Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Simple Views of Living the Christian Life

The modern world wants us to see Christianity – and living the Christian life – as something it isn’t. I think that Christians often succumb to this pressure; I know I do. It is the power of an overwhelming force, for we don’t live in a Christian world. At a certain point, it is too much to constantly debunk the false definitions, even to ourselves; at a certain point, it is too hard to fight the undertow.

A common misconception of the Christian life that I find myself accepting too often is that Christianity is simply a set of rules and laws, a list of do’s and don’ts. When I want to see if I am living a “good, authentic Christian life,” I look to see if there is anything that I do that is contrary to God’s laws, or if there is anything I have omitted that is necessary to God’s laws. If “I’m good” according to this litmus test, I’m free to feel no guilt.

It isn’t as if this test is wrong or un-Christian; but it’s simply incomplete, like saying football is concerned with kicking. Yes, this is true – but it doesn’t catch a real sense of the sport.

The Christian life is about recognizing that everything in my life – career, time, money, relationships, etc – are all God’s, not mine. I cannot claim one as my own. Every single aspect of my life needs to be ordered towards giving glory to God. The earlier test makes the Christian life simply a set of rules: if I’m not breaking any of them, I’m good to go. But the Christian life IS life; everything needs to be ordered toward humbling myself before my creator, loving others, and bringing Christ to others.

Christianity as a set of laws is more than a small misconception easily fixed. First, it is an extremely hard thing to fix; reordering your entire life when you’re not used to it is necessarily difficult. But second, and more important, looking at the Christian life this way alienates us from the true life-giving source of Christianity and true peace. It deadens the vitality of the Christianity. It is hard enough to pass a way of life along to a child; it is nearly impossible to pass along a set of rules. And this is especially true when the rules aren’t attached to “good, ol’ Catholic guilt.”

I fall often to this lie. I know I need to a) pray and b) try not to sin too much, especially big sins. I don’t give the Christian life too much thought if I’m fulfilling those two rules. However, my job, marriage, friendships, relationships family members, exercise, leisure, relaxation, etc. all must point to the reality that Christ created me, saved me, is constantly working in my life today, and seeks to spend eternity with me in Heaven.


  1. I think this truth is what makes or breaks a person's faith. Augustine's "love God and do what you want" is far more in line with the human person than any set of rules. Classic here with girls and modesty and KA "rules"-- far better to simply reveal to a woman her own dignity, then tell her afterwards that the changes she's made to her appearance is called "modesty."
    p.s. so crazy that you mentioned "my job, marriage..." As a married adult your so different, you became instantly like fifteen years older in my mind ha

  2. It’s funny you mention “KA rules” and such: since Camp, I’ve had quite a few conversations with people about the effectiveness of these types of things. There are numerous rules that are pounded into kids’ heads that I think should be left alone until the person matures in his Christian faith.

    For example, when someone says “wearing your hat a little to the right or left shows that you desire to conform to the world” is entirely ineffective. Even if this is true (and let’s accept its truth for now), it does not help those who wear their hats that way, for their response is, “What a load of crap. So if I moved it a little more on center, I would love Jesus more? Come on.” It would be a lot stronger of an evangelistic tool to say, “I don’t care how you wear your hat. I care that you fall in love with Christ and desire to give your entire life to Him, and I want to help you move toward this goal.” When a conversion happens, the person himself will move the hat straighter (if we accept it signifies a desire to NOT conform to the world).

    Of course, there are things you need to make rules about --- and I think these should be the objectively wrong/evil things. For example, I should tell someone that he shouldn’t be having premarital sex before marriage, because there’s something intrinsically wrong with it. I shouldn’t let him “come to that decision on his own.” But the problem comes about when we take non-objective things --- how you dress, etc. --- and make them objective things: “You can’t dress like that and love God.” This is NOT a true statement; and further, it is ineffective; and further, it is what drives a lot of people away. You don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with people who complain about POH and KA in terms of “we couldn’t wear shorts,” “we couldn’t have lines in our hair,” etc. At the very least, these rules are bad evangelistic tools.

    I consider music to be the same category as the rules we’re discussing. I don’t think it’s true to ever say that a genre of music is intrinsically evil (and I think the POH’s new teaching on music retracts this belief). I like the Brotherhood of Hope’s approach to music. They don’t say anything to the kids about it, such as “Don’t listen to Metallica.” They trust that if the person in question surrenders his life to Christ and begins to pray, he will eventually recognize that Metallica is not helping him grow closer to God or hear His voice. And this is EXACTLY what happens in their ministry. If you don’t wait for the person’s conversion --- and make this conversion the center of your relationship with him --- it is very unlikely that he will ever be converted through your “don’t listen to Metallica” pep-talks. In fact, it is a lot more likely that this person will complain 20 years later that “the POH told him he doesn’t love Jesus because he listens to Metallica.”

    Enough…I ramble. But this discussion holds a lot of pertinent meaning for me.

  3. Again, important points here: it's astounding how many ppl have left the Catholic Church not over doctrinal disagreements, but because Sister So-and-so hit them in second grade, or their priest offended them in an off-handed remark. It's super-easy for ppl to feel judged, and this tricky thorn is doubly destructive because it usually removes opportunity for dialogue (I don't go on men's/women's retreats; everybody there looks down on me)

  4. Basil,

    As I re-reflected on your first response, I have one comment about the example you used. Perhaps “modesty” wasn’t the best illustration. Why? Because modesty is something that affects other people, particularly people of the opposite gender; and more specifically, it affects people in a way that is not naturally understood. What do I mean? A girl does not naturally understand how her appearances can be such a source of temptation for a man: for the most part, women are not as visually stimulated as men, at least in terms of dressing, etc.

    So perhaps modesty should be something enforced, because of the gender and social aspects involved. You don’t want to wait for a woman to become 23 and spiritually mature to realize that she’s been a source of temptation for the past 8 years. Does that make sense?

    Now, even in this example, things need to be taught, i.e. “this is why we’re asking you to dress this way,” etc --- and this is often what is sorely missed. However, all of this doesn’t mean that you can’t have rules concerning modesty.

    Of course, there’s a lot that needs to be revisited concerning modesty. Some of the revisitations need to focus on cultural things, i.e. “that simply isn’t immodest in this culture;” and some of the revisitations need to pinpoint bad rules for modesty, i.e. rebutting reasons such as “wearing dresses must be more modest than pants because it is involved in an aura of conservativism, Amish-ness, and a simpler less urban life.”