If there is one thing I know, it's that a perfect plan works. And because it's perfect, it always works, every time, for every one. It couldn't be perfect otherwise.
Imagine calling God a "loving God" who loves me so unconditionally that instead of demanding that I believe in Him, he gives me faith instead. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Call that same God "loving" when I turn around and tell the next person that he or she must believe in order to be redeemed. Continue to call Him "loving" as I tell that person that it isn't my faith, but the faith He gave to me that saves me, but still, "you have to believe to be redeemed".
Are you getting confused? I am.
It is true, however, that this is near to the way that Christians teach "unbelievers" about how to be redeemed. We may tell a man who doesn't believe that if he doesn't believe, God doesn't love him. We may tell that same man that once he believes, it wasn't his faith that redeemed him, but that the faith was a gift from God. Now are you confused?
Why bother telling someone to believe at all if all along, we know that this faith that redeems isn't from ourselves? What are we trying to pull? Yet many, many, many believers spend minutes to hours each day telling "unbelievers" exactly this.
"Oh, me? I believe! I know I'm redeemed. That's how much my God loves me. If you want to be redeemed too, you have to believe also."
Now does that sound like faith that isn't my own? Does that sound like I'm not boasting? Ephesians 2:8-9 is quoted widely amongst Christians, and is one of the verses they teach new believers as well as one they quote at "unbelievers".
Again, I ask the question, why do we bother telling anyone to believe, if what we believe is that our faith did not redeem us?
Or maybe you really don't believe that? Maybe you see the words, but you can't connect the dots? Maybe it all seems a bit cloudy and contradictory? I have news for you; it seems that way because it is cloudy and contradictory. You cannot claim to have saving faith, and claim to know you are redeemed because you believe, and yet claim also that the redeeming faith is not from you. If you know you are redeemed because you believe, then ipso facto, you believe you saved yourself because you "believed". I'm not even going to go into the fact that you don't know what kind of faith you have, if it is enough, what moment you had enough or the right type, or whether or not you have had doubts since. (I know you have, every Christian does)
It is clear to me that "redeeming" faith isn't something I came up with by myself. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion, but I kept bumping into the same contradiction you are running into; that if I believe therefore I am redeemed but I am redeemed only by faith that is not my own. The beginning of that contradiction makes redemption my choice. The end of that contradiction makes redemption decidedly not.
For what is belief? Is it my decision? Is that belief? My beliefs change with the wind along every topic and decision I have ever encountered. "Christian" belief, I have experienced, has been no different. Is my loving God only affected by that kind of fickle "belief"? Are you telling me that I control His love for me merely by saying "I believe......wait, now I don't believe"?
Is God tied to a yo yo somehow, that He is so affected by my ups and downs that one moment, I believe so strongly, and thus I am redeemed, and the next, I don't believe, but it still doesn't matter, because once redeemed always redeemed? You mean God is a prisoner of my belief?
I don't believe it anymore.
God is not my prisoner. He is not "waiting" for me, or anyone, to make up their minds about Jesus, and about redemption. He is not tapping His fingers on the nearest cloud impatiently, just hoping He is going to get to love me. Anywhere you read in our big black book, God loves first, God acts first, and man reacts to God.
Why would redemption be suddenly and totally different? I don't believe it.
This faith that is not our own so that we may not boast...tell me... do you have enough of it? You better hope you do, because if you don't, it's burn, baby, burn. If God is a prisoner of a decision you may or may not even make, of a decision you may never even have been presented with, then just about everyone you know is in big trouble.
If God is waiting on our "decision", how do you know that your decision is final? How do you know that some day, you won't curse God completely, and commit the "unforgivable sin"? Oh, you can predict the future, can you? You know exactly what is going to happen in your life? You know that you won't suffer tortures unspeakable (currently, thousands of Iraqis have suffered said tortures), and in a moment of weakness, completely deny God?
How do you know that God believes you? You could have been fooling yourself for many, many years. What if God doesn't believe your faith is genuine? If He doesn't, what recourse do you have?
How do you know that when you die, God is not going meet you and say, "Sorry, buddy, but you never really believed in me."? How do you know that your idea of "faith" and His idea of "faith" aren't two completely different things?
How do you know?
I'll tell you a secret. The secret is; you couldn't possibly know if your idea of faith and His idea of faith are the same thing. If you are a bible reading or studying Christian, you already know that your bible tells you exactly this. And if you believe what your bible tells you, then you know that you couldn't possibly know. For His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. You know where that verse comes from even better than I do.
What if he says to you on the day you die, "Buddy, you only said you believed because you got scared in Sunday School one day by all that talk about fire, and hell, and it all seemed like such a long time, being eternal and all, and it was all a bit scary, wasn't it?"
How do you know He won't?
I'll tell you another secret. The secret is, because your faith is not your own. It's the faith of Christ that was given to you; the same faith that was given to the entire world and everyone in it, because the world is clueless as to what kind of faith is "redeeming" faith, and so are you. So am I.
How do you know that you are redeemed? Because redemption doesn't, didn't, and can't ever, depend on you, or your faith. If it did, you couldn't possibly know whether your faith was legit.
So the question is, are you legit enough to quit? Are you legit enough now, to finally admit that you have no idea what kind of faith it takes to redeem? Are you legit enough to stop telling people that if they don't believe, they will burn in hell? Are you legit enough to claim that "your" faith, whatever that is, is not enough to save you?
Listen, if Christ died once for all sins, and Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, then a non-contradictory statement would have to be that he gave that redeeming faith to everyone whose sins he took away. Your bible tells you He took away all the world's sins.
Are you finally going to believe that?
I have another secret. The secret is, finally believing that is one of the keys to freedom; you know, the kind of freedom you have always longed for. The freedom to be yourself without hangups, the freedom to love your neighbor, to actually be tender towards them without worrying about what everyone else will think. The freedom to say you love them and mean it, and not be faking it.
Because man, when you finally believe that, the whole world is yours to love, and your heart has been waiting for so long to feel real love for people. I know, we talk about it in church like we should all automatically feel love for everyone, and when we don't, we beat ourselves up.
But you don't have to beat yourself up anymore, because love comes and lives with you when no man or woman is any longer your enemy; the tenants of hell. Now, they are all your brothers and sisters truly, each one related to you in ways that open up to you like never before. There is no hell to condemn them to, except the hell here on earth of rejection because they don't see things the way you do. That is the hell of Jesus' gospels. Hell exists where love does not.
You can pour love on the flames of hell right here and now. Are you going to finally believe that no one is rejected, and that everyone is included in the statement, "I did not come to condemn the world, but to save it."?
Read the rest of Ephesians chapter two from that perspective, and see what it sounds like now.