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Achieving Excellence In Our Christian Walk — Robert Alexander

The Christian life can be summed up with just one word: walk. The term “walk” as found throughout the New Testament referring to the Christian denotes specific conduct. When an individual obeys the gospel he or she is raised from the watery grave of baptism to “walk in newness of life” (Ro. 6:4). The life of a Christian is to be as becoming of one who is in Christ Jesus (Co. 1:10; 2:6). Because we are in Christ Jesus, we are to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus (2 Pe. 3:18).

The Christian “walk” is all about progression. It is all about not being satisfied with the “status quo” but going on toward perfection or spiritual maturity (He. 6:1). It is a life that is about becoming more like Christ every single day (Ro. 8:29; 12:2). The Christian’s life should be all about excellence, that is, it should be the best it can be. The mindset of the Christian should be: “How can I be better spiritually tomorrow, than I am today?” It should be a life that is never satisfied spiritually.

Unfortunately, there are Christians who are willing to accept the “status quo”, who believe that all they have to do is not engage in sinful behavior. These individuals don’t want to pray or study. They don’t want to work for the Lord. They don’t want to grow; they have settled for mediocrity and as such they possess a mediocre faith as a result of apathy and lethargy.

Why should we strive for excellence in our walk as Christians? Joe Theisman played quarterback for the Washington Redskins for twelve years and led the team to two Super Bowls, winning one and losing the other. After retiring from football, Theismann reflected on his final years in the NFL when he learned a hard lesson. Theismann,, in an interview with Readers Digest, (January 1992) said:

“I got stagnant, I thought the team revolved around me. I should have known it was time to go when I didn’t care whether a pass hit Art Monk in the 8 or the 1 on his uniform. When we went back to the Super Bowl, my approach had changed. I was griping about the weather, my shoes, practice times, everything. Today I wear my two rings—the winner’s ring from Super Bowl 17 and the loser’s ring from Super Bowl 18. The difference in those two rings lies in applying oneself and not accepting anything but the best.”

Excellence is the difference between winning and losing. Theismann believed his team lost because he did not fully apply himself to his craft because he was willing to accept good instead of greatness, mediocrity instead of excellence.

Excellence is the difference between an eternity in heaven or an eternity in hell. As Christians, if we don’t pursue excellence, we will not be able to finish our course (2 Ti. 4:7) because we will not be progressing in our course, our walk as Christians. We will not be able to finish the race set before us (He. 12:2) if we are not progressing. If we do not finish, we will not win the crown of life. If we do not win, then we will lose in eternity (Re. 21:8).

How then can we achieve excellence in our Christian walk? Let us consider briefly five things that will enable us to achieve excellence.

First, we must pursue righteousness. Sin is unrighteousness (1 Jn. 5:17) and it is diametrically opposed to God because He is righteous. When we obeyed the gospel, which reveals the righteousness of God (Ro. 1:17), we were accepted by God, who accepts all who work righteousness (i.e., do His will) (Ac. 10:34,35; Ja. 1:22,23; Lk. 6:46; Mt. 7:21-27). However, it is not enough to be made righteous in the sight of God; we must remain righteous. Righteousness, in its simplest definition, is “right doing” and it is the state or quality of being right. In a world of wrong doing, as Christians, we must be actively involved in right doing. If we are going to achieve excellence in our walk as a Christian we must make righteousness a continual practice in our lives and we do such by making it our life’s pursuit.

Second, we must prioritize righteousness. If we truly are making righteousness a priority in our lives we must seek it (which ties in with our previous point). Christ said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness….” (Mt. 6:33). To seek after is to search for something in order to find it. What is it that we are seeking after? Righteousness. When should it be sought? First. Righteousness should be at the forefront of our minds as Christians at all times. If it is at the forefront of our minds, it will be manifested in our lives; and if it is manifested in our lives, then our lives will be lived in such a way that we will not grow complacent or stagnant in our walk as Christians. We will be growing and improving spiritually day by day while we live here on earth. We will not fall into the pit of mediocrity.

Third, if righteousness is truly our priority, we will crave it. Christ said that those who are truly blessed are “they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). We all know what it is like to be hungry, we need food and thus when we hunger we seek food to satisfy our hunger. We also know what it is like to thirst, spiritually our souls hunger and thirst and our soul needs those things by which the soul is refreshed and strengthened. What is it that will satisfy our soul’s longing? Righteousness (in the context of this article, dealing with that which involves purity of life, correctness of thinking, feeling and acting).

How is the soul’s hunger and thirst for righteousness satisfied? By feeding on (studying) the word of God, which instructs us in righteousness (2 Ti. 3:16) It serves as our spiritual food as well. It is our milk (1 Pe. 2:2). It is our meat (He. 5:12-14). It is our bread (Jn. 6:35-ff). It is our water to assuage our spiritual thirst (Jn. 4:13-14). Because we will be feeding on the spiritual food that God has provided, it logically follows we will be applying the teachings of God’s word to our lives. This nourishment, in turn, will lead us to…

…practice righteousness. Practicing righteousness begins with right thinking. Our thoughts reveal who we are (Pr. 23:7). If we think unrighteousness, our actions will produce unrighteousness. If we think righteously, then our actions will manifest righteousness. The key for developing such thinking is to make sure our affections are set on those things which are above rather than on those things here on the earth (Co. 3:2).

