My biggest fear is that I would get desensitized to Jesus' message of salvation. My church was liturgical and ordered exactly like Catholic mass. In other words, for 18 years of my life, I had THE EXACT SAME church service. I had memorized the Nicene Creed by age 8 easily and the Lord's Prayer far before that... not out of devotion, but out of pure repetition. Even now, when I read about the Lord's Supper, I instantly grimace, remembering the long chanting before Communion during which I would squirm and draw pictures on scrap paper. Then, after Communion was done, I knew I was home free. There was one prayer after Communion, and we'd be done with church. It amazes me to this day how people repeat the same words over and over, "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God," and you'd be thinking we were mourning in a funeral hall! It was like emotionless chatter. The Nicene Creed, the idea of the Eucharist, the Scripture readings... I was all "church talked out" by the end of elementary school. The words had meaning, but it was the way in which they were presented. God to me was like a dull, lifeless, boring Being because of whom I had to dress up on Sunday and pretend to pay attention.
When I heard the Gospel presented at an evangelical camp, suddenly everything became clear. It wasn't that the message was different, but it was expressed differently. But soon this new passion came to an end, too. Soon I was talking Christian-ese and expressing how wonderful God was, praising Him, reading my Bible... but my heart became more and more disengaged. My church in Ann Arbor was very much missionally based, very evangelical, so new people were coming to Christ all the time. They expressed this child-like joy at the message of the Gospel, this hunger to know God, to read the Bible. Seeing that, I realized how much I had lost.
"Jesus died for my sins!!!!!!!!!!!!" had become "Yeah, I know, I've heard it a million times, Jesus died for my sins. Next subject." One day in church we were singing the popular "How Great is our God," and my friend turned to me, exasperated, and said, "How great is our God? I know, He's great, why do we have to keep singing that?" I laughed at the time, but really, that's how my heart was.
The pastor of my Ann Arbor church said that he was still in ministry because he was in love with the story of the Gospel. Sometimes I fear that I have lost that joy, that child-like admiration God's grace and peace. Reading this chapter, I had some of those impulses. I was tempted to skip over sections of it, thinking, "Yeah, I know this. Let's get on with it." Then I caught myself. Wow, how jaded I have become!!!! Maybe I know ABOUT the Gospel, but is my life really like that? Am I expressing that with my daily life? Am I living like Jesus really rose from the dead? Am I totally sold out for God? No, I'm not.
On page 75, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, "What we have lost... is a full sense of the power of God-- to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them up side the head with glory."
Plantinga first went over God's grace in the Old Testament, starting with the Patriarchs in Genesis. I liked the comparison that the Ten Commandments "are guides for a free and flourishing life," rather than an annoying set of rules. God was certainly persistent with the disobedient Israelites, but there is a tendency in Christian culture to be like, "Those Israelites... why did they keep worshipping Baal? How dense can they be?" Maybe we don't worship the actual deity Baal today, but we're just as bad! God raised up prophets to try to help everyone, but that ended up not working out. The prophets spoke of the Messiah, and the people at the time of Jesus had certain conceptions of what the Messiah would be like: he would be human, political, and a military king. They were definitely not expecting Jesus.
Jesus came for several reasons, as Plantinga describes:
1. Pay the penalty for our sins
2. To destroy the works of the devil
3. Deal with sin and fulfill the law
4. To seek out and save the lost
5. To gather up all things in him or to reconcile himself to all things
Jesus indeed died for our sins, but three days later He rose, which is the "platform" for everything Christians have to offer the world. Now, we are called to proclaim to the world, in our different vocations, "The Lord is risen." I love the end of the first paragraph on page 82, but I don't have time to type it out.
Now the question is: now what? So Jesus died and rose again? So what then should we do? Plantinga describes on pages 83 and 84 that we are called to have faith in Christ and get involved in a church, i.e. a community of believers. We can enjoy personal communion with God, but also public acts of communion- corporal events like preaching the gospel, Baptism, and Communion.
I found it interesting that Plantinga wrote, "Confession of sin is an enormously freeing thing to do." A lot of times Christians feel pressure to "have it together," and I must confess, I have never felt that pressure so much as at Calvin and Grand Rapids. The statement "We are Christians, so we should be happy all the time" is just not true, but that's how a lot of people act at times.
After accepting Christ, a process of regeneration of a person's love for God and for neighbors begins. Plantinga describes "regeneration" like the exposion that starts the motor of a car, while "sanctification" is the lifelong conversion of conforming to Christ. Calvin called "sancitification" and "justification" a "double grace," which releases, relieves, and redeems us. Getting rid of sin is hard, but a surrender to God's grace is necessary.
Obedience is necessary after conversion, and I like the quote, "We are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them." If you're a murderer and you surrender to the grace of God, you can't just go on murdering people. If you really understood the message, you would know that that's not the plan. Jesus' redemptive work on the cross was not just a "free for all" ticket for people to do whatever they want. It is an invitation to a fresh start. I like the list on page 93 of the "glad instructions" that Christians should follow.
I also like the quote, "Christians are people who dress up like Christ, not because we want to deceive people into thinking we are better than we are, but because the only way we can become better than we are is by trying on our grownup clothes." The clothes are symbolism for virtues. Lately I have felt the need to grow in virtues or in character. You can talk the talk, but bottom line: if you're not living your beliefs, people discount you. If you're trying to lead someone to Christ by a beautiful description of the Gospel and then you start yelling at another friend, people can see through that, and they will tune out the Gospel in the name of hypocrisy.
Plantinga said that, "Everything corrupt needs to be redeemed." Then, of course, comes the question of an individual's calling within that massive mandate of redemption? Plantinga offered two sources of guidance: the Bible and Catechisms/ confessions. The last point is about discernment, about the importance of "testing the spirits," not just to seek wisdom for its own sake but because "it helps us find and follow our vocation within the kingdom of God." I was a little skeptical about the confessions and catechisms being put right alongside the Bible. Are these documents not just human works, subject to error and mistakes just like other things?
I really liked this chapter, and it was a humbling experience to try to read it from a different lens, a lens not of a jaded Christian but a hungry child.