A Faith of Means
I read it over a month ago in the Screwtape Letters and I just can't seem to get it out of my head: "Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man."
Faith a means.
Three powerful words. Riddled with conviction and truth. Over and over again the melody repeats the refrain, faith a means. The diabolical battle is won when the believer succumbs to a Christianity of means.
I wonder sometimes if I have a faith of means.
Do I use my faith to gratify my secret desires of worldliness? To make a name for myself? To advance a particular cause? Why do I pray and read the Scriptures? Is it for the pure delight of knowing Christ and wanting to draw into deeper intimacy with him? Or, is it to reach the next plateau of a worldly end I am pursuing?
Is my faith a means to get something else? Maybe a better job, a bigger house, a brighter promotion. "We do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement," says the demon.
But a faith of means is really a corrupted faith. The etymology of corrupt comes from two Latin words: "cor" which means altogether, and "rumpere" which means to break. It carries the weight of destruction with its synonym "destroy." It's a slow spoiling of the faith that in the end destroys it.
Kierkegaard put it this way, "Neither the eternal nor the Holy Scriptures have ever taught any man to strive to go far or farthest of all in the world; on the contrary, they warn against getting on too far in the world, in order, if possible, to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
Unspotted. Without blemish. No corruption.
It seems images of The 21 are everywhere, and rightly so. The news, churches, blogposts shed light on these men who cared more about dying for the Cross than living for the World. It's as if the Church finally embraced its wake up call, rallying together united and unashamed to bear the mark of the Cross. My friend, Angela Parlin, shared about the 21 on her blog and wisely noted that, "They lived in this world but they had died to it already."
They could leave this world because their faith was not a faith of means. The world was not their end; their faith was. The 21 had not become corrupted by the glitz and glamour of a world that promises everything but in the end steals your soul.
Sometimes it's a slow erosion; a fissure in the surface that lets a tiny schism of corruption to seep in. But eventually the surface cracks, the yeast gets moldy, the stone breaks. Even water can erode a stone with years of constant streaming.
The world can slip its talons into me before I know it. My petitionary prayers can sound more like my daughter's Christmas list than a child seeking the kingdom of her father. We are all becoming either eternal wonders or eternal horrors, Lewis stated in his famous sermon "The Weight of Glory." A faith of means is the horror of a corrupted faith.
"The Christian conception of self-renunciation is this: give up your selfish desires and longings, give up your arbitrary plans and purposes so that you in truth work disinterestedly for the good--and submit to being abominated almost as a criminal, scorned and ridiculed for this very reason," Kierkegaard stated years ago before the 21 made their final stance.
A life lived disinterestedly for the good lends itself to scorn, offense, and even martyrdom. It's a faith lived not as a means but as an end. It's the faith of the cross.
Because truth be told, God is not in the business of being a God of convenience. He's not interested in a faith that is concerned about what one will receive in this world. God is after a faith that sees the Cross as the end, and faith the means.
May our faith be a faith of the cross riddled with self-renunciation. May our eternal lover enthrall our souls more than any earthly advancement. May we be eternal wonders where our faith brings us to the glory of a kingdom not of this world.