Living Christ

This note focuses on the sincere Christian desiring to live the life he has been called to live in Christ. Here I don’t want to divert into the question of why so few self-professed Christians are sincere in their faith. I want simply to focus on those who are (and all true Christians), and provide them with what little insight I have to aide them in living their lives in the way Christ would have them live. Along the way, we’ll contrast with the insincere or casual person who hasn’t yet submitted to following their Lord, as it helps make a point.

Sincere Christianity

What is “sincere Christianity”? By this I mean the one who seeks, who desires more than anything else, to live as Christ wants him to live. This is his passion because he has been transformed by Christ living within him.  He can’t help himself.

The sincere Christian understands that he has a Lord to Whom he is a willing and dedicated servant. A Lord who created him (Genesis 1:27); a Lord who loves him (Romans 5:8); a Lord who has saved him to Himself (Romans 5:10-11); and a Lord who desires the best for him (Romans 8:28).

We don’t see this yearning in those whose Christian life is occasional, or dutiful, or crafted to be seen by others. Those who must consciously allocate time for God out of their worldly lives are not ready to live the life they have been called to by their Lord.

How Do I Know If I’m Sincere?

Simple. You’re sincere in your faith if you want God. You want Him not just “in” your life, as some kind of add-on, but as the owner and director of your life. And this is not of yourself.  It is the result of Christ in you.

You understand He is your Lord and you are his servant. Your only expectation for yourself and your family is that God will provide for your needs if you will but live out a true and sincere faithfulness in Him.  That’s what a Lord does.

I recently encountered this quote[1] that I think does a fabulous job of discerning the difference between the sincere and insincere – or even the unbeliever:

“God, it is said, is the Sun of righteousness (cf. Mal. 4:2), and the rays of His supernal goodness shine down on all men alike. The soul is wax if it cleaves to God, but clay if it cleaves to matter. Which it does depends upon its own will and purpose. Clay hardens in the sun, while wax grows soft. Similarly, every soul that, despite God’s admonitions, deliberately cleaves to the material world, hardens like clay and drives itself to destruction, just as Pharaoh did (cf. Exod. 7:13). But every soul that cleaves to God is softened like wax and, receiving the impress and stamp of divine realities, it becomes “in spirit the dwelling-place of God” (Eph. 2:22).[1]

So you are a sincere follower of Christ if you are persistently seeking Him, if He has changed you into a different person than you were, if you have Him living within you. It is simply impossible to mistake this central fact of your life. He’s there in you, leading and reproving and blessing, or He’s not.

Our Manner of Thinking

I hesitate to label this aspect of the life of the Christ-follower as “thinking”. But, unfortunately, we don’t have a word that bears more information or insight into the state of the Christ-follower that I’m referring to.

The way in which we perceive and experience God is a continuous process. I’ve tried to depict one way of thinking about it in Figure 1, below.

ThinkingaboutLifeinChrist11

This figure depicts a cycle – a continuous, closed cycle. Each of the states of Christian experience is animated by the Word and Spirit of God. As we receive the Word it imparts hope that God is leading us in the way He knows we should go. That hope produces faith. Faith that not only trusts His Lordship, but adds reinforcing cement and rebar to our confidence in our position in Him, and leads to an inevitable Assurance — an Assurance that what He intends for us is best and will happen.

Unfortunately, having met and experienced the love and forgiveness and mercy of our Lord, we too often find we must confess and repent. We haven’t lived up to His desires for us (nor will we ever, in all likelihood). And so, with a godly grief (2 Corinthians 7:10), we bow down and repent of our unfaithfulness.

There is no grief like the grief that besets us when we realize that we have disappointed the Creator of all things; the One who deemed our presence in His Creation to not only be acceptable and good, but even glorious (Isaiah 43:7) to Him.

And, having experienced this grief and specifically repented of our offense, we are led into yet more hope of His provision and blessing, for we know that His desire is to make us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This (or something very close to it) is the pattern of communion with God that the sincere Christian experiences. For him, repentance is not a once-for-all action associated with justification. It is a continual prayer of supplication. We are not godly by nature (Isaiah 55:8), and as we are continually being formed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18), we need to confess to ourselves and to our Lord that we’re not there yet, though we desire it more than anything.

The Sincere Christian’s Perception of God

This is, at least for me, a very interesting aspect of the life of the Christ-follower.

If you ask an average church-goer his impression of his Lord, you’ll get a range of images and phrases, some straight out of the Bible. He may list God’s “omni’s”, His love for humanity, perhaps His righteousness and, likely, the fact that He is eternal. And, of course, that He is our Savior.

