The Codification of the Christian Life
When Jesus arrived on the scene his people had codified everything. They turned the LAW into an infinite web of rules and regulations. They took what was impossible to fulfill and made it impossible to decipher. It was and endless list of things to be remembered and done. Eventually, the “faith” of the fathers was codified into a handbook of how to impersonate a righteous person. Because that’s all the LAW can do. It cannot produce what it demands. “The letter kills.” Ironically, the Law is intended to make the need for Jesus obvious. By the time Jesus arrived their codification had made Jesus irrelevant. Obviously, part of the offense of Jesus was his ability to cut through all this code and point to himself as the singular object of faith. Jesus’ simplicity turned all their codification on its ear.
Evangelicals have taken the codification of the Christian life to a completely different level. We may look on the Pharisees with derision, but we’ve mastered what they started. Comparatively they were eight-track tapes and we are MP3s when it comes to codification. The evangelical version of Christianity makes it nearly impossible to be a person of simple faith. We are overwhelmed by all of this detail and data we have to remember. It’s exhausting. You can’t simply be a wife who is a Spirit filled Christian who goes about her responsibilities as wife and mother. You have to be a “Christian wife.” There is a specific way to do it. We have codified it for you to make it obvious and easier. But, what might not be obvious is how our penchant for prescription robs us of faith and trust and makes it harder.
“But a Jew (Christian wife & mom) is one inwardly, and (her responsibilities) circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter (Christian books on being a wife).” Romans 2:29
We have so exhaustively coded every aspect of the life (“Christian athletes”, “Christian businessmen”, etc.) there is no longer any need for faith. You merely need access to the code. No doubt someone somewhere has defined what it means to be a Christian astronaut. Point is our evangelical Christianity comes with a handbook as well. We’ve turned the simplicity of a Spirit empowered life into something resembling the U. S. tax code. Our Christian lives have ceased to be one of resting and believing and living and have become something altogether different. We live in codification. Jesus never intended this. He preached against it.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-19)
I know many people feel the same about the contemporary Christian life in the same way Jesus’ weary audience did. Modern evangelicals look into web of technicality which we’ve created and despair. They can’t do it. They need someone to come along and tell them they don’t have to do all become proficient in all this stuff. It needs to be simplified. We need to resist heaping this detail on each other’s lives and allow each other to struggle by faith. Give people room. Point them to Christ.
Obviously, biblical principle and knowledge is good. Thank God for the imperatives and directives in Scripture. Otherwise, we’d be ignorant of all the areas that need transformation & would miss those places in our life that require the Spirit to render change. But, I’m certain if you accessed the Library of Congress’s holdings in the “How to live the Christian Life” section you’d be overwhelmed. There is no way to do it all. If this is what it means to live a faithful life we’re done. Tap out now.
There is no way to keep up with the “how to” being produced every month by the Christian publishing world. Not to mention the ways the “how to” changes from one church culture to another. Evangelicalism is and has always been one gigantic always-changing spiritual trend factory. It has to have a new angle on “how to live” to justify its existence. This is inherent to evangelicalism due to a simple fact – It is by nature opposed to historic confessional categories and realities as a method of living the Christian life. Christianity is primarily about living and far less about believing. History proves this. In the end, all our “how to” methodology can end up making a need for Jesus irrelevant to daily life. Which is beyond ironic since he started Christianity.
Don’t get me wrong I have interacted with some pretty insightful common sense offerings of biblical principle in my time. There is some helpful stuff out there. Every now and then I offer something of use. But, honestly, if you have to remember the six points of my sermon from six weeks ago in order to fulfill your role as a father – then something is wrong. Fact is, you don’t have to have all that detail to live the Christian life. It’s helpful, but not indispensable. I wonder how those believers who existed prior to Gutenberg ever survived spiritually? Probably, they thrived in the simplicity of a faith “driven” life. This makes sense since. After all it was Jesus who made it simple in a really complicated world.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Paul did the same thing,
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians. 5:14)
In fact Paul envisioned the Christian life under Christ and out from under Adam and the condemnation of the Law in a manner nearly completely contradictory to our evangelical addiction to principle.
“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)
In reality sanctification (living the Christian life in Christ) is an ongoing freedom from the codified life not the codification of the Christian life. Sanctification is Holy Spirit wrought transformation that frees us from the necessity of having to codify ourselves with endless minutia. Rather, our life is about transformation of desire which inherently creates Christ-like behavior and change. In a sense maturity in the Christian life is a movement away from the dependence on prescription to the place of inherent desire. Being a Christian is about how tutored slaves becomes the sons of inheritance.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:1-7)