Being Christians: Marked Out as God’s People

My current reading project is The New Testament and the People of God by N. T. Wright. I hope one day to finish the entire series of which this is the first book, namely Christian Origins and the Question of God (for that matter, so does Wright). It’s been a very interesting study so far, covering the nature of literature and history, epistemology, Jewish history, the first century Jewish worldview, Christian history, and now the worldview of the first century Christians. An important part of studying worldviews is the study of praxis, what people in a group (in this case people within the mainstream first generation Church) do.

According to Wright, the distinctive elements of early Christian praxis could be summed up in a few major categories: mission, sacrament, worship, ethics, sacrifice, and martyrdom. In each of these areas, Christians were noticeably different from the rest of the world, which consisted basically of pagans and Jews. The gist of the differences is as follows:

  • Mission:
    The early church had evangelistic fervor. Unlike the pagans, the Christians spread their teachings with enthusiasm and love. They used their lives instead of legal decree to lead people to the truth. Unlike the Jews, who mostly kept their religion to themselves and frowned upon Gentiles, the Christians felt themselves compelled to persistently offer their good news to all the world.
  • Sacrament:
    The early Christians took baptism and Communion for granted. Every new convert was hastily baptized, and they regarded their baptisms as having significance to new creation and union with Christ. Every time they met (or nearly so) they partook of the Lord’s Supper together. No pagan rituals were anything like this. The Jews’ closest equivalents were baptizing Gentiles converts to Judaism, though it was never given the significance of Christian baptism, and Passover, which was a far more elaborate (and legally binding) ritual than the simple sharing of bread and wine.
  • Worship:
    The worship of Christians is perhaps the most distinctive point. The pagans worshipped very many gods and goddesses, one for almost every part of the natural and supernatural worlds. They also were legally obligated to worship Caesar. Jews, of course, worshipped only one God, Yahweh, and believed all other gods to be shams. Christians continued the Jewish tradition of worshipping one God alone, contrary to the pagans, but in a manner strange and scandalous to Jews included Jesus, a crucified carpenter/prophet from Nazareth, in the worship of their God, though at this time they didn’t explain exactly why or how that worked.
  • Ethics:
    Even secular historians who thought poorly of Christianity were astounded at the virtuous lives of the early Christians. They did not, like the pagans, engage in any kind of sexual immorality. They refused to lie or cheat or steal. Unlike many Jews, they demonstrated love, hospitality, and grace to people of every kind, even the worst of sinners or the lowest members of society. Any accusations made against Christians could only be against rumors of what they might do in secret, or against their dangerous doctrines. They character was generally impeccable.
  • Sacrifice:
    Possibly the strangest way that Christians were different for a religious group was how they handled sacrifice. Unlike both pagans and Jews, they never performed sacrifices, easily one of the most basic elements of religion at the time. They felt a need neither to satisfy pagan gods nor to continue participating in the Levitical priestly system. Instead, if they spoke of sacrifice at all, it was in reference to their Jesus dying for them, or of their own suffering for Him.
  • Martyrdom:
    Pagans saw no need to die for their faith. If anything, they worshipped their gods in order to be saved from death. The Jews had martyrs, but never so many as the Christians, who at times died almost daily. The Christians were noticed for the way they seemed to spit in death’s face, as though it had already been defeated.

In these ways, the Christians stood out blatantly from the rest of the world. They were nothing like the pagans, and their new message directly undermined mainstream Judaism. Indeed, their differences were so striking that they were by some classified as a totally new kind of people or race. You had Greeks, Jews, barbarians, and now Christians. 

This, of course, was right to be the case. We all know as Christians that God has called us to a new and different life than that of the world. We are holy, that is, set apart. We are the ekklesia, the called out ones. In a world of Gentile sinners and unbelieving Jews, we are the true Israel, the true humanity. God has redeemed the human race, and we are the firstfruits in Christ. The overlap between the kingdom of God and this present age is found in the Church. Therefore we ought to be different in very notable ways from those who are still in Adam, who have yet to experience God’s new life created in Jesus and applied by the Holy Spirit.

