Some book titles have you at “Hello.” Here’s one that grabbed me: How to be a Christian without Being Religious. It’s in vogue to be ambiguously “spiritual.” I’m not suggesting vague spirituality here. The distinction I’m making has to do with the heart of faith–the core message of it.
Mere religion centers upon do’s and don’ts, should’s and shouldn’ts. Moralism. Religious people with a lot of pride tend to be moralistic. When shame drives them, they tend to judge. When pride drives them, they tend to be “better than you.” Each one looks to sacred writings primarily for advice to do better.
So, how does true faith affect us, if not our morals?
The character of scripture, which informs faith, is not advice for better behavior. The heart of its message brings news, which centers not on a code of conduct but upon how we relate to God. People accuse the Bible of being like the nightly news, where they say “Good evening” and then tell you why it isn’t. Yet, is the bad news really news? Can’t most people (when honest with themselves) recognize their selfishness?
The real news is this: God has built a bridge called grace. Grace means “unmerited favor.” Think about it. If the dividing line between good and evil runs through the human heart, then just trying harder can’t better our condition. Again, our driving motive must also be mended. Herein lies the unique quality of grace. Since grace can only be received as a gift, motives change as we respond rather than earn. When we get for free what we could never earn and do not deserve, gratitude becomes the only fitting response. Not pride. Not guilt.
None of us likes to be in someone’s debt. Grace kicks in when we realize we already are. That’s why C.S. Lewis put’s it this way: “There are two kinds of people in the world–those who say to God, Thy will be done, and those to whom God says, Alright then, have it your way.”