On Being A Student of Christ
No man is an island; in every person’s life, there is incompleteness and longing. Life is intrinsically relational, as desiring things apart from the self is experienced on a daily basis. It could be a physiological instinct like thirst, which motivates one to drink. Or it could be an emotional instinct like loneliness, which can motivate one to be with another person. People long to make certain relations.
The same can be said about spiritual instincts. Part of the Christian life is longing after union with Christ. This is a good thing but there is a certain opportunity for temptation here, namely, legalism. But we’ll get back to this point in a couple of minutes.
For now, consider the following paradox (not a contradiction): a Christian has both found oneness with Christ and is in the process of finding oneness with Christ. Let’s take a look at a couple of verses that support these claims. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” However, Philippians 2:12 also says: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
It is interesting that Paul, while writing to the church of Philippi, seemed to understand that humans follow by example. This should encourage us to pay attention to the lives of Christ’s students, whether past or present, and to not only be Christlike when we are among other Christians, or even in any other social situation, but to let Christ permeate into the deepest crevices of our inner lives. The church of Philippi was explicitly told to obey God in Paul’s absence, as instructed by Paul himself. Following Christ has a place both in one’s social life and in one’s private life.
Finding oneness with Christ is, at root, an opportunity granted by God’s grace. This grace is a characteristic of God, as is goodness, and the two characteristics operate in relation to one another. Now, goodness has two sides, insofar as it is the absence of sin and an actuality in itself. One might avoid doing bad things but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing good things; the proper balance is to avoid what is wrong while pursuing the good. By negating sin in our own lives, we now have the opportunity to express God’s goodness in the positive. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20[a])” This is selflessness in its highest form; the grace of Christ has allowed the man who was once void of His goodness to brim with it instead.
What this means is that a legalistic attitude has no place in the life of a Christian. You are a student of Christ, or a disciple. Logically, for any person of high ethical standards, if their good deeds did end with themselves, it would follow quite naturally that they should have a positive sense of self and think no more about the matter. But that is not the end of the story. There is nothing wrong with taking joy in doing right, so long as it’s not pride, but the truth is that good ethics ultimately have their root in God, the Alpha and Omega. This is a most wonderful truth, for by doing what is right is to be in the proper man-God relation, and one participates in things of eternal worth. Legalism results in the glory of one’s ego, while good works ought to be done for the glory of God, the source of morality itself.