Friday, July 18, 2008

I don’t buy it

I talked a bit in a previous blog about how a Christian's identity in Christ, and the truth about Christ should impact how we think and live our lives. This is something I think about a lot... and I wanted to add one more thought.

As Christians we rightly affirm that truth, and freely proclaim it. But as my preaching professor liked to say, I don't think we "buy it". We say we believe this, but it doesn't always translate to action in our lives the way the biblical authors assume. There is some disconnect at some level, where what we affirm we don't fully buy into. The Biblical truth is supposed to transform our lives, and the process of salvation is supposed to be conforming our minds to God's. But why does it seem like this sometimes fails? Or why do we sometimes forget about it?

I've put a lot of thought into this question, and have yet come up with a conclusion that is satisfying. This is a deeply personal issue to me, because I feel like I have a decent grasp of the basics of scripture, yet I see so much filth in my life. I think there are several different reasons, and here are a few that I have come up with.

1) Christianity isn't what we really want. This is a harsh statement, but what I mean is that God's way of things is not what we want. The process of salvation, the development of faith, and the lifelong pursuit of trusting God in a significant way is opposite of what human nature wants.

For example, suppose a Sunday morning sermon went something like this:

Everyone stand up. Now get out your Bible's. Now open them to the exact middle (the middle of your bible, not the text itself). Now hold your Bible flat in your left hand, hold it out. With your right hand, place your middle finger on the exact middle of the open bible, and position two fingers on each open page, in exactly symmetrical spots. Now, for the next 5 minutes, focus all of your concentration and energy on the tips of your fingers. Feel the page, and as you concentrate, begin to feel the power of God emanate from the page, and channel into your soul through your fingers.

Although this is fiction and superstition, I guarantee church attendance would be up if this actually worked. If Christianity were about a literal infusion of "power" for 5 minutes every Sunday, people would be very excited. The point is not that true Christians do not want God, but that God's process of things is slow and hard, and is not always immediately experienced by our 5 senses. I think part of us deeply wants this, because this is how things appear "real" to us. We experience the world us with our five senses, and this is all that we know of what is "real". God is still real, and he is still experienced, but we don't see, feel, and hear him all the time.

2) We've bout into a lie about salvation.

I recently heard a sermon by Paul Washer that a friend directed me towards ( ), and I think he might have hit on a significant part of why we don't buy it. We have a very unbiblical (he says heretical) pre-understanding about salvation.

For me, it started when I was a kid. I was told that Jesus lived in heaven, and that after I die I should want to live in heaven with Jesus (and presumably my parents and family). What I needed to do to get into heaven was say a prayer, and Jesus would come into my heart. As a kid, I imagined that when I said this prayer (something like magic words) then this little fairy like Jesus would flutter into my heart and let me into heaven.

Even though I know that this is far from the sum total of what it means to be a Christian, I think when faced with temptation a lot of times, even though I do not consciously think it, at some level there is the thought that "it is okay, because I said the prayer so heaven is not in danger". As I got older, I was taught the doctrine of grace. This meant that all of my sins were forgiven at the cross. This too can compound that unspoken voice when facing temptation, because not only did I say prayer when I was 5, but God will forgive me if I choose to sin.

It is said that the best heresy always has a good deal of truth to it, and just adds just enough falsehood in order to come up with a believable heresy. Paul Washer argues that our understanding of salvation as saying a prayer is such a heresy, because this "say a prayer and get into heaven" attitude removes all responsibility and action. He argues from Matthew 7 that Jesus says the road is narrow and the gate is small that lead to life. Although I do not agree with his strong Calvinist sentiments on the issue, I think he's really hit something here.

The biblical teaching is that the Christian life is tough. It is not about saying a magical formula and getting into heaven. It is about God's kingdom. It is about becoming a part of God's redemptive plan for creation. It is about joining the ranks of God's army and being on the front lines. It is about experiencing the transforming work of his Spirit, and experiencing his new life. But it is also about suffering and difficulty. Nowhere in scripture does it say that the Christian life is easy. In fact, Jesus' teaching of the narrow road points very clearly to the epic struggle that entails Christianity.

