A Model for Christian Life: Part 1 of 3

Long ago, when we were children, someone taught us how to assemble a puzzle. It was hard at first, frustrating. In time we learned that each piece has a specific shape that fits a hole somewhere. That helped, but it still took a while to try out each piece in the hole.

Finally our minds developed to the point where we could use the biggest clue of all — the picture on the front of the puzzle box. That made things so much easier! Soon we were able to do the whole puzzle without even using the picture. Our minds had learned a pattern, a picture of wholeness.

Our Christian lives are a puzzle of staggering complexity. Many spend a lifetime trying to bring the many parts into a coherent whole. That’s where this article fits in. It gives a sketch of the picture on the puzzle box—a vision of wholeness and maturity in Jesus Christ.

Toward a Better Conception

What many Christians desperately need today is a change in their frame of reference. To understand what I mean by “frame of reference,” consider an example from history. Until the sixteenth century scientists shared the belief that the earth was the center of the solar system with all other heavenly bodies moving around it. But then Copernicus and Kepler found that astronomical observations matched the assumption that the sun was at the center rather than the earth. That totally changed people’s frame of reference.

The important point is that the old earth-centered system was eventually replaced by a new, different and more useful one. But that didn’t happen easily or quickly.

Like those who wrongly believed the earth was the center of the solar system, Christians often reach a block in their growth because they are still using some simplistic frame of reference for their Christian life, a frame that cannot integrate the complexity of their lives. Seemingly useful alternatives such as “let go and let God” or “you must die to self” eventually lead to disappointment for many Christians. Other inadequate alternatives include perfectionism and the teaching that a second work of grace makes you mature in Christ. I do not accept these alternatives as the biblical means for achieving maturity in Christ.

Other ideas divide the nature of man into either two or three parts. The first approach is often expressed as a two-part model of body and soul. The three-part model is usually expressed as the combination of body, soul and spirit. In my view, these concepts lead to psychological/spiritual speculation that cannot be adequately supported by biblical revelation. Instead, I find it more useful to view redeemed man as a whole person, the “new man” of Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and Romans 6 (more on this later).

A Metaphor To Express Our Life Situation

All of us take cues from our situation to help us know how to behave. A football player acts one way and a chess player quite another. A gardener exhibits certain behaviors and a father holding a new baby shows totally different actions. People who get their situations and behaviors mixed up (e.g. a football player trying to dance at the forty yard line) usually wind up in institutions. So it’s vitally important to fit our behaviors together in a sensible way with our context.

I believe that Christians can use one, central metaphor that will describe all their activities. This single metaphor provides a master conception that will guide our behavior in situations where limited formulas about Christian life break down. The guiding metaphor for Christians is that we have been appointed life-managers on behalf of Christ.

The biblical basis for this metaphor starts with Gen. 1:26–28. Jesus imposed this duty on his followers while they await his return (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27).

Naturally, the life you manage is your own, although as a parent you may help manage children’s lives for a time. Even our physical lives come as a delegated resource from God. He also provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), which includes such resources as the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our own capable minds and our Christian relationships.

Though our first priority is to love God, he redirects our attention toward obedience and the expression of love. As life-managers for Christ, we enjoy wide latitude of choice and action. Part of our responsibility includes the active pursuit of Christian growth, but the most frequent focus of our management falls on the expression of love toward others, whether by kindness or evangelism. By using all these resources wisely, we bring lasting benefit to Christ’s kingdom and ourselves. And he generously rewards us for such efforts. On the other hand, any disobedience or sin results in discipline from our Master.

Life-Management during Christ’s Ministry

During Christ’s earthly ministry, the practice of managing another person’s wealth or estate was common. We can best view the arrangement as a capital-services partnership with one partner supplying the capital and the other partner providing the expertise in making a profit.

A servant could function as his master’s financial manager and the servant’s actions were legally binding on his master. In other words, the servant/manager had broad authority to act on his master’s behalf.

In those times it was entirely possible to turn a minimum profit of 100%, and even 1000% was not beyond reason. A servant who returned no profit at all would actually represent a loss to the master who was paying for the servant’s daily living expenses. A servant who made a profit would share in that profit and would likely be given even more to invest or manage in the future.

These typical arrangements stand behind the parables Jesus told about stewards: the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27), the parable of the shrewd steward (Luke 16:1–15) and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23–35).

Approaching Our Goal

No one starts Christian life as an effective life-manager for Christ. Over time, God intends that we move from spiritual infancy into adulthood (Gal. 4:19; Eph. 4:13).

We can illustrate the development of Christian faith with a journey metaphor. No one ever took a journey by standing still! First, a person accepts the need for the journey and then moves out. But even that is not enough. Without an accurate map, a person can wind up farther from his intended destination than when he started; which leads us directly to the role of truth in spiritual development.

Truth and Spiritual Development

It will also prove helpful to use the metaphor of a map for our journey toward Christian maturity. First, we can imagine the reality in which we exist as a vast land. Our mental “map” represents our understanding of that terrain.

We all have such a map. For example, our map contains the concept of grocery stores. Unlike people in some parts of the world, we do not fish, hunt or raise crops to get our food because we know we can get it at the grocery store. But if we tried to use that part of our map while traveling in central Greenland, we would be in for a rude shock!

Sticking with the metaphor, I can define “truth” as God’s map of the terrain. The challenge each Christian faces is to get his internal map to look more like God’s. This happens by transforming our minds (more on that later) and by gaining a greater understanding of what God has revealed through Christ and the Word of God.

Part 2 will show how God helps us correct our “map” of reality.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!