Do you ever wonder just what God requires?
You think He’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires
Bob Dylan - When you gonna wake up.
A few mailings back, I touched on the necessity of really understanding why Justification has to be by faith alone. What I've sought to do since then is open up what truly prevents us from finding peace with God by other means - that we avoid His gift of free rescue because we choose one of two different approaches, each of which leave us in the same state of alienation.
To unpack this through the revelation God gives, divine immediacy (what Paul defines as 'a true knowledge of God') is refuted by us through two forms of unbelief. The first seeks to abolish God's revelation by rejecting it (what we see and know does not provide 'evidence', so we will conform wisdom to our own thoughts, opinions and conclusions), turning us in upon ourselves and making the focus of devotion what we deem to be of value. It is through just such a process that "non" religion becomes the most heinous of destructive religious cultures - idolatry. By seeking to shatter what is essentially known to us about God, we must essentially make our own values and judgements replace the divine, hence the only compass we have to determine truth is the one which has already bent us in upon ourselves.
The second form of unbelief is equally as ill-equipped to hide our true estate, but as with the first, apparently creates satisfactory attire to delude us into security amidst our wickedness. This is the idolatry of legal fiction - that by apparently keeping the moral requirements we deem fair and meaningful, we bring ourselves into a state whereby we are 'sound' in virtue and behavior, and therefore nothing more is required to improve our already 'near to the divine' condition. The delusion here is that we are not truly fallen, not deeply corrupt, but quickly redeemable by merely reviving the good sense that lies asleep within us.
The unifying belief in both attitudes is that we have the will to do what counts, but as Paul shows in Romans 1, it is when we are given over to just such a will - a determination that will not consider the possibility that it is in error - it is then that we are actually cut off from the truth. The very 'freedom' we so naturally extol as our highest good, is in truth our most dreadful plight.
The nightmare of this is that we profess a freedom we do not actually own. Our world is still entirely marked by the immediate, but only in a selfish fashion, so we cannot, dare not, actually see what is truly beyond our own conceits - these must be what counts, because to truly reflect deeper, look further, reveals the vast chasm our small world has become swallowed into.
This is the human tragedy that must be remedied if we are to escape such horror, and it is this that God has done, not from a distance, but in the very heart of time, space and history in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - therein we most clearly evidence the immediacy of God at work.
The reality of the law is that it reveals we do not do what should be done.
The reality of sin is that it reveals we cannot do what should be done.
These truths make us haters of God, but the astonishing truth is that God reconciles those who are just so ungodly. That is why justification comes by faith in Christ, not in ourselves.