The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as the starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else — call it “morality” or “decent behaviour”, or “the good of society” — has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by “being good” is giving in to those claims. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call “wrong”: well, we must give them up. Other things turn out to be what we call “right”: well, we shall have to do them.
But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very much like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point.
As long as we are thinking that way, one or the other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed…
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self — all your wishes and precautions — to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves”, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good”… And that is exactly what Christ warned us not to do.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
— CS Lewis
I’ve been fanning (v. being a fan). My particular fannism (n. manner in which ‘being a fan’ manifests itself) is moralism. Moralism is ‘a legalistic, effort-based attempt to be good’*. It’s thinking that you need to win God’s favour somehow. It’s thinking you need to be perfect to be good, and that you have to be perfectly good. It’s about you, not about God.
It’s misery. It’s frustration.
And you don’t notice. You’d think you would. You’d think you’d notice that church and other God activities become anxiety riddled. Suddenly you don’t have the time. You’re too tired. You’ll do it tomorrow. It’s not so bad, you did your good deed for the day – that buys you a few more hours of procrastination without inciting wrath or rejection. Sometimes you’re too exhausted even to come up with a reasonable excuse. Sometimes you admit, I just don’t want to talk to You right now. But tomorrow – definitely tomorrow.
Prayer becomes an excruciating activity. I’m not good enough. I didn’t try hard enough today. How can I amount to anything? What more can I do? I’ll try harder. Don’t leave me.
Do you want to know the truth? I’m terrified of losing God. Oh, I write posts to the contrary, but I’m really just trying to convince myself. Intellectually I know I can’t. God can’t be lost. I’ve been at the receiving end of His advances after all. He’s kind of like a stalker. You move, change your number, change your locks, change yourself, but He hovers. He’s a hoverer. The Almighty Hoverer. Who spraypaints “I GAVE YOU MY SON!” on your garage door.
It comes down to grace, yes? Sola fide. Sola gratia (you see?! I know the Latin!) It seems almost too easy.
Could it really be that easy?
“Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s spirit is in them – living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” — Romans 8:5-6 (Msg)
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” — Romans 5:1-2 (ESV)
“Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” — 2 Corinthians 3:18 (Msg)
A part of me distrusts this simplicity. The rest of me? It’s hard to describe. It’s…gladness. It’s love. It’s gratitude. Realising (again) that God’s love for me isn’t because of who I am, but because of who He is (and He never changes), is liberating. I’ve been miserable, trying to consolidate my moralism (disguised as faith) with the things I’ve been learning – e.g., Luke 9:23, where Jesus talks about taking up your cross and following Him. But it didn’t make sense to me. Things weren’t lining up. (Maybe this doesn’t sound so bad to someone else, but I’m an INTJ. I need systems to line up.) Because from a moralistic POV, this cross sounds like a burden. How do you joyfully submit to God when that entails lugging around this hindrance, this constant reminder of how broken and wretched you are?
But when you look at it from the perspective of being absolutely loved by God, it changes. It becomes something different entirely. It becomes an act of freedom. It becomes an extension of His love.
I think I get it now.
My name is Liana, and I
— have been saved
— confused ‘stationary’ with ‘stationery’ until quite recently
— am amongst other things, not a fan.
– – – – –
*Kretzschmar, L. 2005. Ethics & Spirituality. Pretoria: Unisa.
(Part 1, Chapter 1 & 2)
Not A Fan asks you to define your relationship with Jesus. Are you a fan or a follower? What’s the difference? Well, fans are ‘enthusiastic admirers’: they
“…confuse their admiration for devotion. They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for intimacy with Jesus. Fans assume their good intentions make up for their apathetic faith.”
In short, fans don’t want the same thing from their relationship with Jesus that Jesus does.
“…Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little makeup is fine, but Jesus is thinking makeover. Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel. Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives.”
Kyle starts by categorising the readers of his book into two groups: the “Jesus fish on the back of my car” group and the “Why is there a fish on the back of my friend’s car?” group. I think there’s a third: the “I probably should have a fish on my car” group. Those are the fans who strongly suspect their fandom but aren’t quite sure what to do about it, so they look over at Group 1…or RSS every popular Christian blog…thinking: Well, someone’s* got to know what they’re doing.
(If you’ve read Not A Fan, be honest: how many things could you check off on the list on p20?  I had to laugh at ‘Did you get a purpose driven life in 40 days or less?’ because boy did I try.)
He uses Nicodemus from John 3 as an example. Nic was a religious leader who believed in Jesus, but actually following him would cost Nicodemus everything, so he tried to ‘follow’ Jesus on the downlow. He believed but he didn’t really want to follow, because following Jesus meant commitment and commitment meant sacrifice. And belief alone isn’t enough – it has to be coupled with commitment:
“[T]he two [belief and following] are firmly connected. They are the heart and lungs of faith. One can’t live without the other. If you try and separate the message of follow from the message of believe, belief dies in the process. … Following is part of believing. To truly believe is to follow.”
Fans want “a gospel that cost[s] them nothing and offer[s] them everything”.
Jesus wants a “twenty-four-hour-a-day commitment that will interfere with your life”.
There is no middle ground.
*Jesus does. Go figure.
“We don’t often think of it in this way, but there’s an important truth that needs some attention in circles of faith: A belief, no matter how sincere, if not reflected in reality isn’t a belief; it’s a delusion.”
—Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman
What he’s saying here is that being a Christian should be more than lip service to Christ: if your belief doesn’t reflect in your reality, it isn’t a belief, it’s a delusion.
One of those ‘put down the book and feel dearly held notions tumbling down the abyss of epiphany’ moments.
I’ll post a full review of Not A Fan when I’ve finished reading it, but so far I can recommend it without hesitation.