Union with Christ

by Roger Helland

Have you ever wondered what it really means to live the Christian life? You may reply, “Well yeah, isn’t that what we are all trying to do?” I don’t mean to live Christianly, to live like a Christian, or to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner. What I mean is to really live a Christian life. There are many methods and systems out there that we could all present to help us pray, worship, study, “have devotions,” evangelize, live a holy life, and even walk with God better. However, that would not address my question. Annie Dillard remarked, “How we live our days, of course, is how we live our lives.” How do I live my days? To form an answer requires that I take a journey to a deeper, astonishing, and revolutionizing place that will free me from the struggle.

The Struggle

I don’t know about you, but I have struggled all my Christian life with knowing how to live the Christian life. For me, the Christian life has been the sum total of all my attitudes and actions that are deemed “Christian.” For example, I have believed that when I go to church, read my Bible, pray, serve God according to my spiritual gifts (usually in “church” ministries), think Christianly, and live a good moral life, I am doing Christian things that define what it means to live the Christian life. I try to be like Jesus but am never certain “what Jesus would do” in areas of my life where I face the most problems. I hear motivational sermons that encourage me to become more radical for Jesus, say no to temptation, be more patient and loving, share the gospel with my neighbors, walk in the Spirit, and then I intently listen to a closing prayer from the preacher believing that it will somehow morph his message from motivation to reality in my life. I have people pray for me to be filled with the Spirit and then I try to enter the “deeper” life by following the methods. I often feel empty not full and feel shallow not deep. What about you?

I return from the mountain top of inspiration and instruction with less than a radiant face only to settle back into the real world of my anger, anxiety, and angst wondering how I can ever really make progress in the Christian life. In spite of his profound impact on Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther did not expect Christians to change much. He was suspicious of claims to growth in holiness and methods to attain union with God. Maybe he looked at the corruption in those around him, as well as his own life, and concluded that Christians can not, do not, or will not change much. I review my life and notice that I continue to carry embedded dysfunctional junk in my spiritual, emotional, and moral DNA that leaves me wondering if the Holy Spirit is at work or on vacation in my life. Can you relate to me or am I crazy?

To make matters worse, my modern evangelicalism does not tend to help me. Why, because there is so much emphasis on productivity, performance, and programs for doing “God’s work.” To “really” join a church means that I will become a “member”—who agrees to its statement of faith, tithes my income, regularly attends weekend services, gets involved in some form of church service, and submits to the authority of the leaders. For example, let me show you what my own denomination says I should do to connect with God’s purposes through its called2serve program:

• Authentically Love Others
• Be Filled With the Holy Spirit
• Pursue Holiness
• Embrace God’s Truth
• Live a Missional Life
• Commit to a Body of Believers

Pretty good stuff wouldn’t you say? If we all adopted this list, our lives and our churches would likely improve. Nevertheless, I have been trying this list all my Christian life. Is this what it means to live the Christian life? Is this what it means to walk with God? It is all about doing Christian things. Therefore, what happens is that my identity and significance often become tangled up with doing Christian and church stuff. The whole system can get very tiring! Now, for a contrast, soak in the following words by Jesus that Eugene Peterson paraphrased in The Message, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30).

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005