Tag Archives: faith alone

How to grow your faith

12 Oct

 

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In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus tells what I think is one of the scariest stories in the Bible.  It is a story of people who thought they had faith.  But their faith was primarily intellectual, belief.  Jesus says to them that something important is missing.  They did not have the kind of faith that he said mattered.  They didn’t having saving faith.  Their intellectual faith was not matched with physical faith.  Saving faith has both!  How does Jesus describe saving faith in Matthew 7:21-23?  People who do what the Father says.

If you say that you have faith, but you do not do what the Father says, you only have an intellectual faith, not a life of faith.

This is why James says “faith without works is dead.”  And dead faith will not gain you entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.

And it is in James 2 starting in verse 14 where we learn about this important element of faith.  Notice how different James’ conception of faith is.  It is not just intellectual belief.  James says, even the demons believe.  The demons know that Jesus is Lord; they know in their minds what is true.  But clearly that doesn’t mean that the demons are a part of the Kingdom of heaven.

The point that James is trying to make is that faith must go beyond belief.

Faith goes beyond belief when we keep pursuing Jesus, when we learn from him how to live.  When we place our faith in Jesus, we are saying to him, “Jesus I want you to change me.  I am not just believing things in my mind about you.  I want my faith in you to be the impetus, the spark of a total life change.”

That change might be over night. But it could also, and I think should also, last a lifetime.

This past week our Faith Church Nominating Committee had the privilege of interviewing candidates for our Leadership Team.  We’ve been doing these interviews for three-four years now, and each year during the interviews I am reminded of how they are one of the favorite things I get to do as a pastor.  Why?  Because we hear the stories of how faith in God has transformed people.

Sometimes the candidates tell a dramatic story of how God radically changed their lives in a moment.  Sometimes they tell an equally powerful story of how they were raised in faith from a young age, and they gradually slowly placed their faith in the Lord.  When we place our faith in God, there are many ways he works transformation in our lives!

I want to ask you, therefore, to evaluate your faith.

Have you ever really, truly placed your faith in Christ?  Can you say that you really believe in Jesus, that he is God, that he died for our sins, that he was raised to life victorious over death?  Maybe you’re reading this now, and you’d like to accept the gift of God’s grace by faith. I would love to talk with you about how to do that.

But maybe you’ve already placed your intellectual faith in Christ.  You would say that you believe in him.  I also ask you to evaluate your faith.  Is it just intellectual?  Just in your mind?  That is not saving faith.

Faith learns from Jesus how to live.  As I said last week, and now again, study Jesus’ life, watching for how he demonstrated faith.

Seek out someone whom you would say has great faith.  Ask them to teach you how to grow your faith.

Read those stories in the Bible in Hebrews 11 about people who had great faith.  Search out the original telling of those stories in the Old Testament, and see if you can learn why the author of Hebrews included them.

Finally, take a step of faith. You can grow your faith by doing something that stretches your faith, your trust in God.  Maybe serving in a position in your church, a position you might feel iffy about.  Maybe starting up a conversation with a neighbor who you’ve always wanted to talk with about faith, but you’ve been shy.  Maybe give a financial gift of faith to the Lord.

Get a faith accountability partner.  Each of you make one faith goal, and hold each other to accomplishing that goal.

Know this. Faith is not faith if it only resides in the mind. Faith without works is dead. But you can grow your faith!

How to have faith that pleases God

10 Oct

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Do you know what faith is?  Do you know if your faith is pleasing to God?

Yesterday I mentioned a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1.  After teaching that description of faith, the writer of Hebrews begins to describe some of the heroes of the Bible and how they demonstrated faith in God. First he mentions Abel and Enoch.

Then in verse 6 he says this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” 

That’s pretty serious.  If we want to please God, we have to have faith.  What kind of faith? How much faith? What will it look like or feel like?  Will we know if we have true faith that pleases God?

The writer goes on, still in verse 6: “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It seems to me that the writer is mostly talking about the intellectual side of faith.  The New Testament often refers to it as “belief”.  It is saying, “I believe God exists.”  That alone is quite an astounding thing to say and believe in this day and age.  Statistics point to a rise in those who do not believe in God.  Belief in God can be construed as crazy.  “You believe in God?  How quaint.”  In our scientific world, belief in God can be ridiculed, or said to be a crutch for the weak minded.  So when we believe in the existence of God, we are stepping out in faith.

Faith, then, is a matter of my mind, what I believe.  But that’s not all the writer of Hebrews says about faith. Look at the last part of the verse.  He talks about “those who earnestly seek” God.

He describes an active faith, how we live our live. God rewards those who earnestly seek him.

As we continue along in Hebrews 11, this concept of an earnestly lived out faith is what the writer of Hebrews wants to illustrate for us through more heroes from Bible stories.  He has already mentioned Abel and Enoch.  Now he mentions Noah.

I want us to think about Noah’s faith.  Was it just a belief in his mind?

Not at all.  Noah did something totally bizarre.  He built a giant boat in preparation for a great flood.  And the only reason was because God told him a flood was coming, and he better build a boat.  For those of you that are woodworkers, carpenters and builders, what would you do if God came to you and said, “I want you to build the Titanic out of wood, because I’m sending a giant flood?”

If I heard God say that, my first thought would be, “Uh…what did you say? I don’t think I heard you right.”

But Noah?  He started building a giant boat.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Noah did.

