Friday, August 7, 2015

Faith in the 21st Century: The Seven Key aspects of Faith

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."
Hebrews 11:1-3

Faith is something that sets the Christian apart from the world. The Christian believes in a God unseen. The Christian believes differently from the world. The people of the world don't think in terms of belief. They consider the views of the Christian faith to be foolish, weird, or irrelevant. Additionally they may call it backwards, or anachronistic. Faith can seem like a mystery. Many speak of blind faith. There are certain aspects of faith that could be considered "blind." Still others speak of intelligent faith, or faith grounded in facts, science, and observation. There are aspects of faith that are centered on inquiry and knowledge as well. Faith is incredibly multifaceted.

Why is faith so important to the Christian worldview? Isn't it just because Christians believe in things that aren't really real? Aren't they way out on a limb believing things contrary to reality? It may seem that way on the surface, but I believe quite the contrary.

The mean spirited skeptic has a jeer for every aspect of the Christian worldview. Jeering is a dismissive way of turning aside arguments I think. But jeering is common enough.  Just log on to the internet.

The first fact that must be accepted is that the Christian worldview asserts that reality is currently damaged, tangent, and heading toward a moment of destruction, a sort of coup de grace, followed by a remaking to the proper state of reality, the universe, and human life. This is the reason that God's presence and will is not easily discerned.

Second, physical death is not the final end of man. The people of the world decry physical death as the paramount evil, through war, genocide, disease, famine, and such, and lay those evils at God's feet. Yet the Christian worldview asserts the reality that physical death is not the end, but simply a transition.

The third fact is of paramount importance, asserting that humanity, every human being, is born disconnected from God. The human is born in the image of God, though troubled by a state of general disconnection and a tendency toward sinful behavior (behavior contrary to moral perfection).

The natural state of the universe, humanity, Earth, and God is that of perfection in connection. In the correct and proper state of man there is no death. In the proper state of reality God is ever-present to every human being, in joyous connection to him or her. In the proper state of reality humanity, made in the image of God has no need for sin, or selfishness, or morbid fear, or self service. There is a general state of creative happiness, connection, love, and prevailing joyousness.

The current state of the universe is what theologians call "fallen." I like the word "tangent." People have heard the words "fallen" "sin" and "repent" so many times they tend to shut down when words like that come up. The mind slams shut, and jeers starts shooting out of the mouth. I wonder why that is? Perhaps past trouble with "religious people." Anyway. 

In the tangent universe, on Earth, we have death, destruction, wars, genocides, warring ideologies, multiple religions, depression, addiction, suicide, and so many other terrible little wonders of the fallen. In this tangent we also have a state of reality theologians call "the hiddenness of God." After the fall of man, God is shaded, he's more "behind the clouds." The first humans did live in his real direct presence, but we do not. 

"Aha! How convenient for you backwards homophobic Christians that we can't see your imaginary God! Ha ha!" Might a jeering atheist or sneering college professor say such a thing? I've heard worse. Now if Earth were pretty much perfect and things are well, there's no death, and humanity were the picture of selflessness and joy, I would probably agree. But that is not the case. Earth is a very ugly place, despite sociologists and modernists who seem to live in a little bubble in suburbia claiming: "Everything is getting better! We've overcome the flaws of the past!" Perhaps they ought to visit India or China, read a few books on human trafficking, or take a stroll down to the excesses of Wall Street?  The Earth is in strife, mounted by the corrupt for their own power, wealth, and prestige.

"There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In fact, there are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in human history, with an estimated 21 million in bondage across the globe." -The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission ERLC, The Weekly, on Human Trafficking

God is hidden from the eyes of the sinful, the arrogant, and those who try to play God. Of course the prideful and sinful can't and won't see that. And those who try to play God? Well they've already rewritten human existence in the image of naturalism: "from the goo to you through the zoo" as a man once said. Maybe more: "from slime to crime through the mind?" Hard to say.

