Reflections on Beliefs

A few years ago, a client of mine visited us for a series of meetings. He asked for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested The Gandy Dancer, my favorite restaurant. The very next day he came to my office and raved about the restaurant. He was going to recommend it to every one of his colleagues.

Smiling, I asked what he’d ordered. “Nothing,” he said, because he’d been too busy. But he had “stopped by and studied the menu, and everything looked incredible.”

That is how many of us believers live our lives. We read the menu and miss the meal. It’s as though we’ve come to believe that Christianity—boiled down to its core essence—is an abstract impersonal menu of truths.

But it isn’t; and that mistake leads to a bland, malnourished, and starving life.

An example

As an example, let’s examine the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Most Christians believe that we are justified by faith and not by works. I do too. Unfortunately, most teaching focuses on the theological concept of Justification by Faith. It doesn’t teach us how to live a life of Justification by Faith.

We are reading the menu and missing the meal.

The Test

It’s as though we think that entry into heaven is a one-question multiple-choice exam. We arrive at the pearly gates, and Jesus hands us the Entry-Into-Heaven-Exam sheet,

The Incarnation of the Son of God, the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus, the suffering and death of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the Son of Man; they all boil down to this moment. Which box will we check?

The hosts of heaven wait in anticipation. All the disciples are there; the martyrs watch; the angels, the seraphim and cherubim all wait with hushed eagerness. Will we check the right box, or will we be chopped?

Is this the essence of Christianity? Does it all boil down to an impersonal, abstract, dry, lifeless question on a test?

It’s more than that

Justification by Faith is an invitation to a feast. When Christ promises abundant life, he offers more than an extension of life in the hereafter; he offers a richness of life of living in a reality that is deep, fulfilling, and abundant. Now. That is Justification by Faith.

Do you see where I’m going? Are we content with the correct cerebral concept; or are we operating in the personal lived-in reality of the truth. Are we chewing on the menu or feasting on the meal?

The Movie Chariots of Fire examines the lives of two Olympic runners. Someone asks Harold Abrams why he runs so hard, and he says, “When that gun goes off, I have ten seconds to justify my existence.” When someone asks Eric Liddle, he says, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.”

Eric Liddle feasts on the satisfying reality of experiencing Christ’s love; Harold Abrams hungrily grasps for his life’s justification.

It is possible to hold the correct abstract concept—Justification by Faith—and not actually be Justified by Faith. We can claim Justification by Faith, and yet:

  • Get our personal satisfaction from raising good children
  • Receive our self esteem from success, promotions, or money
  • Only feel fulfilled when in a romantic relationship
  • Feel especially good about ourselves because we believe all the correct doctrines
  • Get our personal applause from our preaching or ministry

Like Harold Abrams, we are justifying ourselves. In fact, when we justify ourselves by our checking Justification by “Faith,” it is a type of justification by works; the “work” is our theological correctness.

Acknowledging the correct answer—Justification by Faith—is not the same thing as the state of being justified by Faith. I suspect even Satan could check the right box.

What to do?

Remember when our mothers wouldn’t let us eat cookies before dinner because it spoiled our appetite? It’s because the cookies give a sugar high which temporarily masks our hunger, so we miss the good nutrition from the meal. Likewise, our self-justifying actions temporarily satisfy us, but they nourish no long-term soul satisfaction.

We need to starve our self-justifying habits.

Ultimately, though, we need to ask God for a deep heart sense of his reality in our lives. When we sense his greatness in our hearts, and when we come to experience his deep love for us, then we begin to live a life that is Justified by Faith.

Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the late 1800’s. He prayed a daily prayer which began:

Lord Jesus make Yourself to me

A living, bright reality;

That is what we need, his living, bright reality. A meal that finally satisfies.

(See also, Our need for Significance.)

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.

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26 Responses to Reflections on Beliefs

  1. Dad, this is brilliant. The distinction seems so clear when you put it here, but it’s apparently not obvious in every day life. Thank you, Dad.

    • Thanks!!!!
      So, the question for all of us: how do we move from the menu of truths to the meal of knowing deep in our hearts?

