In American (non-Christian) culture faith is typically given one of these two definitions: 1) Faith is trusting someone or something. 2) Faith is simply another word for a type of religion or tradition of faith someone ascribes to.
In American Christian culture faith can also have more than one definition: 1) Faith is believing in what we don’t see or know and trusting in something beyond reason. 2) Faith is the individual’s capacity to believe in God. 3) Faith is doing all we can to show how much we are Christian and how much we are not non-Christian. 4) Faith is doing as much as we can in a local church to show how much faith we have because we are active in the local church. 5) Faith is doing things that are ridiculous and crazy such as spending lots of money on a car that one doesn’t have the money to buy or on a house or on an expensive trip because one’s belief that God will provide is evidence of one’s faith. 6) Faith is attending church 2-4 times a week, Bible study once or twice, and reading one’s Bible as much as possible and memorizing most of it because faith is how much one knows about the Bible and church. 7) Faith is a religion which one believes in and is not specific to any religion in particular.
There are some similarities between what American culture outside of the church and culture within the church believe about faith. One common theme is that faith is something that one does. The more one does, the more faith one has. Another common theme is that faith is a religious tradition and is merely another word for believing in a god.
Something that you won’t hear too often is that these are lies. Yeah, I said it, LIES.
First, there is one God who sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to live, suffer, die, and be resurrected for the forgiveness of the sins of who?
Those who do all they can in the church and boast of their busyness in a church building? No. Those who believe in some sort of deity in the world outside of Jesus Christ? No. Those who know more than anyone in the church about the Bible and aren’t afraid to let others know about that fact while neglecting the person they profess to know? No.
Christ lived, suffered, died, and was raised for the forgiveness of the sins of those who would believe in him. Believe what? Believe that Jesus Christ came from God the Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Believe that Jesus Christ was not merely a prophet, but in fact the Messiah long awaited in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Believe that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of the living God. Believe that Jesus is the eternal Logos at the beginning of John’s gospel who preexisted, took on flesh, and dwelt among us. Believe that all of the entirety of the Old Testament points to Jesus whether it be his incarnation in his first coming or his second coming which is yet to take place and that the New Testament is about how ridiculously amazing and awesome this God-man truly is. Believe that not only is Jesus God, but that He came to die for our sins while being sinless in Himself that we might claim Him as our great high priest who atones for our sins. Believe in Him as the greatest example of obedience to the will of God and the greatest embodiment of love in his redemptive sacrifice of Himself on the cross for us. Believe in Jesus Christ who has saved us from eternal punishment from our own sinfulness and clothed us in his righteousness. Believe in Jesus Christ who has saved us by grace through faith not by anything we have done, but a complete gift of God (Eph. 2).
We have been saved by the grace of God through faith in who He is and what He has done. We haven’t done a thing to merit the substitutionary sacrificial death of Jesus Christ who died on our behalf and this is banged home further in Ephesians 2 when Paul says that it is by grace AND it is a gift of God. We did not pay for such a gift nor could we ever provide anything sufficient enough for the gift which was given us in Jesus Christ.
Faith, then, is not how much we can do to prove our worth nor is it just any such deity in the world that we choose to believe in. Faith, true faith, is believing in Jesus Christ who is our Savior and the Lord of all. Is that enough? NO! Faith is not simply “ascribing to the data of history…” as a professor I once had has said. The Bible says that even the demons believe in who God is and it terrifies them. It is not enough, then, to simply say you believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then go on living the same way one has always been living before. Faith without works is dead and James declares in his epistle. Jesus Christ requires obedience. If one wants to follow Jesus, one must obey him. It is not enough to read something, go somewhere, or say something good (ie. Bible, church, talking about the Bible/not cursing). These are good things, but they do not save us because they are not faith. Faith is trusting in who God is and what He has done, and obeying Him by seeking to imitate Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible.
