Your personal savior?

Some evangelicals of this day like to describe their union with Christ as having a “personal savior”.  The problem, of course, is that they also own a personal computer, manage a personal life, and reserve certain amenities for themselves as their own personal pleasures.  And, herein lies the rub.  If we imagine Jesus, or more generically, our salvation, as something we own, manage, or see it as something “about us”, then God can’t own us.  However deeply committed to this flawed thinking you may be, I invite you now to dispense with it.

You may be thinking, “No real Christian, at least none I have ever known, consciously regards Christ as a possession.”  Exactly!  No Christian would ever think this consciously.  This thinking operates on a sub-conscious level, and is therefore all the more insidious.

I do not say that you are aware that you think this way.  If a christian’s relationship to his “personal savior” is much the same as to his personal computer, he is in a bad way.  See, this same Christian goes to his personal computer to do his work, enjoy his intellectual or social pursuits, or, for simple entertainment.  He does these things at his leisure, according to his desire, and without regard to any responsibility he may or may not have to the personal computer.  Many of us go to the Lord (our personal savior) with the exact same attitude.  We look to Christ as we look to the virus cleaner on our PC, something of great value and necessity, to be used at need (then dispensed with) and forgotten until the next emergency.

For 5 reasons the “personal Jesus” idea needs to hang it up, I commend to you the following blog.  It is excellent!

As long as it is convenient (or, I feel like it) I will pray to my own personal savior.  As long as it doesn’t cost me anything I don’t wish to go without, I will stand up for God’s truth.  As long as it doesn’t conflict with my social pursuits or affect my status, I will confess the name of Jesus.  After all, He is MY personal savior.  But, oh boy, when I’m in a scrape, I can pray with the best of ’em.  He’s my personal savior.  This thinking is juxtaposed to Paul’s assertion that we ought to be “slaves of Christ.”

Slave.  Does that word offend you?

There is a way in which familiarity breeds contempt.  The all too human temptation to minimize or de-claw God, is just as alive in the Christian church as it was on the pagan alters.  Humans want a safe, predictable, servile deity, to whom they can pray and placate with dervishes and lip service.  None of the Greek poets ever once conceived that the pagan gods would want to know if their worshipers were sincere, only that they were prompt, pious, and paid the proper temple fees.

Humans invent gods, to make The God, more tolerable.  We do not love goodness, nearly so much as we suppose.  What we actually love is convenience.  (Thankfully, it is inconvenient to live in a world totally dominated by our evil desires.  This is why we get as close as we possibly can, without going over that precarious line that would totally cripple society.  Having some sin in our society lets us get things done, but too much would be the end of civilization.)  We create petty Gods, because we are petty.  We created Cupid,  because we ourselves are possessed of obscene cupidity. We want the gods to bless our crops, keep us safe, save our souls, and, beyond that, stay out of the way.  The god we seem to like the most, is called the “Life Force”.  The Life Force gives us all the personal and intellectual benefits of having a deity who creates the world and loves us unconditionally, without all the pesky nonsense of morality, judgement, or lordship.

Dr. Peter Kreeft argues that the gods of our society are really the canaanite deities reborn.  These are Molech, upon whose alter we sacrifice our children, babies and unborn; Ashtereth, a fertility goddess whose easy sexuality we drool over during every film, sitcom, and magazine; and, of course, Mammon.  Who can serve two masters?  No one!

The God of the Bible sees through the religious detritus, and commends us to worship him in “spirit and in truth”.  Mere sacrifice does not assuage his wrath.  No muttered mantras or rehearsed prayers will forestall His promised judgment.  He is not one to be managed, minimized, or pacified with trinkets.  And that is why He is not the kind of God we’d invent. No one asks for the kind of God which He is.  (Not, of course, at first)  The kind of God He is, is like a taste which one develops over time.

When I was a child I hated green beans, peas, and broccoli, all foods I enjoy as an adult.  They didn’t change.  I changed.  I grew up.  Now that I am a man, my tastes have matured and developed.  I can stand, somewhat, the intense savor of the salt of holiness.

