Today, I had a very enlightening but frustrating encounter with some Christian friends of mine. I really love these people, but our conversation about living radical left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a heavy burden in my heart, a burden that weighed down the joy of a free and forgiven heart. I felt like Jesus–who promised, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)–was quoted as having said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will point out more areas where you are weak and heap further burdens on you and then chastise you for not being at rest.”
I love these Christian friends of mine, but I left feeling as though “faith” had become a matter of “works” for them.
Let me explain.
Faith is about receiving what Jesus did for us because we can never be good enough, live seriously enough, pray hard enough, walk purely enough, preach well enough, etc., etc., etc. Faith usually comes in when we’re at the end of our rope, when we’ve exhausted all our resources, precisely because we then finally see that our works are not enough and can never be enough. Faith is what Martin Luther found in his cold cell after he’d prayed and fasted and whipped himself and gone to confession and become a monk and prayed the rosary and still his heart screamed, “I am guilty and doomed before the Judge of all mankind!”
We among Evangelical Christians like to point the finger at Catholics or Orthodox believers and say, “You’re trying to earn your salvation by works. You think praying to Mary or kissing an icon or going to Mass or being baptized as a baby earns you a place in heaven. Do you not know that you are saved by faith?”
Yet I have met many an Evangelical believer bound by FAITH as though it were a WORK.
I’ll say it plainly. Faith is not about what we do but about what was done for us. Faith is receiving. Faith is trusting. Faith is resting. Faith is not striving.
We say things like, “You just need to have more faith! If only you had greater faith, then you would see revival! You must live radical! Fast, pray, be filled with the Holy Spirit, just BELIEVE!” But faith is trusting, receiving, accepting, surrendering. It’s resting when striving makes more sense. It’s trusting when fighting looks better and makes you feel more in control. It’s choosing to sit on your butt and not do a darn thing because Jesus, frankly, did it all for you and knows best when to do it in you.
Yes, we are to strive, but it is GOD WHO WORKS WITHIN US both to give us a desire to live radical and the ability to do it. Philippians 2:12-13 – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Yes, we strive, but if there are millions of Christians whose striving has taken the place of faith, trust. And they call that striving… “faith.”
FAITH has thus become WORKS, and if we live by WORKS, the power of the gospel (that Jesus himself really did pay the price–the full price and every “hidden fee” and sales tax and monthly subscription or future bill–for us) is gone.
I for one will choose the haphazard, messy, plodding, impractical, uncomfortable, beautiful way of trusting that my God is at work in me, the way of faith, and from that joy of living free from the burden of failed attempts, I will live passionately for the Kingdom. I will not live by the petty work that my hands can accomplish.
Here’s a video that gives a really good, balanced look at this, and I’d probably say the same stuff if I wasn’t ranting: