Yesterday, I said that our faith must be an outward sign of an inward grace. This is exactly the phrase that is commonly used to describe a sacrament - the Eucharist, perhaps, or in the Catholic tradition, Confession. And it's exactly what I think we need to understand about faith itself.
Faith is sacramental.
We talk so much about what our lives are supposed to look like as Christians, how others are supposed to be able to tell just by looking at us that we're believers. But we struggle quite a bit to figure out what that even means. Does it mean that we act in a certain way, that we have a stringent set of behavioral guidelines that we live by? (Does it mean that we don't drink, dance, or smoke?) Does it mean that we grow our hair long and start wearing sandals everywhere? Does it mean that we plaster a smile on our face and pretend, you know, that everything's cool - with us and with everyone else? What does it mean to be a Christian in a way that is obvious to everyone around us?
The idea of a sacramental faith begins to address this. The idea of living outwardly from an inward grace is exactly what we're looking for. Unfortunately, it seems to raise the same kinds of questions for us - what, exactly, does a sacramental faith look like?
There are a lot of these kinds of ideas in the Scriptures that help us to start putting some flesh on this. For example, the Scriptures tell us that we love because He first loved us. His love is an inward grace that comes rushing into the very depths of our being; our love, then, is an outward sign of this grace. So if we want to live a sacramental faith, one good demonstration of that is to live a life of love.
The Lord's Prayer gives us another one. It asks God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In other places in the Scripture, we are told that we ought to forgive because the Lord has forgiven us. Peter is even told to forgive his brother seventy-seven (or seven times seven) times. His forgiveness is an inward grace that washes away the stain of our sin; our forgiveness is an outward sign of this grace. So if we want to live a sacramental faith, one good demonstration of that is to live a life of forgiveness.
The Old Testament frequently offers reminders to God's people about how they are to treat the aliens, the foreigners, and the slaves among them, for they were aliens, foreigners, and slaves in Egypt. It talks about an economy of freedom and a calendar of Jubilee, where debts are forgiven and chains broken and people set free because that's what God did for Israel. God's freedom is an inward grace; our bondage-breaking is an outward sign of this grace. So if we want to live a sacramental faith, one good demonstration of that is to be a bondage-breaker.
And of course, there's Jesus, who willingly walked to Golgotha for us, who laid His life down for us, whose example is sacrifice. We could never, of course, secure eternity for a fellow man, but we can give of ourselves for the good of the other. The sacrifice of Christ is an inward grace; our own willingness to sacrifice is an outward expression of it. So if we want to live a sacramental faith, one good demonstration of that is to live a life of sacrifice.
Are you starting to see what I'm trying to get at? A sacramental faith, a faith that is the outward sign of an inward grace, takes whatever it is that God has done for us and gives it back to the rest of creation that is so longing for something so real. That's how we demonstrate what it means for us to be believers. We live a life that says, "I can do this because it has been done for me. I can give this freely because it has been freely given to me. I can live this way because He lives in me." That's all it is.
It seems so simple and yet, it takes an incredible humility. It requires that we are constantly aware of what it is that God has done and is doing in us, for us, with us, through us. It requires that we know exactly what is being poured into our lives at all times so that we can then pour it out of us. A sacramental faith requires - demands - that we be constantly aware of this inward grace, that we might show some outward sign of it.
Thus living a life that declares what it truly means to believe.