What does the Christian life look like? Should we retreat from a non-Christian majority and keep to ourselves? Should we just fit in, behaving like everyone else, but holding some beliefs in a very private place? Should we go all-in on what we think is a Bible-based lifestyle and call upon the government to get everyone else to believe and live like we do? What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?
This was a central question for the young Christian communities in New Testament times. Having turned from Roman religions, now how are they to live? Just as they are and do as Romans do? Or should they begin a political revolution calling on society to adopt and enforce Judea-Christian laws?
When we look at the early Christians we find neither of these things happening. What we find are people continuing to live in the world, rubbing shoulders with those they normally would, but who were now living differently. Yes, they were still in the Roman world, but they were now living there as citizens of another world.
Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Christians in Philippi:
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.Philippians 1:27a (NLT)
Followers of Jesus in the early Church did not separate themselves from society, nor did they try to change society, but they did live differently within society.
Living lives “Worthy of the Good News,” they would be living in such as way that the people they rubbed shoulders with would say “wow, this really is good news.”
We might imagine what a very Roman citizen might say to his neighbour who became a Christian: “You are different. Love seems to be a big thing for you now. You have more concern than ever for the poor. You are quick to forgive people. You Jesus followers refuse to expose your unwanted babies (a practice of leaving unwanted new-borns out to die). Your sexuality is different, we don’t see you with the temple prostitutes anymore. Your marriages are different, faithfulness to your spouse is now so important to you. When you gather in community, you don’t make distinctions based on class or, it seems, even gender. You have a confidence that there is only one God and that God is for you and not against you. You say it is good news that Jesus rose from the dead. In many ways it looks like good news!”
When Jesus calmed a storm, the disciples were astounded, asking “who is this man?” The person in the Roman world living a life worthy of the good news, lived a life that caused people to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about? We want to know more.”
Is that happening in our day?
No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we live like hermits, separating ourselves off from everyone who is not a Christian. If no one hears us talking about Jesus, and sees the difference following him makes in our lives, nothing will change in theirs.
No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we just make Christianity a belief system, a set of doctrines we believe, with little to no impact on our lives. Christianity is not a privately held set of thoughts, but a way of life.
No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we make adopting Christianity a nationalist political agenda, if it is all about getting the state to ensure that everyone is living like Christians. People will not ask “Who is this Jesus?”, but they will ask “Who do these Christians think they are?”.
People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are being changed from the inside out.
Now back to the Romans:
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.Philippians 1:27-28 (NRSV emphasis added)
Though a life worthy of the good news is really a beautiful kind of life, there will always be those who are very much opposed.
We can imagine the opposition in Philippi. The Christians would be seen to be promoting atheism by saying that the gods commonly believed in are not gods at all. The Christians are also no longer taking part in all the regular civic duties. The Christians seem to have forgotten what being a good Roman looks like with regards to both belief, and practice!
There will be those who are opposed to the Christ-focused life today with regards to both belief and practice.
There are those who very strongly promote scientism, the belief that all that is worth knowing can be learned through science. Certainly there is much we can know from science and we are grateful for all the work scientists do. But science is limited in what it can discover. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.
There are those who are opposed to Christian ethics and lifestyle. As an obvious example, many think the emphasis on faithfulness within monogamous marriage is rather old-fashioned. It may be old-fashioned, but it is good! There is something beautiful about the Christian ethic. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.
Let us not be intimidated by those who are opposed to Christianity, those who claim that it is unbelievable and/or ugly. In fact Christianity is both believable and beautiful! I will refer you to a series of earlier blog posts which speak to this, the summary of which, and a kind of “table of contents,” can be found here.
Just as Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to find encouragement from Christian community, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” we also can find encouragement from Christian community. This includes being part of a church family, but it can also include the encouragement we receive from Christian writers and resources.
When we are a follower of Jesus, do we retreat from society? Do we just fit in with society, and hold our beliefs in a very private place? Do we go all in and try to get everyone else to believe and live like we do?
We centre our lives on God, being encouraged by Christian community, learning love from Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.
(This reflection can be seen as part of our “online worship expression” from September 27th.)