As Christians, we must believe in the Gospel that our faith in God will lead us to eternal life. But what is the path of faith we should follow and how do you start and commit to it?
We are all beginners in the Christian faith. We are a pilgrim people taking up our journey each day, walking into the unknown, trusting in God. That is the story of the church. It is the story of a searching God and a seeking people. It is the Emmaus story of the risen Christ, who joins us on our journey and walks with us (Luke 24:13-35). It is your story and mine. As we try to understand the nature and mission of Christians, we begin with our journey of faith.
What does a profile of your pilgrimage look like? It has new beginnings, its peaks and valleys, its wanderings and plateaus. No one's spiritual journey is always on an onward and upward ascent. We are continually en route, continually in the process of becoming, always in the midst of change. We know both victory and defeat. We have to cope with agonizing problems and shattering experiences. We never reach the place on our Christian pilgrimage where there are no more problems to contend with. We walk by faith and live by trust, greeting the challenge of each new day. At least this is true of most of us as disciples of Jesus Christ.
We have been given no assurance that faith in God will spare us disappointment, trouble, or sorrow. Some of the most faithful people have experienced great tragedy, failure, and disappointment. We face many of the same problems and temptations others do. In fact, we are likely to become more sensitive to human need and to problems of which others may be unaware or do not heed. But we can face each day and every circumstance with the assurance that God is with us--in the good and in the bad, in success and in failure, in life and in death. We are not alone!
This is the Gospel we affirm as Christians. It assures us that God's grace and love surrounds us and encourages us, goes before us and upholds us. This Gospel envisions a new creation, a new haven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). It looks forward to a day when this world shall be transformed by the spirit of the Eternal. We are even invited to help bring that day nearer. Our faith is grounded in this kind of vision.
How do Christians define faith? Faith has as many facets as a fine-cut jewel. Faith is living in terms of hope and making our decisions on the basis of hope. It gives a person the benefit of the doubt. It turns negatives into positives, despair into promise. Faith is seeking to go where we believe God is calling us to go and do what we believe God is calling us to do. It lends heart and lands to lift up those who are fallen. Faith never gives up. Faith is knowing that God stands with us in the hour of separation, abandonment, or death. We are assured that our agony and pain are matched by healing love and grace.
We always begin the journey of faith where we are, just as we are. God accepts us on these terms. One need not have achieved some stage of excellence before making a beginning. We come to God in faith because our souls hunger and thirst for the Eternal. We come because we need God. And we continue in pilgrimage because we have discovered that our deepest yearnings and highest hopes are matched by the grace of God revealed in Christ.
In all the ups and downs of faith, the plateaus and deep valleys, God is faithful. Time and again the Bible assures us that God does not forsake us. Though we stumble and fall, God is with us. Though we turn against God, God does not turn against us. Though we go astray and lose our way, there is One who searches for us (Matthew 18:12-14).
The Christian's pilgrimage is never simply an individual undertaking. We are part of a great company of the faithful on a journey together. We need one another for encouragement within the Christian community. Our spiritual journey will connect with others on their pilgrimage and out of this will grow a new sense of community. We must give assent to all the creeds of the church, but if they fail to express themselves in our daily lives, they can amount to very little. Faith involves commitment expressed in action, trust, and obedience. Faith, therefore, includes both an inward and an outward journey. Traveled together, these journeys leads us toward wholeness. Our inward journey of prayer, Bible study, and spiritual formation must run parallel to our outward journey of ministry and service.
Faith leads us to seek God's will for our own lives as well as for the church, our community, and world. Jesus identified that end as the rule or reign of God. He spoke of it as the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom signifies God's will and rule within our lives, in our world, and in the fuller life beyond death. We, as individual Christians and as the Church, are called to live in terms of God's promised kingdom. Jesus spoke of the kingdom as being within us. He also implied that the kingdom is among us and beyond us. Being a part of the kingdom means living within the presence and under the loving care of the Eternal. It means living in terms of "They will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
What a Gospel we claim for our lives and for our world. What a message the Church has to proclaim. What a challenge--to begin living and acting here and now as those who are captured by a vision from on high. That is the faith we affirm and aspire to as Christians.