April 2008 - Vol. 18

Models of Life

Our individual lives, marriages, and family life need 
to be brought under the Lordship of Christ

By Bob Tedesco

This article is addressed to Christian parents and pastoral leaders to help them understand the challenge of living Christ-centered marriage and family life in the midst of a secular culture – a culture which often works against the Christian ideal. 
Missing the Mark
The Greek word hamartia, which is frequently used in Scripture and is translated “sin,” is a derivative of the word hamartano which means “to miss the mark.” In our efforts to live the Christian life we can get caught in certain cultural traps that cause us to lose focus and “miss the mark.” 

The throne diagram, used in the Life in the Spirit Seminars, illustrates the centrality of Christ in the life of the Christian. The diagram is a cross placed on the throne of a person’s heart. The throne is surrounded by the types of things which can occupy one’s life, such as education, family, career, pleasure, any number of which could easily usurp the place of Christ on the throne. This diagram is a way of examining and situating our life’s priorities.

From many years of pastoral work with individuals, couples, and families in Christian community, I have learned by close observation that it is possible for two Christ-centered people to enter into marriage that itself is not Christ-centered at its core. The same is true for families. It is possible for Christ-centered parents to lead a family lifestyle or culture that does not have Christ at the center. The reasons for this are many and varied. People might not know how to have a Christ-centered marriage or family. It may be a shortcoming in the Christian community, or local church, or the individual’s personal lack of understanding. Even with the availability of good pastoral and teaching resources, it is possible not to have a Christ-centered marriage or family. In the tide of increasing secular cultural influences, our priorities can easily become blurred. 

A Parenting Study
A recent sociological study of parenting among Christians in the United States, conducted by the Barna Group, was released in 2005. Here is a summary of some of their key points:

  1. Christian parents are more likely to put an emphasis on seeing that their children get a good education than on seeing them enter adulthood as followers of Christ
  2. Christians in the U.S. don't parent much differently than the population at large
  3. Believers do not (significantly) train their children to think or act differently enough for faith to make a difference: gambling, excessive drinking, cohabitation, adultery, divorce, and other unbiblical behaviors are (statistically) just as likely.
Cultural Influences
Christian parents often find themselves dealing with certain surface expressions only to realize they have missed the effects of deeper cultural trends and concerns. Modesty is one example. If parents wait until their daughter begins to exhibit morality problems without addressing from a young age the child’s need for training in modesty in speech, entertainment, and music, they will be attempting to deal with only one aspect of a wider spectrum that has largely been ignored, missing the fact that something has been  put in place before the problem manifested itself.

Most of us have, in fact, been formed by our secular culture to give “conditioned responses.” Sometimes we don’t recognize the underlying value sets, including pressure from society and relatives, and the internal orientations that condition us for a certain response. We can be really culturally driven, culturally responsive. We can be deceived, claiming to be and actually desiring to be Christ-centered, but find ourselves on a path that goes far from the heart of God. 

There are many things that get put in place in us by the culture around us, for example, fear-based living. There is the fear of rejection, fear of disease, fear of kidnapping or terrorism, to name a few. Another is the need for approval which is connected to the fear of rejection. We want approval from friends and relatives, preferring not to be seen as abnormal. But if we live a Christ-centered Christian life we just won’t look normal.

Some of us are driven by a competitive spirit: a drive to win. Or we can be influenced by the entitlement mentality, believing we “deserve” certain things as individuals and families. On a personal level we can be oriented by greed, orderliness, perfectionism, pleasure, fear, guilt, accomplishment, security, success, education, and so on. 

How we think about and view our spouse is another way we’re influenced by the culture. Some culturally accepted models are to see your spouse as your best friend, confessor, fellow adventurer, partner, lover. Some of these are more or less true, but if any one view gets exaggerated it distorts the marriage relationship.

Families, too, are under a cultural influence. One common model is to see the family as an island unto itself, a nuclear family, turned in on itself behind a protective wall, establishing its own ways and traditions. But each individual family is painfully lacking in the resources necessary to have a good family life. 

