Paradoxes of the Christian Life

cross in garden

The Christian life is, quite possibly, the most paradoxical concept to grasp. It is both fulfillingly simplistic yet beautifully mysterious. We are both fully satisfied in this life yet yearn for the day when we are perfected in glory. Our lives have intrinsic value yet they are only but a vapor.

According to author Robert J. Morgan, "The Bible is the ultimate sourcebook for the greatest paradoxes in the sphere of human thinking."

Perhaps these great paradoxes in the Christian life are not here to perplex us, but instead intended for us to gaze upon the beauty and glory of the Lord.

Life and Death

One of the most vital questions in all of human existence is "what is the purpose of our lives on this earth?" For those of us in Christ, we know that our purpose and fulfillment in life comes in the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our life is no longer our own but instead we are slaves to Christ, prompted continually forth by the Holy Spirit, until the Father calls us home to Him. Matt Smethurst writes, "A Christian is someone who lives prepared to die, and dies prepared to live." Our purpose in life, then, is not for our glory, but instead to proclaim the glory of the Lord.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:31

However, we know this world is not our own. Although we live for Christ, we also have died to Christ and therefore when we die, die for Christ. Our lives on earth are not a comfort to us, and are only a mist that swiftly appear and vanish (James 4:14). And we know that this world is not our own but that our eternal home and citizenship reside in heaven with God. As Charles Spurgeon once said, "Sudden death is sudden glory." And in this, we are pointed to the beauty of this paradox: that our lives are purposed to glorify God and proclaim to others the riches of His glory and yet our eternal satisfaction comes upon our death, when God calls us home to Him in glory forever.

Faith and Works

How can one be saved and be assured of their salvation? Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-9 that "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Salvation is not a complex formula that we must figure out in order to attain eternal life. On the contrary, salvation is attained solely by Jesus, fulfilled wholly in Jesus, and through the saving grace of Jesus. Faith is what saves us and when we have faith in Christ, we are assured of God’s mighty hand to hold us with Him forever.

James 2:14-17 reads, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

Faith in Christ alone is what saves us. It is not any of our works that save us but in fact, we produce works that are borne out of our faith.

Faith and works seem to be contrary to each other, as we see that faith and not works is what saves us. But we also see that if we do not produce works, we do not have a saving faith. This doesn’t mean that we work to earn our salvation but instead means this: the Holy Spirit that dwells within us as believers produces works within us that are founded upon the bedrock of our faith in Christ Jesus. This is one of the most paradoxical truths that we see in Scripture and yet it is one of the most beautiful.

We know that if we are saved, we will then live a life that Solomon praises as "acceptable to the Lord". Our works do not create faith, but instead our faith creates works.

Desires of the Heart

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" - Jeremiah 17:9

Our hearts have been tainted by sin and we know that our flesh is destined for destruction. Therefore, our flesh is worthy of death, according to the wrath of God. Praise be to God, however, that although our flesh is corrupted by sin, He creates within us a new heart and contrite spirit when we come to Him in faith and wholly surrender to Christ Jesus.

We know that our hearts are deceitful and cannot be trusted. But Psalm 37:4 says "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." So how do these correlate and work with each other? How does this particular paradox make sense?

2 Corinthians 5:17 explains to us that if anyone is in Christ, he is new....indeed a new creation. When the Holy Spirit enters us, we are given a new heart in which the Spirit resides. So now, we are able to glorify God and make known His name. Our flesh still desires sin, and so our flesh is still deceitful, and we still have an urge to sin. But the Spirit within us pushes and motivates us to live righteously and when we do not, He convicts us of our selfish decision to rely on the flesh. What a wonderful thing that we have the Holy Spirit present with us at all times!

The Beauty Of The Paradox

Our God is a holy God. He is sovereign above all things and He holds all things together. He can never be fully understood, for if He could be, He would cease to be God. He truly is, as Louie Giglio has famously said, "indescribable."

Knowing this, it is even more wonderful to recognize that He invites us to seek Him, and He makes known to us His character and attributes in His word, in seemingly paradoxical ways. These paradoxes, then, are not meant to be confusing or seemingly contradictory but instead serve as a reminder that we do not fully understand God. They are not meant to stump the reader of the Bible but instead to point us to find comfort and peace in the God of the universe.

These paradoxes, ultimately, serve as a reminder to wholly surrender our hearts and minds to the Lord, so that we may truly have life.

Written by Brooks Anthony

Brooks Anthony writes for the University Communications Department for Dallas Baptist University.