The topic of Christian living is a crucial one for us as believers. Paul wrote, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Christianity is often called “the faith,” but it is not enough to just believe in Jesus as our saviour, an integral part of the Christian life as shown countless times in scripture is how we live this faith out.
II. The centrality of Love:
To begin with, a scripture citation of Matthew 22:35-40 is necessary, “One of them, an expert in the law tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest
commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
As can clearly be seen from this passage the first and foremost aspect of Christian living is love. All of the other commandments In scripture hang on these two, and therefore if one is without love, any attempts to keep the other commandments will result in them all come crashing down. It is easy to scan over the commandment of love, and accept it as central in our head, but in reality nothing changes until we make a focused effort.
First of all there is the aspect of loving God. This is the supreme measure of Christlikeness in us. Love of God begins with choosing to live by an attitude of intense zeal, which results in a fully dedicated life, wanting to give our all for Him. Where does zeal for God come from? From looking at all God has done for us. No one forced God to send his son to die for us. Jesus left all of the unspeakable joy of heaven to live a hard life on earth, and be rejected, and finally die a torturous death. He did not need us, He has enough angels to worship Him. It was all out of love. How, after seeing that God gave His all for us who are completely undeserving, can we not give our all back to him who is more than worthy of all we can offer. As John wrote, “We love Him, because He first loved us. After truly seeing what Christ has done on our behalf, it will be much easier to give all for Him.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” committing to following the will of God for our life, and to obeying what is taught in scripture is an essential aspect to expressing one’s love to God, there are no shortcuts. An interesting paradox is that one’s lifestyle will be determined by one’s heart attitudes and motivations, however the heart attitudes and motivations will be shaped by one’s lifestyle. Both the heart and the lifestyle must come together for true Christian living.
Once there is a firm heart attitude of zeal for God which will always result in higher levels of obedience to his commands, the next part of loving Him is intimacy. This is an area where many people give up. People can be zealous to serve God, but then God feels so far away from them that there can be no true intimacy. Prayer will seem like talking to someone who is afar and does not care to answer or talk back. The solution to this is to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. By persistent prayer and perhaps some fasting, then getting a Spirit-filled person to pray the impartation of the Spirit, God will no longer be known as being afar off, when one is immersed in His intimate presence of total love. The attitude of zeal must precede this encounter though, because God will not give selfish and lukewarm believers the intimacy of His presence. Once someone has encountered the Holy Spirit they will find all barriers to loving God soon become broken down, since God’s love has been felt in a tangible way. As Paul says, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Paul knew the love of God once he had encountered Him intimately by the Holy Spirit, describing Him as liquid love poured into his heart.
Another crucial aspect of intimacy with God is being able to recognize God’s voice. One cannot give up and believe that it will remain forever impossible to discern God’s voice from one’s own thought flow. The lifestyle of the early church utterly disproves this. They relied on God’s direction for almost everything, rather than trying to figure out their life by human reasoning. We can all hear God’s voice in a vague and somewhat uncertain manner, but to move to the next level, to hear God’s voice in a clear and specific manner is done by receiving the gift of prophecy. All believers are commanded to seek this gift (not the office of prophet, just the gift of prophecy) in 1 Corinthians 14:1 which says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”
The Greek word for “desire” is zeloute. The primary meanings of the word are “to strive for” “to desire,” and “to exert oneself earnestly for.” So the translation as “desire” is by no means a passive “wanting” of spiritual gifts, but rather a desire that actively seeks and exerts oneself for them. In this case it refers especially to the gift of prophecy, the ability to hear clear and specific messages from God. Once God gives someone this gift, they will be able to not only pray to Him, but also to hear back from Him clearly. Once this is in place, all of the essential steps to being in an intimate relationship with God are complete, and the love of God can only grow as one talks to God and hears Him talk back. Moses, Abraham, and Paul to name a few biblical examples, were not called into the office of a prophet, but they all had the gift of prophecy and could talk to God and hear him back clearly and specifically. Thus this is a gift for everyone to actively seek out, because regardless of calling, we all need to not only talk to God, but also to hear Him talk back to us.
