Friday, July 31, 2020

An Account for Your Life

We've been looking this week at a common Christian idea that when we die, we're going to sit in some sort of film room with God and watch the movie of our life and try to defend ourselves, to "give an account" of our existence. And we think this will be the moment that God either accepts or reject us, that we find out whether we've "made it," that we finally know whether God approves of us/loves us or not. We've already debunked much of this idea as simply bad theology, but what about giving an account? What does that even mean?

There are two primary places in the New Testament where we see this language. The first comes from Jesus in Matthew 12, where He says that we will have to give an account of every idle word we have spoken. The second comes from Paul in Romans 14:12, where he says that every one of us will have to give an account to God.

Jesus's words are particularly interesting because they begin with a pattern that should be familiar to Gospel readers: But I say to you. But I say to you, Jesus says, that you will have to give an account for every idle or careless word you have said.

This means that what Jesus is saying is a contrast to what He has just said, which is likely to be something readily agreeable that most persons would not have a problem with. In order to understand this verse, then, we have to look at the one preceding it. And what precedes it is a little story about how good fruit comes from good trees and rotten fruit comes from rotten trees and good people do the good that is in them and evil people do the evil that is in them. In other words, it is a commonly accepted truth in the world to call a spade a spade. To identify things by what they do and to accept, to some degree, that that's just what they are. That tree is just a rotten tree. That person is just a good person.

But God offers another way; He's not satisfied that you just are who you are. He is constantly in the process of regenerating you, of shaping and molding you into more and more the version of you that He had in mind from the very beginning. He is always redeeming you from the broken things that make you less than He created you to be. So what Jesus is saying is that God expects more from you, and this excuse that you just are who you are is not going to fly. You and God are going to have a discussion about opportunities that you missed to be better.

And I think that's really what this "account" is all about. It's going to be a dialogue, not an inquisition. It's going to be about your story as you saw it through your eyes, and then God is going to show you all of the things He saw that you never did. For good and bad, for better and worse, you're going to see your story through God's eyes and celebrate those things you stepped into well and grieve the ones you missed. God's going to show you where you were becoming and where you were retreating, and you're going to understand more than you ever could have imagined. God is doing more in every moment than you could possibly know.

Now, Jesus goes on from here to immediately say that you will be determined guilty or innocent by the careless words you have spoken, but God's not really interested in your words; He's interested in your heart. So your guilt or innocence is about whether you were actively becoming or whether you were content to just be whatever you thought yourself to be. You are guilty or innocent of seeing God's invitation and acting on it.

Likewise (and briefly, because I know this is getting long), the verse in Romans is about personal growth, not really outward action. Paul has launched into this long discourse about not holding others to the standard of your own faith. He talks about how one person worships this way and another that way, how one person understands something to mean this and another understands the same thing to mean that, and you can't make everyone think or act or believe the way that you do. All you can do is be ready to articulate why you believe the way you believe and how that belief led you to act the way that you acted. You will never be judged by someone else's standards, but by whether you were growing and developing and becoming in your own life and faith.

So again, giving an account is not about defending your life, but about seeing it in its fullness. It is about understanding how you came to the places you came, what paths you took, what choices you made, and how they fit into the story that God was telling - the moments you nailed and the ones you missed. And this is not to condemn you. God's not looking for a way to "get" you. He just wants you to see your heart, and the best way to do this is to have you tell its story...and then, He will tell you your heart's story through His eyes and you'll see even more than you thought you did. 

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