Answering such a question is like taking a test. You only need to repeat the information you’ve been told in order to pass. But how does the sincere, devoted Christ-follower perceive God? Ahhh. Now that’s something quite different. He may not be able to express it in terms dramatically different from his more casual brethren. But to him, the answer is profoundly different.

The problem with expressing this perception is that it is difficult to find words that capture the enormity of the difference between God and a mere mortal believer.

Think for a moment about His act of Creation. He formulates a plan for not only how everything physically will work (the laws and crucial constants of physics, the designs for an astounding variety of microscopic, plant and animal life, etc.), but He also lays out the traits of the humanity He will create; how it will naturally seek to serve itself foremost; how some potential humans will be involved and play roles in acknowledging and following Him; and some potential humans won’t. And then He transforms this plan in His “mind” into a reality in an instant, out of absolute nothingness.

So you and I were provided for in this plan. And He knew which of the 1080 subatomic particles His act of Creation produced He would one day use to congeal into you, and which into me.

How about His love and mercy and, yes, righteousness? Hundreds and hundreds of books have been written about these characteristics of God, so we can’t adequately deal with them here. However, consider this. This physical plan we just described contained the overarching constraint that He would be glorified by it and, unbelievably, by us (Isaiah 43:7), His self-interested, self-consumed humans. At least some billions of us otherwise self-consumed people who would eventually live would come to love and revere and desire and serve Him! One needs to quietly consider the magnificence of this Grace.

And for those that did, He would arrange that they would ultimately live in Him in glory in His timeless eternity. How did He arrange this? By subjecting Himself to earthly humiliation, mutilation and death so that those who trusted in Him could be redeemed to Him, and their inadequacies disregarded.

Size analogies just don’t cut it in exposing the nature of the capabilities of God in comparison with our pathetic abilities. His expanse of care and mercy and love just can’t be laid out in some side-by-side comparison with our feeble attempts at expressing them from ourselves.  And, certainly, His righteousness is impossible to compare to our human sense of right and wrong.

It is simply impossible to understand the distance between this perfection and something imperfect, like ourselves. We just can’t properly conceive of it.

So what do we do? What approach do we take in thinking about Him? We try to make God a grandfather figure; reacting to things on the fly; getting “angry” with unruly children; persevering in His goal to “help us out” despite ourselves. We think He’s probably always “there”; always “around”, but if we ignore Him it’s not like He strikes us dead or anything. The average Christian sees Him as ultimately negotiable on what they think is in their best interest. They try to bring Him down to our level by making Him a man-sized God.

This is not who He is. He is other (Isaiah 55:8-9). And the sincere Christian, whether he can articulate it or not, understands this foundational truth very deep down in his core.

Having understood and internalized his position vis-a-vis God, the sincere Christ-follower is overwhelmed with humility. And having come to this realization, he takes the only rational approach: submission to his Lord. If that Lord wants his full attention 24/7, that’s what he wants to give Him. If He wants His follower to place Him as his top priority in all of his waking moments and actions, that’s what the follower strives to do. And, of course, God knows (and knew) we can’t do this on our own. And so He has supplied Himself to live within us to make it possible to live as He desires us to live.

If there is or ever has been a more magnificent arrangement for leading people into complete and utter joy, rehabilitation, thanksgiving and peace, I’d like to know what it is: any religion; any leader or regime; any prophet or message. This one is unsurpassed; and unapproachable by any potential competitors.

The Faith of the Sincere Christian

Your faith is not what you say you believe. What you hold as your faith is what you live-out every day. For example, if you haven’t trusted God to meet your needs (Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-34, Matthew 7:7-11, John 14:13-14), you will be anxious about your finances and time and resources particularly when bad things happen (job loss, illness, etc.) A key principle of the Sincere Christian’s faith is that God is faithful. He does not renege on a promise. And, He is the author and provider of his enablement – His Grace, which is His gift from the Holy Spirit that enables us to live His life (2 Corinthians 9:8). So the Sincere Christian is unconcerned about his ability to follow and obey. He knows he will be given the resources to live his life as Christ would have him live it.

The Sincere Christian and Prayer

Now sometimes Christians get confused about the act of asking God for something – how to do it; what is allowed; whether to expect it or not. The sincere Christian isn’t confused. The sincere Christian possesses a faith that believes that whether or not the specific object of his request is received, he is comfortable with and in trust that God’s decision and action is the right one and best. Sincere Christians don’t actually trust God for some specific thing; they just trust Him.

There is also profound confusion amongst Christians on the nature of prayer. The traditional understanding is that we are separate agents from God, and as our circumstances dictate, we often find ourselves needing to ask Him to fix something for us – health, money, relationship, whatever – and that if we do it in the right way, out of the right motives, He will answer and give us that which we’ve asked. This is what I’ll call the “transactional” model of prayer.  You go to God’s ATM, put in your request, and out comes what you’ve asked for.  It assumes the prayer and God are separate.

