A Christian Way of Living
September 17th, 2017
Last Sunday I spoke primarily about Christian nurture as a means of reaching
people for Christ, and said that educational evangelism was the principle means of
sharing the faith in congregations such as ours. We believe that becoming a Christian is
best assured by a continuing process of learning and exposure to Christian influence
within a caring, sharing, and supportive community of Christ's people.
Today, I invite you to look at yet another approach to sharing our faith which is
also typical of churches and denominations such as ours. That approach I have in mind
is to demonstrate what we believe by the way in which we live. We bear witness to
Jesus Christ by the persuasion of example, by the character and quality of the way we
relate to the world and to one another.
The Biblical precedent for this approach to evangelism is suggested by our text
for today where we are told that it was at Antioch that the believers were first called
Christians. Apparently those who followed Christ were so conspicuous for their different
way of living that the citizens of that city paid them a supreme compliment by labeling
them with our Lord's title. In effect, they were saying, These people remind us of Christ
... and they were attracted to them and wanted to know more about this Christ whom
Evangelism by example and the influence of a different way of living is probably
more firmly established in the Quaker tradition than any other. The Society of Friends is
committed to the principle that it is inappropriate to speak to people about Christ unless
he is clearly revealed in your manner of living. Hence, they have involved themselves in
many kinds of service projects, convinced that the people to whom they minister will
want to know what motivates them to do such works of love, and then, of course, the
door is open to share their faith.
This approach to evangelism is theologically grounded in the incarnation itself.
God's word became flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus came into our midst and lived an
extraordinary life. He was a human being to whom others were drawn by his
exceptional way of relating to people, his compassion and his love. People would no
doubt have turned a deaf ear to what Jesus said had they not been impressed by the
way he lived.
And so, the emphasis here is upon consistency, ... consistency in word and
deed, in life and faith. I am reminded of that old adage, What you are speaks so loudly
that I can't hear a word that you say. Demonstration of life precedes declaration of faith;
it is a logical order.
But, there is more than that. There are those who insist that Christian faith simply
cannot be convincingly communicated by word of mouth alone, that it must be clearly
incarnate and unmistakably visible for anyone outside the community of believers to
comprehend it. It is said that on one occasion someone asked Martha Graham, who
certainly could be said to be the founder of modern dance, Miss Graham, what does
your dance mean? To which she replied, My dear, if I could tell you, I would not have
danced it. Some such similar conviction underlies the way of living approach to
evangelism. Seeing is both believing and understanding.
I hope that you will agree that the rationale behind this is persuasive, but the
unsettling question which we cannot avoid is obvious: Are we really that different? Does
the way you and I live stand in such sharp contrast to the way others do around us?
These are the questions which make us uncomfortable, for we would like to claim that
we Christians are different, yet, we seem to blend in rather easily with everyone else.
Paul's warning to those early Christians still speaks pointedly to us: Don't let the
world squeeze you into its mold. Who is unaware of the strong pressure exerted upon
us to do precisely this? We are subject to an unrelenting influence of mass
communication, mass consumption, organizational conformity, and data banks of
information - all of which seem to be conspiring to make us carbon copies of each other
in the way we live and in what we think and in what we want out of life. It is hard to swim
against the current, and so much easier to climb on the raft and drift downstream.
For the conscientious Christian, no conflict is more painful than that between what
our faith requires of us and what our culture expects of us. Our culture advocates our
getting ahead, scrambling to be on top of the heap, striving for success that promises
power and recognition ... while our faith commends us to the way of life of Jesus Christ,
who cared not a fig for reputation but humbled himself and was obedient even unto
death. Our society calls for upward mobility while our faith calls us to downward
obedience. How to reconcile the two is an impossible dilemma with which most of us
wrestle for as long as we live.
And what is the outcome of this struggle? Unfortunately, too often it is our faith
which loses out. Instead of Christ changing us, we seek to change Christ. We feel a lot
more comfortable with the Old Testament way of living depicted in Psalm 1 which
promises that if we keep the Law we will prosper, than we do with the New Testament
way of living which promises servanthood and carrying a cross.
In Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain there is an insightful account of this
childhood impression of the chaplain at the boy's school he attended. He said the
chaplain's favorite sermon was based on I Corinthians 13, but the interpretation was
rather strange. The chaplain substituted the word gentleman for the word love, thus
reading a gentleman is patient, is kind; a gentleman does not envy, etc. Merton
remembers thinking that the disciples would have been rather surprised at this
translation, realizing that Jesus had been cursed, beaten and finally nailed to a cross that
we might become gentlemen ... or ladies, if you will.
