A Model for Christian Life – Part 2 of 3

[Part 1 ended with a metaphor of a mental “map” which represents our understanding of God and the created reality in which we live.]

Distortions in Our Maps

Our individual, mental maps have distortions and omissions which make our journey more difficult. These map errors arise from several sources. For example, the family into which a child is born passes its own flawed maps on to the child who knows no other reality. Selective attention also plays a role in producing map distortions. And misinformation can prove worse than none at all!

As a result of these factors, some people become adults with a map that approximates a US topographic map while others have something like a pirate-treasure map from a grade-B movie. What can be done about getting a better map?

“What is truth?”—Pontius Pilate

The dilemma we face is one of finding a reliable standard against which we can correct our maps. To achieve some correction, we can compare our mental maps with those of others through probing discussions. Or we can consult an expert. But it would be naive to accept such input as absolutely reliable. Centuries ago the greatest minds in France advised their king that the Black Plague had been caused by a conjunction of planets. They were completely confident and totally wrong!

Human beings currently suffer from a plague — a plague of subjectivity that resists attempts at a cure. That’s exactly why it makes so much sense for God to communicate with man by means of a Bible which is inerrant in its original manuscripts. As Christians, we need an objective reality-base which can be trusted as we attempt to correct our mental maps.

Improving Our Maps

God has always had access to all available information. No wonder he has the only accurate map. But we still face the distortions that subjective humans introduce during translation and interpretation of the biblical text. So while the Bible is totally true, our personal perception of it is not.

God works from the outside and the inside to refine the map within us. The Bible and the created world both serve as external standards, while the Holy Spirit works within a Christian’s mind to prompt the admission of information. The Spirit does this in a non-forcing way to leave us responsible for what we learn and what we believe.

As the life-manager actively expresses love and seeks biblical knowledge, he or she will grow through changes in the perceptual map of reality. This search for increasing levels of truth will take the form of an uninterrupted series of approximations to actual reality. (I say “actual reality” to distinguish it from the “subjective reality” we each have.) This mental map will draw nearer to truth over time because of the Holy Spirit’s work, assisted by God’s revelation in the Bible.

In effect, the Bible serves as a travel guide, or a mission order, for the Christian’s journey. It can help tremendously, but it cannot substitute for traveling. Too many Christians conduct their spiritual journey by memorizing their travel guide instead of living out love, freedom and life-management. Nor was the Bible ever intended to be a Christian’s sole source of truth, though all other sources require additional validation.

The entire process involves a measure of struggle which continues throughout the journey. In fact, the absence of struggle over a prolonged period probably indicates that the traveler has abandoned his journey by favoring safety over progress. Inevitably, the changes we have described will result in interpersonal differences with those who do not share a similar map.

Filling in the Blank Areas

While many Christians have an accurate map of the path to salvation in Jesus Christ, a lot fewer have an understanding of what the Lord has mapped out for their growth toward Christian maturity. I intend to offer my view of that plan.

Before I start on the biblical basis for the model, one additional matter needs attention. I do not join those who see the Christian life as a grim, lifelong struggle against sin. Theologian B.B. Warfield called this “miserable-sinner Christianity.”[1] Rather, I believe that Christians are new men and new women in Christ who can please the Lord by performing their life-management using all the resources God has already provided through Christ. All of what follows is part of what such a manager must know.

The Goal of the Christian Development

As I understand the New Testament, the goal of Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ. I arrive at that conclusion through verses such as the following:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” (Gal. 4:19).

“until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).

However, some believers have not advanced beyond infancy (1 Cor. 3:1–3) and others are still at a beginning level of Christian truth (Heb. 6:1–3). These are not managing their lives effectively for Christ, and they can expect little, if any, reward.

Our Identity in Christ: Life-Manager

As Christians we are those in whom Christ dwells (John 15:4–5; Col. 3:11). Alternatively, one may describe believers as those in whom the Holy Spirit lives (Rom. 8:13). Perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing.

In addition to describing us as life-managers for Christ, the New Testament also refers to us as the “new man” and as the “people of God.” These aspects of our identity will be further developed below [in Part 3]; they are part of what we must be in Christ.

I have previously presented the role of life manager for Christ as a useful metaphor for understanding Christian life. Bible references related to this role are: Gen. 1:26–28; Matt. 25:14–28; Luke 19:12–27; Matt. 24:45–51.

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

Part 3 will conclude the series with more about our new identity in Christ.


[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 1:113-301.

 

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