However, it is not enough to think it, we must do it. It is both simplistic and true, but there really is nothing more to add but just do righteousness. John wrote “Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7).

If we think righteously, we will act righteously, which in turn will result in a continual pursuit, prioritization and practicing of righteousness and as a result of such actions we will then produce righteousness in our lives by the fruit that we bear because that fruit will be that of righteousness (Ja. 3:18; Ep. 5:9). The fruit we bear glorifies God (Jn. 15:8). But, it is not enough to bear fruit, we must keep on bearing fruit lest we become a fruitless branch within the true vine which is Christ and thus become cut off from the vine fit to be cast into the fire (Jn. 15:4). The necessity of continual bearing of the fruit of righteousness in our lives will stimulate us to a life of spiritual excellence.

Finally, we must purge unrighteousness from our lives. This purge implies the need for constant improvement as a Christian. The temptation to commit sin is an ever present danger for us (1 Pe. 5:8; 1 Co. 10:13) and as such reveals the importance of striving to grow and improve spiritually day after day so that we can overcome temptation and consequently, sin.

A righteous state of life involves a forward and upward direction (which is what walking in the light entails per 1 John 1:7) and not a backward and downward direction (which is to walk as the world does). In order to maintain righteousness in our lives we must examine our lives (2 Co. 13:5) to make sure sin has not reentered. If it has we must have the willingness to repent and confess those sins unto God (1 Jn. 1:8-9).

Maintaining righteousness and keeping unrighteousness out starts by laying God’s word up in our hearts (Ps. 119:11; 1 Jn. 3:9). We do this by consistently turning to its pages and meditating and properly applying its teachings to our lives. This process must be an ongoing thing in our lives. We will never master the Word of God, but we can allow it to master our lives by keeping it at the forefront of our lives by spending time in personal study.

Why strive for excellence in our lives as Christians? Because excellence, in its simplest definition, is being better tomorrow than we are today. Is this not what Christianity and personal growth is all about? If we are not seeking to be better tomorrow than we are today, we are not seeking to become more Christ like, and we must if we desire heaven as our home (Ro. 8:29). If we are not seeking to be better, we are in essence saying that who we are now is as good as we can get. We are accepting mediocrity, but God will not accept mediocrity, He expects and demands our best in all we do, including how we live (Re. 2:10).

We can achieve excellence in our walk as Christians because we can be a better Christian tomorrow than we are at this present time. However, in order to achieve excellence, we must possess the discipline and tenacity necessary to accomplish the task. When we pursue, prioritize, practice, produce righteousness in our lives, and keep unrighteousness purged, we will be improving day by day which produces true excellence, genuine, consistent, and constant growth as a Christian.

roblee79@netzero.net

Editor’s Note:  Robert preached a lesson on this topic earlier this year.  You can listen to his lesson here.

What Noah Has Taught Me – Ken Thomas

The great flood has been of great interest in the world. In ancient civilizations the “flood story” became the subject of myth and legend. There are some that deny the historicity of the flood or diminish it to localized events, while others believe that discoveries in archaeology and geology have verified flood layers around the world and evidence of a cataclysmic event that drastically changed the habitation of mankind. The Bible clearly describes the flood as an act of destruction by the Creator of heaven and earth, and the continued existence of humanity as the result of God’s favor to the family of Noah.

Noah and the ark have been favored subjects of Bible classes for little children. I recently met a craftsman who has made a business of his woodworking and design skills, making large “Noah’s Ark” play sets. He told me that several religious people who live near him do not allow their children to “play” on Sundays unless their toys are “Sunday toys” based on Bible stories. The Internet is filled with lists of “things I learned from Noah,” but the purpose of this article is not to offer whimsical and humorous statements such as “Noah should have swatted those flies.” It is to look at key thoughts from the example of Noah that might help us live lives that will find favor with God and also be lights to the world.

Only two men in scripture are noted as having walked with God. Enoch, father of Methuselah, walked with God for 300 years following the birth of his son, fathering other children also. He was taken by God, without death, from the earth (Gen. 5:22-24; Heb. 11:5). Methuselah’s son Lamech was the father of Noah, who also “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).

Noah did more than to build an ark. Before he was given that responsibility and privilege, he was living a life that pleased God. He was a striking contrast to the rest of the people in the world. Noah found grace (favor) in the eyes of the Lord in the same world that had surrounded him with violence and unimaginable wickedness (Gen. 6:8).

The grief of God and the regret of His creating the world had made Him determine to destroy the world. The God who had declared His creation as “good” and the creation of man “very good” had seen good people corrupted by their evil companions. Word and deed, even every thought of man, was only evil . . . all the time. Yet, “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Gen. 6:9) “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:7).

The hope of the salvation of our own souls is based on the grace (favor) of God. Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). Believing that God exists and rewards the diligent seeker is illustrated for us by the example of Noah. Noah had never seen a flood brought on by constant rain and waters from beneath the earth’s surface; I am not sure he had even seen rain, since such is not mentioned in scripture from the passage that tells us that God watered the ground with a mist from the earth (Gen. 2:5-6).

