Easter Reflection: What is the Normal Christian Life?

At the Great Easter Vigil, after a lengthy series of Old Testament readings, the Gloria is intoned and the opening prayer is sung. Then all are seated for the first reading from the New Testament proclaimed in the new light of Easter glory. It would seem the Church considers this an important reading for our consideration, given it’s placement.

It is Romans 6, a kind of mini-Gospel where in the fact of our new status as redeemed transformed Children of God is declared. And within these lines is contained “Standing Order # 1” for the Christian who is a new creation:

No longer let sin continue to reign in your death directed bodies.”

Perhaps we can take a look at this central passage from the New Testament. Here it is in total and them some verse by verse commentary:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)

  1. THE PRINCIPLE We have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  – Here is a powerful and uncompromising statement. Paul is setting for the most fundamental principle for the Christian life. Namely that sin is not to have any power over us. This is the NORMAL (i.e. normative, to be expected) Christian life, a life that is victorious and that is seeing sin put to death and the blessings of grace come alive. Paul says, quite clearly, we have died to sin. Before returning to this concept it might be important to consider what the word “sin” means here. The Greek word is ἁμαρτίᾳ (hamartia). In its root sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) means “missing the mark” or falling short of a designated goal. In the Greek tragedies the hero often had a “fatal flaw” wherein he misses the mark, or fails to obtain what he sought due to a moral failing or error in judgment. In scripture the word ἁμαρτίᾳ usually means something closer to what we mean by sin today, namely “a moral failing.” But we should not completely leave behind the notion that sin is a missing of the mark. It is not untrue to say that sin is not so much a reality unto itself as it is a “privation,”  a lack of something that should be there. In every sin, something is missing that should be there. Now St. Paul often describes sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) at two levels: the personal experience with sin, but also as a “climate” in which we live. So we might distinguish between Sin (upper case) and sin (lower case). Hence, Sin is the climate in which we live that is hostile to God, that has values in direct opposition to what God values. It is materialistic, worldly in its preoccupations, carnal and not spiritual, lustful, greedy, self-centered, and alienated from the truth. It will not submit to God and seeks either o deny Him or to marginalize him. This is Sin. (We need to understand this distinction for in verse 10 of this passage Paul says Christ “died to Sin.”  But clearly Christ had no personal sin. But he DID live in a world dominated by Sin and it was to THAT which he died). As for (lower case) sin, it is our personal appropriation of Sin. It is our internalization and acceptance of the overall climate of sin. For example, a Bosnian child is not born hating a Croat or Serbian child. That hatred is “in the air” and the child often (usually) internalizes and then acts upon it. Hence Sin becomes sin. Now Paul says, we have DIED to all of this. That is to say the overall climate of sin cannot any longer influence us, neither can the deep drives of our own sin continue to affect us. But how can this be since most of us feel very strongly influenced by Sin and sin? Consider for a moment a corpse. You cannot humiliate or tempt, win an argument with or in anyway personally affect a corpse. The corpse is dead and you and I can no longer have any influence over it. Paul is saying that this is to be the case with us. We are dead to the world and its Sin.  It’s influence on us is broken. Because of this, our personal sins and drives of sin are also broken in terms of their influence. Ah but you say, “This does nto seem true.” Ah, but it IS the principle of Christian life. It is what is normative for us and what we should increasingly expect because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Death for us is a process, more than an event. But to the degree that the old Adam has been put to death in us, then his vital signs are diminishing. He is assuming room temperature and Christ Jesus is coming alive in us. Is he? It is a remarkable thing how little most Christians expect from their relationship with Jesus Christ. The best that most people hope for is to muddle through this life and just make it (barely) over the finish line to heaven. Mediocrity seems what most people expect. But this is not the normal Christian life! The normal Christian life is to be increasingly victorious over sin, to be experience the power of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in our lives. We have died to sin. It’s influence on us is waning, is diminishing. Increasingly the world and its values seem ludicrous to us and God’s vision becomes precious. So here is the principle – have died and are dying to sin, it is increasingly impossible for us to live in it or experience it’s influence.
  2. THE POWER –  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. When Paul (and scripture) use the word “know” it always means more that grasping something intellectually. To “know” in the Bible means to personally experience something and to have grasped it as true. And so Paul is really saying here, “Or is it possible that you have not experienced that we died with Christ and risen with him to new life?” In effect he is saying, grab hold of yourself and come to experience that you have died to your old life and now received a completely new life. Start to personally experience this. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17). This is the normal Christian life and we ought to be experiencing it more and more. But here again, we have to fight the sloth of low expectations. Do you think that Jesus Christ died for you so that you would continue to be in bondage to anger, or lust, or hatred? Surely he died to free us from this. To see your life transformed is NOT your work, it is the work of the Lord Jesus. Since it is his power at work we ought to expect a lot. But low expectations yield poor results. So Paul is saying, come to know, come to personally experience and grasp his power at work in you. Have high expectations! How can we have anything less when the death and resurrection of Jesus are the cause of this?
  3. THE PERSONAL WITNESS  6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. – Once again Paul says we “know” this. This is the normal Christian life: to experience that our old self was crucified and has died and that increasingly we are no longer slaves to sin. In my own life I have experienced just this. Have you? I have seen many sins and sinful attitudes put to death in me. My mind has become so much clearer in the light of Christian faith and I now see and experience how silly and insubstantial are many claims of this world. So, my mind and my heart are being transformed. I have died to many of my former and negative attitudes and drives. I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be, praise God. A wonderful change has come over me. How about you? Do you have a testimony? Do you “know” (experience) that your old self has been crucified and that you are being freed from sin?
  4. THE PROCLAMATION – in various ways then in the verses that follow, Paul sets forth the essential proclamation of the Normal (normative) Christian life: count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…..[you] have been brought from death to life….For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Some final questions:

