Overzealous Faith?


smokestack-1402448-mA number of years ago I read a book that had me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture, that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that goes beyond those requirements.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

Thankfully there is a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I got from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their “overzealous faith” has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others has already succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in “overzealous faith.”

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitute for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

Advertisements

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

Christians Should Not Be Silent


African_sunsetWhen I say Christians should not be silent, I don’t mean Christians should complain more or rail against our culture more or even call out false teaching more. We do those things with some frequency. I’m one of those who does.

Some time ago, I was reminded that I’d much rather be known for what I believe rather than for what I oppose. In a discussion on another site, I made a comment that included these words: “Christ offers healing. He gives us grace. He made a way of escape from sin and guilt. His plan and work is Good News.”

However, I also pointed to things with which I disagreed, and consequently, the ensuing discussion, as far as concerned me, centered on my opposition (not on what I was opposing but on the fact that I was opposing). That taught me a lesson

I should talk more about Christ—the Way, the Truth, the Life—and how He came to show us the Father. I should talk about how Luke compiled his report for Theophilus “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” I should talk about how John ended his book by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

In essence, the issue at stake is the certainty or uncertainty with which we can know God. One perspective is that we cannot know with certainty and it is arrogant to say we do know with certainty. Somehow knowing is assumed to contradict faith. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

The assurance. The conviction. About what do I have assurance? These are the things I think Christians should chat up. We are too often silent about the things about which we have assurance. Why? Do we think everyone else already knows and believes the things about which we have assurance? Or the opposite? No one believes as we do. Neither position provides sufficient grounds for us to remain silent. The first is false and the second is the very reason we need to speak the truth in love.

So, what am I assured of? First, that God is.

I had occasion years ago to do some hiking in Colorado. One adventure was supposed to be a short mile hike to a small lake, but my hiking buddy and I both agreed when we arrive, it was far too short and there was too much day left, so we headed for the high country. At the end of our trail we stood on a glacier field looking up at rocky spires more glorious than any cathedral I’d visited. Over our heads was a canopy of blue, so rich and pure. Everywhere I looked, I saw God’s fingerprint.

I’ve seen His creative glory when I looked at the stars from Catalina Island or watched the sun sink below the western horizon of a Tanzanian sky as a full moon rose in the east. I’ve marveled at bull elephants protecting their herd and ostrich scampering across the grassland.

Who is God, but the LORD?
And who is our rock, except our God? (Ps. 18:31)

I know God is. I’ve seen His work.

I’ve also experienced His presence. His Spirit has taken up residence in my life. I am now one of those living stones Peter talks about:

You also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

I know God is. I’ve read His Word. The Bible is a lamp, a light, and what it illumines is God’s person, plan, and purpose. Where creation paints the general outline of God’s existence, the Bible fills in the details.

It shows through the narrative, from beginning to end, His love and power, His mercy and justice, His patience and faithfulness. He shows His redemptive purposes in His dealings with Israel. He shows His plan to rescue the condemned in His provision of the ram for Abraham to substitute for his son. He shows His patience when He rescued Jonah on his way as far from God as he could get. He shows His faithfulness in holding back a pride of lions from devouring Daniel when he refused to back off from his worship of God Most High.

The Bible is rich, so rich—filled with the greatness of the Author and Finisher of our faith.

I know God is. Jesus showed Him to His followers. He is the image of the invisible God. It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. Look at Jesus, and you see God.

So yes, the first thing about which I have assurance is that God is!

This post is an edited and updated version of one that appeared her in October, 2013.

Published in: on August 15, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Bible Plus …


Most obviously, if someone wants to know what Christians believe, they need to read the Bible. But some people don’t seem to be content with letting God reveal Himself through the words given through the Holy Spirit.

In the past I’ve read that people would do well to read a particular book (which I am not naming) in order to understand how language and argumentation work, because it serves as a model by which to actually understand what Scripture means.

Earlier, from a different source, I was told repeatedly that I needed to get in touch with a Jewish rabbi in order to understand the Old Testament as it was intended to be understood.

All this troubles me.

Has the Bible stopped being good enough for the average person to understand?

Have we decided that something else needs to come alongside God’s authoritative Word to make it make sense? Do we no longer see it as sufficient? Or perhaps it never was really authoritative and we need to find some other source that gives the final word on who God is, how we should pray, and how we should understand Scripture itself.

But if someone needs all these extra-biblical helps, why did Jesus say we should come to God as a child?

