Monday, March 17, 2014

Religion or Relationship? Good deeds or Jesus Christ?

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I'm amazed how easy it is to not understand this.  Many don't know what it actually is in practice.  But it's not complicated.  First of all let me tell you what it's not: Being a Christian is not trying to impress God with what a nice person I am, so somehow I will be good enough to maybe nudge into the area of having done more good than bad in life, and sneak into heaven past God's "are you good enough?" test.  

Nope.  That's not it.  Not at all.  

A friend of mine died recently.  I spoke up around the table as we were remembering this person and how wonderful she was.  I told them that she was a wonderful person, and that it's right to grieve the loss.  But I also said that she loved God, and that I know I'll see her again.  

Someone else spoke up after, kind of bowing to the fact that yes, there is a God, she knew she was going to see God, and he said, I'm gonna be thinking about that.  And I'm gonna try to be a nice person, and love my fellow man, so God will love me.  And everyone nodded, and said yes, and it was just a big moment.

And I'm in the corner face palming, because as sweet a moment as it was.. I'm thinking.. no.. that's not what we do to have heaven. 

It's all about Jesus Christ.  And what he did on the cross.  When I believe in my heart that Jesus Christ died for my sins, all my mistakes, on the cross, and that he rose to life again, and that he currently rules as sovereign in heaven, then I'm saved.  

I'm given a coat, a white coat of righteousness.  It's the righteousness of Jesus Christ, because when he lived on Earth he never sinned once, and he loved his neighbor as himself, and served others, and served God, and died for his friends.  He lived the perfect life.  God saw that and was well pleased.  God saw Jesus and said there is complete and total perfect righteousness.  

We need that to be able to live with God in heaven.  God is so incredibly holy, and wonderful, and perfect, it's his requirement that we match that perfect standard.  We can't do it alone.  

Becoming a Christian is saying, Yes, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It's not some mysterious, unattainable just-out-of-reach magical belief either.  Belief is a choice.  I choose, despite all my poor experiences on this planet, despite all the times my trust has been betrayed, and I've been assaulted and mutilated as a result, I choose freely to believe in Jesus Christ.  I choose it.  

And it's just that simple.  We human beings always want to complicate things, theologies, systematic apologetic approaches, missionary handbooks, three step Bible companion blah blah whatever.  

It can't be that simple can it?  

Because if it is, then I've really made a fool out of myself, haven't I?  

Indeed I have, but that doesn't mean I need to complicate a simple solution.  The solution is Jesus Christ.  It's not an eight fold path, or a 32 step reconciliation or a 365 day study regime.  It's not counting my good deeds, and making a list and checking it twice.  Nope.  It's Jesus.

Recognizing God, Jesus Christ, as the necessarily payment for every sin I've committed in my life, or will commit in my life, is the step.  Boom.  Now I'm connected to God the Father.  At the same time God the Holy Spirit is giving me new desires in my heart.  

The beginning is God the Son Jesus.  Reconnection to God the Father.  New desires and motivations by work of God the Holy Spirit.

Now it's about a relationship.  I'm sure you've heard that, it's something evangelicals say a lot, it's not religion it's about a relationship.  If you recall from the gospels of Jesus Christ, Jesus called God "Father."  We call him Father too. 

I feel like I'm getting too complicated with this again, forgive me, I'm a human being, it's my nature to want to develop a systematic understanding of God like the doctrine of the "trinity" which I hesitantly accept as correct.  Leave that to me to get caught up at night about, and lose sleep over.  That's my job as an idiot, or maybe as a seminary student.  I'm sure we'll get clarity on that part later.

The basic truth though is this, there is one God, beyond dispute that is the truth.  One God only.  There are no others.  God chooses to represent himself to us as God the Father, the sovereign creator.  He also represents himself to us as God the Son, by name of "Jesus Christ" which means literally "Jehovah Saves."  God also represents himself to us as God the Holy Spirit.  

