Don’t Turn Your Faith Into a “Work”

slippery_road_sign[Righteousness] is given “freely” ([Romans] 3:24). This is very important, because it is possible to think of faith as a kind of “work,” a calling up of some psychological feeling about God.  Some people think of faith as an intense attitude of surrender or a state of certainty or confidence.  But Paul takes care to say it comes “freely”…We must not fall prey to the subtle mistake of thinking that our faith actually saves us, as though in the Old Testament God wanted obedience to the law for salvation, and now he has changed the requirements and all he wants is faith.  That is a misunderstanding of both the Testaments, of the role of both law and faith!  In both the Old and New Testaments, it is the work of Christ that merits our salvation.  In both, faith is how it is received, and that is all it is.  Faith is simply the attitude of coming to God with empty hands.  When a child asks his mother for something he needs, trusting that she will give it, his asking does not merit anything.  It is merely the way he receives his mother’s generosity.

This is crucial because, if you come to think that your belief is the cause of your salvation, you will stop looking at Christ and start looking at your faith.  When you see doubts, it will rattle you.  When you don’t feel it quite as clearly or excitedly, it will worry you.  What has happened?  You’ve turned your faith into a “work”!  Faith is only the instrument by which you receive your salvation, not the cause of your salvation.  If you don’t see this, you will think you have something to boast about: The reason I am saved is because I put my faith in Jesus.  This is a subtle misunderstanding which cuts away our assurance, and boosts our pride.  And [Romans 3] verse 27 says the gospel leaves no basis for boasting.

(Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, p 81).

The Hidden Questions

IcebergHave you ever been asked a question, but you had a gut feeling that the question asked was not the real question?  

The original question, may seem out there or silly, or basic; but it just may be the questioner’s testing the waters to see if it is safe to ask you the real question.  With this  in mind, especially when asked questions about Jesus, the Bible, God in general, or the faith, it is wise to treat the questions with respect because you just might earn the right to be asked the real question, a question that could help lead a person to eternal life.

The Question Behind the Question

By Randy Newman

I’ve been interviewing a lot of new Christians to hear how God has worked to bring them to the Savior. Their stories encourage me greatly. Several recurring themes emerge. Mostly, I hear of the improbable nature of God breaking through to people who seem the least likely to be interested, open, or ready.

One pattern intrigues me. I often hear of people asking one question but really seeking an answer to something else. Underneath the iceberg lies something far bigger.

An illustration may help me express this.

One man told me of a Bible study he attended for months before trusting in Christ. The study was designed for people just like him – those who knew little about the Bible but were open enough to come every week to wrestle with the text. They walked through the gospel of Mark, asking who Jesus was, what faith looks like, and why God works the way he does.

In the course of my interviewing these new converts, I always ask if there was any one question or objection they felt they needed to have resolved before believing. You can imagine the common roadblocks: “What about evolution?” “Why is there so much evil and suffering?” “Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions?”

I asked this man if he had any major questions. Here’s how he responded.

“No…not really…well, wait a minute. Yeah, I can think of one. You know that part in the Bible where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs? When we read that, I was like, ‘What’s up with that? What’s Jesus got against pigs?’”

I must confess, as he told me this, I wondered, “Really? That’s your big objection? A bunch of pigs was stopping you from experiencing eternal life?” I said none of those things. Instead, I asked him how his Bible study leader answered his question.

“Well…at first he said he wasn’t sure.”

That’s actually a good start, I thought. Admitting we don’t know the answer to every question may be a great evangelistic aid. Too many non-Christians think we’re arrogant know-it-alls. Admitting we’re not sure of something helps break down barriers.

“Then he told me that the story of the demon and the pigs tells us at least two things. It shows that demons aren’t to be messed with. And it kind of implies that there’s something radically different between being a person and being a pig.”

“Did that resolve it for you?” I asked him.

“Yeah…well, it answered it enough. Y’see, you need to know where I was coming from. If I had asked that question at the church I went to when I was growing up, they would have told me to not ask such a question, that some things are just mysteries, and you just have to ‘believe in Jesus’ and he’ll take away all your questions. That always seemed stupid to me. So, when this Bible study leader gave me a fairly intelligent answer, I figured that his faith wasn’t stupid.”

I’m not sure he had put all those pieces of his story together before he recounted this moment in his journey. I noted that his real objection was far bigger than concern for swine.

And this point is worth considering: Quite often the “presenting problem” is just the tip of an iceberg. The question behind the question may be far larger. It may be, as it was for this man, “Is your faith a stupid faith that tells people not to ask questions?”

The gospel already carries a significant stumbling block that we dare not eliminate or minimize – the need to repent of sin and acknowledge that we have no righteousness of our own. But we can clear the way for receptivity of that good news by listening for the question behind the question and responding to both. What starts out as a discussion about pigs may lead to far bigger things.