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:15)

How complicated must the way into the kingdom be if we are to come like a child? Must we learn Greek and Hebrew in order to accurately handle the Word of God? Or can we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth as Jesus said?

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God wants to be known. He isn’t hiding and hasn’t made His plan of reconciliation hard to understand.

Rather, it seems that I am the cog that makes coming to God impossible. Where is that humble, child-like attitude Jesus said I must have? Where is my trust in what He has said? Where is my willingness to obey because my Father has told me so?

I’m not saying other books, articles, blogs, sermons, or conversations aren’t helpful. God can open the eyes of my heart to see Him more clearly in any number of ways. But it seems to me, people are becoming too eager to search other sources rather than the primary one.

It’s not a good research technique.

 

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in August, 2010.

Published in: on August 10, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

God Means What He Says


In truth, faith can be defined very simply as believing that God means what He says. That’s the same kind of faith other people have when they say they believe the earth is round or that the Stock Market ended the day at such and such closing price or that George Washington was the first President of the United States.

Most everything we believe, someone else told us and we simply take their word for it. That “someone” might be a parent or a school teacher or a boss or a news reporter or Wikipedia.

Of all the people we should trust, you’d think God would be the One people would listen to first and have the greatest amount of belief in what He says. But in reality, that’s not the way it works.

Oh, sure, lots of people say they believe in God, but then it turns out, they qualify this statement by referring to “their idea of God” as if He morphs to suit each person’s taste. I have a commenter on my Facebook page (a hacker, I believe) who said, “Religion was created by man, simply that. God CAN be whoever each individual person wants him to be.”

Of course if humans invented god, then they certainly could decide he was whatever they wanted—a cosmic force; a universal savior absent of any judgment; a kindly but impotent grandfather; an indifferent clock maker that put the world in motion and now has nothing to do with it; one of a pantheon of gods; nature itself; and many, many more possibilities.

The problem there is that none of these is what God said about Himself. Now it’s true that I haven’t read all the holy books of all the religions in the world, even all the major religions. But I know Judaism’s tradition and I know Christianity. The Scriptures of the two overlap, to be sure, but in both and for both God “spoke, long ago to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways” (Heb. 1:1b).

In those many revelations of God about Himself, we have a pretty good picture of Who He is. The greatest statement of His identity may be His declaration to Moses of His name: I AM WHO I AM.

What in the world, or out of it, does that mean?

It means that God is self existent. That He is present, and always present. That He is when nothing else is or was.

There’s so much else that we learn about God from the things He spoke, but He also said, “In these last days [He] has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2a).

So we all have a decision to make—do we believe what He said, or not? If we do, it’s hard to say, I believe in God but I hate my neighbor. It’s just as hard to say, I believe in God, but Jesus can’t be the only way to Him. Those statements and many, many more indicate the person making them doesn’t actually believe in God. They only believe in the god of their own imagination.

I find it hard to imagine a reason for so many people down through the ages all believing in God or gods, if God did not actually exist. How could a person with no experience of God come up with the idea of God? And not know that he was intentionally imagining someone who was not real? And sell it to lots of other people? And people across the planet imagine and sell as real the same concept? It’s like a giant conspiracy theory.

It’s much more believable that God exists, revealed Himself to people, and some believed and continued to believe, while others decided God should do things their way or for their benefit, so they tweaked what God had said about Himself until they believed a copy which we call an idol.

Of course it’s possible that some people had encounters with evil spirits and adopted them as their god or gods.

The fact remains. The God of the Bible tells us He alone is God. We can believe what He says, or not, but faith demands that we take God at His word.

– – – – –

Photo By Gilbert Stuarthttp://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7577, Public Domain, Link

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

God’s Plan And The World—A Reprise


For God so loved the world, John 3:16 says. And yet there are people who think Christians are some kind of exclusive club looking to keep out people who aren’t like us.

First, Christianity doesn’t belong to Christians. It belongs to God. Second, it isn’t a club, though it is a relationship—first with God.

Jesus told a story to illustrate how His plan of redemption and reconciliation works.

A rich ruler decided to put on a banquet. He sent out invitations, but one after the other the people he wanted at his feast sent their regrets: A new responsibility needed attention. Another important relationship had to take priority. Too busy to squeeze in the time.

Fine, the ruler said to his servants. They don’t want to come, then they don’t get to come. Invite people from all walks of life, no matter what their status, what their occupation, even the beggars.