I would like to suggest that this model is completely wrong.

Christ prayed to His Father that we would all be one in He and His father Who are One (John 17:21). And (as has been noted) He provided His Spirit to live in us and guide and teach us. The Sincere, Spirit-led Christ-follower is, to the extent the Spirit is alive and active in him, not a separate agent external to God. He is a member of God. He has Christ’s mind (1 Corinthians 2:16).

So the prayers of this person are not some collection of independent thoughts and requests, but rather are the shared expressions of God to God. Jesus tried to teach us this in at least a couple of places. First, in His beautiful message in Matthew 6:28-34, He’s saying “don’t worry about ‘yourself’”. By extension, perhaps He’s also saying: “Don’t insult your Father by pleading to Him for things He has already promised to provide to you. Get over yourself! You’ll be just fine in Us.”

Another of Jesus’ prayers clearly demonstrated the unity of thought and purpose in God (Luke 22:42). Christ was God in the flesh. He understood that God’s will would be done, and that was His foremost desire. Though He brought a petition, He sought only that the Divine Will be done irrespective of that petition.

And this is the nature of Christ-follower’s prayers. If he is in concert with God, through having His Spirit and Mind in him, he fully believes the object of his prayer will be realized, since it is God’s desire and God always achieves His purpose (Isaiah 55:11). If out of some weakness or waywardness, he is not in concert with God, he does not desire or expect that God violate His Will in responding to his petition.

If our prayers come out of the Spirit in us – God-to-God, then they will be done without exception (Matthew 7:7-8, John 14:13-14). If for any reason they come not from the Spirit but from ourselves, then only to the extent that they coincide with the will of God will they become reality. God does not (despite some anthropomorphisms in the Old Testament) negotiate on His Sovereign Will.

The Sincere Christian’s Intention to Obey

Perhaps most revealing and instructive of the distinctions between the sincere and insincere, is the overwhelming compulsion of the Christ-follower to obey his Lord. This is the guiding intention of his heart. This is the animating force in his life.

At one point, the Christ-follower purposely and consciously committed himself to follow. Christ called it to “strive” (to enter in by the narrow door (Luke 13:24)) – Ἀγωνίζεσθε (Agōnizesthe), from which we get our word “agonize”. Initially, for a time (brief for some, longer for others), the Christ-follower consciously agonizes to maintain his focus on and intention to live for Christ. Eventually, he becomes unaware of this intention. It is just what he does – his first nature, which he does through the influence of God living in him.

This is what Paul is speaking of when he talks of being “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14). For Paul, the active agent is the Spirit of God, while the passive agent is His follower. The follower is literally following – going where and doing only that which his leader leads him to do, but doing so, as it were, un-self-consciously. He is not making individual conscious decisions on this or that. The decisions are being made by his Lord and he is simply accepting and reflexively acting on them.

He is unconcerned with the prospect of being seen as odd or detached by his family, friends or acquaintances. He is simply focused, perhaps to a degree some would call “compulsive”, on his Lord and what He wants for every situation in his life. There is only One he is attempting to serve and please – and that is his Lord.

In “The Call”[2] in its chapter called “Audience of One”, Oz Guinness has a quote introducing the concept of a “knight of faith”:

This figure is the man who lives in faith, who has given over the meaning of his life to his Creator, and who lives centered on the energies of his Creator. He accepts whatever happens in this visible dimension without complaint, lives his life as a duty, faces his death without a qualm. No pettiness is so petty that it threatens his meanings; no task is too frightening to be beyond his courage. He is fully in the world on its terms and wholly beyond the world in his trust in the invisible dimension.

This is the attitude and focus of the Sincere, Spirit-led Christian. It is a completely freeing, peace-filled and confident place to be. But lest you’re left feeling intimidated and inadequate to the standards of Guinness’ “knight of faith”, consider this quotation[3] from William Law:

This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of Divine grace, or that it is in our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the want of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions we fall into such irregularities of life as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid; and that we have not that perfection, which our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as intend to have it. (Italics mine)

The Sacrifice of the Sincere Christian

Of course, the Bible teaches us that in the vocation of following our Lord, sacrifices will need to be made. Christ Himself taught us that in order to follow Him we would need to “take up our cross” (Matthew 16:24) and experience some suffering (Acts 9:16). The Sincere Christian is fine with that. He is, in fact, led in a way that expects to sacrifice – that expects and anticipates serving and suffering, and not with anxiety but simply in an unselfconscious understanding that such things are His way. There may be times when our “old self” wishes the sacrifice or service could come at a more convenient time. But his attitude about it is largely Christ’s attitude about it: “Nevertheless, Father, not my will but yours be done.”

