Trust-fund Christians

February 17, 2010

The world barely noticed when Casey Johnson died. The 30-year-old heiress’s death wasn't news; it was a foregone conclusion.

A
recovering addict, Johnson had lost custody of her daughter and was
awaiting trial on charges of burglarizing an ex-girlfriend's home. Her
parents had shut off her trust fund. Her death didn't surprise or even
interest most of us; if anything, there was a grim satisfaction among
“ordinary people.” We won't say so out loud, but when an insanely
wealthy person self-destructs, it feels a little like justice.

Few
people survive being born with an inheritance as large as Casey
Johnson's. They have every advantage. They can do anything they like and
have whatever they want. No matter what happens, they know they will
always be secure. Yet these hyper-privileged children, who should become
the most joyful people, almost never do.

There are undeniable
similarities between these trust-fund babies and cradle Christians. John
Calvin taught that as Christians we are “rich before we are born.” When
we present infants for baptism, we initiate them into a large
inheritance of faith. We grow up with the priceless knowledge of God's
grace, knowing that no matter what we do God will love us, that the good
shepherd will never allow one of his lambs to be eternally lost.

But
this blessed knowledge can become a curse if, as children of grace, we
grow indifferent to the practice of our faith. Sometimes we ask
ourselves, why worship God each week? Why bother cultivating the fruits
of the spirit? These requirements are so difficult, and our failures so
discouraging—and God loves us no matter what! We decide that since we
don't have to earn our salvation, we'll live as we please.

But living as we please inevitably destroys us.

This doesn't have to happen—God provides a way for us to live healthily with our spiritual wealth. In this week’s Old Testament reading,
Joshua finally leads the weary wilderness people into the promised
land. They look around, eyes dazzled by the long-anticipated beauty of
the place. They put aside bland manna and begin to feast on the land’s
rich produce. They are home at last and will never have to worry again.

Immediately
God speaks to the people through Joshua, telling them they must harvest
the first fruits and gather for worship. They must stand together, make
an offering of their wealth to God and say aloud who they are.

God
knows that the promised land will destroy the people if its security
lulls them into forgetting how to live as God's people, so God provides
the antidote: gratitude, memory, worship.

Gratitude, memory and
worship: if knowing God's love for us inspires us to grow in faith and
love for God, then we will lead lives rich with holiness. Lent is the
time to remember who we are and to rediscover our true wealth in Christ.