So what is my point now? Upon reading the section on early Christian praxis in The New Testament and the People of God, I started thinking of ways that we can today still stand out in each of these categories. We are still God’s people, and still as such should be set apart. But how? I’d like to quickly run through some ideas based on what I’ve mentioned about the early church. We can, like our spiritual ancestors, be different in these ways:

  • Mission:
    The world today has many causes and missions. But your average people don’t think much about them. You don’t expect to meet any random person and find them on a mission to convince someone of this or accomplish that. When you do, it’s an exception, and usually thought of as weird. That last thing our culture condones is any kind of mission in personal, day-to-day interactions which says in any absolute terms, “What I have to say is for everyone, period. It’s not a matter of opinion. You won’t get away with ignoring or rejecting it.” Yet we are called to tell the whole world that Jesus is Lord, that He died and was raised for the sins of all people, and that He will return to right every wrong and heal the world with new creation. If we do this in our everyday lives and interactions, and yet also do it with love and grace instead of the stereotypical condemnation or Hellfire scare, we will stand out and people will notice that we have a unique message with a unique method.
  • Sacrament:
    If you ask people what they associate with church, you will rarely hear anything about baptism or Communion. Yet these rituals were defining for the early Christians, so much so that on the basis of their secret Communion meetings people accused them of cannibalism. We must learn to make baptism a big deal, so that no one will think of becoming a Christian apart from in Christ dying to sin and rising to Spirit-led life. To demand with the utmost seriousness a physical act of identification and commitment as the first step of a religion that’s actually not a cult will raise eyebrows and get noticed in our culture. With Communion, as well, if we make it our constant and weekly practice, investing it with both its proper sanctity and its vitality, then we will find that all church visitors or seekers will be confronted every time they come: you need Jesus’ body and blood, but you can’t share in these while you deny Him with word and/or deed. The need to repent and enter the loving community of those who do feast on Christ’s benefits will be evident and, again, strange to a world that’s all about including everyone.
  • Worship:
    As it stands, formal worship is not a part of the lives of most people in the world, so participating in Christian worship at all stands out some. Yet people expect this for churchgoers. What is required to actually stand out in worship is two-fold: we must let worship flood the rest of our lives, so that praise for the Creator and gratitude to our Redeemer is evident in all we say and do. We must also be different in what we refuse to worship: we cannot let politicians, musicians, actors, speakers, authors, government, business, or anything or anyone else own our allegiance or affections.
  • Ethics:
    To stand out in ethics, we have a lot to do. The world thinks of itself as good. Part of what we must do as God’s restored humanity is live our lives so blamelessly and virtuously that we prove them wrong. This will mostly take the form of everyday details. While of course on larger matters like abortion and homosexuality, we stand out, these are not what make us stand apart in ways that are really valuable. The ways which count most are small. Don’t gossip at the water cooler. Don’t try to cheat anyone, or lie about all the things people think it’s okay to lie about. Don’t flatter to the face or curse behind the back. Don’t speak in vulgar ways. Don’t try to get any revenge, or hold grudges, or even just mention that you hope someone “gets what’s coming to them.” If you disagree with someone, make sure any discussion includes clarity and charity. Don’t accuse people who disagree with you of anything without doing research from their side. Don’t demonize people. Be hospitable. Welcome strangers into your home (that one in particular stands out these days). Love everyone all the time. Participate in culture while refusing to take part in the sins involved. All these little differences add up and can make us a peculiar people.
  • Sacrifice:
    Nowadays, in mainstream society no one performs animal sacrifices. So how do we stand out? Two ways come to mind. First, our society believes that we must make personal sacrifices, doing special good, to atone for our sins. We must sacrifice for forgiveness. That people believe this is clear enough if you watch any TV. We must respond with a resounding “No!” and proclaim that forgiveness is accomplished exclusively through Jesus. The other point is that people of the world offer lots of sacrifices in their daily lives which we must not take part in. People sacrifice all the time with their families to make money. When they get the money, they sacrifice their means of blessing others on the altars of the gods Technology and Luxury. Some people sacrifice their children to the goddess Fame by passing them through the fire of the entertainment industry. They sacrifice their marriages for the sake of personal fulfillment. To appease the wrathful god of Sexual Liberation, they sacrifice their bodies and hearts to people they know should not have them. All of these sacrifices, and more, made in worship of money, the American Dream, education, progress, autonomy, sex, or self-expression—we must refuse to participate in any such rituals. When we do, we will be noticed. Indeed, our society still worships the same gods as the Greeks did; they just call them by their normal names—sex, alcohol, wealth, etc.—instead of Aphrodite, Dionysus, or Plutus. And just like the Greeks did, people today think it is awfully strange when others don’t worship them as well.
  • Martyrdom:
    Martyrdom has always been unusual, so it remains one of the most powerful ways to stand out. Yet American Christians do not usually show the same spite of death that the early Christians were known for. Most still take great pains to make sure they stay healthy and whole. And to some extent this makes sense. We don’t live where you can be persecuted just for being a Christian. Yet our victory over death in Jesus must still be made known, because the watching world deals with death every day. So what we need are Christians willing to risk their lives and bodies by going on dangerous foreign missions, or even just living in dangerous parts of our own society. Christians who penetrate both hostile nations and American ghettos, who risk their lives both to take Bibles to Koreans and to help inner city youth escape crime and gangs. Those of us who are guaranteed a good resurrection by the Spirit must take advantage of this hope to accomplish the most risky ministries, and help everyone in need. Both in the evangelistic and in the socially beneficial, we ought to stick out our necks. Hanging out with people with serious, contagious diseases so they can know love and grace? That should be our work. Taking down violent criminal organizations and leaders? Who better to do that than men whose God told them to seek justice and then promised to raise them from the dead?