      • BraveofHeart says:

        We don’t. We ask him to reveal his love for us, to us. And then We let Him move us to himself through him loving us and us responding to that love…

      • actively seeking. we can’t be passive. God wants us to actively seek Him… be His hands and feet, spread his love and shine His light. When we do these things, THEN we will feel the fullness in our hearts. Then and ONLY then, will the true contentment come.

  2. amyelizabethsmith says:

    “Justification for raising children”, that is definitely me. Thanks for sharing this important truth about faith.

  3. Priscilla Lohrmann says:

    Favorite line from Chariots of Fire – Abrams. Life really does often feel like that 10 seconds. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Alex Thompson says:

    After 60 some years, I’ve finally stopped chewing on the menu Sam. It’s amazing how much better the feast of relationship tastes and satisfies and nourishes. It may not answer all the questions, but somehow, with a heart full from intimacy with the Creator, the questions aren’t all that important anymore.

    • Hi Alex,
      I wonder, perhaps, if the questions still ARE important; because when we deeply pursue the questions, they are an opportunity (an invitation) to more intimacy, to a great meal.

      Life gives us lots of little burning bushes–inexplicable moments–where we simply can’t understand.

      Reflecting on these moments–in brainstorming with God–can lead us into the next steps God has for us.

      It certainly did for Moses!

      Sam

  5. Brooks Carlson says:

    Terrific post! As one who is phenomenally task-oriented at the core, I know I “just read the menu” most of the time, though I don’t want to be like that. My question is: What do I need to DO to enjoy more intimacy with God (“eat the food, too!”), but recognizing at the same time that my tendency is always to look for what I need to DO? 🙂

    • Brooks,

      You are absolutely right. We need to learn more than the principle (menu or meal) of justification. If we don’t go beyond, it is one more menu.

      I think the key is a lived in experience of being justified. In philosophy, it would be an existential experience of his care for us. And this something we can only receive. I think we need to ask.

  6. David Guyor says:

    Very good. Won’t go into it here, but it speaks to where I’ve been thinking/writing and meditating the last week. I asked Jesus to speak earlier this morning, and I believe He began with, “Your life is not your own. But, you refuse to come to me for your life.” It went from there. (From head to heart.)

    • Hi David,

      Why is it that we all “refuse to come to [Christ] for our lives?”

      I still there is something inside us which desires to earn his favor. If I just do “this” right (theology, love, work, family) … then God will see I deserve his love.

      But … that isn’t asking for unconditional love.

  7. John says:

    Ahhh, the Gandy Dancer!

    Memories of prom dinners, anniversary dinners and birthday dinners come back to me! As you can tell, I’ve been eating from its menu for years to satiate my physical hunger.

    I pray that I can find the strength to yield myself to He who prepares a more rewarding meal for our souls’ hunger.

    Thanks for the post.

  8. Jim McFarland says:

    Sam,

    I don’t know what you have been eating recently but what has been coming out of you lately is very compelling. I’m still marvelling at the Emmaeus road walk you did with Pete.

    I agree with your son, brilliant and yet slippery like a fish.

    It takes such focus to live by faith rather than justification.

    It’s an art. I’ve never been good at art.

    Hopefully as I see enough examples such as the one you just provided it will sink in.

    Thanks for the reminder Sam.

    Why do we keep trying to live by bread alone? The menu alone?

    • Hi Jim,

      Thanks for those great comments!

      As you say, living by faith “is an art, and I’ve never been good at art.”

      But, perhaps, living by faith is a gift. It is something that God instills in our hearts; it is a deeply held conviction–a deep belief–of the heart … that says, “Christ really does love us” –and when we have that deep in our hearts, then faith is simply walking in that lived in experience. We don’t have to “do” anything anymore.

      Even art.

      • Jim McFarland says:

        Good words Sam.

        Accept the gift each day.

        Walk in the light you have, and believe he will either direct your steps or else enlarge your heart.

  9. Bruce Yocum says:

    Took me a while to get past the guy who went to the Gandy Dancer and didn’t eat anything. What an idiot! (hope he doesn’t read your posts…)

    As usual very compelling.

  10. Christi says:

    I’m agreeing with the Other Sam Williamson This is brilliant. I like to DO and I love to think…too often that gets in the way of the feast itself. This is a good reminder. We’re so forgetful. (Not unlike the children of Israel.) I need reminders to ask for and revel in the free gift.

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