In my article, “Living a Christian Life—What is it Really All About?” I discussed what the Bible teaches about different aspects of living a Christian life, starting with the basics of believing in God and in Jesus Christ His Son, Who died for the sins of the human race and rose from the dead. I also went into what the Bible teaches about what a Christian’s attitude and behavior should be, and the fact that “getting saved” is only the beginning of the journey of the Christian life, not the whole story. In this article I will get into what living a Christian life is not about, from a Biblical standpoint.
Many seem to think that living a Christian life means doing all the right things, such as going to church, reading the Bible, praying, and doing good to others, and that as long as they do those things, they can live the way they want to without really consulting God about their life’s direction or choices. They believe in God, but they don’t really want Him to be involved in their lives in any way except to bless and protect them. They make their plans without asking for His leading in the matter, and then maybe ask Him to bless those plans, as if He is obligated to do so.
It is certainly good to go to church, pray, read the Bible, and do good to others; these things are all Biblically sound practices that Christians should be involved in. And it is good to make plans and set goals for our lives. However, the mistake many make is in assuming that we, as followers of Christ, have the right to make our plans without first consulting Him and asking for His leading, and then asking Him to bless the plans that we make. That is really backward thinking. Christ, Who is not only Savior, but also Lord of His people, has His own plans for the lives of His people that He is working out. Part of His desire for His people is that they look to Him for leading in what they are to do with their time, talents, and resources, and that they be involved in building His kingdom (going into the world and making disciples, bringing more people into God’s family). Proverbs 16:9 says “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” We can make our plans to the utmost detail, but unless the Lord allows them to succeed, they will fail.
Instead, we are to seek His face and ask His guidance and blessing from the beginning, than to make those plans without His input and ask for His blessing as an afterthought. He is not obligated to bless what is not in His plan for us. And His desire is that His people are focused first and foremost on being coworkers with Him in bringing about His kingdom, doing the work He has planned for each to do to that end.
There are those who go overboard and are extremely judgmental and legalistic in their ideas of “Christian living.” In their zeal, they are more concerned with the “letter of the Law” than the spirit of the Law, which is love. Being overly concerned with issues such as length of hair, musical style, dress and jewelry, what is permissible and what is not as far as activity on Sunday (which most Christians consider to be a day of worship), and other issues can become legalistic sticking points that cause people to live in bondage rather than freedom. Or, in their zeal to be pleasing to God, they take Scripture out of context, and also forget that we are living under grace, not the Law. Scripture must be read and understood as a whole, not a verse here or a verse there, in order to properly understand what God is saying to us about doctrines and issues of life.
Being nit-picky on doctrine, or on “gray” areas where people are free in Christ to make their own choices, does nothing but stir up dissension and arguments in the church, which damages the cause of Christ. In those areas where there are no clear commandments or principles given, Christians have freedom to make choices in what they do or believe; it is between them and God, and not for anyone else to judge. However, in 1 Corinthians 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:24 and 32, the Apostle Paul warns Christians not to cause anyone else (those “weak in the faith”) to stumble as they exercise their freedom in Christ. Sometimes it is best to refrain from doing what we want if it will cause offense to someone else, and if that is the case, we should be considerate of others and not insist on our own rights. That is following the “law of love,” as Jesus called His disciples to do.
When I was growing up, many Christians did not believe in going to the movies, or dancing, or playing cards, because those activities were “worldly” and Christians are not to be “of the world.” Many also did
not believe in doing anything on Sunday except go to church and rest; it was not “spiritual” to be involved in other activities. Going to the store or out to eat on Sunday was also a no-no, because people should not work on “the Sabbath.” Such prohibitions are, in reality, examples of legalism, or excessively strict interpretation of Biblical principles.
Things have changed as far as those ideas go since I grew up; in some ways it is good, but in other ways not so much. Let’s be realistic—movies, dancing, and playing cards are not inherently evil activities. Musical styles are also not inherently evil (when I was growing up, rock and roll was considered “the devil’s music”). Christians are free to use their discernment in deciding whether or not to watch or listen to certain types of entertainment, and yes, Christians should in fact be discerning of their entertainment choices. What we read or listen to does affect our thinking and our spiritual life, and also sets an example for those who may be watching us. Dancing can be a fun way to get some exercise, and be a fun recreational activity; however, it is also true there are a lot of dances that are very suggestive in nature, and a Christian who seriously wants to please God will not participate in such dancing.
As for people not working on Sunday because it is the Sabbath…..many Christians have that wrong. Sunday was never the Sabbath; the Sabbath was instituted by God as a day of rest from the usual routine of work, and to focus attention on spiritual matters. This was and still is practiced by the Jews, and the Sabbath has always been observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Christians were never commanded to observe the Sabbath. Christians observe the Lord’s Day, which is Sunday, in commemoration of Jesus rising from the dead on the first day of the week (yes, Sunday is actually the first day of the week). It is unfortunate, however, that many people do find themselves having to work on Sunday, as it does keep them from being able to spend time in worship with other believers if they are inclined to do so.
