Tag Archives: James

The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged

Advertisements

The Fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord can be a vague-sounding term.  On the surface it seems to suggest that we are afraid of God.

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

However, this “godly fear” is not the same kind of fear which evokes our fight or flight response.  The fear of the Lord has its beginnings in our understanding that God is so much bigger than ourselves and is beyond our complete comprehension.   In this respect, the fear of the Lord contains an element of awe.  It is similar to the awe we might feel being up close and personal with a whale, elephant, or other large animal.  Another example is the sense of smallness we get when looking up at the vast expanse of the night sky.  The sheer size of these things commands our respect.  We might call this a reverential fear.  So it is with God.  By virtue of who He is, we, and all creation, are called to show reverence to Him.  Our recognition of God as God leads us to hold Him in special esteem.  Those who fear the Lord revere the Lord.

It remains to be considered how we are to understand Jesus’ statement that we are to fear God “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:27-31)  Christ is talking about situations when we allow ourselves to be motivated by fear.  Even at times like this, we ought to obey God rather than men for God has more power over us than any human ever will.  If we are going to let the fear of men dictate our actions, so much more should we obey God since He is able to do so much more.  However, this base, animalistic fear is not fear that is holy for even demons have this fear. (James 2:19)  Christ immediately follows up by noting that even though God has such great power, He also loves us more than we can ever know, even to the point of knowing how many hairs are on our heads.  A single sparrow does not fall from the sky apart from God’s will and Christ says “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Our fear of God is based on awe as well as trust in His love of us.

To get a better idea of what this fear of the Lord is like, we turn to David, king of Israel.  When he had sinned by trusting in his military resources rather than God, God sent a message to him by way of the prophet Gad. (1 Chronicles 21:1-15)  David is given three choices for the punishment that he and the people of Israel under his rule must face:  three years of famine, three months of being defeated by their foes with the sword of their enemies overtaking them, or three days of the sword of the Lord—a plague in the land with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout Israel.  In the face of such frightening circumstances, David begs that he would fall into the hand of God and not men.  Why?  Because “His mercies are very great.”  David would rather commit his fate to God than to men because of His reverence for and trust in God.  David places all in God’s hands precisely because he has a holy fear of God.  It is this holy fear of God which reveres and trusts God that David’s son, Solomon, would later write is the beginning of wisdom.


Heroes and Villains – The Ringwraiths

“Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them.  Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”

-Gandalf concerning the Ringwraiths

Nazgul_1

They cast a shadow far before them and seem to materialize out of the rumors whispered throughout Middle Earth.  The Ringwraiths’ sinister presence leaves an impression on any audience.  Originally humans, the Ringwraiths, or Nazgûl, were each given a ring of power by Sauron (the chief antagonist of Tolkien’s trilogy) which corrupted them and eventually led to them being enslaved to his will.  Despite their former glory and vivacity, they have been rendered mere shades that lead a nightmarish existence between worlds.  They ruthlessly and tirelessly serve their master and inspire fear and despair wherever they tread.

Dark as the Nazgûl are, their story casts light on the nature of sin in our lives.  James writes:  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)  James states that sin has its beginnings in desire.  This is why we cannot be right with God just by doing the right things (being a “good person”, following the Law, etc.).  Despite our outward appearance, our first loyalty is still to ourselves and sin rather than God.  Our own efforts are not able to get deep enough to reach sin’s root.  Thus, though we may chop and hack away at the branches, they will quickly grow back, tougher than ever.

In the case of the Nazgûl, their desire for greater power and prestige led them to accept the nine rings from Sauron.  It was at this point that their fates were sealed because they had given him the foothold he needed to corrupt them.  It is worth noting that we find ourselves in the same straits because our desire is already in rebellion against God, leading us away from Him and indulging our pride, greed, and base sensuality.  The difference is that we have a Savior who has broken the power of darkness over us and given us a way of escape that we may “have life and have it more abundantly”.  Part of the renewing work that God does within us is to reclaim our desires so that they are conformed to Christ.  That is to say, we come to desire the same things as God:  we are pleased by the same things which please God, we are saddened by the same things which sadden God, etc.