Interesting God we have, but anyway.  He's more than a God.  He's dad.  He's my personal dad.  He's your personal dad.  You don't have to be on your knees, on a prayer rug, facing a particular direction.  You can just talk to dad.  Tell him about your day.  Tell him about your kids.  Tell him about your problems.  Tell him about your victories.  Talk to him out loud, or in your head, it doesn't matter. 

For me, I was raised Catholic, so I do still get on my knees in the morning and at night when I pray to God.  But for the rest of the day I'll whisper to him while I'm in the car, or while I'm at work, sitting, standing, or whatever.  Maybe I'm just a stubborn recovering catholic lost in his false ritualistic practices, but I feel like kneeling before God is a physical way for me to show active submission to his will and desire for my life and for humanity at large.  

Prayer is our vital communication to our Father, God.  What's so important in a relationship?  Communication.  What else is really vital in a relationship?  Trust.  If I'm constantly wondering if my girlfriend is at the bar with another guy, it's not going to be a healthy relationship.  In the same way, if I'm constantly wondering "Is Father God really faithful and caring and merciful and loving?  Is he really going to take care of me?"  Once again, it's an unhealthy relationship.  I don't think God is going to give me everything I want, but I know I'll get just what I need.

So Prayer is vital for when we talk to our daddy.  But why doesn't he talk to us?  What kind of Father doesn't talk to his children?  My goodness!  He does talk to us!  He gave us this thing.. It's called the Bible.  Maybe you've heard of it.. I know I hadn't for a long time.  But yes.  A Bible.  And not necessarily King James Version in thees and thou arts.  But there are wonderful translations like the New International Version and the New Living Translation, that speak in common contemporary english!  Wow!  Dad also speaks to us experientially.. but be careful with that one.  Be careful to test experience by the Bible and what it says about God. 

So we pray to God the Father for support, encouragement, and advise.  He speaks back through his Bible and through daily life, and through sermons, and other Christians, or even non-Christians.  Meanwhile God the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts, to convict us of our sins, and to lovingly encourage us as sin and evil in our hearts is replaced by righteousness similar to Christ's perfect righteousness.  A process of sanctification.

It's important to note that we are considered part of a body of believers.  We should be in communion, daily contact, with other Christians.  We should regularly pray and spend time reading our Bibles.  We should regularly attend church services if possible.  We should pray for other Christians and pray for the removal of sins as they pop up in our lives.  

In a nutshell. It's not about doing good deeds and hoping we measure up.  It's not about obeying the ten commandments and hoping for the best after death.  Not at all.  It's about finding Jesus, and discovering that what he did on the cross paid for my sins. And believing that.  It's simply turning my life over to Jesus to use for his glory.  Then after that.. suddenly, our hearts are different.  We want to do good.  We want to love others.  We want to pray.  When before we couldn't seem to summon the will power or the desire to.

No matter what we've done, it doesn't matter.  Every single sin is forgivable.  If you've had three abortions, killed a man in prison, sold drugs to a kid who then overdosed and died, if you have eight kids with six different mothers and talk to none of them, if you sexually abuse children, if you're a serial rapist, serial killer, if you lied on your taxes, if you've done all those things and more.. and feel like no one could ever forgive your horrible wrongs, go to Jesus Christ, on your knees, confess that you've done those things to him, confess they were wrong, and ask Jesus.. please forgive all of these things.. Help me not to do them again, to break the cycle of addiction and wickedness that rots inside me.. He will say back to you, "My child, your sins are forgiven.  I will help you to rid yourself of these thoughts and actions, if you're willing to do the footwork, and rely on me daily as you do.  You now wear the coat my perfect righteousness.  You are completely clean."  

Nothing is too evil.  No one too lost to be saved by Jesus.  I speak from experience, as a drug addict in recovery.  As a sinner saved by grace.  It's not about pulling myself up by my bootstraps, it's about total reliance on Jesus Christ while at the same time striving to live for him and obey his wishes.

Go in Peace.

The Christian Life is the Best Life of All