How do I live a Christian life?
It comes down to what Matthew 5:16 says: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in Heaven.
Living a Christian life comes down to allowing the love of God to be manifest through you to others. All of us have our own degree of brilliance with which our inner ďlightĒ shines to others. People should look at the way a Christian behaves and appreciate his good character and lifestyle heís developed in response to finding Christ. They should want what he has! But some with emotional scars or problems have a harder time living a good life. The key is to try! If it needs to be defined more concretely, just follow the 10 Commandments! Think how good a country this would be if the society were willing to observe just 10 simple principles for living! They are in Exodus, Chapter 20...
1. I am the Lord your God...thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Originally this Commandment was to the Hebrews who lived in a polytheistic society. Their greatest problem, throughout the entire Old Testament, was that they repeatedly fell into the trap of worshipping gods other than the One God. Why? There were four main reasons:
First: out of fear. In order to placate local deities they thought were real, the Hebrews would sacrifice to them in hope of keeping evil away lest these deities become offended.
Second: in hope of gaining favor. Rather than trusting God to give them a good harvest, for instance, the people might sacrifice or perform a ritual that non-Hebrews in the region observed in hope of being blessed by some other deity ďjust in caseĒ God didnít come through.
Third: for sexual gratification. Most all the local deities of the Middle East in that time were notorious for sexual rites that were practiced in conjunction with worship. Those who refused to live by Godís standard for sexuality found it easy to be drawn to these other gods.
Fourth: Peer pressure. Other people in the region worshipped a variety of Gods, and the Hebrews were constantly joining in the practice because worship of local deities was normal for the culture in the area.
We donít live in a world where worshipping Astaroth or Diana is much of a problem. But in principle, this first and greatest Commandment tells us not to allow anything to substitute for trust in God Himself. Itís easy for us to allow things to distract our attention away from trusting God. For example, assuming our retirement years will be OK because of our stock investments, or that our job is what guarantees our survival, or that we will find happiness through a relationship, are several areas where we substitute trust in God for trust in other things. Those other, natural, things always fail sooner or later. If we are truly serving God then we understand that God will lead us, and that God is all that we can ultimately count on to get us through life. We must still use common sense--we should plan for our retirement, seek a good job, etc. But only with Godís help can we get through the storms in life in a way that holds value both in this life and in the life to come. Too many of us--and I mean us--live our day-to-day lives with a mindset that weíre just to get through life until we die, then we go to Heaven and thatís it. But the Bible is clear that how we live our lives down here has a direct bearing on our position in Heaven. Somehow, there is a reward for the degree to which we dedicate ourselves to God. We canít fully understand that but itís true.
2.Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image...Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them...
This Commandment went hand-in-hand with the first. Once again the people seemed to take great comfort in worshipping an idol they could actually see, rather than God, whom they could not. We too find it easiest to rely in tangible things we can see and understand rationally rather than trusting in God whom we canít see. We might not call these things gods, but you might recognize some of their names--job, the government, marriage, education, sex, science, etc.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Harry Truman once said, ďI canít help it--I just like to cuss!Ē But aside from what he said, itís pretty obvious that for we, in our culture, this is a prohibition against cursing. (Although classical Judaism interpreted this Commandment primarily as a prohibition against making an untruthful oath.) Beyond that this tells us not to take God for granted but to reverence Him as creator, father, savior, and so on. In other words, when we think of the word ďGodĒ we should consciously realize the enormity of the power and majesty behind that word not just spit it out as nothing more than a term for a super being who lives somewhere beyond our universe.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
This is the only one of the 10 Commandments that isnít repeated in the New Testament. But itís still of paramount importance to us. At the very least Sunday should be a day when we really focus in on worship of God and interaction with other Christians rather than just viewing it as a day off from work to catch up for the things we couldnít do earlier in the week, or to relax.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother...