Sinful desire, in its due course, eventually gives rise to sinful action:  the outworking of that desire.  The rebellion that began as desire has diffused throughout our body like a poison and manifests itself as words, deeds, and thoughts.  In the Book of Romans, Paul admonishes:  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.  And do not present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:12-13)  When we fall into sin, we surrender to our sinful desires and allow them to rule over us.  As Christians, the times when we stumble ought to serve as a stark reminder that we must seek the grace of God daily and constantly strive to remain in His love, for sin only requires a small foothold to scale the walls of our heart.  The Ringwraiths did not become shades overnight, but were slowly and steadily consumed by the power of the rings they held and brought under Sauron’s dominion.  It is often said of them that they are slaves to his will.  The desire in which they took the rings led them, inevitably, to give their very beings over to serve the will of Sauron.

Sin ultimately leads to death, and not mere physical death.  The death that we die through sin is more extensive than that:  sin leads to our spiritual death.  It may be the misery that we find under the veneer of sinful pleasure or it may be the emptiness that we are left with when the moment of sinful delight is gone.  Regardless of the form, sin always leaves us less of who we are.  God creates us all to be beautiful mirrors who each reflect His likeness in a unique way.  (How else can finite creatures begin to show the likeness of the infinite Creator in the world?)  The result of sin is to warp and tarnish us so that we are no longer what we’re created to be.  We become bent upon ourselves so that we reflect nothing and take part in nothing other than our continuing destruction until sin is cast into hell to be infinitely destroyed and us as well because we cling to it.

What is perhaps most horrifying about the Ringwraiths is what they are, or rather, what they are not.  They are vacuums of existence, having been gutted and hollowed out by the power of the rings and filled with Sauron’s evil.  They really are personifications of darkness, being mere extensions of Sauron’s will.  When we allow sin to reign in us, it hollows us out and we are consumed rather than conformed.  Life becomes death to us and death, our existence.  “…when desire has conceived, it give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Ringwraiths provide a representation of what we become when we allow ourselves to be consumed by sin.  We lose ourselves and become a mere shadow within a greater shadow.  This is the end that awaits us and we ourselves can do nothing about it.  It appears that we are destined to be wraiths.  We cry with Paul “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  However, a door is open to us that we may leave our death-defined existence and enter into life.  Through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ has made a way for us.  Thus He says, “I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

Food for Thought:

  1. What is the sin in my life holding me back from?  How can I better pursue those things by making Christ my top priority?
  2. What does it mean to have life in Christ and have it abundantly?
  3. Consider what an excellent thing it is to receive life in and from Christ.

Temptation is no Laughing Matter!!

Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ドウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!) is a popular Japanese variety show the name of which translates as “Downtown’s ‘This is no task for kids!!’”.  It is hosted by the comedic duos known as Downtown and Cocorico along with comedian Hōsei Yamasaki and features a variety of skits, games, and other antics.  Perhaps the most intense of these is the annual “no-laughing” batsu (punishment) game that the cast engages in to ring in the New Year.  During these games, the hosts undergo a 24-hour “training” session for some job (such as spy, reporter, or hotel man) during which they are strictly forbidden to laugh.  If they do laugh, they are immediately punished (usually with a swift whack to the posterior).  However, the “training” that they receive is a series of skits and set-ups designed for the sole purpose of making them laugh.  The winner is the one who receives the least number of punishments.  Needless to say, the final tallies are all always in the triple digits.

While the show primarily provides wild and often unpredictable entertainment, it also gives us a mirror of sorts that shows us how things turn out when we try to stop sinning using our own willpower.  Just as the hosts are told to stop laughing one day, we also are tempted to think that we can just decide to stop sinning.  The problem is that our decision is to stop sinning, not to submit to God, which is at the heart of the matter.  We cannot overcome sin except by God’s grace.  Without resting in this grace we keep ourselves at the mercy of sin just as the hapless hosts are at the mercy of the pranks and skits they encounter.  No matter how hard they try, they will inevitably break down and laugh.  Similarly, we can fight temptation as hard as we want, but it will always win in the end if we don’t have God in the equation.

James sums up this dynamic by writing:  “Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep!  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift your up.” (James 4:7-10)  Submission to God comes first and foremost.  When we humble ourselves before God, then and only then are we able to rely on His strength to resist the devil and temptation.  When we think about what James means by “Let your laughter be turned to mourning…” we shouldn’t be lead to the conclusion that being humble before God means that we should never laugh or be joyful.  Jesus presents what this humility is about in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. (Luke 18:9-14)  The tax collector who “went down to his house justified” sounds a lot like James’ description of humbling ourselves.  The key lies not in any particular emotional state, but in recognizing God as our savior, our justifier, rather than ourselves.  “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

So it is that when we trust in God rather than ourselves, we meet with better results in avoiding sin than the Gaki members do in their ill-fated attempts to avoid laughter (and the subsequent punishments).


