God promised to provide an inward moral bent to holiness. He said that there was to be a new covenant—one that was internal rather than external. The apostle Paul explained it quite clearly : “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).
Now, if you are going to get a new covenant, you make obsolete the old covenant. The old covenant has no moral power over the Christian, because God has made a new covenant with His people, and the Christian is under the new covenant. This new covenant, as we have said, works not from the outside, but from the inside.
In order that we might illustrate this, let us go to nature itself. A young rattlesnake hatches out of its egg, and before it ever sees any other rattlesnake in action, it will coil and strike. When it is just a tiny thing, never having gone to school to learn how to strike, it coils up and strikes. That is a native factor in behavior. It is an action—taken in response to another action—that is not dependent upon individual previous experience.
I have seen chicks hatch out of their shells and lie helpless for may be five minutes. Then, as a breeze begins to dry them off and a little fluff begins to show, they struggle to their feet—and before they are completely dry, they are out scratching in the dirt. They never saw any chicken scratch. They may as well be the first one ever to do so. They scratch by some native factor that leads them to do acts not dependent upon any previous experience. They do it without having been taught.
This instinctive tendency to action leads to an end. It is that unknown factor that impels each creature—animals, birds, fish, worms, and all the rest—to act like itself. The creature’s behavior, of course, can be superficially altered by pressure from the outside.
A chimpanzee can be taught in a circus to put on a bib and eat with a knife and fork, but he is still a chimpanzee. He has not been altered on the inside. His instructors have not in any wise removed that unknown factor that impels every creature to act like itself. He will act like a chimpanzee as soon as he gets by himself or gets with another chimpanzee—because he is a chimpanzee. Forces from the outside have simply pressured and persuaded him to act like something else.
I believe there is such a thing as teaching a sinner to act like a Christian. You baptize him, confirm him, feed him the Lord’s Supper regularly, and instruct him in ethics—and after a while, he begins to act like a Christian, just as a chimpanzee acts like a man. However, he is not a Christian, because he has not that inward factor that impels him to righteousness and true holiness. He is only taught from the outside to behave as a Christian.
An overwhelmingly vast number of church members are in this category of having been taught to imitate Christians. They read the Sermon on the Mount and know how a Christian should live. They do not genuinely live like that, but they approximate it. They play it by ear and get close to it—close enough that they are accepted into the church. They attend services and sing and give, and people think they are Christians. Nevertheless, they are living by external pressure and by artificial training and imitation, not by that native factor inside them that teaches them to act in a certain way. They do not have that missing ingredient—that unknown factor that impels them to act like Christians.
The crowning achievement of the New Testament is to plant in the heart of the believing man an unknown factor that impels him to act righteously. Here lies the difference between denominational churches and true Christianity. It is the difference between training a man to behave like a Christian and having him be born from within a Christian.
The average church is filled with people who have learned the songs of Zion. People who have never been any nearer to God than Adam at his worst will sing some of the most beautiful hymns you ever heard in y our life. They got their accent right from Mount Zion. They sing the songs of Israel, but they are not Israelites. They sing the songs of the church, but they are not Christians.
You say, “What right have you got, in this bigoted manner, to rule men out of the church?” I do not have any right to do any thing at all; I have the right only to go to hell. But under the grace of God and by the authority granted me by the Lord Jesus Christ, I do have this commission: to draw the line between him who serves God and him who serves Him not, and then to stand and say in His name that unless a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
No amount of training and no religious accent we put on will ever do. The only thing that impels righteous conduct is that something implanted in the human spirit by the Holy Spirit. We call it by various names: the new birth, regeneration or conversion. You are converted in order that you might be regenerated. You are regenerated because you were generated wrong in the first place.
Regeneration—that unknown factor—God calls “My law.” He said, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:10). A Christian, then, is one who has had the laws of God inscribed in his heart, at the motivation center of his life. Nothing else is a Christian.
The New Testament teaches that there will be conflicting factors in even a Christian’s life. While the mainstay of his life is that rule of God written not in stone, but in flesh, there are forms of opposition that sometimes overcome him—weakness in the flesh, the world, lust and old habits.
