During the question and answer session I conducted last month, one reader sent me a very interesting question via email. I didn't answer it along with the others because I felt it deserved its own post. When I sat down to try and write it, I couldn't. Nothing sounded honest. So this time I'm not going to think about it. I'm just going to write and whatever answer comes out is the answer that's in my heart. Lord help me.
Q: Religion...what's your take on God? Do you believe in Jesus?
A: I'm not a fan of religion. Religion is the rituals, traditions, and practices of a faith. It's often the manifestation of faith, but in no way is religion synonymous with faith. Going to church every Sunday, lighting candles, pouring out oil. None of it (in and of itself) is faith. Faith can manifest itself in the form of religion, but religion is not a substitute for true faith.
When I was deciding on a spiritual path, I came to two conclusions. First, I can't decide what I want God to be. Crafting an image of God that conforms to my wants, desires, and needs would be backwards. If I was creating the "creator" where exactly would I be putting my faith? Any god that would bend to my whims couldn't possibly be God.
Second, I had to choose what to believe, because I couldn't believe everything. Logically speaking there can't be one god, yet multiple gods. God can't have a son, but yet not have a son. The son of God can't be the only means to salvation, yet not be the means to salvation (or even worse a heretic). Salvation can't be based on grace and sacrifice, yet based on good works alone. While the differing paths definitely have similarities, the differences require a decision.
I choose Jesus Christ. I do believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. I do believe that he died on the cross for the sins of mankind. I do believe that he rose on the third day (the Jewish day begins at sunset so he actually died on a Thursday, not a Friday). I went through a period of intense exploration, trying to find the facts behind the faith. Fortunately there was lots to find. There's evidence of a great flood, the Hittite civilization, the walls of Jericho. It makes it easier to believe that which I can't see.
I'm not a perfect person. And no matter how much I try, I never will be. I do believe that God set a standard for all humans and that standard does not change. I know that I fall far short of it. Paul said it best, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." I place my faith in Christ because he bridges the gap between me and God. I have no fear that I'm not good enough, because being in Christ I am. It makes sense that salvation can't be based on works alone. If we all fall short, then what ratio of good deeds to bad can get us into the pearly gates? Grace is a beautiful thing.
Still faith without works is dead. Jesus said you can recognize a person by the fruit they bear. Just saying I believe isn't enough. If I do, it will come across in my actions. I know the Lord's commands, but I do tend to ignore them when they don't suit my personal purposes. That's my nature and it's a constant struggle for me. I don't believe that grace is a free pass to do as I please, and I pray constantly that God will change me into the person He wants me to be. The biggest thing for me to remember is that it's a journey and not a destination.
Lately that journey has taken me down an interesting path. About a year ago, I started wondering if contemporary Christianity was really the faith Jesus and the Apostles had left us with. I began to think about what man might've changed over the last two thousand years. That led me into studying Christian apologetics and the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith. I can't say that I believe what many other Christians do. I don't believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, nor do I believe that Jesus nullified Mosaic law, nor do I recognize Sunday as the Sabbath. I believe that many of the differences between Judaism and Christianity were created long after the apostles died. I've come to think that the only true difference between Judaism and Christianity is Jesus. Christians believe that He's the promised Messiah, Jews do not. They're still waiting.
I love being a Christian, however there are many times when I really don't like identifying as one. A lot of believers have given the entire faith a bad name. Jesus called tax collectors, terrorists, liars, and other sinners to be his disciples. He never lowered his standards in regard to sin, yet he didn't make them change who they were in order to love them. I think many Christians forget this whenever they are "lovingly" rebuking the "unsaved." For some reason, I just don't hear "I love you" in "You're going to hell!" Jesus' love and example changed Peter, Thomas, Matthew, and company. If people could see Jesus in today's followers I'm sure more people would be open to letting Him in their lives.
I hope that one day others can see Christ in me.