There are certain things about Christianity that in all honestly can only be understood from the outside, from those who are not Christians. However there are a great many things that cannot be understood until after you have traveled a certain distance along the Christian road. These things are like directions on a map, directions on how to deal with particular intersections, and obstacles on your journey; and they do not make any sense until you have reached those places in your journey. This may be one of those places, Faith in the second sense that I previously alluded to, that higher sense of Faith.
I mentioned in my previous post that Faith in this sense can only arise after a person has tried his or her best to practice Christian virtues and come to the same realization that we all come to… that we failed. Then realizes that even if he or she could have succeeded they would only have been giving back to God what was already His. As we in this culture tend to relate things to financial worth, the other way to describe this realization is to discover that you are bankrupt. Before I go any further this would seem a good place to once again remind you that what God cares about is not ‘exactly’ our actions. What He cares about is that we should become creatures of a certain quality – the kind of creatures He intended us to be – Creatures that are related to Him in a certain way.
When I said “discovered” in the previous paragraph, I mean really DISCOVERED; not something as simple as a parrot learning to repeat a word. Any child, if they are given a certain religious education will soon learn to say that we have nothing to offer to god that is not already His own and that we find ourselves failing to offer even that, without holding something back. No I am talking about really discovering by experience that you are bankrupt is the truth.
We cannot in that sense discover our failure to keep god’s law except by trying to do so with everything that we have (and then failing). Unless you really try, there will always be something in the back of your mind whispering that if we try harder the next time we will succeed in being completely good . Thus in one sense the road back to God is one of moral effort, of trying harder and harder; but in another sense it is a road of not trying that is going to bring us home. All of which if you have honestly tried, brings you to the point where you throw up your hands in despair and turn to God and say “I can not do this, you must do this, I am leaving this up to you”.
I know that the words "leave it up to God” can and is frequently misunderstood; but the sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is when you put all your trust in Christ, that Christ will somehow share with you the perfect human obedience which Christ carried out from birth to Crucifixion. That Christ will make you the person more like Himself, that He will share his “sonship” with you. In a sense the entire Christian life consists in accepting this remarkable offer; that Christ offers something for nothing, more than that, He offers everything for nothing. The difficultly is reaching the point of recognizing that all we have done and can do is nothing.
To Trust Him means of course trying to do all that He says. Only a fool or a liar would say that they trusted a person yet refused to take His advice. Thus if you really have handed your life over to Christ, it follows that you are trying to obey Him. Trying in a new, less worried way. Not doing things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for you, rather wanting to act in a certain manner because a first faint glimmer of heaven is already inside you.
A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw in the towel. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point and out of that Faith in Him, good actions must inevitably come. There are however two different views of this truth that Christians have debated over the years, the first is that “Good actions are all that matters, and by extension the best good action is charity. The best type of charity is giving money, so just hand over $1,000 or $1,000,000 (depending on how deep your pockets are) and you are in good standing. My answer to that nonsense is that good actions done for that motive, done with the idea that Heaven can be bought (by what ever action) would not be a good action at all, only a business transaction.
The other view is one that I hear frequently (perhaps more frequently because I do not have $1,000 yet alone $1,000,000) is that “faith is all that matters”. Consequently, if you have faith (at least proclaimed that you do) it doesn’t matter what you do. Sin away, have a great time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end, that by faith you have been given immunity. My answer to that pile of rubbish is that, if what you call ‘faith’ in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all – not faith or trust in Him, rather simply an intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.
The Bible is of course has the final word on the matter, and seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together in one astonishing sentence. The first half is ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” – which looks as if everything depended on you and your good actions; however the second half reads ‘For it is God who worketh in you” Philippians 2:12-13 – which looks as if God did everything and you did nothing. I am afraid that is the sort of thing we run up against in Christianity. I am perplexed, but not surprised. I personally am not certain that the human language can express the idea, as God is not just one part, of the equation; He is not either inside you or outside you, He is inside you as well as outside you. In an attempt to express the idea, different churches say different things, however you will find that even those who insist most strongly in the importance of good actions tell you that you need Faith, and those who insist most strongly on Faith also tell you to do good actions. That is as far as I am prepared to go with it.
I do think however that all Christians will agree with me that at first Christianity seems to be all about morality, all about duties, rules, guilt and virtue, yet if you let it, it leads you out of all of that into something beyond. It leads you to glimpse a place where everyone is filled with what we call goodness, yet goodness is not called anything and it is not though of there, but instead everyone is focused on the source from which it comes.
Faith, no one said it would be easy.