A common concern for Christians in China is how they are to live out their faith outside of the church. How can Christians carry themselves winsomely around their non-Christian family and friends? In this article, Pastor Chen Shengfeng gives pastoral advice to Christians on how their faith is to be “down to earth.”
Christians, Your Faith Needs to Be “Down to Earth”
As a pastor, you are likely to hope that brothers and sisters will come and tell you after your preaching, “Pastor, your message today really helped me. Praise the Lord!” I think that this has been desired by pastors throughout the ages. But in today’s church, brothers and sisters are likely to keep up with the times, and even some of their phrases of praise might be very “fashionable.” In the past few years, in addition to saying that the pastor spoke well, they might add a comment, saying that it was “down to earth.”
To comment that a pastor’s message was “down to earth” does not necessarily mean that it was preached well. More likely, it means that the message was able to connect with daily life, to tie biblical truth to daily life, so that believers did not feel like the sermon was some mystical message, impossible to practice in real life. Of course, many people abuse the phrase “down to earth,” feeling that anything that pleases them is “down to earth,” or even viewing those who overuse crude humor as “down to earth.” But in my personal understanding, “down to earth” is to explain the truth thoroughly, starting deep but ending simply, so that the listener may gain wisdom for their daily lives from the message, and use it as guidance in real life.
In a recent marriage counselling session, the person who sought help mentioned multiple times that the advice I gave was rather “down to earth.” Of course, this was an encouragement to me, but at the same time, I wondered, is it because what he encounters or receives is not “down to earth” enough, so that he experiences various difficulties throughout his life? According to him, he has sought out some brothers and sisters to be his guide in life, and will often seek their guidance, and they will often provide advice.
But in our discussions, I found that this brother who so liked to be “down to earth,” displayed many actions in his own life that were not “down to earth,” resulting in some situations where he and his family are unable to communicate, or argue when they attempt to communicate. I believe that these problems are not only found in this one person, but might be a common phenomenon. Here, I will attempt to list some specific problems, which I hope can be a reminder for us.
First, Christians are likely to “aim too high,” so that instead of experiencing gradual growth step by step after becoming a Christian, they have unrealistic expectations to immediately become a saint.
Second, Christians view a “justified” life as holy, neglecting the fact that though we are justified, we are still sinners. We then feel as if we are holy, and are unwilling to associate with the “unholy,” even feeling unwilling to interact with them.
Third, though Christians call themselves “foremost among sinners,” their standards for others are to be “perfect humans,” not even allowing a grain of sand in their eye. We easily take the spiritual and moral “high ground,” making severe demands on others, resulting in the situation where we have a log in our own eye, but are trying to remove the speck in the other’s eye.
Fourth, it is not wrong for a Christian to pursue a holy faith. But when he is pursuing this, and places overly high demands on those around him, his family and friends will see him as odd, and might even think that the Jesus he believes in is crazy. Some people simply reject him, refusing to interact with him.
Fifth, it is also not wrong for Christians to seek spiritual growth. But some people neglect their daily duties because of this, such as when they spend the whole day reading the Bible, praying, fasting, thinking that their family is unholy, not doing housework, and even thinking of sexual relations between spouses as unclean.
Sixth, Christians know that it is good to believe in Jesus and to share the gospel with their families. But they do not use reasonable methods. Instead of witnessing with their lives, and slowly guiding their family to the Lord through persistent prayer (and thus bearing fruit), they are overly impatient, and use pressure and threats to force their family to church, so that their family rejects the faith even further.
Seventh, Christians are good at using “spiritual” jargon and judging everything on the basis of “whether or not it pleases God.” This should be a natural expression of faith, but when manifested in the lives of some immature Christians, it may cause their families to feel offended since they find the Christian relative “god crazy.”
