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Truths about Faith

Trinity (B)

The end of the Gospel of Mark pictures the Risen Christ with the 11 remaining disciples, saying: “These signs will accompany those who believe: In My Name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” The Book of Acts then cites examples of those very kinds of signs accompanying the Apostles.

In places in the mountains of Tennessee and West Virginia, church services are marked by worshipers passing around live rattlesnakes. Many are bitten and die. They claim to be applying the words in Mark as an act of faith in God’s promise, but it’s really no such thing! Those who become severely ill or die are judged to be hypocrites or said to have too little faith.

Referring to the same Bible passage and some others, some people promote a teaching that faith that is strong enough will bring about healing from illness without medicine, surgery or doctoring. Such people expect God to heal directly, rather than recognizing medical help as a gift that also is really from God. The problem in such cases is a misunderstanding about faith. The examples just given amount to daring God; putting Him to the test, in other words, which the Bible and Jesus Himself strongly caution against. It’s not up to us to go beyond the rare exception or two that the Bible itself gives. Presuming upon God is not the same thing as faith, but many, many people have such vague notions or misconceptions.

Perhaps the classic example is the worldly and wishy-washy type of reasoning that says: ‘I know I’m a sinner, but I believe in God and that I’m His child. Surely He’ll welcome me into Heaven when my time comes, though, because I’m a pretty good person and because of the unselfish things I do for Him.’ Not only is such thinking not based on the Bible’s teaching, but it’s a lie straight from Satan and deadly poisonous(!), because it’s not our goodness but Christ’s that has atoned for us. Let’s give our attention, therefore, to some TRUTHS ABOUT FAITH, considering these 3 things regarding believing: Believing with the Mind, Believing with the Heart and Believing by the Holy Spirit.

(First, “Believing with the MIND.”) It really is unfortunate that so many TV sitcoms seem to portray Christians as brainless idiots who cling to superstitious notions, while ignorantly refusing to accept things that are smugly portrayed as common knowledge or even scientific fact. But more unfortunate would be if Christians really were witless about their faith and clung to truly superstitious notions! An example might be seeing Jesus as merely a new Law giver like Moses, but we save ourselves by trying to practice His Laws. Another example might be thinking you’re doing fine because you do believe in God; but, as a certain Pastor once said, the demons for whom hell is made know that much. That’s not enough to really be secure with God! Neither is it enough just to acknowledge that Jesus really existed on earth at a certain period of human history.

What this is getting at is the claim of Romans 10 that: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.” God’s Word presents articles of truth that must be apprehended with our minds. The Bible gives statements of fact that must be received by the intellect, and we can’t perceive or claim to know God only intuitively or apart from the way His Word clearly reveals Him; not from nature alone or from our own philosophical ponderings about Him. Christian faith relies on the objective revelations of God that nearly all can see and hear and hold in their own hands in the Bible, in other words, and not one’s own personal, private feelings. That sounds a bit deep, perhaps, but it all comes down to this aspect of faith: That we do need to hear and perceive with our minds specific things God has given for us to know!

Nowhere but in the Bible do we learn that God is “Triune,” for example; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches in more than Genesis 1 that He created the whole universe “out of nothing” and by the power of His Word. It was a good and perfect work, but one of His creatures called “Man” ruined it and fell into the condition of sin that still pertains to this very day. (That truth doesn’t come from any other source except God’s Word passed down in writing for our minds to understand!) Then, in love, God HIMSELF became Human in the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem. He ate and drank and walked and talked and slept and wept as we all do. He alone of all people lived an earthly life without sin, however, and yet He was executed on a Roman Cross as the Substitute and Sacrifice that satisfied God concerning all the sins of all other people. HE therefore was rewarded and raised from Bodily death, glorified and given the position at God’s Right Hand at His Heavenly Throne. Now, those are not just some string of dead theological propositions, but the revealed Word of God, His Living Word, which is necessary for our minds to hear and apprehend. Yet, having said all that, to only acknowledge such truths at our minds’ level is not sufficient to save us.

A person can intellectually accept that a chair will bear his weight, for example, but that belief isn’t fully operative until he sits in it. Or a teenager may have closely watched his parents while they were driving throughout his life, built an engine in school shop class, studied all his State’s rules of the road and think he knows how to drive; but to actually accelerate and steer and brake and become familiar with the “feel” of a car is another matter altogether. The knowledge and its application are both necessary. That brings us to the aspect of “Believing with the HEART.”

The difference has often been explained as being between intellectual assent and really trusting something, but it actually goes deeper to trusting Someone. A relationship and dependency and a “being united” are all implied. It surprised me once to learn that Scripture uses a term for believing “about” Jesus only once. For the rest it consistently talks about believing “into” Jesus or God, and that’s significant! The Bible most often speaks of faith or believing in the sense of “trusting in,” “depending upon,” “resting assured in” and “leaning on” God as though His truths are able and will hold us up.

And it’s there that faith takes on the special dimension of being intensely and intimately personal. Then each believing person can have the comfort of knowing that God is “MY OWN” all wise, all powerful and all loving Father. Then an individual is assured that “I really am a co-heir with Christ.” Then we each can have the heart-conviction that, not only did Jesus live on this earth and die, rise and ascend, but “I’m made secure in the fact that He really died and rose again for MY sake. My OWN sins really ARE forgiven. God is trustworthy when He says that Heaven is my home. It’s a personal certainty!” As Hebrews 11 says: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

We can’t reach such strength of faith on our own. We can’t conjure it up for ourselves and, in fact, don’t attain a bit of it by our own willpower. So, here enters the third aspect of faith: “Believing by the HOLY SPIRIT.” You and I seldom realize how clouded our thinking and beliefs can be, because the sin nature that still clings to us both blinds and throws up roadblocks precisely in the area of wholehearted trust in God. We never would seek Him without the Holy Spirit “calling us by the Gospel” as Luther says. We never would know Him as He truly is without the Holy Spirit “enlightening us with His gifts.” We never would hang on to what we have received or whatever level we’ve been brought to without the Holy Spirit “sanctifying and keeping us in the true faith.” He, therefore, gets all the credit for every truly good and Christian thing that has been worked in you; for turning you to God, for granting His forgiveness to you, and for enabling whatever true belief and trust you have. What matters is not our work of faith, but His working it in us. He is not the one who would inspire people to put God to the test. He is not the one who leads people to rely on their own goodness.

Actually it’s God the Holy Spirit who produced all the truths contained in the Bible for our minds’ understanding. It’s He who has empowered His Word there to turn our hearts and make them secure with real trust. It’s also He who will raise our dead bodies at Christ’s return, and we’re invited by His Gospel to believe and trust that, too! AMEN.


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