CHRISTIAN LIFE, A JOURNEY WITH GOD
P. A. Thomas
Human history informs us of mankind’s struggle for existence on the earth physically, mentally and spiritually. Humans have found themselves to be more than just living beings on the face of the earth and hence felt responsible for the world around them and to someone they were not able to see! They increasingly sensed their helplessness to control themselves and the surroundings and hence started to grope for ways and means to survive. They identified a quest within themselves and their search for a way out led to the religions. Struggle for existence allowed them to adapt, and prompted them to fight it out physically, intellectually and emotionally.
Religions were formulated from man’s fear and necessity to achieve and satisfy the quest within man. They could eventually shape up many gods, divine powers and entities suiting their developing thinking pattern and satisfying their material as well as inner quest. Thus different religions and philosophies developed, partially answering man’s quest, and allowing a mystic unknown always for further quest and leading to more complicated mystic concepts to be formulated.
It all focussed on man’s endeavour to satisfy and appease the unknown powers/gods so as to survive and prosper in this world, and if possible, even to achieve an after-life, an aspiration which motivates a better life here! They formulated various processes for the same. Essentially in all world religions they express themselves in these basic forms of thought and action called Dharma or Yoga-meaning a mystic communion with gods or within oneself. It may find expression in a spectrum of so called spiritual activities from simple actions of worship to very complicated and mystic tantric rituals.
Karma marga is man’s effort by doing good/duty (for that, one needs rules and regulations), helping others and trying to be spiritual and hence attain Dharma;
Bhakti marga is all kinds of devotion and finds expression in pooja, yagna, sadhana, etc., trying to please gods and supernatural powers, trying to enjoy a mystic communion with the unknown, unseen spiritual world and hence attain Dharma;
Gyana marga is man’s effort to perceive the unknown spiritual world through logic, arguments, explanations, philosophies as well as natural and supernatural experimentation. These are human inventions to satisfy themselves and to explain the unknown.
In the Bible, all these issues are dealt with fundamentally and completly. In Genesis 1, God institutes a new beginning with a well defined, planned and specific world with a design and purpose. Once the nature’s ecosystem was in place, man was created in His own image, with His characteristics and nature so as to rule the world. It was not for survival, but for reigning, and man was different from all living beings as they communicated with the Creator. Spirituality was not just the ultimate reality for them. It was not a part of their lives, but the wholeness of it. The creation ordinance in Genesis 1:27,28 commissioned them to be the representative rulers, taking authority over all creation (effectively done by filling the earth) and then taking good care of it (2:15). God provided for them (garden as the abode, fruits for sustenance, etc.) and equipped them by making them a fruitful couple and allowing them to name, thereby take control of other living things. There was no lack, no confusion, and no mystery.
But all these great designs and plans miserably failed to materialise with the historic blunder of man in considering themselves independent and wise enough to make their own decision (of course, at the suggestion of Satan) to go beyond the limits they were given, and hence to disconnect themselves from their Creator. They lost their glory and the level of communication. That was the fall, and as a result, they became glory-less and ashamed—distorted and shattered, in status, and prone to sin—actions against the original plans and designs of God.
Thereafter, it was always a run down to the worse for mankind even with all the interventions of God’s grace to redeem (lift up) them through godly examples (Enoch), punishment (Noah, Babel), call (Abraham, Moses, David) and warnings through the prophets. Nothing really worked for man, even the innumerable rules and regulations as well as sacrifices given through Moses and the patriarchs. They failed to communicate, reach up to God’s plans and even to accept what God was graciously revealing to them. It was an increased blindness and deafness, which nothing man invented could cure!
So, finally God had to act, in His own good time fulfilling His promises. It was the first Christmas, not a baby born, but Christ, the Lord, seen as a baby (Lk. 2:11,12), seemingly limited as any other baby, but in perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit—the Son of God as the Son of man—Jesus, that was His name, came as the Immanuel, God with us. He came to reveal God—make him known in human language and perception (Jn. 1:18); to call them to follow Him—imitate Him; and to die for them—to be saved (lift them up- Psa. 40). He opened the living Way for them to be born anew—of the Word and of the Spirit (Jn. 3), through the washing away of their sins by His shed blood and regenerating them by His resurrection (Rom. 6). They are the new born followers of Christ—Christians, not just believers, not even just followers, they are His friends (Jn. 15:15) because they know Him and what He has made known to them.
