Monday, February 13, 2012

A + B = C

You can't go very far in Christian circles before you run into it.  Sermons are rife with it, so are Christian books of every type and description. Five things you need to know about the Bible.  Seven attributes of a Spirit-filled life.  Four guarantees to answered prayer.  While all these might be wonderful and good in their proper context, they do run the risk of giving people the idea that the Christian life is something that we can master, and they use scripture to back up their claims!  Without coming right out and saying it (at least, most of them don't), they claim to have life all figured out - to have God all figured out.  And they imply that those who don't follow their pattern for prosperity or success (or whatever the case may be) are sadly missing out on "all God has for them."

Formula-based living. 
The "A plus B equals C" mentality.  

Let's take the basic example of prayer.  I want God to do something for me.  It's really important to me.  So I pray.  My prayer is structured like this at its core (although I "pretty it up" to hide it from myself) :

(A) I need this; You promised this; how can this not be Your will? it's what I would do! 
(B) I've done everything I'm supposed to do for You.  
(C) You are therefore obligated to give this to (do this for) me.  

We do this in pretty much every area.  We think that if we do this, and say that, then we can expect a certain result.  Expecting is not wrong.  Praying is not wrong. Doing things for God is not wrong. What concerns me is attitude.  There is an mind-set ... in some cases, perhaps in a lot more cases than we might think ... of entitlement - an attitude that frightens me.  

It goes right back to Cain.  Remember him?  He knew that God required sacrifice; his dad had told him what happened the day they were exiled from Eden.  But Cain's perception of the requirement ... was that he worked hard for the quality of the vegetables, grain, and fruit that he cultivated.  God should be pleased with the labor - the sacrifice he had made with the sweat of his brow - and that his offering should be acceptable.  We know that it wasn't; we know that God accepted his brother Abel's sacrifice instead. Cain's story teaches us that human effort is not what God is looking for; He's looking for trust - for obedience, yes, but in the context of total reliance on Him.

Source (via Google Images):
And yet we miss that "trust thing."  We insist that God can be impressed with our own efforts, deluded into thinking that we can influence the decisions of the Almighty, or that we can get along without His help.  We give lip service to trusting Him but we go on about our lives as though our living the life He wants is up to us.  

And - eventually - we fail miserably and end up (whether we admit it to ourselves or not) screaming at God as if it is His fault.  Or ... which is too often the case ... thinking that we haven't been fervent enough, dedicated enough, self-sacrificing enough, good enough for God to take notice - and that leads to even greater intensity of human effort, the very thing that will lead to even greater failure.  

The apostle Paul severely warned against formula-based living. He wrote about it to the Galatians; it's the whole point of his letter to them!  They'd succumbed to the insidious "Jesus AND" doctrine. That is - the teaching that grace isn't enough, that human effort is required to complete salvation or to receive reward. Paul speaks strong words to these people, "You foolish Galatians!  who has bewitched you....?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"  (3:1-3, NASB)  

James, in his book, speaks of works showing faith, that faith without works is dead.  This is true - yet the works of which he speaks are those produced by the life of God within, not human effort.  Scripture must interpret itself in whole, and no scripture can be of private interpretation.  When Paul warns against formula-based living, or of imposing a bunch of rules and regulations onto a believer, he's not saying, "Let's not have rules."  He's saying, "The life that Jesus died to give you can be made ineffective by adding the human component."  

For an example, we need look no further than those who say they are Christians but who act as though there are different classes of Christians: those who are following the 'rules' (be that tithing, giving to missions, going on missions trips, attending every church function, holding an office in some sort of ministry, and the list goes on, and on) and those who aren't.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with those things.  I'm saying that when they are done in our own strength, perhaps to gain some sort of spiritual bank account with God that we can spend to get what we want, then they have become the focus ... and God has become secondary: a means to an end.  Gratitude is replaced by greed.  Of course we don't recognize it as such.  We more often see it as working toward ensuring our eternal reward.  Just like Cain.

We forget that we are dealing with the God of the universe here.  The agent of Creation.  The great "I am."  It was HIS initiative that made it possible for us to even have a relationship with Him.  It was HIS sacrifice that made a way for us to approach Him. Even the faith we placed in Him to receive that great gift is not our own - He gave it to us (Eph. 2: 8,9). It is HIS Spirit that he put inside of us when we activated that faith-gift.   And in depending solely on our own strength, what we are doing - in essence - is rejecting that Spirit and saying, "No, I got this covered, God. I'm in charge here. I'll pull Your chain when I need You.  And oh, by the way, aren't You impressed with how well I'm doing?"  

Paul even went as far as to say to the Galatians the exact opposite of what is taught or thought about in Christian circles these days.  "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace."  (5:4, NASB)  

Wow!  We have come to believe that a person who has fallen into some kind of sin like being unfaithful to their spouse or stealing from the church or whatever - as qualifying for that designation of having "fallen from grace."  Yet Paul says that it's not that at all! it's rather a focus on going back and keeping all the rules, of superimposing religion on top of relationship! 

Perhaps it's time to check our math.  Maybe it isn't as simple as A plus B equals C.  Maybe God's a bit bigger than that.  Maybe His ways are greater than our ways. Maybe we haven't got Him all figured out.  Maybe His sense of goodness, justice, and grace is far bigger than we can imagine.  Maybe it really is as simple as Jesus plus zero.  Maybe it's ALL Him and we get to go along for the ride.  Maybe we just need to let go and - with a heart full of gratitude for His grace and His empowering Spirit - let Him be who He has been all along ... and has so longed for us to embrace.

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