One of the books that’s been rocking my socks lately is Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke. I’ve found myself reading this one pretty slowly (though not from a lack of interest; after all, one’s socks cannot be rocked by a book that is dull). What I’ve found is that I wind up reading it in small chunks, and walking away in order to let Newton’s vision of simplicity as the call of the Christian life—that is, that Christ is our life—roll around in the back of my mind.
Let me share one that’s been particularly encouraging as I’ve read it.
The not-so-victorious life
Reinke is careful to note how Newton’s single-minded vision gave him a sober outlook upon the state of his own soul. Newton was keenly aware of the problem of indwelling sin. He was not a “victorious” Christian,[1. For he knew Christ was his victor. This is an important distinction.] in the sene of that strange breed of believer westerners want to be: the mythical figure whose attitude is all rise (like a good mix tape), who lives a life where everything is progressively getting awesomer, and whose praise is always getting louder, church is getting bigger, and whose sin is more or less subdued (or at least managed enough that people can’t easily see it).
You and I probably don’t fit that description, either though, because that person doesn’t exist. (And if those who constantly admonish you to live victoriously had a dollar, they’d probably ask you for two more. But I digress…) Instead, Newton’s outlook better reflects the reality in which we all find ourselves: We are free from the bondage of sin, yes. The “old” me is dead in Christ, without question. But the lingering effects of a lifetime of sin remain. Here’s how Newton described it in one of his many letters:
My heart is like a country but half subdued, where all things are in an unsettled state, and mutinies and insurrections are daily happening. I hope I hate the rebels that disturb the King’s peace. I am glad when I can point them out, lay hold of them, and bring them to him for justice. But they have many lurking-holes, and sometimes they come disguised like friends, so that I do not know them, till their works discover them.[2. Note: all quotes come from chapter five of Newton on the Christian Life.]
Hope revealed in pain
One line in particular stands out in my mind: “I hope I hate the rebels that disturb the King’s peace.”
The fact is, for many of us, the most we have is a hope that we really do hate our sin. Sometimes our lives certainly look like the opposite. We sin, and sometimes sin boldly, confess it, pursue repentance, and yet find that, sooner or later, our sin has reemerged. And perhaps we see that sin for what it truly is. We recognize sin as a disease, a cancer eating away at our bodies. But we do not give up hope that our sin will truly be defeated and put to rest once and for all.
As Reinke puts it:
In Christ there is all-sufficient hope and forgiveness for a murderer who has killed one thousand people, but there’s no hope for any sinner who has not come face-to-face with the indwelling disease of sin. We must feel our malady before we rightly prize our Physician, and appeal to him as our all-sufficient solution. The pain is a necessary, grace-given pain.
When Christ is our life, we recognize the painful process of uprooting our sin—revealing, fighting and killing it, and doing it all again—is given to us by the grace of God. The pain is to point us to Christ as our only hope. And without it, “we would never be compelled to confess our sins. We would be left in the condition of the legalist, who can only make excuses for his sin, but who cannot repent because he remains numb to his depravities.”
Friends, we are wise to follow Newton’s example and heed Reinke’s encouragement. Let’s not allow ourselves to become numb to our sin, our depravities. Don’t ignore the pain of a pricked conscience. Don’t overlook the pain that comes as sin is revealed. Embrace it, for it is a good gift from Christ, who is our life.
“Grace gave Newton the freedom and confidence he needed to face his own personal sins directly. He did not whitewash the darkness of his own sin, because the deeper and darker his sin, the more glorious became his Savior.” So, too, may it be with all of us.
Title: Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ
Author: Tony Reinke
Publisher: Crossway (2015)