The term radical Christianity has become in the last few years a catchword for all sorts of views of Christianity from a hippie-like abandonment of social and even moral values, to promotion of a revolution in government and society at large reminiscent of communism, from ideals promoting the virtues of self-denial and simplicity of life, to a more nearly biblical view of Christlikeness. Given the incendiary nature of the term and its misuse or misapplication in so many different directions, no useful purpose may be served in using it to describe biblical Christianity. To suggest, for example, as some proponents of radical Christianity do, that believers are to be “extreme” or “fanatical” in the sense that a hippie or a communist revolutionary might be described by that term both misrepresents the truth of the Word of God and dishonors the Lord. That having been said, we must affirm that nothing about biblical Christianity sits easy with the natural man: everything that is Christian is contrary to the flesh. We could easily fill the remainder of this page with scriptural proofs of that statement. But two examples that are printed on the same page that I happened to turn to will illustrate the point that believers are not to be like every other unsaved person in a lost world.
1. “But I discipline my body and make it my slave” (I Cor. 9:27). Paul was no advocate for the monastic life or for attempts at various forms of self-flagellation as a means of grace. He would be the last person to suggest that lying on a bed of nails, taking a vow of silence or of poverty, or living as a celibate has any merit before God. But he is declaring that the true Christian life is one in which self is dethroned. What I want or prefer must not take precedence in my life. I am not to be a slave to my desires, my comforts and convenience, or my will. Self-esteem will not find a seat at Paul’s table. He exists—body, soul, and spirit, heart, mind, and will, time, energy, and possessions—as the property of Another. Nor is it the responsibility of the Other to impose His will or some set of austere conditions on Paul. Rather, Paul realizes, it is his duty (and ours, if we have been redeemed) to become a slave voluntarily. Earlier in the same book, Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (6:19, 20). The notion that we are not “free moral agents” with liberty to pursue our own lives is a thought that is increasingly alien even to believers today. But self-imposed slavery to God and His will is the essence of the victorious redeemed life.
2. “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (I Cor. 10:24). Before we have had time to digest the previous statement, Paul throws another mindbender at us. But on consideration, it is not so much a new idea as it is an extension and application of the first one. What is the essence of disciplining my body and making it my slave? It is the deliberate refusal to put myself—whether needs or desires—ahead of those of my neighbor (literally, “the other”). This statement gives discernible form to the first one. I may think I am disciplining my body; I may believe I am making it my slave. But here is a practical test of whether what I think is true or not. Does my good come first in my life? Do I set aside what I want for the sake of others? Paul is not giving carte blanche to a lifestyle that makes me so consumed with taking care of others that I neglect taking care of my personal responsibilities. But he is advocating a life that considers what impact everything I do will have on others. The example he gives is highly practical. Earlier in the book, he vowed that “if food [offered to idols] causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (8:13).
You may decide whether to call these things “radical.” But what we call them is not so important as whether we live them. Paul sums up the believer’s “radical” life thus: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).
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