As a student, there always seems to be a disconnect between what we learn and what we do. Living on a college campus, going to class, marching in the band, working in the food zoo, studying in the library, attending a college ministry, all of it circulates around a college campus. And for four years, your identity becomes inextricably connected to being a student. Most people you know are students, most people who know you know you as a student, most of your time is spent on campus, and most of what you care about happens on campus. Yet there is a separation between who you are and what you learn in classes (that is after all why you are there: to learn and earn a degree). It doesn’t matter what you are studying, it doesn't really change who you are; education is an asset. It is something that serves us as we graduate, find jobs and start families. And while our identities are often shaped in college by all of the other factors, classes and degrees play far less a role in growing us as people as do our other experiences.
My point in all of this is that students can tend to approach religion and faith the same way that they approach their education. We can learn a lot of Bible, learn a lot from pastors and Bible studies, but the learning habits we have in school can often bleed into how we see and interpret religion. Where application of biblical truth is often necessary, it is left compartmentalized in the religion and spiritual part of our brain, untouched when we need it most. The gospel is not erecting a fence between your faith and the rest of your life, as Paul will show us; the gospel consumes who we are and doesn’t merely shape what we believe, it shapes who we are.
The gospel changes who we are.
Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If anyone had reason to boast in his national heritage and merit, it was Paul and his Jewish practices. He was so religiously pious, self-righteous and self-assured that he would actually martyr Christians who professed to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and savior of humanity. Paul’s life was spent studying the Torah and in service to who he thought God was. He was religion to the core. So what happened to that part of his life when God saved him? In Philippians, Paul speaks to how his humanity stacks up to the gospel. He says in Philippians 3:4-8,
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Paul’s life, every part of it, his education as a Hebrew Pharisee, his zeal and persecution of Christians, his status as a man of righteousness under the Jewish law, even his identity as an Israelite born into the tribe of Benjamin, all of it was crucified with Christ. All of it was counted as loss. All of it was worthless compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. The new life that Paul lived, “he lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself up for him.” The gospel shaped his identity. He valued Jesus to such a degree that he considered the entirety of his life, all of his accomplishments as a scholar and Pharisee, all of his good works and righteousness, and all of it came up so short in comparison to Jesus that it amounted to virtually nothing at the foot of the cross. Our new lives should be no different than Paul’s.
Everything we learn about God and everything that we read in scripture must shape who we are. Seeing the mercy that God had on a man like Paul who killed Christians for a living should press us to never see another soul and doubt the grace of God that he might resurrect that dead heart. It should erase all self-doubt in knowing that however depraved and broken a flesh is, God is merciful to mend broken hearts and redeem lost motivations.
What we believe about God will inform everything we do in life. From our thoughts, to our actions, to our emotions, what we know and believe about God will mold who we are. Where a degree will change what we do, the gospel will change who we are. Faith is in no way disconnected from the rest of our life. Any push to separate the gospel from education, from relationships, from work, or from recreation is an exercise in futility. And as such, the call for Christians is not merely to apply the truths of the Bible to our life in trials, struggles, or problems that we may have (this would only be a self-serving and self-centered view of the gospel). The Bible’s call is to live with an expectation that my every action will glorify the name of Jesus and thereby bring a more profound joy that couldn’t be found anywhere else in all of his glorious creation.
“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21
By changing who you are, the gospel changes everything. It changes how and why you study. It changes how and why you work. It changes how and why you date. I changes how any why you spend your free time. It changes your relationships, it changes your family dynamic. All of life is subject to the gospel, nothing is irrelevant, and nothing is more important. To live is Christ.