There are really only two general topics that I write about in the Newsletter - first is, 'What is the Christian faith?' and, second, 'What constitutes the life of a Christian in this world?' - How does one go about living a so-called 'Christian' life? It is often tempting to write the wrong things when addressing either topic. Human nature makes us far too charitable in matters of doctrine, and far too rigid in matters of life. The 'trick' is to properly divide Law and Gospel, which, if one is able to do so regularly and accurately, Luther says they deserve a doctorate in theology. Nevertheless, our topic this month is "Living the 'Christian' Life."
The first thing that a child of God needs to keep in mind when wrestling with the question of how to live a 'Christian' life, or what constitutes a 'Christian' life, is that there is no such arbitrary thing. A Christian life is the life that a Christian lives. We have a pattern set for us. Jesus is our perfect example. Paul and the other Apostles are also examples that we can imitate. When we look at their examples, however, it is the example of their attitudes, values, and perspectives that we are urged to copy. The "Christian life" is a result, however, not a prescription. Specific life-decisions we confront are often not directly addressed in the Bible. For example, Jesus never had a cell-phone, car, computer, or T.V.. The Apostle Paul did not face the forty-hour work week, holiday travel, grandchildren in three states all clamoring for his attention, nor the culture of wealth and privilege that we enjoy (and wrestle with) in America today. None of them confronted mass media and Orwellian mind-control techniques of propaganda, spin, and modern advertising.
Some preachers and teachers boil it down to simple rules and specific life-choices. Their prescriptions makes sense, or a sort, because they are all Law, and our flesh really understands Law well. It just feels right. Don't let the fact that we are naturally incapable of keeping the Law as such stand in your way, or that such works-righteousness based systems of life multiply our sense of guilt eventually, the preachers of these works will tell you that if you are really a Christian, you will make yourself live up to these standards. Those who cannot (like everyone), but are really serious about looking Christian, will often hide their failures and work very hard at making it appear that they are successful, happy, and fulfilled with living this sort of life. File this under "hypocrite".
The second thing I think is helpful to remember is that Lutheran is Christian. Christian is not something distinct from Lutheran. Everything that makes one Christian is a fundamental part of what Lutherans confess and teach, and where one deviates from what is rightly Lutheran, one also deviates from what is properly Christian. You don't need to know that it is 'Lutheran' in order to believe it, nor does everyone who calls themselves 'Lutheran' necessarily believe the Christian faith. There are Baptists who hold to the Lutheran teachings on Christ, faith, the Sacraments, and so forth - and Lutherans who do not. I have met examples of both. There are even people who hate the name 'Lutheran' who cling tenaciously to Lutheran doctrine (obviously, without ever making that connection in their minds) simply because it is clearly and unambiguously what the Bible teaches.
The point of making that second point is to help you see that part of living the 'Christian' life is to be "a good Lutheran." You don't need to do anything else to be Christian, or live out a 'Christian' life. It isn't "Lutheran - plus something". The doctrine you learn as a Lutheran is the doctrine which informs and guides a truly 'Christian' life. Do what a 'good Lutheran' ought to do and you will be living the best sort of Christian life.
What does that mean?
It means that your life is your worship. Remember Romans 12:1? "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." Your best and truest worship is how you live between Sunday Services. There is where you give God the glory by living out what forgiveness means, and how confident you are of God's love for you, and your awareness of God's plan for you and the world around you, and His desire to bless you and work through you. Your daily life is a major part of your confession of Christ.
Like it or not, your life makes a confession. It is true that your confession needs to be spoken as well. Your words will give people the context in which to understand your conduct - just as your conduct will give substance and authenticity to your spoken confession. That week-long worship confesses. That is how it gives glory to God. You act out what you believe about God and about yourself, and about the relationship between you and God.
Your life confesses what you really believe. It will also accurately confess what it is that you do not believe. People who do not trust God show it by how they live, and by what they fear, and by how they deal with other people. Honesty and integrity flow from those whose lives are grounded in "the Truth", a name Jesus claimed for Himself in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .". Forgiveness and compassion are just natural to the man or woman who knows their sin, and depends on the forgiveness of their sins as the gift of God in and through Jesus Christ. Hope marks the life and the attitudes of the one whose hope is built on Jesus and who trusts in Him to bless and guide, to rescue and save.
After all, where your treasure is, Jesus once said, there will be your heart also. Your faith will shape your values and attitudes. Culture works on doing that too. That is the part of "the world" in the list of the enemies of faith and of God, "the devil, the world, and our flesh". If you love the world, and listen to it, your values will echo society's and your affections will be placed on people and things here, according to their place in this world's estimation. If you love God, and listen to His Word, you will find your treasures are less obvious to the cultural standard, and your heart will belong to and lean toward the things which God teaches us to value. Your life and your choices will confess that, to one degree or another.
