I know I need to live by faith. It goes with being saved by faith.
And the size of my faith may play a role in my being saved, given what Jesus said about having faith the size of a mustard seed. I know, too, that I need to grow in faith. That’s because some people have strong faith and others have weak faith. I hope, eventually, to be buff in my faith.
Some people believe that we can lose our faith—and, with that, our salvation—and others insist that real faith can never be lost. Which, by the way, creates some serious insecurity if I’m not sure who is right. I’ve also heard that faith comes by hearing the Word. Which makes me feel guilty because I hardly ever listen to radio or downloaded sermons, let alone Bible CDs. So that makes me sort of a once-a-week listener. More flabby than buff.
Another way to think about faith is to treat it like a thermometer just outside a window: it has a freezing mark, and sometimes the ‘red’ temperature stuff is above that line, and sometimes below it. So if that’s how faith works in salvation, sometimes I’m in the ‘saved’ zone and at other times I’m below the line. So, using this analogy, I need to know how I can raise the temperature high enough to keep my faith above the freezing mark.
I hope you get the point by now, that we need to ask a bottom line question: what is faith?
I’m serious about the question. Faith is a favorite jargon term among Christians because it serves as the keystone in the chief arch of our pantheon of Christian ideas. Paul, for instance, tied faith to salvation in Ephesians 2:8—“For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Yet from that quote we find another word—grace—is tied to faith. But let’s not lose our focus on faith. If grace sets up faith, how much grace is needed to get faith right? And who supplies the grace?
From many conversations and much reading—which set up my litany of loose thoughts cited above—I’m convinced that for most people the real meaning of faith is about as sure a thing as our grasp of what a duodenum is and how it works. Aren’t these things we just need to take by faith?
And that apparent throw-away thought—‘to take it by faith’—is more important than it might seem at a glance. In the middle ages most scholars assumed that faith is a realm of “non” or “super-rational” realities, while reason deals with our tangible realities. That notion grew from Bible texts such as Paul’s claim that “we walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7] and the descriptive summary in Hebrews 11:1 that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This set up a stubborn divide in Western culture, active even today, that faith is simply a matter of the heart—a subjective realm—and reason is the reliable realm where meaningful—“objective”—conversations occur. And never the two shall meet! Yet there are those among us—believing philosophers—who are trying to bridge that gap by proving that faith can be aligned with reason if we work at it long enough! But I’m increasingly convinced they’re chasing an empty goal because they’ve embraced a medieval miscue. It is useless to treat faith and reason as separate spheres of knowledge: both are rooted in Christ as a reality for our subjective devotion to embrace.
So how can we answer our question? What does “faith” and its identical twin, “believe”, mean?
The answer is, “ask Jesus”! It was his ambition that we believe and thus find salvation—the fourth gospel says as much as it summarized his ministry: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [John 20:31]
A crucial story in Christ’s ministry related to faith is found in John 3, just prior to the well-known verse 16. There, in verses 14-15, Jesus alluded to the events of Numbers 21 when Moses had a bronze serpent built. People, bitten by venomous snakes in the wilderness, needed an immediate antidote. Moses gave them the model with a simple promise: look at the bronze serpent on its pole and be healed. Jesus offered this as the model of faith. It explained his own ministry. A day would come when he would be lifted up on the cross. And there he would cure death.
The point Jesus was making is that faith is simply a gaze in response to his invitation. Dead hearts are healed by looking to Jesus on the cross in the same way a struggling, snake-bitten Israelite in the Sinai wilderness who looked at the bronze model was healed. Is the gaze something purely inward and subjective? For the dying Israelite a look at the bronze model was an objective reality! And faith was a supernatural link to God’s promise—God had promised, “look and live” . So, in that sense, Jesus offered a very tangible and objective basis for salvation: “look and live.” His promise is the basis for our looking, and he is the one who brings new life into being—in our being “born again” [and “from above”]. All of this is addressed in John 3.
It’s not as if this insight was lost on the disciples of Jesus. Paul, for instance, was confident that those he was writing to had faith, but he also promised them that “I do not cease to give thanks for you . . . . [or to pray that] the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened . . .” [Ephesians 1:15 & 18] They could “see” already, but there was still more to see. Faith is ultimately a focus on one who is, for now, “not seen”—namely Jesus who awaits us beyond the cross, in heaven. Listen to the writer of Hebrews who wrote of faith as our vision of Christ in chapter 12:
. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
To place this in the broadest context possible, think of faith as the antidote to what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve both trusted God as their Lord and delight. At least they trusted him until the serpent invited them to trust another source of “truth” in Genesis 3—namely himself! The serpent, while God was away from the Garden, challenged both God’s character [“did God really say . . . ?”] and God’s word [“you will not surely die”]. After a brief time Adam and Eve both entrusted themselves to the serpent’s leadership, based on his words. And, with that, they no longer trusted God. They were no longer people “of faith” and their bond with God was broken. They believed a lie from the Liar rather than the truth of the Truth.
