The Temporal Benefits of Thinking and Living as a Christian
|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2003|
|If you have been assuming that being a Christian will only benefit you in the afterlife, think again! New author Dr. Riser points out some amazing facts about the benefits of thinking and living a Christian lifestyle right here and right now.|
The Temporal Benefits of Thinking and Living as a Christian
There is a secret that someone doesn’t want you to know and it has a significant impact on you and on the ones that you love. It is the secret to happiness. Why do so many seek it but so few find it? One of the reasons that so few experience a fulfilled and happy life is that they seek it as an end in itself. The secret is that happiness cannot be achieved as an end in itself because it is a by-product of a life lived to please and glorify God. In short, happiness is a by-product of holiness. In practical terms, holiness could be understood as conformity to Christ-like character and conduct. Someone does not want you to know the many and varied temporal benefits associated with thinking and living as a Christian. What are some of these temporal benefits?
One of the best-kept secrets in our day by the secular media is the beneficial effect of active church participation. Those who attend church regularly and act consistently with their faith are better off physically, socially, spiritually, educationally and mentally than they would be otherwise. In short, healthier habits and lifestyles make for healthier individuals and societies.
According to studies cited by Chuck Colson in his book How Now Shall We Live?, those who regularly attend church are less likely to commit suicide, abuse drugs or alcohol, have out of wedlock births or divorce; They are happier, healthier, have a lower rate of stress and depression, enjoy higher self-esteem, have longer and happier marriages and have a better sex life. Those who do not attend church regularly have an average annual income of $24,000 while those who do have an average annual income of $37,000.
More than 300 studies found that people with a strong religious faith are far healthier than non-believers. Additionally, they are far less likely to die prematurely from any cause. Having a vital faith can also speed recovery from physical and mental illness, surgery and even addictions. Solid medical research has uncovered that one of the greatest healing miracles of all time in what for some is the least likely and for others, the most likely of places: a vital faith that is expressed by active participation in the worship and service of God in a local church.
The impact of a vital faith on health would come as no surprise to a director of religion, spirituality or medical research at any leading university. In a recent study conducted by a leading university medical center, of 87 seriously depressed men and women, a researcher found that those who put spirituality at the center of their lives recovered 70% faster than those who did not. Additionally, the more spiritually centered an individual was, the faster he or she was healed. Is this mere coincidence, correlation or causation?
A second study, involving 1,700 people over the age of 65, compared immune system factors in those who attended religious services with those who did not. The director and his colleagues found that those who participated in religious services, even if attending only once a month, had significantly stronger immune systems. There is a very high correlation between a strong faith and an enhanced immune system. Being an active part of a religious community of faith enhances your ability to fight disease and remain healthy. The stronger our immune system the better able we are to resist infections and diseases. Furthermore, a well-known mind/body researcher reported that while people who meditate are healthy, those who experience spirituality as a result of their meditation are healthier.
A person with a vital religious faith has a lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, increased oxygen consumption and slower stressed brain wave patterns than those lacking a meaningful faith. A vital faith reduces the temptation for health-damaging habits like smoking and drinking. It reduces stress, anxiety and depression. When we allow God, by His grace, to put ourselves on the right path of spiritual faith, we can improve our over-all sense of well-being.
Isn’t it nice to know that there are amazing health benefits to a vital faith as well as great peace and comfort? There are many other benefits as well. Living according to the biblical moral order is better not only for the individual but also for society as a whole. Would you rather be part of a group where lying, cheating and stealing are common practice or not? Would you rather be part of a group where serious addictions such as drugs and alcohol are present or part of a group that enjoys healthier lifestyles? Would you rather be part of a group where pornography and prostitution is rampant or not? Would you rather be part of a group where spousal and child abuse is prevalent or not? Would you rather be part of a group that believes in the sanctity of life and protects those most vulnerable in our society, the very young and the very old, or not? Would you rather be part of a group where people gamble money needed to feed their children or not? Would you rather be a part of a group where children were disrespectful and disobedient to their parents or not? The list could go on and on. A vital religious faith makes a huge difference to the health of the society as well as to the individual! There is not such thing as a victimless crime because the immoral and criminal behavior of the individual contributes to a sick society.
What does it take to have a blessed and meaningful life? We need to arrive at an understanding and develop a deep conviction that: there is no conflict between what is pleasing to God and what is best for us. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” On the other hand, God says, in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The fact is that God offers a superior way of living to anything man can devise. Therefore, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3: 5-6)
Most of us are familiar with the television series called, “Father Knows Best.” This expression is especially true when it comes to our “Heavenly Father.” God not only knows what is best, but also wants what is best for His children. The question we need to ask is, “Am I willing to receive His best for my life?” God’s best is the same as His desirous will. When we sin, we miss God’s best for our lives. God’s will is not just good; it is the very best option available to us!
What is necessary in order to receive God’s best? Aside from a new heart, which Jesus says is the result of “being born again,” we need a firm sense of right and wrong and a determination to do the right thing even when it is difficult or painful. We do this not out of a grim sense of duty but out of a desire to please God in response to His grace. Only when we act in accordance with God’s true nature and our new nature are we able to act in our best interests. The happiness or blessedness that God wants us to experience is the result of living a virtuous life, one that is conformed to Christ like character and conduct. When the Founding Fathers of our nation spoke of “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, they understood happiness to be synonymous with pursuing a life of virtue, that is, a life seeking to please and glorify God; for they knew that was the only way to true happiness. They knew virtue is it’s own best reward. Virtue not only leads to happiness but also to meaning and purpose in life—something to which we all aspire.
Wise people understand that moral laws have consequences just as surely as physical laws do. We are free to make moral decisions as we think best, but once those decisions are made, we are not free from their consequences. Defiance of God’s moral law may not only lead to our detriment, but may also lead to our death. No transgression of God’s moral law is without painful consequences. In Galatians 6:7, Paul put it this way, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” When we break God’s law, it ends up breaking us. Someone once likened breaking God’s laws, to “spitting into the wind.”
If we want to lead healthy and well-balanced lives, we need to discover and follow the wise and loving principles in God’s Word that are consistent with the structure of His moral universe. This understanding of God’s moral universe is what the Bible calls wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions based on clear perceptions of reality. God is the supreme realist and we are realistic only insofar as we see things from His point of view. Those who refuse to accommodate themselves to reality are not only immoral, but also foolish no matter how educated they may be. A foolish person is engaged in a losing battle and does not know it, or doesn’t respect himself enough to act in his best interests, or just does not care.
By any measure, serious Christians live happier, more fulfilled, more meaningful and purposeful lives. Part of our calling as Christians is to order our lives by God’s wise and loving principles found in His Word. We are not only called to believe the Gospel, the good news of God’s love in Christ, but we are also called to see things from God’s point of view, that is, to develop a biblical worldview. To live a virtuous life, our thinking must reflect the wisdom of our Creator. How can we act like a Christian if we don’t first learn to think like a Christian? Learning to think like a Christian is a prerequisite to acting like a Christian and it is an important aspect of Christian discipleship. It is especially crucial in order to expose the false values of our postmodern culture and to avoid its pitfalls and snares. (2 Cor.10: 5)
Some of the most important determinants of human happiness and well-being are our spiritual beliefs and moral choices. A vital faith in God makes people happier and more fulfilled because they have a greater purpose in life. These are just a few of the temporal benefits of a vital faith and active church participation. There are some very interesting eternal benefits as well.