“Getting back to basics” is one of those desires which has, in one form or another, been a hallmark of our world nearly from the start. Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, there have been thousands of books, poems, movies and what-not exhorting us to return to something ancient, central, simple, childlike, basic. Whether we are believers or not, somewhere inside of us is the memory of (or faith in) an exquisite Something wrapped in the dew of the world’s morning and beckoning us to return.
Yet, as is all too plain, getting back to basics is easier said than done. Which basics? Should I be attending church more often? Eating a healthier diet? Getting more involved with children (surely the most basic people in the world!)? Visiting the sick? Feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Reading my Bible more? Going to prayer group more? Hiking in the mountains? Doing fulfilling and socially relevant work? Using my undeveloped gifts more? Cultivating my mind more? These things (and many more) are all “basic.” You can’t forsake them without forsaking something central to the Gospel. Yet if you spend your time simply being harassed by such “priority paralysis,” desperately trying to “get back to basics” in 25 equally important spheres, sooner or later it becomes evident that somewhere along the way you lost sight of the childlike simplicity you set out to find.
So what does God say? After all, by most reports He seems to have been in on this Garden of Eden thing at the start and has stuck with the project up until the present moment. Does He say anything about setting back to basics?
Not surprisingly, He does. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” He says, “and you shall be saved.”
Hmmm. Now if you’re like me–if you’ve been a believer for many years now and have tried to “mature in the faith” as they say–your first reaction may very well be, like mine, “But, that’s so… so basic!”
Yep. And that’s a clue as to why it’s so hard to get back to basics. When I look in my own heart I find that my main problem in getting back to basics is a false notion of Christian maturity. I wouldn’t dare say it out loud, of course, but somewhere humming quietly inside is the half-baked lie, “Salvation by grace is important when you first become a believer, but you’ve got that down now. You should be growing past it; working hard and getting into the deeper aspects of your religion, walking worthy of all the good things God has done for you. After all, you can’t just be a taker all your life, can you?”
Now this lie, like all powerful lies, has just enough truth in it to give it real punch. Who, after all, can be against maturity? Who is against hard work? Who wants to just be a taker? Who doesn’t want to, as St. Paul says, “walk worthy of our calling”?
Not me. But what the lie neglects to mention is that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). We are not Saturn V rockets who can jettison the basics of grace in Christ once we “have them down” and move on to “maturity” without Him. We are human beings who must both grow and somehow retain our inner childlike dependence on Him at the same time. If we don’t, we wind up in the same kettle of fish the Galatians found themselves in: starting with faith in Christ and somehow getting quagmired in a phony “maturity” which is really an attempt to impress God or neighbor or both. In short, we wind up putting ourselves back under the Law.
Paul made short work of such “maturity.” “O foolish Galatians,” he wrote, “who has bewitched you–you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was displayed to view on His cross? I want to learn only one thing from you; how did you receive the Spirit? Was it through observance of the law or through faith in what you heard?…After beginning in the Spirit, are you now to end in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3). For Paul, the idea that salvation by grace could be outgrown was like saying that food, water and oxygen could be made obsolete by increased work and exercise as you get older. The fact is we are being saved this minute on exactly the same basis as when we first received the Good News: the grace (that is, the love we don’t ever have to earn), of Jesus Christ. It is by faith in Him that we have received the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith in Him that everything God intends to accomplish in and through us will be accomplished.
But what about hard work, you ask? What about maturity, and all those basics listed way back in paragraph #2? Yes, they are important all right. Critical even. But not one of them can give life if they do not spring from the same living relationship with Jesus Christ you had the moment you were baptized, All of them are to Him as the fruit is to the tree. “I am the vine,” says Jesus, “and you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him will produce abundantly.” (John 15:5) But we will do so in His time and in His peace, not by running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to make ourselves “worthy.” Surely He Who created us and died for us knows in what areas and when we most need to mature. The trick is remaining in Him, listening for His voice and doing the next practical, Spirit-led thing.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” For He is the most basic thing of all.