I am a Christian. That means I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he made an intercession on behalf of humanity to allow them a path of salvation. As the Son of God, he could make an infinite atonement, while we as mortals can only make insufficient finite payments for the wrong we have done. Therefore, our return to where we came from is conditional not upon our own efforts, but our ability to satisfy the terms that Jesus laid down.
His terms are stated simply: we are to have faith in him and his sacrifice; we are to set aside actions and thoughts that do not show love to others or ourselves; we are to follow him; we are to endure to the end. There is no free ride at any point, just as there was no point in Jesus’ mortal existence that suddenly became easy for him. Faith demands of us that we accept unseen evidence and rely instead upon love to guide our beliefs. Setting aside the unloving actions involves arduous processes of repentance, which involve not just leaving behind those evils, but fending off repeated temptations to return to them. Following Jesus involves doing the work that he would do if he were here, and it is not the play of children, but the work of a loving brother, giving support to people that suffer alongside us. Enduring to the end is painful – avoiding the pain is not endurance. We cannot cheat any of those processes, if we want Jesus to be able to say to us that we have lived as he wished us to live.
But we have that faith to sustain us. God is love, and faith is an expression of that love, that trust, that belief that, yes, there is something unseen that is nevertheless there. Faith is an expression that that something unseen is calling to us, in words of tender, caring love, for us to return to that love from whence we came. That love is perfect and we must be ourselves perfect to return to it. As we live, we cannot avoid imperfections. We need a way to rid ourselves of those imperfections, and Jesus provides that way. He allows us to make imperfect payment for our sins, he allows us to attempt to repent and fail, so long as we continue to try to keep repenting. He encourages us to express our faith, our love, through the works that he would do. This is what is meant by “faith without works is dead.” Faith is an expression of love, and true love demands true action. I cannot tell my family that I love them and do nothing. Love requires that I help them, that I sacrifice for them, that I mourn with those who mourn, that I bear one another’s burdens.
My works are not a replacement for my repentance. Neither is my repentance a replacement for my works. Both are parts of the love I feel. Together, the two add up to measure my worthiness. Worthiness itself is not a negative judgment, but a measure of the peace in one’s soul. Lack of work and a pile of sins prevent us from feeling peace. We gain peace when we make sacrifices for others. We gain peace when we leave behind the things that keep us from loving others and ourselves, which are our sins. The more peace we feel in our hearts, the more worthy we are of the blessings of Jesus.
But Jesus does not ever want our lack of worthiness to keep us from turning to him and giving him a chance to bless our lives. He never wants our lack of worthiness to make us give up on starting to do the hard work of faith, repentance, commitment to his path, and enduring to the end.
That is why we start with faith, because faith is love. If we start with that faith, that love of God, we then accept that we can be loved, and that love can transform. Why does love conquer all? Because God is love. But true love is no magic wand or sprinkle of pixie dust: true love is hard-working, toiling, cheerfully sacrificing, and eternally enduring.
May we all increase the peace in our lives by helping others and leaving behind our sins. May we place our faith in Jesus, and let us allow him to show us what he can do for us when we give our lives over to him in trusting, loving faith.