Sunday, February 27, 2011

bar code faith vs. transformation

My heart breaks for the church in this country.  This is Christ's bride, which he loves so much that he "gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25-27)  Surely Christ has not abandoned his church.  But are we falling short of receiving the life he wants to give?

I constantly struggle to understand the relationship between grace a transformation.  I'm re-reading The Divine Conspiracy by Willard, in which he also points out this struggle.  In chapter 2, he challenges what he calls the "bar code" mentality of being a Christian: we have faith or say something, "God "scans" it, and forgiveness floods forth ... We are, accordingly, "saved."  Our guilt is erased.  How could we not be Christians?"(37)  There is some truth to this idea: "it is not necessary to be a good  Christian in order to be forgiven"(37)  And yet - could it be that in focusing only on this part of what Christ has done that we miss the point?  Willard writes,
The real question, I think, is whether God would establish a bar code type of arrangement at all. [...We are] in danger of missing the fullness of life offered to us.  Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched?  [...]  Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after?  Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are?   
And for those of us who think the Bible is a reliable or even significant guide to God's view of human life, can we validly interpret its portrayal of faith in Christ as one concerned only with the management of sin, whether in the form of our personal debt or in the form of societal evils? (38)
When I look around at my friends struggling to realistically put on the 'new self', the new life in Christ, when I hear sermons or talk to people about faith, sometimes I wonder if we really do believe these things.  How do we respond to Paul, for example in Colossians:
"you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (3:10)
Yes, Christ's grace is amazingly free and his salvation to us unconditional.  But talk to anyone who has tried following Christ for a while and they will tell you that receiving this salvation and learning to live in the new kind of life he offers takes time, perseverance, and constant surrender - all things that aren't necessarily easy.  Ironically, it seems that it is not always easy to take on the easy yoke.

I am challenged by this.  I think we must be very careful not to pretend that as soon as we accept Christ and turn to follow him, our lives become good and we become better people.  (We all know this isn't true, but sometimes we accidentally say what we don't really believe.)  In fact, I don't think even the understanding of Christ's righteousness covering us will bear fruit all on its own in our lives.  (Unless, perhaps, it is the understanding with which we really have difficulty).  As I discussed in my last point - spirituality isn't all a mental or abstract thing, it concerns our bodies and our actions.

As a young adult, I am always searching to find older Christians who can teach me what they have learned.  I do know many my own age who are actively seeking God's kingdom, yet sometimes it feels like we are 'the blind leading the blind'.  I am grateful to God for all the ways in which he has provided in this respect, but I long to see training and discipleship grow in his church.

Sorry for the length of this post.  If you have read to the end, some of these things probably matter to you as well.  What has God been teaching you about all of this?


  1. I've had the opportunity to visit a lot of churches, and youth groups, and camps. And what I see over and over is a general desire to be Christian that doesn't go much farther than a verbal acknowledgement. I see a lack of action, of lack of understanding, a lack of desire. And it makes me sad and shocks me sometimes to see what passes as okay. I feel like the church is sort of dead and stuck in a lot of places. Examples: ignoring divorce instead of helping the couple try to save the marriage, fighting over the new signs for years instead of getting on with the business of being a light, letting teenagers experiment sexually without reproof because it's just normal.

    I think we just don't live in an age that provides the context for catching a vision, the way Houghton was for us. I guess my prayer is that God ignites the apathy in my life and that I get to be a torch that inspires other people to search for and serve and love God. It's so easy for me not to bother, but that's what I really want. Maybe we will end up being what ignites older people to search too.

  2. There are two Biblical concepts that loosely fit the categories of bar code and transformational faith: justification and sanctification.

    We are justified, accepted by God, in the moment we ask Him to be our Savior. However, you are pointing out that our faith does not end there: we next grow in our relationship with the Lord, by which He sanctifies us; He transforms us into His likeness.

    ...He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...(Philippians 1:6b)

    I sympathize with your desire for discipleship in the church. May I point out that you are one of the older people in ACF? I'm just sayin' it :)

  3. Good comments, la bonita and Alana.

    And yes, Alana, I am definitely open to participating in discipleship in ACF; in fact it's one of the (many) reasons I am involved in ACF. Most of the time I feel unqualified to do anything of that sort, but I imagine many Christians feel this way. However God wants to use me, I am open to it. Let me know if you have any ideas.

    What I long for is to see this taking place everywhere in the church, on all levels. The format of church-on-Sunday isn't enough - it's not even the bare minimum. How does Christ envision his church? Our imaginations probably aren't big enough to handle it! :)