What should life look like for the committed Christian? Should life merely be a list of rules and regulations? Should we wage war and force others to submit to Jesus’ way? Is that how God works? Is God a faceless, war-waging legalistic deity of “Dos” and “Don’ts”?
Well, I don’t think so.
According to my Bible, God is a Father. And Jesus, his Son, said: “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were my people would fight… [M]y kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36.)
Jesus taught that his kingdom — the Kingdom of Heaven — should conquer the world, but not by the physical sword. Heaven should conquer spiritually — not by cleaving open men’s flesh with physical blades and blows, but by slicing through men’s hearts and souls by the sword of the Holy Spirit — that is, the Word of God — by the grace and love of God, making alive the conscience, and turning dead men away from sin, Satan and darkness back to follow Christ’s light, walking closely with God.
Consider what the apostle Paul said: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ” (Ephesians 6:12.)
Paul believed the Christian’s fight in this world — our purpose — was to strive, not with people, but with Satan (the Enemy of mankind) and his evil spiritual kingdom. Our weapon? The Good News (or Gospel) message about Jesus: that because of what Christ has done in dying for us and rising again, we can be completely forgiven of all our sins and enter back into a living, loving relationship with God our Father forever and ever, if only we trust in, follow and obey him.
Satan hates this message because it alone gives people hope to escape death and hell. The Gospel causes people to turn from their evil ways to live a life of love for God and their neighbour. Satan hates love, because “God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16), and Satan hates God. In fact, Satan hates all that God loves, and God loves the whole world — every man, woman and child: “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalms 145:9).
Indeed, love is the highest rule of the Christian’s battle: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2.)
And again: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ” (1 Corinthians 13:13.)
What is love? The biblical word I am thinking of is agape: the total sacrifice of one’s whole self for the good of the other person. According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love — first for God and then for neighbour — as the Bible says: “‘Love [agapao] the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27)
In contrast to the Christian God, the God of Islam — Allah — provides a helpful comparison and contrast. According to the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, Allah (God) is not a God of love. According to the Qur’an (Koran), Allah does not love non-Muslims (a.k.a. “infidels” or “unbelievers”). (See Qur’an 3:31-32 and 30:43-45.) Of all the names of Allah in the Qur’an — Most Merciful, All-Seeing, Wise, etc. — not one of them is “Love.” Allah is called “Loving” (that is, toward the Muslim people alone). But Allah is never called “Love” itself. Should we really be surprised, then, that 10-15% of Muslims in the world (about 100 million people) are radical terrorist Jihadists (jihad means “holy war”), who will fight in Allah’s name to spread their religion forcefully and violently, without mercy, slaying all those who might resist them? Corresponding to the unloving nature of God in Islam, God is actually quite non-relational towards puny creatures like us humans. For Allah, we humans are like tiny ants, and who could ever have real affections for ants? And Islam as a religion is extremely legalistic and good-works orientated. Islam is all about rules.
In contrast, the God of the Bible became an ant. More exactly, God became human and was made flesh to dwell among us and show us the way back to himself: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Why? Because he loves us. Indeed, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16). According to the Bible, God himself stepped into our world in the person of Jesus to express his love for us by dying for us and rising again, simply to save us: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16.)
God’s love sets us free to die to self and to live a life of love to him and others to the fullest extent possible. We love God and others not to earn God’s favour, but because we are his children, and we want to be like him, knowing that our purpose and being is bound up in God’s purpose to make us children of light and full of love, just as God is. As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10.)
God has made us free always to enjoy what life gives us. But we always have to remember to put God first. For instance, we need to know that physical training (sport, exercise, diet, etc.) is of some value, but godliness of character (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” — Galatians 5:22-23) is even better (1 Timothy 4:8). Similarly, money is good. But we must keep out lives free from the love of money (1 Timothy 6:6-10; Hebrews 13:5-6) knowing that we cannot serve both God and riches (Matthew 6:24).
According to the Bible, life and enjoyment are not bad things. What is bad is merely snatching them from the Father’s hand without any thanks to or regard for him who has given them all to you, and without any interest as to what he might want you to do with them.
The Book of Ecclesiastes 11:9, which was probably written by King Solomon (Israel’s most wealthy and successful King), puts it this way:
“You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.”
God invites us all to live a life that is truly life — a life in full communion or relationship with him. We as Christians can take God’s blessings and enjoy them in full freedom. But our freedom cannot become a license to sin. We must always be humble and give God the glory for everything that he has given us, because — as Jacob (translated “James”), Jesus’ own brother, said almost two thousand years ago: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James [Jacob] 1:17).
For the Christian, it is not hypocrisy to enjoy life. God intends for us to live that way. But because sin is so deceptive and all-consuming in our world, we must walk in wisdom. ust becasue God wants us to be free and enjoy life doesn’t mean we can just go out, get blind drunk and have heaps of non-marital sex. (Actually, sinning in such ways will always invariably lead to greater unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. It’s little wonder, then, why God would teach us to avoid them in the first place: — they will ultimately harm and destroy us.) Rather, as Paul says: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the chains of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1.) God has freed us to live as God intended: not in bondage to sin, but in the liberty of the Spirit: “For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Therefore, true life and enjoyment both can and must be found outside of sin and in keeping in step with the Spirit of God, and living how God wants you to (Galatians 5:25).
So what about those “Christians” who would physically wage war with the sword or with fists or with cruel words in Jesus’ name? What about those who turn Christian religion into a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts”? Well, I’d point them back to the Bible. Those persons are simply not living consistently “CHRIST-IAN” (= “Christ-like”) lives. They’re blind to the reality taught and modeled by Jesus and his earliest followers. Having true faith means living a vibrant life of love walking with God and each other. It is our highest joy and strength to walk as the Lord wants us to walk. Would not “the Author of Life” (a reference to Jesus in Acts 3:15) know how to live life well? People who fail to see this are living against Christ and his plain teaching, ad contrary to all reason and good sense.
We all need to judge Christianity (or any religion for that matter) on the teaching and example set by its founder. How did Jesus himself live? Or… “What Would Jesus Do?” Can we find any fault in him? If you strive to live as Jesus lived, putting God first, others second, and yourself last, then in such godliness you will have contentment, find true freedom and real inexpressible joy serving God as a disciple of his Son.
May God richly bless you.
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