Iím as guilty as any at failing here because all to often this isnít easy to do in our culture. And how much harder is it to do if one has been raised in an environment of abuse? Yet God has explicitly stated that children are to be respectful toward their parents. In fact if you read the entire Commandment it has a promise that a person who does honor their parents will have a long and, presumably, a productive life. Perhaps not so much from Godís dumping blessings on them for their obedience, but from the benefits that come from a personís developing an attitude of respect for authority. At the same time, respect is a two-way street. Parents who fail to set a godly standard and environment for their children reap the bad fruits of that. Still, the Commandment holds. And if thereís no other way then sometimes young people must just hold their tongues and obey with as good an attitude as they can muster unless the parents are asking for submission to things that are just plain wrong in Godís eyes.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
Boy, this is an easy one, huh? Just donít get a gun and pull the trigger. But words can kill almost as effectively as bullets can. Whenever we say something that puts down someone we help kill that personís spirit. Thereís an old saying, ďIf you canít say anything good, donít say anything at all!Ē
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
This is another unpopular one. This Commandment doesnít just refer to unfaithfulness in marriage but to any even remote sexual activity outside of marriage.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
Again, going beyond the obvious, this Commandment tells us to keep from taking anything that we have no right to. Practical applications include returning too much change to a cashier, not lying on our tax forms (I know that oneís hard!), doing an honest dayís work for the wages weíve agreed to, and so on.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Very simply, we shouldnít gossip and we shouldnít lie.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighborís house...nor anything that is thy neighborís.
This Commandment tells us not to be jealous of someone elseís position or possessions, and to be satisfied with what we have, trusting God to help us gain our own things in ways that wonít ultimately cause us some sort of physical or emotional harm. Paul the Apostle, while he boasted of his fanatical dedication and zeal in following the Commandments before he knew Christ, finally realized this was the area in which he fell short.
My whole point in bringing up some of the principles behind the Commandments is to help you avoid the trap that the Pharisees fell into: that of viewing the Commandments as nothing more than dos and doníts. The Pharisees looked at the Commandments, interpreted them superficially, and totally missed the principles behind them. Then they became proud at how effectively they obeyed the rules, never understanding that they had failed to follow the Commandments the way God wanted--naturally, through a change of attitude in the heart that would have produced in them a desire to do good.
Also, if 10 Commandments seem too many to follow, Jesus summed them up in just two!
King James Bible
New Jerusalem Bible
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the Law? How readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
And a lawyer stood up and, to test him, asked: 'Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'
He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?'
He replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.'
Jesus said to him, 'You have answered right, do this and life is yours.'
Beyond settling into a Christian lifestyle, there are other practical things to help one grow in Christ. Get into the Bible. If reading is a chore for you, get a simple-to-read Bible like the Living Bible, or the NIV. Nothing is better than the traditional King James Bible for memorizing Bible passages or for looking up familiar scriptures. But the Elizabethan language is hard for many to understand and for a more contemporary work I personally recommend the New Jerusalem Bible since Iíve found it to be a very accurate translation yet easy to read at the same time. Itís a Catholic Bible so it has some apocryphal books that Protestant Bibles do not, but in no way does that affect its usefulness in study. My only real gripe with it lies in some of its marvelous liner notes. Some of these were written by scholars who were more conversant in ancient languages and culture than they were true Christianity, so in places these notes might question the legitimacy of some of the scriptures. Ignore notes like this in any Bible! But a good translation is still a good translation. I also enjoy and recommend David Stern's Jewish New Testament which does a tremendous job in restoring the Jewish flavor of the New Testament.
Try to get some good Bible teaching by watching Christian TV, listening to Christian radio, or reading books by Christian authors. Some great teachers include men like Jack Hayford, C.S. Lewis, Charles Stanley, Billy Graham, and D. James Kennedy. If youíre a past victim of abuse, I strongly recommend the tapes and writings of Joyce Meyer. (Even if youíre not a victim of abuse, sheís one of the best ministers around!)
Last, if you need a good rule of thumb to help you determine if something is right for a Christian to do, ask yourself whether you could comfortably do it if Jesus were in the same room with you (which He is).
ďAll this sounds great, and maybe it works for you, but I know what a sinner I am--I just canít live a Christian life!Ē
Believe me, I understand. There have been areas in my life Iíve had to admit I just canít get right. In those cases I suggest you do what Iíve done: go to God in prayer and admit that you just canít find the strength to do what is right, that you know there are things you should change in your behavior, but you keep finding yourself making the wrong choice--often willingly, when you know you really could have done better if youíd tried. Ask Him to anoint you through the Holy Spirit to live a Christian life, to change your attitudes and give you supernatural strength each day to overcome sin. Jesus Himself said, ďApart from me, ye can do nothingĒ. We canít even live a Christian life without Godís assistance (at least I know I canít), and the help is there if we will ask for it and then try our best to go on and do what is right.
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