By Jessica Brest
Today, “living like a Christian” has taken on so many different meanings. While the core beliefs in Jesus as our redeeming savior remain, the ways in which we follow God differ greatly. To give an example, we need only look at modern politics in the U.S.A.: some Christians believe with all their heart that taking guns away from the people and leaving them with trained officials is the best way to protect the innocent, while another portion of Christians believe keeping guns in the hands of the people is the best way to protect. When the church body itself is so divided on major issues, how can we know which is the “most Christian”? How do we apply our faith to our actions and opinions about the world around us?
In order to answer this as best I can, I want to walk you through a few very important verses from the New Testament:
In other words, God has gifted our spirits with different strengths—we are not all created the same. He did not create all of us to be strongest in compassion or strongest in a sense of justice. Because of this, when faced with situations, some will naturally lean one way while others will lean another way and still more will feel even differently! None of these insights or opinions are necessarily “bad,” instead what is bad is to dismiss the other perspectives simply because they are not heavily based on the thought process you are best at. When faced with opposing opinions, take the time to evaluate what has influenced all of the opinions—are they based on care for human beings, a desire for holiness, or righteous anger? It takes all parts of what is “good” to find a well-rounded good solution to a problem.
In this verse, Paul reminds us of our duty as followers of Christ, to make God the center and reason for everything we do. He uses the phrase, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,” meaning that there is nothing we can separate from God. Therefore, if nothing is apart from God, all things can be done for God. When things are not done for God, they are done for the world which goes against our calling as servants of the Lord.
Practical Example: Recently, in my Theology of Marriage and Family course, our professor asked us to write a short paper explaining how we can change our child’s diaper to the glory of God. My initial reaction to this prompt was, “How?” But after contemplation, I came to realize there isn’t one but many ways to change a diaper for God: by choosing to love your spouse sacrificially and do the job for them, choosing to love your baby as a fellow image bearer by keeping them healthy and clean, choosing to do something unpleasant for God because Jesus did the ultimate unpleasant thing for us, and through realizing that changing diapers is just another way for God to sanctify us by growing in us more fruits. While there surely are more ways, I hope these give you a good head start for analyzing actions that are hard to view as glorifying God.
When asked by the Pharisees to choose the greatest piece of Law, Jesus answers with this. “Instead of promoting one command over another [like the Pharisees expected], Jesus defined the law in its core principles: love the LORD with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself,” explained the Enduring Word Bible Commentary on Matthew. Jesus understood that the core of the multitude of rules in the Law was simply a devoted love for God. When one has that, all else will follow. By doing this, Jesus removed the validity of the reasoning that you can only be a follower of God if you follow his rules perfectly. Rather, you are a follower of God if you genuinely love God with all that you are and look to Him for direction in all things.
The second law follows that we are to care for the people around us to the same degree that we care for ourselves. Understanding that every human being is created in the image of God and helps us to follow this law because it gives every person equal value—all man-made hierarchy is removed.
“For a long time before Paul knew Jesus, he thought God would accept him because of his law-keeping. But he came to the point where he really understood the law – understanding it in the way Jesus explained it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) – and then Paul realized that the law made him guilty before God, not justified before God … ‘To die to the law is to renounce it and to be freed from its dominion, so that we have no confidence in it and it does not hold us captive under the yoke of slavery,’ (Calvin)” as explained by the Enduring Word Bible Commentary.
This means that to live a life that follows Christ is to choose to live by faith, putting no weight for salvation or righteousness on the Law. A true follower of Christ will do good works because He loves God and wants to glorify Him, not just because He ought to with the purpose of becoming “more righteous” in God’s eyes.
In other words, to live a life guided by Christ is to deny oneself of their own flesh-fueled desires in exchange for God’s desires for us. “Denying self is not the same as self-denial. We practice self-denial when, for a good purpose, we occasionally give up things or activities. But we deny self when we surrender ourselves to Christ and determine to obey His will,” says the Enduring Word Bible Commentary on Matthew. When we hand our body, soul, and mind over for God to use—that is when He uses us best. He can use anything we give Him for His will, but He wants to use everything.
In summary, there is no to-do list of actions or opinions that would summarize what a true Christ-follower should look like. I can only supply you with what the Word of God has given us: an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. From there, we must depend on God. Seek Him before making big decisions through prayer and fasting, read His word constantly in order to not forget His heart, and remember that your actions do not define your faith, but instead your faith in Jesus Christ. God hears your prayers and He wants to know your questions. Share yours with Him and He promises to guide you to the answer through His Holy Spirit.
I will leave you with one final verse: