The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Struggling with my faith lately

I’ve been struggling with my faith lately. I hate to say it, but I’ve been angry when I think about Christianity (which is most of the time).

There are verses in the NT that say all we need to be saved is faith in Jesus. But this is a bait and switch. Because in 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5, and Ephesians 5 (and elsewhere) virtually every type of sin is listed and said to preclude someone from being saved.

I started reading George MacDonald recently. MacDonald thought anyone whose works are less than perfect isn’t saved. Given Christianity’s extremely rigorous standards, this places tremendous pressure on the believer, at least me. Jesus said his yoke was easy. That seems completely untrue to me. One reading of the NT and I don’t see how anyone could possibly think Jesus’s yoke is easy.

MacDonald thought all a person needed to do to atone for his sins was repent. In the OT there are verses saying essentially the same thing. If that’s the case, what’s the point of Jesus’s death? Since keeping the OT Law was apparently impossible, why didn’t God just shorten the Law to the level that Jesus and the apostles expected people to follow?

Not one of those passages mentions “saved” or “salvation”.

While they may not contain such words, “inheriting the kingdom” has almost unanimously been understood as another way of saying “being saved,” meaning entering/being allowed to enjoy postmortem happiness. And for good reason. In at least one passage Jesus equates his entrance into the kingdom with his death. That is, entering the kingdom would occur postmortem.

I agree with you, Qaz. I don’t like reading the NT much because it is full of exhortations, rebukes and guilt which makes me feel like a horrible person.

Isn’t that what Jesus and Paul were doing when they claimed that love fulfills all of God’s law? My premise is that God delights when we seek to love, even though of course we finite creatures never do it perfectly.

Here’s what I don’t get. Israel was supposedly given the Law to show that we (humans) are incapable of living up to God’s standards of righteousness and thus can only be saved by grace if we put our faith in a Person who perfectly fulfilled God’s Law. That makes sense to me. But that’s not the whole story. To be saved not only do we have to have faith in the Person who perfectly fulfilled the Law, we have to perfectly follow God’s law too. Now, God’s Law has changed. It’s no longer the Torah. It’s what Paul calls the “Law of Christ”, whose precepts are codified in the New Testament. In some ways it’s easier to keep than the Torah, but in some ways it’s harder.

Now it turns out we’re expected to live by God’s standards of righteousness (see 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5), lest we not be saved. But if we are capable of living up to God’s standards of righteousness with our works, what was the point of Christ’s death? And what was the point of the Torah? I thought the point of the Torah was to show that we’re incapable of living up to God’s standards of righteousness.

Qaz… can you tease out further with actual texts your good reasoning for your thoughs above.

Might that question then suggest your whole conundrum could be built on certain false assumption about these things???

Various traditions assumptions here are wide open to question. FWIW In N.T. Wright’s class this week on “Grappling with Galatians,” he clearly does not think Paul sees that as the purpose of Torah. He thinks its’ primary purpose is to preserve Israel from being absorbed by the nations before the time of Messiah. And my paper summarizing his recent atonement volume is convinced of a different reading than you espouse, more like that Jesus’ death enables us to live a life that pleases God.

Perhaps I phrased that poorly. What I mean is why didn’t God shorten the Law before he gave it to the ancient Israelites? IOW, why give the famous 613 commandments to show humans are incapable of living up to God’s standards of righteousness only to centuries later get rid of a lot of them and add some new ones under the framework that says humans are capable and required to live up to God’s standards in their works?

With regard to love supposedly fulfilling the Law, if that’s the case then I don’t understand Jesus and the apostle’s condemnation of every type of sexual release besides that which takes place in a heterosexual marriage. I don’t see commiting “fornication” or homosexual sex as making some a less loving person. Perhaps you can explain how they’re incompatible. Who do these acts harm?

I just offered above one interpretation for the weird Jewish Laws. Of course, how one reads the development of thinking about what God wants may depend on what kind of book you assume the Bible is.

On why prioritizing love is consistent with limits on sexual expression, I assume it’s because the best guidelines are the healthiest. Of course you know that I don’t think demonizing homosexual unions make sense. But I can tell you that the idea of protecting faithful and monogamous unions appears to be incredibly healthy and satisfying to me. But easy for me to say, I’ve only made love to one woman, and now being married over 50 years, I am surprised to find it remains over the moon to me, and seems like a brilliant idea. And my wife digs this version of a love priority too :slight_smile:

P.S. the Hebrew emphasis was on protecting the marital union, not on fornication, which I find less crucial. But if I had to make a loving case for it as problematic, it might be to take seriously Paul’s observation that sexual union unites and creates a powerful bond between two people. When that powerful expression of intimacy and union is done without any covenantal commitment, it may be that a discarded partner is left with hurts and a lack of trust that is not easy to heal. Thus seeking to reserve such bonding power to a relationship where there is a covenantal security may lead to easier trust and happiness.

I do worry when I see kids bypass coming to know each other in other personal and emotional levels, and instead early on get hooked in to a bond that is driven by the wonderful power of physical attraction, that may not be enough to sustain a flourishing and enduring sharing of their lives in common.

