It takes a lot of determination to keep living like you mean it. And more than that, more importantly, too, it takes a lot of the Holy Spirit. There are two equal and opposite errors that we always make as those on a faith journey. The first is to walk like a Christian but to say that you can do fine just following certain precepts and instructions. That nothing mystical is needed… nothing odd or quirky. That in fact, being a Christian is simply a rational and hardheaded way of approaching life. That you are simply staring life straight in the face, and not putting your head in the sand like most people. The common words in the mouths of such Christians are: “sinful”, and “lost” and also “righteous”.
The second error on the faith journey is to argue that all we need is the Spirit. To say that unless we feel it it cannot be so. To pour cold water on the logic of doctrine and the systematizing of theologians. To shrug off careful biblical exposition and to depend on the candle, the bell and the song. The approach to non-Christians is to invite participation, and to draw the needy in. Common words for such a position are “flow”, “unity” and “love”.
The few theologians I have read on St. Paul speak continually of the tension of living. We are both redeemed and sanctified, and lost and ailing at the same time. We have equally made it, got where we needed to be, and simultaneously we are tumbling down, down: tripped up once again. Keep in step with the Spirit, we are urged. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells us to walk by faith, not by sight. And in Hebrews 11 we are inspired by the believers of old, before Christ split the atom and turned our understanding of ourselves on its head. By faith Abraham went to sacrifice his son. By faith Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. By faith Moses chose to be ill-treated with the people of God. By faith Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets… by faith. And faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
These three remain, faith, hope and love. I’ve not got to the bottom of them yet. But without faith we cannot receive the Holy Spirit. Without His consoling presence I would have abandoned these beliefs long ago. And with faith I fill up on hope and love daily, more every day, keeping close to the line of Scripture, to the word that rescues me.
What grabs me about Christianity is that it is so sensible, and also so wonderful. It turns the heads of the businesswoman, the scientist, the poet and the doctor. It reifies the vision of the idealist: it redeems the blasted dreams of the drunk and the criminal. It puts the earth back on its axis and keeps it spinning when everyone said it couldn’t carry on. We are not withholding our affection from you, says St. Paul to the Corinthians, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – open wide your hearts also.