Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Living Faith

Yesterday, I talked about why it's so easy for so many people to hate religion. Which raises the question, of course, of "What are people of faith to do?" If I make it so easy for a man to hate me, and to hate my religion, then how do I make it...less easy? How do I show a man that religion really can make him better, as he's so desperately hoping?

That's a tough one. Because the hard truth is that we will never get away from the appearance of hypocrisy. Never. We cannot, even in perfect faith, live the perfect faith. (If we could, we wouldn't need the faith.) People will always see us mess up, fall short, and epic fail, if they're watching us at all. Pretending to do anything else doesn't solve this; it only intensifies the disconnect between what we profess and what we do. Worst of all, if done wrong, we come off as holier-than-thou and a man sees that we simply think we are better, but he sees right through that.

It's a mess of a situation. It makes me wonder sometimes why God has chosen vessels like us to demonstrate to the world what faith is. But He has, and so we must. (Yesterday, I had some comments on other faiths, primarily Judaism and Islam. Today, I will focus solely on Christianity because it is my faith of practice and therefore, the only one about which I am qualified to speak regarding the day-to-day life of the faith.)

I think it starts with us remembering the core of our faith. When you've been around Christ long enough, the word that echoes loudest in your head is "love." They will know that you are mine by this, by the way you love. Love, certainly, is the highest calling of a Christian. Yet, ask a gilted world what a Christian is about and most are likely to tell you "Hate." We aren't known for our love; we are known for our hate. We're known for standing against things...and falling for a whole lot else. Sadly, that's not entirely inaccurate. The problem is that when a man is looking to a Christian to understand how Christ can make his life better, and he hears love and sees hate, it's too easy to see right through the words. This God cannot make his life better.

Then we kind of swing toward the other end and talk about grace - the umbrella over forgiveness and mercy. We talk about a God who forgives us, redeems us, and lets us come to Him. This doesn't work either. Because it doesn't take long for a gilted world to see that this has produced a whole culture of Christians who believe God doesn't even care what they do any more, that He is just poised and waiting to forgive them when, not if, they do wrong. In fact, there are Christians who refuse to even try to escape the trap of their sin any more because they believe God loves them in spite of it. 

The whole idea of grace, as it is meant to be, is that grace is strength. It's meant to give you the courage and the faith to stand up, dust yourself off, and try again. Try better. It's meant to encourage you that this is not the end, that there's another chance out there, and that you haven't fully messed up. And that's what a man is looking for in grace - something that strengthens him and inspires him to be better. The kind of grace most of us are showing the world is not that grace; what we are showing them is an empty "grace" of God's indifference. That God just doesn't care what you do. How is that supposed to inspire a man to care about what he does? How is that supposed to spur him toward "better"? It doesn't. And he knows it. So he turns away.

Then there is an entirely different school that lives a life of faith based entirely on how unworthy they are. They beat themselves up every chance they get, out loud and in public, declaring their faults and their flaws, falling to their knees and begging for mercy. Throwing this whole faith thing on God because it's Him who makes it work for them; they haven't, and can't, do anything on their own. But the man who is looking for something better is already an expert at beating himself up; he's not looking for another excuse to do just the same. He doesn't need his worthless feelings sanctioned and validated. He has been doing that himself for far too long. This God does not make this man better.

That's why this is so tough. Because all of the above are true tenets of our faith. We are defined by love, or at least, we should be. We are sanctified by grace. We are entirely unworthy and God is the only reason this whole thing works.

To be honest, I have been thinking about this post since yesterday. Thinking about all these ways we show our faith to the world and they see it broken. Thinking about the hypocrisy that is inevitable if we are to be both flesh and faithful. It's the nature of the beast. And since that first thought began to form, I haven't known where I would go from here. Where I could go. What the answer is to this trouble that we show the world in our faith. But I just got it, and I think it is this:

I think the answer is faith in action. And not faith in extension.

God told His disciples, and through them, us, to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. To spread the good news. To teach people the love of Christ. To teach them Christ. I think we have taken that too literally and spent too much of our time trying to teach.

All of the problems I've outlined above come back to this one thing - us trying to bring God to the people. Us trying to show them how He gets here. We try to show them in love what God is like, bringing love to the world and proclaiming it God. We tell them Love is what God looks like, and inevitably, our love fails and God looks like a failing love. We talk about grace as though God is right here, in this fallen place, and knows how hard it is down here. As if God has come with the sole purpose of forgiveness, as if He stands beside us to respond to our failings and our needs. We condemn ourselves as if God were standing over us, saying the very same words. We even use His Word to justify our self-condemnation. We make Him a presence here in the hopes that...what? That He will walk over to the unbelieving man and introduce Himself?

We spend all of our time trying to make God manifest here. But what this world really needs is not to see God coming to us, but to see us going to Him.

They need to see us loving God first, then see how that love extends to our neighbor. After all, that is the commandment - Love God first. Then love your neighbor. We are not so good at showing people how we love God. We kind of hope they'll just "get it" by the way we do everything else. The fallen, inherently hypocritical way we do everything else. We have to be intentional about showing how we love God. 

We paint grace as the free gift of God, which is it, but there's a step missing. We have to go get grace. We have to go ask for it. We have to humble ourselves and cry out to God and ask Him for grace. We are not so good at showing people how we repent. We are not so good at showing them how we come to God. They don't see it when we just say God forgives us. They don't see it when we just declare grace. That's why grace comes off as cheap - it doesn't seem to cost a man anything. What the world needs to see is the way we request grace. The way we go after it.

We condemn ourselves usually by comparison, but the world doesn't see the line we're drawing. It's easy to look in the mirror and say, "I am a fallen man. I am a broken man. I am a sinner. I am unworthy." and so on and so on. But we say that knowing that God is the risen Man. God is the whole Man. God is the sinless Man. God is worthy. The people watching us condemn ourselves don't see the distinction we're making and they are probably looking at our lives, already thinking we're better than them, and if we think we're garbage then what in the world does that make them? We have to show them our understanding of and deference to God's greater ways. We have to show them the line between sinner and Savior, the very real line that we are drawing between the best we can do and the better that God wants to give us.

I think that's it. I think that's the way we, as Christians, need to do faith. I think that's what the world is looking for. It seems like it's easy to bring God to the world, but it's not working out for us. It's not working out for them. We're building a world increasingly hate-filled toward religion because they don't think it can answer their nagging questions. They don't think it can make them better. But when we demonstrate faith, when we embrace faith in action, and show a man how we come to God, he sees the truth of who we are, the truth of who God is, and the truth about what faith can do.

And he knows it can make him a better man.

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