So, if we are not responsible for avoiding or bringing to justice the trials and failures in our life- then should we assume that God does allow bad things happen to good people? Without hesitation or apology- yes.
James, the brother of Jesus, offers this; “Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Remarkably, we do not have to accept Christ as our redeemer in order to have his goodness work in and through us. God’s presence within each of us is evident in that “No one is good- except God alone.” Luke 18:19b
We are forgiven, regardless of our willingness to accept this gift. Romans 5:8-10a proclaims, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For… while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.”
Christ tells us that He did not, “come to abolish the Law of the Prophets;” but rather He came, “to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 Christ does not release us from recognizing or even obeying the law. Conversely, He allows the Holy Spirit to script the law into our conscious minds in order to be referenced and accessed in real time. In Thessalonians, Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing” 5:17. Of course Paul didn’t expect us to remain on our knees in a prayer closet for consecutive marathon prayer sessions. Although this sort of prayer may be called for at times, it does not allow us to realistically engage our community. So what exactly is Paul expecting here?
John 16:7 quotes Jesus, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Christ came to demonstrate and fine-tune the law, and undeservedly serve as a sacrifice so that we as sinners would not perish in the eternal flame we deserve through inheritance and our own misguided actions. Subsequently, the Helper (Holy Spirit) finds passage into our very person, being forgiven from the sin that previously inhibited this sort of union.
Separating Church from the State of religious assumption
Separating faith from sin and religious acts is the recognition that goodness is a result of God alone- and not due to any intent, deed, belief, or risk we can muster. Jesus tells us in Luke 18, “No one is good- except God alone” v19. Once we as God’s creation understand that only He is good- we can then begin to deduce that any good action we preform cannot originate from self, but can still be executed through any of us. It is not until we recognize and accept that any work or sacrifice we can make outside of faith is enough to qualify us for eternal life- that we can then begin to decipher the unilateral demands of religion from the genuine voice and movement of the Holy Spirit who works uniquely through each of us. No call for any corporate stamp of approval.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” Eph 2:8. This is why it is important to seek forgiveness from Christ who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through” Him. John 14:6
So does faith, then, relieve us from works?
To the contrary. James 2:14-19 offers this; “What good is it… if someone says he has faith but does not have deeds? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have deeds, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”
Likewise, as evidenced by the small commoner child in the Emperor’s New Clothes proclaiming, “But the king isn’t wearing any clothes!,” membership or social acceptance to any denomination does not warrant Christian status –no matter how others validate your outward faith. Jesus, in Luke 16:15 offers this, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
So which standard do you serve? Do you seek to pray and give in secret (Mat. 6:5-6), serve regardless of recognition (Mat. 6:3), and choose to entertain strangers- “and by doing so, may show hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). Or, do you choose to identify with the crowds who adorn their appearance with the standard set by the religious leaders while pursuing and recognizing church attendance, activity involvement, the signing of large offering checks, and encourage social cloning? To a societal commoner, the former communicates faith-driven authenticity, while the latter invites even a simple child see through our religious façade.
To break through to God’s purpose and intent for each individual life, we must be willing to risk breaching the superficial qualifications of corporate religion. For me, that meant realizing abstention from consuming alcohol, movie theaters on Sundays, or wearing blue jeans in the sanctuary only qualified me as socially palatable to the religious expectations meant to set “the faithful” apart from the world. I now realize that I do not need to meet superficial timing, quotas, or a prequalified status to be fully in sync with the one who matters most. Only then can I be adorned in His mercy and grace. Only then can I truly claim an authentic faith.
Lord, open our eyes that we may see. Embolden our spirit that we may pursue your path regardless of who or what that offends. Teach us to exchange the shallow quest to fulfill religious expectation with the boldness to measure righteousness through the lens of your spirit alone. Amen