Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trust in Your Beliefs, Or Trust in God?

(Note: the genesis for this post came from a message I was preparing for the funeral of Katie Hamrick, a long-time member of our church who died this week at 92.  Katie got this right, and this is dedicated to her memory.)

In whom or what do you place your faith?

Though they wouldn’t put it this way, a lot of Christians put their faith in the beliefs. Faith involves belief, but it is much more than belief. 

Part of the problem has been the way that the Gospel has been presented. In a number of Gospel presentations like the Four Spiritual Laws and the Romans Road, Romans 10:9-10 is quoted: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

But then what happens is this: accepting Jesus becomes a matter of accepting a doctrinal belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is added to a list of things that you must believe in order to be saved: the sinfulness of humanity and our separation from God; the virgin birth of Jesus; his divinity; his substitutionary death on the cross; and the second coming of Christ. 

These are the requirements, then, for salvation—believing these doctrinal statement. Now, these are good doctrinal statements. Although there is plenty of room to interpret what they all mean, they are good statements. But I know a good number of Christians who believe all the right things, but they don’t show much faith. They are constantly trying to control things, to control events, to control others, and they use their beliefs as tools of control. 

They will even use their belief as a way of controlling God. They believe that if they believe all the right things in all the right ways that God will have no choice but to do what he wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to do. 

They believe so that God will have no choice but to forgive them. They believe so that God will have no choice but to accept them. They believe so that God will have no choice but to let them go to heaven when they die. They believe so that God will have no choice but to love them. 

Whatever else you may choose to call that, it’s not faith. Not by a long stretch. 

Rather, faith is the conviction and the assurance that God is already inclined to do these things, or, more accurately, that he has already done these things.

You don’t have to get God to forgive you; in Jesus he has already done so. You don’t have to convince God to accept you; through Jesus he has demonstrated that he has already accepted you just as you are. You don’t have to work your way into heaven; God has already promised that to you as a pure gift. And you don’t have to get God to love you; he already loves you as much as he can, and that love is unconditional. It just is.

I guess you could say that it’s the difference between having faith in your beliefs, and having faith in God. 

This may seem like a fine distinction, but it’s a necessary distinction, so pay attention: Romans 10:9-10 isn’t saying that we should believe in the resurrection of Jesus (i.e. believing that it happened) as much as it is saying that we are to have faith in the One who raised him from the dead. The fact of the resurrection is true, though it must be taken by faith, but our faith isn’t in the facts. (How thoroughly Modern is that?) Our faith is in God.

One way to tell if your faith is in your beliefs or in God himself is to ask, “How important is it that I believe all the right things?” Because if your faith is in your beliefs, then you better be right, and you better work hard to make sure you are right. You better study hard to make sure you understand and believe all the right things, or else you’ll be in trouble. If your faith is in your beliefs, you can’t afford to be wrong.

Wow. That’s sounds tiring just thinking about it.

But if your faith is in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, you can relax a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I think that studying Scripture and right thinking about God is important, but we all see through a glass dimly. So we have to trust that the God who had the power to raise Jesus from the dead also has the power to save us, with all of our incomplete and even faulty theology.

So a deep, abiding faith is shown by a lack of striving. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody—not your parents, not your pastor, not your neighbor, not yourself, and certainly not to God.

Deep faith accepts that you are who God created you to be in Christ Jesus—his child, whom he created in his own image and likeness.

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