Contrary to our aspirations and assumptions, the Christian faith is not a bulleted list that equips us with principles to create the good life, let alone the best life now. Nor does it present us with an agenda, as some would have it, for making the world a better place. The core of the faith is good news. It is a revelation of the deeper realities that plague us (of which our anxiety about change is just a symptom) and the unveiling of an unshakable hope.
As Michael Horton puts it in his Christless Christianity, "You don't need Jesus to have better families, finances, health, or even morality." Lots of religions, therapies, and self-help regimens enable people to break addictions, control tempers, repair relationships, and even practice forgiveness. Many social reform groups help us serve the neighbor. At this level of ethics, God appears to work through many means.
The good news drills down deeper. As Horton says, "Coming to the cross means repentance—not adding Jesus as a supporting character for an otherwise decent script but throwing away the script in order to be written into God's drama. It is death and resurrection, not coaching and makeovers." The deeper reality is that our alienation is not from our better self but from the Creator of that self. And that this alienation is fixed and certain, right and true. And that this alienation will never be healed without annihilation. It demands not a makeover but a start over, a start over so complete that it begins with death.
But how can we speak of starting over with death, when death speaks of the end of all things for us? It doesn't make sense, so we try to scratch and claw our way to a better life now….
…Faith is frightening because it speaks of the death of the self. It seems weak and useless because it undermines any role we might play in this salvation drama. For faith is not an attitude we conjure up, like a cheerleader rousing a crowd, to show God we really mean it. It is not mere intellectual assent that shows God we are thinking soundly. Faith is not even a repentant and contrite heart that we work up to impress God with our humility. Faith is the unexpected realization that something remarkable has happened in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ: our annihilation and our start over.