We probably all have some ideas about how Christians should live in order to please God. We may think we need to try our best to do the right thing, do good works, or live up to some kind of moral or ethical standard.
Actually, our own assumptions hinder us from seeing God’s true desire for us.
So how does God want Christians to live?
In Basic Elements of the Christian Life, vol. 3, Watchman Nee provides some tremendous help. In chapter one, “Two Principles of Living–the Principle of Life or the Principle of Right and Wrong,” Nee explains the principle God wants us to live by, as revealed in the Bible.
In this post, we include some enlightening excerpts from this chapter to help us see how we should live as believers in Christ.
Back to the beginning
To understand how God wants Christians to live, we have to go back to the beginning. After God created the first man, Adam, He placed him in the garden of Eden, which had two particular trees in it. Genesis 2:9 says:
“And out of the ground Jehovah God caused to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, as well as the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
The tree of life represents God as life in the form of food. God wanted Adam, representing all mankind, to eat of this tree. By eating of the tree of life, man would receive God’s life.
On the other hand, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents Satan, God’s enemy, who is the source of death. God warned Adam that to eat of that tree would result in death.
Notice that the Bible doesn’t call these two trees “the tree of life and good” and “the tree of the knowledge of evil.” The tree that represents God is simply the tree of life. The other tree is the knowledge of both good and evil. One tree results in life, and the other results in death.
The function of man’s conscience
As we know, Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan to disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead of living by God’s life and enjoying a loving relationship with Him, Adam and Eve had to be separated from God because they had become sinful.
The conscience is the part of our being created by God that alerts us when we’ve done something wrong, something God doesn’t approve of. It’s tremendously important for people to take heed and listen to their conscience in order to be preserved from ruinous evil for God’s salvation and purpose.
God also gave the ten commandments with all their ordinances through Moses. These commandments recorded in the Old Testament show us what kind of God He is and also how sinful mankind is. Seeing what God approves of and what He condemns enlightens man’s conscience.
It’s certainly vitally important for parents to teach their children what’s right and what’s wrong, and to help them to know good from evil. When parents encourage and teach their children to listen to their conscience, the children can learn to have healthy relationships with others and grow up to be law-abiding citizens and contributing members of society. This is all necessary for human civilization to continue in a proper way, and shouldn’t be discounted.
But in addition to this, when we’re saved, we receive the life of God. So after we’re saved, God wants us to live by something even higher than our conscience: His divine life.
Two principles of living
The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil represent not only two different sources but two diametrically opposing ways of living. One way is to live by taking God as life, and the other is to live according to the knowledge of good and evil—that is, to do what we think is good and right and avoid what’s evil or wrong.
In Basic Elements of the Christian Life, vol. 3, Nee points out that these two ways are two principles of living. On page 9, he explains why it’s critical for us as believers to know about these two principles:
“Christianity teaches life, not right and wrong. There are many young brothers and sisters here this morning. I would like to tell you that after you received the Lord Jesus and gained a new life, you gained something marvelous inwardly. You obtained another principle of living. But if you do not know about it, you will set the principle of life aside and begin to follow the principle of right and wrong.”
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We have the life of God in us
From the time God created man until now, God’s intention has never changed. He still wants us to receive His life. And He wants us to live and do everything by the principle of life.
So how can we live by the principle of life? The first requirement is that we receive the divine life of God. This happened when we believed in Jesus Christ and were born again of the Spirit in our spirit. We now have the life of God in our spirit!
Now God wants us to live each day by this life, not by an outward moral code of doing what we think is good and right.
We can see this clearly in John chapter 3. Nicodemus, a good, moral man, came to the Lord Jesus. Instead of teaching Nicodemus or exhorting him to be a better person, Jesus emphatically told him, “You must be born anew.” No matter how good Nicodemus was, he needed to be born again in order to receive the life of God and live by it.
On page 10, Nee strongly emphasizes this point:
“Please remember, God’s Word tells us that our Christian living is based on an inner life, not an outward standard of right and wrong. Many worldly people, who are not saved, live according to the best standard of living they can attain: the principle of right and wrong. If you or I also live by the principle of right or wrong, we are the same as worldly people. Christians are different from non-Christians because we do not live by an outward standard or law.”
Once we’re saved we have an inner life, the life of God. This makes us different from unsaved people. So we should live differently from unsaved people, not living by an outward standard but by the life of God in our spirit.
Of course, we shouldn’t misunderstand the point being made. It’s never okay to do evil or wrong things, and God would never lead us to do anything sinful or immoral. We should always still listen to the voice of our conscience, which absolutely corresponds with God, who is holy and righteous.
But the point is that God ultimately wants us to live by the principle of life, which was His original intention when He created mankind. We have to realize again and again that God wants us—His believers who possess His life—to live, walk, and do everything by His life.
The divine life of God transcends any human standard. So when we live and act by the life of God, our living actually far surpasses the highest moral or ethical standard. Then our relatives, coworkers, friends, and others in our lives see something much higher than an ethical life; they see the expression of God Himself in our living.
How we know what principle we’re living by
God wants His children, who are all born of His life, to live, walk, and do everything by His life. But practically speaking, how can we know if we’re living by the principle of life? Nee gives some indicators of how we can tell on page 14:
“Please remember that life does not make decisions according to outward standards of right and wrong. Matters should be decided according to the sense of God’s life or the sense of death. Decisions should be made according to God’s life as it rises up or recedes within us. No Christian should say that he can do something because it is good or right. We must ask the Lord within us. What is the inner feeling that the Lord gives? Do we feel joyful inwardly about this matter? Do we have spiritual happiness and peace? These are the matters that decide our spiritual path.”
Here Watchman Nee speaks of deciding things by “the sense of God’s life or the sense of death.” In other words, we know what source we’re living by not by an outward sign but by an inner sense, or feeling, we have. That feeling is either one of life or one of death.
If we’re doing things according to life, we will sense joy, happiness, and peace. And those feelings aren’t something we can manufacture. On the other hand, if we have a sensation of God’s life receding in us, that’s a sense of death. So no matter how good a certain thing we do may be, if we have a sense or feeling of spiritual death, we need to stop and turn back to the Lord to contact Him in our spirit.
By paying attention to whether we have a sense of life or a sense of death, we’ll gradually learn how to live by the principle of life. We’ll live and act according to the life of God in our spirit instead of by evaluating whether things are simply right or wrong, good or evil.
Two facts we should remember
The Lord is a living Person who now lives within us. If we’re attentive to Him, He’ll let us know if we’re not living by the principle of life.
On page 20 Nee points out two important facts we should remember:
“In every matter when we seek God’s speaking within us, spontaneously there will be the shining of inward light. Please remember that our regeneration is a fact. It is also a fact that God is living in us through the Lord Jesus. The Lord is constantly expressing Himself within us. We hope that each of us would be able to say to God, ‘Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I want to constantly pay attention to life. I want to ask, “What is the sense of life?”’ If we live by this principle, we will see a great change in our Christian life.”
How wonderful it is that we’ve been born of God, and that He’s living in us today. May we really see that God wants us to live by the principle of life. And as a result, may we seek God’s speaking in every matter, pay attention to life, and be responsive to the sense of life within us.
In this chapter, Watchman Nee gives many examples from his own experience to make the point clear concerning how God wants us to live. These practical situations are very helpful in learning how to live by the principle of life. We encourage you to read all of chapter 1 by downloading a free copy of Basic Elements of the Christian Life, vol. 3 here.
If you live in the US, you can also order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version here.
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