Lie: The Christian life is a matter of understanding and following biblical principles.
Truth: The Christian life is a matter of understanding and following Jesus Christ.
It may not appear to be so, but there is a world of difference between those two statements. But since Jesus is physically unseen and unheard and only spiritually apprehended, the two may blur if we’ve not been properly introduced to the Person, Jesus.
In our eagerness as evangelicals to make converts, we push too many, even manipulate some by simple, rote prayers and formulas to become a Christian. But these souls were never really taught to hear for themselves the call of Jesus on their lives. Becoming a Christian is not simply praying a prayer or even believing a doctrine. Yes, it’s about believing what Jesus did, but we must invest that belief with the meaning of who he is. We cannot neglect the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the method to save those who believe.
At its foundation, Christianity, is not a set of doctrines, though it includes that; it is not a set of practices or lifestyles, though it will produce that; it is not a tradition or a history, though it has that; and it isn’t a philosophy or even a theology, though it teaches the most profound of all philosophies and theologies. It is rather, the Person of God the Father seeking man that he might recreate him by his incarnate Son, Jesus, the Messiah.
Without a genuine encounter with the living God, we fall into the trap of thinking that it is our own knowledge that saves us. That trap says: if only we knew what to do and not do, knew how to live, knew the correct formulas, knew what to believe, what principles of success will guide us, then we would have a good life, would have happiness and love. But knowledge — even the knowledge of good and evil, and even the best knowledge of good and evil that originates from the Bible — will not save us. This is the original lie, the primal test of man.
The dilemma of the fundamental choice that our ancestors faced is the same choice we face today and every day. The two trees in the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, represent the two basic sources of life:
The Tree of Life. By eating from this tree, our whole life orients around and draws from an implicit trust in the Person of God, our ears being tuned to his voice. We walk with him, as Adam did, in the cool of the day, living this life of relationship in the families that God gives us with our children. Our children receive our words and trust them because they come directly from us. Our relationship with our children should beautifully illustrate how God intended it to be with his children – us.
The Tree of Knowledge. By eating from this tree, our whole life orients around an implicit trust in ourselves and our independent ability to discern and understand the good and the evil, the right and wrong, the straight and the crooked. But with no source outside of ourselves, our lives become ingrown and ultimately devolve into a dead and lifeless cycle.
God gave the Law to Israel as an extension of Adam’s original choice. Paul says the law “was added because of transgressions . . .” (Galatians 3:19), meaning that the law was given to expose our sinfulness and our desperate need for God’s salvation. In a word, God gave the law to Israel to drive them back to himself and to reveal the all-sufficiency of Christ.
Of course biblical principles do exist. God instituted laws and commandments for our good, and he expects them to be followed. But the difference lies in whether the laws retain the presence of God or whether they have been stripped of him and his overshadowing presence. The difference lies in whether we teach the laws with the assumption that we can follow them without his presence. Nevertheless he is faithful and will continue to speak to us; he is never far. The Psalmist shows us just how near he is. Even if we do not know him, he still knows us.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. — Psalm 139:1–10
Though the Christian life cannot be completely summed up by any single statement, I’ll go ahead and try:
The Christian life is the growing awareness and obedience to God’s presence and voice in every part of our life, whereby we become increasingly accurate image-bearers of his glory.
We cannot sum up life by any system of Christian principles, rules or laws. For a more complete understanding of the meaning of life, see LIE: The meaning of life is an unfathomable mystery.
See also the Introduction, Lies attacking our relationship to God.