I hope by this point I’ve said at least something you may find helpful (goodness knows I’ve written quite a bit). If I’ve learned anything by studying the early church, it’s that Christians stood out like bright lights in dark places. Yet most modern American Christians (myself included more or less) seem to fit in well enough with our culture, sitting in the tidy little box of what the wider world thinks Christians are allowed to look like. I pray we will not stay this way, but that God by His Spirit will lead us all on to new things, so that we may be the light of the world as He has called us to. In Jesus name, amen.

 

Being Christians: Marked Out as God’s People

When True Love Doesn’t Need to Wait

The Alternative to Waiting

Link and Zelda were so very in love. They spent pretty much all their time together, and their friends would give them the “blech” face for cuteness basically 24/7. Of course, having grown up in church and being committed to the Christian life, they had no intention of compromising their purity. But as time went on, marriage only seemed more and more distant, and they grew increasingly unsettled about waiting and waiting until the time came to become sexually active. Eventually, after much prayer, soul-searching, and Scriptural study, they came to a confident conclusion. It was time to stop waiting.

What just happened here? Did I tell a story in which the protagonists take up premarital sex because it is good? Absolutely not. Link and Zelda did stop waiting for sex, but I have played a completely unfair sleight of hand by manipulating the word “waiting” for the sake of click-bait. See, “waiting” for something implies that you actually intend to have it at some point. This is not what Link and Zelda decided. They instead pledged themselves to celibacy.  No plans for sex equals not waiting for sex.

What, then, was the point of all these shenanigans? To bring attention to a drastically underappreciated Christian lifestyle, one which was lived and commended by both Jesus and Paul, namely celibacy.

General Stuff on Celibacy in Christianity

[Before you read all my post, you should make sure to read Clark’s post on this same topic. We don’t say exactly the same things, but I still find him enlightening.]

In American society, and to a lesser extent in American Christianity, celibacy isn’t exactly held up as a serious lifestyle choice. I would say than in mainstream thought you will probably receive far much more support if you come out as gay, transgendered, or even a polygamist than if you are publicly committed to celibacy. Even in the Christian sphere, the basic thought is “If you can’t seem to find someone to marry (which is totally the best, and abundant sex in marriage is awesome, and that’s basically the only lifestyle we’ll ever talk about), then God has given you the gift (you know, like a consolation prize) of being single.” Even if you do remain single, a great deal of people in church don’t seriously expect you to remain celibate, though they’ll certainly say you should be. 

[fquote align=”right”]You will probably receive far much more support if you come out as gay, transgendered, or even a polygamist than if you are publicly committed to celibacy.[/fquote]

All this is quite the shame. The celibate life, while not my own path, has great potential for the Christian life. Indeed, throughout the history of the church it has been held up as extremely admirable and, by many people, superior to marriage. This was especially the case for the early church fathers*. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they were right, but any position held so widely throughout Christian history is worth considering. 

Having set the stage for the discussion, I would like to address the Scriptures relevant to this issue. Consider what Jesus and Paul said on this issue.

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Matthew 19:10-12

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 27-35

These are all quite interesting words. So what do we learn from this? I’ll try to break up the main points I gather.

