For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
God is calling us. And he’s getting impatient.
But what exactly does God want us to do?
The answer is simpler than we can imagine. And it is, for many of us, more difficult than we can imagine.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that God wants us to inscribe his law on our hearts. But how exactly do we do that? Is it a decision we make? Is it a specific action? Do we need a tattoo parlor?
Surely it is a decision, but it’s a decision that begins somewhere else. After all, we are saved by grace. But how do we open our hearts to that grace? And how do we know if we have it?
The second question is easily answered: We know we have received God’s grace when his law is written on our hearts. As James says so poignantly (though often misconstrued),
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith [alone] save you?… Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith… Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:14, 18, 20)
We know we have received God’s grace when our faith drives us to act accordingly.
And here’s the rub: it’s easy to say we have faith. It’s easy to say we believe. But are we willing yet to follow Jesus as a disciple? Are we ready to “do the works that I do and, in fact, do greater works than these”? (John 14:12) Are we truly ready to follow him?
I look at my life, and I have to admit that I am not yet ready. But I’m getting there.
How do we ask for the grace to follow Jesus? It’s in small, simple actions that are nevertheless difficult– and, in our culture, almost unthinkable:
- Admit that we are sinners. For me, that’s obvious. For years, I carried the weight of sins I thought were unforgivable. I eventually learned that God would and did forgive them. But I still commit less grievous sins every day. I fall short of what God asks of me. If I don’t admit it, I can’t get any closer to God, because I’m not acknowledging my need for grace.
- Confess our sins to God and to one another. We admit that we are sinners, yet somehow we like to deny that we sin– at least when we’re talking to other people. Yet confessing our sins not only frees us from our sin, it shows us that every one of us falls short, reminding us not to judge each other.
- Repent. Renounce those sins that we continually commit. Make them right wherever possible. Yes, there are some stubborn ones that I am not yet rid of (and may never be rid of), but repentance has freed me from many of my more troubling frequent sins, like losing my temper, refusing to forgive others, and refusing to forgive myself.
- Forgive. This doesn’t mean forgive and forget. As someone once wisely observed, “No one forgets where they buried the hatchet.” No, it means adopting a lifestyle in which we recognize God as sovereign, and every human being (including ourselves) as both made in his image and living in a fallen world. Every one of us has the potential to do evil. Every one of us is offered the opportunity to repent by God. And the Gospel tells us we, too, are to accept a person’s repentance (Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 17:3-4). This doesn’t come easily. When someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back. But that’s falling short of God’s desire for me. It is sin. But as I live into this way of forgiveness, I find that it happens less often. Not only do I have less desire for revenge, but I find that the harms I receive are not so grievous as I once thought.
- Pray and worship often. Speaking for myself, it’s easy for me to forget about God. Regular prayer and worship reminds me, and also challenges me to think more broadly than what God can do for me. Which leads to the last point:
- Serve. If Jesus is my Lord, the only question I can have is: What can I do for him? Am I ready to become part of a community of Christ founded on “proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and proclaim the forgiveness of debts”? (Luke 4:18, paraphrased)
But isn’t this what Christians already do?
Surely it’s what we are supposed to do. Yet the evidence suggests that we don’t do it as fully as we are asked to. Our lives do not yet reflect the teachings of Jesus. If you’re like me, even a casual self-examination will reveal that our lives fall at least a little short of this call.
One of the characteristics of the current national dialog seems to be that both sides think the other is crazy, perhaps even evil. I want to challenge us to move beyond that perception.
I do admit that we live in a nation structured to promote this view. Our two party system presents us with the view that there are only two options, and you’re going to be on the receiving end of one of them. Media now targets its message for the particular political realities of its intended audience. And hatemongering has become a regular “news” feature, from Bryan Fischer to Rachel Maddow. We’re being programmed to discount those who disagree with us as irrelevant.
But why do they disagree with us? Do we care? Or are we so self-enthralled (or dare I suggest arrogant) that we claim to have the only possible correct opinion? Surely there can be no one correct opinion. Ask a professional fisherman, a surfer, an environmentalist, and a real estate developer what ought to happen to a coastal area and you’ll get four “obviously correct” but competing proposals.
I think we’ve forgotten that.
Not everyone lives and works in a city. And not everyone lives and works in a rural community. Those are the major lines along which we’re divided.
Let’s take racial issues for example. Los Angeles County is only 29% non-Hispanic white. Race is a huge issue. Yet some 70% of American white people live in “white enclaves,” where minority issues are not prominent. Or consider government overreach. Few urban folks can imagine a situation in which a militarized government agency comes in and shuts down what you thought was a legal business, yet that’s the reality small rural dairies and food producers live with. Likewise, few urban people can imagine living in an area in which the federal government owns 2/3 of the whole state. I’ll take the urban/rural divide over gun control to be obvious, and I’ve tried to explain it elsewhere.
When someone vehemently holds to an idea you find offensive, there’s a good reason for it. And it’s usually not the obvious reason. Most often, people’s livelihoods and lifestyles are threatened. But they’re not going to say that. No one wants to admit that they are “selfish” enough to want government policy to reflect their own needs.
Why did hundreds of ranchers show up to support the anti-BLM protest in Bunkerville? Because that was an issue that directly affected their ability to put food on the table. I’ve seen urban folks claim that no one makes a living ranching. That makes it easy to dismiss the participants as “crazy” or “radical.” Obviously those commentators haven’t been to areas like Utah where ranching supports thousands of families.
Why are urban people more likely to support LGBT rights? Because urban communities are more diverse, and they are more likely to have economic or family connections with someone who identifies as LGBT. (My uncle moved from a small rural town to Los Angeles before “coming out.” I can’t say I blame him.) And there’s more identification with “other.” If gays lose rights, how long before Muslims lose them? And Hispanics? And blacks? And Jews? And pot smokers? How long before Asians are once again banned from owning property? Think that’s far-fetched? It was only 65 years ago that certain racial groups (notably Asians) gained the right to become U.S. citizens! And there are still Japanese-Americans who remember Manzanar. But take a drive through Cedar City, Utah, and you’d never know that race is an issue. The county is 90% white and 7% Hispanic. And the gay community (yes, there is one) is largely hidden. In a largely homogeneous community, there’s little incentive to care what happens to other people who don’t live there, and who are perceived as different and possibly threatening.
I’m not saying we have to agree with each other. I am saying that, if we want to remain a unified and peaceful nation, we need to start thinking beyond what the media and politicians tell us.
We need to try to understand why people disagree with us.
Otherwise, our nation will dissolve into something we won’t like very much. (And those who so often comment that conservatives have all the guns obviously haven’t taken an evening stroll through Compton, CA recently. Ugly will mean ugly for everyone.)
Think beyond the sound bites. Why do these people hold these opinions?
It’s not just common sense, it’s patriotic.