Yet God is also hidden from the eyes of those who have accepted his arrangement for the salvation of his people.  And his arrangement is simple: Trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, over 2,000 years ago. Why? Shouldn't God appear to those who have accepted his son? Not necessarily. God wants man to have the free choice. He wants man to have that ultimate freedom. If we could all see God with our eyes, touch him with our hands, there would be no choice.  But don't get me wrong, we don't see him with our eyes, but we feel his presence and we engage in relationship with him daily.

He doesn't want people who need to see him.  He wants people who can see their own heart, and then turn to him for a new one. For those who reject that offer again and again, God will not force them into his loving presence. I know I wouldn't want people around me who constantly spit in my face, hurt my children, and jeer every time someone brought up my name. Would you? 

It comes back to faith.  God wants faith.  He wants us to trust in him, who he is, and what he's doing.  We can't see the past, we can't see the future.  But through words we read of the deeds of God in the world.  And we have the freedom to choose to believe that, or jeer and dismiss that.  Many choose to jeer, I hope you'll choose to believe.  

Giving up our beloved sins is a small price to pay for eternal life, and connection to the truest purpose and meaning of existence itself.  God is there, though our eyes don't see him.  Our senses conceive of him at some of the most random moments in our lives.  Many dismiss those moments, push them aside or flee from them, but others choose to pursue that convicting, often uncomfortable presence of the holy.  And how?  Through seeking him, through faith.   

So faith is required. Faith is the single largest fact that separates Christian believers from the world. Do you see how often we talk about faith, belief, and trust? It comes up constantly. This being the case I thought it would be interesting to look at seven aspects of Christian faith, and their natural entailments. Let's begin.

1. Faith is trust that Jesus Christ truly did die for my sins, personally, on the cross. Faith is belief that Jesus Christ received the punishment I deserved, and that through his death and resurrection I've been given eternal life. (Son)

We're starting right at the most important issue.  This is the very core of the Christian faith.  Historiography is clear, there was a man named Jesus Christ who lived in the middle east, who died on a cross around A.D. 30; born between 4-6 B.C.  That fact is beyond dispute, at least it should be given the wealth of manuscript evidence.  Do you really believe that this man was God?  Do you really believe he was the only human being who lived a perfect life?  Do you believe he really died for your sins on the cross?  Do you really believe he reclaimed his life after being dead three days?  And do you believe that victory gives you eternal life?  This is God's formula.  We don't get to decide how God reveals himself.  We don't get to cherry pick his revelation.  This is it.  Do we believe?  If you do, you have eternal life my friend.  Plain and simple.  Period.  If you don't, then your soul is still under judgment, pending physical death.  Decide now. 

2. Faith is trust in the person of God, via relationship. Faith is seeing God as dad. Faith is a relationship built around trust, love, and obedience. (Father)

In light of Jesus Christ, we may have number two, the blessed and wonderful relationship to our Heavenly Father.  This is a relationship of love, kindness, and tender affection.  God adores you.  He absolutely loves you completely, because you have taken the simple step to accept his son.  He wants to build a relationship with you.  He wants to watch you grow from the slender features of youth to the lines and gray hair of old age.  He wants to be your loving God all those days and nights.  And he will.  We don't have to jeer or mock, we can nestle into his arms and have that penultimate relationship.  How?  Through Christ of course.  Yet we build on that relationship, through daily prayer, talking to God, asking him questions, talking to him about our day, and seeking his will for our lives.  And through studying our Bible.  And of course through fellowship, and serving others.  God is love, a personal entity set on relationship with you.

3. Faith is also a response. Faith is receiving the Spirit of God within. Faith then is the action of turning from sins, proactively taking part in the process of growing in holiness, and embracing the new mindset of Christ. (Spirit)

Faith is not just a feeling, not just a set of truths, and not just a trusting relationship, faith is also an action.  Faith and repentance are joined at the hip when it comes to the conversion experience found in the mystery of Jesus Christ.  

