Remember those televangelists from the 80’s who claimed God would fulfill your every need and desire if you just believed enough? My mom hated that message. She would often point to Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20 about how all you needed was faith the size of a mustard seed, or to Paul’s words in his second letter to Timothy, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”
Mom was also keen on the idea that our relationship to the Divine was not based on our works, but on grace by faith, so God’s promises weren’t contingent on how well I was doing as a Christian. His promises were based solely on his love for us.
Over the years, I would struggle through my own impulses and poor decision making, living more into the grace of God than his promises (or are they the same thing?) seeking to understand what the motivation to my relationship with the Divine really was. I learned that faith was not about belief, a mere intellectual assent to things demons already know to be true (James 2:19), but rather it is about trust, the willingness to put into practice the teachings of the Master. Faith like trust leans into the promises of God beyond the point of keeping your balance.
Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
And again in Matthew 12:50, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
So, while we may not earn our place with God through works, we are “blessed in our doing,” as James explains in the first chapter of his epistle.
This journey taught me that Walking with God is “a rugged, circuitous accent up a mountain.” It also began to feel like a Theology on Spin Cycle: an un-earned grace offering me blessings by works I’m incapable of performing.
If my relationship to the Divine was truly motivated by his love for me alone, then I would expect his blessings and promises to be more consistent in my life. Instead, it seems like God’s promises are only effective when I am making the right decisions. But then I’m just reaping the benefits of wise choices rather than the providential blessings of God. Or are they the same thing?
Perhaps the greatest promise of God is, “You will reap what you sow.”
Maybe “victory over sin and death” (Romans 8:1-4) is the freedom to cultivate seeds of virtue into gardens of love. Freedom, because we are no longer confined by the barriers that define us, working only with the light cast by our meager campfires. The Sun has risen on us all, and we are free to live in its light.
“You will reap what you sow” is an invitation to a whole new way to be human. It is a promise of victory as well as justice. We can have victory if we will cultivate it, and we will harvest the justice we are due in its season.
Maybe God, the Ground of All Being, has always been inviting us to reap what we sow. Maybe that’s the point of the Garden Paradise. Maybe the redemptive work of the Christ was, at least in part, to invite us back into this creative work. Perhaps the message of Christ is less about receiving salvation and more about participating in it.
How do you participate in salvation? How do you cultivate virtue into love? Perhaps you have a different story that teaches you similar lessons. Or you have walked a different path that led you here. Please feel free to share your story in the comments below or on our Facebook group page, On Journey Together, where we all share at the Pilgrims’ Table.