So, with a delightfully ironic plan, God is now in the process of winning people back from the Lie and into the Truth by offering the promise: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here is the cure to the problem of Sin. Jesus became Sin for us. So that we look to Jesus who—in God’s transferring my sin to Jesus by my union with him—became an accursed model of the serpent himself. And by entering into the realm of death he broke its power over all who look to him.
Faith is that simple. It’s not a “power within” us. It’s not an energy that I can cause to grow and develop by my own efforts. It’s all about the Person who invites my gaze, my confidence and my love. I respond more and more and my faith becomes that much stronger. The more I love, the more I trust. So faith is working through love. And it started when I was still dead in my sins. That’s why faith is all about him, and not about us. We’re just watching him while he changes us. Yet we soon discover that we have never been busier, now caring for others as we enjoy all of what we see in Christ.
Ron, another inspiration to look to Jesus, thanks.
Could you address a side issue that has some potential negative aspects ,with some additional thoughts? It’s the idea of falling into the trap of viewing Jesus as a talisman.
Background: In Japan, many people collect gods as a way of securing and covering all bases and Jesus just might merely be a talisman to “look upon.” So, the thought might go, “If I just look upon Jesus, then I’ll be ok.”
Talisman [Definition]: anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.
Before I came to Christ I carried a little plastic Jesus figure with me. I actually had it facing the Feng Shui dragon on the ledge above my kitchen sink.
I had stopped thinking of the statue as a connection to Jesus. It was simply additional “insurance” in case the dragon wasn’t able to block the shar chi from entering my home.
That’s kind of what Clive is talking about, I bet. The weird thing is I LOVED God. I believed in Jesus but in a distant sort of way, evidenced by the disconnect that allowed me to pray to Him while laying on my bed and gazing at the top of the evergreen tree that was in the shape of a cross outside my window but still “objectify” Him in my house.
I don’t know if it was a hold over from my Catholic school days and the rosary I carried or if it was from the Hindu shrine I had in my bedroom that I lit incense at while praying to Sri Siddhartha and Sri Ramakrishna but when I think about how I prayed when I was a child, it was in using these things as a connection to what they represented.
I never thought that by using the rosary or lighting incense, that the rosary or incense would help me. Always, always, they were the vehicles that connected me to God (rosary) or to people (Siddhartha and Ramakrishna).
It was only when I crossed into the New Age movement did my use of “talismen” turn from connectors to God to good luck charms.
(That makes me so sad to remember.)
Now, I know that may not be what Clive was wanting to discuss, but I thought I’d throw it out there with the assumption that you guys probably don’t have experiential knowledge about this.
Ron always gives life to things by telling us what was going on behind the scenes historically, thereby helping to make his teachings about Jesus more real. My “insider” information is something I’d be interested in hearing you guys address, too, especially in light of this post.
If this is taking off on too big a tangent, just let me know so I can blame it on Clive.
Thanks for raising the point, Clive and Leanne.
My first response is to puzzle over the twists that come into a life whenever we seek an object to focus on that isn’t worthy of a life focus. I remember attending my 20th year high school class reunion. John was there and he had played center for our very good football team…one of the best in the state of Washington that year. What startled me was that he came still wearing his very tired, tattered, and shabby “letterman’s jacket” from that era. As I looked at it I guessed it was still his favorite jacket: an identity item. Our football team was the highwater mark of life for John! He loved the jacket as a token of his long-since-faded glory.
The language of vision-as-faith can be treated tangibly (as Jesus warned about the vulnerability of the “eye” in Matthew 5:22-24). Certainly, we all tend to make some external item a signifier of a life-changing experience or relationship. But there is a difference in “how” we see them. I have, for instance, pictures of my family in my house. They remind me of the people I love. But they never fill the place of the people I love.
If, for instance, I was offered a beautiful picture of my mother and was told to treat the picture as a replacement for her so I could stop making trips to visit her, how would I respond?
But a talisman (including a dangling cross, or some other symbol of Jesus and his ministry, that function as a focal point of faith) does the “replacement” thing by making the token an end in itself. It becomes a bit of “controlled” deity that allows the fallen soul to worship a bit of the creation rather than the Creator himself (something Paul exposes as endemic to humanity in Romans 1). It achieves a “sort-of” form of autonomy.
So when Jesus speaks, in John 3, of the gaze of faith, he’s offers a vision that captures the soul relationally. He gives himself in a tangible act of love, dying on the cross for my sin. His heart is exposed to us by the radical moral disequilibrium of the cross: God’s beloved Son died for me!
So to treat a token of Christ as a focal point, instead of Jesus himself, is tragic. And to wear a 20 year old jacket in an effort to recapture a glory long gone is pathetic. It’s the real team; and a real person that counts, not the tokens.
Christ invites us to join him in the ongoing reality of the cross, as Paul accepted for himself when he spoke of being “crucified with Christ”. Christ’s love, ironically, reveals the world-without-God to be, itself, a token of our broken past. We realize that reversal only as we turn away from the world to pursue Christ’s winsome self-disclosures as offered in his word.
What I needed to add to the original post is an invitation to read all of John 3. Nicodemus was looking at Jesus, yet not really “seeing” him. How could he see, yet be blind? By a Spirit-less view of Jesus as strictly human. He saw Jesus as a token of potential political and spiritual power (“you come from God”). Jesus, however, refused and still refuses that level of engagement (such as being placed on a shelf, whether in Japan or in the USA). Instead Nicodemus needed to have a new heart, a new birth, a new pair of spiritual eyes.
So, yes, the language of vision-as-faith has its abusers! But a counterfeit bill is nonsensical unless it tries to imitate a real item of currency. The true vision of faith is always transforming but counterfeits can only imitate external features. Talismanic tokens, then, represent a human impulse to embrace the creation instead of the Creator; the Creator whom the Spirit must reveal to us because of our willful moral blindness. Without the Spirit and the love he awakens in us as we look to Christ we are left to embrace a make-believe belief.
thanks ron for once again encouraging us to keep Christ the center of our focus.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
and i, when i came to you brothers, did not come with lofty speech or wisdom, for i decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
clive, the talisman principle was not lost on me. i cant begin to tell you……..
i’ll tell you anyway! a precocious child, i realized that my early forays into kindergarten bible school that (after devouring volumes of encyclopedias) the pictures on the wall depicting the jewish people were not correct! why would they lie to us and place our white, blue-eyed images as jew’s? the talisman of prejudice.why would some church’s believe that people of color would not achieve the same heaven the elite of the church would? the talisman of thinking you are the image and goal of chrisendom? some believing if their children were not graduating with the talisman of a phd after their name…ah! God was not pleased
my prayer is that i will not degrade ‘the signal to noise ratio’ and try and stay on track. i am very sensitive to lies, i am a person that collects information. i am a person whose goal is to pursue the voice of God. all that flows from that pursuit has given me an everlasting and present peace. the fires in my heart have been placed there by Him, i want a glimpse of His eyes, heart and spirit to love this world as He would have me love and serve it. my meditation is Christ Crucified, and to pursue the voice of God..the Holy Spirit teaches, comforts…
i too love exploring the life and times of the world Christ walked…did you know ron worked and lived in a kibbutz in jerusalem?
your sister in Christ
Morgan, I apologize! I have been referring to you as my “brother”.
It was interesting to me to see you put the word “talisman” onto what I have always called “idols”.
It’s another layer to ponder. In case it’s not painfully obvious, I very much love to ponder on my Lord and this new life He’s given me.
Can I ask you a question, Morgan? You mentioned you like to meditate on Christ Crucified. Knowing that nothing tangible can substitute for communion with Him, how do you feel about my comment that pre-Christ, the “talismen” I used were things that reminded me to focus/pursue the relationship to the people/god they represented?
Granted, those relationships/god were not of God, but, the intent was pure. It was an effort to RESPOND in RELATIONSHIP (Ron’s much needed battle cry)
I ask because I think we all understand that talismen are wrong. What I’d like to point out is that if we can see, from an unbelievers perspective/experience, why they have talismen and/or what they are used for, we might have a greater entrance into their world.
My experience is the exact thing I think we could use to make Ron’s point: “So, with a delightfully ironic plan, God is now in the process of winning people back from the Lie and into the Truth by offering the promise: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
If we didn’t see these objects as “golden calves” (even though I realize they are) and automatically dismiss, cast judgment, teach against it (w/out knowing where the “student” was coming from) but instead ASKED what the reasoning behind it was, I think we’d have doors fly open, hearts begin to soften, and more opportunity to witness, in relationship and response, to a lost, lost world.