A major aspect involved in loving God is the aspect of prayer. Whether prayer comes easy or not at first for someone can depend on their natural personality, but will certainly depend on their degree of spiritual growth. It is impossible to have a relationship with God without regular prayer. The question is, how intimate of a relationship with God does one want? To some people God is a casual friend, but to others He has become closest companion. Prayer is an essential part of developing this relationship. Like any relationship, it takes time to build our relationship with God, and the amount of daily prayer should grow as the Christian matures. Prayer must also be used for the best spiritual growth to occur. It is essential to pray for specific heart attitudes, habits, and traits that need to be conformed to Christlikeness.
An important part of intimacy with God is our worship of Him. There are several aspects to worship, but we will discuss the vocal portion of it. One of the things God enjoys very much is receiving praise and worship. Worship is pretty straightforward. There are a few things to note though. It can be done without song or with song. It should be done both in the church, and also in one’s private devotional life. It is really not enough just to do once a week Sunday worship. David worshiped all the time as a shepherd, and did not just wait until there was a gathering of people. In likewise manner, worship for all believers must be a daily event to realize the fullness of God’s presence and intimacy, besides all the other blessings God gives people the more they worship.
We must now examine the second commandment “to love others as you love yourself.” Before any focused effort can be made about loving others, it is necessary to first define what love really is. A lot of people have confused “like” with “love.” Just liking someone is not enough. We think if we have friends or are a people-person, that this is what love is. Liking someone is based on what type of person they are, but love is based on intrinsic human worth. “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son. He loves the world but does not like its sinful state. In the same regard, we must love everyone, regardless of whether they are a Christian or a terrible sinner that mistreats or contempts us. We must not think that we can have true love, yet only towards those we like. Love is to everyone regardless, it is an all or none issue. Selective love is artificial, and by no means fulfills the second commandment.
Paul gives some information on love also. He writes, “Love is patient love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it does not keep any record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres. From these verse, some have taught that love is a lifestyle, and not a feeling. This is completely wrong through. Love is a heart attitude and also a deep feeling. The lifestyle of love is the result and fruit of love, but not a substitute for love. Love is the emotion and attitude deep inside of us that takes delight in someone, and in their well-being, and true love is of the strength that it will sacrifice for the person. Jesus says “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
The truth is, as Paul has shown, love cannot be separated from the heart attitudes that accompany it. Patience, kindness, humility, and trust are all intertwined inseparably with love, and the degree that these virtues are developed will directly affect the degree that love flows out. Selfishness is the opposite of Christlike love, but as one chooses a life of sacrificing for others, it will unlock the flow of love from their heart, thus empowering greater sacrifice, going in an upward cycle.
III. Christlike Heart Attitudes and motivations:
Besides love, which has already been discussed, there are several other heart attitudes which are essential to having a close relationship with God. To begin with universal forgiveness is a central matter without which our own sins are held against us, and we block many blessings and much intimacy with God. There are two levels of forgiveness, one is when someone is repentant and asks for it. The other is when someone does something against you and is not repentant about it. The first type of unforgiveness is one of the very worst sins to hold onto. Jesus said that we should forgive someone who comes to us repentant unlimited times. Because Christ forgave us such an unpayable dept of all our sins against him, we must forgive others when they ask for it. Otherwise we cannot be even called Christian at all. Jesus told a parable about this type of unforgiveness, and the end result was that the unforgiving person was sent to the tormentors (metaphorically hell), until he could repay his impossible debt. This is a sin that must be dealt with, and there can be no compromise whatsoever on this.
The second type of unforgiveness is with those who are not repentant of the harm they caused. Jesus exercised this level of forgiveness when from the cross he said “father forgive them for they know not what they do." Even though the people who crucified Jesus were not repentant and did not ask for forgiveness he forgave them nonetheless. In similar manner, Stephen forgave those who martyred him. On the other hand, Paul did not forgive Alexander the coppersmith (who of course was unrepentant) but said, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works.” Because Alexander had seen the miracles, and heard the gospel message, but still opposed it viciously, Paul decided it was better to let the man suffer the consequences that he himself had chosen in full knowledge. Thus there are certain cases toward those who have rejected and oppose the gospel persistently where it is better to pray that they be shut down rather than continue leading people astray from salvation, but for any Christian, and most unbelievers, full forgiveness is necessary unless God clearly guides otherwise.