Another form of legalism is refusing to associate with “sinners,” or those who do not acknowledge God or do not live according to Christian principles. This attitude shows lack of compassion and comes off as being arrogant and “holier-than-thou.” People with such an attitude often are not honest with themselves or others about their own failures and propensity to fall into sin. It also shows a fear of being “polluted” by the worldly attitudes of unbelievers, which is often times an unreasonable fear. Yes, we should be discerning in who we pick to be our closest friends, and in what activities we participate in. But to isolate ourselves in an effort to be “pure” and “unworldly” is futile and not what God has called His people to. He has called us to be in the world, but not of it.
Legalism is NOT true Christianity, and NOT what God desires for Hispeople. Jesus often chewed out the Pharisees, the most religious people in His day, because of their legalistic standards which were in fact man-made rules that they insisted people live up to in order to be acceptable to God. Their traditions and rules had more to do with appearing holy than actually having a heart attitude of holiness. (Read the 23rd chapter of the book of Matthew for a scathing rebuke Jesus directed at the Pharisees.)
Yes, Christians must acknowledge sin for what it is, as it is spelled out according to God’s Word, but must also show concern for those who are struggling, and offer support and help to those who need it. And Christians must be honest about their own personal struggles with sin. Nobody can take the “sliver” out of someone else’s eye when they have a “beam” in their own! Nobody can judge someone else’s behavior if they themselves are guilty of the same. First one has to deal with one’s own sin issue, and then one can help another with theirs.
Having said that, it is true that those who truly love God and desire to follow Jesus, do have an obligation to be obedient to His Word. In fact, Jesus said that if anyone loves Him, they will keep His commandments; see John 14:15. Sugar-coating sin, or shrugging it off, is to live in denial and to live in disobedience to God’s will for us. Jesus did not shrug off sin; He preached repentance, and confronted and rebuked people when necessary. He paid the price for our sin so we could be reconciled to God. 2 Timothy 2:19 says, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
Another thing many Christians do is hide behind masks, so to speak— putting up a front that their lives are perfectly fine and there are no hurts or struggles with sin, when in fact that is not the case. Pretending that everything is fine when it is not is dishonest, and not pleasing to God. Christians need to be real and authentic, and not put on a false appearance of having it all together. Nobody has it all together; we all have our hurts and struggles. We are to “carry one another’s burdens” and “confess” our sins “to each other and pray for each other” so that we may be healed. Galatians 6:2 and James 5:16.
Some people believe that keeping God’s commandments (namely, the Ten Commandments) and doing “good works” makes them Christians; however, our good works have nothing to do with our becoming Christians, or being saved. Even non-Christians do “good works.” Salvation is by faith alone, through the grace of God; Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you havebeen saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” We are “not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:15. If we couldsave ourselves by doing good works, then Jesus died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). The Bible says that our good works are nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); we are stained by sin, and we cannot measure up to God’s standard of perfect righteousness and holiness. That is why Jesus, the perfect and sinless Son of God, had to lay down His life for us and pay the price for our sin; He did it so that we would not have to pay the price ourselves. God loved us so much that He wanted to reconcile us to Himself and set us free from our sin, and He did it by giving His Son to take our place.
Having said that, it is important to realize that He created us for good works, and gave each of us gifts and abilities to be used in service to Him (Ephesians 2:10). As we surrender to His will and follow His lead in using those gifts and abilities, He will bless us and those we touch in using those abilities and gifts. We do not obey His commands or do good works in order to gain His favor or earn salvation; our obedience and good works should flow out of our love for Him and our desire to glorify Him in our lives. The basis of the Christian life is not doing good works; it is in having a real, living, growing, personal relationshipwith God, through Jesus Christ.
Have you ever stopped to think what would happen in this world if people, and God’s people especially, actually took God’s Word seriously and lived according to the principles He has given us? It would be revolutionary, to be sure. No more divorce; no more babies born out of wedlock, or abortion; no AIDS or other STDs; no murder or rape; no child or spousal abuse; no corporate bigwigs taking all the profits for themselves and using their workforce as slave labor; honesty; generosity; trust amongst people; people truly caring for others and not being selfish; joy and peace instead of despair and anxiety; mercy and not vengeance; reduction in crime; personal responsibility for actions done; no addictions to destructive habits; and so much more good. It would definitely be a much more positive world to live in. Think about it! And if you are so inclined, come be a part of God’s family and His kingdom. He is waiting for you with arms wide open. Come to Him in repentance and faith, and begin your journey of the Christian life.
Resources: The Holy Bible, New International Version; personal experience and observation.