Standards For Christian Living
Finding standards for Christian living is as simple as opening one's Bible. Throughout its pages, a sincere person can find guidelines and principles to handle just about any situation or circumstance. Perhaps the rules for Christian living that are the most well-known, even to a secular audience, are the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. This happened during the time of the Exodus, when the Hebrews gained their freedom from the Egyptian Pharaoh and began their forty-year period of wandering through the desert before entering the land God promised to them so many centuries before. In recent years, the Ten Commandments, sometimes referred to as the Decalogue, has been surrounded by controversy. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether or not monuments of the Ten Commandments can remain on governmental property. But their decisions on different cases, sometimes yes and sometimes no, haven't resolved anything. Instead, the opinions published on these cases have only created further confusion. What the nine justices believe or decide means little to someone seeking rules for Christian living. The Ten Commandments remain important moral guidelines.
Of course, the Ten Commandments are part of the Old Testament and this covenant with God was fulfilled with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We live under a new covenant and its principles are testified to by the writings of the New Testament. Jesus reaffirmed nine of the commandments during His three-year ministry. But one commandment has been set aside by powerful and unique events. On the stone tablet, God wrote, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8, 11). The Jewish people faithfully follow this command, keeping the Sabbath day from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Christians worship God on Sunday, the first day of the week, because this is the day Jesus rose from the dead. The church was established on a Sunday, the Day of Pentecost. For these reasons and because of apostolic tradition (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2), the day of worship changed. This is a symbolic representation of the shift from the old to the new covenant instituted by Jesus' resurrection. This historic event underlies all standards for Christian living.
In turning to the pages of the New Testament, the reader finds many passages that provide spiritual guidance. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us the Beatitudes that encourage mercy, peacemaking, and letting one's light shine (Matthew 5-7). When a lawyer once asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, the Son of God told him to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39). Remembering these two principles, and following them to the best of our abilities, goes a long way in guiding our behavior towards others. But sometimes it's difficult to know how to put these God-given principles into practice. Our quest for standards for Christian living leads us to Paul's letter to the church in Galatia where he lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance [which means self-control]" (Galatians 5:22-23a). These nine qualities should be developed and encouraged in our interactions with others, whether family members, friends, acquaintances, or perfect strangers. By meditating upon and memorizing passages that speak to these qualities, we take them into our hearts and allow them to flourish and bless others.
For a practical set of rules for Christian living, perhaps the best book to turn to is the book of James. This short letter was written by Jesus' half-brother who did not even believe that Jesus was the Son of God until after His resurrection. This James shouldn't be confused with the apostle James. The apostle James was a fisherman, the apostle John's brother and Zebedee's son. He was killed by King Herod in the first days of the church's existence. Jesus' half-brother James became a leader in the first-century church in Jerusalem and is the author of the book bearing his name. His chapter on taming the tongue is a classic for those struggling with the temptations of gossip and speaking unkind words (James 3). But he also addresses such topics as seeking wisdom, anger, humility, finances, and the importance of good works. James' genuine compassion for the needy is undeniable when we read these words: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Anyone following the teachings found in the book of James will have rules for Christian living for almost any situation.
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Scripture writers established standards for Christian living for us to follow. There are the definite "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt nots" of the Ten Commandments and many wise principles in a book such as James for us to follow. But living for God isn't the mere following of rules for Christian living as if Christians are robots programmed to do this and not to do that. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and to love our neighbor. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate exactly who our neighbor is -- the person who needs our help. When we embrace the qualities of the Beatitudes and the fruit of the Spirit we are embracing standards for Christian living that glorify God.