Saturday, March 12, 2011

Faith Makes Sense of Everything

"A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it" (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity). As a Lutheran, I do not believe a person can accept anything about Christ, but rather receive it from Him through the faith which the Holy Spirit gives him. However, this belief does not change the meaning of Lewis' statement: a person can receive Christ as his Lord and Savior without knowing exactly how His salvation works exactly. Now, this does not mean that He does not know Christ died for Him, for that is vitally important to the Christian faith. In fact, without that faith, there is no Christian faith. What it does mean is that God's love and salvation transcends all human understanding, and that it is only by faith that we are saved; but also that once we are given this faith, our salvation makes all the sense in the world.

This may require some explanation. In order to be saved, one must believe that Jesus Christ, both God and man, came to earth, died, and rose again from the dead. Faith in this belief will save anyone who shares in it. Now here is what is completely illogical to most people: there is nothing a person can do by themselves to get to heaven; it is all done by God. Romans 7:18-20 says, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desires to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing. Now if i do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me." Here Paul is saying that humans, no matter how good they seem to us, are incapable of being truly "good." Here is the amazing part though: "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

The point here is that we do not have to do anything to achieve salvation; it is already done for us by Jesus. This kind of love, sacrifice, devotion, patience, and mercy are absolutely incomprehensible to the human mind, and because of that it is sometimes hard to believe. This is where faith and prayer become so important: Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Unless we do not have faith in this sacrifice by Jesus, it will not make sense to us. Christianity, from the outside, seems completely ridiculous. It is hard for people to understand why we believe what we believe and do what we do for the glory of our Heavenly Father. That is why it is so important for us to live our faith and share it with everyone. The state of being outside Christianity and viewing it as ridiculous is what Jesus was referring to when he talked of spiritual darkness. In fact, until Jesus came, the entire world was engulfed in this darkness: John 1:5- "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it." Jesus is the light, and He shines through us who receive Him as our Savior and reflect his light to the world.

Once a person has come into the light, faith makes sense of all things. This does not mean that everything is comprehensible; but rather that the person has the complete assurance that God has a purpose, plan, and will always be there for every individual who calls on His name. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:18, "as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" That is the peace Christians have: no matter what happens, no matter how confusing things might be to our pathetic, human minds, we can be assured that there is a sense behind everything that goes far beyond anything we can imagine; and that our God, who loves us, is watching over and taking care of us... and always will be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Be Perfect

"The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command" (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity). C.S. Lewis had a way for stating perfectly the answer to almost every fear or concern pertaining to Christianity and Christian living. In this case, he was talking about the ongoing struggle within every Christian's life to try to be like Christ. One fundamental truth to our lives is that we are sinful and are incapable of ever coming close to the perfect standard God holds us to. However, the other fundamental truth to our lives is that God had mercy on us and loved us enough to send his Son, Jesus, to die for us and make us perfect through Himself.

If we are made perfect through Christ's sacrifice, then why should we even try to do good, be good, and abstain from all kinds of evil? The answer can be found in John 15:4-6, "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fired, and burned." Here Jesus says that if we are truly in Him, we will produce the fruits that make us perfect in the eyes of God. Apart from Him, even the whitest of our deeds cannot brighten the deep black covering that is our sinfulness.

Some non-Christians will point to the awful deeds of people who claim to be Christian, and to that we can say that they are indeed bad examples of Christian behavior. We must also remind them, though, that even though we are Christians, it does not mean that we will no longer sin. Some Christians do and have done atrocious things to others, but that does not mirror Christ. If they repent and change their behavior, that mirrors Christ in their lives. For if Christ is in us, while our sinful condition keeps us from being perfect on our own, Jesus can fill us with grace and righteousness when we come to Him for forgiveness. It is this righteousness and grace, given to us by Christ, that makes us perfect; not what we do.

On the point that there are some Christians who do not model good Christian living, it is quite easy for some of us to look down on them as well and say, "well they do not represent all of us Christians; I am a much better Christian than they." Even if we do not say this, almost all of us have thought it at some point or another. This is where we too fall into more sin and danger; because even if our deeds appear to be "good enough" to be considered Christian to the outside world, our thoughts and attitude has just fallen into sin and we are just as damnable as those we were looking down upon.

How then are we to respond to this argument? The only answer is to be honest with the person and quote Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Even Christians sin, and not all Christians are far along enough in their faith life to open themselves completely to Christ; for while it is God who does all the work associated with our sanctification, we do have the option to refuse Him. Receiving Christ as your Lord and Savior does not automatically give you the faith and conviction on someone like Peter or Paul; that kind of faith takes development and nurturing.

I should rephrase my answer to the question in the previous paragraph; I should not have said that the answer I have is the only answer, for there is another: compliment the person for their observation and thank them for holding Christians to such a high standard, because that is what we are! God Himself holds us to such a standard; it is only right for the rest of the world to do so as well. In Luke 11:36 Jesus says, "If then your whole body is full of light, having no part in dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays give you light." What Jesus is saying here is that His presence in us will illuminate us to the world so that they can see the everlasting light (Jesus Himself) within us. Just as when a lightbulb or lamp start to die or get dirty and are easily noticed by any person who walks into the now dim room, so it is when a Christian allows their light to fade.

The lesson, then, is that God wants all of us, not just part of us; and unless we give Him all of ourselves, we will not be able to be the light God expects us to be. However, once we give ourselves over to Christ completely, our lives will be turned upside down and God will make us perfect. After we have been made perfect in His sight, nothing can separate us from Him. No matter what we do, no matter how much our sin convicts us, He still loves us and will forgive our repentant hearts. As Paul writes in Romans 8:38-38, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rules, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height of depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."