Oh, sure, we like certain of His attributes, for instance, His love and His mercy.  But, we like much less His steady demands on our time and insistence on our moral behavior.  We like even less His pressure to conform our hearts and minds to that of His son.  Our hearts shout back at Him, “But, why should I have to change?  Why can’t you take me as I am?”  Frankly, it is offensive to us. Frankly, that is what He means it to be.

So I ask you to consider: When you say that Jesus is your personal savior, do you mean that what He did on Calvary He did for you.  Do you mean that He is the God you serve? Do you mean that you have accepted Him?  Do you mean that Jesus is going to take you to heaven?  Do you mean that His demands on you are perfectly natural, and you delight in His commands?

Our reformed brothers like to say, “God saved me,” rather than, “I accepted Jesus into my heart”.  It violates their sensibilities to put oneself in the driver seat, and render Jesus as a passive participant.  The phrase “God saved me,” expresses that He is the active doer, rather than the one being accepted.  And, on this point, I have to agree with them.  God is not in need of our acceptance, nor is He a passive party to my justification.  Jesus is Lord regardless of whether or not we obey Him.  God is praiseworthy, even when He is not being praised.  He is admirable, even when no one is admiring Him.  God is God.  You don’t accept or reject Him, He accepts or rejects you.  And, He doesn’t come to you with hat in hand hoping you will choose to do His will.  He is no supplicant.  But, He is humble, gentle, and lowly of spirit.  That God saved me proves He is humble, a proud God would have nothing to do with one such as I.

If, the statement is true that, “I accepted Jesus into my heart.”  It is a far lower, baser, and less complete truth than, “God saved me.”

 

Wisdom vs Faith

I have, in little bites and small portions, ingested elements of the Materialist’s false worldview.  In the smorgasbord of worldviews, cultural perspectives, and alternative philosophies of life, it was bound to happen that a little bit of savory error would find its way onto my plate.  Without ever having meant to, and in spite of my best efforts to avoid it, I’ve swallowed some spiritual junk food.

This particular bit of junk food manifests as a dichotomy between two streams of scriptural thought.  It makes it so that, in my mind, you have “acting in faith” on the one hand, and “behaving wisely” on the other.  This supposed duality has been put in my head by my western materialist culture. Even though I strive to rid myself of “sloppy logic”, and divest my mind from worldly perceptions, they still get in.  I must stand ever vigilant, and subject my thought life to the approval of a body of believers.  Otherwise, I may never know that my mind is compromised, and my thinking confused.

As it turns out, I have pitted “reason” against faith, in a way which my materialist culture would surely be proud.  The irony here is not that a Christian should find that his worldview is not completely biblical, but that I have used the bible, against myself, to confuse myself further, in a way which is entirely anti-biblical.  The scripture is, sometimes, an unwieldy sword, especially in the hands of a novice.  Other times, believers who have shown themselves to be able “rightly divide the word of truth” make simple category errors, which lead to doctrinal problems.  Still, and this is where I’ve fallen this time, at other times we simply smuggle into the interpretation, ideas which are nothing but pagan.

In philosophy this kind of thinking is sometimes called a “false dilemma” or “false dichotomy”.  In his publication, “The Word Turned Upside Down” analytic philospher John Searle who called it an incorrect assumption that produces false dichotomies.

It is the godless world which wants me to think that faith must be pitted against reason. The “free thinker” (which is code for pagan or atheist, by the way) attempts to persuade  even the elect if possible that he owns Reason, that all faith is blind faith, and only the materialists are able to see the world for how it really is.  I have spent many years learning Christian Apologetics in order to refute and defeat those very claims, and yet I haven’t even rooted it out of my own thoughts completely.

Physician, heal thyself!  Go right on ahead, and pull that log out of your eye socket!

I realized my logical error when I was discussing with Dino the apparent paradox in the following scriptures.  My thesis was simple, “The scripture seems to indicate that two different, equal and opposite, instructions are equally valid.  One is even on the level of a command”  One of the instructions is found in Proverbs 13:22, which says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren, but the sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”  The lesson here is that a wise person, who does what is right, will make good investments and be able to leave a sizable fortune to his forbears.  Some bible teachers will undoubtedly use this verse to show that Christians have a moral duty to store away goods for retirement or a rainy day.  If not a moral duty, then it is at least a highly endorsed action of the virtuous wise.  They sometimes call this “stewardship”, and it is always presented as “wisdom”.

