outside view

It depends on Faith

‘It depends on faith’.
Genesis 15: 1 – 6; Romans 4: 1 – 12; John 5: 5 – 16, 39 – 42
‘It depends on faith.’ Paul writes to the Roman Church and says, ‘it depends on faith’ [Rom 4:16] Paul is making a breath-taking statement. Paul has been saying that our relationship with God does not depend on our effort, our moral goodness or our holiness, but our relationship with God depends solely on our faith in what God has done in Christ Jesus. The reason is that the image of God in us is so tarnished we can’t clean it up ourselves. God alone can make us good enough to be included in God’s family.  All we can do is trust God.
Deep down we know we aren’t good enough. Unfortunately we also don’t trust God enough. I recall visiting a member in hospital. She was one of those in the inner circle of the Church. She was involved in adult education. There she was in hospital, very sick. I asked if she was at peace with God. She replied, “I’m not sure I am good enough to go to God.” I was a little surprised. Her tone of voice echoed her uncertainty and there was a hint of fear. My standard reply to someone who says this to me is that they aren’t good enough and never will be, but God accepts us and makes us right with God through Christ Jesus. That is the Gospel. That is Good News!  It is one of the hardest things for people to understand that God accepts us as we are and makes us good enough to enter God’s presence and group, because of the work of Jesus Christ.
Paul has argued very thoroughly that the way to God is not through us achieving any level of goodness, or because one is circumcised, or because of belonging to a religious group or ethnic group, or because we have been baptised, but because God gives us the gift of God’s acceptance of us. Paul writes; For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. [Rom 3: 23-25]
The point is that our sin – assertion of self against the other – has broken down our connectivity to the rest of life.  Our assertiveness destroys our relationships. Our sin is a destructive force undermining our inter-community relationships, personal relationships and even our sense of self-worth.  At best our connectivity to others is weak and shallow. 
Paul reinforces the gift of God’s love to us by saying that if we could earn God’s acceptance it would  merely be something we deserve.  It wouldn’t be a gift. Like wages received for work done our thank you, if at all, is perfunctory. It is not necessary to thank someone for your wages. One’s wages are our due. If we could prove that we are worthy we would not need God to help us.  God’s gift of love comes to us as pure gift – love given to the unworthy. That is grace. God loves us all – from the worst to the best of us.  This gift gives us benefits. God’s gift builds up our self-esteem.  For all our failings God’s acceptance of us tells us that we are worthy because we are God’s.  Even if we are not so worthy in the eyes of the world, we are God’s creation made in God image and God does not make trash.  Humans make trash God doesn’t. God’s gift teaches us to be grateful.  Gratitude is a life giving emotion. A thankful heart is an energise heart.  The heartbeat of the thankful person is stronger than the heartbeat of the cynic or the sad person. The gift of God’s love energises us to reciprocate in some way or other. We cannot be loved without being moved to love.  God’s gift of acceptance through Christ calls forth trust in us.  Without faith where would we be? Faith in this instance is not belief in a set of rules or principles or precepts, it is having faith in someone. Faith here is trust. Trust belongs to a relationship. One cannot enter into a relationship without a measure of trust. Good relationships are built on trust that is ever deepening.
This is the Gospel. This is why we need the Gospel.  We are a disconnected people. Our common history and our personal history point to this disconnection within the fabric of our personal and communal lives. God meets us at this point of need for connection with others, this world and God. The connection begins with God who declares God’s acceptance of our unworthiness.  Then God sets us on a path of renewal through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. God accepts us as we are and begins the process of restoring the tarnished image of God’s self in us. That is a long road to walk and for some of us it is a very hard road. It is an earthly-life walk. Only as the image of God begins to be restored do we become beacons of life and love.
God has given us the gift of life and love and God has given us marvellous examples. There was the 17th Century preacher’s boy who grumbled about the dirgy psalms they had to sing. The boy was a bit like his father. His father had an independent and thoughtful mind. He had been imprisoned on two occasions for his nonconformist beliefs. When his son complained about the dirgy music of the church his father snapped and told him to be quiet or do something about it. The boy did.
He grew up with a fine mind, a gift for poetry and love for God. He was passionate about life and God. He, like most men, wanted to marry. He proposed to one young woman. Now he wasn’t a handsome man. “He had a small body, an oversized head and beady eyes. The young woman declined the offer of marriage saying; ‘”I like the jewel but I don’t like the setting.”  That man was a jewel. Such rejection in such a manner could destroy a gentle spirit. This young man set about writing his poetry and went on to write more than 600 hymns. Isaac Watts (1674-1748) became known as the father of English Hymnody.  More than the quantity of his hymns was the quality. He began to include the personal pronoun ‘I’ to describe the intimate relationship enjoyed with the Lord God he loved. In so doing Isaac Watts changed the way we worshipped forever.
Many people consider ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’ to be the finest of his hymns.  Watts stirs our souls with what feels like such a personal view of Christ’s crucifixion that we imagine he was actually standing at the foot of the cross.  He lays bare his horror and sadness along with his heartfelt amazement that Christ should go through such suffering for him – for us.  Line by line, he paints a picture of the dreadful reality of Christ’s ordeal followed by his questioning of the enormous challenge it presents to him. If Christ can give so much for him and for his salvation, then how much more should he be giving in return?  He can think of no gift that is great enough. There is nothing to compare. Finally, he proclaims that in small repayment for Christ’s sacrifice, his love so amazing so divine, he, Watts, simply has to offer up everything of worth he has. God’s gift of his Son for our sake demands my soul, my life, my all!”  [Pam Rhodes, Love so Amazing, 2014. P. 137f]
Isaac Watts knew he had to respond to Christi’s unconditional love by dedicating his whole life and soul to God’s service.  This is the faith required of us – to trust God completely so God can enter our lives to restore God’s image in us.
I invite you to sing, thoughtfully and prayerfully, the song Isaac Watts wrote.
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all. 
(TiS 342 vv 1,4)