Monday, May 30, 2016

Standing on Our Own Feet in Christ, Part 2

In order for a person to stand with confidence with the living God faith is necessary. The Scripture speaks often of trust, love, faith, devotion, righteousness, obedience and holiness as God’s standards for his own people. For example, “I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them. I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” (Psalm 119:47-48, NRSV) God wants his human creatures to actually desire to love and serve him and each other. And to do this requires that each person learn how to fulfill God’s commands whole-heartedly. This cannot be done without genuine faith in the living God.  

Faith is a mystery. Indeed, I am convinced that it is as much a mystery as the experience of God’s Presence is to the individual or the gathered group of believers. How did I come to have faith at all? Why did I change my mind so that it matters to me that God exists and that I might want to relate to him? How did I come to actually want to obey him and return love and devotion back to the One who loves me so extravagantly? I do not comprehend how this change occurred in me in the past or how it continues to happen today! 

Perhaps this may strike the reader as strange. But I suspect that my experience matches up with that of many people. I recall when I was growing up that faith in God had little relevance to me. Not that I did not believe that God existed—I never seriously considered that to be an option. If anything, God was a Reality that I had to acknowledge even if I did not want to or even if he did not care about me personally. Such was the way I thought and felt about the Divine Being. This was part of the matrix of deception that gripped my mind. 
When I finally did encounter the living God I discovered that he did care for me and loved me with such fierceness that I was afraid of him (terror is not too strong a word to describe what I felt). Before this I could, so I thought, ignore God and nominally manage my life so that I did not do any immoral acts that were too terrible or offensive—or if they were clearly morally wrong at least I thought I could do adequate damage control so as to minimize the the damage and embarrassment to me. 

One prominent means of bringing me to faith, so far as I could gather from self-reflection, was the painful and horrifying confrontation with my own depravity. And in having to face myself I found that God loved me and did not want to condemn me for what I had done. This was the start of my journey of faith. 

According to Scripture God created human beings in his own “image” and as a “likeness” of the Divine Being. I do not pretend to understand all the implications of that nor do I have an adequate understanding of all that Scripture teaches about this. But one point I can say for certain is that to be an image-bearer of the eternal Divine Being is to have the dignity of choosing for oneself whether or not to live in accord with reality as God created and formed it. 

We all are confronted, whether we like it or not, with the world as it is—this includes all aspects of the natural world that are good and useful as well as the effects of evil in human lives and the physical habitat we depend on. Are not most human problems directly related to people’s willingness to face and name the truth about their own behavior, the consequences and the further unwillingness to make things right? We are harmed and we harm others. 

On the positive side, we find in ourselves abilities to imagine, to form ideas and objects that are beautiful and pleasing; to reason and solve problems of all sorts; to feel powerful emotions and develop deep and abiding bonds with other people; to be productive in our work and find satisfaction in helping other people. On the negative side, we find in ourselves the ability to misuse our minds and imaginative powers for self-gratification (thus suppressing truth and reason and driving us into dysfunction and addiction); to feel deep pain because of the betrayal and abuse of others towards us; to discover the dark pervasive grip of fear in us; to know that we have the capacity to inflict great harm on others; to sabotage the blessing of relationships and meaningful work by our own choices and so rob God and others of what we could have given to bless them.  

This is only one aspect of human experience that I am highlighting here. The reader could describe many other aspects of life in which we encounter good, pure evil and the general effects of human sin. To stand firm and be faithful to God requires faith. And God both gifts and grows faith when it is put into practice. This is, stated in brief, the way that those who know the living God, through the risen Lord Jesus, both know and grow up into a mature love of God and active sacrificial service to one another. We stand on our own two feet, hearts and minds willingly bound to God’s love—willing and ready to walk the long hard road of righteousness; for we know that this is the path our Lord walked and that he will strengthen and guide us through every pitfall.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Standing on Our Own Feet in Christ, Part 1

There is great mystery to how God works in our lives to accomplish his good will for us. This work of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ is so great a mystery that even the holy angels of God “long to look” into it (see 1 Peter 1:12)! I suggest that what makes it such a mystery is this: That we finite creatures who are willing to have faith are given the ability not only to believe but to live a truly holy life now. How is this possible?

Surely we know, unless we are still self-deceived into thinking that we can somehow reform ourselves to live rightly before God, that human nature is corrupt. Only the blood of the Lord Jesus is powerful enough to transform human nature into a thing of beauty before God. Any other means or hope of spiritual life and renewal will fail to do anything more than achieve some positive behavior modifications. The genuine life changes that many people have experienced in 12-Step groups is a testimony to this—even those whose “higher power” is left more or less vague and undefined! (I once heard a guy say that his “higher power” was coffee!)

The Scriptures exhort us to have faith and to be obedient to God. The Lord’s demands are never relaxed or minimized. We are the ones who minimize them and revise them downward to suit ourselves. But these demands are not merely those of right behavior or right thinking or just actions toward others. (All of these are articulated in God’s Torah.) The main command is to exercise faith. “You are to make it your diligent endeavor to perform the great work of believing on Christ.” (Walter Marshall, Sanctification or The Highway of Holiness, p.48)

Marshall continues to make an essential point which must be true inside our hearts in order for faith and holiness to be possible.
“Though we cannot possibly perform this great work [believing on Christ] in a right manner, until the Spirit of God work faith in our hearts by His mighty power, yet it is necessary that we should endeavor it, and that too before we can find the Spirit of God working faith effectually in us, or giving strength to believe. The way whereby the Spirit works faith in the elect is, by stirring them up to endeavor to believe. Neither can we possibly find that the Spirit of God doth effectually work faith or give strength to believe, until we act it; for all inward graces, as well as all other inward habits, are discerned by their acts, as seed in the ground by its springing. We cannot see any such thing as love to God or man in our heats before we act it.” (Marshall, p.49)
The will of the human person must turn (and be turned) to God and to doing what is good and right before him. In my own experience I have observed that the most basic blockage to faith in the Lord Jesus, whether before I first surrendered to him or after when I was confronted with my “favorite sins” I held fast to, was the willingness to trust the Lord—that is, to exercise faith in him and obey him. The most wretched state of my soul has been manifested when I pretended—even to God!—that I did believe in him when I actually profoundly distrusted his intentions and goodness. 

We cannot stand our own two feet as God intended for us because our nature is corrupted. We sabotage our relationships, hopes, dreams and potential in life when we refuse to trust the Father. And then we turn upon each other in jealously, envy, hatred and even murder one another with words and in our actions. This is the repeated tragic pattern of human life and behavior throughout all generations. The only hope for us is God delivering—this is the testimony of the whole of Scripture.

God will not deliver any of us, however, if we refuse to own the reality of our internal condition and the hopelessness which that fact leaves us in. On the other hand, not one of us will be able to find the way out our wretched internal condition unless each of us exercises faith in God through the Lord Jesus. To put this another way, we cannot do God’s part in delivering us through the blood of Christ and God will not do our part in this process of being delivered.  

The Lord will judge us all impartially according to what each of us has actually done during our lives on earth. And we will all then own what we are responsible for and acknowledge before our Creator that he spoke the truth to us and lovingly provided what we needed to know the truth and receive his love. To those who refused to believe the truth there will only remain in them the corruption of their nature and utter despair. To those who believe on the Lord Jesus there will be peace, joy and love that is beyond understanding and the power to stand on their own feet in Christ for eternity.