There are all sorts of “centers” to today’s families. You can have the missionary family, the social action family, the business-oriented family. Families can be sports-based, focused on academic excellence, achievement oriented, career-based, child centric. When individuals or families become committed to these kinds of “centers,” other things will naturally be pushed aside, further and further toward the fringes, away from the center. It may be one or the other spouse. It may be that the church or Christian community takes on less importance. When those things get far enough away from the center, not much effort is required to cut them off. 

There are plenty of effects from all of these cultural orientations for individuals, for marriages, and for families. One obvious one is the increasing divorce rate. Today’s approach to family life is creating a lot of ambivalence towards marriage among single men. It’s creating self-centered adults. Not knowing how to get their families on track, many married men fall into workaholism, finding some approval and a measure of success from their work that they are unable to derive from their families. We have many rudderless people drifting without direction. 

The “Culture of Self”
Many of us are familiar with the comparison, “the culture of death and the culture of life.” I suggest that the culture of death and the culture of life are really subordinate to and subsets of the “culture of self.” We need to see that we’re living in a culture of self whose orientation embraces the culture of death. The kingdom of God, the culture of Christ, embraces life. 

There are other subsets, or “isms". Relativism, narcissism, and hedonism in certain ways, all describe this “culture of self" because they all put “me” at the center of the universe. We can work on fighting all the “isms” but if we don’t deal with the stuff inside of us that puts us first, the “culture of self,” all of our fighting is a waste of time. Our real war is in dealing with “me” at the center rather than Christ. “I”, “me”, and “mine” are not the approach of the Kingdom of God. Christ and his kingdom have got to be at the center. If I keep pulling myself into the center, it pushes him out!

Christ-centered Living
A personal conversion to Christ, spiritual growth and formation, being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and ongoing decisions are needed for Christ-centered living, not just for individuals but for groupings as well. Marriages need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Our marriages and families need to be converted to Christ. And once we make that decision, we need to find out how to do that. It requires education and knowledge in order to avoid the secular cultural drift. I am suggesting that not only individuals, but marriages, family and communities should have an “examination of conscience”; taking a hard look at our behavior, our practices, our priorities, our decision-making as a group, as a marriage, as a family, and as a community.

The congregation that started the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) movement has been a bit misrepresented. The actual approach was more like “We will do what Jesus would do”. WWDWJWD. That’s the approach we need to take. “I will do” and “we will do” what Jesus would do. The Lord wants Christ-centered individuals, Christ-centered families, Christ-centered communities. And that’s going to require taking some steps. 

What Can We Do?

  1. Read Scripture a lot, even if you think you have it memorized. It challenges the world’s input constantly. Get the children to read and memorize it. Get them to be able to answer questions from a Scriptural perspective. In Scripture we should look for antidotes to the world, the flesh and the devil, but especially the flesh. The world and Satan have less influence over a person whose flesh is broken. Reading of Scripture is a genuine defense against the flesh.
  2. Insist on “everything that is lovely and good” (Philippians 4:8). Think on these things.
  3. Do a heart check. If your heart is polluted or poisoned, you will have trouble seeing and hearing things that the Lord wants you to see or hear. If your heart is not postured correctly, you won’t be able to respond. If your marriage or family needs to be consecrated or dedicated to the Lord, get a pastor or a pastoral leader to lead a prayer for the family. Communities could even have retreats dedicated to such re-centering. 
  4. Always suspect the “self” when you are making decisions or desiring something. It’s worth suspecting, asking ourselves, “Is this really from the Lord and his will for me or is it fueled by something down inside of me that is apart from what God wills?”
  5. Pray for protection - from ourselves being blind or selfish, for our spouses from themselves, for our children, for our community, that as a people we would not be selfish in our orientation. 
  6. Rekindle fear of the Lord. If you distort or exclude any aspect of God’s nature, you get a distorted view of who God is. An over-emphasis on God’s mercy while under-emphasizing his justice will lead to an unbalanced perspective.  Sin has consequences. We need to learn that and to teach it to our children.
“If you live what I have taught you, you are my disciple and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Let’s not forget the beginning of the sentence. Jesus is saying, “Live in my Word, live what I have taught you, then the truth will set you free.” It is a promise of freedom and it’s worth celebrating. If we live according to the Lord's plan, and raise our children according to his plan, we will see the fruit of the Christian life and the power of the Holy Spirit revealed!
Bob Tedesco is President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 35 years. 
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