  • Do you believe this?
  • Do you know (experience) this?
  • What do you expect from your relationship with Jesus Christ?
  • How are you different from some one who lived under the Old Covenant?
  • How are you different from the unbelievers in this world?
  • Are you living the normal Christian life of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ,  or are you just muddling through?

This song says, Victory is mine, I told Satan, “Get thee behind” for victory today is mine.

22 Replies to “Easter Reflection: What is the Normal Christian Life?”

  1. There is no “normal” christian life. Nor is there no common “vision” of how to “live one”. Many people think a social activity that is “good” is a “normal christian life”. Even among a single religious group, like Catholics, the “variety” of choices made is not, generally, common. Much less than uniformity, there is no unity, either.

    When the Church itself does not supply a unity in its pastoral responses it cannot expect Catholics to have a common vision. The Catholic Church is rudderless, in my opinion. Benedict assumed the headship of a long badly lead Catholic Church. His task is daunting and he faces monumental inertia from the “Catholic Special Interests”, which are attemting to move the Church to further their own particular “interests”. When those who are about this “work” are in positions of leadership in the Catholic Church, both clerical and lay, the problems are huge. This is where we are.

    The lost are beng lead by the corrupted. There is nowhere to turn. It is that complex yet simple.

    1. Are you saying that there is no normal Christian life because you are a relativist anti-nomian sort or are you saying that the noraml Christian life does exist but that it has been poorly taught. I am having a little trouble following what seems to me to be two trains of thought in your comment.

  2. I am saying the latter. The former are the rule, if I understand what you mean.

    1. OK, well I agree that we have done a poor job of describing and teaching what is the normal Chirstian life. I don’t think many Chirstians, esp Catholics, have high expectations of their relationship with the Lord. They do not have them becuase we have not well taught them. My article is an attempt to remedy that. I often preach a lot on this point in the priest retreats I preach, hoping to encourage the brothers to boldly preach the new Life that Chirst offers.

  3. You make some very interesting points. It is very true that we are not born to this world hating certain groups or people, but that we are influenced by what is already around us.

    Regarding personal witness, I have come a long way from what I was as a teenager and what I believed, and even things I had believed and done as of last year, but I do still have a long way to go before I am healed from certain things. Each day I am able to take on a different perspective, but some days are setbacks to my recovery. Some days I am muddling through, other days I really feel that Jesus is watching out for me and wants me to stop hurting and be my happy go lucky self. I have noticed that certain sins of mine have “died” as I’ve tried to become more faithful and live a good life. For example, if someone hurts me I am not so quick to hurt them back. I feel almost sorry for them that they have to be that way instead of getting angry. I’ve gotten more even-tempered and laid back though I can still have that Irish temper if someone really gets me angry.

    I would say I am different from the unbelievers in the fact that I have something to live for and something that motivates me to live my life well, and that something would be Jesus (or rather someONE). My life has meaning and is not simply materialistic. I have observed that a lot of people who don’t have any faith or religion at all tend to be very materialistic, as that is all that they have to live for, usually. Even if you have slipped away from your faith for many years, as I have in the past, there is still something there. Something that makes you feel guilty for any sins, and something that makes you want to come back eventually.

    As for what I expect of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I have a lot of thinking to do on that one. On one hand, He literally suffered everything for us so that we wouldn’t die in sin. I shouldn’t expect anymore than that, that he should have to keep giving to me when he has already given everything for us. On the other hand, I keep hearing in homilies that we should turn to Jesus with all of our sorrows and problems because He wants to listen and help. So my independent side of figuring things out for myself is battling with my newly more faithful side.

  4. I consider this an excellent, most important teaching. What I consider under developed here is the necessity of elaborating the teaching of what it means in practice to “count yourseves dead to sin”. Watchman Nee developed an illuminating chapter to this most important teaching in his “The Normal Christian Life”, (first published, by the way, in 1957). But, nowadays, how many Catholics (and other Christians) have never been taught these principles, and, so, cease and desist! Karl’s confusion is not his fault, if he has never been taught the truths of biblical theology. He is just one of an immense, innumerable crowd.

    1. Yes, thanks for your addition to the article. I accept that I may have under developed some matters. My articles are already so long! But praise the Lord that is what the comments are for. I appreciate your addition in this regard. I wonder if the book you mention is still in print? I’ll have to check Amazon

  5. Low expectations yeild poor results. That’s it in a nutshell. You said it Msgr Pope. AMEN! Not just in our spiritual walk with the Lord but in everything we do in life. “Low expectations – poor results”. I need to get a T Shirt made.