  • Celibacy is a gift from God. If you have the ability to remain celibate, to never marry or have sex, you are blessed by God. Jesus said that only those whom celibacy has been given can accept it, and Paul mentioned celibacy as a gift some have, though not all. So it is truly a gift, a blessing, not just a consolation prize like it is so often treated. Like all gifts, celibacy should be held in esteem, received with thanksgiving, and even desired.
  • Celibacy is not easy. Jesus and Paul make it clear that not everyone is strong enough to live a celibate life. Jesus said that “not everyone can accept this word,” and Paul recognizes that not all can control themselves outside of marriage. But, as we all know, no good thing comes too easily.
  • Celibacy seems to be expected of those who can maintain it. This is a more controversial point, but I think it is clear enough. If you are able to commit to celibacy, Jesus says you should, and Paul encourages you to keep on in that path.
  • Celibacy is not a commandment. Jesus acknowledges that not all can be celibate, and so they are not commanded to be. Paul specifically says that it is not a sin to marry, and that if you cannot control your passions, you actually should get married.
  • Celibacy provides a practical spiritual advantage over marriage. Jesus speaks of those who live as eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom, and Paul teaches clearly that those who remain unmarried have the advantage of singular devotion to God, unhindered by the additional responsibilities and concerns to which marriage obligates you. Marriage is good, but you cannot take the same risks and liberties in God’s service when you have a family to consider that you can when you serve unyoked.

I think the points which are most difficult to properly understand are the third and the last. For example, who is truly considered as being able to maintain celibate? Is everyone able? If so, is everyone expected to strive for celibacy? Jesus explicitly denies that all can take up the celibate life, so I would say that not everyone is expected to do so. So how do you know if you can? Well, I would say that those who go through life without sexual desire (asexuals), a desire to raise children, or a need for stable companionship from the opposite sex are quite obvious candidates. Alas, this is a very short list. Those with strong self-control and willpower, though, may be able to join their ranks. Beyond that, the call is tough. Just being able to master your sex drive may not always be enough. You must also be able to live without children, or a constant life companion, and if you strongly desire these things, you may still need to be married.

[fquote align=”left”]Those who go through life without sexual desire, a desire to raise children, or a need for stable companionship from the opposite sex are quite obvious candidates for a celibate commitment.[/fquote]

The other issue is the spiritual advantage. Does not marriage provide a spiritual advantage? After all, Paul speaks of marriage as a mysterious picture of Christ and the Church. Nonetheless, Jesus and Paul express a wish for the benefit of the believer that they remain celibate if possible. Why? Well, to be frank (and to follow what Jesus and Paul said), marriage brings hardship. I mean, yes, marriage is amazing and lovely, and there is so much to gain from it, but the added responsibilities and stress which come with marriage are a price that can take a toll on your ability to serve God. It is harder to lose your life for the Gospel when you have a wife and children depending on your life, and it is harder to put yourself in the risk of persecution when that brings your family into it as well.

The Uses of Championing Celibacy

There is another dimension to celibacy, and that is exerting the power of self-control for the kingdom of God in direct opposition to the kingdoms of this world. Celibacy says “no” to the demands of the world and the flesh. See, in our society, you do not truly have sexual freedom. Despite the promises of the sexual revolution, we now have less control of our bodies than ever before. How so? We are obligated to share them. In America today, you have two options: get married or be sexually active outside of marriage. If you do not conform, you are branded a weirdo, or a prude, or in the closet, or sexually incompetent. So you must share your body with at least one other person to be given respect, and you are not free to reserve it, whether for preference or a higher purpose, if you wish. The kingdoms of this world demand your body. Celibacy, then, stands as an act of defiance against the misdirected, mislabeled sexual autonomy promoted by this evil generation.

