Typically people employ one of two tactics for living Christianly. They try to live authentically, or they try to be obedient. Let’s explore each of these in turn.
The first way people try to live Christianly is by attempting to feel everything before we do it. In order to make virtuous decisions, we focus on how we’re feeling and transforming our feelings so that they result in virtue. All of our energy goes toward the inner life and our ultimate motivations.
The problem, however, is that this kind of “authenticity” doesn’t take sin into account. For example, we might deeply feel like we should do something God might not want us to do. A child molester is just being himself and following his feelings. A thief is being true to his impulses and the way God made him.
But theft is not acceptable.
Child molestation is a heinous crime.
When your feelings tell you to steal or to harm children, they mislead you. They cannot be trusted. You’re sinning, not in spite of your authenticity, but precisely because of it.
The second way people try to live Christianly is by following a bunch of rules. They operate under the auspices that it doesn’t matter how you feel or who you are, you should just do what’s right and shut up about it. While it’s true that following the rules might produce slightly better behavior, it’s also true that rigid adherence without understanding creates brittle, angry Christians whose lives eventually shatter from exhaustion and unhappiness.
You can create so many rules, including (ironically) rules to keep yourself from breaking rules, that you will find yourself paralyzed for fear of crossing boundaries, either real or imagined.
You will despair.
Eventually, you will give up.
If obedience and authenticity don’t offer sufficient means to live Christianly, then there must be a third option. The alternative is to live with eschatological authenticity. The eschaton refers to the end of the world, the telos of new creation, in which God’s glory saturates the earth.
Eschatological authenticity, then, means being true, not to the people we are now, but being true to the people we will one day become when Christ has completely been consummated in us. We live as the best possible version of ourselves.
The problem is we’re not there yet. So we must imagine what the best possible version of ourselves entails. We have to ask ourselves:
- When I’m at my best, how do I overlook an offense?
- When I’m at my best, how do I love other people?
- When I’m at my best, how do I walk in step with the spirit?
- When I’m at my best, how do I use my resources, gifts, and abilities for the glory of God?
Then we have to imagine what it’s like to live this way even when we’re not at our best. We live with the end in mind.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com