While I was in India a couple months ago, I had an interesting conversation with an individual about this idea that knowledge, or the idea of knowing more about God as equivalent to being in “right relationship with God” or indicative of being in a “deeper relationship with God.” When I first heard this, it was jarring, because for me, knowing more about God, or about His word, is not always equivalent to knowing God himself. As I have reflected on this idea, and specifically about this particular conversation, the more I believe the equation is a fallacy. What you believe about God needs to be rooted in the soil of human experience… in other words, your theology is rooted in the experience of everyday life. It cannot be limited to head knowledge. It’s not just about hearing more sermons about God or even reading about God. It’s allowing the Word, the sermons, the worship play itself out in your life. I wonder sometimes, if our spirituality is too much tied to our own effort or our knowledge. I’m convinced that spirituality and holiness is not about what you do, necessarily, but about what God is doing in you.
This whole, “Christianity thing” doesn’t need to be lived out as if holiness is established through your effort, but it has to be lived out in you through the Holy Spirit by the work of the Holy Spirit. Our “holiness” or “sanctification” happens through the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the work of holiness is carried out by the Holy One… and that’s not our job, it’s His job. It’s not our righteousness, but the righteousness that is tied to the victorious work of Jesus and fulfilled through the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit. I think that this is why people get so frustrated with their spirituality, I think that this is why this spiritual life can be so frustrating for so many people sometimes. If you’re trying to do something, that quite honestly, is impossible to do on your own, of course it’s going to get tiring, and of course you’re going to get burned out, because it’s not about what you do, it’s about what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through you.
We’re a pretty driven creation. We do things on our own. Everything in life is rewarded on our own merit. Our grades are a reflection of our effort. Our highest paid athletes are paid on their skill. The highest paid people in society are the “hardest working”. Have you ever seen those cheesy pictures that we have in our offices with a simple word and then some motivational quote? There is one that says, “Effort” and on the bottom it says, “work hard to get good, and then work harder to get better”. Motivating, yes?Obviously this is a gross over-simplification of how the world works, but go with me for a little bit. This poster reminds me that we often put God’s kingdom within the confines of our economy. I think it’s the same reason why most people think the saying, “God helps those who help themselves”, is in the Bible (it’s not). God’s economy doesn’t work like that. It has less to do with your effort and achievement, and has everything to do with God’s achievement through Jesus. We get “in” for exactly the opposite reasons we think. We “make the team” for exactly the opposite reasons than we think. The Kingdom of God, is upside down. We don’t like this. At all. For some of us who are “insiders” we don’t like this because it’s “too easy”, but is it? No. Because in order to accept this truth it means going against everything we have ever learned about how this world works. I’m becoming more and more convinced that holiness has less to do with effort and more to do with trust and God’s work in us when we open our lives to the sanctifying work of Jesus. This week I’ve been re-reading Eugune Peterson’s book Pastor, and I came back across something I underlined a year ago:
“There is far more to this Christian life than getting it right. There is living it right. Learning the truth of God, the gospel, the scriptures involves understanding words, concepts, history. Bit living it means working through a world of deception, of doubt and suffering, a world of rejections and betrayal and idolatry… we don’t grow and mature in our Christian life by sitting in a classroom and library, listening to lectures and reading books, or going to church and singing hymns and listening to sermons. We do it by taking the stuff of our ordinary lives, our parents and children, our spouses and friends, our workplaces and fellow workers, our dreams and fantasies, our attachments, our easily accessible gratifications, our depersonalizing of intimate relations, our commodification of living truths into idolatries, taking all this and placing it on the altar of refining fire- our God is a consuming fire- and finding it all stuff redeemed for a life of holiness. A life that is not reserved for nuns and monks but accessible to every Dick and Jane in every ordinary congregation.
– Eugene Peterson, “Pastor”
I love that. Holiness is the work of God. Not something that happens by our own sweat. I think if we saw our own spirituality as simply clinging on to our guide, maybe this whole “faith thing” would look at a lot more like floating down an endless river on an inner tube than it does killing ourselves trying to get upstream. Christianity is not about “working hard to get good”, it’s about God’s work in you. Let’s face it, you’re going to mess up, but you’re also a work in progress and you’ll spend the rest of your life allowing God to continually shape and re-shape you so as much as you can, just enjoy the ride.