Another point, forgiveness of course, is not just a statement, but rather it is a heart attitude. After saying that the unforgiving servant was handed to the tormentors Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” It is important to take steps to maintain heart attitude of forgiveness rather than consider forgiveness to be simply a statement one makes, but with a grudge still harboured.
Another major issue in the Christian life is good motivations. If someone is doing a charitable deed out of pride, or to be seen of others, it is useless in God’s eyes, and there is no heavenly reward. Jesus spoke against the Pharisees who would pray out in the open, so that they could look spiritual in front of people. He says they have no reward, the only ones with reward are those who pray with God in mind, not to make themselves look good.Sometimes a minister might accept a position at a larger church for simply for the additional money or status it provides (although he makes excuses in his head). Everything done with wrong or selfish motives is burned up when Christ judges it with fire.
Another essential heart attitude is humility. Humility was one of the primary characteristics of Christ. If Jesus, who is God, became humble, then we as mere humans have no excuse. Micah 6:8 says “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” When God listed the three attributes He requires in someone, humility was one of them. Jesus also tells of a story of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. The Pharisee was full of good works such as fasting and tithing, but the tax collector led a sinful lifestyle. Because of His humble heart which recognized his sinful state the tax collector was forgiven by God. On the other hand, though the Pharisee led a godly lifestyle his heart was blackened with pride, and he assumed he did not need forgiveness. Thus the Pharisee’s sin of pride was worse than the entire sinful lifestyle of the tax collector. It is thus mandatory that pride is removed from one’s heart.
A humble heart is not gained overnight, and does not come the instant one chooses to be humble. Like any heart attitude, it is gained over a period of time which involves prayer, perhaps fasting, and also overcoming the life circumstances that God brings in to build humility. Since pride is such as vicious sin, God will often bring circumstances of failure, embarrassment, and dependence on others to build humility in one’s heart when someone resists God’s lighter corrective methods.
Having a heart of faith is another crucial matter. It is easy to know God’s promises to answer whatever we ask Him is prayer, but do we really believe it in our heart? Much of what passes for faith is merely “hoping” that our prayers will be answered, but this is not faith. Faith is a “knowing” God is good always, and he provides, not a “hoping” that He might. Also, faith is not strained out, and forced, as if someone is trying to push with their mind. Faith is just accepting in one’s heart that God is who He says He is, and will do what He promises to do. It is important to not be worrying, and thinking up scenarios where God does not come through, constantly making backup plans in case God does not fulfill His promise. By doing this one blocks the blessings God would have given him.
One way faith is built is by seeing God provide and fulfill His promises, answer prayer, and do miracles. After living a life in which God has regularly answered one’s prayers in undeniable specific ways, it is almost impossible for his faith not to grow. Living a life of miracles, healings, and hearing God’s voice will also give one tremendous faith, since he sees God’s work and provision in action all the time.
A thankful heart is so crucial to receiving God’s blessings. The problem with the Israelites when they asked for quail was not in the asking for quail, but in the complaining, and thanklessness. If they had thanked God for the manna with a good attitude rather than complain at “this loathsome food,” then asked God if He would perhaps bless them with quail, the results would have most certainly been different. On the importance of thanksgiving Paul writes, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." If we are to give thanks in “everything” then we should take care to thank God for all the details He works out for our good, not just the major things. Thanks should be given for things past, present, and future that God has, or has promised to bless us with. Thanksgiving is closely related to praise, and it is often convenient to mix the two when worshiping. Thanksgiving needs to come not out of a forced compulsion like one “has to” give thanks, but out of the joy of one’s heart, or it is not pleasing to God.