When everyone arrived, there was still room for more people, so the rich man sent out his servants again, this time to the places where criminals were apt to hang out, and told them to compel the people to come.

At last the banquet got underway, but one person wasn’t dressed appropriately. Why aren’t you wearing banqueting attire? the host asked. The guest had no answer, so he was put out.

The banquet is a metaphor for the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” the great celebration God has prepare for His people. But “His people” aren’t necessarily who you’d expect. They aren’t an exclusive set handpicked for their charm, wit, intelligence, skill, power, prestige, or money. They are simply those who accepted the invitation. In contrast, those who are too self-important, too determined to go their own way, won’t accept the invitation. And some might accept but won’t come prepared.

This story, this word picture (actually two versions—one in Matt. 22 and the other in Luke 14—which I’ve compressed into one), makes several things clear. First, those who ended up at the rich man’s table, enjoying the feast, did nothing to earn their invitation.

Most of them were going their own way, expecting to do something different, be somewhere else, and suddenly the invitation comes—there’s a banquet, and you’re invited.

To accept such an invitation, it seems to me a person would have to realize what an honor, what a privilege had come their way. If they thought, No big deal; I can throw my own banquet if I want to—then chances are, they wouldn’t put a great deal of priority in attending. If they had plenty of food and weren’t particularly hungry, they could easily have thought ill of the invitation—what a bother, in the middle of the work day? he can’t expect me to drop everything and come just because he’s throwing a party.

But for the people who were out of work, who begged just to buy a scrap of food, who had never sat at a banqueting table in their lives, this invitation had to be the best news they’d ever heard.

Of course, there may have been some who didn’t think the invitation was real. What, you think you’d be invited up to the mansion for a party? You’re deluded. Or someone is scamming you. You’ll show up and somebody will jump out from the bushes and shout, April Fool, and you’re it. I mean, no one, no one in their right mind, invites a bunch of riffraff to share their table.

So the people who benefit from this invitation don’t earn it, but they must trust that the invitation is true.

The_Marriage_Feast_by_MillaisThe part of the story that has long given me trouble is the part about the guy getting put out for not wearing the proper clothes. I’d think none of those beggars or poor or the ones coming in from the highways and the byways would have the proper clothes either. I can only conclude, the banquet attire was something the host provided for his guests, so the man who was dressed inappropriately had no excuse. Which his silence would seem to corroborate.

So there’s God’s plan for the world. He invites, and we either accept or reject. Nothing exclusive about it. In reality, none of us can provide our own banquet. We might think we can, but that’s delusional. Only God can provide what we need. Our role in the matter is to recognize our need and His provision, then trust that He will give what He said He would give. That trust, I believe, is the proper clothing we need. Trying to go to His banquet all dressed up in our own rags of self-righteousness will surely get us barred from the table.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2015.

A Closer Look At Faith And Prayer


1397392_mount_rainier
Here’s another in the series of Evangelical Myths

– – – – –

I’ve thought a lot about the Pharisees and the traditions that they allowed to take over their belief system—to the point that their religious practice served their greed and their lust for power. Can the same thing happen today? In evangelical churches? Why not? It happened in Christianity before there ever was a Protestant/Catholic divide.

So what are some of the evangelical myths that could potentially start professing Christians on the road away from God and toward religious traditions that serve our greed and lust for power?

This position, included in an article by another blogger, seems common: “if I have enough faith, God will do it.” I’d even suggest we’ve taken this idea a step farther: if I have enough faith, God will HAVE to do it.

Certainly this idea of faith has its seeds in Scripture. In fact Jesus Himself said this to His disciples when they could not cast out a demon from a boy brought to them for that purpose:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matt. 17:19-20)

Later Jesus said much the same to His disciples:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree [curse it so that it withered], but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matt. 21:21-22)

Certainly, from those passages, the issue seems to be the faith the disciples had. It was all up to them. If they believed, they could have sent the demon away or cursed the fig tree, but they didn’t have enough faith—not even the size of the smallest seed, or else they could move mountains.

The problem is, this passage is not the only one that addresses faith or asking things of God. So here’s an important principle: one way that myths become established is when believers take passages of Scripture in isolation and believe them “literally.” While I believe the Bible to be true—each word and in total—I do not believe each word alone communicates the intent of the whole.

My favorite example is the passage in Psalm 14: “There is no God.” Yes, that’s what verse one says . . . in part. The intro is, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” What a difference putting the line in context makes.

