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Leaving Guilt-Driven Faith

There is a story told about the time Sir Conan Doyle, the English writer who created the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, decided to play a practical joke on 12 of his best friends. The story goes that he sent all 12 of them a telegram that simply read: “Flee at once … all has been discovered.” Within 24 hours, all 12 had fled to other countries.

Sadly, many—if not most—Christians live with the same guilt. We feel guilty if we stay out too late on Saturday and sleep through church on Sunday morning. We feel guilty if the physical components of our relationships with our girlfriends or boyfriends “go too far.” We feel guilty if we don’t give money to the Church or spend the right amount of time in prayer. Unfortunately, many believers are driven to do these things—pray, tithe, attend church, remain sexually pure—by a rabid sense of duty.

This ought not to be. While these things are good things and goals to be sought after, and while guilt should be a natural reaction to sin from a regenerate heart, the Christian faith should never be driven by a sense of duty, guilt or entitlement. Instead, we should be driven to lives of holiness by passion—passion for God, passion for the lost, passion for the Gospel, passion for each other.

If we move from passion and excitement as motivation to duty and guilt, we lose the great idea of our faith. The great idea of our faith is that the Creator-God has made a way for regular folks like us to know Him. This great idea allows both for eternal life with Him in heaven and purpose in this life. This is an idea of freedom, is it not?

Imagine for a moment that you have no recollection of the life and message of Jesus Christ. And imagine that someone who knows this message well comes to tell you about the Christian faith. They say to you:

Jesus came to earth and died so that you could attend weekly meetings and give Him a slice of your income. You should, therefore, modify your behavior so as to fit in and believe exactly like we tell you to believe and resist getting too excited, for that would be in bad taste. Then you will fulfill your duty and rid yourself of guilt.

Would that be something you would accept? Probably not. Would those sentiments be true to the life and message of Jesus Christ? No, they wouldn’t. And yet that is where many of us find ourselves today.

Now imagine again that you know nothing of the life and message of Jesus Christ, and someone who knows this message well comes to share it with you. Their life is compelling and authentic. Perhaps they don’t fit all the Christian stereotypes, but they are driven by an otherworldly passion and commitment. They say to you:

The reason we don’t do things so well and there exists so much sorrow, death and injustice is that our sin permeates this world. Yet, this great God became like us because of His great love and, amazing as it seems, sacrificed our sin and guilt on the cross. If only we will accept his gift of salvation and surrender to His leadership, God will ignite a new passion inside of you.

Would you be more likely to connect with that message? Probably. Would those sentiments be truer to the life and message of Jesus Christ? Yes, they would. They comprise the great idea of our faith.

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A guilt-driven faith will certainly go through the motions. It will drive you to action. But a passion-driven faith forces us to tell everyone we know about the great idea that can change the world. It will drive you to a lifestyle. And we would long for our neighbors, friends and families to embrace this great idea!

The Great Awakenings in the Church have come in no small part because men recaptured a sense of passion rather than guilt. John Wesley, an ordained, Oxford-educated minister, did not become a leader in the Great Awakening until he found an inner passion for Jesus Christ. Once that happened he seemed outlandish to others, and he eventually had to preach in the fields. The same could be said of Whitefield and Edwards, Finney and Spurgeon, Luther and Savonarola. They embraced a passion for the great idea of Christianity.

Our faith is certainly not comprised only of passion. It is also pure, revealed truth. But the truth of our faith is more than mere, propositional fact; it is a great idea that is worthy of infectious passion.

It seems a passionless faith may be one reason so many find our faith unattractive and disingenuous. We must revive the great idea of our great God. We must rediscover the great commission and great commandment. We must pursue a passion-driven Christianity. If our faith is to become a transformative, redemptive power within the culture, we need to flee guilt-driven, duty-centered puppetry and call down a passion for the great idea of the Gospel.

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