When you know that you are forgiven, how much you need to be forgiven, and how freely and abundantly your are forgiven, you confess that by what you choose to do and not to do, by how you deal with others, particularly brothers and sisters in Christ - but to some extent everyone. You cannot be forgiven, and believe in the super-abundant grace of God without also being forgiving. Jesus says the same in Matthew 6:14-15, but from the perspective of our Heavenly Father, "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Again, your life makes a confession - your confession.
Because Christian is Lutheran, and Lutheran is Christian, the life of a Christian is incarnational. Your life is Jesus, taking on flesh and living through you. Paul writes, "for me to live is Christ", Philippians 1:21, and, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me", Galatians 2:20.
Note that he doesn't say, "The life I now live I live by the Law of God." He lives by faith. He lives by faith in the Son of God, who loves him, and who delivered Himself up for [him]! His life is abut Jesus, and Jesus lives through Him. Your life is also about Jesus, and as you live out forgiveness, and God's presence as a daily reality in your life, Christ lives through you for others. He takes on flesh, only it is your flesh He takes on, so that you can be 'Christ-with-flesh-on' for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and for your neighbors around you, showing them what is really true and what is really important, and what the love of God for them is really like.
Now nothing you do is without consequence. Your life is hidden in Christ, and His life is hidden (only not-so-hidden) in you. Your life being 'hidden' in Christ means that what happens to you here and now is not simply your life - that is coming in glory. Just because you have pain, and people don't appreciate you the way you want them to (and may even persecute you), does not reflect how God loves you or how you stand in His sight. The sign of His love for you is the cross. The circumstances of your daily life is the work of God in and through you to confess Christ and to light the way of grace and forgiveness for others. Your life, and the blessing of God in this life, are not to be despised, but understood as God at work, blessings given for His purposes (not yours) and tribulations for His purposes (not your disquiet or as a sign of your judgment).
Again, because Christian is Lutheran, etc., the life of a Christian is sacramental. That doesn't mean that your life is a sacrament, but that you live your life in the Sacraments. Baptism is the beginning of your life as a Christian, and the Lord's Supper is your sustenance as a Christian. Your life cannot be conceived of apart from the Sacraments. If it can, it is not a 'Christian' life.
Baptism informs you of your election (choosing) by God to be His child. It is the daily Sacrament of repentance and the comfort of the knowledge of the grace of God poured out upon you in Jesus Christ through Baptism. Every day, you can make use of your Baptism by repenting of the sins of which you are aware, and finding the assurance of your forgiveness not in your feelings or sense of religion, but in the waters of your baptism, and the clear expression of the will of God toward you in particular which we find there.
The Lord's Supper, on the other hand, feeds and cleanses you each time you receive it. It is as the ancient Church said, the Medicine of Immortality. Each time you eat and drink, you take Christ within yourself, and your are strengthened in forgiveness, life, and salvation, through Him. So, the life of a Christian must continually return to this fountain of strength and blessing. It is as needful as the food of your daily repast. Our faith is, after all, pure gift and pure receiving, and so we must always be receiving. We Lutherans don't have some "spiritual" notion of God filling us somehow apart from the means of grace, but He comes to us through His Word and through the Sacraments to fill us as we receive His Word preached into our ears and eat of His body and drink of His blood, receiving Him and His blessings by mouth, according to both His command and His promises.
A Christian life is therefore lived in the divine service of Word and Sacrament, expressed in prayer and hymns and Psalms, and lived out in the worship which is our daily lives between the services where we come to be fed and strengthened and encouraged by none other than God Himself.
Two final points, because I am running out of room here: The life of a Christian is lived in agape-love. That isn't a love which focuses first on feelings and emotions, but rather on the will and the intellect. It is founded on knowledge, called "sound doctrine"; on faith, which is the trust in God and all that He has promised; and lives in the bright light of the Word of God and the Gospel in particular. We can be open and tolerant, patient and forgiving of the weaknesses and errors of others of life because we, too, are sinners. Doctrine is something else. It is the cradle of the Gospel, and it holds our hope secure, that we can pass it on to those who follow us, and that we may cling to the truth and not be deceived into damning errors. We can forgive sin, any sin - just as God in Christ has forgiven us. We cannot tolerate or forgive error in doctrine (unless it is abandoned and rejected), though, because it will deprive us of the truth, of which Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The second point is: Your perspective on your life is law - your perspective on others is Gospel. God gave us the Law to measure ourselves, and to see our need for a Savior. He did not give it to us to judge anyone else. Judging is His responsibility. So, see your sin, and repent. See your brother's sin, and forgive! "And whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." That is living the 'Christian' life!
Yours in the Lord,
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