There is something I see as dangerous about a religious system that is designed to keep us dependent on a man’s teaching, a church’s programs or even our own memory of our experiential walk with God. After one walks as a follower of Jesus for a time, all the devotional books seem like they have been plagiarized and reading self-improvement Christian books or listening to motivational sermons will not cut it any more. The worship songs seem to all sound the same. We look for a cuisine that will stand out. Our pallet develops a taste. No longer will junk-food Christianity do it for us. We either go organic or we binge on comfort foods. The thing in common is we are not satisfied like we think we were.
We hear about the First Century Church and how every new church plant is trying to execute that. But, none in that new church plant face execution. So, the authenticity of what is real for today is allusive. We likewise long for those Sunday school days if we grew up in the church–the felt board Jesus and sanitized retelling of Old Testament battle scenes. They for some reason never mentioned the good parts, like David bringing King Saul 1,000 Philistine foreskins.
If we found God a bit later, we revel in those first years. Everything flowed into us. New life was felt. If you are human, and have walked a few miles then you and I all exhibit a faded faith to some degree. This does not mean our faith is shallow, however. It means we can now see our frailties more clearly. Our sin is more sinful. And, our faith is such that God allows us to go longer periods of waiting to hear from Him. He does this because He loves us and wants us to love Him in a deeper way today. As a baby, it is easy to love the one feeding you milk as you are embraced. As we walk, we now are truly conscripted in an army, as well being born into a family.
I think there the two identities that when out of balance hold us back. The first is not knowing and experiencing that as followers of Jesus we are adopted sons and daughters. The second is that when we follow Christ we join an army. When dealing with our own spiritual formation sometimes we mistake the two. Parental discipline is far different than experiencing battle wounds.Having a firm grasp on these two identities and how they are different and progressive in my life allow me to put into perspective what is my personal responsibility as well as how God sees me in a given situation.
When I am secure as a child of God, it means I know I have the birthright, the love, and the power to live as a child of God. Tragedies are put in comparison to the hope I have in eternity and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Sin is dealt with in relationship to the Spirit who constantly is praying to God for me about my weaknesses. I feel the affinity with other believers since they are my brothers and sisters. All of this, and the context that this gives me as I seek in meaning in the Bible shows me more about this relationship I have with God.
Eventually, I get exhausted. Why? Is not being a child of God enough? Of course it is enough, but it is not all of who I am. I am also a soldier with a mission. Once I become a spiritual adolescent then I begin to have an urge to be part of the family business. I was the family business when I first believed. All the resources of God’s people were there and made a difference. People discipled me. People cared and by the power of the Holy Spirit showed up at appropriate times to teach me and help me along. As an infant, I grew into a toddler who could barely stand on his own. Then, I felt amazing as a little kid who everyone seemed happy to see jumping in place.
Eventually, we lose our spiritual cuteness and have to embrace being grown up. This is true in our American culture of extended adolescence and perhaps integrated with our confused view of spiritual development as well. We just don’t want to grow up. It seemed that this was the case in that ever-celebrated First Century Church, as well. Maybe, just maybe, going back there is not the answer.
As we grow up, we have to face that now we are looking at a soldier in the mirror. The life we are to lead is not supposed to be one of comfort, even if it can be one of rest. We can rest in who are as children of God. We have all those resources to a degree more than we can imagine. They keep us supplied. No army is that fortunate. But, we still are in an army and have a mission that leads us into the heat of battle.
I think the weakest I have been in my spiritual walk has had to do more with losing the balance of these two identities. If I am just on mission and not fully aware or secure in my sonship then I am dangerous to myself and others. If I just revel in my sonship without mission, I lose as well. My life becomes inward and so much about this relationship. I am addicted to being in love rather than actually loving God. I worship worship if I stay a baby. Or, I am an activist who whines a lot. Take your pick. We all to some degree go in either or both directions, right?
I am convinced that the most basic of Christianity is centered in these two statements Jesus paired together as one.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
What is interesting here is that Jesus says “There is no commandment greater than these.” Essentially, Jesus is declaring here in Mark’s gospel that loving God (our relationship with Him) and loving our neighbor (our mission) are equal. They are paired. To hold one without the other makes no sense in the teachings of Jesus.
When Jesus in Matthew 22:40 says “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” he is giving us what I believe to be a simple hermeneutical grid. All I am saying with such a fancy word is that we have a way to interpret all of scripture with these statements! Simply put, you can put this question to interpret a passage in the Bible: how does this idea, thought, or story relate to loving God and loving people?
The child in me can see God work in a passage. And, the warrior in me will discern God’s plan of redemption as I act. The redemptive story of the Gospel includes me and propels me to champion it. You can see how if we just advocate without knowing or fully experiencing our own part in the story how we might lose our steam. And, you can comprehend how living for our own relationship with God without the idea of the larger redemptive plan of God for others can stagnate many Christians. Stagnation makes us constipated, cranky critics. I know this, too well, for I have been there!
How do we unstuck the masses out there? I have no idea. But, lets try to get ourselves balanced first. That is what I think the tactic is. How can I do this for you if I am not sure how to do it for me? This process of Sanctification (or being saved from the power of sin in my daily life) is a journey we all travel till the point of death. Learning to embrace both being a son and warrior is the balance that keeps us moving.