We again continue our journey through the book Faith-Sharing beginning with the question posed at the end of last week’s letter: “If Christian faith is so dynamic and infectious, why are we seeing so little contagion within our movement?” H. Eddie Fox and George E. Morris propose in chapter three that three barriers are stumbling blocks to growth in personal faith and in sharing that faith.
Let us begin by remembering how they defined faith: “Christian faith is a centered, personal, relational response involving trust and obedience.” The authors argue the first barrier is “Faith is Believing Beliefs.” The problem they say is that since the noun faith has no verbal form in English we use the word “believe” to express “having faith.” Thus, they say, we fall into the trap thinking that faith and belief are synonymous, when they actually mean two very different things. A belief is a proposition or as Wesley called it an “opinion” about an article of faith, but it is not faith itself. Wesley called it a “dead faith” that has no life in it because it has no element of a personal relationship with the Creator through Christ Jesus.
I will tell you that many years ago I had many beliefs but no faith. Of course, I believed that God existed, that Jesus was the son of God, that Jesus died on the cross and so on. But I did not have any faith according to Fox and Morris. I did not have a personal experience of the truth of these propositions so they were just so many words, and I certainly did not have a trust that led to obedience. Then about 15 years ago I began to have faith. I say began, because faith is a journey not a destination. It is like a boy who has to grow into the suit of his father.
I started that journey by hearing the stories of the Bible. And this brings up a very important point that the author’s make concerning bringing our children and youth into faith. First, they say that our children should know the story line of the Bible. I know from my own faith experience that knowing the story line of the Bible has made all the difference, so much it brought me to faith when before I had only beliefs. Secondly, they say we need to place emphasis on a personal experience of God in and through the living Messiah, Jesus. We enter into this personal experience when we can come to understand our story in light of the larger story of what God has done, in what God is doing, and in what God will do.
The second barrier that is offered is “Faith Is The Opposite of Understanding.” Can you imagine someone just shutting their eyes then believing something despite of all the evidence to the contrary? We often call this burying one’s head in the sand. This is how some imagine faith operates. But Paul believed differently. He writes to the Corinthians that when we start out in faith we are fed only milk like a baby for our faith is not strong enough. As we mature we receive more adult food as we grow into our faith. Faith saves us, not understanding, but our faith grows into understanding and truth throughout our journey as we follow Jesus. (1 Corinthians 3:2)
The third barrier that is “Faith Is A Good Feeling.” This stumbling block to faith is very popular and is a modern day heresy, says our authors. And I agree. I believe that any faith that depends on good feelings is sure to die quickly. It reminds me of when a person apologizes for being rude to another because they were not feeling well. It is as if saying, how I treat you just depends on how I feel that day irregardless of who you are. These kinds of relationships whether in friendship or in marriage die lingering painful deaths. Instead our faith should be based on the living God revealed in the Messiah, Jesus, and our personal relationship based on trust and obedience. Anything else is to have a weakened or dead faith often leading to self-idolatry and self-worship.
Ask yourself this week about your own faith. Is your faith centered on the living God revealed in Jesus Christ? Is your faith in a personal relationship with this living God? Is your faith one of trust and obedience to the kingship of the Messiah, Jesus? Or is one of the three barriers above a stumbling block to vital, living faith?