When faith is frightening

he following is an article written for the St Catharines Standard Newspaper where Peter is a regular columnist.

Believers in Christ accept that something utterly amazing happened at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Once and for all, God put the punishment for the world’s sins on Jesus. The phrase “the world’s sins” is all inclusive from Hitler’s murders to a gossiping church member; all was put on Christ. To millions this carries a profound meaning for their daily life, and they believe that what happened at the cross has power to transform people from the inside out. The message of what Christ did is commonly called “Gospel”, which means “Good News”.

Here is where it gets fuzzy. What is the good news all about? Is it good news that if you do your best, God will do the rest? Or is the good news that God gave Jesus as an example of good living, and those who follow Him will be saved? Surprisingly the answer is no on both counts! The most famous verse in the entire Bible simply says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”, (John 3:16). There is only one condition, “believe”, nothing about us doing our best, or our attempts to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

“Believe” is a verb and “faith” is a noun, two sides of the same coin, and two words that to some seem weak and to others even frightening. Why? Because believing puts the focus away from our performance; faith has nothing to do with our effort, our good attitude, diligent studies, or our attempt at impressing God with our humility. Faith is not about what we need to do, but it is simply to put our trust in what God has done for us. We are relying on someone else for the payment of our debt and that can be nerve-wracking. I’m relaxed when I drive my car, but let someone else take the wheels and suddenly my anxiety level rises. Faith frightens some, because it means to rely on another.

Faith is to trust in God’s grace. Grace can have no strings attached to it, it must be free; it has nothing to do with bargains, or the idea of “you do your part and God will do His”. Grace is not a contract, or a negotiated settlement between God and man. If it was, it would depend on each of the contractually bound parties to fulfill their respective obligations. A contract is not rooted in love, but in the performance of those who are party to it. God’s idea is not to transform the world or an individual through a contractual obligation, but through unconditional love. There is no tit for tat, grace is a free gift, and yet it empowers. The unconditional grace and love of God gives us the capacity for genuine moral improvement; without it, all we can muster is polishing the outside. Grace makes us honest, vulnerable, transparent and open to change because of the good God has done for us through Jesus. No need for cover-ups or pretense. After all, we are not trying to prove our own ability; we are trusting in God’s unconditional love. This removes the idea of us earning credits with God. We simply surrender to another, and the good another has done is credited to us. Frightening? Maybe, but also totally liberating. Best of all, faith itself is a gift, not the result of our effort, that way we can’t even take credit for believing. Since it’s all free, why not ask for it? You can, if you want to.

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