To the Sincere Christ-follower, sacrifice and service are life in Christ. And these things are his heart’s desire.

The Role of the Bible

It occurred to me in thinking about this distinction between Sincere, Spirit-led Christians and others who, while no doubt in love with the idea of a Savior, are demonstrably not led by God’s Spirit, that the tone of the Bible made me consider to whom it was actually addressed.

Both Old and New Testaments are collections of stories and messages that tell us how God wants His children to live. What caught my attention (for the first time, I must admit) is its overriding instructional, imperative tone. Here we have black and white text telling us how God wants to convince us to live. Just look for a moment, as one of hundreds of examples, at Paul’s glorious message about putting on what he calls the “new self” in Colossians 3:1-17. While glorious, it is nevertheless a prescriptive list of “do’s” and “don’ts” – that prescribe how its readers should live.

At the same time, however, the Christ-follower has his own experience of being led in Christ by His Spirit in a kind of un-, or semi-self-aware state. He seemingly doesn’t need to consult a Biblical text to determine if he should follow the Spirit into an act of service or kindness or worship. He just does it without thinking.

God told us that He will write His law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33-34, Ezekiel 36:26-27, John 16:13-15).  And so He has. However, He hasn’t written it on everyone’s heart.

If you have God’s Law written on your heart (and you certainly know whether you do or you don’t), you don’t need to consult a text to determine the proper response to a situation in your life. He has already told you. You already know what He wants of you. This is the confident joy of the Christ-follower (Jeremiah 15:16).

So what are we to make of the tone of the Bible’s prescriptions for living as regards its audience?

One of the things it may be telling us is that its messages were intended for those who are not yet submitted to the Lordship of God/Christ, though they are “open” to the things of God. This description would have fit the 1st century Jews for whom much of the New Testament was written, and many of whom had intellectually or practically accepted that Jesus was the Messiah, but perhaps had not yet reached repentance and submission. They were living in a high state of flux between their Jewish beliefs and traditions and their no-doubt growing realization and understanding that the Christ had come and had been killed (causing much confusion) but then had risen from the dead, and what that meant for them. And now they were trying to learn from the Apostles how to live their lives given that most of what they had known previously had been overturned. Certainly, most of the New Testament epistles are apologetic in character written in a style designed to convince the reader of their truth.

So I believe one can make the case that most of the New Testament if not all of it (Revelation, perhaps; some of the minor epistles?) is designed to convince 1st century Jews of the veracity of the message of Christ and its consequences for their lives.

What about those who have committed to Christ, have been indwelt by God and so already know it is true and are being led by God’s Spirit? What is the Bible’s role for them? Certainly, they don’t need to be “convinced” of the Lordship of Christ or admonished or “sold to”.

That will take considerably more thought and study than I have been able to give it to this point. My initial impression, however, is that there is far more depth of insight about God in the Bible than a reading based only on human understanding, no matter whose, can perceive. With the aid of the Spirit in us to teach us (as taught in Jeremiah 31:34 and by Jesus in John 16:13), it seems the Bible is intended to be an aid used by the Spirit to guide us “into all the truth”.  Even while admonishing, the Biblical writers often use phrases or symbols or analogies that help draw us to a deeper level of insight into God’s character than we would otherwise perceive.  So as we study, He teaches, and our understanding deepens.

Conclusion

The Sincere Christ-follower is one who has ceded control of his life to his Lord. He acts unselfconsciously under the leading of God’s Spirit in him without a thought. As a result, of no particular credit to him personally, his Spirit-induced obedience proves his love of Christ (John 14:23, 1 John 2:5) and his inclusion as a member of God’s Temple on earth (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

He experiences a constant communion with the Word and Spirit of God that creates in him hope, faith and assurance while simultaneously convicting him of his need for repentance of anything remaining in him that is not of God.

His prayers are those of the Spirit in him. These are expressions of implicit agreement with God – that what He has willed will be done and is best for himself and those around him.  They are not presumptive negotiations for his idea of a “better deal”.

The life this person lives is clearly and easily discernible as distinct from those of others who have not (yet) submitted to the Lordship of Christ, though perhaps claim Him as Savior. This is the distinction that we see in those living (in) Christ.

 

[1] Dylan Pahman, “Grace and Wrath in the Orthodox Tradition,” blogs.ancientfaith.com, February 10, 2015,

[2] Guinness, Oz. The Call – Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

[3] Law, William. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life: A Puritan Guide, p18