25 July 2008

"Faith" The Multi-Shaped Piece, Part 2

Not every person believes IN God but every person does believe something ABOUT God and that belief, atheist or otherwise, involves faith, which is to say, everyone has it. Remember, any conclusion you draw which cannot be proven absolutely includes an element of faith.

We discussed that in the last post and we won’t repeat it here. In this post I want to focus on the kind of faith that honors God and we will start with “What Faith Is Not.”

We will discuss in detail only two observations: One, faith is not the same thing as religious achievement and, two, faith is not a “get out of jail free” card.

Faith Is Not The Same Thing As Religious Achievement
Jesus attributed faith to many different people during His ministry. In most cases, they were religious outsiders, completely unrecognized by the religious community.

On one occasion, Jesus referred to a Roman centurion (an outsider by nationality and occupation) as having greater faith than anyone in the religious establishment. The Centurion (a Roman military officer) was stationed in a Jewish town. Not only did the Jewish community consider him outside the boundaries of their faith, they were usually antagonistic toward his type.

The religious people didn’t see him as having the potential for faith but Jesus said his faith was the greatest of all. This man wasn’t religiously recognized but he was apparently spiritually receptive and the faith which developed was obvious to Jesus.

On another occasion, Jesus told a Syrophenician woman (another gentile outsider) that she had great faith. The disciples were shocked by this assessment. When she first approached Jesus they had tried to shoo her away. Jesus measured faith very differently to the disciples.

Jesus also attributed faith (by inference) to the Samaritan who assisted the man who had been robbed on the Jericho road. Samaritans’ were considered religious outsiders also but his faith compared to the religious leaders who neglected the fallen man was great. The religious leaders were following conventional wisdom. The Samaritan's compassion motivated his faith.

The religious community stigmatized lepers, blind people, those with chronic illnesses and paralytics as spiritually unfit. Jesus, however, often recognized these religious misfits for their faith.

The disciples, on the other hand, (the religious elite) were often accused of having little faith.

We learn a truth from these observations. Anyone can exercise faith and sometimes the ones from whom we least expect it are the ones who show it the most.

Being religious will give you recognition in the religious community but God recognizes those who exercise faith. Being religious may give you the tools for exercising faith but it can also be a veneer to hide the fact that you don't have any.

Faith Is Not A “Get Out Of Jail Free” Card
For some Christians, faith is the miracle wild card that helps them remove every problem and/or provide every blessing (especially money) in endless amounts. But, there is another possibility that we should consider. Instead of dissolving all your problems faith may be the thing that helps you manage them better.

Exercising faith may give you the patience to endure an intolerable situation, or the strength to do what you thought was beyond you, or the ability to love those who are hateful, or the determination to develop skills you lack. This is where faith takes on a different shape even for Christians.

On one occasion the disciples were caught on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm. The storm was serious but not impossible. The Bible says Jesus actually fell asleep during the storm, which would not have been possible in a really bad storm. But the disciples, in an anxious state, woke Jesus up crying for help.

Jesus did calm the storm miraculously but He wasn’t very impressed with their intrusion. He accused them of being full of fear instead of faith. The implication was, if they had faith they would have found the courage to ride out the storm. The miracle was performed in answer to their fear not their faith.

The lesson: easy solutions to big problems keep us from growing as we should. Faith is a means of forcing your abilities to match the problem. Don’t use it to make your problem match what you perceive your abilities to be.

Final quick thoughts. Faith…

  • Helps you overcome your lack of talent
  • Is demonstrated by imperfect people
  • Is not the opposite of science
  • Is never foolish or irresponsible

On the other hand, faith…

  • Is a life principle for Christians (the just shall live by faith)
  • Becomes stronger the more we exercise it (from weak to great)
  • Is very persistent (God rewards those who diligently seek Him)
  • Is the only requirement for salvation (For by grace are you saved through faith)

Are you a Christian? If not put your faith in Christ today.



Anonymous said...

Please explain the last part you wrote about faith makes up for a lack of talent?

Dutch said...

The world and other religions speaks a lot about faith but surely Christ must have been speaking about a specific faith, not just believing in something? I wonder what 'FAITH' Christ was referring to when he was speaking about these people with great faith, what was their faith in? Also, I believe that if we as modern day Christians speak about faith it has to be done in the light of scripture, correct? And that probably means that our faith (that which we excersise for the hope that we have) should be in Christ our Lord, as the one who provides the strenght and hope that we need to see this life through...

EnnisP said...

Hey Anonymous,
By "talent" I am referring to those natural abilities that we can easily identify and often applaud. It shouldn't be this way but we tend to consider people likely to succes based on these abilities (mental ability, physical ability, personal skills, qualifications, even looks) but none of these things guarantee success.

Jesus had a very different view. He said nothing about our talents and focused entirely on our faith. He said the person with faith, even a very small amount, would be able to move mountains.