The problem is, I was looking at wisdom as if it is a hedge against chaos.  My version of wisdom, would keep me safely out of the hands of a God who could ruin me.  My version of wisdom, meant never having to lean on God.

On the other hand, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus seems to indicate to his disciples that they should not “worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Taken at its basest and laziest interpretation, Jesus, (quite possibly the worst financial planner in the history of ever) appears to tell his disciples in essence “M’eh, investing is for chumps.  Thinking about the future has no value”.  Unfortunately, some new to the faith or those unfamiliar with the full council of scripture, will take it to mean just that.  For shame!  This puts a black eye on the glorious name of Messiah Jesus.  At its best, Jesus is calling believers to place their faith in His ability to make provision for their daily needs; and encouraging them to not lose heart when things aren’t going just how they’d like.  Still, this is a far cry from the Proverb’s admonition to go about “storing up an inheritance for your grandchildren”.  If the first view is taken, some might suppose that a faith in Jesus is irresponsible, reckless even.  If the second view is taken, some might suppose that Christians need not take care to make wise financial decisions.  Choosing not to worry about the future, for Christ’s sake, is taught as “faith”.

The problem was I was looking at faith as a catch all.  Faith would bail me out if I acted irresponsibly.  Faith would catch me from falling into the traps I’d set for myself, by acting foolishly in the past.  Faith meant I could be lazy.  It meant, God would overlook my lack of effort, hard work, and industry.

So, now we find ourselves between the horns of the dilemma.  On the surface, these two far flung tenets never get any nearer to each other.  They mutually exclude one another.  Without some hermeneutical contortion, these two ideas will never shake hands.  My mind would bounce back and forth, wondering what direction to take.  Should I move forward in faith, or should I

Rock, meet hard place.

For me, these two scripture passage illustrate the need for wisdom.  I realized recently that I had created these false categories, where there are none.  It was either Faith or Wisdom.  Whereas traditional bible interpreters, ones better skilled and stronger minded than myself, would have never erected a wall of partition.  I separated into two distinct categories, what should have remained a singularity.  It is not Faith vs. Wisdom.  It is faithful wisdom, and wise faithfulness!

I firmly avow that, if Christians will first get our heads right concerning proper reasoning, I am confident that many examples of apparent incongruity within the scripture will vanish.  Some may always be with us.  There is a fair amount of unsettledness we must learn to live with.  I have satisfied myself, as one groping in the dark, to dwell in the uncertainty of not perfectly knowing every facet of life.  Sometimes we must simply live in the harried middle, the land of dissonant in-betweens.  We can camp their, but we cannot put down foundations.  Sometimes the only habitable lodging is disparate tent.  Thankfully, this is not one of those times.

I have personally reconciled these two paradoxical bible instructions, by first realizing my logical errors, then re-reading God’s word through the eyes of my new insight.  I saw things much more clearly, and all the foggy mists of paradox evaporated.  God is honored when we act in faith.  It is wise to act in faith, no matter how dangerous the optics may look.  I am not here advocating faith for faith’s sake, and I readily admit that we can place our faith in things which cannot come through (such as lotto tickets, irresponsible cousins, the transmission on our ’87 Dodge)  But, the Lord can be trusted, because when God leads us he also takes responsibility to bring about a good result.

It takes knowing the Lord, and the collected years of life experience with Him, to follow where He leads.  Sometimes it takes a tremendous amount of courage to do what is wise.  Sometimes, the only recourse for the learned doctor, is to raise holy hands to God in humble supplication.

Just like it is wise to act in faith, it is also faithful to act in wisdom.  It is an act of faith to store up for the future, because we do not know the return on our investment.  It is an act of faith to give to God’s kingdom, for His work, knowing we cannot manage the outcomes.  We are told not to be like the lazy and wicked servant, who refused to take what God had given him and use it to grow the Lord’s bounty.  It is wicked to bury our “talents” in the ground, especially when God gave them to us so that we might use them for the advancement of His kingdom.