In the seventh chapter of Romans appears a classic wail of a holy man who sometimes felt factors stirring within him, impelling him to be unholy. Paul cried, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). He went on, in the eighth chapter, to show that provision has been made toward deliverance from these wild factors that lie in us, which we call “the flesh” or “carnality ” or “the old man”—“for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
Can Religion Be Taught?
In the letter to the Hebrews, we find this statement of the manner in which God’s new
covenant with His people operates:
“And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 8:11-12).
The important consideration is: Can religion be taught? A tremendous lot of emphasis is being placed upon what we call “religious education” in our day. I believe in religious education … if we understand what we mean by it. Doctrine and ethics can be taught. You can get half a dozen little children before you and teach them: “God is love” (1 John 4:8); “God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1); “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16); “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). That is doctrine, and you can teach doctrine.
You can also teach ethics—righteous laws. You can get those little ones before you, and you can teach them: “Obey your parents, lie not, do not steal.” We can teach that—and we should. Doctrine should be taught. Ethics should be taught.
Salvation, however, cannot be taught. Salvation is that which happens in a man’s life because he believes the doctrine he has heard. Now, a man can hear the doctrine, learn it and pass a test in it; and recite the catechism from the first to the last, letter perfect; and still not be a Christian, because you cannot by teaching make a man a Christian—though by teaching, you can impel him to want to be a Christian. You can show him how to be a Christian. Once he has become a Christian, you can teach him, as Jesus said, “All things … whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). But you cannot make him a Christian by teaching him.
The curriculum never yet was devised that could cause a baby to be. Babies are life, born out of life. However, after he is born and grows up, he can be sent to college and subjected to curriculum, and he can learn a great deal that he ought to know.
Nevertheless, you have to start with life. You cannot create life by teaching. I wonder how many so-called Christians are Christians only by instruction—only by religious education; only by having somebody manipulate them, put them in water or sprinkle water on them. It is tragic that we can come into the Church, take part in it and be known for being Christians, because we are acting like Christians. We do not do this and we do not do the other. We are in church, and we give.
We are somewhat refined. Therefore, we act like Christians, but the terrible thing is that we are Christians by manipulation—by instruction—rather than by regeneration. Salvation, among other things, brings an implantation within the soul of an unknown factor that impels the saved person to act a certain way. The true Christian cries out to the Father by impulse of the Spirit. He does not ask to be taught. Nobody say s to the new Christian, “Say, ‘Abba Father.’ ” He says it because the Spirit of the Son is in his heart, telling him to say it.
The probing question needing an answer is: Has this happened to me? Have I received Him? Believed on Him? Has He wrought in me this miracle impelling me to want to do right and making me grieve if I don’t? It is imperative that we ask the question and answer it truthfully. It is imperative that we answer it in the affirmative. It would be a heartbreaking—at least a disheartening—thing if we were permitted to stand out in front of the average church and question each one who steps out: “Are you truly a Christian inside? Do you have implanted in you by the miracle of the new birth that unknown factor that God has called His laws—that thing that makes you want to do righteousness and hate sin and love God and hate iniquity ? Are you, yourself, blessed with this inward factor that impels to holiness?”
Would you get an honest answer? You would get the brush-off from 99 percent. If you got honest answers, it would be heartbreaking, because there is no question about it. If all the people who go to church had this unknown factor, this thing impelling them to righteousness, this would be a different country from what it is now. “Christian” would be quite some other thing from what it is now.
Let us come before God and say, Lord, don’t let me be one more of these persons who is like the chimpanzee that’s been trained to act like a man, but isn’t a man, and will die a chimpanzee. Help me, Lord, that I may not be a sinner—a good sinner, a moral sinner, a sinner with high ethical standards, a religious sinner, but a sinner nevertheless. This would be a terrible tragedy. Only the Holy Spirit through the Word of God can penetrate deep into the soul of man to effect the radical change needed to make a Christian.
Excerpts taken from “God’s Power For Your Life”
By A.W. Tozer
Some editing by Myself