Sunday, April 29, 2007

... the nature of things

it's something of a chicken-and-egg question, i suppose, but in a lot of ways i don't think it is, not really. what comes first, love or obedience?

i was wandering home from church tonight, listening to my ipod and turning over in my head some things i was thinking about writing about, when the question occurred to me, when i was being a "good boy", why was i? was i being good because i loved my family, or rather because my family loved me, or was it to show my family i loved them, or rather somehow to have them love me? did the obedience, the action or desire to be a good boy, spring from being loved or the desire to be loved? perhaps the second question is similar, whether it was born of love or the desire to show love?

i am always torn by my conscience in regard to obedience to God. my hyper-self-criticism and low self-esteem did not magically evaporate on my conversion but was (and is continually) tempered by the love of God that he shows in my life, in my heart by his Spirit, in his Word by his actions in history, in the grace i see in my life and the lives of those around me. when my father became a Christian i was amazed and thankful that God should show his mercy in such a way and that the father i had here on earth should be my brother in heaven. i wish i had prayed more for him while he was alive and i wish i prayed more for people now (please pray for me that i will!) because part of me wonders that if i had, perhaps he would have come to faith sooner. my head says that dad came to faith when God intended but my heart doubts.

that same conflict between head and heart manifests in my own desires for my life now and how i re-evaluate my life thus far. was i a good boy because i felt loved or was it to earn love? do i obey God because of the salvation i have, the new nature of who i am (a child of God adopted through the redemption of Jesus' death on the cross, and assured of it through the power of his resurrection and the imparting of his Holy Spirit) or is it as if to keep by works that salvation received as a gift?

i think it is the battle between my new nature and my old one, between the spirit and the flesh, that poisons the things i do and the way i think - it is the remnant of sin in my life, like guerilla soldiers on the losing side of a war, refusing to surrender. it is like the people of israel, of whom we are told, "so the people of israel put away the baals and the ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only" [1 samuel 7:4, esv ], but who proved so faithless that they kept turning back to those same idols over and over again. how far away did they put those idols? did they destroy them and need to make new ones each time they went back to them? were they like the household gods that rachel hid from her father laban? or like the treasure that achan hid beneath his tent after the destruction of jericho, coveted by him even though he proved ashamed of what he had done?

where am i going with this? i'm not sure, i think. perhaps merely exploring the ways in which we don't really sin in new ways but more often continue to return to our old rebellions. the people of israel always wanted to be like everyone else. they wanted a king like the nations around them, they wanted gods they could see, that they could worship in ways they felt comfortable. the great lie the world tells us is that that's not such a bad thing, that surely five billion people on the planet can't be wrong. well, let's see. the populations of china and india make roughly two billion people; if we are generous and say that ten percent of them are Christians, people bought for himself by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection, that makes 1.8 billion people who are wrong - and i don't think that the other 4 billion people on the planet are all Christians.

i believe that believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ - that he came to reconcile us to God in his death on the cross and through the power of his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit to his servants, those brothers and sisters thus adopted by God and promised a place in heaven with him, and that it is because of nothing that we have done but purely by God's goodwill towards those he has chosen before the creation of the world - is the only way to be saved and restored to a right relationship with God. i think that atheism is wrong, i think islam is wrong, i think hinduism is wrong, i think buddhism is wrong, along with a whole raft of other worldviews and philosophies about religion and what happens after death. the little i know of these raises more questions than answers, they seem illogical to me, and all seem to me to be mutually exclusive.

i don't share the gospel with enough people, i don't tell people what i believe as often as i should, and it is because i am afraid. i am not afraid that they will laugh at me (although i don't want that either) and it is not because i am afraid that they will hurt me (although again, not something i want): it is because i am afraid that all the fears and criticisms i have of myself (real or imagined) will be communicated to the people i'm talking to and they will reject the message because of the messenger. that is my fear.

well then, i hear some people say, pull your socks up in your Christian walk, my lad, and maybe you won't be so afraid.

i tell myself the same thing and do you know what? i keep thinking of colossians 2:21-23 [esv]:
"do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? these have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
i return to john piper's quotable quote: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him". if this is true (and as i tease it out and compare it with the scriptures - "oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" psalm 34:8 [esv] - it seems more and more to be borne out as what God desires for his people) then pursuing satisfaction in God is the right way to go.

so how do i do that without making some new checklist for myself?

1 comment:

Janey said...

I love how you write. I completely understand what you mean by 'chicken and egg'. Sometimes I think about whether I actually believe because I know it's true or whether I believe because I convince myself Christianity is true. It feels terrible to doubt your faith but I think the truth always sits right or at leasts makes you so uncomfortable that you push it away. Thankfully God is so real to me and I pray nothing will take me away from Him. God bless you Adam for being a great brother, friend and an encouragement. No matter where you are - you are a light for God. Thank you!