I’m an armchair Christian. I don’t mean that my beliefs are not sincere or that my faith has not faced trial, but compared to the first disciples, I have done little to advance the good news about Jesus. Like the teacher of the Law in Matthew 8 who volunteers to follow Jesus without being called, I have a home, a wife, a family. I can’t just give them up to go traipsing around the countryside, dependent on the generosity of strangers for my livelihood. And even if I could, what about those who depend on me? Do I have a right to compel them to share a life of voluntary poverty?
Instead, I tell myself that I am doing something just by writing, making equivocal comments on Facebook that might set someone thinking. What more can I do? I’m not really a people person. I have few friends outside my family and none at all outside it that I need to see or keep up with. I like people, but I don’t get close to them. My wife and kids are the only ones who hear my sermons, and they no doubt have quite enough of them. Despite my apparent ineffectiveness, I keep writing.
In part, I keep writing for my children. They are all grown now, but like many today they all struggle with how to square their faith with their knowledge of the world we live in. Such struggles are inevitable, but they are not the central mission of Christian living. The central mission is to communicate the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness through acts of kindness and mercy, through love and care, and sometimes even through words. I hope and pray that they will become better at that regardless what they believe about this or that bit of orthodox dogma. Faith not reflected in loving deeds is no faith at all but a mere mental assent to intrinsically untestable propositions. Can such faith save anyone? If not, what good is it?
In Jesus Christ, God has opened a way into eternal life that no one can bar. But that is only the beginning, the most basic foundation of Christian life and experience. The certainty of God’s fatherly love for us, frees us from all the destructive and manipulative behaviors to which shame and guilt have driven us. Having delivered us, he expects us to become like him, full of grace and truth. When we act out of wounded pride or angry defensiveness or even guilty self-abasement, we are not acting like Jesus. We tarnish the image of God in which we have been made. Fortunately, his forgiveness is not limited to three strikes—or even to seventy times seven. It is a continuous gift that he constantly offers whenever needed. All we have to do is acknowledge what we have done wrong, and God reliably and without rancor forgives us. The only unforgivable sin is the one we pretend not to have committed.