My Way, No Way

James MacDonald, in his booklet Faith: How it Produces Results in Your Life, exposes the error behind accepting something from a person simply because they are sincere:

Did you know that Cain [c.f. Genesis 4] is the father of all false religion? His misplaced worship has caused all kinds of problems.  When it comes to faith, many people say, “Well, I think they’re all true, just as long as you are sincere.”

Can you imagine going to a math teacher and saying, “Sorry, I didn’t get any right answers on the test, but I was sincere.”  Well, you still fail.  “But these answers are very meaningful to me.” You still fail.

Honestly, God’s truth is no different that that.  Truth by definition is intolerant, I”ll give you that.  Truth is truth.  Making up ways to God is destined to failure when we know that God appeared in time and wrote a Book, He sent His Son to die for our sins, and then to be raised to life again.  False religion is based on “my way” and “my right to make God work for me.”  Cain’s story is proof: God’s not there to make worship work for you.  You exist to worship God!  Something that happened at Harvest Bible Chapel drove this point home.

A few years ago a woman passed away, the mother of a family who was very dear to us.  She had become a believer much later in life, and even though she didn’t attend our church, we said we would do the memorial service at Harvest.  We were comforting the family and getting ready for the service when some other family members showed up.  They had a boom box and a CD ready to go, and they insisted they wanted to play the song “My Way” during the service.  I said “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that.”  They presses us, but we didn’t give in.  And I wondered later if I had made the right decision.

Then I looked up the words to the song: “And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain, My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.  I’ve lived a life that’s full.  I’ve traveled each and every highway.  And more, much more than this, I did it my way.  I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway.  But more, much more than this, I did it my way.  For what is man? What has he got, if not himself, then he is not.  To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels.  The record shows, I took the blows.  I did it my way.”

What a tragedy! That’s the song they sing on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).  It might be the theme song of hell itself.  On the contrary, faith comes to God on His terms.  We kneel before God Almighty in worship and ask for His strength to live our lives for Him – not to do things our way (pp. 21-23).

 

Bible Moon Landing

“These explorers were not only men of science, many were men of faith.”
-Carol Mersch

Astronauts on Apollo 14 brought a full King James Version bible, though in microfilm form, to the lunar surface.  The Bible, now up for auction, along with other space memorabilia, highlights the faith professed by many in the NASA space program.  The news article, Faith in Space: Behind the Mission to Land a Bible on the Moonexplores the story of the faith of many space explorers:

Faith in Space: Behind the Mission to Land a Bible on the Moon

It was one small step for man — and for some astronauts it was a big leap of faith, too.

Rare artifacts and trinkets from the history of NASA are going to auction in the upcoming week-long Space & Aviation Autograph and Artifact Auction from RR Auction starting September 15th. The auction will feature a letter from Neil Armstrong about his first words on the moon, Armstrong’s training glove, and other exceptional items from the history of space flight and aviation.

But one of the more unique items up for bid? A full King James Bible that has journeyed all the way to the moon’s surface.

“It’s an inch and a half by an inch and a half,” Bobby Livingston, VP of sales marketing with RR Auction, told FoxNews.com. “You need a microscope to really read it, and it’s more symbolic than anything. But it’s all there. The entire King James Bible is there.”

The story of the microfilm Bibles — there have been several, although this is the first to make it to the moon — has almost been shrouded in mystery, partly because NASA logged them as “small microfilm packets” rather than Bibles. 

The first lunar Bible traveled to Earth’s satellite on February 5, 1971, on board Apollo 14. Lunar Module Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell brought the Bible with him to honor Apollo 1 astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee who died in a cabin fire during testing of the Apollo 1 vehicle. It had been a dream of White’s to bring a Bible to the moon’s surface. Mitchell turned that dream into a reality.

Why a compact microfilm edition? Faith is precious in space — but space is dear in space as well.

“The astronauts had personal preference kits where they could bring personal items with them,” Livingston explained. Those kits each had an 18-ounce weight restriction, so the bibles were printed on microfilm in order to meet NASA’s weight requirements. Microfilm made it possible to shrink all 1,245 pages of that edition of the Bible onto small pieces of film.

“A lot of astronauts brought religious symbols, like crosses, into space with them. This was just one of many Bibles that made it down to the surface,” Livingston said. 

Dozens of these almost microscopic scriptures have made it to the moon and back. Most have been given away to dignitaries and politicians (George W. Bush has one in his inventory). But the very first Apollo 14 Lunar Bible will be up for grabs — and space connoisseurs from around the world will have the chance to duke it out at the upcoming auction.

The event also draws attention to the dichotomy of religion and science, two concepts that have a long history of being at odds. In her book The Apostles of Apollo, Carol Mersch examined how it was difficult for the astronauts and for NASA to discuss their religious beliefs.

