Sunday, January 8, 2017

What is Faith?

This season we will focus on the basics of Christianity. Let’s begin with the subject of what faith is.
Everyone has faith, whether they believe in God or not. It is a necessary part of human existence. 

Tillich defined faith as the ultimate concern of life. It is our life goal, but it is also what we use to make sense of the world around us. It motivates us, grounds us, and gives our lives meaning. Opponents of religion say that faith is a crutch for the weak.  It isn’t—it’s more like a skeleton. Without something to believe in, we become weak, spineless, and vulnerable.  It gives us strength, perseverance, direction, and hope.

Suppose we were to ask a hundred people what their ultimate concern was. What kind of answers do you think we would get?

A large number would probably say they didn’t have an ultimate concern, and they didn’t need one.  “I’m too busy to think about it.  I just live one day to the next.”  These people remind me of a man driving on a lonely highway who misses his turn. He just keeps going, never looking at directions, every mile getting farther and farther away from his destination. He even denies that there is a destination. Imagine him saying, “It doesn’t matter which way I go, as long as I keep driving?”  Yet that’s what we do when we live without intentionality. We eventually find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, without any idea of how we got so lost. 

That describes the life of many people who live from day to day enjoying the ride but going nowhere. They deny that life has meaning or purpose, until it’s too late to turn around. They wake up one morning and discover they have never really lived. In the words of Ecclesiastes, they discover that all they have done in life is vanity.  

Another large group of people couldn’t name their ultimate concern in life. They have many concerns, but no ultimate one. They want God in their lives, but they also want self-fulfillment, fun, loyalty to family and friends, and material possessions. One isn’t more important to them than another. As a result, their lives are full of conflict and confusion.  They have no way of deciding what is most important in their lives. 

Having a faith is better than having no faith. A person is better off in this world to be fully committed to something than partially committed to many things. God can help you order the other interests in your life. But if serving Him is only one of many equal values, then He can’t help you much.

A third group are just wrong about what their ultimate concern really is. They think they know what their true faith is, but they are wrong.

Belief and faith are not the same thing. I can believe in a lot of things--telepathy, UFO’s, ghosts, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster, but how much difference does it make in our lives? These are mere beliefs, but they are not faiths.   Many people believe in God the same way. We may believe that God created the world, but that He left it alone to run itself. Practically speaking, we might as well be atheists. Such people feel no obligation to worship or acknowledge God, but live their lives as they wish. They do not pray to Him except in emergencies, do not worship, and never adjust their lives based upon His principles. They acknowledge God without obedience. Such people cannot be said to have faith, since they are not concerned about it. 

A man believes in having an annual physical by a doctor. He goes regularly once a year. Every year the doctor tells him to lose weight and quit smoking. Every year the man ignores what the doctor says. Then he develops diabetes, heart problems, and lung cancer. So he blames the doctor, “That doctor is useless!”  How can a doctor make us well if we ignore what he tells us to do? In the same way, how can we say we have faith in God, yet ignore everything He tells us?  We may have belief in God, but do we have faith?

Paul and Habakkuk say, “The just shall live by faith.” Living by faith is not just believing. It is believing + doing + feeling + obeying. Faith is basing our life upon what God says is true. We aren’t just traveling aimlessly through life. We are standing upon what God says. 

Religion and faith are not the same thing, either. I know of at least one elder in our denomination who was an atheist, but was ashamed to admit it. I know of others who were thieves and adulterers. They practiced religion. They may have even believed, but they lacked a true faith.

You may be religious but do you live by faith?  Here are a few questions to help you discern where our real faith lies.

1.  What do you take for evidence? Hebrews says that faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” You can make no decisions in life without facts, but facts must be taken on faith. If we say, “I heard it on the news,” then we then must ask why we believe the news! Our faith determines which source we trust. Just so, if we believe the Bible to be God’s word, then the Bible is all the evidence we need. If we trust in science, then everything in the Bible must be weighed by the scientific method. Whichever way we look both sides must determine our evidence. 

2. What do you obey? Do you believe the Ten Commandments? If you do, then why don’t you keep them? Do you believe the Sermon on the Mount? Then live by them. Whatever you live by is your true faith.

3.  What comes first? Imagine you got a new scheduler. What do you put on your schedule first? In the weekly planner, where does worship fit in? In your daily page, where do devotions go? Do you recognize time set aside for the worship of God? In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to set aside one day in seven for His use. Yet we often find it hard to spare five minutes a day for prayer. 

4.  For what would we sacrifice? In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. God did not allow Abraham to carry through with this sacrifice, but He was giving Him a test of faith. What God did with Abraham is what we need to do for ourselves. What would you be willing to sacrifice everything for?  What is worth more to you than your family friends, country, and life itself?  If you think this is simply a theoretical choice you are wrong. Every soldier who commits to fighting in war, every woman who chooses to have a baby rather than get an abortion, every person who devotes themselves to the care of an elderly relative makes a similar choice. What do we love more than life, success, or happiness?  Whatever we choose is our real ultimate concern.

 “The just shall live by faith.”  Not just any faith, but faith in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus gives room for everything else, but only if He is on top. This is the greatest lesson we will ever learn.

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