The Breadth and Length and Height and Depth of Jesus Love
I must clarify here that some of the normal pursuits and behaviors in Christian life mentioned above are not particularly problematic, but when any such behavior does not match with the actual level of their spiritual maturity, it makes the faith seem strange, irrational and out of place. Of course, we know that Christians are different from worldly people, but we must not neglect the realities of life while seeking outward “spiritualness,” thus reducing our faith to a superstition. Here I want to cite “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the Lord’s love as described by Paul, to remind Christians of our pursuit of faith.
First, a Christian’s pursuit of faith must be “long.” Spiritual growth cannot be accomplished overnight, but takes consistent pursuit over the course of a lifetime. Just as a child will not grow into an adult in one day, and a skinny person will not turn fat by eating over the course of a day, Christian life also grows through long-term effort and experience. Therefore, do not simply talk about being “spiritual,” or using “spiritual” phrases to adorn oneself. Instead, we should think of ourselves with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Romans 12:3).
Under the influence of fast food culture, many people think that spiritual life is like the transfer of “energy” in kung fu novels, which can be accomplished through a onetime “laying on of hands,” or that we can rely on the Holy Spirit to greatly enhance our lives in one filling. But in reality, even the Holy Spirit’s work demands that we know the truth and experience the cross, so that our lives will grow gradually. Therefore, Christians must have the mindset of making their spiritual life a long-term pursuit, gradually growing into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
Second, the spiritual life of Christians must be “broad.” Do not think that because we are justified, everyone else is unholy. Do not think that because we have our pursuits, no one else is pursuing. Do not look down on another’s lack of growth simply because we ourselves have experienced a little growth. Do not think that because we are Christians, we have become more noble. In reality, many people are singing loudly about their spirituality, but it is not manifest in their lives, and they are more likely “spiritual imbeciles.”
Therefore, let us receive others with a broad heart, especially receiving sinners like ourselves. We are in no way better than them, and it is entirely by God’s grace. Of course, we do not accept sin, but we must learn to accept sinners like the Lord Jesus did. Are there unbelievers in your family? They need the Lord’s love as well, and the Lord’s love will be manifest through you as a Christian. Therefore, learn to accept, to unconditionally love your family, be willing to sacrifice yourself, and become the channel through which your family comes to know the Lord.
Third, the goal Christian pursuit must be “high.” Some Christians think too highly of themselves, thinking that they are the children of God, and so become proud. But true height comes not from walking with our nose in the air, but from being willing to learn the truths in the Bible and seeking to know God’s will at any point in our daily lives. Therefore, Christians’ pursuit of faith is not accomplished simply through what they hear from others, but to truly know the Lord and understand God’s will for themselves. This height is a height that pleases God, and not one that waits around all day for others to admire or affirm us. This height is a height received in humility, instead of judging others from spiritual or moral “high ground.”
Fourth, the spiritual foundation of a Christian must be “deep.” This depth is a type of foundation. We often say that the stronger the foundation, the more firmly the building stands and the higher it can be built. In terms of spiritual foundation, we need to “grow deep roots,” that is, build our foundation on the truth of the Bible. Christians who are willing to truly build a firm foundation, are definitely willing to put hard work into the Bible, not simply browsing through the Bible year after year, without putting their heart into closely reading and studying and savoring the Bible. Only then does biblical knowledge turn into living truth.
When pursing a “down to earth” life, we cannot turn faith into a formality, an unrealistic theory, a superficial slogan, or a foolish superstition that others will criticize. When Christians are “down to earth,” others will see Christ through them, and admire the blessings this faith brings. They will see that we live differently from others, in a way to be admired. This type of “down to earth” life was manifest in Jesus Christ’s own life, when “the Word became flesh.”
If because of coming to Jesus, you have climbed to the “third floor,” please do not stand there shouting, criticizing, scolding. Please come down to the first floor, get to know these people, walk with them, and with them take it one step at a time up to the “third floor.” Because Jesus is the one who came down from the “third floor,” to become a savior for sinners, a healer of the sick, a guide for the lost, and a companion for those in the journey of life.
Original Article: 基督徒，你的信仰要“接地气” by 丰盛“书”房 (WeChat ID: elishachen2013)
Translated and edited for clarity.
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