What do I have to do ?

Having lived in Pakistan and India, often met Muslims and talked about faith. Very early on I learned about the five pillars of Islam (the five acts that form the foundation of Muslim life and devotion).

What confused many Muslims about Christianity, was that they could not work out what the five pillars of Christianity were. What do you have to “do” to be a Christian? Their question has been asked for centuries, and is reflected in Luke 3:10. After hearing John the Baptist’s message, the crowd asked, “What, then, should we do?” John’s answer to them was, perhaps, a little under- whelming: tax collectors should be honest and only collect what was owed to them. And soldiers should be satisfied with their wages and not bully people for more.

In other words, tax collectors should do honestly what they were called to do, and soldiers should do what they were called to do. One imagines these were not the only people asking John what they should do. Similar answers would have been given to a wide range of people, all of which focused around this simple message:  you should live the life to which you are called, truly and honestly. I don’t John the Baptist would have known about Aristotle, but what he is describe is remarkably similar to Aristotle’s virtue ethics and slow and steady daily work of the building of character.

It’s very tempting to exclaim, “Is that it? Surely there’s more to it than that?”

This kind of question gets us right to the heart of the paradox of Christian life and faith. On one level the answer to the question, “What do I have to do?” is that simple: live honestly and truly in the joy of the knowledge that God loves you. It really is as easy as that. There are no five pillars of Christianity, no long lists of requirements, no checklists of righteousness. All we have to do is to respond to God’s insistent call of love; to hear and obey Jesus’ gentle summons to “Come, follow me”; to open our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The love of God is free but, as the gospels make so clear, at the same time it costs us everything. All we have to do in obedience to the call of Christ is to follow, but once we do follow we will find ourselves called to take up our cross like he did, to become more and more Christ-like; to be transformed into glory. Following Christ is that easy; it is that hard. As G.K. Chesteron put it, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

During Advent, the paradox of faith is revealed time and time again. Living well in Advent requires us to prepare ourselves to encounter a great mystery: to welcome Jesus Christ, Son of God, who entered our world as a tiny baby and turned history on its head; to celebrate the power of our glorious King born a vulnerable infant in poverty and squalor; to give thanks for the love of God, freely given, but which
costs us our whole lives.


Paul Gooda advent reflections