OK. This may well get me in big trouble, but let me throw it out there anyway. The question before those of us assembled on the mesa is, what is the point of the Christian faith?
This question comes to us because it seems that if we can grasp the big picture, if we can understand that what God wants is people that live the way He made them to live, how does that inform the purpose of Jesus’ coming?
A simple viewing of the Eternal Word Television Network, or a visit to an Episcopal church, or visiting a low-church protestant service reveals the centrality of Jesus in the assembly. Now this essay is not going to suggest we do away with or ignore Jesus, but it will question whether, in our attempt to worship Him well, we have forgotten what the big picture really is.
It seems to me that Jesus did not change the big picture. Rather, He came to illustrate it and be its example to those who can recognize God when they see Him. In other words, while Jesus’ coming was known and planned from the beginning, His coming is essentially a fix for humans; it is not the point of humans. While the coming, the death, the resurrection, the ascension of Jesus are certainly glorious revelations of God’s grace, they have a point outside of themselves.
The big picture it seems to me is that God wants us to be the people He made us to be – people who are made in His image; who are most at home when we live as though we have the character of God Himself. If we read Scripture closely enough, that is what it reveals. Why are people condemned? For not being compassionate. Why are people granted access to the King? Because they give glasses of water.
How is Jesus the way to God, and why are we told that only those who believe in Him can gain entrance? Perhaps the answer is not quite as objective and clear as we sometimes want to believe. In John the context of the first three chapters provides an understanding of “belief” as something other than – something more than – objective acceptance. Those who believe are those who love the Light; those who see God and are drawn to Him when He appears; those who surrender themselves to the transforming Light that offers to shape them into their intended form. It is in this context that we read “…whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This is an important distinction since our salvation is not dependent on passing a test, but on living God. It is not on being baptized, but in surrendering to God. It is not on Godly sorrow, but on turning our lives over to God. Could it be that it is in this sense that those who reject Christ will be lost? If we run away from Jesus rather than toward Him, we are then subject to the wrath of God. Could it be that this is the meaning of Jesus being the entrance to God? The way to God ceases to be a Jewish carpenter but the carpenter becomes the example of who we are called to be. If we conform ourselves to Jesus not because He’s Jesus but because that’s who we are meant to be, then and only then do we gain access to God. Is that possible?
OK, I know that may sound blasphemous to many, but does it not make sense that the big picture is our conforming to God, not the fix per se? Does not that fit more with what the broader scope of Scripture is telling us? The broad sweep of Scripture presents a God that made Man to be His image, to live with His character and world view. Because Man couldn’t consistently live in the character of God, God planned a fix, and provided that fix in God’s timing.
But it was a fix – not the intent. It was a gracious fix, known apparently from the beginning; a wonderful act of forgiveness and love, but a corrective nonetheless. The intent was that Man would live out of the character in which he was made, and the fix is a remarkably effective one. God comes to the world and lives a life that exhibits the life that Man was made to live. In doing so, God provides not just the example but forgiveness for our failures. Essentially, the message is “live like this, and because Jesus did, you can gain forgiveness if you wake up and seek to live in the same way.”
As I have mentioned before, N.T. Wright suggests an alternative translation for Romans 3.22. He says (as do Dunn and Sanders) that this verse, normally translated to indicate it is our faith in Jesus that saves us, can be translated to mean “…the faith that was in Jesus” is what saves us. In other words, we are saved not by any faith that we may have, but we gain entrance to God by the steadfast faithfulness of Jesus to God’s will.
If this is true, then Mankind gains entrance to God simply because Jesus, as the second Adam, restores Man in relationship to God. It remains that each person recognize the God character in Jesus and move toward it. In so doing, in imitating Jesus, we gain entrance to God.
How does this affect our faith? It is important, first, to recognize that we worship Jesus as God and we do so appropriately. It provides though a broader understanding of who we are, of what our calling is. Our understanding of that calling changes from being Christians as opposed to Muslims or Jews, and moves toward living as God wants us to live. Jesus becomes not an entrance at the end of a maze, but the example that leads us to God. Our faith lives change from doing church correctly or even being The Church in the world, to simply living as God has wanted us to live forever. Are we The Church? Yes, but simply as the logical result of living as God would have us live. Do we follow Jesus? Yes, but not simply because he is Messiah; He is the example who demonstrates for us how we are to live.
It is that living, that becoming the very character of God that saves us. Because we can still do that only imperfectly, the faithfulness that was in Jesus provides for all of Mankind justification that allows us entrance to God.