Since writing the post called Identity Crisis, I’ve had some misgivings. I’m afraid that I might have given the impression that I don’t think it matters what one believes as long as one’s actions are “good”, whatever that means. That would be a serious misrepresentation of my belief system.
As the ancient writings attest, faith/belief must go hand-in-hand with actions. The balance is demonstrated by the following two excerpts from the scriptures. James, the brother of Jesus tells us in his letter, “Faith without works is dead”. On the other hand, the writer to the Hebrews says bluntly, “without faith it is impossible to please God”. So a whole Boy Scout troop of good deeds aren’t enough. The bottom line is, as the old sexist song goes, you can’t have one without the other.
Through the ages, the church and its members have fallen everywhere along the continuum between faith and deeds, belief and action. The pendulum always seems to swing too far to one end or the other. My readings indicate to me that God expects plenty of both.
In the interest of clarifying where I stand (and with apologies to Chris, to whom I’ve already written this) let me make it clear that there are things that I personally think are essential to believe if we are to truly follow Christ: In His divinity, our own rebellious state (what people call sin), our need for reconciliation with God via His death, and a few other things.
The problem becomes when we think reconciliation with God is a transaction, achieved through giving intellectual assent to some set of statements. Equally wrong is thinking that our reconciliation is achieved by following some set of rules or expectations. Everything, including the reconciliation and the following, are the result of His grace.
A relationship with God involves more than what Dallas Willard calls “sin management”. It’s about a complete and unending renewal of life. That renewal involves a release of my old, hurtful ways and the taking on of the ways of Jesus: sacrificial love and service.
The old prophet Micah said it well when he wrote, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Now, that’s something I can believe in.