"...handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already."
~ C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I was thinking today about how there usually seems to be two extremes with regards to many behaviors, and often both are equally bad. Then there is the middle ground position, which seems to offer the best of both. For example, with regards to correction and/or criticism, we can live in constant need for the approval of those around us, paralyzing us from making decisions because we base our existence on whether we are counted worthy enough. Or we can walk around in pride and disdain, saying we don't care what anyone thinks, we don't need other people's approval ever, and we don't need other people to speak into our lives. Neither one of those is really going to be a healthy thing for growth. The first is paralyzing and impossible; the second is foolish and arrogant.
The older I get, the more rare a jewel it seems to me to be to find someone who is both content in their identity in Christ, and does not look to others to find their self worth, and yet is also able to look at correction as valuable, and to understand it to be true that "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. " (Proverbs 27:6) In other words, we shouldn't discount every criticism, but we should carefully consider the source and the merit of what someone is saying. Sometimes the most helpful, loving people in our lives are the people who tell us the things we least want to hear. It's easy to assume just because someone is supportive of what we are doing, that means they are loving us. But sometimes, those people are actually just emotional cowards who are enabling us in our sin. Love may keep no record of wrongs, but how can it hope for the best and believe the best if it never points us in the direction of what the best thing is?
Another example is the area of legalism/works based salvation vs. lawlessness. It's like there is a road, with ditch on either side. And most of us seem to have steering problems, where we tend to veer to either side of the ditch. Many people seem to live in fear of not doing enough to "earn" their place in heaven, and have this idea if they do enough good things, then maybe the scales will balance in their favor after death, and hopefully the God of the Universe will overlook whatever bad stuff they've done, and let them into paradise anyways. But if heaven is a place where no evil exists, then it seems ludicrous to think we could hope to get in, if we have done even the smallest thing. If you have ever stolen, then you are a thief. Tell a small lie; you're a liar. If you've lusted after someone who wasn't yours to have, then you've committed adultery in your heart. How would we expect a perfect, sinless righteous God to overlook even the tiniest infraction against him, and still be considered a righteous judge? The answer is he couldn't; someone, in some way, should have to pay the penalty for that sin. This is where the idea of substitutionary atonement comes in. Jesus, living a perfect, sinless life, did what we could never do for ourselves. And he willingly took our place, so we could choose to take his in communing with God.
Now, if I understand the cost of that sacrifice in my life, it will by no means cheapen grace. It should lead to a desire for holiness, not to earn something I already have, but to take advantage more fully of what Christ has done for me. If I draw near to God, he will draw near to me. Drawing near to God means becoming more like him, and loving him and the people around me more fully and deeply than I ever have before. It means turning away from selfishness, and giving of myself to others. Doing this out of the love Christ has put in my heart should be a joy, not a burden. That is where the "narrow way" comes in that Christ is speaking of, when he says in Matthew 7:13-14:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
The fact of the matter is that works based salvation is no more life giving than lawlessness. But our pride will tempt us in either direction. The truly humble heart will serve God out of gratitude, as the least of what might be expected from a servant for his master. A proud heart will have no master but itself, and unfortunately even the works we do can become a god unto themselves.
When I think on the pitfalls of faith, it can honestly be quite depressing. It's no wonder the disciples asked Jesus how ANYONE was able to get to heaven. Some days that's how I feel. The human heart is so bent toward destruction, it seems. Here was Jesus response though, to the disciples' question:
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” -Mark 10:27
Apparently, God is even bigger and better than I can imagine. Which is a pretty good thing.