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Christians by action or by grace

November 26, 2008

I’ve seen two philosophies for proposed Christian ideals. I don’t know if it’s a doctrinal split (faith vs faith and works?), but this post isn’t about the rightfulness or wrongfulness of doctrinal points. ANYWAY, you have some that will insist that a Christian is someone who lives a Christ-like life. No one is perfect; people will agree to that, but this ideal is to move towards living better. So, one’s devotion is seen by how well they live and how quick they are to repent.

The other ideal (loaded vocabulary ahead) focuses on the aspect that people are all dirtbags, and are expected to be dirtbags. Christianity is recognizing that we are dirtbags, and pleading for grace…and even though we are utterly terrible people, we are saved anyway. I had a friend post a poem by Maya Angelou that I felt summed up this position:

Christians
By Maya Angelou

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin’.”
I’m whispering “I was lost,
Now I’m found and forgiven.”

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I don’t speak of this with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say…”I am a Christian”
I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner
Who received God’s good grace, somehow!

Really, it was the first stanza that got me,  because it seems to me that if you aren’t at least trying to “live clean,” then…you don’t seem to be doing this religion thing very well. It was only after I read the other stanzas that I recognized this philosophy as a rather common one within some denominations.

Each philosophy has pros and cons. The view espoused by Maya Angelou seems to reach into more destitute populations — where sin might seem more normal in life. So, for these people, it would seem as if they could say, “Even though my environment is not ideal, I am saved, even though I might not feel I deserve it.” That is comforting.

On the other hand, a doctrine that we should be moving towards better living, like that of the LDS/Mormon church, seems to be a more empowering philosophy. It seems terrible to say, “Oh, I’m a terrible person who is completely undeserving…but because God is so merciful, he sent his son so that even a terrible person like me can be saved.” Perhaps I am too prideful to agree with the idea of 磕头, er…kowtowing to some being that just happens to care enough to give me scraps.

It seems much better to me to hear, “Yes, I make mistakes and I’m responsible for them. Yes, I might not be able to fix these mistakes myself. But I *can* try to help out.” If the companies who were being bailed out in our financial crisis were doing something to repent than rather acting 100% helpless, wouldn’t everyone be more confident?

There are weaknesses, though. I think the Mormons alienate themselves from other groups by having doctrine that seems to focus too much on doing right. It seems that the focus should be on a state of being instead of on actions or checking boxes, but the church centralizes actions (if we live right, then we will start thinking right.)

I feel that the Mormon approach is more practical. I don’t really care about the doctrinal or spiritual significance of either…but when you peel away the alleged spirituality, you are left with what is most effective in life (this is the life we are living, right?) And really, actions speak more than words. Working towards forgiveness is more effective than begging for forgiveness with no major lifestyle changes as collateral.

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3 Comments
  1. anotherchristianvegan permalink

    Did you once belong to a Mormon group?

  2. Put simply, yes.

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  1. What all can we do, anyway? at Mormon Matters

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