Faith and change: We turn to Christ, and we throw ourselves entirely upon his grace.  Yet also in that moment begins the action of faith: change.  The sins begin dropping away from our lives.  For me it meant giving up drinking and drugs.  For me it meant quitting cigarettes a year later.  For many it can be changes in sexual and personal ethics like gossiping, pornography viewing, backstabbing, cheating, stealing, downloading internet music, downloading pirated movies, cursing, vulgar discussion, and selfishness.  Don't get me wrong.  We aren't under the Old Testament laws.  We are certainly under grace.  But our response to the faithfulness of Christ must be demonstrated through growing holiness in life.  Otherwise we're beginning to fall away, toward an eventual loss of salvation if we aren't careful.  Let no one deceive you, you'll reap what you sow.  The process of growing in holiness is a blessed one, a process much like a child learning to walk, and eventually to read, write, all the way to maturity in God-trust, selflessness, and loving service to the lost.

4. Faith is trusting God's plan. Faith is understanding that God is sovereign over the world. Faith is letting God run my life. Faith is believing that God really is, and that he is working in my life. Faith is not just believing, but knowing.

Are you afraid?  Are you nervous?  Do you worry constantly?  Are you severely depressed?  Something interesting about human nature, at least something I've noticed in myself, is that if I don't keep a check on my thoughts I notice myself trying to orchestrate everything.  I catch myself trying to run the universe.  That's God's job!  He's good at it too.  Thy will be done Lord, not mine.  The more we let go, the more peace we have.  Trust in God.  Trust that his plan is perfect.  And get this: trust that he may be leading you into trouble, not necessarily away from it; but that you may have peace within that trouble.  He is growing all of us.  He is teaching us how to rely upon him.  The modern American mindset tends heavily toward self reliance.  Be assured, self reliance is the exact opposite of Christian faith.  Do you need to grow in that area?  Are you trying to forcefully or passively manipulate everything in your life to go the way you want?  Stop that!  Instead lean on God.  Certainly take dutiful action when necessary, but stop trying to force things.  Continue in moments to whisper to yourself: "God's will be done, not mine.  Thy will be done Lord, not mine."  

Eventually as our faith matures we no longer fret every moment and future "what if."  We learn to rest quietly in our days and experience a peaceful joyousness.  We mature into a soft sensation, a prescient mindset that God has me in the palm of his hand, he is orchestrating life around me, where I will fulfill my stated purpose, and no matter what happens, no matter where he may lead me, I will always be OK, because he is in total control.  I am safe.  It's safe now.  God really does have me, and he really is who he is. 

5. Faith is trusting that the word of God (The Bible) is flawless, true, and universally relevant.

"Well I have my thoughts about that."  "I know God's word says that, but this is what I believe."  That is very common these days.  People value their own opinion, their own views, or what the culture is saying above what God's word says.  We have to abandon that mentality right now.  I don't know better than God.  The Bible is very, very reliable.  What we have in the word of God, the Bible today, in the 66 books is the exact words that were originally written thousands of years ago.  

Don't believe all the fluff and condescension from college professors, critics, crackpot psychologists, and jeering young adults.  If we approach the Bible from historiography, the study of history, the Bible is the most reliable book in the history of man kind.  The manuscript evidence is astonishing, shocking, a sheer revelation of continuity and accuracy.  The Bible is probably the most astonishing book in history given the continuity of manuscript evidence.  Five thousand manuscripts?  Over 10,000 manuscript fragments?  And they all match to 99.7% accuracy?  It's truly amazing.  We should trust this word, as it comes from God.  All of it.  Every word.  If we don't agree, guess who needs to have a change of mind?  Hint: It's not God.  

If a culture wants to spew skepticism at the Biblical documents, we have to ask ourselves: Why is that?  Because it's telling them to change their ways, ways they don't want to change.  That can be a prime motivator when it comes to hostility and skepticism.  Everyone has an opinion.  Most people are wrong.  The majority is almost always wrong.  Trust the immovable word of God.  There is no Catholic conspiracy here, just the word of God, and a hostile culture that doesn't like what it says about them.  Remember what Jesus said: "The world hates me because I testify about it, that it's ways are bad" (John 7:7 GNT).  Trust his word, all of it.  Believe. 

