What is the essence of Christian life? Or put another way, what does it mean to be a Christian? Many people will say that the Christian life is all about being a good, moral, upstanding person who said a prayer to ask Jesus into his heart. Everyone has a different answer, but what does God say about a Christian life?
The Christian life begins at the conversion when our faith is established in the person and the work of Jesus Christ. For some, faith is an insurance policy that keeps them out of hell. Our faith is not something that we work out just between us and God. Our faith is meant to be carried out continuously in the context of our relationships with other believers. Going to church and living according to Christian principles are important, but it is not the essence of the Christian life. According to Luther, the essence of the christian life is to live once life before the face of God.
Sometimes we behave and perform with our lives not for God but for an audience. And our behavior when we are in secret may be different from how we behave when we are in the church or in the presence of people whose judgment or approval we seek. E.g. Prodigal son – He went away to a foreign country where he was anonymous, where no one knew him, where he didn’t feel like he had to live under the scrutiny of anyone. He took all his inheritance, squandered it recklessly as he lived a life of indulgence. Like the prodigal son, we all possess a foolish ambition to be independent, and to be willfully disobedient to the goodness offered by God which are at the root of the sinful heart.
We should live our whole life not as people seeking the cover of darkness where we have a secret life that is hidden from the scrutiny of our friends or authorities, but our lives should be lived openly in the presence of God, before the face of God, practicing a kind of consciousness of God from moment to moment. So, the essence of the Christian life is to live all of our life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the honor and the glory of God.
But to live this kind of life obviously at the outset sounds idealistic. There is nobody who lives this kind of life all the time with a constant sense of the presence of God. And none of us is so righteous that everything we do is in submission to the authority of God, and done unto the glory and honor of God. We can say it theologically but putting that into practice in real life is not an easy thing to do. Living the Christian life is not simply to make a commitment or vow at our baptism, but to press forward through those moments and times where we are paralyzed and frustrated in our spiritual growth.
I still remember when I started playing soccer. It helped me build stamina and endurance because of strenuous training. Later I decided to participate in college track and field events. I started competing in long distance running with a flurry. I ripped through the college events and village marathons. Two years later I quit competing. My development as a long distance runner was arrested. It reached a single point of failure where I couldn’t win an event. I gave it up.
We all have a tendency to make a running start, and as soon as we run into an obstacle or reach one of those difficult circumstances where we are temporarily paralyzed, we quit. We say that ‘I have reached a limit of my ability and I’ll go no further.’ We forget that the only way to advance in any enterprise is to persevere through those roadblocks. In fact, the higher we go in our attempt to master our plan of action the easier it is to get better after we learn how to conquer through the roadblocks.
For a Christian to live his life in the presence of God, he must have a clear idea of his goal or the priority. The Bible is clear about the disciple’s priority: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). God’s Kingdom is His invisible government over each of us and over the whole world. One day, it’s going to be a visible government and it will be completely established, but right now, it’s actually already begun in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ. Righteousness means a right relationship with God undamaged by sin or disobedience. When we set our priority on God’s kingdom and His righteousness, it changes the course of our lives.
Jesus called His disciples to press into the kingdom of God. In Matthew 11:12 He says, “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” The kingdom of God is like a city attacked on all sides by those who were eager to take possession of it. Those who mean the business of pleasing God is not casual in their pursuit. They are like men of violence who storm the battlements of the enemy until they break through.
To seek something requires effort. It involves a diligent search. It is like the woman who lost a coin and swept every nook and corner of the house to find it (Luke 15:8–10). It is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. He sells all that he has to possess it (Matthew 13:45). Seeking is not accomplished by taking a break or quitting. It involves persistent work. We are to press through the difficult situation to live out the Christian life.
Seeking after God is a Christian enterprise. It is a lifelong pursuit of a true believer. It is a daily pursuit of living one’s life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the honor and the glory of God.