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake (Titus 3:1).
52. Be holy in all manner of conversation (1 Pet. 1:15, 16).
53. Give no occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully (1 Tim. 5:14).
All of these are of course well-known to all of us, and do tend to lose some of their impact through familiarity. By reading all of them, I hope not only to have reminded you of what it means from a practical point of view to be a follower of Jesus, but the potential difficulties which stand in the way of achieving them. Once these difficulties are highlighted, then we can see not only why we fail to follow Christ’s example at times, but how to overcome.
If there is one word that I would use to summarise the difficulties in keeping these commandments, it would be willpower. We know that we need to be godly, but the amount of times we survey the wreckage of yet another failed attempt to resist temptation reminds us that when we are tested, often it is easier to follow our human inclinations, and yield.
In his recent book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” psychologist Roy Baumeister asserts that willpower is like a muscle which can be fatigued, but also made stronger. In his book, Baumeister examines the ways in which willpower can be made weak, as well as approached to improve self-control. The relevance of this for anyone wanting to follow Christ hardly needs stressing.
The big problem, as Baumeister notes is that if you grit your teeth and say to yourself “I will be good”, then you will exhaust your willpower. He cites a study in which people were asked to watch a sad movie then perform a task which required considerable willpower. One group was told to express their feelings, the other was told to keep them hidden, while the control group was given no such order either way. The first two groups performed poorly at the test of willpower. The upshot of this is that if we use self-control, we are eroding our willpower. This is a huge problem since we only have a finite supply of willpower, and once it is used up, our self-control goes. If you approach each day as a Christian by gritting your teeth, telling yourself “I will be good” and charge headlong into a field of temptation, then you will eventually fail.
Why does this happen? For a start, making choices is mentally exhausting, and this is independent of whether these are pleasant choices such as shopping, or unpleasant choices. Examples of the former are easy to come by – we see them each time we come to the supermarket checkout and see the sweets and chocolates. After spending forever choosing between hundreds of varieties of breakfast cereals and toothpaste, the effort of choosing has depleted our willpower, and we are more likely to pick up the chocolate bar without a second thought. Conversely, if you’ve endured a session with a time share salesperson, after the infinite number of options put before you, you are more likely to simply give up and sign on the bottom line. Even if you do escape without your bank account being depleted, you may well end up gorging at the nearby vending machine on the way back to your unit. Another problem is that if we are not in a rational state of mind or under stress, then we are less likely to make a good decision. In fact, being under stressed actually depletes willpower.
If this is why simply declaring that you will rely solely on willpower to achieve goals such as being more like Christ is doomed to failure, how do you overcome this? Baumeister notes that when researchers study people with a high degree of self control, what they find is not that these people use self-control and willpower the most. Instead, what they see is the opposite. They have invested the time to make good behaviour and avoiding areas where they know they have problems automatic habits, and use their willpower sparingly and judiciously, for when they actually need it.
Baumeister also notes that (1) if one person in a group changes a bad habit, others are more likely to do the same (2) being in a group helps you maintain these attempts at lifestyle changes (3) thinking about what you have achieved makes you feel good, but looking at what remains to be done makes you more likely to move onto more challenging goals (4) if you let others know about your plans for self-improvement, you are more likely to remain committed than if you tell no one and (5) setting definite goal or rules rather than nebulous targets makes you more likely to consider them ‘commandments’ and adhere to them.
A final comment on Baumeister’s work on willpower is that being religious is actually good for you. He says, and I quote:
So there’s the psychology behind the behaviour that will lead to us being better Christians. But how does this link back to correct theology? I’d like to look at two areas, namely the nature of God and the atonement.
Religious people are less likely than others to develop unhealthy habits, like getting drunk, engaging in risky sex, taking illicit drugs, and smoking cigarettes. They’re more likely to wear seat belts, visit a dentist, and take vitamins. They have better social support, and their faith helps them cope psychologically with misfortunes. And they have better self-control, as McCullough and his colleague at the University of Miami, Brian Willoughby, recently concluded after analyzing hundreds of studies of religion and self-control over eight decades. Their analysis was published in 2009 in the Psychological Bulletin, one of the most prestigious and rigorous journals in the field. Some of the effects of religion were unsurprising: Religion promotes family values and social harmony, in part because some values gain in importance by being supposedly linked to God’s will or other religious values. Less obvious benefits included the finding that religion reduces people’s inner conflicts among different goals and values….[C]onflicting goals impede self-regulation, so it appears that religion reduces such problems by providing believers with clearer priorities. More important, religion affects two central mechanisms for self-control: building willpower and improving monitoring.
Mainstream Christianity argues that Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. To them, the idea that Jesus was a human being who had no conscious, physical existence until 2000 years ago is a heresy. On the subject of the atonement, mainstream Christianity has had somewhat more diversity of opinion, but two of the more commonly advanced theories of the atonement are the penal theory, and the satisfaction theory.
