If you call yourself a Christian, stop for a moment and consider something. How important do you believe your faith is? I’m guessing it’s a pretty big deal. It’s your response to God, right? You probably cherish it, that responsibility or choice of yours. Of course that brings tensions: what happens when faith fades? There have been times when I’ve wondered how strong my own faith is. Will it stand the test of time — or any number of other tests I may face? Where do my doubts fit in?
Well, take a moment to read these verses from the start of 1 Corinthians.
Is faith important? Faith makes up huge stretches of the way Christians talk about life and church and everything.
Yet the stunning thing is that our standing with God does not hinge on our faith.
Notice the thrust of those verses above. What matters is God’s faithfulness to his people. And this is no warm fuzzy idea about God ‘believing in us’. Instead, God has made promises to his people, promises that God has secured life for his people, promises that God will fulfil no matter what. The important thing is not how true we remain to God but that God remains true to us.
This is what people are getting at when they say that Christianity is not a religion. It is life lived in utter dependence on God because there is nothing of ultimate significance that we can do for God. It is knowing that life itself hangs on God reaching out to us because we can’t cut through our own weaknesses. It is the anticipation of outside intervention. It is awaiting rescue with limbs pinioned and mouth gagged.
The thing is, the constant temptation for us is to import things that we can do for God. We always veer into an inflated sense of our own strength. We can’t resist the urge to do our bit for the powerful benefactor. And some of those smuggled goods are really hard to spot because they’re so, well, Christian! We secretly love trying to scratch away some of the blame with our own holy hands. We treasure the heroic idea that our faith pitches in a bit, even just ten percent to make the deal watertight. As Tamie wrote about, faith itself becomes a work. All Christians are guilty of using this moonshine to boost their relationship with God. All Christian living is an ongoing struggle against these black market religious totems.
But think for a moment — why is most of the New Testament telling us about things we already know, incessantly repeating the very things that first defined us as Christians? It’s because we forget. We keep missing the thing that Paul keeps banging on about — which is why he keeps banging on about it. And if you read once more through the passage above, you’ll see that the only one who can bring life from God to us is the one God sent. In every sentence, Paul refers to Jesus. God is at work in all kinds of ways, but he works by one means. God’s grace is given in Jesus. God confirms us through Jesus. God’s faithfulness is effected by Jesus. And the first time we understood it was never enough. We need to keep hearing it.
There is an idea at large in Australian churches that God waits for us with open arms and all we need to do is reach up in faith. It’s an idea that we need to put to death. God is the God who reaches down to us in Jesus. That hasn’t changed for a moment, even when we put our own faith in the way of it. Our faith counts for very little.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.