Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Does Faith mean Belief?

Gary Petersen has posted another Genesis related blog. In reference to the scientific view of creation, Gary writes:
Science is wrong.

And that's tough for me to believe because to do so, I have to admit that the claims and assumptions upon which science is based are incorrect. And that's tough, in part because I don't understand all of the science involved.

But I do understand that God requires me to believe - to have faith in Him and His Word. Even when I don't understand everything there is to understand, I need to have faith and believe.

This is not going to be another science/creation related post. However, I am interested in Gary’s last sentence, where he says I need to have faith and believe.

I am not really going to comment on Gary’s post per se, just that one sentence, variants of which I have heard many times: I need to have faith and believe.

Before I tell you what I am thinking I confess that I probably should have set this topic aside so that I could take time to formulate a more cogent post. This will be more stream-of-consciousness that I am comfortable with. But when I saw Gary’s post I said that’s what I’ll write about tomorrow. (Isn’t it always a relief when you find tomorrow’s topic?)

Here is my problem. I don’t how to do what I think that sentence says to do. I don’t know how to will myself to believe that which I don’t believe. I can pray for faith, but I cannot, by sheer determination, believe something that I don’t believe.

That is why I love the doctrines of grace so much. I must believe to be saved. On my own I am dead to sin (Eph. 2:1). I cannot do anything that pleases God (Rom 3:1, Isaiah 64:6), so I cannot believe even if I wanted to. The belief, or faith, must itself the form of a gift (Eph. 2:8-9).

I don’t believe that we are called upon, by our own efforts, to believe that which we do not believe. Personally I don’t think it is even possible.

It is not hard for me to believe the essentials of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is God, He became flesh, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, bore my sins, paid the price in full, was bodily resurrected from the dead and ascended, and He will return to judge the quick and the dead. It is not hard, because it is not of my own effort.

I am not convinced that I even really ever have doubts. To be sure, I occasionally experience something that “smells” like doubt, and I even call it doubt—but upon close examination I think those periods might be described better as despair masquerading as doubt.

What does it mean to live by faith?

In my opinion, faith is not always used in scripture as a synonym for belief. I think many (not all) of the scriptures that have to do with faith are actually talking about living faithfully, or living by faith, not about believing. They are saying “now that you believe, it’s time to walk the walk”. In this case belief is a precursor; we won’t live faithfully unless we believe, and as I noted earlier, that belief is a gift from God.

Once we do believe, then we must live in a demonstrative manner and put away our childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). When it comes to creation I want to believe in the literal interpretation, but I can’t make myself do it. I can (and do) pray for discernment in all things. I can read what others have to say. But on my own I cannot pick up my belief and transfer it from one side to the other.

Furthermore, and perhaps most radically, I don’t think you are required to believe in anything other than what God has written for you on your heart. You are not required to be a Calvinist or an Arminian. You are not required to be amillennial, post-millennial, or pre-millennial. You are not required to be Reformed or dispensational. You are not required to believe in an old or young earth.

If you were required to believe the correct side of all these questions-- well then the path is even narrower than I thought. One thing I believe with absolute certainty is that when I reach paradise I will find out that I was wrong in many of my beliefs, if that makes any sense!

You are required to live by faith. To accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. To accept Christ as both your Savior and your Lord. To be a disciple. To do your utmost to imitate Christ.

And, paradoxically, doctrinal differences are important. You are required to read the Word to try to discern the correct side of these arguments. I just don’t think that many of the topics we love to debate (and we should debate them) are eternal-life threatening issues.

Maybe these issues are nebulous in order to encourage us to get into the Word regularly.

Backsliding can be Shocking

Sunday was a poignant day in church. There is a mother and daughter who always come together. The daughter just graduated high school. She is a delightful young woman. She is always so vivacious and joyful-- always has a praise or prayer request. This Sunday she (the daughter) wasn’t there. The mother, who was barely holding it together, said she had moved out of the house, and that her Christianity had taken a back seat. The church was stunned; virtually everyone was in tears. Of course we prayed for the daughter (and the mother).

It is stunning when someone who appears so strong in his or her faith just drops out in this bolt-out-of-blue fashion. Usually you get some indication such as sporadic attendance or a lethargic attitude.

I truly believe, as much as you can be sure about someone without really being able to see his or her heart, that this young woman is saved. I am confident we will see her restored to fellowship with Christ. Still, I do dread when perseverance of the saints gets tested. How painful it is for those that love her. I pray that when she returns this experience will strengthen her witness.

No comments:

Post a Comment