Thursday, August 30, 2012

Giving it up, or just giving up

Any religion, any religious version of Christianity, can be a definite obstacle to the following of Jesus Christ. One of my premier mentors, martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes in his book Cost of Discipleship that the Church of his time and place, Germany between the world wars, made real discipleship, real following of Jesus Christ, almost an impossibility. It is this kind of Christianity, as religious observance, that taught me the doctrine and the discipline of Christian life, but didn’t deliver me into the hands of the living God. Maybe that is simply not what the Church in its institutional form is meant to do.
I don’t know. Maybe for some of us at least, we have to ‘make the journey out and in.’ In my case, I didn’t go very far out before I realized I was alone, alone because without Him. That realization quickly led to the moment when the Lord called out to me, and I responded, doubtfully at first but trusting, with ‘Yes.’

One of the chief obstacles many people have to becoming a Christian is the notion that they must ‘give up’ their former way of life. Now, it’s true that the holy apostles say this very thing, but they do not say it, nor does the Church, in order to make our lives difficult. It’s not as though it were up to us to do the impossible: That’s God’s job, more specifically, Christ’s. The impossible? Yes, of course, the impossible: Turning mortal men and sinners even at their best, into immortal, divine and holy beings who are not only worthy of eternal life with God, but who actually want it. I think that when we follow the gracious call of Christ ‘for real,’ we aren't worrying any longer about what we're giving up, but looking forward to what we are receiving—from Him, His friendship, His love, and yes, especially His life—eternal life. Hence the saying, ‘keep your eyes on Jesus’ and the certainty that whatever happens, ‘there is no loss with Jesus.’

Honestly, there is such an impassable and clean break with my childhood religious faith, with all of its ‘give up this, give up that,’ that ever since I met the Lord and received His call, I have never felt that I am giving anything up, but that only and always I am on the receiving end of His unquenchable love and inexhaustible grace. The Son of God gave up all for me, and in following Him I have no consciousness of loss or deprivation. Everything is pure gift, pure love lavished in abundance. Well, was I a desperate sinner before I met the Lord? I don't know. I lived a pretty straight and narrow life. You can't wander far or misbehave much when you're raised in the straight-jacket of religious Christianity. But the depth and faithfulness of Christ's grace in my life tells me that whatever I might’ve looked like on the outside, I must’ve been desperately sinful for Him to cover me so completely with His forgiveness and mercy.

And He continues to do that, not only for me, covering my sins, forgiving me when I fall, but for all, for everyone, for you. He says,
‘I have not come for the righteous, but for the sinners.’ What a gracious love! Proven because he who has been forgiven much, loves much. Wait a minute! I guess there is one thing I’ve had to sacrifice after all: Hating my brother. But then hating is so hard, it takes so much out of you, that giving it up is a pure pleasure. And yet even this ‘sacrifice’ was not of my own power or even of my own volition. As the Bible says in some manner on almost every page, ‘It is not I, but Christ who lives in me, who can do all things,’ and I’ve found that following Him is not so much about ‘giving it up,’ but just ‘giving up.’ Yes, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit, for You have redeemed me, O God of Truth’ (cf. Psalm 31).

Glory to You, O God, glory to You.

These thoughts were inspired by reading this poem by brother Jim Swindle at Vine and Fig.

No comments: