Study of Important Biblical Distinctions - 9 - POSITION AND PRACTICE

A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald


There is no key more helpful in unlocking the New Testament than an understanding of the difference between the believer's position and his practice.  If you do not see this distinction, there will be times when passages will be positively confusing and even seemingly contradictory.
    Position and practice are sometimes spoken of as standing and state; the meaning is the same.  In brief, a Christian's position is his standing in Christ-what he is in Christ.  His practice is what he is in himself-or better, what he should be.  The first has to do with doctrine, the second with duty.
    There is a difference between what a believer is in Christ and what he is in himself Grace has given the man in Christ an absolutely perfect standing before God.  He is accepted in the Beloved One (Eph. 1:6) and complete in Christ (Col. 2:10).  His sins have been forgiven and he is clothed in all the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  It is no presumption for him to say:

    Near, so very near to God,
    I could not nearer be;
    For in the Person of God's Son
    I am as near as He.

    Dear, so very dear to God,
    Dearer I could not be;
    The love with which He loves His Son,
    That is His love to me.

    The believer's practice is something else again.  Unfortunately, it is far from perfect.  In most cases it varies from day to day.  Sometimes the believer is on the mountaintop spiritually.  At other times he may be in the valley of defeat.

    Now God's will is that our practice should increasingly correspond to our position. Out of love for the One who died for us, our everyday lives should be constantly growing in Christlikeness.  Of course, we will never reach a perfect state in this life; that will never happen until we die or until the Savior comes.  But the process should be going on; we should be becoming in practice more and more like what we are in position.

    When we see the Savior we will be automatically like Him (1 John 3:2).  This transformation will take place by divine power, without our cooperation.  But it brings more glory to God if His people are growing in the likeness of the Lord Jesus in this life.

    How can you tell whether a particular passage is speaking about our position or our practice? Well, watch for such phrases as "in Christ," "in the Beloved," or "in Him"; when you find such phrases, you can usually be sure that the writer is speaking about our position (see Eph. 1:3-14).  The best way to identify our practice is to notice when we find a verse that tells us what we ought to be or do.

    The invariable order in the New Testament is to find position first, then practice.  Several of the Epistles are structured on this order.  In Ephesians, for instance, the first three chapters describe what we are in Christ; the last three describe what we should be in daily living.  In the first three chapters we find ourselves in heavenly places in Christ; in the last three we are tackling the nitty-gritty problems of the home and the business world.

    Now let us see how helpful it is to be aware of this distinction as we study the New Testament.  Here are seven simple examples of the difference between position and practice.



Example 1
For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). 

    The first verse says that all believers are perfect; the second says that all believers should be perfect.  This would sound like double-talk if we did not realize that the first speaks of our standing and the second of our state.

Example 2
How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? (Rom. 6:2). Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin (Rom. 6:11). 

    You are dead to sin-this is the position into which grace has put you.  Now be dead to sin day by day-this is what your practice should be.

Example 3 
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons (children) of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12).  Be ye therefore followers of  God, as dear children (Eph. 5:1). 

    As soon as a person is born again he becomes a child of God.  From then on he should be a follower of God as a beloved child.  All who are God's children are expected to bear the family likeness, that is, to be godly.

Example 4 
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9). I ... beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called (Eph. 4:1). 

    We have been called to a wonderful fellowship.  Privilege carries responsibility.  We should walk worthy of the calling.

Example 5 
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints (Rom. 1:7). . . . receive her in the Lord, as  becometh saints (Rom. 16:2). 

    Paul addresses the Christians in Rome as saints; they were "set apart" ones.  If they were saved, they were saints.  But saints should be saintly; this is the practical side of it, as brought out in Romans 16:2.

Example 6 
By grace are ye saved, through faith (Eph. 2:8).Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). 

    Our standing is a gift from God.  Our state is the way we should express our gratitude.  Notice that the standing always comes first, then the state.  We don't become Christians by living the Christian life.  Rather, we live the Christian life because we have become Christians.

Example 7

As a final example, we will take Colossians 3:1-5 and show how Paul alternates between position and practice.

If ye then be risen with Christ (v. 1:2) seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (v. lb). 
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (v. 3). Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth (v. 2). 
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth (v. 5a). 

    Paul is saying, in effect, "You are dead; now be dead." "You are risen; now live the resurrection life." What would otherwise be unintelligible becomes clear when we realize that the Apostle is speaking about what we are in Christ on one hand and what we should be in ourselves on the other.
    In closing let me illustrate how the distinction between standing and state helped me through a difficult period in my life.  After I was saved I used to hear people quote 2 Corinthians 5:17 when they gave their testimony:

    Therefore, If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

    They would tell of the wonderful transformation that had taken place in their lives-how all the old things had passed away and all things had become new.  I would sit there and think, "I wish I could say that all the old things had passed away in my life, and that all things had become new." But it wasn't so.  I still had some of the old habits, some evil thoughts, displays of anger, and many other graveclothes from my pre-converted days.  At times I doubted my salvation.
    Then one day I noticed the phrase "in Christ," and my heart leaped with joy.  I realized that the verse was talking about my position-not my practice.  And of course "in Christ" it was all true.  In Him all the old things had indeed passed away-condemnation, the dominion of Satan, the fear of death, etc.  In Him everything was new-forgiveness, acceptance, justification, sanctification, and a host of other blessings.  From that time on the verse has held no terror for me. I love it.  And the knowledge of what I am in Christ makes me want to live for Him as the Lord of my life.

Question: Both standing and state are found in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 2:9.  Can you identify them?