Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Working Faith

Even though I write about my life as a Christian, I spent a good deal of my life detesting books listed under “Christian Living”. The books I would take off of my dad’s shelf sometimes had phrases like “living by faith” or “taking steps of faith” or “developing faith”. There are certain phrases that I had heard enough Bible teachers say without ever explaining what they meant, eventually my mind would pass over the topic whenever I encountered it. So I could never explain “faith” whenever my friends outside of the church ever asked me about my faith. The word had meaning the same way that “glory” has meaning in some churches. They know it means something, and that it has to do with God, but they stutter whenever you ask them to define their terms.

I’ve begun to see the importance of defining terms. I recently told a story about a man challenging me on how I used the words “belief” and “faith” interchangeably. It took me months before I could understand the difference. I felt a certain satisfaction in finally understanding a word that I had used hundreds of thousands of times in ignorance while unknowingly (or secretly) hoping that listeners would understand.

Think about this in your own life. How many times have people asked you to explain or define faith and you find your mouth hanging open absolutely puzzled? And how about this brain bender: if we’re saved by grace and not by works, then why does the Bible say that faith without works is dead? Like a college essay question, I used to BS my way through the whole thing.

As I write this, I am sitting in the lower level of the library at Belmont University. They’ve hidden all of the theology, religion, and philosophy books in the depths of the building behind inconspicuous doors marked “Not An Exit”. Not many of my friends on campus are even aware of this place, which means it’s really quiet. I’ve been coming here nearly every day since last week to study and write. But today, for some reason, I’m unable to use my usual online study guides. I think maybe the shadowy lords of Belmont Wi-Fi have figured out that I’m not a paying student. All of this to say that I will be using the Complete Jewish Bible for my scripture references. For the sake of the reader, though, I’ll use the glossary to translate names and words that might not be familiar. I just made you read this whole paragraph to make that one point. Now, moving on…

Here are a few things Paul states in Romans 10. In verses 9 and 11, he says, “that if you acknowledge publicly with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and trust in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be delivered.” Then, “For the passage quoted says that everyone who rests his trust on him will not be humiliated (referring to Isaiah 28:16).” If you read this in other translations, note how the Hebrew translation uses the word “trust” for “faith”. Many people have heard what Paul says a few verses later how faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

Hebrews 11:6 says, “without trusting, it is impossible to be well pleasing to God, because whoever approaches him must trust that he does exist and that he becomes a Rewarder of those who seek him out.” To restate my definition of terms, “belief” is mentally ascribing yourself to something. My belief rests on the truth that I find in the Bible. I demonstrate this when I tell people that the Bible is absolutely true. “Faith” is acting upon the truth to which I have mentally and verbally given myself. This is why the Bible can say, “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” and that a public acknowledgement of Jesus as the risen Lord delivers us.

But “faith” is something else. Faith takes the truth of the Bible and stirs a real change in our day-to-day lives. That means we have to act as if we really believe ourselves when we say that the whole Bible is true. I mean, to say we believe it and live as if we don’t places us in a frustrating situation. That’s why James says faith without works is dead. Without evidence of some change by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, a person who claims belief in the Bible speaks empty words.

So if living by faith, as a Christian, means living in moment-to-moment reality trusting that the whole Bible is true today, this presents a question of responsibility to believers. Hebrews 11:6 made it clear that it is impossible to please God outside of faith. If faith means that we have to base our actions on what we read in the Bible (Romans 10:17 again), then doesn’t that mean it would be sin for us to read something in the scripture and not apply that to our everyday lives? If I make a decision about a situation on my own wisdom apart from the Bible, am I not basically saying that I don’t need God to figure it out? Isn’t that ethically living outside of faith? Isn’t that sin?

Now what if we could depend on the Bible as truth, that it does apply in reality today? Let’s look at a few verses. Matthew 10:1, “Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority to drive out unclean spirits and to heal every kind of disease and weakness.” And what about the redemptive work of salvation? Because Jesus came to earth, lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, those who trust in this have great promises. Not only will their sins be forgiven, but according to Isaiah 53:5 and Psalm 103:3 says that salvation brings physical healing. James 5:14-15 says, “Is someone among you ill? He should call for the elders of the congregation. They will pray for him and rub olive oil on him in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered with trust will heal the one who is ill – the Lord will restore his health; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Notice also how salvation refers to sin and sickness each time. That happens a lot in the Bible. I think it’s safe to say that salvation and healing are not two separate things.

Beyond healing miracles, what about simply hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit? Isaiah 30:21 says, “With your ears you will hear a word from behind you: ‘This is the way; stay on it, whether you go to the right or the left.’” John 16:13, “However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative but will say only what he hears. He will also announce to you the events of the future.” That last part refers to prophecy. Paul talks at length about this and other gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14. And for you dispensationalists out there, was Paul writing about this for the benefit of the exclusively gifted apostles, or to a church of former pagans that needed to understand a reality that God had shown of himself?

Healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, prophesying, speaking in languages unknown to the speaker, a personal and verbal (even if unspoken) relationship with the Holy Spirit. I mean, even going out preaching the gospel, baptizing people, and discipling them. The Bible instructs people to do that stuff. If you say that you believe the whole Bible, are you willing to read it and trust that God will enable you to do it? Remember that only God makes us able to live by faith. But when we resist Him, what does that say about our belief in the Bible? I won’t demand that you answer for this, but I can tell you that one day you will have to give an answer, just like I will have to give an answer.

I’ll leave you with this, though, in hopes that you won’t be all bummed out at the end. There’s a reason I quoted Romans 10:11. If you do put your trust in God and live it, you won’t be humiliated. Well, that doesn’t guarantee you won’t be embarrassed sometimes. But God has stated the truth of the Bible and called us to live accordingly so that He will be glorified. Believers are a part of His plan to reveal Himself to the world because we demonstrate the reality of who He is in our lives. That’s the way He set it up. So when we live based on our trust in the Bible, we get to be a part of what He’s already going to do.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Hey Isaiah, I left your book at home when I moved back to Chicago in January (on the stand by the door! ahh!) and finally got it sent to me/read last week. I really liked it for the most part, but I want to give it another read through again before saying anything else.

Anyway, I was in my small group earlier tonight and we were going over Hosea 2 (not terribly relevant), and we started talking about whether or not God still punishes us for our sins. My initial reaction was "No, punishment is gone because Jesus took care of our sins. Obviously we have to deal with consequences of our actions, but direct punishment for sin is gone".

But someone brought up Hebrews 12:4-11. Those verses talk about God's discipline and references punishment in Proverbs 3:11-12 (though Proverbs uses discipline instead of punishment).

I won't say what else we talked about, since I want your opinion on the matter (not your opinion based on what I tell you I think).