That is how I would characterize my thinking just a decade ago. It was weird.
I am confident that in, say 2005, if you had asked me about knowing God, or placing one’s faith in Jesus, I would have clearly and concisely stated God’s mind on the matter, by patiently reading and explaining the Scripture. But if you had asked me how a Jesus follower grows in one’s faith, I believe I would have given you a very different answer. This may not surprise you.
To summarize - one answer to “come to faith” and a second answer to “grow in faith.” Seems logical to most, but not…to God.
Here’s where I was:
1. man comes to know God by faith in God,
2. man’s faith in God is a result of God’s grace toward man,
3. man works really hard to demonstrate one’s degree of thankfulness.
What is God’s grace? Grace is unmerited favor. It is receiving what you have not earned. Because it is unmerited, one receives grace like one receives a gift. It is not taken by human force, or rightly expected by the recipient. Similarly, it is not wielded against the One who has offered it freely. In other words, God is not forced to act in the best interest of man, yet He promises His grace to all who come to Him by faith.
I realized how weird my thinking used to be while my wife, Deb, and I were driving and discussing an important concept. Here’s the gist of it in three parts – first, mankind is wicked. Second, God is good. He has revealed many other things about Himself, but if He is not good, then He is not to be trusted. Third, humans can never rise to God’s level of good. As a result, each person, left to his/her own devices, is separated from God and will remain so for all eternity.
In contrast to the above realities, one begins to appreciate how awe-inspiring grace is. Receiving God’s grace inspired one humbled man to compose the very popular hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
This brings us to my third point (above) - 3. man works really hard to demonstrate one’s degree of thankfulness.
I now find myself challenging that belief all the time; and it is not unusual to run into some resistance as a result.
Through conversation with friends and associates, my studies and reflection upon my beliefs, I am learning to approach my life with an attitude of dependence, trust and desperation; much as I sensed at the time when I received God’s grace and placed my faith in Jesus.
I am able to identify times in my life, when working hard to prove my thankfulness to God left me exhausted, empty, hurt and angry. On the outside, I was thought to be a model for others, but my so-called selfless service produced a lot of self-doubt and ugly patterns of sinfulness.
In reaction, I came to understand that in striving to please God I was treating God’s Word with contempt, specifically two (2) realities: 1. that God is absolutely pleased with Jesus who lives within me, and 2. that God loves me perfectly. As a result of these truths, I may approach Him boldly at all times - for His righteous standard is met in Jesus and His love for me is perfect, never diminished & never increasing.
As you might imagine, this goes against my Mid-Western sensibilities, and conflicts with my “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality. Some might say that it is far too free of ceremony or guilt to be real. And yet the truth of God’s Word proclaims it plainly.
So, I continue in my relationship in God in the same way that I began my relationship with God; I receive His gift of grace today and place my complete dependence upon Him and His character to do what He has said He would do. And I find that I delight more in Him, live consistently with my beliefs and increasingly encourage others to trust in Him too. I do not have to work really hard to prove my thankfulness to God.
That is weird.