Self-control and perseverance are two other attitudes which are necessary to be given a high calling from God. Overcoming trials with a good attitude, and lips full of praise is key to building perseverance. Self-control is gained by sacrificing and giving up things for God, such as in tithing and fasting, also abstaining from sin and worldliness. Self-control and perseverance are noted as a virtues in 2 Peter 1:6. There is more to the Christian walk than being a nice, or even loving person, there is a strength of spirit, self-control and perseverance, that is necessary to be used in high callings.
IV. Some additional external aspects of a godly lifestyle:
The most important part of the external Christian life is to obey God. First of all, this means seeking and following God’s unique will and plan for one’s life. If someone is called as a businessman to make money for the gospel for instance, but instead they decide to make their own plans and become a missionary they are being disobedient and God’s blessing will not follow them. Everyone has a unique calling (or multiple callings), and we do not get to decide, God has already decided for us and we must obey. The second aspect of lifestyle obedience is in Christlike behaviour throughout one’s lifestyle, but this will flow directly from godly heart attitudes, there is no shortcut.
One crucial point in Christian living is to live a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from, and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This verse shows that living a life guided by the voice of the Spirit, was not simply for biblical figures, or prophets, but rather, is intended for every single believer to be guided in this way as was discussed in the section about intimacy with God (since being “born of the Spirit” is for all believers). Besides hearing God’s voice, and being guided by it, the other aspect of living by the Spirit is God’s empowerment in spiritual gifts. Believers are commanded to seek out spiritual gifts. Each believer should grow to be proficient in several giftings. The books of Acts shows that each of the believers were proficient in multiple spiritual gifts, not just one. Philip for instance, had the gift of prophecy to hear the Spirit command him over to the Ethiopian Eunuch, the gift of miracles to be transported to Azotus, the gift of an evangelist to be called to preach in many cities, and the gift of apostleship to be called as one of the twelve.
Spiritual gifts are not an option for the believer though, they are commanded. The very first thing the resurrected Jesus told the apostles to do was to wait in Jerusalem to be given power from on high, showing the utmost importance of this. Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves, trying to do God’s work in our own strength without being endued with the power of the Holy Spirit, but this will never result in much true fruitfulness.
An additional aspect of the Christian life is a lifestyle which confesses and shines out Christ unashamedly. In some places this may mean losing a job. The truth is though, we need to be at such as place in God that it will be impossible to hide the fact that we are Christian. We cannot hide the light of Christ, even if we lose social status, or employment. Jesus says “Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my father in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my father in heaven.” Denying Christ is more than doing so only when we are asked specifically, it is an ungodly mindset of fear which manifests in shame, and which tries to hide one’s Christian status rather than shine it out whenever one gets the chance to.
Another point in Christian living is that of studying God’s inspired Word. This is crucial to gaining the mind of Christ. The more one studies the Bible the more they will get out of it. The beauty of scripture is that most books lose flavour after being read once or twice. The only way to understand the Bible though, is to read it voraciously to gain a full context of everything. Another fact is that a scripture passed over a month ago can suddenly become a nugget of gold when read. Most of the spiritual benefits of reading the Bible cannot truly be gained unless it is studied over and over throughout one’s life.
This has been a basic overview of Christian living, trying to be as comprehensive as is necessary whilst also being concise. There are many various aspects to Christian living, but at the centre of them all is love, first of God (with all your heart), second of others (as yourself). Besides this there is inner heart attitudes such as humility, faith, and obedience. Lastly there is the external manifestations of an heart after God. Good behaviour will always follow when one’s heart is truly set on God. Christian living is a topic that is easy to agree with “I agree I need to love others,” “I agree I need to be humble,” but one needs to stop and take time to think how they are going to change their routine to integrate Christian living into every aspect of their lifestyle. Many times this does not happen. If one is to truly live for Christ though, this requires constant self-monitoring and assessment, not just a mental agreement to the principles of Christian living. Once a Christian changes there heart attitudes and lifestyle to Christlikeness and obedience to God, they not only receive heavenly rewards, but also they decide the eternal destiny of multitudes of people with the impact of their ministry and prayers.