Still, Noah believed God! He moved with fear, which would also be defined as proper caution and reverence for God. He prepared the ark as God had instructed. His faith in God moved him to righteous obedience. His righteousness is even more obvious when contrasted with the ungodly world around him. He became the heir of righteousness (Heb. 11:7), not only a practitioner and preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5). Eight souls were saved by water, which perhaps refers to being saved from increasing violence of the wicked against the righteous. Yet this happened only after long years of preparation and toil to build such a massive lifeboat and stock it with food to save the lives of the humans and the living creatures which would enter.

The details of the flood, the ark dimensions and structural details, and the loading and the landing are so well known as to be unnecessary for this article. However, the character of Noah is worthy of examination in more detail than is usual. Noah is listed with Job and Daniel as righteous men who could not deliver even a son or daughter by their own righteousness, and certainly not the nation of Israel even if they had been in it (Ezek. 14:14-20). What a triad of righteous men!

The ground had been cursed by God to require toil and sweat of man to bring forth its fruit. This must have been a real barrier to productivity. Yet there was hope for better days ahead, for the name Noah suggests “comfort.” Lamech “called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed” (Gen. 5:29). Evil had multiplied, and God had made his decision to destroy all flesh. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. . . Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:8-9).

Detailed instructions were given for construction of the ark, and for gathering food for man and beast. “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (Gen. 6:22-7:1).

Noah was instructed to take in the animals, numbering them based on whether they were clean or unclean. “And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him”…“There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah”…“And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the Lord shut him in” (Gen 7:5, 9, 16 ).

Even the departure from the ark was an act of obedience to the instruction of God (Gen. 8:15-19). Noah, the man who had been chosen to preserve the existence of mankind because of his righteousness, then made a burnt sacrifice from every clean beast and fowl upon an altar. In response to the sacrifice, God resolved never to curse the ground again nor to smite all living things. He also pronounced a continuation of seasons and time-markers for the duration of the earth (vs. 20-22). God now gave man permission to eat meat as well as the “green herb,” but not blood (Gen. 9:2-4).   He also commanded a penalty of blood for the shedding of mankind’s blood (vs. 5-6). The reproductive process of man was to begin again (vs. 1, 7), and man was given a covenant of promise, symbolized by the bow in the cloud, that universal destruction of the world by water would not occur again (vs. 8-17).

Hundreds of years later, a descendant of Noah according to the flesh would be born into the world (Luke 3:36). This One, like Noah, would be the source of salvation for the human race. However, He would not come to save us from a flood of water, but from the sin that floods the world. His sacrifice has been made, and He will return. His return will be like the flood of Noah in that men, though warned, will be continuing life as usual, and be taken away as if they had no warning (Lk.17:26-27; Mt. 24:37-39). Though some will scoff and declare He is not going to return, Peter warned that while God’s longsuffering is delaying the fiery dissolution of this world at the return of Christ, His coming is as sure as the flood (2 Pet. 3:3-14). In Noah’s day, it was the longsuffering of God which delayed the flood while the ark was being prepared . Others in addition to the eight could have been saved, but they did not heed the preaching of Noah (1 Pet 3:20-21; 2 Pet. 2:5).

I would appeal to the reader to make a personal list of things you have learned from Noah, as well as reading what others have said and written. Here are some items that stand out to me:

  • You never get too old to provide a haven for your children if they have no other place to go. (Noah was 600 when the flood came.)
  • If God tells us to do something, it is really smart to do it. “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (Gen. 6:22).
  • Walking with God involves more than just an occasional stroll.
  • When you come through a crisis safely, don’t let your guard down. Stay sober (Gen. 9:20-27).
  • When the rains come down and the floods come up, look forward to the rainbow when the storm is over.
  • It takes time to prepare for some crises of life, but thank God for the time if you have warning.
  • God warned Noah of things he had never before seen, but he prepared anyway. Good move.
  • Keep doing the will of God, even when the neighbors scoff and your warnings are ignored.
  • Just because everyone is thinking evil continually doesn’t give you an excuse to do likewise.
  • No matter how long you live, it is appointed for man to die. “And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died” (Gen. 9:27).
  • Isaiah believed in the Noah story. “For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee” (Is. 54:9).
  • Righteousness cannot be borrowed from others for ourselves. “Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God…Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness” (Ezek. 14:14, 20).
  • The coming of the Son of Man is sure, just like the flood. “And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27; cf. Matt. 24:37-39).
  • If you live right it will please God, but it will make others look bad. That’s okay. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:7).
  • As the water cleansed the world and separated Noah’s family from it, my sins are cleansed by Christ’s blood when I am baptized. Thank God for His longsuffering to lost mankind! “…the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God” (1 Pet. 3:20-22). Give praise “unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).
  • The destruction of the earth will be by fire rather than water next time (2 Pet. 3:5-7). Since this will certainly happen, let us heed the inspired warning of Peter: “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Pet. 3:17-18).

ken@kennethlorin.com