Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Where are you going?

This is a response to the question -- "What's holding people back?"

Following Christ 100% is not as easy as just choosing to do it. Even if you didn't have all kinds of sins and temptations luring you away, the actual goal is kind of elusive. Let's be honest, what we call being sold out for Christ usually ends up looking more like an interest or even obsession with ministry or Christian topics, and a combination of blindness or leniency to our own pet sins and condemnation of the pet sins of others.

I love how Kierkegaard says it's an Either/Or, and that is true to a certain extent; however, the reality is that there is no way to escape moral ambiguity. The person who throws themselves into a life of sacrifice may find it easier to live a morally upstanding life, but this is not necessarily the true good that God desires. It can just as easily lead to pride and arrogance, insular "professional hobby-ism", or a self-loving martyr complex.

The problem is, the true good is difficult to divine, because it is not what you do, but who you are. It is not merely following a code (cleaning the outside of the cup, if you will), but where your heart is. Truthfully, I don't think it would be an improvement to have a bunch of "sold out Christians" if they did not actually have a heart change ... and a heart change must be personal, and must be forged in the fires of God by His person. It is also relative and individual -- "to whom much is given, much will be required."

For me, the key is in the personhood of God. First, without God's personhood, the question of "what's holding you back from a godly life" becomes only a more serious version of "what's holding you back from losing weight?". But if Christianity is not a quest for personal excellence and holiness, but rather the deepening of a relationship with a person without whose help you cannot succeed, the crux changes fundamentally. You cannot simply follow a series of steps to become holy, because it is only through following Christ's person that you become so.

If you want my answer to what's really holding Joe Christian back, it's that this kind of Christianity is not modeled in the church. The pulpit presents an impotent religion, a code of rules and regulations that promises grace and freedom but delivers nothing, expects outward conformity without providing the power to enact it, and expects a person already drawn towards evil by nature and nurture to simply drop everything and switch to a new set of cultural foibles, without the overwhelming transformational power that the true Christ brings. Impersonal and academic religion cannot hope to bring about true transformation.

In essence, however, the road is narrow and there are few who find it. It should not be a surprise to us that the true good is so hard to follow.


Danny Slavich said...

I agree with most of what you said, Ben. I've been reading a lot of Galatians lately. Faith in Christ is the foundation of righteousness. The law kills and the Spirit makes alive.

I've been increasingly convicted lately about the pervasive moralism in Christian culture: "Don't kill babies..." "Don't be gay..." "Don't look at porn..." All true and good and righteous. But the point is not those things. The point is that the sinful old man who does those things has been crucified with Christ and a new, Spirit-indwelled and alive person has been raised with that same Christ.

So, like I've said, Amen to most of your post.

But I think you need to be careful when you say it's "relative and individual." Certainly sanctification (because that's what we're talking about) is a process which occurs differently in different people. But the end of sanctification is the same for all: the likeness of Christ. This is the inevitable destiny of all who have been chosen (yes, chosen!) in Him before the foundation of the world, and crucified and raised with him.

He is our righteousness. It isn't impersonal and academic religion to say that in Him we have been justified (counted as righteousness), are being sanctified (progressively made actually righteous), and will be glorified (finally and eschatologically made like Him when we see Him as He is).

Ben said...

Yeah, I see what you mean. Perhaps I should have been more specific. When I am saying that "it is relative and individual" I am not saying that the end goal is different for each person, or that there is no absolute right and wrong. By relative I mean that everyone is judged according to what they were given. By personal I mean that you are following a person ("those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God") and obeying the person supercedes (without necessarily replacing) obeying the principle.

Nathan Wells said...

These are good thoughts Ben - thanks for taking the time to write. You are right, that the question does tend one to think about surface issues, but in fact the heart is the relationship with God.

I had one question: You said that the Church expects people to conform to a code of rules without being transformed by the power of Christ.

How do you think the Church at large is doing this, and what are the signs of this in our own practice as we call other to follow Christ?

Do you think the Church is the main impediment to people following Christ?