2009-11-03

Do your actions damn you?

I've been thinking about this question a lot in relation to Christianity, and a number of thoughts have come up, so I thought I would share them here. I think this question has deep implications into the culture of organized Christianity and how it is often run.

First of all, I believe that looking at the Bible, as I understand it, salvation is not a matter of behavior, but rather, the condition and direction of the heart (obviously referring to the part of you that some would call your soul or spirit, not your actual, physical heart), which is turned towards God by God himself. You might say, "but behavior follows the heart." To which I would say, "when is the last time you did something you felt honestly bad for afterward?" Probably not that long ago. So yes, while the heart may give a general direction to our behavior, we are certainly far from always following through with what we believe to be true. Also, whether or not behavior follows the heart, there is still a difference between saying salvation rests on your behavior, as opposed to the condition and direction of your heart.

I see this being twisted a lot in the organized religion of Christianity, both in history and currently, so that while we would say "salvation is by faith apart from works", we act as though it is all about our behavior. Our churches become behavior modification classes, we make people afraid of wrong behavior and try to scare and manipulate them into right behavior. Often times, there is little or no attention given to the underlying issues which may be causing one or another behavior, there is little thought about why a particular behavior is wrong, other than that someone who is up on the stage has interpreted it that way. We are made absolutely certain that if we engage in certain behaviors, something horrible will happen, that our salvation is in danger, but if we stop engaging in those behaviors, everything will be ok again.

Here are two big reasons why I feel this is extremely harmful, both to the actual faith of Christianity (that is, the individual faith, apart from the organized religion), and simply to those people who are a part of it, as human beings.

1.) Under a system where our sense of security and salvation is based on our behavior, there is really no relationship with God (or at least, there doesn't need to be). There is also no knowledge of or understanding of Grace and what it means and how it effects us. It is much simpler for us to try to follow rules than to have a successful relationship with someone, as many of us can attest, from having had some difficult relationships in life. A person could, in this system, live his/her entire life simply checking off a to-do list, and honestly believing they know God. They could live an entire life never experiencing the source of the love, care and grace that they tell people about. I think that is horrific.

2.) Under a system where any deviation of behavior leads to eternal damnation, there is incredible motivation to get in line with the official set of rules, and very little motivation to question whether those rules are valid, where they come from, and what their purpose is. The people in charge realize this, and they capitalize on it, as well as just make mistaken judgments which then become part of this orthodoxy. Before you know it, you are terrified of doing or thinking certain things, and you don't even really know why, other than that you somehow know they are wrong. Also, before you know it, you feel compelled to do or think certain things, and you don't really know why, other than that you somehow know they are right. Under this system, even if some of the rules and actions you are pressured into are really right and good, you will never know why, and will only be doing them out of fear of doing the wrong things.

To me, this seems absolutely set against what the Bible teaches - the truth will set you free, not subject you to a mindless system of laws meant to scare you into behaving properly.

This is not to say that all behavior is ok. Just as Paul says in Romans, we don't do the things we want, and we are always doing what we don't want - that is, we know what is right and wrong, but our actions don't always follow what we know. But he separates this from salvation, saying that in Christ, we have died to the law and are now no longer bound by it. That is, our salvation is not bound to the law, and therefore also not bound to our behavior.

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