Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When life is hard, you have to change

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

- Romans 10:1-13

Talking about faith is such a tricky balancing act. It’s difficult to present to somebody else the reality of what lies in your own heart. Christians, I think, are especially lousy at it—or maybe I only say that because that’s the view from inside.

Paul was the first to explain Christianity to people of all different cultures. Here he is at his most eloquent, yet still, there’s a problem. In the act of trying to explain that God saves us through mere faith and not works, he begins to make faith sound like another kind of work. He makes God’s love sound conditional. This is what leads many Christians to insist that God will love you only if you change yourself first. This doesn’t impress people! It makes God just another tribal god alongside many others on the grocery store shelf—a distinctive one, an idol with some interesting ideas, but a mere idol nonetheless.

In reality, it’s the other way around. Nothing I do can make God love me more. Nothing I do can make God love me less.  I do have the power to change myself in a way that can make me more receptive to God’s love—except that sometimes I don’t. In those cases, God not only loves first, but God acts to save first. God does all the work when I can’t muster the wherewithal to do any of it. And when I finally see that this has happened, I am inspired to do good work in the world.

Even if I never put it into words, and even if I’d never heard the name Jesus before, my innate understanding of God’s love for me is what keeps me going. The story of Jesus and how he fits into all this is a gift to me, but I would not need to understand it in order to benefit from it.

A lot is about to change in my life. Change is like death: we fear it, we worry about what will happen to us, and then we inevitably go through it. The time just comes. And God is with me at every step. Here’s Blind Melon with “Change.”

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