Inward and Outward Christlikeness
The aim of the Christian journey of faith is to become Christ-like. Being like him in his devotion to God’s glory and his compassion for God’s creation. This can neither be a conformity to an exterior acceptable existence nor only an interior perfection. I am seeing a growing frustration and excitement in the church about what it means to really follow Christ. What does it mean succeed in the model of Christ’s holiness?
It is clear that our actions (our visible life) should reflect those of Christ. But it is often all too easy to evaluate holiness in terms of this life alone. As disciples, united with Christ, our visible life should testify to our union with him. If he is the vine and we are the branches, life should bear Christ-like fruit. Too often Christian life doesn’t bear the kind of fruit one expects to see. I am becoming dissatisfied with bland fruit. St John Chrysostom wrote, “It is not enough to leave Egypt, one must also travel to the Promised Land.” It is not enough to simply remain alive in him, there is also a mandate for us to bear fruit. Jesus visible life challenged and transformed life. Should our fruit not do likewise?
The impetus of Jesus’ holy living was his inner holiness.
Good deeds and acts of justice are of little consequence if we merely conform ourselves to what we see as good and do not allow our inner life to also be transformed. What good is anything unless we have love? A very real challenge today is that it’s not enough to be a Christian by name only; conforming to the patterns and precepts of the church. We may very well be accepted and even esteemed by others in church and society but rather we should allow our hearts and spirits to be conformed to that of Christ.
Without our inner life (our personal relationship with God) being transformed, our striving will be, at most, to live up to the standard expected in our social group. Indeed, some excel and exceed the standard. But if the external life takes precedence or operates in isolation, most will struggle to meet the minimum requirement and feel unworthy and/or unwelcome.
So is the solution a separated life of purity and holiness? It seems that this modern monastic existence (outworked in a dualistic life) is the answer for many: do the “spiritual bit” then get on with the rest of life. Spirit vs. body, faith vs. work, Church vs. world. This dualism is the natural conclusion when our motivation comes into conflict with our spirituality. Spiritual becomes a small pocket of time set aside out of obligation, duty or tradition. In this model, everything loses its ultimate, eternal and kingdom meaning. Money, success, happiness et al., become the driving force rather than living to become like Christ in his service to humanity and to God.
But to be Christ-like, our internal and external life must become one.
We should not accept passivity in our internal or external life. We must take seriously our call to holiness. We must take seriously our mandate to live lives of worth.
Thomas Merton in his book ‘Life and Holiness’ writes that the route to Christ-likeness is the “rejection of everything that is not Christ in order that all life, all truth, all hope, all reality may be sought and found in Christ” (p.100).
This is not a rejection of people or the material world. As we have seen, purity without action is not what it means to be Christ-like. Rather it is choosing and desiring Christ far above everything else.
Christ’s life was extreme, not passive or lukewarm. Our Christ-like life must also be extreme. It can’t be passive, even in the slightest. It is about completely relying on God and abandoning everything, absolutely everything, into his hands. All of that makes it quite scary. All of that makes it sound like life to the full!
Can we let go to this extreme? Can we trust him to this extreme?
This is faith. This is my quest.