People that are highly and naturally capable can be a great source of frustration. Their accomplishments don't always match their abilities or our expectations and life is full of examples. There are many proverbial "Davids" who defeat "Goliaths."

And, like David and Goliath, ability can weigh you down and make you ineffective. Saul's armor hindered David and Goliath's weapons weren't designed for so small a target. The little guy unexpectedly won.

Therefore, a person with little talent but lots of faith can accomplish more than a person with great talent and little or no faith. At least that is what Jesus taught.

EnnisP said...

Hey Dutch,
Your right, Christ was recognizing a particular kind of faith during His ministry. But, faith in the general sense of the word wasn't new to any of the people He recognized.

By the definition I use everyone has faith (any conclusion which cannot be absolutely proven has an element of faith). Agnostics have faith, atheists have it, Hindu's, Islamic, Christians, religious and non-religious. No one is without faith.

Christ was recognizing people not for the existence of their faith but for the redirection of it. Their faith was preceded by repentance (change or redirection of mind). And in every case this redirection involved a shift away from the cultural background.

Instead of asking people if they have faith, we should ask them in what do they place their faith?

Dutch said...

Thanks, I agee with that. Faith, not in Christ, is worthless though... as it leads to nothing and has no value in the end.. not so?

As another question, Christ was calling people to believe before he died for sins on the cross... what were they to believe in? And another question I had was: John the baptist was baptising people before Christ came, what was this baptism representing, was it a turning to God? This must also have been a selebration of their turning in faith to God, but where was this faith placed at this stage? Sorry for the questions :)

EnnisP said...

I won't get into splitting hairs over John's baptism (Old or New Testament, Christian or not) but the one thing we can all agree on is the fact that repentance was involved.

Personally, I'm not sure John's disciples were actually saved, yet. Some maybe and others definitely not. Apollos and John's disciples in Ephesus are good examples of those who repented enough to be baptized but had not gotten saved yet.

Their repentance and baptism was an admission that something was wrong, only. That did not constitute salvation but the repentance was real and was a step in the right direction.

Nor did being baptized by John guarantee salvation would occur later. John's ministry only prepared people to receive Christ. Not everyone was happy when He arrived.

But, you asked about the value of faith not placed in Christ. I would never say that any faith is valueless. It always has a direction. The direction may be wrong but even that CAN (not necessarily will) have a good end.

Rahab was a Temple harlot. That had to be demeaning and to us reprehensible but she thought it was the way to God. For her, it was a matter of faith and in her community it was a high moral calling. Her commitment to temple harlotry required as much faith as our commitment to Christ and the church. Maybe more, I can't imagine doing what she did.

But, over time she must have become disillusioned and when the truth did come along (through Israel) she had no problem redirecting her faith even though it involved a dangerous choice.

I don't think we should ever demean any person's faith. Rather we should feed it and encourage it. You cannot argue a person to Jesus and you can only lead them there if they are willing to go.

Every person who comes to Christ comes from a different direction, they all come by faith and it always involves repentance.

So, maybe the question is not, in what do you have faith, but is your faith alive? A living faith is never satisfied, brain dead or comatose. Any person with a living faith will eventually find their way to Christ. They may not like Him when they get there but that is another matter.

Dutch said...

Thanks Ennis, just to clarify;
- Faith in something is not a bad thing, it is something that we need to use to direct/lead people to a live faith (in Christ)

and another question/comment;
- Faith, not in Christ, is a dead faith, and will only be a living faith once it is in Christ?

EnnisP said...

Hey Dutch. I hope we are not confusing the issue with semantics. Hopefully I can clarify what I mean.

Remember that faith is believing in something that you cannot absolutely prove. But, real faith is exactly the same for every person and must be separated from its object, God or otherwise.

The only time faith is really dead is when it is not really faith. That was the argument of James. The people to whom he spoke were actually professing Christians but they failed to live out their faith in day to day life. They confessed a belief which they did not live. They were hypocrites. They were faking it.

But any person can have real live faith. One person believes in Jesus and another one believes in the moon god. The object of their faith is different but "faith" is exactly the same for both. Faith for both can be "living."

There are probably many people involved in all kinds of non-Christian religions who just go through the motions. They are only doing what they learned. Their religious practises are driven by habit not faith. They don't really believe there is any salvation involved or, at least, they are not worried about.

But, there are some people who really believe their religion can solve their spiritual problems. It is a living faith because they really hope for an answer they do not have.

Faith doesn't save anyone but it does hope and look for an answer. The person who has it will attach their faith to what they perceive to be the answer and will keep looking until they find it. I personally believe there are many people like this who have not found Jesus yet.

An "unbeliever" is a person without Jesus not a person without faith and we should allow for these curious unbelievers in our ministries. We should look for them in our daily lives. Not the ones who have it but the ones who show signs of repentance (a redirection of faith - a change of mind).

Given enough time, and the grace of God, their faith, because it is real and living, can be directed to THE truth which we know to be Jesus Christ.