Rev. Jonathan Mahtani, pastor of the Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Every Reformed young person needs to know some Latin. Not only is it the language from which many modern languages have their origin, and not only is it the language most Reformation leaders used to compose their writings, but it is a language frequently used to make important truths memorable, one of them being coram Deo.
This Latin phrase expresses the most fundamental description of the Christian life. A young person ignorant of its meaning is seriously deficient in his under standing of how to live as a Christian. The Reformers, beginning with Martin Luther himself, explained that the most basic description of a true Christian’s life is living coram Deo. It means literally: “Before the face of God.” Is this how you live?
This simple yet profound phrase, succinctly expressed in Latin, is a biblical concept that transforms every part of life—how you worship, do devotions, obey, work, and play. It is the basic point of that repetitive children’s song:

Oh be careful little eyes what you see,
Oh be careful little eyes what you see,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little eyes what you see.

Oh be careful little hands what you do…
… little mouth what you say…
… little feet where you go…
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love….

Whether we are little or grown up, we need to live every moment of each day conscious of being before the face of God. Of this most fundamental but oft-forgotten concept of Christian living we need frequent reminders.
How quickly we fall into a practical atheism! We know intellectually that God exists. Yet we live as though He does not. We know that God in His very nature is omnipresent. With His whole being, this infinite God cannot be contained or limited. He is present everywhere, not only in heaven above, but fully present also here with us on earth. Though invisible, He is no less real and attentive to every event. “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:24). Yet we live too often imagining that He is absent and unseeing, saying in our heart like the fool of Psalm 14, “There is no God.”
What exposes the utter folly of this is our fear of man. We live coram homo, far more conscious of the faces of humans around. Like chameleons, we change our outward colors depending on the people who watch us. Thus in the presence of a parent, officebearer, teacher, or boss, we learn how to conform our outward behavior to make ourselves seem faithful. But in the presence of friends with lower expectations, even ungodly co-workers, we blend in. When the employer is not looking, we slack. When no parent is peering over our shoulder, we stimulate our eyes with evil. We watch, drink, speak, and cross boundaries that would make us burn hot with embarrassment when the wrong set of eyes catch us by surprise. All the while we forget—even intentionally— that our God as a consuming fire watches with His holy eyes every action as well as every selfish motivation of the heart.
What striking recklessness that we flippantly dismiss God’s presence, while angels before the same face of God cover their faces with reverence, exclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3). Realize, dear young person, that when we push God out of our minds, or distract ourselves with the faces of men, He still remains present. Woe to us who dare continue in such folly! “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” (Ps. 94:9). May we daily repent before His face.
This truth of the ever-present face of the Holy God is terrifying for the impenitent but comforting for the believer. The warning is clear, but the comfort needs to be clearer. The child of God lives not in terror before God’s face, driven to do what is holy because he wants to escape the punishment of an angry God. Instead, the believer lives consciously before the face of God who is our “Father up above” and “looking down in love,” His face shining upon us through Jesus Christ.
The gospel for every repenting believer in Jesus Christ is that while our Father’s face frowns with great displeasure at our sin, His face never darkens with wrath against us. Why is that so? Because Christ Jesus has finished enduring that holy wrath of God in our place on the accursed cross. More, God’s face always shines in favor toward us, as though we have obeyed all God’s commandments. For Jesus has lived a perfect life of obedience in our place! Upon our sin the Holy God looks with vehement hatred; yet upon us, He looks with tender love. The elect child of God learns to live before the ever-shining face of this holy and equally gracious God.
Again and again, God’s Word reminds us, “Fear not, for I am with thee. I will never leave Thee nor forsake Thee.” You face no temptation without His loving embrace. You endure no thorn in the flesh without His compassionate care. You are never alone, though all faces of men are turned against you. Your sin against His grace cannot cause Him to give up on you. May God open your eyes of faith so that you live in the constant awareness of His face shining with perfect holiness and abundant kindness.
Living in the consciousness of the face of this God, the heart truly worships. In church, the child of God learns that the elements of worship are not a mere outward formality and that the purpose of a sermon is not mainly to receive more facts for the brain and store up ammunition against those who hold to error. But before the face of God, the believer comes consciously engaging in holy conversation, both listening to His Father and responding from a heart of thanks.
Then, even after the believer leaves the Sunday assembly, this holy dialogue continues before the face of God in devotions. Prayer becomes less about saying the right words and doing the duty and more about being filled with awe again that this puny sinner is granted entrance before the face of the Almighty God who listens as our Father. Reading His Word becomes less about the good work or reading a self-help book for holy living and more about coming before the face of God to hear secrets of Himself that He personally reveals to us.
And having been in that secret place of the Most High God, all of life becomes less and less an outward conformity for the faces of men. More and more, all of life becomes worship and communion before the face of this holy and gracious God. When we fall into sin before the face of God, we repent, openly confessing to Him and those we hurt that which He already sees and forgives in Christ. We flee sin and pursue good works in thanks before the face of this God, knowing that such a life glorifies and delights Him. We learn to live by faith before the face of this omnipresent God, singing with reverence and joy:

Where can I go apart from Thee,
or whither from Thy presence flee?
In heav’n? it is Thy dwelling fair;
in death’s abode? Lo, thou art there.
If I the wings of morning take,
and far away my dwelling make,
The hand that leadeth me is Thine,
and my support Thy pow’r divine.
(Psalter #382, stanzas 3-4)

As we live consciously before the face of God, His face affects our face. Our faces become like mirrors, reflecting His holiness and graciousness for His glory. This is not only the essence of our Christian life now, but it is the Christian’s hope. Soon we will live coram Deo in perfection. The glory of heaven is to live forever face to face with God. In that perfection, never again will we forget Him who is ever-present. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Cor. 13:12).