Christian devotedness is something different from human kindness and philanthropy, born out of a sense of obligation. It is motivated by love for our self-sacrificing Redeemer and a desire to be pleasurable to Him.
A simplified précis of John Nelson Darby’s paper ‘Christian Devotedness’ by Sosthenes
To be truly in the testimony of God, Christians must be devoted. Devotion must be founded on the truth and sound doctrine and exercised in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians need to be clear as to redemption, and have the peace that a Christian has through divine righteousness. He must know the living power of the heavenly Comforter, and be sure of the blessed hope of the glorified Christ’s coming again. Held in the power of the Holy Ghost he is should be separate from the world.
Christianity has had a great influence in the world. Humanitarian activities such as caring for the sick and poor, have become recognised duties of society, even where infidelity prevails. But there are higher motives than these – true devotedness.
Christ’s Devotion to His Father
Normally, Christians should abide in the calling wherein they are called. (1 Cor 7:20). Christ is to be our life and the object or motive of our lives. There are two aspects to that life. One is devotedness; the other is submission to the will of God. We see this in Christ. His communion with His Father was perfect, as was His desire to glorify Him. His walk was that of undivided obedience to His Father’s will.
Christ loved His Father and was obedient to Him gave form and character to His love to us. As He becomes our immediate object, we become followers and imitators of God. We walk in love as Christ loved us. “Be ye imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love even as Christ hath loved us and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” (Eph 5:2). Love descending from God, and working in man, rises up towards God as its object – it can be nothing lower. “Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16).
Devotion – out of Love, not Merit or Reward
Devotedness is devotedness to Christ. The spring and source of true devotedness is divine love filling and operating in our hearts. We learn divine love in redemption. This sets us in divine righteousness before God. God’s perfect love towards us has given us eternal life in Christ when we were dead in sins, and forgiveness and divine righteousness when we were guilty. Now we enjoy divine love, to enjoy God by His Spirit dwelling in us: even at the judgment seat, Christ, the judge, will be our Saviour. So are we to be in this world.
Of course there were those things Christ did, which we can. He stood alone in self-sacrificial love. But we are able to display Self-sacrificial love too, as having His life, Himself, in us.
Any question of merit or self-righteousness is shut out, and our self-seeking labour is set aside. “Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:21). The thought of reward or merit, destroys the whole truth of devotedness, because love is no longer the motive. It is self, like James and John, looking for a good place in the kingdom. There is reward in Scripture, but it is used to encourage us in the difficulties and dangers which higher and truer motives bring us into. Christ Himself, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 2:2).
Christ’s motive was love. Moses’ motive was caring for his brethren. Such reward is as great mercy: every man receives his reward according to his own labour.
The first effect of devotedness is to adore God, delighting in Jesus, consciously united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Divine love flows, as it did in Christ, into and through our hearts – we become animated through our enjoyment of it. The love of God is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord; not the less God, but God in Christ.
A creature must have an object, and for us that object must be God, – God revealed in Christ as the Father; for in that way God possesses our souls. Christ becomes our first and governing object, then our fellow Christians and then our fellow men. Hence, all true devotedness is the action of divine love in the redeemed, through the Holy Spirit.
So we have a new life which enjoys His love, delighting in Him, and displaying love towards others. Its genuineness is tested, because Christ has to have the first place. Paul says, “Not as we hoped,” (it was more than he hoped), speaking of active love; “but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). It is more than a new nature. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and God’s love is shed abroad in the heart.
We may have a prejudicial zeal, compassing sea and land, but that is the work of Satan. If so, we act out of a sense of natural benevolence or obligation, and get irritated if our work is not accepted. This is not love. The activity of love does not destroy the sense of obligation saints have a sense of obligation too, but of a different character. Because of grace, they are motivated freely by love. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17). it has the divine character – love. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption, and he fixes our hearts on God’s love.
Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20) This is a divine life, a life of faith, a life living wholly by an object, Christ – the Son of God loving and giving Himself. Here we get the practical character and motive of Christian devotedness – living to Christ. Because of that, “We are not our own, but bought with a price,” and have to “glorify God in our bodies” (1 Cor 6:20). The perfection of the offering and the absoluteness and perfectness with which it was offered, has power over our souls. All the incense of the meat-offering was burnt on the altar.
The Hindrance of the Flesh
So we are to yield ourselves to the love of the blessed Son of God. The flesh may seek to hinder us, for its objects are not those of the new man and the Holy Spirit. We love the brethren and all the saints, bearing and forbearing, for Christ does, seeing the saints grow up to Him who is the Head in all things, and walk worthily of the Lord. Like Paul, we seek to see the church presented as a chaste virgin unto Christ. We continue love, though the more abundantly we loves, the less we are loved. And we are ready to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
Self likes to be served; love delights to serve. A man of pleasure flings away money; so does an ambitious man. They judge the value of things by pleasure and power. The covetous man judges everything by its potential to enrich. The Christian judges of everything by Christ. If anything gets in the way of His glory he casts it away. He does not regard it as a sacrifice, but a hindrance – to him it is dross. Christ gave Himself: now we have the privilege of forgetting self and living to Christ. On earth Christ girded Himself and served His own. Now we have the privilege of serving Him. Living to God inwardly is the only possible means of living to Him outwardly.
All outward activity, not governed by devotedness to Christ, is fleshly and even a danger to the soul. It tends to make us do without Christ and brings in self. I dread great activity without great communion.
Devotedness is a humble, holy thing, doing our Master’s will – it is the true part for every Christian. We want wisdom – God gives it liberally; Christ is our true wisdom. We want power – we learn it in dependence through Him who strengthens us. Devotedness is dependent, it leans on divine strength in Christ for He can do all things, and all that He does is good. So we have the Lord’s help despite the trials and difficulties – we are “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom 8:37). Nothing separates us from that love.
There is something else that we have to look at. Dedicated service in love is a joy and blessing. But we are in a world where such service will be opposed and rejected, and our flesh has a tendency to self-preservation. Peter presented this thought to the Lord, and He said “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt 16:23). In point of fact, the flesh is a continual hindrance: it instinctively shrinks from devotedness to Christ, because it means giving up self, bringing reproach, neglect, and opposition on us. We have to take up our cross to follow Christ. If not, we shall at best be “John Marks” in the work. And we will be those who say, “suffer me first“. There should be no self-seeking, no self-sparing, and no self-indulgence! If we are to live to Christ, we must hold ourselves dead, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our life.
Our own Hearts
Now we come to the management of our own hearts. “Always bearing about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus” is the great difficulty and tests our state of soul. But we have power in our sense of grace. Christ died and gave Himself for us, so by grace we hold ourselves as dead to all but Him. That would be comparatively easy, were self and Satan’s power not opposing us. But to have Christ’s dying always above self, necessitates Christ, by God’s Spirit, dominating all our affections. This is the only way of devotedness in God’s sight. All else belongs to the first Adam and to the scene he moves, and perishes with our last breath. It is only the life which we live by Christ which remains.
As devoted, we have to please Christ in everything. Worldly dress and manners, indeed worldliness in every guise, disappear. These things are not be agreeable to Him whom the world rejected, because He testified to it that its works were evil. The place of the Christian is to be the epistle of Christ. The world’s motives, thoughts, relationships do not enter into his heart.
There is another point which we may do well to notice. This makes plain the difference between devotedness and natural kindness. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Our profession of Christ is to be so distinct that people will know to Whom our good works should be attributed, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Our conclusion, then, is simple undivided devotedness to Christ. Christ is to be the only object, as we do those things that faithfulness and nonconformity to the world entail. We have a bright, heavenly hope connected with Christ crucified, and Christ in glory. He is coming and will receive us to Himself and make us like Him. Hence we should be as those who wait for their Lord.
More devoted Christians are needed, – devoted in all their ways, in heart and soul, to Him who loved them and gave Himself for them.
Sosthenes – April 2015