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Christians need ‘muscular Christianity’ to fulfill Great Commission, dean s

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A “muscular Christianity” is needed to withstand tribulations and fulfill Christ’s command to share the gospel with the entire world, said Tommy Lea, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology.
Lea told the story of Eric Liddle, the British sprinter and preacher whose participation in the 1924 Olympics was chronicled in the movie “Chariots of Fire.”
Liddle, who was set to run in the preliminaries for the 100-meter dash, refused to do so when he learned they would take place on a Sunday. He ran in another event and won a gold medal. Liddle later became a missionary to China and served until 1943, when the Japanese army captured him and placed him in a prisoner-of-war camp.
At the camp, Lea said, Liddle continued to preach, lead in singing and conduct services until his death shortly before the end of the war in 1945.
Another prisoner said Liddle combined “muscular Christianity with radiant godliness,” said Lea, who added that Little “knew Christ in such a way that hardship had produced staying power.”
Lea, speaking in chapel Dec. 3 at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary, said a muscular Christianity comes from a deeper knowledge of Christ and provides the power to face life’s trials.
He said that stamina and steadfastness in facing difficulties are needed, and knowing Jesus better gives Christians the strength to suffer for their faith and to share in Christ’s sufferings without losing heart.
In addition to a muscular Christianity, Lea said that a deeper knowledge of Jesus has other results according to Philippians 3:10.
In that passage, the Apostle Paul wrote, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
In speaking of knowing Jesus, Paul used a word that describes personal knowledge, a knowledge that must constitute more than empirical facts to have an impact, Lea said.
“Knowing Christ involves a personal relationship,” he said. “It involves a commitment, an openness to him, growth in obedience, listening to him, an acquaintance with him.”
Personal knowledge of the Lord is the prize Christians should press toward, Lea emphasized. “The goal of the Christian life is to come to know Jesus.”
Paul also wrote of sharing in the power of Christ’s resurrection. Lea said the resurrection demonstrates great spiritual power, which is “needed to help you and me complete the Great Commission” and bring men and women to a knowledge of Christ. The Great Commission should be Christians’ main focus.
“It’s very easy to find other things to do,” Lea said.
Believers can go to church, perform acts of kindness and read the Bible, but “the thing we need to do is complete the Great Commission,” he said.
Knowing Christ, he said, makes the fruits of the Christian life available and gives Christians access to the power of the resurrection.
“As we know him, we help lead people to the Lord,” Lea said.
Lea cited the example of a missionary serving in Tanzania who had to face rumors that he was there to harm the people. The missionary was an agricultural specialist and, through raising a lush garden, he was able to convince a native to have tea with him. From that point, the man was led to the Lord and became the first of 50,000 who accepted Christ as Savior.
“God enabled him to help complete the Great Commission,” Lea said.
A final result Lea drew from the passage was that those who know Jesus are “conformable unto his death.” Lea said that knowing Christ means his followers will be obedient to him. “We are unrelenting in a commitment to obey Christ,” he said. “We do it when it hurts us. We do it when we do not want to do it.”
Lea cited the second-century Christian martyr Polycarp, who in A.D. 156 was arrested in Smyrna and ordered to renounce his faith in Christ if he wished to live. He refused, and it became clear that he would not be broken. He was burned at the stake. His death, however, caused persecution against Christians in that area to die down.
If Christians seek Christ, if they are determined to obey him, and are willing to be filled with the Spirit of God, Lea said, then Jesus will manifest himself and will give them the strength and the power that the Apostle Paul wrote about.

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  • Cory J. Hailey