A friend once asked me to elaborate on why I disagree, on a fundamental level, with the general definition modern evangelical Christianity gives to the idea of “living for God” (see here for an example); and furthermore, how I intend to disprove it through my life.
This is part of the answer I gave. (I did my best to edit out the rants; I may or may not have succeeded.)
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The first conscious responsibility I hold to would be to never decide, speak, or act without thinking. That includes mindlessly obeying a commandment without understanding it fully, believing in something without knowing why and how it’s true, and seeing something as right/wrong just because someone else said it’s so.
In short, living by a borrowed conscience.
Next, to not deny, ignore, or condemn any aspect of reality without first sincerely and calmly assessing its truth and relevance to reality you already know. An example of not doing so would be Christians who stay far, far away from the study of psychic energy, the “frequencies of beings”, or even Qi Gong studies, because they see such things as demonic and evil–without first seeking to understand if such things actually exist, to begin with. Another example would be a software engineer who prefers not to think about AI at all, content with only a vague idea of how it works and what it might be capable of in the future–while to ignore it is pretty much the worst thing one could do given the speed of AI development these days, especially if one works with technology.
Now, there are such things as natural limitations to mental and emotional capacities, which are different for each but cannot be ultimately overcome. This necessitates selective ignorance, in that we choose what to know more about, which fields to be professional within, who to get to know and invest more in simply because we cannot hold and process everything there is. Here, however, I speak of choosing to intentionally ignore something just because we don’t want to deal with the reality.
The third would be to not deny your own desires and emotions, but learn to feel them deeply without acting on them, letting the wave move through you, and then either a) release it in a non-destructive way if the emotion is destructive; or, b) express the healthy/constructive emotion through creation and communication. An example of this with having “wrong” thoughts and desires would be as follows. Let’s say, dwelling on and physically expressing lustful desires outside of its proper boundaries is wrong. I could choose to direct sexual emotion/energy into one of aesthetic appreciation, where I guide myself to enjoy the beauty and fluidity of another person’s body without attaching sexual thoughts or desires to that enjoyment. It’s not that one no longer feels the desires necessarily; it’s that one has learned to feel and then to let go without hating or shaming one’s self for those thoughts/desires, but also not letting them get out of hand.
As I do these three things–which I’ve been doing since I tore Christianity apart for myself when I realized it was the biggest belief I took for granted–I come to a greater understanding of what God is, what and who I am, and what the world around me, along with its people, are like. As I develop my understanding of these three realities, the definitions of words and actions deepen and shift.
An example of this–to link this answer back to my point on how I intend to disprove the cliche approach to “living for/in/through Christ”–is in the way I understand the words “live”, or “sacrifice”, or even “Christ” Himself.
I’m not doing Thing A “for God” and Thing B “for church” and Thing C “for my neighbor” because that’s how God wants me to live, because the Bible says I should be doing A-B-C, because I have to follow the church’s rules and customs. That is a passive, weak stance from which to claim a “living for”.
Instead, my entire life becomes a prayer. Nothing I do is apart from the highest understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty I could grasp; everything I am, and all I do aims toward being and demonstrating that highest state of being.
From the outside it might look like I’m a “by-the-book” Christian because many, if not all, of the values I hold to (which I learn about and reach through the three main points above) do end up aligning with the Scriptures.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
As the apostle Paul expressed in Romans, we are to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice”. Many Christians think and teach that this means to put all your desires, ambitions, and so forth on the proverbial “altar” and do “do the will of God”–that seems to mean, with rare exceptions, to either go into ministry or find a high-paying “secular” job so you could support those in ministry.
Because I’ve allowed myself to experience and peer deeply into different ways of thinking and understanding this world, myself, and God, my understanding of this concept of “living for” and especially “sacrifice” isn’t what I just wrote down. My current understanding of living for God as a sacrifice means a situation in which there’s an offering of something of value to a being worthy of the offering.
Something of value. For someone who deserves that offering.
Since this being the offering is for is God Himself, shouldn’t the sacrifice be of the highest, fullest, most beautiful it could be? And to be so, doesn’t it then mean a person who lives a whole life, embracing and engaging with all of reality, and all that is in himself, in order to become the greatest expression of himself he could be? Isn’t that the most valuable sacrifice a creature could offer its creator–that it actually became what it was made for? And what does that look like? I think it begins with what I’ve outlined in the three points above–plus the realization that Christ is the ultimate example of a man who has done so, and so–if even for that alone–worth becoming a disciple of.
The question then arises–is this actually a sacrifice anymore, or have I shifted the focus or meaning of it in my impassioned defence of living a whole life? I do see it still as a sacrifice, because of the multiple deaths and rebirths one has to experience–choose to go through–to shed the demons within and without to achieve this ideal.
I’m frustrated with the kind of Christianity that keeps preaching the Gospel over and over, and quotes a commandment here and there to keep people in line, and thus everyone stays happy in their little lives going to church here and handing out gospel tracts there. Has Christ ever told us to pine away for heaven while living a mediocre life on earth? Is the end-all, be-all of being a Christian just going to heaven and avoiding hell after death? If so, I’d have none of that. I want something that shows me how to live here and now, and why I should do so, whether it’s been done before, what the consequences of it are, and whether it’s worth it. I don’t need any pie-in-the-sky carrot to keep me trotting through this messed-up world trying to keep up with the person next to me. I need something real, something worth following, something that’s so good and beautiful and true everything in me cries “YES” to, that makes me not care or even think about what others think about me, and follow that to my last breath.
So–actually living. Instead of living a half-life where you’ve already given up on the things that bring life to your soul, a smile to your lips, a fire in your eyes, and light in your heart. Living in fear of doing the wrong things, doing things at the wrong times, being with the wrong people. Living life always feeling judged, feeling small, feeling like you’re never enough (in the negative/shameful way). This is how I perceive many people who take a surface-level understanding of “sacrifice” live, and those who forget that “living for Christ” means, first of all, that you are LIVING. Actually alive, and knowing it. Not as a half-dead zombie afraid to explore the world, explore ideas, explore the limits of their potential, and afraid to strive for something beyond what’s been done before, or what’s allowed by other people, or what’s expected just because to be different could be wrong in someone else’s eyes. For goodness’ sake, figure out what makes something objectively right/wrong, and figure out what that particular thing is for yourself, then come to your own conclusion–don’t claim ignorance or fear or things like that.
Living a whole life. Being a whole person. Engaging with reality. Wrestling with God.
I do understand that much of what I’ve just expressed could be taken out of context and twisted, or more probably, misunderstood. I’m too proud. Too selfish. Too self-focused and self-sufficient. And yes, I’m not perfect; what I just wrote is incomplete and imprecise, a work in progress just as I am.
But I do think it’s worse to face God knowing you’ve chickened out of truly living, than to stand before Him knowing you have done all you could to be who He knew you could be.
I’m nowhere near the ideal, but I have a clearer vision now than I did in January 2023, and I know I’m becoming like the One Who is the true realization of it.