So too the teaching of Scripture about faith and prayer. What we need to do is look at the various passages on these subjects together—things like God promising to give good gifts to His children (necessitating an understanding of what He means by “good”); saying if we “abide in Him,” and His words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done (necessitating an understanding of this “abiding”); and promising if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (necessitating an understanding of “His will”).
Vending Machine 2

In other words, these passages can’t be taken in isolation from their context or from one another. Prayer is NOT a vending machine—put in the appropriate amount of faith and out comes the answer; too little faith and the prayer machine gets stuck with nothing shooting into the retrieval slot.

In fact, one of the greatest passages about asking God for something comes from the man whose son had the demon the disciples couldn’t cast out:

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes. “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mar 9:22b-24)

His great confession was that even belief comes from God—it’s not something he could generate on his own.

James adds a couple different pieces to the faith puzzle. First he said it was great for someone to say he believes in God, but the reality is, the demons also believe. So there’s obviously more to “belief” than a mental ascent.

Secondly, he addresses the issue of asking God for what we need: “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (see James 4:2b-3).

Certainly this look at faith and prayer is not exhaustive, but by reviewing the various promises, commands, and instruction in Scripture, I draw these conclusions:

  • there is no prayer formula;
  • God wishes to give His people good gifts, but we mistake what we think is good for what He thinks is good;
  • believing God for the things we know to be His will should be our default prayer position.

Here’s my own personal conclusion: I don’t ask God for enough stuff or for big enough stuff—the things consistent with His will. I get wrapped up in “small ball,” the stuff that would make my life easier or more pleasant. So often God graciously gives me what I ask for, but I wonder—if I asked for more, for bigger, wouldn’t He be pleased to give that, too?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in June 2013.

Published in: on February 1, 2018 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Faith And The Rock


I am mystified when people who don’t believe in God refer to Christians as people who don’t think. Their argument seems to be, Since God is invisible, you are only imagining anything spiritual or supernatural. You have no proof—by which they mean, scientific evidence—so you simply believe a lie or a myth or something in your imagination.

It doesn’t matter how many times a clear demonstration is offered that “belief” is not blind, those opposed to God insist it is. And yet the Bible says just the opposite.

As one illustration of what the Bible says about faith (I couldn’t possibly enumerate every instance in which we learn more about faith—there are too many), Jesus told a story about a wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the wind and rain buffeted the house, it stood firm. However, another man, a foolish man, built his house upon the sand. The winds came and the rain, and the house fell.

Jesus had prefaced the story by saying that the wise man was the one who heard His words and acted on them. In contrast, everyone who hear His words and doesn’t act on them is like the foolish man.

The point is simple, “belief in Jesus,” the faith that undergirds a Christian, is reliant upon God’s word.

Oh sure, some false teachers have invented “other gospels” and some have twisted Scripture to say what it does not say, but in the end, the one who takes God at His word is building his house on the rock.

Romans spells out what God’s word is which leads to salvation:

the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (10:8b-9)

Pretty simple really. Jesus is Lord, Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course how can we KNOW those things? Romans gives us that piece of information, too.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (10:14-17; emphasis mine)

Clearly faith is not dreaming up something and hoping, hoping, hoping that it will come true. I could do that. I could imagine a billionaire philanthropist who wants to give away his millions, and he pulls my name out of the hat. He’ll come tomorrow with a check that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. Now that is pie-in-the-sky imagination.

Believing in God is nothing like that. To begin with, I don’t tell Him what He’s like. He tells me. I listen, is all. “Faith comes from hearing.”

Another important aspect of faith comes from Hebrews 11—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1). Assurance, not guess work; conviction, not irresolution or doubt.

How can a person possibly be sure of what you hope for?

Well, the assurance comes completely from the One in whom you put your trust.

For instance, if I want to know about basketball, I need to listen to someone who knows the sport, someone who has played the sport. I would not ask someone to explain the game whose credentials say he’s seen a game once, played between two elementary teams. “But I know baseball,” he adds. “I was a minor league pitcher for five years. So I can tell you want ever you want to know about basketball.”

Uh, sorry, but basketball and baseball are two different sports. If I want to know basketball, I have to talk to someone who is informed, who knows the game, who can answer my questions. Because I will have questions, undoubtedly. So I need someone to help me who I trust.

Faith is nothing more than taking someone at his word. And for the Christian, that someone is Jesus Christ.

Atheists take scientists at their word all the time. They do not observe space phenomena or record data or run experiences that lead them to believe in a big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Instead, they let someone else study and form opinions and postulate hypotheses, and they simply put their trust in what these individuals conclude.