Next comes Abraham.  Abraham, an old man, gets a wild promise from God: “You and your old wife Sarah are going to be the parents of a great nation.”  In other words, “You are going to have a baby.”  Those of you who are in your 50s, 60s, 70s, what would you do if you had a dream, a vivid dream, and in it God says to you, “You are going to have a baby?”  Many of us would laugh, just like Sarah did.

But in the end, Abraham and Sarah believed and followed through, and God gave the a son.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Abraham did.

Interestingly the Old Testament Hebrew does not have a strictly intellectual concept faith or belief. Instead the Hebrew is the word “faithfulness”, which is active.  Noah’s faith was pretty active wasn’t it?  And Abraham’s faith was too.

Our picture of faith is starting to fill out.  Faith is intellectual beliefs, and it is physical action.  How does your belief and life match up to this picture of faith?

Does God require faith that is 100% without doubt?

9 Oct

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Faith Church. That’s the name of our church. Back in 1968, when they got this church started, why would people choose to name a new church, Faith Church? I wonder what they were thinking.

What is faith?  Most often we think faith is belief. And for good reason. Faith does mean belief.  It means that in our minds we agree with certain statements or facts or ideas.

But we also read in the Bible, in James chapter 2, that “faith without works is dead.”

Think about that.  Faith is belief. But it also must have works, James says, or it is dead.  So what is faith?

Just belief in our mind, or must faith also have some kind of work?

As I mentioned last week, this October at Faith Church we’re commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by talking about the Five Solas of the Reformation.  The Five Solas or Alones are what many scholars consider to be the best way to summarize the teaching of the Reformation.  Last week we looked at Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone.  The second one is Sola Fide.  Fide in Latin means faith.  Today we are talking about Faith Alone.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul combines Sola Gratia with Sola Fide: “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.”

So somehow, Paul says, we receive the gift of grace by faith, and not by works.  But as I mentioned above, James said faith without works is dead.  See the apparent contradiction? This brings us back to the question I started with?  What is faith?

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “faith is being sure of what hope for, certain of what we do not see.”

Does that clear it up for you? I have to admit that on first reading, that definition of faith doesn’t really help me.  So we have to look a bit deeper.

The writer of Hebrews describes faith two ways.  Let’s look at each:

First, Faith is being sure of what we hope for.  We have hopes.  We want them to come true.  It may be a promotion we hope is coming.  It may be hopes for our children and grandchildren.  It may be hopes that we will get out of debt.  It may be a hope that eternal life is in our future.  What hopes do you have?

Faith is being sure of those hopes, that they will become reality.  It is saying, “I know that I know that I know that what I hope for will come true.”  But if we’re honest, we rarely feel that certain.  The opposite of being sure is being unsure.  Uncertainty also goes by the name “doubt”.

Frankly, when we read the Bible, it can be a bit tough to understand how the interplay of faith and doubt works. On one hand we read Jesus teaching that if you have faith, you can move mountains.  On the other hand we read the psalms and the psalmists express their doubts quite a lot.  Does that mean they are lacking in faith?

Is the writer of Hebrews saying that the only true faith is a faith that doesn’t have even one little tiny iota of doubt?  Is that even possible?  Haven’t we been told that expressing our doubts is healthy, and that God welcomes us to converse with him about our doubts?  How would we know if our faith is totally without doubt?  What would that feel like?

Before we can answer that, let’s see what else the writer of Hebrews says about faith.

Second, faith is being certain of what we do not see. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that there is a side of life that is beyond what we can perceive with our five senses.  You can’t touch it, smell it, taste, see or hear it. It is the spiritual side of life. The realm of God, angels, demons, heaven and hell.  Faith believes it is real, though we cannot see it.  Again, though, the writer says that faith is certain of this. And I ask the writer, “how certain?”  Is it okay to doubt a little bit?  Is it okay to wonder or speculate?  And don’t we all do that at least a little bit?

As I wonder about the tension between faith and doubt, James the brother of Jesus says in chapter 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

“He must believe and not doubt”?  If 100% belief is required by God to answer our requests for wisdom, then it seems to me that very, very few of us will ever receive wisdom from God.

Does faith require 100% perfect belief, with no doubt whatsoever?

I don’t think so.  Here’s why.  I personally appreciate the honesty of a guy Jesus once encountered whose child was really in a bad way.  The child was possessed by a demon.  The man brought his child to Jesus, but ran into Jesus’ disciples first.  They tried hard, but couldn’t cast out the demon. When Jesus shows up a bit later, the man is desperate, pleading with Jesus to help.  You know what Jesus says to the man?

“If you can believe, all things are possible for him who believes.”  Wow. All things?  I like the sound of that, but I also think, “Whew, I don’t know if I can believe like that.”  It seems similar to what the father of the demon-possessed child might be thinking too, because he says back to Jesus,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

I love that line. It resonates with what I so often feel.  The tension between faith and doubt.  The knowledge that while I have faith, I don’t think it is perfect faith.  Jesus knew this about the man, and you know what Jesus did?

Maybe Jesus said, “Wait a minute, you have some unbelief in there? Sorry, man.  Game over.  Take your demon-possessed child elsewhere.”

But Jesus did not say that.  He saw the man’s tension of faith and doubt, and he healed that man’s child.

Let’s remember this man’s tension between faith and doubt, and think about it in light of the definition of faith in Hebrews 1.  God doesn’t require us to have perfect faith.  He does require faith, though.  And tomorrow we’ll talk more about what it means to place our faith in God.

For now, I think we should be like the man who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus, and say “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”