OK Christians, please be honest here! What is the first thing that goes through your mind when I suggest a radical commitment to Christ?! Well, if you’re anything like me, your heart immediately sinks, and you groan inwardly. And then you start thinking of all the things you have to give up.
If you are like me, you might tend to associate radical living for Christ with an existence that is somewhat austere by choice: bland, boring, wearing the modern equivalent of sackcloth – shapeless robes in unbleached cotton or linen.
This is the list of things that occurred to me that I might have to give up – some of these things are so irrational!
**** (9th December 2020 -I’ve finally added a necessary disclaimer to this list, please see below!)****
-Fun in all its permutations, laughing out loud! Being exuberantly happy.
-Sexy Sex: because I am not married, I am emphatically not having any sex at the moment. But I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve been looking forward to some really hot action when Mr HW finally turns up. Are you reading this HW?! Really, really really hot. Really, really, really – yeah, you get the picture! But when someone says “radical living for Christ”, part of me thinks that we might not even be “allowed” to take any enjoyment from physical intimacy. That is, you will do “it”. But unless it is as dull and as unenjoyable as possible, you are not being “authentically Christian”. Urgh! Bonus prizes if you do not actually fancy your husband.
-Dressing up to look good, being allowed to take any pleasure from looking good! Jewellery, make-up, nail varnish
-Going to the cinema, watching movies. By the same token watching funny videos, or indeed any videos, on YouTube. Social media
-Colour in our lives, amusement
-Fast food, especially pizza (?!) The only food we can reasonably enjoy is anything healthily dull, ideally grey-coloured. For instance, vegetables will be allowed, as long as they have been boiled long enough to remove their colour, texture and taste. And as for fruit – well if we absolutely must! I wonder if anyone has ever written long treatises about the fruit and vegetables that Christians should absolutely refrain from, because well, they are just too exciting!
What we will be allowed to do:
-Take endless long quiet walks to reverently (but quietly) appreciate the beauty of nature. For the record, I love the beauty of nature. Which is probably just as well!
– Any music, as long as it’s classical. Once again, I love classical music. Once again, that is probably just as well!
-Anything that is emphatically boring – and quiet. Scrabble. You’d think I’d love Scrabble, because I love words. I guess it is a bit of a cultural cliché to condemn it as boring. It is something that springs to mind as largely monotonous (even soporific – zzzz), and quiet.
-Get married, but not actually be crazy about our spouse. That would be far too “worldly”
OK, I think I’m having a little too much fun writing out this list!
Anyway the point of this article is that I believe that as Christians we are called to radical commitment to Christ. Somehow we have managed to collectively convince ourselves that this equates to being boring. However, I believe that the only thing we have to give up is our sin – and…
So there are some things in the lists above which can cross over to sin in which case we will need to walk away. Like there are definitely some ways of expressing our sexuality which the Bible calls sinful, even within marriage. So yes, we do have to walk away from those. But only to the extent that they are sinful. Also, when it comes to fast food, for instance, over-consumption can be an expression of gluttony, which is a sin. However that does not mean that we have to avoid fast food altogether!
You know what, I believe that I live in a radical commitment to Christ and please believe me that I take pleasure from absolutely everything from the first list – apart from the sex (currently). I think that where we have persuaded ourselves that this is what radical commitment to Christ means, to cut out all fun and colour from our lives, we are completely wrong. Here is the thing: God created fun, God created laughter, God created music; the Bible says that when God created the world, the morning stars literally sang together: Job 38v7. The Bible even teaches us that God Himself sings: Psalm 32v7: “You are my hiding place, You surround me with songs of deliverance”. Once again, there is some music that is definitely not edifying because it celebrates and promotes unhelpful attitudes, but music on the whole is definitely a gift from God. And yes, God (not the devil!) definitely created sex! He created the immense variety of fruit and vegetables in the world. And excitement too! If God created these things for us to enjoy, how can it be inherently “unchristian” for us to go ahead and enjoy them?* The key for all these things is moderation and enjoying them within God-given boundaries.
This then, is what I believe that radical commitment to Christ means. And to be candid it is a sacrifice, but just not the kind of sacrifice where we give up all fun. I believe that as Christians, our radical commitment to Christ is measured above all in the way we spend our time. I believe that as Christians we are to live out our Christian commitment as if that is our career, and the current investment of effort and time we make into our work – we are instead to invest into our pursuit of God, knowing Him, walking in Christlike character, doing His work on earth.
If we spend all our time investing into our relationship with God rather than working, then how do we pay the bills? It has taken me a long time to work this out. In fact, I am still working it out. However, I believe that we need to invest part of our time into praying to God for provision and trust that He will meet our needs. I say “invest” because for me this is not a 5 minute prayer every day. I invest hours into praying for this.
