How do you know the Christian faith has any power?
That was my own situation, and a big reason for my letting go of Christianity. Thankfully, now that I am out of it, I experience far less desire (almost none, actually) for any of these activities. My true desire is for intimacy, just as a Christian’s “should” be.
Furthermore, Christianity laid upon me a huge weight of guilt. I couldn’t continue to sin, with full knowledge that I was sinning, and yet ask forgiveness. If I am going to sin (which happens every day), I might as well remove the guilt.
Now that I’m in the driver’s seat, yes, I fail miserably every day, but there is no Christ sitting there telling the parable of the foolish virgins or the wasted talents; no Christ saying “I do not come to condemn the world” while simultaneously condemning those who should know better and yet do not act upon their knowledge.
I am by no means a good man; I’m really quite a jerk whose alcohol intake is (consciously) increasing weekly. However, I see no power in the Scriptures, no power in Christianity, and no power in anything having to do with the Faith that isn’t readily available to me by other means. In fact, I’m beginning to think that I see less.
Thank you for your time, consideration, and help. My Christmas list last year had Wisdom, Judgment, Knowledge, and Understanding on it, and I hope you will help impart a little bit of each to me.
Thanks for your letter. Your question is why I believe that Christian faith has power to deliver someone from bondage to sin and guilt. I wouldn’t put it quite that way. Christ is the one with the power to deliver us, and faith is merely the means by which He brings us to Himself. What faith means is trusting with our whole heart and mind that He, and no one else, can deliver us. It isn’t faith that delivers, but Christ who delivers; therefore we need faith in Christ.
The reason I believe that He has this power is that innumerable witnesses have testified to it. First are the witnesses in Scripture and Christian tradition. Far less in authority, but closer to me, are the witnesses among people whom I know. Last and least, I guess, is me. I too once abandoned Him, and if you had known me before I returned to Him, you wouldn’t have believed that He could deliver me either.
Yet I don’t think that why I believe these things is your real question. Let me tell you how I read your letter.
- You say that before abandoning Christ, you had already sunk into compulsive masturbation, use of pornography, and abuse of alcohol.
- You say that since abandoning Christ you are “in the driver’s seat” and now experience “far less desire” for any of these things. However, these statements are contradicted by your later confession that your alcohol intake is actually increasing week by week. Plainly you are in trouble, and you are not in the driver’s seat at all.
- The statements are also contradicted by the reason you give for abandoning Christ — if you were going to go on sinning, you say, then you might as well not feel guilty about it. The intention, then, was to go on sinning. If that was your intention, why complain to Him that you carried it out?
- Moreover, you haven’t really escaped from the sense of guilt. Your letter is full of self-justifications, some of them quite absurd. I’m thinking, for example, of your claim that every Christian male is in bondage to pornography and masturbation. Nobody works that hard to justify himself unless he knows he needs to.
- The reason that abandoning Christ didn’t release you from the sense of guilt is that Christ wasn’t your accuser in the first place; your conscience was. The burden you escaped when you abandoned Christ was His very offer of forgiveness, and the reason it was a burden was that you refused to repent and accept it.
- The further you run from the source of help, the more you need to deny that He can help you. The further your life spins out of control, the more you need to believe that you are in the driver’s seat, adequate to save yourself.
And so when you ask me why I believe that Christ has the power to deliver a man like you from bondage, I read in your words an arrogant challenge combined with a desperate plea. The challenge is “Christ didn’t help me before. Give me one good reason to believe that He can help me now!” The plea is “With my back to Christ, I can’t see Him any more. Please tell me, is He really there?”
As to the plea: Yes, He’s really there, but you can’t see Him unless you turn around. You need to be authentically sorry, which is different from just feeling guilty. You need to abandon your claim to self-ownership and control, turning yourself over to Him. And you need to reverse course, fleeing from your sin instead of into it. If you don’t yet want to turn around, then at least begin wanting to want to. Implore Christ with all your heart to make you want to. Ask Him to have His way with you at last. Be patient; pray persistently. You have been hardening your heart for a long time, and it may take Him time to soften it.
As to the challenge: I can well believe that Christ didn’t help you before, because whatever you may have told yourself at the time, the fact is that you did not yet want His help. Make no mistake, being healed is a laborious process. You may fall, repent, and be picked up, fall, repent, and be picked up, many times before you begin to feel His strength flowing into your legs. On the way, there may be pain, and there may be humiliating discoveries. But you have to begin.
I foresee that one of the most difficult things for you may be returning to Christian fellowship. Just as you don’t want to acknowledge your dependence on Christ, you may find it hard to confess your need of help to other Christians. But the Church is the Ark in which Christ pilots us over the flood. You can either enter in, or drown.
When you asked on your Christmas list for a little bit of Wisdom, Judgment, Knowledge, and Understanding, you were asking someone; it must have been the Lord. If you accept such little bits as He sends, then He will send more.
After receiving my reply, you wrote back “I agree that my own heart convicted me, but I did not see in Christ an offer of forgiveness. I grant that this has a huge chance of being faulty, and I will conduct research to test my claim.”
If you didn’t see in Christ an offer of forgiveness, try these! “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28). “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
I liked the ending to your second letter. You explained that it was your parents whom you had asked for Wisdom, Judgment, Knowledge, and Understanding. “They are Christians,” you said, “so I’m sure that the Lord has been asked. I have not said in my heart, ‘There is no God,’ so there is still hope.” My advice to you is to act on it.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2002 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.