WTH 1 – Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Hell

Hell can be a difficult thing to get our minds around.  Perhaps the most difficult part of it is reconciling a God Who is love with a God Who created hell.  We will be spending the next couple of weeks considering this topic.  I do not promise that at the end we’ll have all the answers arranged in neat rows, but I do hope that as we work our way through it will help you to get a better handle on the matter and on Who God has revealed Himself to be.  That being said, the first step we’ll take in our little journey is to consider what hell really is.

The Scripture that we are going to look at is Mark 9:42-48.  Here, Christ gives a warning about what awaits us if we remain in sin.  Christ does not literally say “hell”.  Instead, He speaks in metaphor, making a comparison with something that His audience would have been familiar with:  Gehenna, also known as the valley of Hinnom.  Located just outside of Jerusalem, it functioned as a city dump where garbage and all manner of unclean things (such as dead animals) were thrown and all of this garbage was ultimately disposed of by burning.  Thus, the image that Christ paints of hell is a place where unclean things are disposed of.

Here’s a brief thought experiment to try:  envision a place filled with garbage, and not just empty cans and candy wrappers, we’re talking animal guts and other such refuse that rots and putrefies.  You can almost feel the filth rising off of everything and clinging to your skin.  That’s not all, everything is burning and the smoke carries the stink up into the air, up into your nose, and the soot that rests on your already dirty skin is itself infused with the stench and rot of the garbage.

That’s the kind of place that Christ uses to describe hell in terms that we can understand.

Here are some more passages where the Gehenna imagery is used of hell:

Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33

Luke 12:5

James 3:6

Christ also speaks of hell as a place where “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  This is actually a quotation from Isaiah 66:24 where God describes the corpses of those who transgressed against Him.  In that particular passage, it is added that, “They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh”.  Think back to the thought experiment and, instead of merely imagining being in the place, consider being that which is constantly putrefying and being consumed by fire and worms.

Having these analogies in mind makes it easier to understand why Christ would use such strong language when making the case that it is better to enter into life maimed rather than to enter into hell.  Christ says that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck, to lose a hand, to lose a foot, or to lose an eye and enter into life rather than to go to hell.  Of course, Christ is not advocating self-mutilation as a means to avoid sin; such physical acts cannot prevent us from sinning (which has its origin in the heart).  However, He is making a point of how much better it is to enter the kingdom of heaven and have life than it is to choose hell.  Another way we may think about it is to recall the various stories that have been told about people and animals severing their own limbs in order to escape from certain death.

Using such graphic imagery and intense language, it is apparent that Christ isn’t talking about a metaphorical or figurative place but a reality that awaits us should we not enter into life.  Notice that hell is not itself a metaphor, the metaphors are used to describe hell.  Jesus’ statement is not “It would be better to lose a hand and enter into life because otherwise it would be like going to a place which is like…”   Instead, His statement flows as, “It would be better to lose a hand and enter into life than to enter into the place which is like…”  Christ sets up a dichotomy where there are two possible outcomes:  1) we enter into life and are with God forever.  Or 2) we enter into death and spend eternity in hell.  If God is real, if heaven is real, if sin is real, then hell must also be real; but more on that next week.  For now, let’s sum things up with the following:

  1. Jesus describes hell as a place where unclean things are disposed of.
  2. Jesus uses metaphor to describe the reality of hell, He does not speak of hell as a metaphor itself.

Practical questions:

  1. What or who have been the greatest influences on your idea of hell?
  2. What does that idea say about God’s character?
  3. How does Christ’s description of hell differ from your own idea of it?
  4. What does Christ’s description tell us about God’s character?

Who’s the Boss?

