I was sitting in a bar on an evangelistic Q&A panel. It was Cambridge University in the mid-1990s. Suddenly, an audience member stormed to the front, grabbed the microphone in front of me, turned it around, and shouted, “You believe in one God, right?” I was pleased something we’d said had connected, so I simply shouted back above the din of general merriment: “Right!” The audience member then replied with equal volume, “So that means you think all the other gods are wrong, right?” There were a number of things about that question I would have liked to respond to with significant theological subtlety. But given the circumstances, it seemed nuance wasn’t likely to be attained. So I simply said (with a big smile), “Right!” With a look of horror on her face, my interlocutor shot back: “How can you be so arrogant?”
Compelled by the love of God, we on the panel had been making known the glory of Christ’s grace. But for that person—and for many others today—a claim to exclusive devotion to the biblical God came across as arrogant, if not downright dangerous.
How can we live a God-centered life in this contemporary age? You could answer this question in a way that’s understandable to a child, as well as in a way that would strike a Harvard professor as intellectually credible.
Here I offer five ways to live the God-centered life, not because they’re the only ways, nor because they’re the best, but because, after working in university towns from Cambridge to Yale to Wheaton, they strike me as the most critical for today’s 18- to 30-year-olds.
1. Immerse yourself in the all-sufficient wonder of the God who is.
Immerse yourself—not in the fictionalized God of the blogosphere or the caricatured God of whichever God-hater is spouting his self-referential critique with God-given intelligence—but in the God who reveals himself in Scripture, in conscience, in creation, and ultimately in Christ. Let that beautiful, brilliant, all-powerful, transcendent, immanent, wondrous God—who cleared out the religious compromise of the temple and the hypocrisy of the Pharisee, who spoke the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, and who died for the sins of the world—drive out the pagan idols of our culture’s fascination with making gods of our own imagination. And let him leave you in awe.
2. Commit to a local Bible-teaching church.
Few habits are safer predictors of long-term spiritual health than your willing, enthusiastic, wholehearted involvement with the local church of God.
Why commit to the church at all? Because the church is the bride of Christ, and if you love him you will love her. I know she is far from perfect, but despite her imperfections, the church is God’s means of changing the world. Your local church is an outpost of heaven—an embassy of the kingdom—in a world adrift from love, grace, compassion, and truth.
3. Forgive, fear, fight.
I easily lose insights when I gain them, so I summarize what I’ve learned in memorable form.
Forgive others, fear God, fight the good fight of the faith.
It’s too easy to bear grudges against those who have betrayed, hurt, abandoned, or misused you. But such grudge-bearing does you no good. It only leaves you burdened with anger or depression or sadness, fruitlessly using energy in the internal life of your mind, over and over again, sometimes for years. The route to forgiveness is to reflect on what you’ve been forgiven of. Once you realize you deserved hell apart from Christ, then any action against you is potentially forgivable. This forgiveness then orients you to serve rather than pull back from others through fear of being hurt again. And if you live in the fear of God, you’ll find the wisdom from above that’s not people-pleasing but God-pleasing. Only this perspective will give you the ballast to fight the good fight of the faith.
4. Pursue unfashionable virtues.
In every age, some biblical virtues are easier to swallow than others. You’re unlikely to be ostracized for preaching love and tolerance today. But if you talk of submission and humility, your approval ratings may tank. Now, this fact doesn’t mean you should shove these virtues down the throats of others without doing the work of translating their meaning into the vernacular of our day. It means you’re to pursue those virtues yourself and then discover—from the inside out—what they really mean.
The scandal of submission is that we find it a dirty word when really it’s a freeing word. Have you ever discovered the glorious freedom of letting someone godly have proper authority over you? Have you ever discovered the glorious joy of admitting you don’t know the answer, and being humble enough to be wrong?
5. Use your mind.
We’re a culture that thinks with its feelings and hears with its eyes, as I think Ravi Zacharias once said. When someone wants to really know what is going on with you, they won’t ask, “Tell me what you think about that.” They’ll say, “Tell me how you really feel.”
We believe the true, authentic self is encapsulated in how we feel, not how we think. Logic, reasoned conclusion, carefully articulated argument, chains of deduction, these are all considered somehow more fake than letting rip with unvarnished emotion. Important as our feelings are, however, they aren’t the be-all and end-all of who we are. And if you feel bad about something, it doesn’t necessarily mean the thing is bad for you.
Christians today are critiqued for believing things that aren’t rational or scientifically verifiable. But no irony could be deeper, for these critiques are coming and rising as our culture buries itself increasingly in a deep doctrine of emotionalism.
Living a God-centered life is your calling and stewardship as a Christian. So seek first his kingdom and pursue his glory. As you do, you will find life and life to the full.