Here’s the thing that is difficult for me to understand. These scientists, with their list of qualifications and all, admit they are fallible. Atheists admit that science has been wrong and is bound to be wrong again. But regardless, they trust the process, the results (which will be wrong in some unknowable way).

God, on the other hand, is infallible. He isn’t wrong about what He says. And yet His word is suspect and unreliable and can’t be trusted—because it requires faith.

That would be the assurance of things hoped for. The assurance. Why can there be assurance in an unsure world? Only if Someone trustworthy, reliable gives you His word. You know, a word that is rock solid.

Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Comments Off on Faith And The Rock  
Tags: , ,

No One Can Earn Heaven


The second tenet of the Reformation is “sola fide,” or faith alone. Of course atheists have a field day with such a statement. So many believe that Christians simply decide to believe in God because they like the idea of salvation or heaven and we have no actual reason behind our faith.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And though I’ve had numerous discussions about the difference between faith and blind faith, the conviction seems entrenched: Christians believe in pie-in-the-sky with no supportive reason behind their decision to do so.

In truth, faith is far from this simplistic understanding. In reality, Christians trust the source that informs them about spiritual things: the Bible. The Bible has been proved to be reliable, and in it we learn about faith that is assurance, faith that provides the means to grace:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9; emphasis mine)

Spiritual things. Christians believe in things not seen. We believe in spiritual beings and a spiritual world that is beyond our physical senses. I know for those who don’t believe in the spiritual, they consider such belief to be akin to superstition. But here’s the difference. Our faith is not in ourselves or what we can do.

That’s the “sola” part. We can’t give any amount of money to a church or a ministry, to the poor or the orphaned. We can’t say enough prayers or memorize enough Bible verses. We can’t stand against social injustice or for life or preach about what makes a healthy marriage, or any number of other things, as a means to buy our way into God’s grace.

No. God gives grace. We can’t earn it. We can never be good enough. We can never do enough. It’s simply not possible for us to deal with our bent toward rebellion against God all by ourselves. We can’t curry His favor. We can’t change our circumstances.

We simply must believe that God meant what He said—that He has provided for us what we could not provide for ourselves.

The thing is “belief” is not enough. The book of James states that the demons also believe (and tremble). They aren’t saved for their belief. Why not? Because they persist in their rebellion against God.

The faith that saves is not faith alone. James calls that kind of faith useless and likens it to the body without the spirit—in other words, a corpse, a lifeless corpse.

Instead, the faith that is the conduit of God’s grace, is faith with teeth, faith that signs us up, that puts us all in. We can’t simply say the words. We have to live the life. So believers are people who do what Jesus said, not just give passing agreement to the idea that He was a wise teacher.

No. Jesus specified two commands: love God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.

The guy who approached Jesus about how he could please God did a follow-up: who is my neighbor? Jesus replied, as he often did, by telling a story. The essence of this parable which we call The Good Samaritan, is that our neighbor is whoever is in need that crosses our path, be it friend or enemy. We aren’t to step over a fallen traveler along life’s way because we want to keep ourselves from getting our hands dirty. We need to serve others sacrificially.

That’s the kind of faith James is talking about—faith in action. That’s the kind of faith that changes a life, that turns us from living for ourselves to living for God and for others. It’s no accident or coincidence that Christians were at the forefront of the establishment of hospitals and the leaders in medical practice, founding universities and pioneering nursing, advocating for abolition and any number of other social issues.

Of course, there’s a temptation to take the cart without the horse—to do the works as a replacement for the faith that God asks of us. In other words “sola fide” is not simplistic. It’s not a “say this prayer then live how you want” affair.

Paul says it in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”After all, the more I sin, the more God has to forgive, so lots of people will see His grace.

Paul goes on, though, and says, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

The next verses show our relationship with Christ, that our identification with Him means we died with Him so that, as He was raised from the dead, we might have newness of life.

Newness of life! That’s why old things have passed away. That’s why we can set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth.

In short, faith is the conduit of being “born again.” That phrase has fallen into disrepute of late, but the Bible uses the term and the concept more than once. Jesus, for example, tells Nicodemus he must be born again. Being a literalist, apparently, Nicodemus asked how he was supposed to pull that off since he couldn’t re-enter his mother’s womb.