Washer says that if we're not living a life like God wants, a life that walks this narrow path, then we are not saved. I think things are far from this simple, because so much of the New Testament is written to assumed believers who are not always walking this path. Instead, I think that salvation is a process. There is a beginning, where the Spirit begins to open our eyes to the truth of God in the context of the preaching of the Gospel. At some point we choose to put our trust in that truth (not going get into the order of salvation issues). And from that point on, our trust is challenged. Walking the narrow path is about suffering, about having to sacrifice the pleasures we want to enjoy in our humanity for the sake of our love for God. It is about suffering at the hands of unbelievers who see these very odd people living weird and intolerant lifestyles. It is about rejecting the old way of life for the new life in Christ.

3) We don't really have faith. Faith is often defined as believing, and we treat evangelism as primarily changing people's beliefs. We must declare Christ as Lord, believe in his Gospel. This is surely important, but this is not the sum total of faith. Biblical faith also (equally if not more) includes trust. No Christian will deny this, after all trusting God is a huge theme in scripture. However, I think that truly developing trust is a long and hard process.

Part of this is the definition of trust. Trust isn't just "hope", nor is it just "probably". I am a person who has grown to not trust very many people, but I can trust that my family will always be there for me when I'm in need, I can trust the sincerity of my wife's love, and I can trust a few of my friends to fight along side me if the need arose. These are rare and special and rare things today. But can I say I trust God in all things? Trust and doubt are complete opposites. I think a significant part of the Christian life is having our doubts proven false, and God proving himself more and more trustworthy. The foundation of trust is knowledge, and we can clearly see that from scripture God is in fact trustworthy. All he asks is that people have faith in him, and he always does what he promises.

One aspect of God's order of things that sometimes causes me to doubt is that his intensions are not the same as mine. I wish I could say I trust God to give me an awesome job in the next month, (because my current one ends in a few weeks). I cannot say this, because I have seen far to many times when God's will is different than mine. However, I am fairly certain I can say that I trust God will provide, because no matter how many times it has seemed like we might not be able to pay next month's rent, he has provided.

Trust is more than just confidence. I think trust must manifest itself in action. You cannot say you trust God will do something, and then sit there idly. There is a delicate balance here, because we can trust God will do something, and then set out to do it in a way different from his plan. But trust also must result in action, because action is where the proverbial "rubber meets the road".

4) We aren't willing. I think this is one of the central defining aspects of Christianity. Are we willing to sacrifice what our natural desires want for God's way? I think initial conversion begins with this question, and the rest of the process of salvation is daily being confronted by this same question. After all, if we are really growing in the Spirit, then we are also regularly being confronted with new areas of our lives that God wants to work on.

This means that for true growth to happen, we need to be working through these issues as they arise. This is part of the danger of habitual sin in the Christian life: habitual sin means that there is awareness of sin, there is recognition that the associated desires need to be sacrificed, and it means that at some level, the person is unwilling to. The danger is also that habitual sin can lead to a hardening of one's heart, and I think this can be very dangerous for a Christian. The story of Israel in the desert is appealed too several of times in this context: they habitually rejected God's way, and ended up missing out on God's blessing in the promised land.

So why don't we always "buy it"? Why do we so easily forget the kingdom perspective, why do we fall into sin so easily, why do people so often fall into the "religion" of Christianity instead of the new life?

1) Its not what we really want. Christianity is a slow and hidden process, and we want to see, hear, and touch the reality of God instead of have faith in his work.

2) We've bought into a lie. At some level, we fall into the trap of thinking that since we said a prayer at 5, we're okay.

3) We don't really have faith. We don't really trust that God will do what he promises, that he has our best interest in mind. Our "trust" doesn't manifest itself in action.

4) We aren't willing. We do not always want to sacrifice the natural desires that God wants us to sacrifice in order to experience growth.

I'm not sure if this entirely answers the question, but I think it is a definite starting place.

God please reveal these wrong attitudes in my heart. Forgive me for not submitting to you. I repent of trying to make you into what I want, instead of letting you make me into what you want. Give me the strength and courage to trust you more, and I know you will continue you to walk with me and help me overcome temptation.

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