January 11, 2006

Between Selfish and Committed

1501 PAGE15 capfter a school year and a half of . . .. . . trying to narrow my literary focus, my master?s program has deepened my interest in the Bible. In just a few minutes I will go to hear a renowned theorist talk about what he calls ?The Perverse Core of Christianity.? The sun sets at 4:20. The talk begins at 4:00. How long will I stay? The entire time. Will I feel guilty? Am I breaking the Sabbath?

I don?t know--honestly.

Fifteen months of public school education has enabled me to easily make excuses for what I do on the Sabbath because no one is around for me to mimic. I use the word ?mimic? because that is what I was doing for much of my past Seventh-day Adventist life. There have been enough fellow Adventists everywhere I?ve lived who do the typical Sabbath preparation to keep me faithful. While I was at Andrews University, Sabbath?s coming was obvious. Hallways became temporary rest areas for chairs and other items in the vacuum?s way; gospel music traveled from one room to another; clothes were ironed for the day; and we all spent a little extra time getting ready (running blow dryers and curling irons, overloading the circuit). It was not just easy to be part of that tradition, but enjoyable--because we were sharing the same experience.

But not so any longer. I?m on my own now. My roommate is a Christian but not a Seventh-day Adventist. Though she respects my practices, she doesn?t check my consistency. I have Adventist friends in the area, but it?s not as if we constantly remind one another of our commitment. Instead, we assume that each is on track. Perhaps that should change.

In a place where the Seventh-day Adventist form of Christianity is outnumbered by so many others, it is easier, with every passing day, to excuse my behavior. But my primary concern is not that the grocery shopping and housecleaning are in progress as the sun goes down. For me, it?s the things that I am not used to ever doing that are now hard to categorize. I wouldn?t go to a lecture on Huckleberry Finn on Friday night but one on Christianity seems OK. If it were held in the amphitheater of Chan Shun Hall at Andrews, I?d go without a second thought. But the room at my public school is filled with non-Adventists, some of whom are atheists. What I?ll soon find out is that they haven?t come to discuss what we can do about the problem, but simply what the problem is.

He Was Right, and I Was Guilty
The problem, as identified by the speaker, is the tendency of Christians to use grace and salvation through the death of Christ as excuses to do whatever they please, because they know they can ask for forgiveness. In a way, this form of Christianity enables anyone to be a Christian, hence its perverse core.

I sit there thinking, Yes, this is so true. We must never do this. It perpetuates a once-saved-always-saved mentality. The man is an atheist, and even he knows. Wow!

1501 page15And yet, upon reflection, I see that I am a partaker in the perversion of Christianity because I am taking advantage of God?s grace, assuming that if indeed my decision to attend the lecture is wrong, I?d have time to ask for forgiveness.

I?m forced to question the situation thoroughly. Would I have missed something had I not attended the lecture? Yes, I would have missed the opportunity to hear that particular scholar talk on that particular topic to that particular audience in one of the most fabulous displays of scholarly prowess I?ve ever encountered. But would missing all of that thwart my intellectual growth? Probably not. I may not have been writing this article, but in some other way God would have taught me the necessary lesson: when in doubt about what would please God and what would not (emergency circumstances aside), it?s better to tackle the deeper issue: commitment.

If I am not committed to keeping the Sabbath, the lines of distinction become blurry as I go to the lecture on Christianity, an act that may not keep me out of heaven but certainly doesn?t bring me closer to God. And isn?t that what the Sabbath is for? Shouldn?t I participate in activities that I am certain will honor my Father in heaven and strengthen my relationship with Him?

But I lack commitment to what I know to be true; any uncertainties serve to shake my foundation even more. In addition, if I submit completely to the will of God, I fear that I?ll have to give up so much--and in return for what?

It?s the Gray Areas that Perplex Me
As the perverse core of my human nature (the self-centered focus that only wants to give when reciprocity is guaranteed) clings daily to my Christian walk, I unknowingly fall farther from what is right and draw closer to the many gray areas that my Christian walk contains. More than anything, I would like for life to be black and white, clear-cut, certain without hesitation. Unfortunately, there is so much gray area in which I can wallow and with which I can substantiate my lack of commitment. And, shamefully, much of the gray area exists only because I let it.

Questions for Reflection

Or for Use in Your Small Group

1. Recall a time when you had to live outside the ?comfort zone? of your own faith communion. What particular challenges did you face? What lessons did you learn?
2. What negative factors do you see resulting from underexposure to the ?outside world?? What might be the potential drawbacks of overexposure?
3. What lessons can we learn about such issues from the life of Jesus?

I like repeating Philippians 1:6: ?He who has begun a good work in [me] will complete it? (NKJV),* but I often forget that the only way He can complete it is if I let Him. And letting Him means committing to what He wants. That requires putting me aside. Perhaps I should concentrate a bit more on this text: ?Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun? (Ps. 37:5, NIV).

But even then, how do I commit to the Lord?

When I think of the major commitments I?ve made in life, one thing unites them: I knew a lot about what I was committing to beforehand. I did my research. I asked myself again and again if the commitment would benefit both me and the person or entity I was committing to. To commit is to pledge to do. If I commit my way to the Lord, I pledge to do what He wants. But before I make my pledge, and even though I walk by faith, I need to do my research. What does it mean when I say that God is Lord of my life? And as Lord, what are His expectations for my daily existence?

As I read the Bible and figure out that I?m committing to the Ruler of the universe and to the task of saving souls, things take a different turn. Gray areas dissipate. If I truly want this relationship, I?ll do all I can to make it work.

I can?t blame grad school. I can?t blame my non-Seventh-day Adventist environment. That Friday evening lecture was some three years ago, and during all the time that?s passed since then, I?ve had many more opportunities to rationalize my behavior. At the core of my perversion of Christianity sits my selfishness, for which there is no neat and tidy solution. I may struggle with this for the rest of my life.

But I find consolation in this: I am privileged to be able to ask God daily for guidance and strength as He completes the good work He?s started.

Michaela Lawrence lives in Lacombe, Alberta. She writes to help young adults establish and strengthen essential relationships with others and with God.