Saturday, March 7, 2009

tension of the heart

As you can see, I've got quite a bit to say tonight. I hope you will make it through to the end with me, even if not all in one sitting. :-)

I would like to begin by praising God for the fact that my outlook on life has improved a great deal in recent weeks. I am extremely thankful for this change and must let you know that. There is, however, one aspect of my perspective which has become an area of concern for me. I have realized just within the past few days how much I am living in fear of condemnation. Not condemnation from God, for I firmly believe that I have been justified fully through the blood of Christ. I have accepted Christ as my one and only way of salvation and redemption and am attempting daily to live in faith and in His will for my life. I do not believe that I have anything to be uneasy about from God, for He has promised redemption and is always faithful. And I know that in the last day I will give an account for myself and no one else, and no other will give his own account for me. The fate of my soul is and will be between me and God; to my own master I stand or fall, and I will stand, for the Lord is able to make me stand. No, when it comes to my worry about condemnation, it is rather God’s people of whom I am afraid. Now this may sound ridiculous. After all, what might I have to fear from the people who should love me the most? But this gnawing apprehension will not ease, nor will the worry that my concerns may have some basis. And above all, my trepidation points to some deeper issues of the heart.

To state it rather candidly, I am in the process of exploring some points of view which I believe are not and probably never will be supported by some members of my family and church fellowship. I don’t want to delve deeper into those specific contemplations at the moment, as that is not presently my aim. And it would serve us all well to remember that, as I have already mentioned, this is a process. My views are far from set -- more that they are in the stage of inception -- and they will surely continue to develop, most likely continuing to evolve over the course of my lifetime. I cannot say for certain who I will be and what I will believe a year from now, much less fifteen or fifty years from now. My prayer is that God will continue the process of maturing me in faith, in love, in knowledge, and in wisdom. I cannot ask to see the end result right now. I can only ask for Him to be faithful in the present and to assist me in my own faithfulness to Himself.

All that being said, my deliberation at this time, as I begin to prayerfully examine the beliefs that I hold, is how to faithfully fulfill the various purposes and directives I believe God has given me in this life, especially as those paths sometimes seem, in my own admittedly limited vision, to be inharmonious or perhaps even irreconcilable. One calling I cannot dismiss is that to examine my heart, mind, and beliefs, to pursue truth, and to live a life dedicated unswervingly to God’s service in light of the truth which is revealed to me. At the same time, I am called to live a life of love, giving of myself as Christ gave of Himself, and submitting to my fellow Christians out of reverence for God.

Jesus assured His followers that if they would ask, seek, and knock, they would receive their answer from God. And so I am asking for knowledge, I am seeking wisdom, and I am knocking at the door of the kingdom, humbly desiring to enter. I am searching for the truth that gives freedom. I am in all things wanting to glorify my Savior and Redeemer, and I want to do nothing which will inflict injury on or inhibit the spiritual growth of His church. I do not believe that these two callings of mine -- one to wisdom and the other to love -- are mutually exclusive. By no means could they be, since Christ realized both of them. At times, however, because we are all imperfect humans with incomplete understanding, there is an extremely delicate line to walk. And I am not yet sure how to even approach that line, much less how to engage it.

Perhaps in my time of study and prayer, God will lead me to conclusions which are generally acceptable to those whom I love dearly. Perhaps my current inclinations are merely the expression of incomplete knowledge or faith. At times I almost wish this to be so, for it would simplify my life considerably. But the life of faith has never been an easy one, and to sacrifice truth for the sake of convenience would be foolishness indeed! And so, I must continue to follow the beckoning of God into greater knowledge, understanding full well that this may turn out to be a costly decision. How am I to react if the wisdom he imparts to me is in fact at odds with the beliefs of those I love? Undoubtedly, I am to serve Him first and foremost, even at the cost of leaving behind father and mother, husband and children, brothers and sisters, and even my own life, as Christ makes quite clear in Luke 14. Yet at the same time, I am called to live a life of love, just as Christ loved and gave Himself up. I am asked to sacrifice my own desires and proclivities in order to ensure the spiritual health of each member of the body of Christ. On disputable matters (whatever those may be!), I am permitted to hold an opinion which may not be shared by all, but I am never permitted to allow that belief to destroy my brother for whom Christ died. I am to make every effort to do what leads to righteousness, peace, joy, and mutual edification.