I know I have, this very day, things that remind me to look to Christ. I keep them in front of me to remind me that Jesus is all around me.
Ron, when you say, faith is not “a power within” us, you’re talking about any power derived from talismen/spirits, etc. and NOT about the power of the Holy Spirit, right?
I ask because I have often mentioned the tremendous power we, as believers, have access to through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in each of us.
I just want to make sure I’m hearing the same thing you mean to say.
One of the questions that rocked the overall “Western” Church [i.e., churches other than the Greek and Slavic Orthodox wing] as part of the Reformation debates was whether God’s grace is something we “own” (as a source of spiritual power within) or if it’s the Spirit’s presence within us; a living ‘person’ whose love is transforming us. Luther, among others, insisted that it is not “our” power, but the presence of God himself in us.
So, Leanne, to answer your question, I was affirming Luther’s biblical stance by saying it’s not “our” power but God’s presence in us that accounts for our new eternal Life and our new lifestyle of faith. So there is a power in us and it’s a “Him” rather than an “it”. The question of what you or anyone else means by talking about the power of the Spirit within us is whether we have in mind some sort of independent power that he’s given us and that he’s waiting for us to use; or if we’re responding to him so that the “power” is the impact of his eternal presence and love in us.
You’ll notice that I’ve regularly affirmed the latter and challenged the former; any attempts to make ourselves the focus of faith (as in “my abilities”) falls outside the scope of the faith we’ve summarized here. It’s all about God, not about us. And it’s all about his communion with us, and not about his supplying us with new batteries.
Hope that’s a bit clearer.
leannae a ‘copy paste’ of the word ‘talisman’
An amulet ( [Pliny], meaning “an object that protects a person from trouble”), a close cousin of the talisman (from Arabic ????? tilasm, ultimately from Greek telesma or from the Greek word “talein” which means “to initiate into the mysteries”) consists of any object intended to bring good luck and/or protection to its owner. Potential amulets include: gems or simple stones, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants, animals, etc.; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—(Latin, “go back, Satan”), to repel evil or bad luck.
idols too are to me a part of the talisman concept. what do i think of your use of talisman’s? there isnt a person on earth that hasn’t used in one form or other a symbol that assists them in their pursuit of God. you mentioned using talismans in your pre-Christ years, i say God was calling you, and because we tend to want to visualize God in a anthropomorphic way, i am convinced you were doing what any one would do to attempt to humanize your experience in your pursuit of Him.
there is a cross on my wall i purchased in mexico, it is full of little amulets that convey all organs of the body, all appendages! these amulets are sold by the handful to the faithful in their pursuit of healing.
we have The Word of God, a living. breathing Word. what use would an amulet be to us now, when we have tasted His Word?
as stated by the infamous Martin Luther
“Here I stand, I can do no other”
leanne, you may find this bible study an exhaustive, informative and challenging bible class. i’m signing up tomorrow and intend to go through the entire Bible. the site i added here is for your consideration.
your sister in Christ
Thanks for the response, Morgan. I’m not advocating or arguing for the use of talismen, just so you know.
I DO have a cross my brother bought for me while on a mission trip in Mexico that I display but I realize having it in my house does not bring me closer to God.
It IS a nice visual reminder, though, of the price my Lord paid for my sins.
I apologize for getting so off track.
Ron, is it too late to swing back toward the direction of faith that you posted about?
Ron said: “Adam and Eve both trusted God as their Lord and delight. At least they trusted him until the serpent invited them to trust another source of “truth” in Genesis 3—namely himself! “
Leanne:I wonder, because God was ALL they knew, if they couldn’t really see/understand the value of Him. We, who remember what life was like without Him, had the benefit (loosely defined) of comparing a life WITH Christ or a life w/out.
Ron said: “The serpent, while God was away from the Garden, challenged both God’s character [“did God really say . . . ?”] and God’s word [“you will not surely die”]”.
Leanne:Again, I wonder how rooted God was in Adam and Eve’s hearts/heads. Do you think the “got” that is was really GOD they walked with or, like so many of us, did they just see Him as someone pleasant but never realize they were actually having an encounter with the Divine?
Ron said: “After a brief time Adam and Eve both entrusted themselves to the serpent’s leadership, based on his words.”
Leanne: It seems so unfair that this happened. Like lambs to slaughter, yet, there was something w/in them that caused them to allow a voice other than the Lords to speak “truth” to them.
Ron said: “And, with that, they no longer trusted God. They were no longer people “of faith” and their bond with God was broken.”
Leanne: Do you think they KNEW they had a bond with God?
Ron said: “They believed a lie from the Liar rather than the truth of the Truth.”
