Are You Too ‘Spiritual’ To Live Responsibly?

*First published by The Gospel Coalition Africa (TGC) on 14 May 2021

Batseba Seifu lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She is a Business Development Manager for an HR Company, and earned her Masters Degree in Public Administration from New York University.

During the last 12 months the war in Ethiopia, as well as my uncle’s death, shook my world. The communication block owing to the war in Tigray meant not knowing whether my friends and family were alive or dead. I had not spoken to my uncle for years when he died. Add Covid-19, and it was an incredibly stressful season.

I grew uncertain about my own purpose and I responded by disengaging from life. You might have said I was hopeless. Everything seemed dark and overwhelming as I was locked away, alone. Now, some Christians might ask, ‘Why worry? You are a spiritual being.’ Yet what this time taught me above all was that’s not good enough – as a Christian I am called to live responsibly on this earth.

In this article I want to share what I learned and challenge those who claim Christians need not be engaged or invested in this world. This is simply untrue. Christians should live responsibly, as they submit to our Lord. And, as we will see, this does not only glorify God, but actually results in our great joy.

God calls Christians to live responsibly now

Many Christians overemphasise that humans are spiritual beings. Thus they wrongly dismiss living responsibly in the world. They build a wide ocean between our humanity and our spirituality, resulting in Christians ‘checking out’ of this world. They become irresponsible earthly citizens, indifferent family members, neglectful of people’s needs, and lazy. As it has been asked: ‘Why bother polishing the brass on a sinking ship?’ So Christians retreat from their responsibilities to the world. This is unbiblical, and we might see some similarities to monasticism in the early Church.

Monasticism confuses living in the world, with worldly living. Just because we are warned against being friends with the world does not mean we must hate it (James 4:4). Holiness does not mean utter separation from this world. Nor does living in the world compromise our holiness. The Bible is clear, we must aspire to live responsibly in this world, which is hard to square with retreating from the world.

This tension is clear in Jesus’ upper room sermon. For Jesus says his disciples must not be of this world (John 17:16, John 15:19; see also 1 John 2:15–17). Yet Jesus sends his disciples into the world (John 17:18). So we are to live in this world. Our primary mission is to be a light to this world (Philippians 2:12–13).

Being in the world, not of it

The Bible often exhorts us to live responsibly in the world, regarding work, obedience to rulers, caring for one’s family, and more. Biblical Christianity is not a call to neglect our humanity, while claiming to be spiritual. Rather we must live out our faith as good stewards in the world and before its eyes.

We are expected to work (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12). And, we are expected to do so with excellence. How? Unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). We are expected to be responsible citizens by honouring and praying for authorities and leaders (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–25). We are expected to care for our own households (1 Timothy 5:8). In fact, those who don’t are said to be worse than unbelievers. We are to care for ourselves as stewards of what God has given us. This also applies to others. If this was not the case, Paul wouldn’t have cared for the health of Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), and John wouldn’t have prayed for the health of Gaius (3 John 2). Paul even calls for Christians to care for those outside of the church (Galatians 6:10).

As Martin Luther said, “God may not need your good works, but your neighbour does.” Whether we are bankers, cleaners, drivers, executives, athletes, or managers, we are called to do good to our neighbours by living responsibly. When asked who our neighbours are, Jesus answered ‘everyone’ (Luke 10:37).

Finding joy in fulfilling our purpose

Getting back to my introduction: What is the purpose of life? The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers, “To glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We must live all of life in the face of God, and to the glory of God. For we don’t only worship God when we pray or sing. We can glorify God as we work, eat, nurse others, and even as we vote (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Being good stewards to the glory of God means that, as Christians, we should be doing our very best in whatever position in life we are given, wholly relying on the grace of God. But this does not merely glorify God. Joy is experienced in fulfilling our God-given purpose of glorifying him. Therefore responsible living, as selfless obedience, releases joy.

Living responsibly is living for God’s glory

We were saved and created to live for the glory of God. There are two reasons for this. The first is that we were brought with a price so that we might glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). The price was not cheap. It was the infinitely costly blood of Jesus Christ.

The second reason is that God is the Creator of all. As the elders in heaven sing, “Worthy are you, Our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power; for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

But humanity is separated from their Creator because of sin. Redemption, however, turns sinners back to their Creator and God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the Christian life, living purposefully for the glory of God.

The ultimate joy of glorifying Him

In his Confessions Augustine wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Until a human being rests in God, he or she will be restless, always looking for something else to satisfy. But no one and nothing else can. As Psalm 107:9 says, “He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Elsewhere God promises, “I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish” (Jeremiah 31:25). We are empty souls that desperately desire to be to filled. But unless we are filled by God we remain dissatisfied. Once we know that God himself is our purpose we will live for his glory and find true joy. Responsible living brings true satisfaction.

Paul always inspires me. From a Roman prison he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Despite his circumstances, he had a reason to rejoice, and so do we. Therefore, let’s rejoice. We have hope – for the Creator has given us good news. There is redemption for humanity.

You can never be too spiritual to care

As Christians, we are to live responsibly in this world. We must not imagine a divide between our humanity and our spirituality. God commands us otherwise. He calls us to live responsibly, purposefully. God calls us to live for his glory, in all of life. At every point or season in our lives. Our lives are his. This is a delight for those who understand both the price he paid and the satisfying purpose he gives us.

Living for the glory of God will bring about true joy, despite our circumstances. This is what God created us for. As one psalmist wrote, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:71–72). Joy amidst suffering is something we can often only find in our God, “who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). There is unparalleled joy in living for God who did not merely share in our affliction, but uses it to fashion us for his service and glory.

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Batseba Seifu (TGC)