What Is a Christian Life?
A great many people seem to misunderstand Christianity and the Christian life. The misconception is not always the same.
In some cases, no more is implied than intellectual belief of the doctrines of Christianity. A Christian is one who is "sound in the faith," although his life may lamentably fail as an exemplification of the spirit of the gospel.
In other cases, attachment to the Church, with more or less scrupulous observance of its rites, is considered the essential thing in Christian life. The personal character may be very faulty, and there may be no practical application of the principles of the gospel to the conduct. Pride, bitterness, selfishness, malice, dishonesty, and harshness may abound. But because the person observes the ordinances of the Church, he considers himself a Christian man.
Then there is an emotional religion, which measures itself by the depth and intensity of its feelings. It grows rapturous in song and prayer, and in all the expressions of its devotional spirit. But here again the conduct is not affected. The missionary hymn is sung with ecstasy—but nothing is put into the collection plate which passes after the hymn is sung. Christian love is ardently praised in the conference meeting, and the duty of Christians to dwell together in brotherly love is earnestly urged. He agrees with the speaker's notions—but he is the same selfish and unreasonable creature as before. His religion does not affect his living.
Now all of these conceptions of religion fail at the vital point. Each of them may represent a fragment of the true ideal of Christian life, but neither of them realizes its central and essential thought. They are all external, and take no account of character and conduct.
The Bible idea is different: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "The fruit of the Spirit consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth." "If you love me, then you will keep my commandments." A Christian life is a regenerated life. Heaven is for those with holy character. Anyone who would enter its gates must first be made fit by being transformed into heavenly character. "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." Revelation 21:27
Thus the teaching of the Scriptures is that a true Christian life is one that has come under new influences, a new life, a divine principle—entering the heart and changing all within and then without. It is the Spirit entering into him and influencing his whole life.
True religion, therefore, takes hold upon the life and leaves its seal upon the character. It has a creed, but it does not wear its doctrines merely as so many diamonds, to shine in their cold beauty. Rather, it takes them into the heart, and, as the bare, dry rose bush in the springtime receives the air, the rain, and the sunshine, and puts forth roses fragrant and beautiful—so true religion assimilates its beliefs and gives as the outcome the lovely things of renewed spiritual life. It attaches itself to this Church, and observes its rites, but it does so that by learning the truth it may walk in the truth, and that enjoying its ordinances it may gather strength and grow into nobleness and beauty.
It experiences deep feelings. Love is its inner fire, which, burning brightly, transfigures the dull earthly existence and gives energy to all the active exercises of the life. No true religion is without emotion. Love to God is the fountain and spring of all. Neither devotions, nor self-sacrifice, nor costly ministries are of any avail—if the heart is not given to God.
Nothing counts with God, until there is sincere love for him in the heart. True religion has deep feelings—the degree of their intensity making the real measure of holiness in the life. But these feelings do not exhaust themselves in mere emotions or find expression only in word or song—they become impulses to earnest activities and holy ministries. The missionary hymn is sung with no less ecstasy, but the hand is ready with its gifts when the song has ceased. Christian love is no less ardently extolled; but after the meeting the heart is tender, the voice is gentle, and the affectionateness commended is lived out in all life's varied relations.
In a true Christian life, the beliefs in the heart manifest themselves, in greater or less measure—in the conduct and the character. No emotion should exhaust itself in its own rapture, but should become an inspiration to some act or word or thought of love.
Thus it is character which is the true and final test of religion. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control." "Whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report"—these are the things that prove one a Christian. Not those who say, "Lord, Lord"—but those who "obey his commandments," shall enter into Heaven.
Men talk about holiness and pray for it, as if it were something entirely apart from their everyday life, something that has nothing whatever to do with their conduct in their domestic, social and business relations. They sing, "Nearer, my God, to you," with glowing fervor, but do not realize that the prayer can be answered only by the lifting up of their own lives to the plane of God's requirements. Holiness is not a mere sentiment, not a vague vision of glory overhanging us like a heavenly cloud; not a rapture or an ecstasy; not something which God sends down to wrap us like a garment in its radiant folds. Holiness is the most real and practical thing in this world! If being holy means anything at all, it means being true, honest, upright, noble, pure, gentle, patient, unselfish. Holiness is not all prayer and church-going and hymn-singing; it is life and conduct. It is not a Sunday religion, but a week-day lifestyle. We really have no more religion than we get into our everyday life, at home, in business, in all our conduct. We are Christians only so far as the Christ living in us, is manifested in a Christlike life.