In the last post I said that the essential and foundational dimension of Christian attitude is friendship with Christ, a relationship which forms us in the divine life.
Human friendship is a spiritual bond between persons, which leads not just to a certain sharing of life, but also to being in some way transformed by the other person; we are influenced and formed by our friends.
God intends something far greater for us through friendship with His Son; He desires communion with us. The journey towards communion is set in motion through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts that there might be a spiritual bond between us and His son, Jesus. The activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives produces a response, something which genuinely indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit in us; this response is the desire to change.
At its very foundation then, Christian attitude differs from secular ascesis, for whereas the Christian realises that there is something not right with him, that he needs to be changed, the secular person is led to conclude that it is the culture which is faulty and must change to accommodate him.
After receiving this first gift of the Holy Spirit the Christian person is led to engage with Jesus Christ such that he enters into a relationship of friendship with Christ, allowing Christ into his life and trusting in Christ's presence and influence in his life. Friendship with Christ develops over time in such a way that the Christian person, in allowing the Christian attitude to develop, comes to swop his centre of gravity for Christ. The Christian person knows that, from now on, his relationship with Christ is the very best place in which to lead the rest of his life.
In contrast with the Christian attitude the secular ascetic seeks to arrive at fulfilment on its own. The secular person invariably has human friendships, in which he invests something of himself. But as an autonomous free individual, the surrendering of that unrepeatable personal 'self' cannot be envisaged. The secular ascetic prevents the person from establishing himself within a life-changing relationship with Christ - unless/until the Holy Spirit is able to reveal to the person an openness to the life of grace.