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Part 11 of series: What is the Christian Life?
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In my last post in this series I began to examine several common ideas of the Christian life and their relationship to intimate fellowship. These ideas included:
1. The Christian life is being in heaven after death.
2. The Christian life is feeling joy and peace in the Lord.
3. The Christian life is believing the right things about God and Jesus.
4. The Christian life is doing what God commands in his Word.
I showed that intimate fellowship includes the first and second ideas in this list. Today I’ll consider the third and fourth notions of the Christian life.
3. The Christian Life as Believing the Right Things?
Proponents of Idea #3 highlight the content of faith. For them, the Christian life is believing the right things about God. From John’s perspective, right belief leads to genuine koinonia, but is not equivalent to it. He declares the “Word of life,” the message of God’s life in Christ, so that we may live in fellowship with God and God’s people (1 John 1:1-3). Koinonia is not some squishy, subjective relationship with a god of our own formulation. It is a substantive, spiritual relationship with the one God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and who is known through the declaration of “the Word of life.”
Yet, the Christian life is not the same thing as right belief. Rather, it is the relational result of right belief. We know God in truth, but our knowledge of God is not merely intellectual. We don’t just know about God. We also know God, personally, intimately. To the extent that we know God truly, our relationship with God will be deeper and more authentic. So right belief leads to deeper relationship. But right belief is not the essence of the Christian life so much as an essential component and facilitator of it.
4. The Christian Life as Doing What God Commands
To be sure, Christian living includes doing what God commands. True fellowship with God, as we have seen, impacts our whole life. Our way of walking – our daily behavior – will reflect our relationship with God. We will do what God commands as a result of our intimacy with him.
A lifestyle of perpetual disobedience proves the lack of such intimacy. Yet because the Christian life is not exactly the same as obedience, individual acts of disobedience do not kill that life. If we “live in the light,” if we do what God commands, not only do “we have fellowship with each other,” but also “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:7). Because our relationship with God depends upon his grace in Christ and not upon our acts of obedience, occasional sin is more like a bad flu than a terminal illness. Koinonia with God not only heals our sickness, but it also vaccinates us from the virus of sin.
Often, Christians have a hard time figuring out how doing what God commands fits with intimate fellowship with God. Some Christians fall into the pit of legalism, turning the Christian life into a list of dos and don’ts. They promise intimacy with God only on the basis of our actions. Other Christians, however, completely disconnect intimate fellowship with God from obedience. They buy into a false notion that our actions are basically irrelevant when it comes to our relationship with God.
In fact, doing good works that glorify God is part and parcel of the Christian life. But it comes in the context of a grace-based relationship with God. No text of Scripture makes this clearer than Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
By grace we are brought into relationship with God through faith. As we live in this intimate fellowship with God, we live our lives for his glory, doing the good works that he has prepared for us. The works are a result of grace, an outgrowth of our relationship with God.
When we begin to live the authentic Christian life, when we experience each day as intimate fellowship with God and his people, our lives become richer and more joyful. I’ll say more about this in my next post in this series.