Leanne: As I contemplate God and faith, in light of this post, it seems like we have it much easier than Adam and Eve did. In fact, it seems like we have a preponderance of things to ensure we 1) Are aware of who and what God really is, 2) Remember Truth and recognize lies/liars when we encounter them, and 3) Remain sealed/bonded to God through the work of Christ on the cross.
So, if that’s the case, then what in the world is our problem, MY problem with faith? Could it be that I simply have too much and therefore don’t value it or is it that, like emotions, I can step in front of Jesus and get off course?
I’m really intrigued by Leanne’s question, or at least my summary: Was something lacking in Adam and Eve’s experience that made them more vulnerable to the serpent’s advances, and do we, with hindsight enjoy some advantage over our ancestors?
In answer to the first half, I don’t think so. Analogies always suffer some strain, but I’ll offer a real life illustration in support of my assertion. I have a dear friend who has been accused of some dishonesty. I don’t believe he’s dishonest, nor do I believe the accuser that he’s behaved dishonestly. Why? I know him. I’ve spoken with him face to face, and walked beside him, even occasionally in the cool of the morning 🙂
The point is this: his relational disclosure of his love for me is a far stronger bond than any alluring argument his accuser can make against him. It isn’t a perfect analogy because God discloses a far more attractive and reassuring love to his creatures that my friend could ever offer me. I hope the point is clear. Adam and Eve enjoyed an unencumbered fellowship with God. If anything, I think their betrayal was all the more heinous for it.
Do we still though benefit from some hindsight? Perhaps. We certainly see God’s steadfast love in sharp relief throughout his word, and we are the vicarious beneficiaries of those whose stories of faith working through love adorn the Scriptures. Although, I’d be tempted to trade all of that in a heartbeat for one walk in the garden with him.
Much love in Christ to you all!
after reading several commentaries on adam and eve i must say it was a worthwhile few hours..rather than copy and paste 8 authors commentary, i’ll simply say its a worthwhile study. speaking of study,
the first class of the ‘bible study fellowship’ was one of the best bible study classes i have ever taken. we started with the life of Moses. i dont know what kind of time you have leanne, but check it out! click on the highlighted www in my earlier post.
how great is our God!
that was very encouraging! I really like How you tied Jn 3:14-15 in on that. Thanks,
Your last paragraph, “Faith is that simple…” really helps me to breath a sigh of relief. The evil one really tries to tangle me up there (which is, I believe, partly why Jesus wants me to memorize the book of John). I’m so glad that you pointed out that the power within us is “a Him rather than an ‘it.'” Maybe, that’s why Jesus has never given us a painted picture of Himself. Three times I have been in His presence in a dream and I have never seen His face, but I have no doubt that it was Him. Nor do I pretend to understand the mystery that is Christ in me fully. I just stay in awe over it as I do over all of His creation. And whenever I look at a cross on a chain or a painted picture no matter how skillfully crafted, I keep in mind that it was made with human hands and no one can paint like God. God gave us His “love letter” as you like to call the Bible. I like to call it His living word because it reminds that He is living and active and still speaks and works and loves. And saying all this makes me miss some of the old hymns that aren’t sung much anymore. My father has always had a child-like faith and he’s always gotten what he wanted. My mom and I have often chuckled about it. He had the worst kind, most aggressive brain cancer and God has cured him of it. The doctor removed half of it, not removing the rest for fear that it would leave him blind and paralyzed and they did radiation. It’s been seven years and no sign of its return. The doctor told my mom that he don’t believe it will. His doctor is also a man of faith. Likewise my sister has 4th stage lymphoma and she had chemo about the same time and though the doctors warn us that when it does come back and they say it will, it will be very aggressive, so far, it hasn’t. It still amazes me that Jesus has given me His love in so many ways and yet the enemy can stumble me in a minute in this area. Thanks for pointing it out that it is all about Him and not us. I too often get that reversed though I make serious effort not too. It just reminded me of what my pastor said tonight, “If God is in it, it will grow.”
Hi, my son Zeke Eide referred me to you again, and with much affection he remembers you well and speaks highly of you! So I come to you in hopes of some kind of guidance or direction on clarity of free will after regeneration. I do believe we have none before as scripture is clear on that but has it changed after being born again? Thank you for any words of wisdom you might pass on to me.
I’ve written about the will as the expression of our affections on a number of occasions, with one blog entitled “I believe in Freedom” that might be useful here. I.e. we always do what we love. So in both our initial salvation and in our post conversion life we live as responders to the God who pours out his love in our lives.