If he know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.
I know I’d an old Japanese Christian woman who was disturbed by a thief who broke into her house. She saw he was desperately hungry, and in her simple faith in the Lord, she cooked the man a meal, then ended by offering him her keys. He was utterly shamed by her action, and God spoke to him. Through her testimony, that man is a brother in Christ today.
Too many Christians have all the doctrine in their heads, but live lives that contradict it. They know, for example all about Ephesians 1-3, but they neglect the practical commands of chapters 4-6; put away falsehood; be kind; forgive; subject yourselves to one another; love your wives, obey your masters; forbear threatening; pray. It were better to have no doctrine at all than to be a contradiction. Has God commanded something? Then cast yourself on him for help-and do it!
Christianity was never meant to be a religion. The whole purpose of Christ coming in the flesh was more than creating a new religion. We are all aware that He came, of course to redeem us from death by taking our place on the cross and dying in our stead. But more than that He came to reintroduce us to the lost relationship that Adam and Eve gave up in the Garden. Religion has ritual and rule but relationship goes far beyond either.
Let me try to illustrate this principle. Every marriage has ritual and rule. They may not be written but nevertheless they are crucial. Even in the beginning of the relationship there are unspoken ritual and rule. Dating could be easily considered a ritual even though it certainly has changed over time. The main ingredients still exists. Two people meet and become attracted to each other and then get together for a “date.” After a period they make a commitment to each other and then that invokes a rule. Commitment makes dating other people outlawed. While the couple may not sign a contract stating such, it becomes the unwritten law and if broken usually damages or destroys the relationship. Deeper commitment involves the ritual of engagement, usually signified by giving a token-an engagement ring announcing the intention of joining their lives and futures together. But while the ritual, the token and the rule may be physical displays of the relationship, in and of themselves they have no power to begin or sustain the relationship. They are nothing more than indicators of the relationship. I suppose a couple could date with no intention of making a commitment, wearing an engagement ring doesn’t make either the giver or the receiver locked into the relationship. Either of them could break or violate everything the ritual implies. At some point, assuming the relationship continues, the couple will join together through the ritual of a marriage ceremony, which can be extremely simple or extraordinarily elaborate. In our culture it can be religious in nature or totally secular. Though the ceremony may vary, its symbolic ritualistic meaning is the same. The couple vow to spend their lives together, loving and caring for one another. But neither a ceremony nor a legal document makes a union, as most married couples could tell you. The rules of commitment, the promises made, and the expected rules of conduct do not make a marriage. Everything is based upon the actual relationship between the couple and without the relationship there is in actuality no marriage. Oh to be sure, they could appear to be a couple in public, or perform the ritualistic expectations, without a relationship, but only for a limited time and in the end the relationship would dissolve.
This is no different than Christianity. It is founded upon having a living relationship with Christ. Like marriage, it has rituals and rules, but like marriage its foundation is relationship. No one will ever last as a Christian if they see is as preforming the right rituals correctly or keeping the rules or laws because it’s expected that they do so. Christ didn’t come to give us a new set of rules. He came to transform our hearts by revealing to us who God is. I seriously doubt anyone would enter a marriage without having a personal encounter and developing a relationship with the other person. We would consider someone foolish to believe that the ritual and rule were sufficient to make a healthy marriage and yet many approach their relationship with God that way.
Finally, let me say that I seriously doubt that any human marriage would survive if either of the couple compartmentalized the relationship. What I mean by this is that I’m sure that seeing each other and spending an hour a week together most likely would be insufficient to have or keep a relationship. Being a Christian is much the same as being married. We aren’t faithful because our companion is always with us. We aren’t committed to an ideal. Our relationship isn’t comprised of carefully practiced ritual. Instead, our hearts are captured, our desires are focused, and we have made a conscious decision to make life and lifestyle changes so that we may bring joy and fullness to the one we love.
This is what “practical” Christianity is. Because we are changed by Christ, our goals, dreams, and desires are changed. We don’t see it a “giving something up” for in our view what we receive is far greater than what we may give. We don’t change conduct from pressure but from a desire to bring joy. We don’t struggle with commitment because we believe we’ve found the ultimate treasure and we gladly release the things that hinder or interfere with the relationship. We don’t look for the minimum effort required to maintain the relationship. Instead we constantly seek ways to enhance and deepen it. We recognize that like human relationships our relationship with God changes, deepens, and expresses itself differently as it continues. We no longer are driven to keep performing the same rituals that existed in the beginning.
Ask yourself today if you are experiencing a living relationship with Christ in a practical way or whether you are feeling unfulfilled and exhausted as you keep trying to keep rule and ritual that leaves you empty. I pray it’s the former. If not, won’t you come to Christ and say to Him, “I’m tired of going through the motions. I want a real relationship that helps me become a “practical Christian.”
Dr. John Thompson