What Is the Aim of the Christian Life?

John ArmstrongSpirituality

I have frequently mentioned that one of the great benefits of reading both Western and Eastern Christian theology is that the body breathes best when it uses both lungs. Pope John Paul II used this expression when he referred to the Christian East and suggested by it that we truly needed one another. I have made this a part of my own journey for about five years now. Let me illustrate one profound way the East has helped me think more deeply about my life in Christ.

If you ask a Western Christian what is the aim of the Christian life I think most would say something about the glory of God. "The chief end of man is to love him and glorify him forever." I like that and believe there is much in this emphasis to commend itself. I also find it lacking something that is more specific and concrete. When I came across the writings of St. Seraphim of Sarov discussing the purpose of the Christian life I was stunned and then profoundly helped. He says, following Orthodox theology, that the whole purpose of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Before you respond remember this is a deeply and consciously Trinitarian perspective.

St Seraphim Here is how St. Seraphim (icon at left) puts it:

Prayer, fasting, vigils, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life: they are but the indispensable means of attaining that aim. For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts. vigils, prayer, and alms-giving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Note well that it is only good works done in the name of Christ that bring us to the fruits of the Spirit.

Vladimir Lossky, a great theologian of the Orthodox Church, says this statement may appear to be too simple but it "sums up the whole spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church." Theodore, a disciple of St. Pachomius, said, "What is greater than to possess the Holy Spirit?"

I find this truth a great corrective and one that has a great deal of Scripture to commend it to us. I have long believed that Luke 11:13 was one of the most overlooked texts in the whole Bible, at least in the West. We have a very mechanical view of the Holy Spirit in much of Western Christianity, which is one reason the charismatic movement has so powerfully impacted many Christians in the West.