“What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Romans 3:3-4
Yesterday I shared with you my take on how to reconcile the bits and pieces of Christian belief/tradition with the fact that we, as Christians, have received salvation not by anything we physically do, but by faith in Christ alone. Let me add to that statement by referencing 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says that ALL scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction. That means that nothing in the Bible is at all contradictory. The contradiction comes when believers and non-believers alike take scriptures out of context and do a “copy and paste” version of “faith” that will either cater to their comfort zone and lifestyle, or completely turn them against the Gospel. That’s not how the Bible is intended to be read or used.
That being said, I have some more thoughts on the subject of faith and our actions as a result of our afore-mentioned faith. I’ve heard the same story, multiple times throughout my life, of a man (or woman) who believes that God exists. The person has faith that God created the universe, and that His son, Jesus, was sent to die once for the sins of man. This person in question, however, refuses to be baptized, or go to church- in short become a Christian- because the individual is not yet ready to let go of his or her current lifestyle, which he or she does in fact believe to be contrary to the Gospel because of not wanting to be seen as hypocritical.
This story always makes me think hard on my life, and the book of Romans always comes to mind each time I hear it.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:7-8] Think about that… Think about your best friend for a moment. Think of what that person means to you, and how your life would be poorer if they were no longer a part of it. Now think of all the things that your best friend does to annoy you… think of your arguments… think of the struggles you know they face… think about all the dirt, sin, and failure that surrounds them… Would you still sacrifice your life to save the life of your friend? Would you abandon everything you have- husband, wife, children, career, wealth, success- just to save that person from their own despair? God did. God did that for us before the world ever recognized Jesus as the Messiah. For crying out loud, the Jews denied Jesus as the Messiah! GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE WEREN’T ABLE TO ACCEPT JESUS AS THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S PROMISE! It seems hopeless if you think of it that way. If the people who God set apart from the beginning to follow Him failed, how are the rest of us supposed to stand a chance? That is the beauty of the Gospel! “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:23-24] We aren’t bound by a lifestyle of sin. In fact, sin is not even a valid reason to ignore the call of God to repent and be baptized.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” [Romans 1:18-20]
See? The Bible makes a point of saying that there is no valid excuse for acknowledging God but refusing to follow him. God KNOWS we’re sinners. That’s why he sent Jesus to the world in the first place. He knew that we were a hopeless rabble. The beauty is that although we WILL fall short, we have still been given the gift of salvation. Therefore, we must TRY to be obedient to the word of God and the teachings of Christ. Repentance isn’t code for give up everything you enjoy because the Church wouldn’t like it. It’s about choosing to be close to God instead of marred by sin, which separates us from Him. It’s not an instantaneous thing, but a lifetime process. Being in a relationship with God is about daily deciding- yes, you have the choice to decide- whether you will sin because it feels good for a moment, or whether you will turn from sin and cling to righteousness because it will lead you toward an eternity of joy and salvation.
John Wesley is quoted as having said, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.” I see truth in this statement. From the looks of things, the generations before us tolerated confusion and misinterpretation of the Christian faith, because now it is rampant. Somehow over the course of the past 2,000 years, being introduced to someone as a good, Christian individual now has a negative connotation associated with bigotry, hypocrisy, commercialism, judgment, hate, and scorn. WHAT!? What happened to being the body of Christ? What happened to Christianity being synonymous with love, and compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and grace?? I find it absolutely appalling that people feel ashamed to wear the label of Christianity, not for fear of being seen as “Jesus Freaks” but because society has demanded tolerance of sin, and thereby embraced it, creating generations of politically correct hypocrites who don’t know what they believe anymore. The fact that people would honestly cling to the belief that it is better to be seen as a sinner than to be viewed as a Christian simply tells me that Christians have been doing it wrong for generations.
Let me take this time to be completely transparent with you. I drink alcohol. I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying a beer with a few friends over dinner. Drunkenness is not okay in my home, however with moderation, I see no issue in a casual drink. Is it necessary or healthy? No. Science has proven that, but I’m human, and I legitimately enjoy the taste of Yuengling. I also cuss sometimes. You’ve done it, be honest- you clumsily turn the corner and you stub your toe on the table, or the couch, or that bumpy thing that holds the carpet down in the threshold of the doorway to your living room, and you let one slip. We are human! We mess up! We do things that we might not want our preachers to know about. OH- in fact, there is a Women’s Circle at my church that up-front told one of our pastors that they didn’t want her to come to their circle’s meetings because they will occasionally discuss the scriptures over a glass of wine! Now I, personally, find that more messed up than not going to church at all because they feel like they have to pretend they’re better than they are! Paul leveled the playing field for us in Romans chapter two, verse one when he wrote, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
There! It’s out! Someone finally said it! WE ARE NOT PERFECT! And that’s okay, because why? Because Jesus WAS perfect. That’s not saying we have a license to sin, because Paul addresses that also in Romans Chapter three, verses seven through nine:
“Someone might argue, ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’ Why not say- as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say- ‘Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is deserved.. What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all!”
Living by faith isn’t about becoming perfect overnight, or magically not being enticed by those things that were a large part of your life before you accepted Christ. Living by faith is acknowledging that you are flawed and that the only thing that can reconcile that flawed nature is a relationship with Jesus Christ, through daily prayer, meditation, and reading of the scripture. Little by little, the things that used to have a hold on you will start to fall away. How? Why? Because when you draw close to God, it is inevitable that your heart will begin a transformation that will make you more and more like Christ as you grow deeper in relationship with him. The closer you get to the Lord, the more your heart will chase after things that are Christ-like, and the more easily you’ll be able to abandon the things that had previously been binding you to sin. It’s so simple, yet so complex at the very same time! The simplicity is that all it takes for us to reconcile ourselves with God is to openly admit that without Him as the leader of our lives, we will fail, over and over again. The challenge comes in choosing something that may seem like abandonment of pleasure at first, but will ultimately lead to the greatest treasure for us; a life of joy lived in perpetual worship with our Savior in Heaven. Amen.