Why I Am A Christian (#10): Changed Lives

William Wilberforce (1759—1833), pictured by Anton Hickel in 1794. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
William Wilberforce (1759—1833), pictured by Anton Hickel in 1794. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

[<<] [Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11]

The Christian faith is not infrequently derided as irrational, delusional, fairyland. Though such arguments are sometimes made in an intellectually vigorous manner, I would argue that at least as often such arguments are made facilely, and without any proper understanding of what Christianity claims or teaches.

In spite of such attacks on the Christian faith (intellectually vigorous or otherwise), I remain a believing Christian, convinced of the truth of God’s revealed word, the Bible. In this series of eleven posts, I outline some of the reasons why I still find the Christian faith compelling and convincing.

Reason #10: Changed Lives

“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians 1:8-10[1]

“Since the message of the gospel burst onto the world scene just less than 2,000 years ago, it has radically reshaped Western consciousness in ways frequently not appreciated (or, more sinisterly, not acknowledged) by modern Westerners.”

Since the message of the gospel burst onto the world scene just less than 2,000 years ago, it has transformed the lives of countless numbers of people. It has enabled quite ordinary people to do heroic deeds, and has radically reshaped Western consciousness in ways frequently not appreciated (or, more sinisterly, not acknowledged) by modern Westerners.

And this power of the gospel to transform people’s lives is a compelling argument for its truth — that is to say, its truly divine origin — which should not be overlooked.

Below, I mention just a very few examples of people whose lives have been transformed by the gospel.

A self-giving love

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Matthew 5:41[2]

Firstly, the gospel has the power to make people show an almost superhuman, God-like love. In this site’s page which explains the gospel I mention a Christian woman in Africa who, though impoverished and having eleven children of her own, had taken in ten other children who had nobody else to look after them.

That kind of self-sacrificial love is testimony to the power of the gospel working in people’s lives.

The slave trader turned abolitionist: John Newton (1725—1807)

“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
John 9:25[3]

A rather more famous, British example of the transformative power of the gospel is John Newton.

“Such was John Newton’s degree of profanity and lewdness that it shocked even other sailors. But in 1748 Newton underwent a spiritual conversion, and went on to become one of the most influential voices against the slave trade.”

From the age of eleven[4] John Newton had a career at sea, working on slave-trading ships and eventually becoming the captain of two slave ships, the Duke of Argyle and African.[5] Such was his degree of profanity and lewdness that it shocked even other sailors.[6]

However, in 1748 Newton underwent a spiritual conversion. He realized fully his own spiritual bankruptcy and called out to the Lord to be saved.[7]

This was a major turning-point in Newton’s life. He renounced his debauched habits,[8] and in 1754 left the slave trade.[9]

Newton went on to become one of the most influential voices against the slave trade. Thanks to the efforts of Newton and others, the slave trade was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807 — the year Newton died.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now I’m found,
Was blind and now I see.
Opening verse of ‘Amazing Grace,’ hymn by John Newton

The Parliamentary abolitionist: William Wilberforce (1759—1833)

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:23-24[10]

The most well-known of the British abolitionists is William Wilberforce. Brought up for much of his childhood by an aunt and uncle near London who were evangelical Christians,[11] Wilberforce came to a personal faith aged twelve. However, his mother and other family friends were alarmed by his evangelical “enthusiasm,” and succeeded in weaning it out of him, so that by the time he went to college he was as worldly as anybody else.

“Wilberforce went on to champion the cause of the abolition of the slave trade in Parliament, at a time when it was deeply unpopular. He campaigned in Parliament for decades, often on the receiving end of death threats and slanders as a result.”

Wilberforce entered Parliament in 1780 at the age of twenty-one. Being a close friend of William Pitt, who was soon to become Prime Minister, his career advanced quickly.

In 1784—85, Wilberforce spent time with a friend, Isaac Milner, who was both an Anglican clergyman and a renowned Cambridge scientist and mathematician. Through this association Wilberforce found a new respect for evangelical Christianity and became convinced of his own sinfulness. By October 1785 he had (re-)discovered a personal faith in Christ.

Reflecting carefully on his life from the new-found perspective of his Christian faith, Wilberforce concluded that “God had set before me two objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”[12]

Wilberforce went on to champion the cause of the abolition of the slave trade in Parliament, at a time when it was deeply unpopular. He campaigned in Parliament for decades, often on the receiving end of death threats and slanders as a result.

“It was the Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity — humanity as created in the image of God — which gave the impetus to the movement to abolish slavery.”

