At the end of our Lent Course session looking at making faith relevant I posed two important questions. Our answers to these questions reveal an enormous amount about how we understand God, ourselves, and Christianity itself. Martin Lloyd-Jones (often known as 'the doctor') was a preacher and minister who, alongside John Stott, had an immense impact on the face of evangelicalism and Christianity not only in Britain but all across the world. When people came to him saying that they were struggling with their faith he would often ask them a simple question.
"Are you really a Christian?"
Most people would answer by saying something like "I'm trying to be." Martin would reply stating pretty matter of fact "then you probably are not a Christian."
Let that sink in.
If your answer to "are you really a Christian?" is anything to do with your trying to be and attempting to be then you are probably not a Christian because you don't understand the Gospel. As Jedi Master Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back "do or do not, there is no try" (yes, I am a geek!).
A Christian is not someone who is trying to please God or earn their way into a relationship with Him. As Paul and Isaiah both made clear you cannot earn a place in heaven or please God with your effort (Philippians 3.8 and Isaiah 64.6). If you are trying to do this then to be honest you have no idea who God is.
A Christian is not someone who tries to earn or deserve God's love. By definition a Christian is a person who receives God's freely given and completely undeserved love and mercy. God's loving relationship with us is not conditional on our performance anymore than a loving mother would cast their child out of their life if they didn't win the 100m sprint at school or a husband would abandon and stop loving his wife if she didn't get the promotion she wanted. Once we are set free from the burden of trying to earn God's love (and the guilt and shame that come from inevitably failing) we can have true joy and peace which nothing can touch or crush. We can do wonderful things with joy not because we need to earn merit points with God but because we love Him and love putting a smile on His face. When we do good things out of joy and love for Jesus then God accepts them and praises us, singing songs of love and praise over us. We are to be like children on mother's day making a painting with our fingers. We might get the paint all over ourselves (and the walls) and the picture may not be a Van Gogh but in our mother's eyes it is the most wonderful and beautiful painting in the world because it was painted out of love with no strings attached.
Which leaves us with the second question.
"What do you imagine God thinks of you right now?"
How we answer this will depend on how much we truly understand what I just wrote about. I am very aware of my own sin and failings. I am a terrible perfectionist and my failings easily dominate my mind by blotting out all that is good. But I have an untouchable joy which such things cannot touch—I know that I am not defined by my failings but by how much God loves me. I know that, because I believe in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour, when God looks down on me He doesn't see my sin at all, He doesn't see the darkness or the failures. He sees a perfect child of God in whom He is well pleased and whom He will always love right to the end of time and beyond. I know that nothing I or anyone else can do can change how much God loves me.
Because of that I am free, I breathe in deeply the fresh air of freedom and joy. Because of that I fight sin and Satan not because if I don't I am damned but because I love my Heavenly Dad and I realise that what He offers is a million times better than what sin or Satan offer. Because of that I have complete assurance that I will be saved, I will spend eternity with Jesus.