[fquote align=”right”]Celibacy says “no” to the demands of the world and the flesh.[/fquote]

One final consideration on celibacy is that it can actually touch one of the most sex-interested groups of people—youth—in a better way. Right now most youth events and gatherings which involve the topic of sex have exactly one thing to say: hold on until you get married, and then have yourself an awesome time. The way they often go about this is actually pandering to their sex drives, feeding their thoughts on the topic just by talking about it all the time and building it up for the future. So I posit that preaching celibacy as a viable, serious, and even joyful alternative to simply waiting on marriage can have its benefits here. I fear we actually don’t expect teenagers to take their faith seriously enough to renounce sex and marriage for Christ, but we ought to encourage them to make such a commitment. Moreover, our waiting-oriented culture can be alienating to two high undervalued groups of people, namely asexuals (no sex drive) and demisexuals (who have sexual desire only with an emotional connection). There are more people like these than you would expect, and they can sit amongst youth groups without having ever experienced sexual desires, pressured to fit in just because that’s how it is. They’re also repeatedly told the joys of sex and marriage, even though they may well have the ability to devote themselves to the celibate life, “married” only to Christ. They will probably also feel quite weird and uncomfortable with themselves if they have no desire for sex while the entire youth group culture they live in is permeated with the assumption that all of them do. Preaching the virtues of the celibate Christian life can certainly empower them and help them have a regarded place among their peers. This also applies, for that matter, to people who simply do not seem to be able to find their “special someone.” They can devote themselves to a higher call without feeling like losers.

Conclusion

To sum up my points, celibacy is a very noble and spiritual commitment available to believers. It enables us to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, subjugating physical passions and cultural demands to the pursuit of Christ. Scripture presents it as a unique and high calling, a gift from God, to be desire and to be pursued by those who can hold it. Presenting it for the virtue and viable alternative to marriage which it truly is offers much spiritual promise to people who would otherwise be conflicted, neglected, or even compromised. And I’m terrible at conclusions, so I will abruptly end here.

P.S. On Celibacy and True Love

One thing which you may be wondering based on my beginning to this post: “Are people who are in love really likely to be candidates for celibacy?” To that my answer is yes. Despite the mandates of the American perspective on love, sex, and marriage even in the church, you do not have to marry someone you love, or have sex with them. Sometimes all you really need is to stay close. I can almost guarantee you that there are many people completely in love who would do best to restrain their passions and keep their relationship entirely celibate. 

[Final reminder: If you haven’t read Clark’s post on this topic, you should.]

 

*Here are two representative quotes from early Christian teachers on celibacy and marriage.

In short, there is no place at all where we read that nuptials are prohibited; of course on the ground that they are “a good thing.” What, however, is better than this “good,” we learn from the apostle, who permits marrying indeed, but prefers abstinence; the former on account of the insidiousnesses of temptations, the latter on account of the straits of the times.

Tertullian

If then “he who is married cares for the things of the world”, and a Bishop ought not to care for the things of the world, why does he say the husband of one wife? Some indeed think that he says this with reference to one who remains free from a wife. But if otherwise, he that hath a wife may be as though he had none. For that liberty was then properly granted, as suited to the nature of the circumstances then existing. And it is very possible, if a man will, so to regulate his conduct. For as riches make it difficult to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, yet rich men have often entered in, so it is with marriage.

Chrysostom

When True Love Doesn’t Need to Wait

The Case for Celibacy – Part 1

[Note from Caleb: By coincidence, Clark and I both decided to write on this topic recently. So keep an eye out for my post later, and enjoy Clark’s case for celibacy now.]

This is a topic which has interested me for a while. I find that, more often than not, celibacy is something of a touchy subject. That tenderness is probably due to the confused evangelical position on it, the incredible power of sex, and the connections that evangelicals share with a consumerist society. Because celibacy can be a riling subject I want to immediately affirm that I am not condemning those who choose to marry. However, the fact of the matter is that I can’t necessarily do that. While there is almost certainly some who were right in marrying, I am suspicious that there are so many that were really needful of it. In any case, I hope that you are able to read this with an even mind and I welcome any comments you may have.

Of everything that man ought do, each thing helps man to reach that for which he is intended. So, then, the things that man ought to do can be found by finding what will grow man towards his destiny.

What is man’s destiny? Expressed in one word, we might say enlightenment. This word may have for some connotations which are decidedly unchristian and I plead with you to forget those connotations for a time. The term means being in a lit up state, light has been shed on you. This word conveys a wealth of meaning and can be understood as meaning “knowing the Logos” or being one with the Word. It is a sort of knowledge, although it may not come of our own reason, and resembles the sudden fitting together of puzzle pieces. At this point some may think that I mean salvation. In a sense I do, but, if salvation is understood as the moment of justification, then that is not what I mean. I mean the long process of maturation into a whole being; the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling. It is for this process that man was made.