Many times we fall under the impression that being a Christian means that things will be “nice” from now on and all of our troubles will be over.  However, we soon discover that this is far from the reality.  Rather than being moved to a retirement community, we find ourselves in the midst of strife.  When we gave our life to Christ, we rejected our sin and agreed with God that it is vile and worthy of destruction.  Thus, we stepped out the dark and into the light.  Our former partners in crime (our sinful nature, the World, and all enemies of God), are loathe to see us go over to Him and do all that they can to regain control of our lives.  Perhaps the most intimidating of these foes is Satan and the rest of the fallen angels.  They are often portrayed as immensely powerful beings seeking to deceive, destroy, and dominate.  Peter refers to Satan as a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and John uses the terms “dragon” and “serpent” to describe him.  We read in the book of Job how Satan afflicts Job and destroys all his worldly possessions (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-10).  Later, in the Gospels, we read of the terrifying results of demonic possession such as the man who wandered among the tombs crying out and cutting himself (Mark 5:1-5).  Many stories exist of the desert monks being harassed by demons appearing in many fantastic and horrifying shapes.  Even today we see churches torn apart by petty quarrels, cults rising up to spread false doctrines, and all manner of death, suffering, and destruction.  The size and scope of the threat posed by demons often leaves us dumbfounded.

It is easy, when confronted by Satan and his works, to forget a profound truth:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

-1 John 4:4

We often speak of the war between good and evil, but consider this: when has God ever fought a war or a battle?  God does not fight, He smites or refrains from smiting.  Satan and his ilk run around and cause trouble only because God does not strike them down as He can at any given moment.  To ask why God refrains is to ask why there is suffering in the world; this is a question that God is not obliged to answer us on and we must trust in His goodness and holiness.  Returning to the main point, two instances illustrate that God has complete power to do as He wishes with devils.  These are the same two instances cited by St. Anthony in his speech to encourage his fellow monks in the desert.

The first instance is Jesus’ casting a legion of demons out of the man who lived among the tombs.  At the very sight of Christ the demons cried out and begged Jesus, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  Not exactly the words of someone who getting ready for a battle.  Rather, it rings more of a scoundrel caught in some mischief by the king and who begins to plead for his life without the king saying a word.  Perhaps more startling is the fact that the legion of demons is begging Christ for permission to enter into a bunch of pigs and it is only after Christ says they can that they are able to do so.

The second instance involves the story of Job.  While Satan’s affliction of Job is what may first come to mind, recall the events leading up to it:  the angels are coming and presenting themselves before God and Satan shows up as well.  The conversation between God and Satan soon turns to Job, a man who “fears God and shuns evil”.  After Satan slanders Job before God, God gives Satan permission to do what he will with everything that Job has.  However, God sets a limit on Satan’s power, commanding him not to lay a finger on Job’s person.  Satan destroys Job’s children and possessions, but leaves the man untouched.  Again Satan comes to God and slanders Job and this time God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s health but sets another strict limit on his power by commanding him not to kill Job.  Here we have Satan himself, the leader of all demons and ruler of the World, unable to do a thing without God letting him.

It is important to keep in mind that God is not ordering the demons to cause havoc, but instead He allows them to carry out what is in their minds to do.  Jesus allows the demons to go into the pigs as they requested.  Satan is allowed to carry out his plan against Job only after God permits him to and only to the degree that God allows him (first not to harm Job himself and second not to kill Job).

What this means to us is that although it may seem like Satan is in control, we can still trust in God who is the One really in control.  We may not understand why God doesn’t just destroy all of the rebellious angels rather than allowing them to pursue their wicked schemes, but we know that they act only as far as God permits them to.  This is one of the reasons why Paul can encourage the Corinthian church by writing,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:13

Why should demons, who have no interest in our welfare (quite the opposite, actually), refrain from overwhelming us with their wickedness and despair save that the hand of God holds them back?

Thus, despite their apparent power and authority, Satan and the other angels who have rebelled against God, are still subject to God’s power and authority.  They are “reserved in everlasting chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day,” unable to do anything without God’s allowing it.  We are not held at Satan’s mercy, we are given refuge under God’s.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

–James 4:7


Oh the Humanity -4- A Human Faith

Scripture:  James 2:14-26

Alucard:  “Are you seriously planning to transform your soul into that of a monster?!!  Into a monster of God!!  Dare you make an attempt at becoming an immortal and almighty toy of providence?  Spare me the same, typical bullsh*t!  The monster that denies God; the monster that acknowledges God; they’re one and the same—monsters! … To be a monster like me… to give up your humanity, shows your weakness in spades.  You couldn’t make it as a man, so you stoop to being a monster.  A creature that’s destined to be toppled by humanity!!  Stop it, human!!  Do not become the monster that I am.  You’ve fought this far on your own.  Therefore, deep down, you should know my words are true.”

