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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning From Pilgrim's Progress: Who is a Christian?

As I wrote before, I am reading Pilgrim's Progress. A book that at one time was the second most read apart from the Bible. A book written by a man who had just elementary education. Yet, this man, while in jail for preaching as a "protestant" or "dissenter" in England, wrote a timeless allegory of the Christian journey. In this post I share about how Bunyan describes a Christian through the eyes of Hopeful (who patterns after Bunyan's own conversion to faith).

In this section Christian asks Hopeful how he came to be a Christian (i.e. a persons concerned for his soul). Hopeful goes on to explain how in Vanity Fair he had lived a life of debauchery but had come to realize that these things would cause death and the wrath of God to come upon him.  Even after knowing his spiritual condition, Hopeful tried to ignore it.   His excuses for not leaving this life of self-pleasure were many but the more he ignored his spiritual condition, the more he understood that he could die and be judged by God. Hopeful then tries to reform his life. He leaves bad company, bad habits and devotes himself to praying, Bible reading and other religious practices. His life improves but all of this makes him realize that before God his actions are like filthy rags. Furthermore, even if he had lived up perfectly up till then, all of his past sins condemned him. His debt to God was so much that he could never pay it no matter what he did. Hopeful then asks Faithful and hears "that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that never had sinned, neither mine own, nor all the righteousness of the world could save me."  Faithful asserts that this person was the Lord Jesus.
Hopeful continues to ask: "I asked him further, how that man's righteousness could be of that efficacy to justify another before God? And he told me he was the mighty God, and did what he did, and died the death also, not for himself, but for me; to whom his doings, and the worthiness of them, should be imputed, if I believed on him. [Heb. 10, Rom. 6, Col. 1, 1 Pet. 1]"

Faithful was showing him that it was Christ's death that would make him acceptable and righteous before God. What he needed to do was believe on him.
 Faithful gives him a book (the Bible) to read and find out this truth on his own.  He invites Hopeful to call upon the Lord to reveal himself and go to Him saying: "God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Saviour of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am, (and I am a sinner indeed); Lord, take therefore this opportunity and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen. [Exo. 25:22, Lev. 16:2, Num. 7:89, Heb. 4:16]"

Hopeful prays this, over and over again but nothing happens. This again shows that praying or doing things on our own cannot save us. But finally, God shows himself to Hopeful:
 "I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding; [Eph. 1:18,19] and thus it was: One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life, and this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell, and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus Christ look down from heaven upon me, and saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." [Acts 16:30,31]"
Hopeful continues: 
"Then I said, But, Lord, what is believing? And then I saw from that saying, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst", that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ. [John 6:35]"
Hopeful has finally come to understand that only in and through Christ's death and resurrection he can come to God and have his sins washed away:
 
"He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification." [Rom. 4:25] "He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." [Rev. 1:5] "He is mediator betwixt God and us." [1 Tim. 2:5] "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." [Heb. 7:24,25] 
Hopeful understands that Christ's offering himself as a sacrifice for his sins and to satisfy the penalty of them before God was "but for him that will accept it for his salvation, and be thankful."
At this point Hopeful has become "converted," a believer, a christian.

His life is changed: 
"It made me greatly ashamed of the vileness of my former life, and confounded me with the sense of mine own ignorance; for there never came thought into my heart before now that showed me so the beauty of Jesus Christ. It made me love a holy life, and long to do something for the honour and glory of the name of the Lord Jesus; yea, I thought that had I now a thousand gallons of blood in my body, I could spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus."

Hopeful now lives for Christ and is willing to give everything for him.

This is what it means to be a Christian. You can read this dialogue in modern language here starting on p. 170.

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