What will grow man towards enlightenment? There are, seemingly, two answers to this question. The most common answer would be the vague claim that it is the work of the Holy Spirit and, the second, that the examined life is what allows man to achieve enlightenment. The answer is a conglomeration of both. Man must be thinking to reach enlightenment but the enlightened state would be impossible without divine revelation.

The examined life is the principle of those two partners since without it we couldn’t know what divine revelation or anything else is and, so, our next question naturally is, what makes for the examined life? We may examine life by differentiating between individual things. We may differentiate between things reasonably or foolishly. If reasonably, how so? By being of sound mind. What makes for a sound mind? By being single in purpose, not agitated. So, then, it is a question of whether celibacy or marriage is more conducive to being single in purpose.

Before we embark on demonstrating the case, consider the findings of others on the subject. Paul the Apostle notes this:

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion].

1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8

Also consider this dialogue between Jesus and His disciples:

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Matthew 19:10-12

The argument from authority is a particularly weak sort of argument, although this particular one seems clearly in favor of celibacy and based upon the most credible authority. In any case, we press on to the demonstration.

We have already established our premises, that whatever man ought to do will be what leads him to enlightenment, essentially, most effectively living the Christian life. So then, it seems a simple thing to show the chain of reasoning.

If man is celibate, then he will be single in purpose, not concerned with caring for a wife and child but only with living rightly. If single in purpose, then of sound mind. If of sound mind, then able to reasonably differentiate between things. If able to reasonably differentiate between things, then able to examine life. If able to examine life, then able to become enlightened and therefore to achieve his destiny.

There are miscelaneous objections to this chain, the most notable of which, to me, is that it does not strictly show that man cannot become enlightened from within marriage. This is true. But it cannot be said that man is either enlightened or unenlightened for, as the sun shines fully on some and only partially on others, so one man may be fully grasping truth while another only partially. Indeed, man cannot be said to ever grasp truth sublunarily but only possess it to some degree. “Now we see as through a mirror dimly…” The point the argument is intended to make is that marriage is given to those who have not the strength to persevere, not to those who wish to indulge in sex lawfully. I suppose that one other objection might then arise, and might be put “Do any have the strength to persevere?” To which my answer will be to quote a self-evident axiom “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) The following question might then be, “Are none then to be married?” To which I must honestly state that I do not know the answer. But you may now see why I am suspicious that so many were apparently called to be married in our current situation.

questionae Deus

The Case for Celibacy – Part 1

Learn to Forget You Exist

God never demands as little from us as we are comfortable giving Him. We are always called beyond the normal and the natural to a higher life. The Biblical way of being human is especially challenging and especially rewarding. So what does God ask of us? Kill yourself. Forget you exist.

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:39

Jesus tells us that we find our lives by losing them, and that the way to lose our lives is to try to find them. But what does that even mean? How do we save our lives by losing them? How does finding our lives cause us to lose then? Well, let me bring up two more verses.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-4

Throughout Scripture, similar themes dominate ethics and instruction. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly emphasizes denying your own glory, rights, and dispositions. But why? Is there virtue in not being happy? Does Jesus teach self-denial for self-denial’s sake? Of course not!

Jesus teaches love.

Love means forgetting yourself to embrace others.

Now I’ll back up and explain what I mean. Much has been written about love in Christian literature, but I would like to give a really basic definition of love for my purposes here: love is actively uniting your heart, mind, and will with another person. Time fails me to show the importance of unity to Christian life, or the deep connections between love and unity, whether philosophical or Biblical, but I will provide you with a list of references to peruse at your leisure (Eph. 4:4; John 13:34, 17:21-23; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Cor. 1:10, 12:12, 12:13; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:13-15; 1 Thess. 5:13).

Love is actively uniting your heart, mind, and will with another person.

Instead of trying to summarize the vast Biblical support for my definition, I will give some basic examples on why this makes sense. When you love someone, their sorrow makes you sorrowful. Their joy gives you joy. You are concerned for their concerns and well-being. What they feel becomes what you feel, and what they think about becomes what you think about. So you find that you have unity of heart and mind. I believe this is a core element that makes love love.

Now, here is where I go back to my main point, namely that love means forgetting yourself to embrace others. See, if you’re busy feeling for others, thinking about others, and concerning yourself with others, something interesting happens. You disappear. Think about how many people you know who you care about at all. What if you loved them all for real, enough to make their feelings, thoughts, and concerns completely your own? While imagining this scenario is certainly difficult, one thing is certain: you would not be very worried about yourself.

