The conclusion of all this, with regards to attainable perfection, is that apart from regeneration we are talking airy unrealities and ridiculous ideals. Psalm 119 is talking about a born-again student, day laborer, teacher, mother, or any worker when it says, “I have more understanding than all my teachers; I understand more than the aged.” Unless properly understood, this is consummate nonsense. Which brings up the much-mooted matter as to just what it really means by being “born again”, a current synonym for “Christian”.
That, in turn, involves the question of who or what Christ was and is. Forgotten by most of us is the indisputable fact that for almost his entire lifetime the truly human Lord Jesus was a learner, a doer, a student, a day-laborer. For only a handful of months at the very end of his life – almost in the fashion of a retired person who pursues another avocation – did Christ live unlike most of us, and even then he was primarily a teacher, not an out-of-this-world miracle-working superman. It is highly significant that the perfect life Christ lived on this earth was not that of a shepherd, as one might have expected, nor that of a farmer, like the first Adam, but rather a contractor or carpenter, with all that involves by way of interpersonal relationships, business problems, mental and physical fatigue.
Now, there are three theories as to salvation and Christ’s role in it. The so-called Liberal says that Christ is one whom we are to imitate, whether as carpenter, teacher, student, or newscaster. Unfortunately, such a self-salvation is an exercise in futility. For one thing, Christ never was a newscaster, at least in the modern sense of that term. Or if we knew what kind of chairs he made, as G. Studdert-Kennedy wistfully wondered, that knowledge in itself would not make us willing nor able to do the same. Paul had a far less lofty ideal and even wanted desperately to attain it, but he speaks for all self-effort when he says he was simply and naturally incapable.
So-called Fundamentalism says that Christ essentially did it all for us, in our place, primarily by his substitutionary death. But such a theory is a poor qualifier for Christ-like life and work. It tends either to the “cheap grace” of “live as you like” (which is the exact opposite of Christ’s daily death to self), or to the legalistic work-righteousness of the “gratitude-attitude”.
The correct explanation (and basis for a Christian work-ethic) is that our “so great salvation” consists not only in total forgiveness and a clear conscience (see Hebrews), but a complete change of personality, character, life-style, even identity, to such a degree that the erstwhile sinner and sloth is born a second time and in consequence is somebody else, a brand-new person. What happens is that Christ himself begins to live his eternal and perfect life in that individual. Salvation, in short, is not imitation or substitution, but identification (Colossians 2:20; 3:3).
One of the components of this transformation is that the new “you” possesses the very mind of Christ (see I Corinthians 2). The result of that mind-boggling “brain-transplant”, in turn, is that we not only begin to think like Christ (rather, he does his thinking in us and through us and for us), but we become both able and willing to live and work as he did. (Once more, it is Christ in us who is at work, both to will and to do.)
How now is all this miracle brought about? Here we come back again to the Bible, which is not only a Manual for Every Man (whatever his employ), but a Book which is nothing less than the word, the voice, the breath, Spirit, the very life of our Lord, in the same fashion that Christ was God in the form of physical flesh. The (super)natural result of that fact is that it can communicate the life of Christ (and his wisdom, his power) to any devout student, whatever his occupation, sex, culture; in classroom or kitchen, whether working with money, materials, or man.
So, hear now this word of the Lord, to learner and learned alike, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who does not have to be ashamed, handling properly the word of truth.” “Every Scripture inspired of God is profitable for teaching, ….for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, qualified for every good work.” (II Timothy 2:15; 3:16,17)