This is not an easy path to tread, however. It would be much more manageable an affair if I were guaranteed that those with whom I will be interacting were doing their best to work toward wisdom and deference as well. The church is certainly better able to seek, serve, and glorify God when it also pursues unity and reciprocal submission. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And even when all of the parties involved do preserve those goals, the definition of what exactly is contestable and what is essential comes into question. In what matters should we surrender, and on what issues would acquiescing to another’s opinion be an abandonment of the truth of God? I fear that some subjects which I would consider to be the disputable matters addressed in Romans 14 are regarded by others as issues of extreme importance, perhaps even to the point of salvation, issues which are not open to question or interpretation. And I am sure the same is true in reverse. There’s the rub.

Perhaps ‘condemnation’ is too strong a word. Perhaps ‘reproof’ or ‘disapproval’ would be better suited to name my apprehension. For, again, I do not foresee damnation or censure from God, though I am sure there will be others who would believe I should dread such a thing and will not hesitate greatly to tell me so themselves if the time comes. It is rather the possibility of just such a reaction from those I love that distresses me. I do not ever want my family and church to feel as though I am living in blatant disregard for and rebellion to God’s commands and am subject to His disapproval. I do not want to be spurned for my convictions if I have come to them through an honest desire to know and follow God. It would be nice to be received for the person I am and am becoming in Christ, regardless of the fact that my beliefs may sometimes differ from their own.

However important these considerations may be to me, though, through my consideration of them, an even more fundamental question has come into view in my life. This more pertinent and all-encompassing query is this: Should it even really matter? Should I be attentive to the kind of reaction I get from those around me regarding the convictions I hold? Ought not my one and only guide be God, as revealed through Christ the Word and the Spirit, my Counselor?

Please, please do not misunderstand me to be saying that I believe the observations and concerns of my Christian family should be disdained or even neglected. I know that God has placed His people in community for many very good reasons, one of which is so that we can encourage and exhort one another to live pure and holy lives of faithfulness. I greatly value this role of the church, and I thank God for His wisdom to use His people in such a way!

What I am getting at, rather, is really the question of where my allegiance truly lies. Is my faith built on the weak foundation of a need for acceptance and affirmation, or is it firmly established on the Lordship of Christ and none other? Why am I fearful of the judgment of others if I have been justified fully by the grace of God? If indeed I am given the knowledge that I ask God for, and if indeed living in that knowledge entails something which is different from that which I have known and that which those around me still cling to, how will I react? How will I attempt to live in submission to my fellow Christians without compromising the integrity of the gospel of Christ? And if those I love are not as supportive as I might hope, will I shrink back in fear of displeasing them, or will I be able to boldly step out in faith into the life that God has called me to? What are my idols, and who is truly my God? Will I abandon all else, even that which is most precious to me, leaving everything behind in order that I might know God better and serve Him fully?

I like to think I know the answer to those questions. I like to hope that in faith I will be able to live confidently in the Lord, pursuing and living in truth as He reveals it to me. And I know that God is in the process of developing such a faith in me. I ask you, however, to consider these questions in your own life. And I beg you to pray for me, for yourself, and for all of us. Pray that we might seek knowledge and wisdom, that we might live in love and submission, and that, above all, we might find Christ and only Christ at the center of our lives!

1 comment:

Paul said...

As probably the least qualified person to pass judgement on your faith based convictions, I can only hope that you find what you are looking for. Sounds like a fascinating process is taking place - and i'm very interested to see what happens next!

All the best.