Word-Based Life Style
Dr. C. T. Luiskutty
A few years ago an article I wrote on Leadership Ethics appeared in a Christian journal. About that time I was visiting a city and talking to a younger friend. During the conversation, he mentioned that he had read the recent article and commented that what I stated in the article was correct. Then he added that it was not practical. This is a comment often heard by teachers of ethics and practical Christian living. When one makes a value judgment that something is right or wrong, it has to be based on some standard. When I pointed this out to my friend, he said what I wrote was right according to the Word of God. Now my question is once we are convinced that something is right according to the standard of the Word of God, do we have a right to disobey it or discard it just because it is difficult or not practical?
When we think about Word-based lifestyle, we need to remind ourselves, we cannot obey all the rules and laws of the Old Testament. If we attempt, either we would fail and become self-condemnatory, or we will compare against others and boast about our accomplishment and become self-righteousness. Both are wrong approaches for a Christian. In other words, either we will travel the path of lawlessness or that of legalism. But we need to remember that Jesus is the Word (John 1:1-3); His path is that of grace and we should follow the pattern of Jesus Christ in our lifestyle. Jesus calls for a complete break-away from the pattern of this world. Unfortunately many so-called Christians are cozying up with a worldly lifestyle and find nothing objectionable in doing so.
We find justification for our misbehavior by pointing out that most of the Old Testament heroes or even the New Testament apostles failed in one thing or another. Word-based lifestyle does not mean that it is alright for us to make all the mistakes of others even if they were called, appointed, anointed and blessed by God. We should discern the heart of God as revealed in Jesus’ life and follow that. Jesus is our example and His call is for His disciples to follow Him.
The great commission of Jesus Christ is a command to make disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20). The first stage of making disciples is to baptize those who accept the gospel that has been preached to them. That is only the beginning. The second stage is a lifelong process-teach them to observe everything that Jesus has commanded. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, He was not merely presenting certain abstract ideas or theoretical concepts; He was teaching them how to live on this earth with proper relationship with God, with self and with others as they prepare for a life of eternity in His presence.
A brief account of worldly lifestyle can be found in Ephesians 2:1-3. There we read,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-among whom we all once lived nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)
Writers of the New Testament often use the word ‘walk’ to refer to lifestyle. In the past we were dead in our spirit and had no sustained relationship with God. At that time we followed the course of this world and obeyed the prince of the power of the air. Regardless of our cultural or religious background we all lived in the passions of our flesh and were subject to the wrath of God.
God did something to change this situation. In the next verse, it is written,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV)
A transformation has been brought forth by God Himself in those who accepted His great love through faith. The transformation has not only changed our eternal destiny, it changed our lifestyle also. Now we are led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) and helped by Him so that we can have a lifestyle that pleases our Heavenly Father.
Apostle Paul refers to this transformation as going from a natural man to a spiritual man
(1 Corinthians 2:14-15). But to remain a spiritual man he must grow and mature. In Chapter 3 verse 1 he laments the fact that he cannot address all in the church as spiritual people but only as carnal people or people of the flesh. Then he describes them as infants; in other words those who do not progress toward maturity in their spiritual walk. The goal of maturing is to conform to the image of Christ (Roman 8:29) and to grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) by being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). In another place St. Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). Those who have become spiritual at one time may become carnal or worldly people if they do not undergo this continuous transformation of the mind.
Going from a worldly lifestyle to a Word-based lifestyle is not merely accepting one way of life over another because of some external requirement; it is the result of an internal change—a transformation of the spirit. Paul wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). He who has become a new creation in his spirit, cannot follow the lifestyle of the old man. A change in one’s lifestyle must be a natural consequence of his or her spiritual transformation. If there is no change or it has to be enforced by some external agency, the transformation itself is under suspicion.
A Word-based lifestyle will take into account the ethics of the whole Bible. But when we face an Old Testament commandment, we need to look at how Jesus or other New Testament writers approached that issue. Usually Old Testament ethical principles are reinforced in the New Testament. If it is a ceremonial law or one that Jesus already fulfilled, we are not bound to observe it. More than all other considerations we need to examine what Jesus taught and modeled in his life and to how the New Testament writers expounded and reiterated those teachings. As we already discussed, Jesus’ great commission is about teaching others to observe everything Jesus commanded us to do.
The lifestyle Jesus demanded from His followers is fundamentally different from what was prevalent in the society or even in the accepted religion. In Matthew 5 the statement, “You have heard.., but I say unto you,” is repeated six times. For example, verses 44-45 state, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV). Jesus is not satisfied with His followers just observing what the secular society or even what the Jewish religion teaches. His worldview is drastically different and He demands His disciples to follow His worldview so that they will be doing more than others do (see Matthew 5:46-47). This may be a hard and impractical proposition for those who see Christianity as a mere religion and attempt to achieve perfection by their will power or hard work but not for those who see it as a lifestyle—a style following the pattern of Jesus, receiving the grace of God and being guided by the Holy Spirit. Always there is a tension in us that is caused by our desire to achieve perfection through our efforts and our failure in our attempts.
Before we conclude this article on defining worldly life-style and Word based lifestyle, let me emphasize certain important points.
l One may follow many or most teachings of any religion, including Christianity, and still be following a worldly lifestyle. In Colossians 2:8-23 we see some pitfalls of this way. We could be taken by vain and deceptive philosophy. As we come to the end times this propensity will increase even among religious people (see 2 Timothy 4:3-4).
l On the other hand, there will be the temptations to go through self-denial and abstinence as a pretense of one’s humility and spirituality (Col 2:20-23). This attitude is another indication of the worldly lifestyle many Christians follow.
l In a his letters to the churches, Paul reminds them of their past lifestyle (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 12:2; Ephesians 2:2-3; 4:22; 5:8; Col 3:7; Titus 3:3); a follower of Jesus Christ came out of it and now follows the lifestyle Jesus modeled.
l The Word Himself, became flesh and dwelt among ordinary people (John 1:14) and in His human nature He showed us what Word-based life-style is. And the written Word instructs us: Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he (Jesus) walked” (1 John 2:6 ESV). Throughout the New Testament we see what motivated this life-style and we are instructed to follow His pattern. Specifically, we should
w love as He loved (John13:34; 15:12)
w serve as Jesus did (John 13:15)
w be pure as He was pure (1 John 3:3)
w be humble as He was (Phil 2:5-8)
w forgive one another as He did (Col 3:13; Eph 4:32)
w accept one another as Jesus accepted us without looking at our merits or defects (Rom 15:7)
w be unselfish as He was (Phil 2:4-5)
w be obedient in fulfilling His mission as
Jesus was obedient to the Father in Heaven (John 20:21)
w when the occasion demands, be willing to suffer following His example (1 Peter 2:21)
Then we will have the assurance that we will overcome and become conquerors even as He overcame all the schemes of the enemy (Rev 3:21).
l Nobody can have a Word-based lifestyle through his own will-power or effort. This is the consequence of accepting Jesus as his Saviour and Master and surrendering his life to Him. Once we make a complete surrender (Luke 9:23), the grace of God will be imparted to us and will teach us to follow His way (Titus 2:12-13) and the Holy Spirit will lead us. Now we are surrendered and enabled to follow the principles of the Word of God as enlightened by the Spirit.
When we decide to follow Jesus Christ, there is a demand upon us to pay a pay a price beyond what normal people would like to pay and that is the essence of denying ourselves. His Spirit will enable us to go forward in this path Word-based lifestyle with His grace.