Not that kind of birth, Jesus seems to say. This is spiritual birth, the kind that revives dead bones. “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life (Ezekiel 37:14a)

Published in: on October 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

What Atheists Don’t Understand About Faith


I’m not a physically violent person. I’m not even physically intimidating, but I have to say, there are times in my discussions in the FB atheist group I visit, I would like to shake one or two people.

The problem comes from their complete dismissal of faith. They simply don’t believe anyone should have faith. Ever. Because THEY certainly don’t. Oh, no, all their cherished beliefs stem from their reason and from science.

Never mind that I have said over and over that they haven’t done any of the scientific experiments or observations or mathematical calculations they are constantly trotting out as evidence. No! They are simply trusting that some scientist they’ve heard about has done the work and drawn the conclusions they parrot. In other words, they are simply putting their faith in a scientist rather than, say, in a pastor or mentor or in the Bible.

And horrors if you use the Bible as part of the discussion about how you know there is a God. Because that’s a circular argument. The Bible says there’s a God, so you look to the Bible to find evidence for God.

In other words, the Bible in its whole must be dismissed because it claims there is a God. You can’t look at the history, the testimony of any of the authors, the reports of miracles, none of it.

Basically, any evidence or documentation must be of the approved sort. No personal experience because that can’t be verified. No Biblical evidence because that’s circular. No supernatural evidence because that hasn’t been proven to exist.

So just cross out anything that leads to God and then claim that you don’t believe in God because there’s no evidence of His existence.

But faith is all around us. If you are sitting down, you have faith that the piece of furniture you’re on will hold your weight. When you drive a car, you have faith in the men and women who built the car. You also have faith in the drivers before and behind you, on your left and right, and the ones coming in the opposite direction. You have faith in the mechanic that put on your tires.

I could go on and on.

When I was in the hospital after my stroke, I put my life in the hands of the medical personal who cared for me. I took the medicine they gave me, ate the food they provided, followed the directions of the therapists. I was putting my faith in these people who I didn’t know because I believed they had knowledge I did’t.

Every passenger on an airplane does the same thing.

Faith is nothing more than believing that someone is not lying to you and that they really can do what you’ve been led to believe they can do. So the pilot is sitting in the cockpit, and no one is asking to see his credentials, or his flight record, or his medical record. Generally speaking passengers trust that the guy saying “Good morning ladies and gentlemen . . .” over the intercom, would not have access to the controls of the plane if he weren’t qualified. We let him do his job and we sit back and enjoy the flight, as we’ve been told to do.

Now that’s faith.

I’m going to trust the guy that’s flying the plane, not because I have proof that he’s able to do the job, but because . . . it’s his job. He wouldn’t be working with the airline if he wasn’t qualified. We assume. We trust. We believe.

We believed our teachers when they taught us that 2+2=4. We believed our teachers when they said that George Washington was the first President of the United States. We believed our teachers when they showed us how to write starting from the left and going to the right. (Who knew not every culture writes that way).

There is so much more. All these things in the past and the present are simply faith at work. Us believing someone we trust to the point that we do what they say or form a conviction based on what they taught.

So what’s the surprising thing about faith that atheists miss? First, that they too have faith, that they depend on it every single day. Second, that faith is placed in a source you believe to be trustworthy.

I might add that people who believe are not stupid for having faith (otherwise, you’d have to say everyone in the whole world is stupid). But further, if someone trusts a source you believe to be unsound, they still aren’t stupid.

There are people who put their faith in parachutes every day. I’m not one of them. But I don’t think they’re stupid for doing so. I simply have no desire to trust my life to the thing they are willing to trust.

Same with tightrope walkers or high wire acrobats. Same with platform divers. Same with window washers. All those people have lots of reason to do what they do. I don’t want to put my faith in the things they trust.

It’s self protection, I guess.

And I wonder if that isn’t what’s at the bottom of the atheists’ unwillingness to trust God. It’s not that there isn’t evidence, because there is. It’s that they don’t trust the source of that evidence as a means of self-protection.

From what?

My guess is, from God. From a sovereign authority who defines right and wrong. They’d rather be in charge because then they can move the lines whenever they want.

Apart from that guess, I have no idea why someone wouldn’t believe the source material pointing to God. It is comprehensive and coherent—logical and consistent—and the alternative seems to be chaos and chance. And at the end of life, annihilation. Really?

The atheist conclusions don’t fit the facts. Including the fact that they are just as dependent upon faith as the rest of us.

Published in: on October 19, 2017 at 5:20 pm  Comments (60)  
Tags: ,