The Penal Theory asserts that Christ incurred the punishment that humanity deserved because of its sin. It is a substitution model since it argues Christ suffered the punishment instead of us. It goes back as far as the early Church father Tertullian, who lived in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries AD, and was further refined by other such as Augustine. Leading figures in the Protestant Reformation adopted it, and it is currently one of the main models in the Protestant world, being the foundation of salvation by faith alone, without any element of human participation in salvation being involved.
Another model is the Satisfaction theory advanced by Anselm of Cantebury, who lived in the 11th century and early 12th century AD. Anselm argues that God’s honour had been offended by human sin, and as a result of this, God’s honour demanded satisfaction which was achieved by Christ’s substitutionary death which repaid this debt of honour owed by the entire human race.
Getting back to the original question – how does our theology motivate our walk in Christ, let’s look at how these mainstream Christian doctrines are a disincentive to walking in Christ. As we do, keep in mind what we’ve learned about the psychology of willpower and self-control from Baumeister.
A popular slogan in the Evangelical church not that long ago was “What Would Jesus Do?” Nothing particularly wrong with that, but if Christ was really God the Son, then how can his example truly be considered achievable? In Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:14-16 we read:
while in 1 Peter 2:21-23 the apostle notes:
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If we can focus on the Evangelical mantra WWJD, the whole point of following Christ is that his example is one that has the power to motivate better behaviour, because, as the previous verses imply, he was a human being like us. Following a God-man is hardly inspiring given that he would have not been a real human being, but a hybrid of the divine and human.
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
Similarly, the models of the atonement that have currency in mainstream Christianity not only suffer from moral and logical problems (the immorality of a God whose honour needs satisfaction and the illogic of God forgiving the crimes of millions because of the death of an innocent man have created not a few unbelievers) but lack the power to truly motivate us to be more like Christ.
Conversely, the participatory model of the atonement, which has been the original Christadelphian view not only lacks the logical and moral flaws of the mainstream Christian views, but actually has the power to motivate better behaviour. In a survey on the models of atonement current in the Christian world, Christadelphian writer Jonathan Burke notes how it:
Why is this model inspiring? Firstly, it recognises that the source of sin is not due to outside temptation from a supernatural devil (another reason why correct doctrine motivates good behaviour) but from our own human weaknesses. Secondly, it gives practical advice on how to remove sin, namely by following the example of Christ by participating in his life. Finally, it leads to the formation of a community – a body of believers in Christ – which also participates in his life. On that last point, 1 Cor 6:15-20 is not a little informative:
Originated with Clement of Rome (fl. 96), though commonly attributed to Peter Abelard (d. 1142), who developed it in considerable detail in his opposition to the satisfaction model of Anselm. For Abelard, the key element is the participation of the Christian in the life of Christ, who stands as the representative of how Christians should life. This in turn makes salvation dependent on participation in the life of Christ.
Unlike the other models, this was founded on the concept that the purpose of the atonement was to reconcile humanity to God by changing the moral attitude of the sinner towards God, not the attitude of God towards the sinner. No penalty was inflicted, no substitution made. However, contrary to what has been claimed, Abelard’s model was not entirely ‘subjective’, as he believed a truly objective event took place as a result of the crucifixion.
This model was adopted widely among the Socinians, Polish Brethren, Anabaptists, and other Radical Reformers. It became particularly popular among Unitarians. The eighteenth century Unitarian and scientist Joseph Priestley argued that this was the original Biblical teaching, and claimed it was present in the writings of some of the early Christian expositors. Our community’s ‘representative’ or ‘participatory’ model of the atonement is within this category, though our community has been careful to distinguish our understanding as more than simply ‘moral influence’.
Remember what was mentioned earlier in the discussion about Baumeister’s book on willpower? Being part of a community helps maintain your commitments to change your lifestyle; even more so when one remembers that we are part of the body of Christ, the one whose life has saving power, if we participate fully in it. If Christ was a god-man, God the Son, this would simply be meaningless. How can one fully participate in the example set by someone who was not fully human like us? It is encouraging to note that in scholarly circles, these points are being recognised. As Jonathan Burke notes:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
Significantly, support for a participatory understanding of the atonement has increased, especially in reaction to the violent nature of traditional penal substitution. It is increasingly understood that a change was required not in God, but in those who sinned against Him. Likewise, the irrelevance of penal substitution to the life of the believer has been identified as a serious weakness in this theory. Even more importantly, penal substitution fails to explain the formation of the ecclesia, a body of believers who participate together other in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
This is why correct doctrine motivates correct behaviour, and why it is important that we know what we believe. With this in mind, let me close with Romans 6:1-11 and as we read them, consider them in the light of what we know about participating in the life of the son of God, a man just like you or I, but who not only has overcome sin, but given us an example to follow, and provides real help for us to be more like him:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Edited by Ken Gilmore, 19 August 2013 - 05:32 AM.