On the True Test of Faith…

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“In the fourth century, St. Jerome struggled to render the Word of God into the language of the day.” 

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Thursday, February 19, 2015 – To the caption above I would add: “It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now.” But back to the topic: I came up with the idea for this post after reviewing the main Bible readings for Ash Wednesday this year, including Luke 18:9-14. There’s more on Luke’s lesson below, but the key question most people today ask is this: “What do I have to do to be saved?” To get to heaven, achieve Nirvana, whatever. What are the rules?

On the one hand there are the Legalists, the so-called Christians who believe the Bible is one long list of rules to follow, and that if you don’t follow each one “to the letter,” you’re going to hell. Or as one site said, legalism is a “doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulating the achievement of salvation and spiritual growth. Christians who sway toward this way of thinking demand a strict adherence to rules and regulations.” 

On the other hand there’s this from Lesson 57: Why Jesus Hates Legalism:

There is probably no sin more tolerated or more widespread in the Christian world than legalism. It may surprise you to hear it labeled as sin. Legalists are thought to be a bit overzealous or “uptight,” but they aren’t usually thought of as sinning in the same sense as adulterers, thieves, liars, and the like. To the contrary, legalists seem to be concerned about holiness. Yet the Lord Jesus had more conflicts with the legalists of His day than any other group…

On that note, in 2d Corinthians 3:6 the Apostle Paul said following the Letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit of the Law gives life, gives spiritual growth, gives personal fulfillment. And may even help you perform greater miracles than Jesus did, as He said we should in John 14:12

Then there’s that Luke 18:9-14 reading, on the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector. A Pharisee, “obsessed by his own virtue, is contrasted with a tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. This parable demonstrates the need to pray humbly.” Or as Jesus concluded, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All of which can cause a lot of confusion – “What do I need to do?” – and which also brings up what might be called “the True Test of Faith.” For starters, imagine two Christians said to be devout. They both die, and they both find out that whole faith-of-the-Bible has been a hoax. They find out there is no God, that there is no afterlife, and that there will be no reward for good behavior during their time here on earth. The first Christian is outraged. “What? You mean I could have spent my life partying? Boozing it up? Chasing women, loose and otherwise?  Boy am I angry, when I think of all the fun things that I could have been doing!”

But the second Christian is a more thoughtful. He remembers the path he’s followed, since he started reading the Bible on a daily basis. He thinks about how his Bible-reading and his path-following have led to unexpected breakthroughs. And he thinks of the time when he got pushed past the Breaking Point. (As in, “bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One,” like it says in the Lord’s Prayer.*)  He things of Peter, at his Breaking Point in Matthew 26:33-35, where he denied Jesus.  And how he failed, just like Peter did…

Then he thinks about the other “testing adventures” he’s had.  Some of those tests he passed, others he failed, but from all he got life lessons to pass on to others. And his life had structure, meaning and purpose, even if only in his own mind. So, after all this thinking the second Christian said, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

That to me is the true test of faith. Of course I do believe in and follow Jesus, and that there’s a better life than this to come, and that the soul is a form of energy that is neither created nor destroyed but merely changes form. (Like it says in the First law of thermodynamics.) I’m just saying, that’s the kind of faith I’ve trying to develop. And that’s the kind of faith this blog is trying to find, both for you the reader and me the Writer.  It also brings up an ancient prayer:

O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell, burn me in hell;  if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise;  but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty.

That’s from On three suitors (a parable), which also discussed problems interpreting the Bible, like the Hebrew style of writing and of interpreting parables in general. On that note, one source said, “We are supposed to create nimshalim for ourselves.” Which all brings up a poetic line, “The Bible was designed to expand your mind.” (To the tune, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.”) But what about those “rules to follow?” What does the Bible itself say about “being saved?”

In closing I’d say the answer lies in John 6:37 and Romans 10:9. In the first Jesus said He would never turn away anyone who comes to Him. In the second the Apostle Paul said if you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, “you will be saved.” No ifs, ands or buts, and no “legalistic” litmus test. 

And those are promises you can take to the bank, spiritually speaking…

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Rabia Basri, female Muslim saint and mystic…”

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The upper image was suggested by St. Jerome: The Perils of a Bible Translator – September 1997, which provided the quote:  “In the fourth century, St. Jerome struggled to render the Word of God into the language of the day.   It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now.”  The image itself is courtesy of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) | Saint Jerome as Scholar.

I used the lower image in Three suitors. See also Rabia Basri – WikipediaRabia Basri is credited for the prayer that begins, “O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell…”

Re:  The Lord’s Prayer and “the Breaking Point.”  See Garry Wills’ What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87; Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”

Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.    

The usual translation of the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  See Wikipedia.  But somehow, based on my own life experience, the term “Breaking Point” seems more appropriate. 

Re:  the Denial of Peter. See also Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33-34, John 13:36-38., and Wikipedia.

Re:  problems interpreting the Bible. See also The Parables of Jesus: Recovering the Original Meaning of Matthew’s Parables.



One thought on “On the True Test of Faith…

  1. Laura

    Men, and women, would like to put God in a box of our making. At first we say that it’s so we can more fully understand the one who made us. Before long, it becomes an excuse to remake God into something that we can control and someone who will bow to our wishes and demands. We are not happy until we are on the throne that is only his! Idolatry at its finest! Thankfully, he remains the one in control even when we have fooled ourselves into believing it is ourselves.
    He is greater than our imaginings, wiser than we could ever be, more loving than we deserve, and so joyful! It is his joy that we should emulate and seek and thrive on!
    He is our light.
    My true test of faith comes when I choose His joy over my joy. My assurance comes when I know the two joys are the same.


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