Practicing the presence of God is the preliminary step to all other Christian practices. It isn’t something you do once or twice or just on Sunday. It’s a life-style that facilitates loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul—not because God needs His ego fed, but because it sets you up for filling with positive things.
Obviously, if you don’t see the Spirit of God as having qualities you admire and want for yourself, you won’t have much incentive to seek them. (I don’t mean His omni-qualities that no human being will ever gain. I mean love, competence, intelligence, strength, compassion, etc.)
Assuming the desire, it’s possible to develop inner Christ-like qualities (spirit) that naturally result in Christ-like behavior—“Christ formed within you” (Gal. 4:19). But trying to be Christ-like by merely conforming to right behavior short-circuits the spiritual process and you’ll eventually burn out. Jesus compares it to a house built on sand that comes crashing down (Mat. 7:26-27).
Two different philosophies set you up for the crash:
(1.) Behavior and obedience are top priority. Don’t break the rules. If you do, the right rituals and prayers will atone for it, so the sort of person you are is of little consequence.
This is the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus says people must get past (surpass). They cleaned the outside of the cup, but the inside remained full of negative qualities (Mat. 23:25-26). Their idea of redemption was that as long as people tithed correctly, got circumcised, or avoided murder, they could be as full of greed or anger, for example, as the next guy.
(2.) Behavior and obedience don’t matter. You’ll always break the rules. So, having the right beliefs, particularly in forgiveness or gratitude, is top priority. The sort of person you are is of little consequence as long as God finds the correct doctrines in your mind.
This is today’s idea of “right with God” among most Christians. This version of redemption is that people can be as full of anger or greed, for example, as the next guy as long as they believe they’re just sinners “saved” by grace. Instead of avoiding sin, it’s about avoiding guilt and punishment.
In either case, people learn to act like Christ rather than be like Christ; and acting is a heavy burden to maintain. By contrast, the way of salvation is much lighter—a gift from God to develop inner goodness that’ll shine on the outside with much less effort. C.S. Lewis noted, “Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.” (more…)