Is the kind of life Christianity leads to compelling? Is it a beautiful life, or is it ugly? If Christianity is compelling, and if God is good, then we would expect the way God would have us live should bring beauty and not ugliness. So does it?
Some would say no. In the Margaret Atwood novel, A Hand Maid’s Tale, everything is supposedly ordered according to the Bible. It does not take too long for the reader to figure out that this is a very ugly society. Many would say that even without such Christian state control, the Christian life is ugly. The Christian life is described as blindly following many, many rules without any thought as to whether they are good or not. So is the Christian life beautiful or ugly? People may portray the Christian life as ugly, or even live out a Christian life that is ugly, but the Bible points to a life that is beautiful for the following reasons.
First, the Christian life is a Jesus centred life.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)
The focus was not to be on the what the teachers of the law commanded in Jesus’ day. The focus is not to be on what the teachers of the law command in ours. The focus is on Jesus and what he commanded. It is not about powerful people or powerful traditions. It is about Jesus.
The focus is on Jesus, even when we are reading the letters of Paul, Peter, James, or John. The letters in the New Testament are not “here is something new, because Jesus did not say enough,” but, “here are the implications of Jesus on theology, and here is what the Jesus-focused life looks like for us.” What we have in the letters are the apostles working out the implications of Jesus for first century Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and so on.
This has important implications. Take slavery, for example. Some would say that the inclusion of slavery in the Bible demonstrates that the Christian life is ugly. Does the New Testament support the institution of slavery? Slavery was a part of life in that day, a fact which was not going to change anytime soon. Since slavery was a part of life, Paul offers how a Jesus-centred person should live when they happen to be a slave, or a slave holder. In fact, there are beautiful implications as we discover in Paul’s letter to Philemon where Philemon is encouraged to take back his runaway slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 16 NRSV). Philemon’s Jesus-focused life was to be a thing of beauty for Onesimus. Life is beautiful when it is impacted by Jesus.
All of the New Testament letters are part of the Word of God, yes. However, we do not read Paul’s letters to find out how to become a Paul follower, or how to be more focused on Paul in our lives. We read Paul to discover how people were encouraged to be Jesus followers, to live Jesus-centred lives in the first century. This helps us discover how we can live Jesus-focused lives in our day.
A Jesus-centred life is a beautiful life. Of course this is so, Jesus was a beautiful man! Notice the way he related to people, his integrity, his reverence for the Father, his focus on the spirit of the law and not the letter, his ability to challenge and unravel the status quo, his living out of the Great Commandments, his good works. Notice how he gave his life to rescue you and I from sin. Jesus is beautiful. A Jesus-centred life is a beautiful life.
Second, the Christian life is a Spirit filled life.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV emphasis added)
The “fruit of the Spirit” is all beautiful stuff! We would describe a person whose character is marked by such traits as being a beautiful person.
Fruit grows naturally. A beautiful character is the natural consequence of a relationship with God. Fruit naturally grows where the conditions are right. Our part is to see that the conditions are good by keeping our connection with God open through prayer, Bible reading, relationships with other Christians, and worship. But God is the One who makes fruit grow. A Spirit filled Life is a beautiful life.
Third, the Christian life is a life of wisdom.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (NRSV emphasis added)
The letter of James has been described by some Biblical scholars as being like the “wisdom literature” from the Old Testament. It points to the good life and how to live well. Notice the focus on gentleness and peace. The wise person knows that being gentle and peaceable is a good thing. A wise person living in wisdom is a beautiful thing. A life of wisdom is a beautiful life.
Some paint the Christian life as being ugly. It is portrayed as blindly following rules without any thought given as to whether those rules are helpful or not. It is portrayed as a very narrow life with no fun allowed at all. But that’s not it! The Christian is to be Jesus-centred, Spirit filled, and wise! The Christian life is a beautiful life, just as we should expect if Christianity is true, if God is good. While many world-views and religions can lead to ugly places, the beauty of the Christian life is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.