THE HAPPY CHRISTIAN!
Here is an arresting description of a well-balanced Christian:
"Happy is the man who has no reason to condemn himself for what he allows" (Ro 14:22).
If the goal of all life is to achieve happiness, then Paul has revealed one of the key factors in that achievement: happiness is reaching that place of inner poise where you know exactly what is permissible for you, so that you live free from the misery of self-condemnation.
Now that is a most desirable state, although it is one that few Christians reach. Are you happy in the things you allow or disallow yourself? Or are you continually swinging from acceptance to accusation, from pleasure to disgust, from liking your life-style to despising it?
Do you live comfortably and pleasantly with yourself, your neighbor, and your God; or are you haunted by an uneasy sense of disharmony, of being unsure of yourself, not knowing what you should approve or disapprove, nor how you should relate to the world and the things that are in it? Can you eat, drink, love, laugh, cry, work, play, with contentment and peace, or is your conscience often unsettled, plagued with guilt, restless and troublesome?
Do you love yourself or loathe yourself?
The purpose of this book is to analyse the components of a true Christian life-style, to discover what factors enable the Christian to determine what is allowable, so that you may live without guilt, enjoying fully the happiness which is your God-given right.
The major obstacle many Christians face when they attempt to structure their lives is how to choose between the many alternatives that are offered to them.
Those alternatives arise from two sources -
The Pressures Of Group Conformity
Some churches and denominations demand from their members conformity to certain written or assumed rules which establish among their people an easily recognisable identity. These mores, laws, and traditions, control the life-style of every member in the group. Where this required identity suits the nature of the person affected, where it is flexible enough to allow freedom of conscience and behaviour, or where it does not inhibit the expression of God's purpose through any person, there is no harm in it; on the contrary it helps to establish the homogeneity and cohesiveness of the group.
However, this group pressure often tends to eliminate any real development of character. It can become a dehumanising pressure to conform, an imprisonment of spirit, a reduction of every member in the group to a common denominator. People who are pressed into the fixed mould of the group may find their Christian lives becoming stilted and artificial and they may find themselves locked into a suffocating atmosphere of spiritual restraint.
When customs and forms which do not in themselves have any real spiritual value become compulsory they also become a straitjacket, sapping vitality and preventing people from freely expressing all that is God?s unique and personal gift to each one of them.
In groups which have developed this pressure to conform there is no room for the non-conformist. I wonder what they would do with Jesus if he suddenly appeared among them? Probably the same thing the rigid and orthodox conformists did to him in Bible days: either expel him (Lu 9:49-50), or crucify him. Rule-makers never like rule-breakers.
The True Pattern
Scripture says that Christ is the example we should follow (1 Pe 2:21). In practice this means that you should not come under any control save that of Jesus as he is revealed to you by the Holy Spirit.
But there is a form in which Christ will show himself to you which will be different from his revelation of himself to me or to any other person in the world.
Of course, we all share many common things in our understanding of Christ; but because we are each one of us uniquely different, there is some part of the total beauty of Jesus that is visible only to your eyes or mine. The four gospels demonstrate this. How diverse is each writer?s view of the Lord! Each places emphasis on a different aspect of his character. Each responds in a different way to the impact and influence of his personality. Each forms a special vision of Christ.
They were free to be different, of course, because up to that time no ecclesiastical hierarchy had determined to a nicety how a proper Christian should think, talk, feel and act! Those strangulating taboos and strictures had not yet been formulated!
But now your deepest quest in life should be to discover Christ himself, in the way he chooses to reveal himself to you personally, and then to follow that example alone.
It must be conceded, of course, that young Christians, like infants, may need to cling to older and wiser saints and to submit to authority until they have developed a mature discretion of their own (1 Pe 2:1-3; and cp. He 5:11-14). But the apron strings should be cut as soon as possible.
It seems to me that the role of a good pastor is to nurture the children of God to the point where they can stand by themselves, able to make their own free and responsible decisions about the purpose of God in their lives.
A pastor who keeps his people utterly dependent on him, or who reckons them safe only while they keep his rules, can hardly be said to have produced grown up saints.
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
I have observed another problem. Many great Christians have done much harm by their intimate self-disclosures. Every detail of their personal spiritual pilgrimage has been exposed. They withhold nothing, and the underlying assumption on every page is: "This is the way I found God, and this is the way you will find him." The Bible writers were more restrained. They revealed only such things as all Christians in every generation can relate to.
There are times when silence is golden! "He who restrains his lips is prudent ... A prudent man conceals his knowledge ... He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding" (Pr 10:19; 12:23; 17:27,28).
It is a simple fact that I do not relate to God in the same way that you do, nor will the Lord seek an identical response from both of us, nor will he deal with each of us in exactly the same way.
I may learn some things from God?s dealings with others, but not everything. Some of God?s dealing with me are exclusive. They belong to me alone. They have no value for you. His ways with me and his ways with you are not the same. But Peter's misguided question is still being asked: "Lord, what about this man?" And Christ is still replying, "What is that to you? Follow me!" (Jn 21:20-22).