I’m Done With Living Like A Christian

Something happened last week.  I went on a retreat with an amazing spiritual director / teacher named Jan Johnson.  By the end of our time together I realized that I’m done with living like a Christian.
  • I’m done serving the poor.
  • I’m done going the extra mile.
  • I’m done being a husband who strives to love his wife as Christ loves the church.
  • I’m done visiting the sick.
  • I’m done opening up my life to Christian community.
  • I’m done loving my neighbor.
  • I’m done living with integrity.
  • I’m done loving my enemies.
  • I’m done giving finances to global causes.
  • I’m done opposing violence.
  • I’m done speaking out against hatred.
  • I’m done standing up for the marginalized.
  • I’m D-O-N-E done…

This past week made me realize that doing all these things won’t change the world.  That’s because the world can’t be changed unless God changes me.

For the past several years, ups and downs defined my spiritual life.  Moments in the journey were some of the most intimate encounters with Jesus that I’ve known.  Real (nearly tangible) experiences, that can’t be explained by anything but the power of the Holy Spirit, took place. Other moments, when I showed love to a neighbor, prayed for an enemy, served the poor… these were times when Jesus was right there with me.

Then there were the times when I got stuck trying to live like Jesus.  In the Christian world we call these “good works” or “ethics.”  I made my aim “doing” rather than “being.” By “doing” I believed that my “being” would be consumed by an experience of the life of God.  Unfortunately, the God encounters often fade when all my time is spent “doing” or theorizing about such “doing.”

For me, it’s time to stop doing.  It’s time to simply be done.  Done “doing” because the Holy Spirit invites us to stop and to “be.”

  • To be the kind of person who serves the poor.
  • Be the kind of person who goes the extra mile.
  • Be the kind of person who is an awesome self-giving husband.
  • Be the kind of person who visits the sick.
  • Be the kind of person who opens my life up to Christian community.
  • Be the kind of person who loves my neighbor.
  • Be the kind of person who chooses integrity.
  • Be the kind of person who loves enemies.
  • Be the kind of person who gives generously to global causes.
  • Be the kind of person who responds to evil with creative nonviolence.
  • Be the kind of person who not only speaks out against hatred, but who suffers for the sake of the hated.
  • Be the kind of person who stands in the margins with those who’ve been placed there by society (and even the church).
  • I want to BE, and in the process, become a different kind of follower of Jesus.

Why the distinction?  It’s easy to follow the Sermon on the Mount and other ethical teachings of Jesus and to miss the Christ who taught such things. Dallas Willard puts it this way:

Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth.  These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Chrsitlikeness, were put forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays.  Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.  For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser…  True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.[1]

Brave New Films

So, yes, I’m done with living like a Christian.  I’m trading that in for living in a deeper relationship with Christ.  I want to know Jesus.  I want to hear Jesus.  I want to be empowered by Jesus.  Not simply in theory as I do the good things that he calls us to do, but as the natural outflow of intimacy with God.  The former way “gets the job done.”  The latter way changes the world.

For me, this means a new-found intentionality of placing myself in a position to hear from the Spirit.  Spiritual practices like – solitude, Sabbath, lectio divina, silence, confession, prayer, and practicing the presence of God – these neglected areas of my life have led to a Christianity defined by “doing” rather than “being.”

My prayer for us is that our intimate relationships with Christ would make it impossible to not respond with the ethics marked out by the Kingdom of God.  Not out of effort to do good things, but out of our efforts to know Jesus Christ through an awareness of the presence of God’s Spirit.  When this becomes normative, we won’t be able to help it… we will just start looking like Jesus.

[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives,7-8.

Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.  He writes at: the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook.

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About the Author

Kurt Willems

Kurt WillemsKurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is the founding pastor of Pangea Communities - a movement of peace, justice, & hope. The church plant, in partnership with the Brethren in Christ and Urban Expression, is based in Seattle, Wa. Kurt writes at The Pangea Blog and is also on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.View all posts by Kurt Willems →

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  • Anonymous

    Yep – that’s the radical distinction that I learned a few years ago that totally changed my perspective. I think doing good for the sake of it is fine, but there’s a better way (for me anyway)….And when ‘doing good’ begins to feel like a chore more often than a joy,  I know that it is time to refocus and spend some time soaking in the presence of Jesus – getting filled up, receiving from the unlimited ‘storehouses of heaven’ so that I can ‘pour out’ to others. It was hard for me to grasp the knowledge that IT IS OK TO RECEIVE…God is not low on resources and time for me. I just have to let Him fill me up. It is not selfish to do so… When a plane is going down they say to put the oxygen on yourself FIRST and then your neighbor…I think it is the same principal here.  I’m not much good to my neighbor if I don’t have what I need.  It is difficult to internalize that Papa God can give each person his undivided attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He’s THAT BIG…  I struggle with a ‘spiritual poverty mindset’ (which often translates into a physical poverty mindset). I have come to understand ‘the renewing of my mind’ as a return to the feet of Jesus to be reminded of His abundance,, His grace and His love for me. This creates a state of mind different from the world’s that is based in fear, selfishness, and ‘religious busyness’. In my renewed mindset, I know that I am blessed – and can seek blessing – so that I can be a blessing to others.

  • Anonymous

    I think we have a continual need to be converted from self-justifying works-righteousness (doing) into justification by grace in which we live as a response to God’s love (being). For the record, I suck at being!

  • I like this, Kurt, but I wonder whether the spiritual disciplines might not just turn into a different kind of doing.

    What do you think?

    • There is always potential for this… very true.  Even so, I am talking here about the public types of ‘doing’.  I make a distinction to make  my point, however the issues are messy.  For instance, I think that in “doing” we can meet Christ and grow… I just think that those things by themselves will keep us in want for more of an actual relationship with God…

      • Very true. Both are needed. I’m inclined to think that unless the whole enterprise – both our love for God and our love for neighbor – is rooted in the assurance that Christ has already done it all on our behalf, we’ll burn out.

        In other words, we must operate, at all times, with the deep knowledge that we’re not alone in our doing. That just as through us, Jesus is serving and calling others, so, too he is relating to God on our behalf. We do not have relationship with God because of our rich devotional life, but because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

        All is grace.

  • Excellent, and the ancient Greeks would agree too. For them (Aristotole in particular), flourishing in life meant developing as a whole person. A person’s moral worth depends on their character, not individual actions. It was only centuries later that morality became about individual actions. I think you are right that the gospel bears this out too. We are called to a full transformation of ourselves; the pharisees might make a big show giving to charity, but we are called to be born again – to be made new from the inside out. If “BE” then we won’t be able to stop ourselves from “DOING” – that’s part of what “BEING” involves. Thanks for a though-provoking post.

  • Anonymous

    From the Word of God —  Faith without Deeds is DEAD!  A prayer – Lord please give me the Wisdom and power to act and fulfill the deeds presented to me for your glory.

  • Dallas Willard has been popping up everywhere lately.  He is one of my spiritual heroes!!  I love this post.  I love it when a writer or speaker catches my attention by saying something surprising and then bringing a revelation from it.

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  • Paul Charles

    Totally agree Kurt. Then no longer will doing be a test and a trial but rather an outflowing of our love for Christ. That’s going to take time though. “Spiritual growth is the slowest of all growth” Parker Palmer.

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  • 3girlshome

    Good word.  It is a hard road, though – scary to stop doing the ‘right’ thing, as our training determines, and starting to live by the spirit within us means that we might say no to some things that are ‘good’ – our judgement of ourselves and others comes into sharp relief during this process… humility is a natural result of the time spent listening to the heart rather than the law…

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