Do you know someone whose Facebook feed alternates between affirmations of faith and vulgar sexual references? I look at those people and ask myself, “How do they understand faith in God?” After much consideration and dialogue with others about their faith, I’ve come to the conclusion that many people see God as a means to an end. They want to be safe, prosperous, productive, worthwhile, or thin. They know that they are not up to the task of making these things happen so they reach out for an invisible, omnipotent being who will provide what they lack. Their brief prayers consist mostly of variations on “Help me, God.” Those who watch their lives want nothing to do with their God since these self-centered “adherents” broadcast to the world that faith in God is the desperate, fainting hope of the weak. But the gospel of Christ calls us to much more.
In the gospel, the faith of Christ is revealed and it is through that faith that we come to God. For Christ, faith in his Father meant the exact opposite of that which is practiced by self-centered professors. The faith of Christ called him to lay down his life in the service of God and humanity, knowing that his God was able to rescue him even from the grave. For Christ, faith in God was not a means to an end but the end itself as well as the means. As Paul ejaculates in Romans 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (NIV -emphasis mine NAW)
So, here’s the bottom line. If you see God as a means to financial security, a happy family, better self image or any other personal goal, you’re not a Christian. Stop saying you are one. A Christian is a person who follows Christ who himself was a pauper who died a bachelor in shame and disgrace for the will of God. The faith that saves is the ruthless trust that enables us to lay down our lives entirely because we know he will raise us up on the last day.
Tim Keller says it more kindly and eloquently than I do:
Are you getting into Christianity to serve God or to get God to serve you? The latter is a kind of shamanism, an effort to get control of God through your prayers and practices. It is using God rather than trusting him.
I’m afraid all too often, it is the leaders in the church who have accepted “believers” on these terms in order to get them in the door and get their money in the plate. I suppose that is because the leaders themselves have their own ministry agenda that they want to use God to support. Regardless of our calling, faith in God will always be an abandonment of self into the hands of God for the sake of his glory. Paradoxically, our joy awaits on the other side.