Chief Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche once said ‘The Christian faith is from the beginning sacrifice: sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self mockery, self mutilation.’ Not mincing his words there. I wonder how words such as this make you feel about your faith?
One may become angry at such a statement and suggest that Nietzsche had no concept of Christianity at all, and his ramblings are nothing more than that of a mad man.
But sadly, I think St Paul’s letter to the Colossians might show that Nietzsche wasn’t exactly far off in his understanding of faith, but not completely. Our final reading in our series on Colossians has Paul saying in verse five chapter 3: Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Paul is indeed suggesting a form of self mutilation as we put to death the parts of us which bring us down and damage our identity in Christ.
Sacrifice is inherent in the Christian faith – Paul insists that we must sacrifice much in order to follow Christ. We can sugar coat it all we like, to make faith an easy pill to swallow, but sometimes much sacrifice is required in faith. Many can portray faith as a walk in the park, an inevitably this leaves people feeling deflated when they struggle in their faith. Am I not as faithful as others they may say?
But we are all broken. We may at times like to think we are as perfect as we can be, that life has arrived at some point where we have ‘made it’ (whatever that means!) But we are all capable of good, we are all capable of bad. That is what it means to have free will. But this free will means inevitably we will fall short – we will drift away from God whether it be through our actions or just apathy to faith. It is hard work, and it’s easy to become apathetic in our faith. Verse 8 says: Now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.
Repentance we call this. We can sometimes times see repentance as this big moment we we fall to our knees in anguish laying it all before God and all is forgiven and done with. But repentance is a more quiet, and a sometimes exhausting process. Throughout this series Mel, Ed and Tim have all quoted C. S. Lewis – so it would be rude for me not jump on the band wagon:
- S. Lewis once said: ‘Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing a part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.’
This journey of repentance is a life long one, there will be days that we are better at it than others. But it is a journey we must take. We must trudge up that mountain even when it is at its steepest. There is so much that is beautiful in faith, and I love and treasure my faith in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard at times, because I dare say if faith is always easy 100% of the time I suspect we would be doing something wrong.
We are all in need of repentance, only a perfect person wouldn’t need it, and only a perfect person would find repentance easy, but they would have no need of it. But that journey with God, that constant turning back to him in repentance will be a challenging and we won’t always be great at it. In many ways repentance is like taking two steps forward and one step back. You see it doesnt matter how many times we are going backwards and forwards, as long as we always return to God, we will slowly but surely move closer and closer to him. God is not concerned by the numbers of times we need to return to him, just that we do, as many times as needed.
In the video game Skyrim, the Dragon Paarthurnax says: ‘What is better – To be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?’
Although faith can be challenging, God loves us for the effort that it takes to turn to him. He is proud of us when we overcome those mountains. And through this we find new life, where all those things that we disparage ourselves for, the things that we loathe about ourselves, are no longer part of who we are. Because they have been put to death. And through this death Paul says in verse 10 that we ‘have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.’
Because ‘In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!’
So wherever your faith might be today, know that it isn’t always easy, but God sees who you are, and who you are meant to be. No something that’s broken, but someone who is made in the image of God.