‘Going through the motions’ doesn’t sound too much of an issue. Like autopilot, you’re doing the right thing, but maybe not as carefully or creatively as you might otherwise do. Thoughtfulness: an added benefit, but not compulsory. I’ve heard the phrase used of living as a Christian. And I’ve thought, what’s the harm, I mean going to church because you’re a Christian-and that’s what Christians do= seems fine, right? And much better than not going at all? But I get it now. I get that it isn’t just ‘going through the motions’, but a masquerade. I’ve been so hung up on making sure I don’t look like an impostor at the Lord ’s Table, that I have forgotten I am one, that I am supposed to be one.
‘Fast-track’ GCSEs were all the rage when I was at school. Because, what was the point of education besides to get out of it as fast as possible, to show you didn’t really need all that much in the first place. So, in my experience, there is a short-cut, and the success stories take it. And I think that’s how I have been treating living as a Christian: thinking I’m ready to take the ‘advanced’ course because who needs to keep going over the 101? Grace, in this perspective, is for the beginners only. So I jump into making sure I am ‘working for the kingdom’ and visibly so- see, look at all the Christian jargon I have dripping off my tongue!- that I know a lot about the Bible and sound doctrine, all so I don’t look like a weakling in need of grace, and grace alone. By skipping to the ‘see my fruitfulness’ steps, I think I can get away with missing the part where I root myself solely in Christ alone, where I spend time listening to Him, humbled under the authority of His word, and talking to Him, confessing my spiritual poverty. The truth is, that sounds like a microscope and not a spotlight, and I want the latter. Looking the part seems a lot safer, neatly contained, and it comes with the reassuring guarantee of fitting in. If I expose myself, frankly and truly to God, who knows what will happen? It sounds frightfully like something I cannot control.
John 15:1-5: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’
I won’t work my way through the ‘Christianity for Dummies’ textbook, close it for good and move on to the fancier, footnoted one, where you get to do ‘something big for God’ (if you hate my Christian buzzwords, wait til you hear my Bible-based puns). I’ve had it in my head that when Jesus says He will take care of the fruit, that He is essentially telling me to chill out a bit- because, y’know, I want the excuse to self-indulge and take the world’s brokenness a little less seriously. But, in reality, He means that I should never stop attending to where I am rooted, to what is stirring my heart, where my hope is found. And then He will take care of the rest. Paradoxically, it’s when I try to move ahead of God, on the presumption that He has forgotten about giving me good works to do, that I reveal my lack of faith. Funny how it seems, in light of the evidence of how my plans always seem to go belly-up, the universe is set to function according to God’s will, not mine.
It’s frighteningly easy to say the right words, and to think myself contrite, while subtly getting high and mighty, fancying myself a ‘Christian 2.0’. But at least, I can reassure myself that, when I come to realise my gaping need for it, there is always enough grace. Rather than aiming to become someone who only needs a hors d’oeuvre of mercy, the only way to truly be right with God is to accept that I always approach Him parched and desperate. And maybe I’m surprised by it, kicking myself even, but God at least isn’t. He knew this was the deal when He sent His son to die in order to sign on the dotted line.