Children Of God
They are neither Bhaktas nor Karmayogis, not even devoted Theologians, they are the children of God emanating Christ and walking along with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit fulfilling God’s design and purposes in this world at this moment of time in whatever life situations they are called and assigned to be. They do not need to be full time church workers or preachers, but they are witnesses of their Father and the Lord (Acts 1:8) and hence full time Christians (2 Cor.5:15). They are called to glorify God in whatever they do: their careers, their leisure, their shopping, their eating/drinking, their entertainment, their family life, and even struggles; in all these God is with them—Immanuel, and He never leaves them alone. Paul explains this in 2 Timothy 2 in the examples of a farmer, soldier and sportsman.
A very good example of all this is Enoch. Usually, we consider him a superhuman walking with God and disappearing into heaven! In Genesis 5: 22, we usually do not read the second part! While walking with God, Enoch was not in a trance, neither walking in the clouds, nor doing prayer and devotions all the time; he was also busy living with his wife and bringing many sons and daughters into the world. He was farming, shepherding and everything else to care for his family, but still walking with God all the 300 years, everyone of the 300 x 365 days, in and out! That is walking with God, not what many spiritualised teachers teach. God took responsibility for his burial (as for Moses later); so he was no more as far as his family was concerned. It is amazing how God even arranges for a burial for those who walk with Him! Isn’t it wonderful?
Walk With God
Jesus is another model who lived, walked, did and spoke what His father intended and wanted to accomplish. He did not perform miracles as in the healing crusades today, did not care to become an international preacher, and did not even use all the gifts and powers He had, but just walked with His Father and accomplished limited purposes for His time and life. He is the one who declared- It is finished! What an accomplishment? All the apostles and the leaders of the Early Church were models for such a life—not always perfect, but putting all effort into that walk with God. Colossians 1:24-29 is the personal testimony of Paul as an apostle with a specific career in the ministry of the Church. He says that in 1 Corinthians 15:10. For Paul and to the writer of Hebrews, this walk was like a run (Heb 12:1,2; 2 Tim.4:7,8) to finish and to be run well, according to rules and consistently.
Coming down to our Christian lives today, we may follow two paradigms presented to us in the New Testament. One is that of a natural growth process. A baby is born totally ignorant of its own existence, identity, relationships, purposes, etc., but eventually grow into awareness, knowledge, understanding and being responsible through the years, but this growth process can be abnormal, retarded or stalled by physical, mental or circumstantial ailments or factors. But even at that state, that baby is a full human being with all the rights legally and socially, as any other fully grown man. Similarly, a Christian is born by the Word and Spirit of God (1 Pet. 1:23, Jn. 3:5,6), a baby in faith and walk, ignorant of the inherent godly characteristics, but fully spiritually alive. S/He has all the potential to grow into the fullness of Christ-likeness. S/He is a child of God. Through the years, as s/he feeds on the grace and truth of God in fellowship and through the Word, s/he attains normal growth to become a grown up Christian who will grow physically to do what God wants, mentally to perceive and commit what God wants, and emotionally to love and serve God and the fellow creation. This growth is growth from within, inside out as a branch grows out of the tree (Jn. 15). We do not achieve growth ourselves, but are made to grow (Col. 1:28, Rom. 8:37), through the feeding of the wholesome milk and meat of God (the Word) and in the power of the abiding, filling and empowering Holy Spirit.
As in the case of natural human growth, this normal Christian growth also can become abnormal, retarded or stalled due to physical indiscipline (deviating life-styles), mental carelessness (insensitivity towards the Word and Holy Spirit) and emotional instability (continue to feed the old nature, flesh and the worldliness). We are not naturalised citizens of heaven, but are born—not just devotees of a great and just God, but children born of the Spirit with full rights and responsibilities (Jn. 3; Rom. 8,9; 1 Pet. 1).
The second paradigm is that of the calling/election. Jesus called and selected 12 apostles (Mk. 3:13,14) and called many disciples who are termed as saints in the epistles. They begin as believers/followers. You cannot follow someone without knowing him, believing him and, as you come to know him better and get committed to him, you become a disciple/willing servant; but then grow into knowing and fulfilling his purposes thereby becoming a friend/partner. Jesus affirms this in John 15:15 and one criterion He specifies is that ‘I have made known everything to them.’ So each Christian is called/elected to be a follower- believing Jesus as the Saviour and Lord, then a disciple-committing himself to learn of Him and serve Him (Matt.11:28,29) and finally a friend/partner-who knows what God wants in and through his life, and surrenders completely to fulfil it (Rom.12:1-2). It is not our work, but His; we are not doing it, He works through us (Phil. 1:6); but we need to remain clean, equipped, available and working to the utmost.