6. Faith is trust in the character of God.

Faith means that we trust that God is really good.  Many of us grew up with a God of hellfire and brimstone, who was going to get us when we were bad.  God isn't really like that.  

So what is God like?  The scriptures tell us this: God is love (1 John 4:8).  God never changes (Hebrews 13:8).  God is patient (2 Peter 3:9).  God is our protector and shield (Psalm 18:30).  God is perfect (Psalm 18:30).  God is a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11).  God created everything (Genesis 1:1).  God is eternal and timeless, in fact, God created time itself (Job 36:26).  Search the scriptures yourself, do some word studies, or simply get on your knees and ask God in prayer: "Lord, who are you?  What are you like?  What do you love?  What do you despise?  What makes you smile?  What makes you frown?"

So many times in my life I've said "I don't understand this."  But I was never willing to admit one simple fact: I'm not God.  There must certainly be some things that are beyond my understanding (even Leonardo Da Vinci could admit that).  Can I learn to let go of my need to know why?  Can I learn to believe and trust that God is good? Can I trust him even when his plan means that my loved ones will suffer at times?  Can I trust him and believe him even when I know one day I will bury my parents?  And what about the really terrible moments?  Could I still know that God is good if sometime in the future I lose a child to illness or accident?  Could I still believe God is good if I were raped, beaten, or maimed?  Those are important questions.  Faith means believing in the goodness of God when the world around us seems evil and broken.  We can do it.  I believe God is good.  But even if I didn't, he is still good. 

7. Faith is the expectation, anticipation and hope of things to come (the future perfection of reality).

Romans 8:24-25 (ESV) says "For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."  As Christians we aren't centered around the world and it's thoughts about life.  We don't focus all our attention on building the perfect family, working the perfect job, planning for retirement, and all of that stuff.  Those things may be important to us, but the centerpiece in our lives must be the hope for things to come.  We are awaiting patiently the return of Jesus Christ.  That isn't an abstraction or a metaphor, simile, or theory; it's a fact.  "Oh, what a fundamentalist" some might say.  But taking a plain straightforward reading of the text, that's what it says.  If that's fundamentalist then what's the opposite of fundamentalist?  Dishonest conjecture?  We either take the text for what it's plainly saying, or we make up whatever we want it to say through conjecture and extrapolation.  

Watch some of the people who try to defend gay marriage within a Biblical context.  That's what you call dishonest, hypocritical conjecture based on outrageous exegesis and outright bald-faced lies. I digress.

The point is, Jesus Christ will return to set things right.  Because Jesus Christ is alive.  He is alive and well today.  That is a fact.  God will at some point in the future trigger a series of calamities that will lead to a final end to this tangent, broken universe.  Then God will remake the universe into it's original state of perfection.  There we will live with God, in his direct presence in a city of perfection so wonderful and serene we can hardly imagine it in our present state.  

Mark my words, it will happen.  Where will you be on that day, when the books are opened, and the dead are judged for their actions in the world?  Will Jesus Christ be your righteousness?  Or will God say "I never knew you" and send you away?  For those of us within the realm of God, in Christ, in loving relationship with God, we wait patiently, enduring struggles, trials, blessings, good times and bad, hoping and anticipating our future eternity with God.  So in this life we labor toward eternity, not toward the big bank accounts or luxurious properties.  Or as Jesus said in the most powerful terms: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

In conclusion, faith is the lamp by which followers of Jesus Christ see the world.  Most look to simply fulfill their own desires for sex, security, and social status.  But instead we stand in stark contrast to the world living to serve others, transform cultures, and share the good news of Jesus Christ.  All of that happens through a radical faith, that God, so often obscured by the clammer of the world, really is God, that his book the Bible really is true, and that Jesus Christ is alive, and so we also will live.  We live all things through faith, a faith grounded in fact, and a faith in realities unseen.  Most importantly, we live by faith in a God who really is real.