Many Christians go about faith as if it were an Easy button at Staples where you just press a button and you’re good. That’s not how our faith works, though I’m sure that relieves some stress. Too many Christians see faith as something that one arrives at as if we are perfect followers of Christ when we become Christian and are set until the eschaton (coming of Christ again). This also is false. Studying God and his word and the knowledge of God are much more accurately described by theologian Michael Horton who describes these not as stepping into a puddle, moving your foot around, and knowing everything about the puddle there is to know and moving on. Horton says it is more like stepping out into the ocean to realize how enormously deep, vast, and expansive it truly is and the more one moves forward the more one realizes just how deep and how unending it is as it is all around you and there is more to it than you can study or learn in a 100 lifetimes. (paraphrased ReSurgence interview)
Abraham, the Old Testament patriarch, was in Ur and likely a moon worshipper as was custom in his land when he was called by God to go to a different land with his family and all he had. He obeyed God and was given a promise. Part of his promise is that all nations would be blessed from him and they are being blessed through faith in Jesus Christ. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord and was commissioned to build a huge boat in a dry and arid place. Noah believed God despite those around him and responded to God with obedience. As a result, he and those he loved were saved from the great flood. Moses was visited by God in a burning bush after having abandoned fame, fortune, and royalty in Egypt. Moses was called to go back to Egypt and demand the freedom of his people by God’s authority. Moses responded immediately to God by recognizing who He is, but his faith did not end with believing that the God of the Hebrew people exists and appeared to him that one time in a burning bush. Moses responded to God by not only believing in him, but obeying him and was used by God to free the Hebrew people from the hands of the Egyptians.
In the New Testament, things are in reverse.
The disciples were called by Jesus to follow after him and they left their things and followed him. However, they didn’t believe in who He truly was until much later as the gospel writers show us. The apostle Paul killed Christians who according to Jewish leaders were promoting a false gospel by promoting this Jesus until Jesus appeared to Paul and rocked his world. Then, Paul went out and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was an adamant non-believer whose faith came to him literally and physically in the person of Jesus, and as a result his life was marked by obedience unto death for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Numerous other stories could be added to this of the many who have believed and obeyed God. Faith is not without belief in God and obedience to Him. The New Testament I am told is filled with more commands than the Old Testament. I have not counted, but this is what I have heard.
In light of this why is it that so many of us claim to have faith in God, yet, we live bitter lives and complain about the world around us like everyone else? Why is it that people suffer and die in the world and people maybe give their attention to it for one minute before turning the channel? Why is it that Christian brothers like Martin Luther King Jr saw suffering and decided to do something about it, yet, we focus more on the greatness of a man than the suffering that continues around us? Why is it that there are so many who claim to have faith in the church today, yet, they live one way on Sunday morning and a completely different life for 6 days a week until the next Sunday?
Faith is knowing God and trusting in Him. There was a time when great brothers and sisters of the Faith lived this and many died for it. Many continue to die for their Faith in many countries apart from the West. If the apostle Paul walked into a 21st century American evangelical church today, what do you think he would say about what he saw? What would he say about the increasingly non-Christian world America has become? What would he say about Christians who spend more money on coffee than they donate to those in need in their communities? What would he say about the biblical illiteracy which dominates American churches today? What would he say about the fact that more Americans know the holy book of Islam is the Qur’an, yet, can’t name the Gospels?
Faith isn’t about how much we know or how much we do, it is simply about knowing God and trusting in Him through obedience. If all of us simply said “Okay.” to God, believed and obeyed as many of the great patriarchs and disciples have in the past, what would our world look like today?
We are called to give a reason to anyone who asks of the joy that is found within us because of the faith which we cling to in Jesus Christ and live out boldly through obedience, yet, how many of us are approached by people to account for our joy? I know I personally struggle to remain joyful and to be gracious when the circumstances can be frustrating. I challenge you to live your life in such a way that you not only know God through church, prayer, and reading of the Bible, but are obedient to him by living out your faith in your daily life. It can be easy to put what we learn on Sundays or in the Bible into one day of the week around certain people but treat other people differently as we live as different people the remaining days of the week. We are called to spiritual boldness and there is an increasing spiritual laziness in our culture today.
May we be bold in the Faith, zealous for God and his word, obedient unto death if called to it, and promiscuous with our wealth and giving.
Grace & Peace,