There aren’t many books like Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke that encourage my soul with rich pastoral theology and the practical outworking of God’s amazing grace. I read this book like I read many; highlighting and taking notes like a madman. From those notes and highlights are ten lessons below, featuring quotes from John Newton and author Tony Reinke. (Quotes containing quotation marks signify Reinke quoting Newton.)
1. Find the right communication medium for you.
While many influential pastors are best known for their sermons or books, Newton’s best-known work is a song—but not just any song, one of history’s most famous: “Amazing Grace.” His personal pastoral letters also are much more influential than either his books or sermons.
Maybe your medium is a Sunday school class, giving away good Christian books, or counseling a friend at a Starbucks. Newton’s example should encourage us to serve faithfully, pray for ways we can uniquely serve Christ, and not compare ourselves to others with different gifts.
2. There is power in a testimony.
Newton’s former life as a slave trader helped him establish an influential public ministry platform. When God’s amazing grace intervenes in a life like he did Newton’s, we cannot tire to tell the story. (Read: How to Write (and Share) Your Christian Testimony.)
3. Formal theological training is not required for great kingdom impact.
While seminaries and Bible schools greatly serve the church by equipping leadership, the Scriptures do not mention either. What the Scriptures do mention are church leaders with godly character and the capacity to teach God’s Word (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Newton’s dedication to the Lord and Scripture formed his pastoral heart and led him to bear the fruit God desired.
4. Focus on the cross.
Reinke describes Newton’s belief: “The doctrine of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the Sun of the intellectual world. It can only be seen by its own light; but when the eyes of the mind are opened to behold it, it throws a light upon every other object and subject in which we are concerned.”
5. The daily discipline of joy in Jesus.
I borrow this heading from the chapter title. We need to live in daily pursuit of joy in Christ.
Reinke describes how union with Christ leads to joy, “True faith in Christ unites the soul to Christ, and this unity brings a peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7) and a ‘joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory’ (1 Pet. 1:8). Union with Christ teaches us that we are weak in ourselves, but strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10). Union with Christ connects us to God, binding us to our supreme pleasures.”
Reinke: “Every sight of Christ we take is an attack on every delight in sin left in our hearts.”
Newton: “The more simply we can reduce all our efforts to this one point, ‘Looking unto Jesus,’ the more peace, fervor, and liveliness we shall find in our hearts, and the more success we shall feel in striving against sin in all its branches.”
6. Keep life simple: focus on God and His glory.
Reinke: “For John Newton, the Christian life boils down largely to this question: How do you maintain constant, undistracted, unmixed, single-hearted devotion to Christ?”
Reinke: “Keeping Christ in view at all times is, by far, the hardest—and the most essential—part of our calling as Christians.”
“In enduring trials, or fighting sin, or living out our calling in the world, the gospel-simple heart is driven by one aim: “a single eye to [God’s] glory, as the ultimate scope of all our undertakings.”
Reinke: “The joy of the Lord is our strength in the Christian life; unbelief is our Kryptonite.”
7. Don’t let political debates eclipse gospel vision.
Newton puts the matter bluntly: “Our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world; and most of his people may do their country much more essential service by pleading for it in prayer, than by finding fault with things which they have no power to alter.”
Newton: “The greatest problem we face as a nation is our sin, and the only ultimate solution is Christ crucified.”
8. Trust God’s purposes for your trials.
Newton: “The advantages of afflictions, when the Lord is pleased to employ them for the good of his people, are many and great.”
In a footnote, Reinke quotes Tim Keller stressing Newton’s point: “John Newton says, ‘Everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withholds.’ Sometimes I wonder how anybody gets through life without memorizing that little saying” (Keller sermon, “The Only Wise God”).
9. Read books that make you love Jesus more.
Newton gives priority “to those books that can say something to me about Jesus, or give me some directions towards stirring me up to faith and communion with him.”
Reinke: “True knowledge, true learning, will make sin more hateful and Jesus more precious to the soul. Books that achieve this end should find priority in our libraries.”
10. We always need deeper faith in the gospel.
Reinke: “What doubting Christians need ‘is not some new principle which they have not yet received, but only a stronger degree of that faith which they already possess.'”
Reinke: “Insecurities and doubts that remain in the Christian are due to an underdeveloped faith, a weak faith, not to the absence of faith.”
Reinke: “Gospel forgetfulness is the diagnosis behind weary sinners chasing broken cisterns, behind weary legalists chasing self-righteousness, and behind weary Christians fighting spiritual battles out of their own reserves. Christ allows repeated disappointments and trials and losses in the Christian life, not to grieve and weary us, but to train us to treasure Christ above all else, and to find in him the solution to all our spiritual disillusionments.”