If you’re busy feeling for others, thinking about others, and concerning yourself with others, you disappear.

See, most people have a problem. We either think too little of ourselves or too highly. Unfortunately, the solutions proposed by our culture (whether our secular culture or Christian culture) often miss the point. If you think too little of yourself, you are told to remember that you have worth, you are loved, you are beautiful, and you have a purpose. If you think too much of yourself, you are reminded that you are a sinner, you are not worthy of God’s grace, you are no better than anyone else, and you are puny compared to God.

Both of these approaches to fixing people’s self-image have one problem in common: they are concerned too much with self-image. The real solution is to stop thinking of ourselves. What Jesus taught—radical love—involves the (bear with my word choice) abolition of introspection. To put it another way, when we love people (and God) like Jesus tells us to love them, we will have no time or inclination to think very much about ourselves, whether good or bad thoughts. And the best part is that we won’t miss a moment of it. When we are loving so deeply, we will never stop and think, “You know, I wish I was focusing more on my feelings and needs instead of all the people I love. Then I would be happier.” If you forget you exist, you can fill your mind with the Kingdom of God, your family, and everything else that is worth thinking about.

We either think too little of ourselves or too highly. The real solution is to stop thinking of ourselves.

In fact, from this point we find the essence of authentic, Biblical self-denial. We are not giving up our own pleasures because that makes us more holy or more useful to God, but we forget about our own problems and concerns because our hearts and minds are set on the feelings and thoughts of God and other people. While on one hand this is a painful work which involves resisting the self, on the other hand this kind of life leads to more joy and freedom than before. Our self-denial as believers is not hostility toward self but leaving self on the back burner to joyfully fill our lives with God and others. For there is one truth we can know from all those who have lived long lives: happiness is never found in fixating on yourself, but found in living beyond yourself. So Christian self-denial even sets itself apart from the asceticism of other religions because it creates true joy, not just numbness, vague enlightenment, or escape from reality.

Now, having said all this, I must clarify that I do not mean we can do nothing we enjoy ourselves. It is most certainly right and good for us to have our own hobbies and passions. However, even in these, we are made to think of ourselves last, and love them, knowing that they also are God’s gifts to us. Do you like to read? Then read, and don’t worry about how good of a reader you are or whether you should read more or less. Do you have a passion for art? Then engage in it fully, losing yourself in the human creativity that God has gifted to us. Whatever you enjoy and whatever you do, be willing to deny yourself in pursuing it, because the good things of life are gifts of joy, ways God expresses Himself and His love to us. In denying ourselves even to pursue our passions, we find greater fulfillment because God has provided for us richly all things to enjoy. We just get in our own way! Every moment I spent thinking about me is a moment I could find greater fulfillment in by thinking of my wife, my God, or my hobbies. The same goes for you. If you forget you exist, even your hobbies will be more pleasurable.

Every moment I spent thinking about me is a moment I could find greater fulfillment in by thinking of my wife, my God, or my hobbies.

To conclude this all, remember that love, love as Jesus taught it, means finding ourselves outside of ourselves, first in God, second in other people, and finally in the things we enjoy. When we deny our tendency to self-center, we find greater joy, greater godliness, and greater life. So learn to forget you exist. Lose your existence in pursuing love for God, others, and passions. Once you’ve forgotten yourself, you won’t even know what you’re missing (because you really won’t be missing anything!).

Oh, and last of all, pray for me so that I can live like this too!

Learn to Forget You Exist

Christian Life 101: The Challenge of Christ

Sometimes it can benefit us to go back to the basics of the Christian life. I recently got myself into some spiritual trouble trying to go deeper and deeper in mysterious parts of theology, and I started to drown. I thank God for the mature, godly advice I received that proved grace to get me out of that mess. In getting past that crisis, I decided to go back to the basics. I started over reading the Gospels again. Having gotten most of the way through Matthew now, I realize how much of Jesus’ most fundamental teachings—the basics of the Christian life—we miss in the quest to increase in theological understanding. Jesus’ plain words, I’ve noticed, are more challenging that what we can learn from any great theological framework. Simply put: the hardest part of following Jesus is actually following Jesus.

Continue reading “Christian Life 101: The Challenge of Christ”

Christian Life 101: The Challenge of Christ