Jeff Doles recently published “A Contractual View of the Gospel,” in which he makes a lot of good points – but he also de-emphasizes something that I think is crucial to the nature of our relationship with God.
He says that many Christians see our relationship with God as a contract; we exchange an act (of faith, in the Christian sense) for salvation, whereas some others attempt to exchange works for salvation. (I’m not sure which group he’s referring to here, but look around; it’s easy to find people who say they’re good Christians because they do good things, as opposed to the idea that they’re good Christians because they believe in Christ and act upon that belief.)
He says that when we emphasize the contractual nature of our relationship – “we have done this, now give us that” – that we have made the contract itself an idol, replacing our love for God with a desire for certitude.
It’s an interesting, and valid, point. In my cultural tradition, there’s the concept of Heaven and Hell, sort of – Judaism has a number of views about the regions inhabited by the soul, such as it is, after the passing of our mortal coils. But as I understand it, they’re more abstract than concrete, and their pull is more ephemeral than absolute.
Put more simply: if I go to Heaven when I die, that’s great. Likewise, if God sees fit to send me to the lake of fire, well, that’s His right and power. My desire is to glorify His Name, whatever that might mean and in whatever fashion I am able. I have an abstract covenant with Him, and I trust Him to act according to His Will; the reward for me is in that fulfillment, not in whether I get a cookie when my life is done.
But that doesn’t mean there is not a covenant! Christ is our High Priest, after all; the priesthood was founded on a covenant. If the covenant is not fulfilled – if we don’t have that certitude – then our faith is in nothing, and I don’t think that’s the case.
So the crux, for me, is in the nature of the relationship to Christ. Am I faithful because I want the quid pro quo of salvation, or am I faithful because I love the Lord? if it’s the former, I run the risk of idolatry, as Doles suggests; if the latter, then salvation is a promised result (and that’s good, right?) but that’s a secondary effect.