  6. I’m so late to be finally learning my faith. 1st to hear Father Corapi say that confession removes the
    nails sin causes, but leaves the holes, the weakness we cause ourselves by sinning. Then learning that
    God accepts holy desires-like not wanting to sin . (words of st. Gertrude ).
    From my own experience the proclivity to sin has diminished, but only after making habitual use of Con-
    fession & Holy Communion.
    But to return to this subject, I took the words “to one who is given much, much is expected”, and made of
    them, ” to one who expects much, much is given”.
    Thank you for the lesson, Monsignor Pope.

    1. You are welcome. I am not sure I understand Fr. Corapi’s point entirely. It is a true fact that sin increases our weakness, but I was always taught that confession gives two graces: 1. forgiveness and 2. grace to avoid sin in the future. Hence it would seem it might help with the holes too. But perhaps I do not understand the point he is making.

  7. The Christian life is a life of martyrdom in this world, figuratively and literally. Life is relatively short and nothing ventured, nothing gained. The shortcomings of living a Christian life are in the clergy as well as the laity. A psycoligical epiphany is required to make such a spiritual change. One realizes the insignificance of stroking their egos in pursuit of personal ambitions and worldly treasures. Involving oneself in the politics of social and class struggles will be ones downfall because the poor and ignorant and slothen you will have with you always.When one’s inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are controlled and limited by a governmental body as such that freedom to live and speak Christ’s teachings, then tyranny and humanism will prevail. Christ instructed his disciples on the principles of his Church, not His religion. His Church is the way and the life, religions are the buraucracies of zealots and hypocryts not worthy of the rewards they profit in by selling platitudes to support their worldly kingdoms and regal finery.They fall short at the top as well as the bottom. The greatest act that a person can do is to give his life for his fellow man and lose his life for life everlasting in Christ’s Church, not fall into the slavery of tyrrants who decide how people’s efforts and reward’s should be distributed. That is for the person living the Christian life to decide. It really is a journey on this planet, not a destination. Foxes have dens and birds have nest but the Son of man has no place to rest His head. Now that’s a challenge.

  8. My secular Jewish husband was baptized three years ago. To see the change in this man is to see Christ’s power. When I see him exit the confessional with a look of unworldly peace on his face, when I see him kneel to venerate the Cross, when I see a hard driving, self-sufficient personality transformed into such sweetness and grace I personally know OUR REDEEMER TRANSFORMS US! There is no other explanation here.

  9. WOW! I’ve been mentally working on a blog entry about this – especially your points about mediocrity and our low expectations of our faith in Jesus.

    So many of us, myself included, are “just muddling through”, trying to be holy on our own, but maybe not REALLY wanting it because then we can’t be worldly. Fr. Dubay, in “Happy Are You Poor”, says “If we wonder why…the world has not long ago been converted, we need not look far for one solution. We are not perceived as men on fire. We look too much like everyone else.”

    At Easter Vigil this year, though, God showed me that there is SO much more to being Catholic. I really learned that it is Jesus in me who does everything that is good. I don’t have to “go it on my own” anymore. Even if I’m struggling, He will carry me and He will praise the Father for me, in good times and bad.

    I begin to understand St. John the Baptist – “He must increase and I must decrease”.

    And so, with this new knowledge, I suppose I can have the greatest of expectations! 🙂

    Thank you for an article that both confirms and challenges.

  10. Good article Msgr. Pope. And good comments. Welcome all new members! I sponsored three persons at the Easter Vigil; one for baptism, and all three for Confirmation. In addition the the standard book and rosary set, I gave each of them the book; “The Imitation of Christ,” by, Thomas Kempis, to help them along the christian path. The very ceremony with the Church being dark, and all statues and crucifixes covered, then uncovered, together with the lighting of the candles demonstrated a conquering of death, and darkness by Christ. This renewal of our baptism helps us to put our faith in context. The new converts can find new life in Christ by starting with a brand new soul. Just like spring brings forth life to that which was dead, now the faithful too can bring that which was dead back to life. St. Paul tells us the old garments are the “works of the flesh,” (the seven deadly sins) Gal. 5:19. The new garments are the “fruits of the spirit,” (good virtues) Gal. 5:22. We have to help the new members, and others to understand being a Catholic, is like St. Francis said: “Teach them everything about Christ, and if you have to, use words.” Love each other as Christ has loved us. We need to understand why we believe, so we can defend our faith, and help others deepen their love for Christ. Unbelief is the greatest sin. The poor unbeliever, the difference between he and I, is that when we stand before Judge Jesus, I will hear the words, “Who so ever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my father which is in heaven.” And he will hear: But, who so ever shall deny me before men, him I also deny before my Father, which is in heaven.Matt. 10:32-33. I will go to the right into eternal joy where my soul will be with the Eternal Trinity, and the unbeliever will go to the left into the eternal infernal. Happy Easter season, all 50 days.

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