Something else that has taken me a long time to work out is this: If you are a skilled professional then you don’t necessarily need to walk away from those skills altogether. I believe that you can still use those skills to work for God, to make positive change on the earth, perhaps by working in a voluntary capacity, while trusting God to meet your own financial needs.
To be candid, all of this is up for refinement, for tweaking – especially the understanding about financial provision. However something else that I really believe all Christians have to invest serious time into, as a priority, even over doing God’s work is this: cultivating spiritual intimacy with God, knowing Him, reading the Bible, being deeply versed in who God is and who He wants us to be – and passionately pursuing Christlike character.
This is why I say this should be our career, not literally take up all our time: we still need downtime. We still need to look after our bodies, relax, engage with our friends and family. And sleep. A younger version of myself, in her zeal for the Kingdom of God, once decided to forego sleep altogether. Until I realised/decided that actually, a living Christian could accomplish far more for the Kingdom of God than a dead Christian! True story!!! Not that we stop being Christians during this time of course. 24/7 we embody the values and character traits that we learn in the time we spend with our God. It is during this downtime that we will go to the cinema, watch our YouTube videos, eat our fast food in moderation alongside regular healthy food, all of it delicious – and “spend quality time” with our spouses in private – wink!
I’ve written this post somewhat casually, but please believe me this is huge. I believe that this (or rather the lack of this) is the reason why Christians and Churches on the whole are utterly powerless, and why Christians I’ve encountered have been consistently lacking in any convincing Christlike character.
I’ve often spoken about myself in relation to other Christians, and I have never had any qualms about declaring myself as outstanding, relative to other Christians. I have often worried that this might “come across” as being arrogant. Will it make sense to you as a reader if I explain that the reason I am who I am as a Christian, is because I literally invest hours every day into my pursuit of God, and my pursuit of Christlike character? Not so much in recent years, to be honest, because I have been struggling with the question of how to pay my bills, and I have been out working in a succession of jobs which I have generally found unexciting. I hope now though that I have finally found the answer. However this has been my real career ever since I graduated from university, and I think I now understand that this is necessary not just for me, but for all Christians. This is what it means to be a Christian in the fullest sense of the word – to cultivate your relationship with God as your “real” career. This is what it means to “live for Christ” – to literally spend your life living for Christ.
If you are a Christian look around you. Does it make sense to you, when our God is so powerful, that we have so little impact on earth? I’m not talking about impact in things like politics. Rather I’m talking about things like Covid. If we are truly deep in communion with the Almighty God then it stands to reason that we should have all the answers, that the world should be able to look to us to ask God to move His mighty hand. Not just regarding Covid of course. Things like global poverty, climate change, the imminent financial crisis, widespread international confusion. As the Church we should be a conduit of God’s love, wisdom, power and mercy to a world that is hurting, crying, and lurching desperately from one crisis to the next. So why are we not? Because we ourselves are not sufficiently deep with God. We are as desperate and confused as anyone else, as much in need of someone to rescue us as the next person, definitely not in any position to offer any type of rescue to the world at large.
Nothing has illustrated this more clearly than Covid, and the manifest powerlessness of the Church to offer any kind of tangible solution. This is exactly the sort of time when the Church should be able to stand up confidently and say: “Thus sayeth the Lord!” Or in more modern language: “This is what God is saying, this is what we have to do!”
So buckle up Church, we need to make some deep-seated changes. And while you might literally hate it when I tell you that you have to pursue your relationship with God as if it was your career, believe me that when enough of us are doing this, this is what it will take for the Church to become what she was established to be; powerful not in earthly terms, with money, prestige and political clout, but powerful rather in heavenly terms, having a direct relationship with the Almighty maker of Heaven and Earth, and making the kind of corresponding impact, literally earth-shattering, that cannot be bought even with all the money, prestige or political clout that exists or could ever exist in the whole world.
*At this point someone is going to say: “Well Tosin, I know that you are strongly against narcotics. Did God not create marijuana? And the coca plant which yields the undeniably “exciting” cocaine?” Well I would say that these plants and opium etc have been useful in traditional medicinal use/pain relief for centuries, even millennia, and the problem comes when they are used excessively, beyond medicinal use, to points which are predictably dangerous. At this point they become poisonous to our bodies. As such I believe that they are to be avoided recreationally as it seems the whole point of “taking drugs” is to take these substances in excessive concentrations, where they are not needed medicinally.
****Disclaimer added 9th December 2020****
I have to apologise as I have been procrastinating endlessly about adding this disclaimer. The reason why Christians have historically been seen to be against things like sex or delicious food or watching films is because these things can easily lead to the indulgence of the flesh, that is, fixating on physical gratification to the point where this is all that matters to us, or is the most important thing in our lives. So even while we might be “allowed” to do these things, we have to guard always that we keep our minds and our attention primarily on Christ