Sunday, 2 September 2007

'Christianity' with no spiritual life

Something I've written about before is what to say to some of the people who say 'I used to be a Christian'.

On one occasion last year I heard this from an individual, and having listened to him for quite a while, I asked him what he thought 'being a Christian' meant. It was clear that he'd actually never really thought about it, and so I took him to Mark 8:27-38. We spoke about how being a Christian meant recognising what it meant for Jesus to be God's King, the Messiah, about what it meant for the Messiah to die and, crucially, what it means to be a follower - to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Jesus.

As we spoke, the student said what a relief it was to hear this. It was a relief to him that he had never really lived as a Christian. He said how he had assumed that because he thought he was a Christian and it 'hadn't worked' - he hadn't felt any form of joy or existential satisfaction, that he had assumed that Christianity was invalid and untrue. He said that it came as a massive relief to know that what he had rejected was not authentic Christianity. Of course he could not have known any form of satisfaction, as he his relationship to God had not changed, his sin remained unforgiven and, therefore, he had no cause for joy. Off of the back of our conversation, he agreed to look at the Bible again for himself.

This left me thinking that, sometimes, it is important to show people the deficiencies in their 'Christianity', to show folks that what they have rejected is not authentic Christianity but a form of Christless and joyless and graceless moralism. This is not what it means to follow Jesus and it is certainly not what Jesus called 'true life'.

Whilst away on holiday, I was reading Romans 7:14-25, and I'm now more convinced than ever that here Paul is speaking as one that is 'unregenerate' but religious, perhaps similar to Martin Luther's time spent as a monk. Looking back at that time o0f his life from the perspective of his Christian experience, he could claim that he had been a faithful and obedience monk, yet filled with doubt and despair and, of course, completely joyless. Like many religious people (and like the 'I' in Romans 7), Luther recognised that God's law was good, but found himself unable to change himself to live by it. It was a period in his life of religiosity, yes, but also frustration, insecurity and failure, with an inability to improve oneself.

I wonder if I might now take people who describe themselves as those 'who used to be a Christian' (and perhaps those that read this blog who might describe themselves in this way) to Romans 7:14-25. If you identify as a 'religious' or formerly religious person with the experience that Paul describes - of condemnation, failure and a struggle that only ever ends in frustration and defeat - then you need to know the rescue that God has provided in Christ. Only when we are reconciled to God in this way will we experience the satisfying life of living by grace that Christianity is.

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