What would you say is the essence of the Christian life? By that I mean, if you took away all the extras that get attached to it, what necessary thing would remain? What is this life’s heart and soul?
Since my conversion many years ago, few questions have been harder for me to answer. Nevertheless, how can we live the Christian life unless we know what it really is? We cannot live what we do not know. What, then, is the ultimate meaning of the Christian life?
Obeying the commands of Christ?
Sharing the gospel of Christ?
Relating personally with God through Christ?
Meeting the needs of others on behalf of Christ?
Attending church in worship of Christ?
Giving money to further the work of Christ?
Reading the Bible to learn about Christ?
Honoring leaders in deference to Christ?
Your answer will markedly shape and define your life.
If your answer is “obedience,” you will focus on God’s commands, ordering your life around them, legalistically judging yourself and others according to how proficiently or how poorly the life of obedience is being lived.
If your answer is “evangelism,” you might spend your days and nights telling everyone the salvation message while probably neglecting the deeper truths and applications of the faith.
If your answer is “my personal relationship with God,” it will be difficult for you either to reach out to the unsaved or to use your spiritual gifts to equip and encourage the body of Christ. After all, you will tend to see Christianity as essentially about your relationship with God, not as much about someone else’s connection with him.
If your answer is “serving the needs of others,” you are likely to expend your own resources to the point of collapsing from exhaustion, crushed under the weight of doing good, instead of becoming good.
All of the above answers run into similar problems. They are not big enough, rich enough, or full enough to capture the heart and soul of the Christian life. Something much more comprehensive, something far grander is required.
Fortunately, we do not have to guess at the answer: The ultimate meaning is found in the life of Jesus himself, for he lived it out and gave it to us during his earthly ministry. The answer is simple and straight, yet profound and boundless: Love. Jesus explained this to his twelve closest disciples:
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.... This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. (John 15:9–10, 12 NASB)
The Father’s love comes to us through the Son, and it’s the Son who calls on us to receive his love and pass it along to others. In short, the essence of the life to which Christians are called through Jesus Christ is the life of love.
This answer, love, is the “most excellent way” described by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 12:31ff.). It is the only answer with sufficient vastness to encapsulate our calling. In fact, this answer is so enormous that it describes God himself. As we’ll see, this answer is also the key to understanding and applying the habits that the Spirit uses to conform us to Christ and to transform us into his likeness.
In fact, love is the most important answer, the most comprehensive answer, to the most significant questions asked by both believers and unbelievers:
Why are we here? Love.
How did we get here? Love.
What are we supposed to do here? Love.
Why do we have significance? Love.
Love—true love—is absolutely necessary to all life.
Accordingly, this book is about the Christian life as a life of love: what it is, what it looks like, where it comes from, how it can be obtained and cultivated, and how it can change us and those around us forever.
But how does love bring about remarkable and all-encompassing change in our lives?
Seeking the answer to that question has revolutionized my life. It’s an answer that has taken me much of my Christian life to discover, understand, and embrace. It’s an answer that has simplified my life as it has liberated and empowered it. It’s an answer that involves truths grounded in the Bible and worked out in the church’s experience with the Lord. At the same time, the answer includes a different understanding of what’s traditionally known as the spiritual disciplines—disciplines such as prayer, study, meditation, service, and the like.
What I discovered is that the spiritual disciplines are more than a training program for running the spiritual race ... more than preparations for fighting the spiritual war ... more than activities we should do out of faithful obedience to God’s commands. While these understandings are biblical and worthwhile, they fail to capture the fullness of the disciplines and the life they are to help bring about. Rather, I have come to see that the spiritual disciplines are best understood through the grander vision of love. Love is the paradigm of paradigms, the very essence of the Christian life. And the spiritual disciplines, when seen through love, are the habits believing lovers should foster to help deepen and enrich their love relationship with God.
The spiritual disciplines are the habits of love. As we’ll see, they even have parallels to the ways we develop relationships with our human loves. Through those habits, the Divine Lover works within us to make us into the beloveds he created us to be.
This is not some mushy, mystical approach to the Christian life. Far from it. I’ve found that it is as realistic as it is rewarding, as challenging as it is comforting, as humanly impossible as it is divinely prescribed and co-accomplished. It is nothing less than the fullness of Christ’s life lived in and through us.
To see this, we must begin where love does—with God. He is love itself, and the life he calls us to live begins and ends with his love for us. This is the life that the apostle Paul calls “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).
The Transforming Habits of a Growing Christian by William D. Watkins
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764226355
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.