In any calling/vocation/career in the world, people can become unbelievers and stop following, can desert the teacher/master becoming unconvinced or prompted by ulterior motives and become unfaithful and cheating in friendship or partnership. This can be true of Christians as well and s/he can be a dropout follower (as the crowd in the gospels), a deserting disciple (as the disciples in Jn. 6), or a cheat/fraud friend/partner (as Judas Iscariot).
From God’s side, He is more than a friend/companion/partner. He remains rather a facilitator as well as the omni-resource, through the ever abiding and enabling Holy Spirit in us, the guiding and correcting powerful Word of God (the grace!) and the refreshing and strengthening presence of God Almighty. Triune God Himself, in His never failing faithfulness, works in and through us to accomplish His great purposes in this lost and deformed world of His. That is the Kingdom taking effect personally in our lives, families, communities and in the world. We are participating in this great work, in all we do and be, and hence need to be responsible partners as we can either frustrate His purposes or bring glory to Him (Matt. 5:16). He is the enabler, provider, sustainer, protector and accomplisher. Jesus taught in John 15 and 16 that the Holy Spirit who is coming to abide with us acts as a guide, teacher/ counsellor, consoler—partaking with us our infirmities and enabling us to be victors and accomplishers.
Our righteousness (being right with God: Rom. 2:13, 3:20, 5:19) is imputed righteousness as we are born of the Word of truth and the Spirit of God. Hence it is not acquired by good works or good life. We are righteous by birth, not by deeds. The evidence of this is the presence of God in us through the abiding Holy Spirit and our sensitivity to the correcting and enabling Word of God. But this imputed righteousness needs to be brought out into its expression and fullness in every Christian so that it will bring recognition (witness to God), expression (power of God) and fulfils God’s purposes in this world thereby establishing the Kingdom –reign of God here and now. That is what Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer. We are partners in this great action on His behalf and hence need to be well-informed, tuned and equipped to the plans, means and ways of action. This has to be happening not only in the so called spiritual activities (evangelism, personal devotion, church activities, mission, etc.), but in every aspect of a Christian’s life—day in and day out, 24X7, awake or a sleep, working or resting, inside or outside, alone or with others, in kitchen or in office, in shopping, in business, in farming, in studies, in family and sex life, in public or in secret, and what all you can be. Then only we can be enlisted as Enochs of today, walking with God and ‘was no more,’ with God.
Clergy & Laity
The increased bifurcation of the spiritual and the worldly, ministries (a bunch of ministers doing God’s work eating from the hands of those who work in the world!) and beneficiaries (the less spiritual Christians working in the world to support the ministries and hence the ministers!) who fall down before the ministers for healing, blessing and mediation, are all a clever repeat of the great scandalous divide in the historic Church between clergy and laity. It is unfortunate that this is becoming more evident in the neo-charismatic and evangelical groups who once came out as the Protestants and reformists advocating royal priesthood of all believers in Christ! Somehow Christians are being robbed of living a full Christian life and attaining maturity in Christ, for which Paul committed his life (Col.1:24-29). So called full-time ministers rob this privilege from Christians by not teaching and allowing them to be full-time Christians! Who are the full timers and who are the part timers? Who made them so? On whose authority? The Lord is one; His calling is one—to follow Him, and His commission is one—to serve Him. How can some become more saintly than others when all are called to be saints? Yes, some can be further up in the ladder of growth or commitment, but not in the righteousness and stand before God. We can be babes, young and mature Christians, all growing in God’s grace. That was the concept and teaching developed in the Early Church by the apostles. God desires today a myriad of full-time ministers in the Church, as well as full-time Christians in the world complementing each other in His great Kingdom work, not competing or comparing, but exhorting and building up each other as the complimentary parts of the whole body of Christ. Can we accept our specific role and call allowing others to be what they are in humility and dignity? Can we agree to walk together in this great journey with God, irrespective of our position, role or stage of growth? It can be a painful and challenging walk, but that is what Jesus called us into. Following Him is taking the cross and walking!