July 12, 2011

The Christian Life Simplified

You don't have to be a guru.
You don't have to be a guru or a sequestered monk in order to gain enlightenment and live in harmony with God. The scriptures outline three physical postures that are metaphors of spiritual realities for the Christian, and, though profound, these truths are easier to ascertain and practice than the 26 poses in Bikram Yoga.

Many religions offer complex practices and the Catholic and Orthodox denominations emphasize human traditions and rituals over the word of God. But, according to Jesus, this isn't a desirable tendency:  “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”[1] Human-made rules and rituals can't really compare to divinely inspired spiritual principles. Verses 2.6, 4.1 and 6.11 in the Epistle to the Ephesians portray spiritual metaphors in the postures of sitting, walking and standing, which Chinese author Watchman Nee expounded on in his book Sit, Walk, Stand.[2] The following are some of the main aspects of these scriptures and some applications as well.
1. To Live in Christ

The Christian life begins with the word “done” not “do.” Jesus said “It is finished” when He gave his life as an atonement for our sins on the cross.[3] According to God’s word, we are saved by faith and by grace, not by works, when we are made alive spiritually and born again by the imparted Spirit of God.[4] We begin by faith and grace and are called to continue living in this manner[5] as best represented by a sitting posture:” But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”[6]

2. To Walk in Love

The spiritual position we have in Christ is lived out in the dynamics of our daily lives: “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”[7]

3. To Stand for Truth

Ephesians 6 underscores the need to stand firmly on the truth of God’s word as a basis for spiritual victory over any power or authority that opposes God’s word in our lives: “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."[8]

These three points are in direct opposition to the manner in which the secular world operates. Instead of abiding in God's presence, in worship and in prayer, the world would have us be involved in shallow entertainment and non-eternal distractions. Instead of walking in love, the secular world operates mainly through competition, social cliques and elitism. Instead of acknowledging that absolute truth exists and living by its principles, relativism prevails and authorities increasingly seek to punish anyone who stands for truth.

Martin Luther as an Example

Martin Luther's life seems to offer a good example of these three aspects of the Christian life. Luther was a simple monk who spent much of his young life trying to earn God's salvation and favor with self denial and self affliction, according to Catholic teachings. But one day he had an epiphany based on a Bible verse, "The just shall live by faith."[10] Luther realized that being in fellowship with God has primacy in the Christian life over doing things for God.

In seeking to clarify his understanding of scripture Luther sought to dialogue and debate with the authorities of the Catholic church. Some historians write that he defiantly nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to a cathedral door and, thus, set off the Protestant Reformation. Upon closer research, however, the Ninety-Five Theses were more likely given to the Catholic authorities in a spirit of respect and humility. Luther tried to walk in an attitude of love and humility towards others.[10]

In response to Luther, the Catholic church demanded him to recant or to be excommunicated and possibly face more serious punishment as a heretic. They were more interested in maintaining their own control rather than following the tenets of scripture. In his own defense, Luther simply stood his ground based on scripture: "I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen."[11] Luther's conviction to take a courageous stand for the truth ended up reshaping the course of history. Though in disagreement with the Catholic church, Luther recognized the importance of church life, as outlined in scriptures such as Acts 2.42.

Some Personal Examples

The more we are able to accept and receive God's word as the ultimate standard of truth, the easier it will be for God to work through us.Of the three points mentioned in Ephesians, the first is probably the most important. If we aren't rooted and grounded in God's love, it will be very easy for us to become bitter or discouraged by the behavior of other people. When I moved to Ukraine as a missionary, the adjustment was very difficult, but having time to worship God was a way of staying encouraged.

When I explained my vision to help plant a church in Ukraine, a Christian leader told me basically “We don’t help missionaries, we watch them.” Though it's wise to be cautious, there's a danger of elevating human wisdom above biblical examples. Making this kind of ultimatum  limits the possible work of the Holy Spirit. To live by the leading of the Holy Spirit requires faith in God that transcends human wisdom and rules. Despite the lack of support in ministry work, my wife and I were able to see God work and to see people saved and baptized by His grace. When you look at spiritual revivals in history, you find there was a sense of God's love abounding and overflowing in the work. If Christian leadership operates with a clique mentality, however, this will influence the entire church and limit the possibility of revival.

We took our older son to a small Christian preschool and found that he left crying at times. After visiting the school I found some of the kids there refused to befriend my son and had formed cliques. When I asked the leaders at the school their opinion about this they felt this was normal and acceptable. In a secular school this would be considered normal. But in a Christian school the concept of agape love should probably be taught as the standard. We ended up taking our child out of the school because it didn’t seem to be a healthy environment for him.
The scale of the work we do isn’t as important as the spirit we do the work in. When the widow gave her offering in the synagogue, as outlined in Mark 12:41-44, she cast in two mites, a relatively small amount of money. Nobody seemed to notice her but Jesus commended her more than others who offered great amounts because she gave a sacrifice to God out of sincere faith, even jeopardizing her ability to buy food and live. In our worldly thinking we would call her foolish to give her last savings. But she was living by faith and grace and standing on the truth she was aware of.

It's exciting and liberating to have the opportunity to live our lives for God out of gratitude for what God has already done for us in saving us. As Christians we have to resist the tendency to live according to the pattern of the world and in fear of other people's opinions. But these three postures are a simple way of reminding us of the basics.


[1] Matthew 15.9, NIV, Mark 7.7, NIV
[2] Nee, Watchman (1977) Sit, Walk, Stand, Tyndale House Publishers
[3] John 19.30
[4] Ephesians 2.6, John 3.3
[5] Colossians 2.6
[6] Ephesians 2.4-6, NLT
[7] Ephesians 4.1-2, NLT
[8] Ephesians 6.10-12, NLT
[9] Habakkuk 2.4, Romans 1.17
[10] Intervarsity, University of Chicago, Reformation Sunday, http://intervarsity.uchicago.edu/kal/oct31.html
[11]  Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. tr. James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–93, 1:460

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