It’s a phrase that is constantly thrown around. From several online conversations it seems that, well, Paul wasn’t afraid to tell people what the Christian life looks like. But he never actually uses that phrase. He actually says something quite the opposite, he says your life is hidden with Christ, that only when He appears again will your life finally appear and be seen. (Col 3:3) Paul, of course, was never afraid to tell his members to pursue those things that were righteous, those things against which there is no law. He was never afraid to tell his people to abstain from sexual immorality, from stealing and thievery, laziness, drunkenness, coarse language (which by our definitions today would be something he himself would be guilty of. But his own definitions of it would make those trying to shut up a sailor cringe for their own infractions.) He encouraged patience, love, sincerity and the pursuit of all manner of these things that are righteous. He never said, “This is what the Christian life looks like.” Again, he knew it was hidden, not apparent to the naked eye. The closest the Christian life comes to being tangible in any way would be in one’s confession of faith, and even he knew that one could give lip service to that.
There is a problem with saying “this is what the Christian life looks like” and it isn’t merely that the Christian’s life is hidden. It is that it is a guilt trip in the making that serves nothing but to deliver a bad conscience. Either that or it will serve a false righteousness and inflate an ego. In either case the end result will not be love that issues from a pure heart, or a sincere faith.
There is a mirror that we Christians look into with daily repentance, by which we drown the Old Adam, remembering our baptisms so that we can rise again to walk in the newness of life in which we walk by faith and not by sight, looking to Christ and not ourselves. This mirror is the Law, the Ten Commandments. And when we look into that, we see our sin. We see our Old Adam swimming like Michael Phelps in the final lap of the 200-meter butterfly. We do not see our Christian life. That is as hidden from us as it is from anyone else, perhaps it is even more hidden from us than it is anyone else. When we look at the law; when we contemplate the law, we see failure. We hear accusation.
We Christians know that we are supposed to be loving, but we also know that this love often eludes us. Love is not arrogant or rude, and we think of that one liner we just could not resist, the retort, the online argument we succumbed to. Love is patient, and we think of the last time we lost it with our child, spouse or ex. We think of how many times we count to ten, or blow up at a colleague or coworker, or vent behind their back. (Vent, that’s a nice term for gossip, isn’t it?) Love isn’t selfish. And then you think about all the things you try to get, the manipulation of others with “love.” The mirror begins to look like an abyss. Like Vonnegut’s leaks in “Breakfast of Champions,” this mirror shows an alternate reality, it becomes a window into the darkest depths of hell illuminated by nothing but an eternal blue flame that burns and never consumes like the voice of Yahweh emanating from the fiery bush on the holy ground of Mt. Sinai.
So if we compare our life to that which the Christian life is supposed to look like, we will be led to the conclusion that we are not Christians. Our lives don’t look like that. Perhaps that is because Christ’s life didn’t really look like that, either. “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-5)
That is how Isaiah foretold what Christ’s life would look like, and that is how it played out. Yes, some people heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and believed He was the Messiah. But there was really nothing about Jesus' outward appearance or life that was able to convince the world. They could not “see” His holiness. He could do the greatest of works and they were dismissed. He would heal people and they would say it was because He was practicing black magic, or worshiping Beelzebub. They dismissed John the Baptist because he was too strict with his life, and Jesus they called a drunkard and a glutton. It was a charge that demanded death by the town elders (Deut 1:18-21). So they crucified Him. And it is there on the cross that our life is hidden in Christ. It is there from the cross that Jesus justifies the world and sanctifies His saints. This then is what our holiness looks like, and it is nothing that the world can recognize as holiness; as sanctification. The cross looks like failure, like defeat, and it stinks of death. The world esteems it not, and so neither will you be esteemed by the world.
But the Father, He sees your holiness because He beholds Christ His Son. He sees into the heart and beholds the faith that fears, loves and trusts in Him. He sees the satisfaction of sin paid with the blood of His Son that has washed your sins away sanctifying you in the washing of the water with the Word. This the world cannot see. The world can only see sinners. The works of the pagans will most often look holier, better, or more glamorous to the world than the works that God sees the Christian doing and declares to be good. He sees us trying to do an honest job. He sees us struggling to raise our children in the faith, to put food on the table and care for those God has entrusted to us, and such works far surpass all other things the world regards as holy. The world looks at such things and thinks, “But that is nothing! Surely there must be more!” And the Christian says, “Yes there is. There is Christ and His cross, and apart from that there is nothing. He is my righteousness. He is my salvation. He is my sanctification.“