But he persevered doggedly, and in 1807 succeeded in getting the slave trade abolished throughout the British Empire, as mentioned already. He then turned his attention to campaigning to get the practice of slavery itself abolished. Three days before his death in 1833, he learned that the House of Commons had passed a law emancipating all slaves throughout the British Empire.[13]

For those who blandly equate Christianity with ‘the Patriarchy’, i.e., that which has stifled human creativity for millennia, let it be noted that it was the Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity — humanity as created in the image of God — which gave the impetus to the movement to abolish slavery. This Judeo-Christian underpinning to our understanding of ourselves is what Democrat politicians in Virginia and in New York are apparently now trying to throw off.

The watchmaker: Corrie ten Boom (1892—1983)

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Luke 6:37[14]

Corrie ten Boom was the youngest of four children in her family in Haarlem in the Netherlands. They were a family of watchmakers, and in 1922 Corrie became the first woman to be licensed as a watchmaker in the Netherlands.

“On one occasion at a church service in Munich, Corrie came face to face with one of her former jailors from Ravensbruck, an S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door. This man had accepted the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ and had become a Christian. Through the gospel Corrie found it in her to be able to forgive this man, her former jailor.”

When German tanks rolled into the Netherlands in 1940, Corrie’s family built a secret room within Corrie’s bedroom, where they would hide Jews or members of the Dutch underground. This hiding place was used successfully for nearly four years, until finally in 1944 the ten Boom’s activities were betrayed by an informant to the Gestapo. The family were arrested; Corrie and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in several concentration camps, finally ending up in Ravensbruck where Betsie died.

Two weeks after Betsie’s death, Corrie was released from Ravensbruck owing to a “clerical error.”

After the war, Corrie toured the world speaking about Jesus Christ, and the message of God’s forgiveness through him.

On one occasion when she was at a church service in Munich, Corrie came face to face with one of her former jailors from Ravensbruck, an S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door. This man had accepted the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ and had become a Christian. Through the gospel Corrie found it in her to be able to forgive this man, her former jailor.

Raneen, the woman who had to flee from Islamic State

“They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy.”
Letter to the Hebrews 11:37-38[15]

“It’s like a privilege! It’s an honour to be able to choose between our life and our God.”

Raneen, a young Iraqi Christian woman

I was reminded recently of the story of Raneen, a young Iraqi Christian woman who — along with many other Christians — had to flee from a town named Bartella in Iraq when it was captured by Islamic State in 2014, just before her wedding day.

Speaking about this, Raneen said: “It’s like a privilege! It’s an honour to be able to choose between our life and our God.”[16]

Christians whom I know personally

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:17[17]

Besides the examples famous and not so famous, above, of people whose lives were transformed by the gospel, there are hundreds of Christians known to me personally, who are living out the gospel sacrificially in countless small and sometimes very significant ways.

“I can think of Christian friends who are pouring out their lives in acts of service, so that others can know and understand the Bible better, or can hear the gospel message. Or who are giving financially for gospel work, to an extent that is personally very costly to themselves.”

I can think of Christian friends who are pouring out their lives in acts of service, so that others can know and understand the Bible better, or can hear the gospel message.

I can think of Christian friends who are giving financially for gospel work, to an extent that is personally very costly to themselves.

I can think of Christian friends who, from a worldly point of view, would be very good prospects for a husband or a wife but who, simply out of faithfulness to the Lord Jesus, are still single and unmarried because they are not willing to marry someone who isn’t a Christian believer.[18]

And several of my friends have moved to foreign countries in order to tell people the gospel there.

When I look at these Christian friends of mine and see how they are pouring out their lives for the Lord Jesus in so many ways, it greatly encourages me to believe in the truth of the Christian gospel.

All these are examples of the power of the gospel at work in the lives of ordinary people — and powerful evidence of the gospel’s truth and its divine origin.

*        *        *

In the final instalment in this series, we will consider another reason to believe in the truth of the Christian faith: the many people down the centuries who have willingly chosen to die rather than desert the Lord Jesus.

[<<] [Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11]

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+1%3A8-10&version=ESVUK

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A41&version=ESVUK

[3] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+9%3A25&version=ESVUK

[4] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/john-newton-discovered-amazing-grace-11630253.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton#Slave_trading

[6] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/john-newton-discovered-amazing-grace-11630253.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton#Spiritual_conversion

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton#Slave_trading

[10] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Colossians+3%3A23-24&version=ESVUK

[11] https://www.wilberforceschool.org/about-us/william-wilberforce

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+6%3A37&version=ESVUK

[15] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+11%3A37-38&version=ESVUK

[16] https://barnabasfund.org/en/daily-prayer/Wednesday-3-February-2016

[17] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2:17&version=ESVUK

[18] See, e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:39 and 9:3-5 for this principle in the New Testament.

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