Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Fulfillment

I was raised in a mainline, liturgical church. It was a good experience for me, and it laid a foundation for faith that was needed later in life. Since then, I’ve been a part of charismatic, evangelical and reformed churches, all of which were good for me in their season. Years ago, a friend of mine started calling himself a PresboEpiscoMatic, which sounded both unique and accurate enough to describe my faith. But recently I started thinking about how to describe my spirituality in a way that didn’t sound like such a mish-mash of wandering uncertainty and instead defined what I believed about who I am. 

I’m not liturgical. Every church has a liturgy (or a format) by which they live out their beliefs, and I’m no different in that respect. I appreciate the liturgical year and find it helpful to keep me focused on my own walk with Jesus. I appreciate how mainline churches formed a liturgy to bring biblical truths to illiterate populations, just as I appreciate the reformed thinkers who challenged the religious rituals that sometimes overshadowed the truths of Scripture. Likewise, I appreciate the evangelicals who passionately sought to bring the truth of Scripture to all people in every nation. 

But to be clear I’m not an evangelical either, at least not in the way it has come to be understood by both believers and non-believers alike. I live in what I believe to be a Post-Christian society, where the majority of people have been inoculated against the truth of Scripture through a misrepresentation by those who bear Christ’s name. Despite noble intentions and success in spreading the gospel, the evangelical movement has significantly contributed to our Post-Christian society. Many evangelicals have treated people as projects rather than an person of great worth, made in the image of God and worthy of love. When a person is treated as a means to an end rather than as an end in themselves, they naturally resent the group who offered such a bait and switch: “We’ll love you unconditionally so long as you meet certain conditions.” As a result, many evangelical leaders are choosing to dig in their heels to assert the truth of scripture in a bold, uncompromising and sometimes uncompassionate way. In contrast, others are watering down the truth to be more winsome to seekers, diluting the truth that people desperately need to hear. I believe there is a third choice: speak the truth in love. Our culture so easily confuses identity with behavior and has difficulty separating “being nice” from being kind or loving. 

I’m of the belief that you can’t love others without being truthful, and it’s not the full truth apart from love. In other words, truth in the absence of love is not the full truth, and love without truth is not the fullness of love. It reminds me of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:17 that Paul further unfolded in his epistles as the doctrine of Grace. God’s Law remains true even though we are incapable of living up to His high standard. The Law, which is truly good, reveals our need for a Savior. God’s Grace saves us and there is nothing we need to do other than trust Him for salvation. However, the Grace of God as manifested by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection doesn’t end there as some teachings have misrepresented Grace. God’s Grace prompts a response to live in truth and love however imperfectly we are able to follow God’s will. We need to both trust God and obey Him, having Grace for both ourselves and others as we live it out inadequately. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and show us our rightful place with respect to God’s authority, restoring our relationship with the Father through His Holy Spirit. 

It seems there are so many ways that our haughty race tries to elevate ourselves, to become god of our own world and judge all the others in it by a shifting moral standard we both create and adjust as suits our current desires. But there is only One God -- One Author of all Truth -- and He created that truth to be lived out in love, humbly leading others in truth as just one more sinner who has been saved by Grace. The early Christians were called “Followers of the Way” and Jesus referred to Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. The only Way is Jesus. It’s a relationship and not a set of rules. 

So that’s why I’m a Fulfilled Christian. I am convicted by the Law and saved by Grace to no longer be condemned by the Law, yet I’m prompted by God’s love to live out truth and love as an ambassador of His Grace. I can often fall into my own agenda, but I strive to follow God’s purposes in His ways. The only mission I have is to represent Him and His Kingdom well, and the only way I can do that is to remain close to Him… following His lead with each step. That intimate trust and obedience will lead me to make disciples of Christ and not of my own. 

I can’t call heaven down to earth the way some charismatic teachers have claimed, but the Kingdom is near when I obey the wisdom of Scripture as led by the Holy Spirit. Then, in true submission to God, the Kingdom reigns in my life and pours into the world around me. I admittedly do that imperfectly and inconsistently, so I’m regularly encouraged by the Word that I'm saved by Grace and not condemned by the Law. Like a toddler, I get back up again to walk a little longer, straighter and more nimbly each time while my Father in heaven cheers me on. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. 

Any other Fulfilled Christians out there? 
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." ~ Matthew 5:17 
copyright ©2018 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)