“These explorers were not only men of science, many were men of faith,” Mersch told FoxNews.com. “Expressing faith in space, however, created a dilemma for many of the astronauts and their government agency — and that’s why it may not have received as much media attention as many of the other Apollo achievements.”

Mersch also references the Apollo Prayer League, a religious gathering that many Apollo astronauts attended. The League was led by Reverend John Maxwell Stout, a NASA employee who doubled as a scientist and a chaplain. Mersch says that for Stout, reconciling the two concepts was never difficult.

“He certainly shared that thought that they were one in the same,” Mersch told FoxNews.com. He once made a comment along the line of, ‘I have no problem with God looking through a microscope along with my students.’”

Livingston, who has consulted with numerous Apollo astronauts for the auction, says that many of them have no issue with finding faith in their science. If anything, Livingston says, it only strengthens their convictions.

“It’s not incongruous. Spirituality and science do go together,” Livingston told FoxNews.com. “I’ve met several astronauts, one of them told me, ‘I know infinity exists.’ I asked him how he knew and he said, ‘Cause I saw it! I sat on God’s back porch and saw it every day.’”

“Sure these are engineers and scientists, but they experience these moments of extreme stress and terror. It’s only natural that [they’d] find comfort in some kind spirituality.”

The Object of Your Faith

“It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.”
-Timothy Keller

A person can strongly and sincerely believe something but that does not make what they believe in any more true or real.  At one time people strongly and sincerely believed that the earth was flat.  The earth did not suddenly become round when people discovered the truth.

It is the same way with salvation and God.  A person can strongly and sincerely believe that there is no such thing as God, or that there are many gods, or that Jesus was a prophet but not God, or that Jesus is God, or any other variation of belief.  The question is not how strong a person’s faith is in what they believe about God or how sincere they are in their belief.  When it comes to salvation and God the question in one of the truthfulness of the object of your faith.

The Christian faith is built upon the proposition that not only is the God of the Bible real and salvation is offered only through faith in the very real person and work of Jesus Christ, but the facts of the faith can withstand and even welcomes scrutiny.  The Christian faith is not one of trying really hard to believe what you know is not true, but a faith that is secure because of the truth and facts backing the object of the faith – Jesus Christ.

Self-Sufficiency of God

Were all human being suddenly to become blind, still the sun would shine by day and the stars by night, for these owe nothing to the millions who benefit from their light.  So, were every man on earth to become atheist, it could not affect God in any way.  He is what He is in Himself without regard to any other.  To believe in Him adds nothing to His perfections; to doubt Him takes nothing away (The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer; pp 53-54).

To be right we must think worthily of God. It is morally imperative that we purge from our minds all ignoble concepts of the Deity and let Him be the God in our minds that He is in His universe.  The Christian religion has to do with God and man, but its focal point is God, not man. Man’s only claim to importance is that he was created in the divine image; in himself he is nothing. The psalmists and prophets of the Scriptures refer in sad scorn to weak man whose breath is in his nostrils, who grows up like the grass in the morning only to be cut down and wither before the setting of the sun. That God exists for Himself and man for the glory of God is the emphatic teaching of the Bible.  The high honor of God is first in heaven as it must yet be in earth (pp 55-56).

In the meanwhile our inner fulfillment lies in loving obedience to the commandments of Christ and the inspired admonitions of His apostles. “It is God which worketh in you” [Philippians 2:13]. He needs no one, but when faith is present He works through anyone. two statements are in this sentence and a healthy spiritual life requires that we accept both (p 58).

“The Rage Against God” Book Review

I just finished reading through Peter Hitchens’ The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.  Hitchens writes, “I am neither a theologian nor even a Bible scholar. Nor am I a philosopher, nor a “public intellectual,” whatever that may be…My only qualifications for writing it is that I am me, a former atheist with some skill at words who has returned to the  Church and whose brother [Christopher Hitchens] is in the vanguard of the current attack on religion” (p 220).  I certainly agree with this statement after reading the book.

Overall, the book is written with finesse but lacks much punch.  Hitchens tells his tale of moving into atheism and then his gradual and begrudging return to faith in the first section of the book, yet it is less of a story and more of a social and political commentary.  The second part of the book addresses three failed areas of atheism, a great topic, but the author’s case comes across as watered down in areas that it could drive home a potent point.  The final section, “The League of the Militant Godless”, is by far the best and strongest part of the book.  Here Hitchens rips to shreds the false statements made by the proponents of new atheism that Soviet Russia was not really an atheistic regime and then concludes with a few devastating pages to any who would say that teaching children about God and Christianity is a form of child abuse.

The Rage Against God is worth a casual reading, but the reader would be better served in checking the book out of the library rather than spending money on purchasing the book new.  I would give the book two stars out of five.