Anderson:  “I wish to be born a benevolent tempest, a revered threat, an explosive torrent of piety.  I wish to become a delightfully dreadful storm, one that’s both heartless and tearless.  And if stabbing myself with this is the only way to fulfill that wish… Then let it be done.  Amen.”

What do you think of when you think of the ideal Christian?

What about their faith?  What does it look like?  What is it based on?

We enter the scene and find Anderson and Alucard staring each other down, preparing for their final confrontation.  Anderson reveals an ancient holy relic, Elena’s Nail, which he intends to stab himself with in order to become a monster.  Upon seeing his intent, Alucard berates him and begs him not to go through with it.

Humans hold a unique position in the universe in that we are the only things in all known creation capable of having faith.  Lower animals do not have the cognitive capacities necessary for faith.  Purely spiritual beings (such as angels and demons) possess empirical knowledge.  They know that there is a God because they have seen Him, as it were.  They know what happened at the cross for the same reason.  Only humans are in a position to have faith in God.  However, faith is more than just “belief” and in the second chapter of the book bearing his name, James aims to show us just what faith is.

James begins his discourse in verses 14-17 by upsetting our understanding of faith by flatly stating that belief alone cannot save us.  If all we ever do is say “I believe”, then perhaps we are not so persuaded as we claim to be.  James fleshes out his assertion by drawing a comparison between our faith and our response to someone in need of food and clothing.  If we simply say to our destitute friend “be warm and filled” what good does that do?  NONE WHATSOEVER!  Likewise if you go through life simply saying “I believe” what good does that do?  According to James, NONE WHATSOEVER!  It would seem, then, that our confession of faith, our placing faith in Christ, is more than uttering words.  Instead, it is a matter of the heart.  If it were just words, it would be a magic ritual rather than an interaction with God.

Still, we must ask of James, “what’s the deal?  Aren’t we supposed to be saved by faith alone?  Wasn’t Abraham justified by faith?  James’ answer comes in verses 18-26 when he says that “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Faith is a matter of the heart and coming to faith is an internal change which then produces external actions (Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-45).  If we merely believe in and acknowledge God, we are only carrying out a mental action no different than what the demons do.  Returning to the example of Abraham, James points out that Abraham’s faith led him to works. He picked up everything and followed God even though he didn’t know where he was going.  He offered his son, who was a blessing and miracle to Abraham, just because God told him to.  The bottom line is that Abraham didn’t just believe it, he lived it.  James offers us another example in Rahab the former Prostitute and ancestor of Jesus Christ.  Rahab didn’t just believe in God, she acted by protecting the Israelite spies.  While works alone cannot save us, works are the evidence of a living faith, like a person’s heartbeat.

As humans, we can only know and understand so much about God.  We cannot empirically know enough about Him to be 100% certain.  However, we do have the amazing and unique ability to respond to this gap in understanding with faith, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”  Faith is not so simple as just saying “I believe”, nor does it consist solely in doing good works.  It is a combination of the two.

Sometimes, though, we stray from our human faith and lose faith in God and in ourselves.  This temptation tends to rear its head when we are faced with struggles in life and we are tempted to try and make it on our own.  Oftentimes, to make it on our own in these situations requires becoming something other than human.  The two errors into which we may fall in this case are to think that our works will save us or that our faith with justify our works (the ends justify the means).

The dialogue between Alucard and Anderson touches on this issue on a couple of ways.  First Alucard makes the observation that a monster is a monster regardless of whether or not it believes in God.  Think back to James’ assertion in verse 19, a demon is a demon regardless of whether is acknowledges God because it has ultimately rejected Him.  Likewise, even if a monster believes in God, it still has rejected God in rejecting its own humanity because it decided that God is insufficient to satisfy it.  We find Anderson making this mistake as he prepares to stab himself with the relic and give up his humanity.  He did not believe that he would be able to defeat Alucard as a human and so he seeks the infernal strength of a monster.  What’s more, he actually considers it holier to become a “thing” rather than a human being.

Practical Questions:

  1. In what ways does living out our faith do more than be evidence that our faith is alive?
  2. What are some examples of ways we make the error of focusing too much on faith or on works?
  3. Why is it so tempting to stray from our faith and humanity in times of trial?