Where I get quite confused is the dichotomy between what Jews have to follow and what gentiles have to follow. Jews back then knew and promoted that gentiles NOT follow the Law as it was very critical and hard to accomplish. They were the only ones that had to abide by it as they were ‘set apart.’ I feel like there could be some misinterpretation when we say that Christians are the ones that are set apart and holy. Not sure, but should leave that to another discussion. It could be that gentiles need only love God and their neighbour’s as themselves, and perfection comes through that. No need to be legalistic, but to follow one’s heart/God/conscious, as to how to behave. Not too sure though - but it is an attractive thought.

You might want to consider what St. Paul had to say about it. The Law given to the Jews turns out, according to Paul, to have been God’s way of showing that human disobedience flowed right through the ‘chosen people’ as well as the rest of humanity; in fact, the Jews were chosen not because of anything special in themselves, but as a demonstration that, even with the Law and sacrifices and all, human beings, chosen or not, had the same need of someone to 'save them from their sins The Jews were a small sample that proved the truth about fallen mankind, and the need for God’s gracious provisions in the savior.

I might also add that George MacDonald and others that have pointed to the high calling of God’s grace in Jesus, have also stressed a high moral life, not as earning salvation, but as part and parcel of being a believer. Protestants have had a general reliance on ‘free grace’, as if faith in that is equivalent to actually striving to perfect our moral character, but GMac and others have tried to complete the picture by showing that the ‘act of salvation’, ‘faith’, is of no account without a life that is at least striving to please God by actual moral energy as well as love. In other words, a growth into maturity, responsibility, and largeness of mind and spirit.

This challenge to be more godly, to imitate our Father more and more, is a life-giving and fortitude-strengthening demand of love and we should be grateful for that demand; it develops our power of self-control, deepens our commitment, and fits us for eternity.

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God’s Law never changed. It was, is and always has been to love God and to love others as ourselves.

The Levitical law is a different story. Your statement above is taught by those who believe that the entire Bible is the infallible word of God. This is the explanation they choose to espouse instead of admitting that some of these laws were man-made. Some of them were actually the practices and beliefs of those who worshipped pagan gods.

As these verses say:
Matt 15:9 “They worship Me in vain teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”

Isaiah 28:13 “But the word of the Lord was to them precept upon precept…that they may go and fall backward and be broken and snared and caught.”

Isaiah 66:3 " Whoever slaughters an ox is like one who slays a man. Whoever sacrifices a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck. Whoever presents a grain offering is like one who offers pig’s blood. Whoever offers incense is like one who praises an idol. Indeed they have chosen their own ways and delighted in their abominations."

It was never about postmortem happiness. It was about the continuation of mankind and living in peace and happiness ON EARTH.

The Jews were not chosen. As Isaiah 66:2 says “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, who trembles at My word.”

Sometimes, we need to all take a look at ourselves in order to make a change for the better. Besides, a teacher should point out your mistakes.

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I totally agree!

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I agree with others above who have disagreed with the notion that inheriting the kingdom equates to being saved.

That notion assumes the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are the same as heaven. But I don’t see how they can be the same. Here is some biblical support for the view that they are not the same.

Matthew 11:12, From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. I’m not aware of any biblical evidence that establishes violent men take heaven by force from the days of John the Baptist until now, whenever now is.

Also, there is Matthew 23:13: But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Scribes and Pharisees cannot control who gets into heaven, even if they could control who gets into the kingdom of heaven.

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@lancia

Matthew 26:29
I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

This verse pretty clearly implies the kingdom of heaven is heaven.

It may, and it may not. In my experience, “fornicators” are no less emotionally well than me, a virgin. In fact, many of the people I know who have had sex outside of marriage live happier lives than me. Aside from that, there are plenty of things that leave people hurt. Not getting a promotion at work, losing a sports competition… I don’t think the fact that something has the potential to leave a person with emotional damage is a good arguments for it being immoral. Further, breaking up with a platonic boyfriend/girlfriend can leave a person hurt too. It seems arbitrary then to oppose premarital sex on the basis that breakups between sexually active boyfriends and girlfriends can cause harm. I can’t speak for all virgins, but I would guess that many (like myself) are bitter and weary from constantly suppressing our biology.

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Not necessarily. The book of Acts reports that the disciples eat with Jesus after his resurrection and appearance on earth (Acts 1:4). They also drink with him at that time (Acts 10:41). That incident could well be the reference Jesus makes in Matthew 26:29, in which case Jesus is speaking of the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God here on earth and not of heaven.

He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:41)

Good point lancia. I suppose Matt 26:29 could refer to either heaven or the days between Easter and Pentecost. How would you define “kingdom of heaven”?

It’s difficult to pin it down exactly, but it is clear that it is not the same as heaven. That is, it is easier to say what it is not than to say what it is.

It is sometimes described as the rule or reign of Christ on earth. It is also described as the rule of God in the lives of His people.