The Essence of Christian Living
Charles Naylor, 1941
Coal tar is a dark, sticky, unattractive substance of little apparent value. But by chemical processes, a great number of different chemicals are extracted from it which are used for many purposes. Some make dyes, some flavors; and by properly combining other chemicals—rich perfumes of various sorts are produced. Looking at the dark, unlovely coal tar, we would not dream that it contained anything so desirable, but under the magic of the chemist's power, many things are brought out of it to serve useful purposes.
In the same way, the human heart in its natural state is unlovely. It is like the coal tar. But when the divine Chemist by his wisdom and power separates the evil from the good, and makes Christians out of sinners—he produces a life-power within, so that we may live a life within and without that will have the same purpose and beauty as the lives of the angels in paradise.
But Christian living is not a single thing. It is a compound. It is made up of a number of things. Four of these we shall notice:
1. The first element that goes to make up Christian living of the attractive and worth-while kind, is living NEAR Christ. The Bible teaches that the Christian lives in a close relation with Christ. We are "no more foreigners and strangers," but children of the Most High God. We are no more "afar off," but are "brought near by the blood of Christ." His invitation is, "Come unto me." So to live the kind of Christian life that will breathe out a fragrance to all those around us, we must live near to Christ. It is our privilege to live near to him. There are too many who live too far away from him. To them he is "Lord and Master." He is enthroned in majesty, and seems all too unapproachable.
This is the Christ of the universe. This is our Christ—but it is only one side of his character; still it is the only side that some people seem to see. He is not only Lord and Master—he is Brother; he is Savior; he is Keeper; he is Companion along life's way. He dwells in our hearts. It is not his relation of Lord and Master which brings out in us the beauty of Christian character, but that more intimate relation of Brother and Friend. It is the Christ to whom we draw near in full assurance of faith without fear, and without shrinking, without timidity, and without a sense of his overpowering greatness.
Christ is our Lord and Master, but he condescends also to come down upon a level with us and lets us approach him in the same familiar way as Mary approached him when she sat at his feet, and as the disciples did in their daily fellowship, and as the children did in their play.
Ah, yes, we can draw near him unafraid, unabashed by his greatness, or by the sense of our weakness. We can live near him every day. We can be in the inner circle of his friends. We can have his presence with us. We can have with him that sweet sense of understanding that we have with our dearest and most-loved friends. Yes, he comes closer than even our dearest friends. He understands where they cannot understand. He can help where they cannot help.
So we need to come close to Christ, to live close to him. We need to cultivate that intimate relation, that union of soul which gives one a continued sense of his presence and friendship, and more than all, of his tender love. Without this intimate, personal sense of Christ's being with us and helping us, understanding us, and shedding the beneficent influence of his life over us—our life will lack one of the sweetest qualities of genuine Christianity.
It is our blessed privilege to be near him. But to have this association, we must cultivate a nearness to him and a sense of nearness to him—by daily drawing near to him, and communing with him and pouring out our love to him. There is nothing that draws us to Christ, like loving him. And love is cultivated by drawing near to him each day and many times a day, and pouring out our soul's love and devotion to him. We can live near him even in the most troublous times. And when we live near him, our lives will never be stale nor lack the sweet perfume of holiness.
2. A second element of Christian living is that we shall live BY Christ. So many when they are asked if they are Christians say, "I am trying to do the best I can. I am trying to live right." But they realize their trying is in their own human strength. Try as we will in this way, we can only fail, for we are to live Christians by Christ. We are to draw from him, the strength and grace which will equip us to meet the difficulties of life and to overcome them. It is only by drawing from Christ day by day, that the things which are needful, the counsel, the wisdom, the understanding, and such like—that we can live as we know we ought to live.
The grace of Christ is free, and we have but to come to him, draw upon that grace, and we shall be, not simply trying, but accomplishing; not straining and struggling, but living natural and victorious lives.
It is only when we realize our own inability to live up to the Christian standard by our own efforts and strength, that we feel the need of His help. How much we are conscious of this! But all too many who are thus conscious of their need, fail to get their daily need supplied, because they do not take those steps that are necessary to draw from Christ the needed help.
We must live by Christ. There must be the daily inflowing of divine grace. We must feel as did Paul, that we trust not in ourselves, but in the living God.
Then we must go forward, drawing from Christ each day by seeking his help, by opening our hearts that they may be filled, by communion with him, by earnest seeking. Christ is our life, and by him we must live, if we live as he would have us live.
There is no holding back on his part. He gives freely to those who ask him. He satisfies the longing soul. But many are too occupied by other worldly things to seek that daily portion of Christ that they must have to live successfully. For them life cannot have the richness and the usefulness that might be theirs for the seeking.
3. Another of the essentials of Christian living is that we live FOR Christ. To the extent that we are occupied with self and with self-interests, to that extent we narrow the limits of Christian life. Life must be lived for Christ to be Christian life. It must be dedicated life. The language of our soul must be, "I will live for him who died for me." The life of unselfish devotion to the interests of Christ, is the life that shines with beauty and that has a sweet perfume.
"You are not your own," says the apostle Paul. The more we cast out selfishness, the less we seek our own, the more we yield ourselves to Christ and his work, the more we live with the purpose of pleasing him—the deeper and richer will be the current of the joy of living and of his grace that flows through our soul. If our Christian life is not satisfactory, then let us look into our hearts and see whether we are living for Christ, or for self. To the extent we are living for self, to that extent we are robbing ourselves and robbing God. We are robbing ourselves of that blessedness that comes from wholehearted devotion to his interests. We are robbing God of the service that we ought to give him and of the opportunities to work through us as he would.
This is the very cause of the dearth and emptiness in the lives of many professors of Christianity. They are living for self—not for Christ; and the happiness that comes from selfishness—is the lowest of all forms of happiness.
When we live near Christ and by Christ and for Christ there will be a fourth element seen in our lives.
4. We shall live like Christ. The characteristics that were seen in him, will be seen in us. We shall bear the fruits of the Spirit. We shall not show hatred, bitterness, envy, malice, nor any of the thousand other evils which spring from the natural heart. We shall be able to live like him. Then we can say, "For me, to live is Christ," and with joy we can add, "To die is gain."
So let us join in our lives these four elements of Christian living and we shall bear all the fruits of righteousness—and peace, joy, happiness, and contentment will be ours; and we shall lead natural, useful, and blessed Christian lives and inspire others to live for Christ.