THE FOUR BASIC ACTIVITIES OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

If someone were to ask you, "What does a Christian do?" you might answer something like, "Love God and one's neighbor" or "Go to church on Sunday and keep the Ten Commandments". While either answer or any number of others of a similar nature might be true, these would provide the content of Christian activity but not the context or nature of what Christians do. Basically, the Christian life parallels biological life. Biological life consists of four basic activities: birth, growth, work and reproduction. For instance, a flowering plant begins a new life when it germinates. Next, it grows until it produces a mature plant. Then, the plant provides a benefit to other organisms. Since it is a flowering plant, it attracts pollinators such as bees, moths and hummingbirds who take the nectar of the flower as food. This may be called the plants "work". Finally, the plant reproduces itself by forming seeds that are dispersed and then germinate if they find the right conditions.

Human biological life follows a similar pattern. While it actually begins at conception, we customarily date the beginning of human life from birth. The earliest years are focused mainly on growth but that growth works toward two main ends. First of all, we grow in order to become useful to others. While work, from the individual's standpoint, may simply be a way to make a living or to support a family, it is accomplished by providing something of use to the wider community of human life. Secondly, we grow biologically in order to produce new copies of human beings. So, here again, we have four basic activities: birth, growth, work (service to others) and reproduction or multiplication. This pattern has its exact parallels in the Christian life.

The Bible tells us that spiritual life begins at the "new birth". Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3; also verses 5 and 7) It may sound strange to call this an "activity" as it is usually attributed wholly to God's work and it is the work of a moment. However, the Bible makes it clear that this work requires our cooperation and that it consists in a change of the ruling preference of the will from self-gratification to God-gratification, that is, from selfishness to love. If the Christian life were described as an orchestral symphony the new birth would be the base notes undergirding the harmonies of all its movements. In other words, while the new birth is an instantaneous change in our spirit, brought about by faith in Jesus Christ under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it remains the foundation of everything else that happens in the Christian life.

Once we are born again then we can begin to grow, spiritually. The Bible says, "For you have been born again, not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God… And this is the word which was preached to you. Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by ityou may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." (1 Peter 1:22-23, 25a-2:3) In physical growth, we have a limit to how much we can grow but not so in regard to spiritual growth. In fact, we shall grow spiritually throughout eternity as we gain fuller and deeper knowledge of God. This is a growth in friendship and fellowship with God. Nevertheless, there is a goal toward which we grow in this life and that is spelled out in Ephesians 4:11-13 where we are told that we are to grow "to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." In other words, we are to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ! That doesn't mean that we begin to wear robes and sandals and become carpenters. It does mean that we become more and more like the One we are following in the way we think, act and feel toward God and others.

This brings us naturally to the activity of service. As we grow in our love for God and others we will want to serve them. Plants and animals, for the most part, do not intend to serve others, except for their own offspring and even that is only by instinct. However, like the flowering plants in the earlier example, they do end up serving organisms of other species. They have a larger purpose than just their own survival. Christians also have a larger purpose than just our own spiritual growth. In fact, that growth is what makes possible our service to others. The Bible says, "Through love, serve one another." (Galatians 5:133) Since we are becoming more and more like Jesus Christ we must realize that Jesus is a Servant: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) Jesus went about doing good to others in tangible ways. He healed the sick, cast out demons, befriended the friendless and fed the hungry. Even though He and His disciples were themselves essentially homeless, they kept a common purse from which they helped the poor. There are many ways to serve God by serving His creation. Christians are born to serve. When Christians grow, they grow into servants.

The fourth and final activity of the Christian life is reproduction or multiplication. We were born to reproduce. Dawson Trotman, founder of the Christian ministry known as the Navigators, has a wonderful message entitled "Born to Reproduce" which is available on-line and I encourage everyone to read. His basic message is that the Christian life is incomplete unless we help others to become born again, just as we are, and to help them grow spiritually and take on ministry for Christ. When Christ met with His disciples just prior to His ascension into heaven, He gave them orders to "Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15), and to "Make disciples of all the nations." (Matthew 28:19) This is the standing order for all disciples of Jesus in all generations. While we may not all be called to be pastors or missionaries, everyone who is born again of the Spirit is called to cooperate with God in bringing others to new birth and maturity in Christ.

Now, knowing that these are the four basic activities of the Christian life should help us to check ourselves to see if we are active in all four of these ways. Are you born of the Spirit? Are you growing in Christ? Are you serving Christ by serving others? Are you reproducing disciples and servants of Christ? In the days ahead, it is my goal to work with our church to enhance our focus on these four basic activities and to increase our effectiveness in assisting those in our fellowship to experience to the fullness what it means to live in Christ.