Yet, this kind of cultural rationalization is typical of our attempt to minimize the
conflict between our way of living and that of our Lord. We persist in wanting to see
Jesus as a white, middle-class American, just like us, instead of one who would appear
very much as an outsider and whose very presence would no doubt be felt as judgment.
All right, I suppose it's fair to ask at this point, just what would a Christian way of
living look like?
I would say that one basic characteristic is that we be agents of peace and
reconciliation with all people. Jesus did not separate himself from anyone; the scope of
his caring included persons of all races and classes; he continually went out of his way to
express concern for the well-being of those who were alienated, hurt, oppressed, or any
people who seemed excluded from the human family for any reason.
In a larger context, this befriending would be reflected in a primary loyalty to the
whole human race by striving for peace in our world. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers,
yet even the Christian Church has found that affirmation hard to make in a world
economy, a large portion of which has to do with the manufacture and sale of arms.
A second characteristic of a Christian way of living is simplicity. In a society which
encourages us to consume more than we need, it is hard to discipline oneself in a more
simple way of living. But, it seems to me that the simple life is concerned about
something more than just cutting back on our materialistic indulgences. The simple life is
primarily defined as a condition of the soul, reflecting singleness of purpose and clarity of
direction. It implies a less cluttered and less confused life, a life that in all ways seeks
first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness and justice. And so, the scaling down
of our acquisitions is meant both to insure a better focus on life and also to provide
greater opportunities for sharing with others by using less for ourselves.
In addition, that simplicity of soul that characterizes a Christian way of living
requires a different kind of prioritizing of our possessions. The quest for simplicity, for
example, should not deny the value of beauty. There is certainly something of lasting
value to the statement of Henry David Thoreau: If I had two dollars left, one would buy
bread and the other flowers; food for my body and food for my soul. The simple life
should not be confused with the cheap or even the ascetic; rather, it is a balanced life
that orders both its getting and its giving for the well-being of one's spiritual condition.
A third characteristic of a Christian way of living seems apropos in today's world.
That characteristic is personal purity. Why is it that we flinch a little whenever we hear
an appeal for personal purity? The word puritan has fallen upon hard times and no one
wants to be labeled a prude. We resist any description of ourselves that would seem to
set us apart as being morally better than others. Ours is an age for being open-minded
and one is looked down upon unless she or he tolerates intolerable behavior. I should
think that we ought to look forward more often to the task of keeping our minds and
morals clean than we do to keeping our bodies physically fit. Isn't it ironic that all around
us people are dieting and exercising to improve their physical shape who are totally
indifferent to any effort to improve their moral or spiritual condition? Sisters and brothers,
you can have personal purity without being a prude; you can be aware of the birds flying
over your head without inviting them to nest in your hair. You cannot read the New
Testament without immediately noticing that those first Christians were constantly
admonishing one another about maintaining exemplary moral standards, warning against
profligate and intemperate lives, against polluting their minds and hearts. And, they were
cautious to refrain from even any appearance of sin lest their behavior cause someone
else to stumble. A Christian is able to say no, even when most others are saying yes.
Obviously, the Christian way of living approach to evangelism runs the risk of
Pharisaism. It does sound presumptuous for anyone to claim that they are trying to live
like Jesus. But the real test, you see, of this way of reaching other people is whether or
not it leads them to ask the question, Why do you live the way you do? What is your
motivation? When that question comes, or one like it, you are then in a position to
explain quite matter-of- factly that you live that way because that is your way of
responding to the call of Jesus Christ, and he is the one who strengthens and inspires
Remember the Scripture, Let you light shine so that others may see your good
works and glorify God who is in heaven. The real test of a genuine Christian way of
living is whether it calls attention to you or to the one whom you serve. This is the best
show and tell I know of. Show the world a new life and explain its origin in God.
I'd like to close today with another quotation from the autobiography of the monk,
Thomas Merton, who writes:
If you want to identify me, ask not where I live or what I like to eat or how I comb
my hair, but ask me what I am living for ... and ask me what I think is keeping me from
living fully for the kind of thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can
determine the identity of any person. The better the answer, the more of a person he is
And so, I ask you, What are you living for? If your answer is, the Lord Jesus
Christ, then I pray that whatever it is that is keeping you from living fully for what you
want may be overcome, and like those first disciples in Antioch, your neighbors will also
call you Christian.
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