How do you know if your Faith is real? When you find your Faith being tested, and it will be tested, does it start to slip away? And if your Faith begins to fade what happens to your confidence in your belief systems? And if you start to wonder if your beliefs are somehow corrupted – what does that do for your trust in everything; God, family, the world in general.
Indeed, when we begin to waver in our Faith, it can become a very slippery slope to living an existence outside our relationship with God.
How many here have ever climbed into your car only to discover it wouldn’t start? Probably everyone at least once. I lived most of my life with clunker cars – so I had to learn how to diagnose the problem and try to fix it. Some become experts in car repair– and I suspect it was mostly all trial and error!
Up until a few weeks ago, I had an old Ford Tractor. It was a 1952 Ford 8n. Great tractor, but sometimes I had problems getting it started. I would turn the key and absolutely nothing happened – no noise, nothing. I learned that meant the problem was likely electrical. A disconnected wire or something. Other times, I turned the key and it made a faint whirring sound, grrrun, grrrun, grrrun. That was often because my battery didn’t have enough juice. So, I jumped it or put the battery on a charger. Then, at other times, that old tractor would start right up, but after a few minutes, it would die on me. Well, this turned out to be a problem with the engine not getting enough fuel. When I cleaned out my fuel filter, I was up and running.
Diagnosing problems with our Faith is very much like getting my old tractor back up and running. We need to do some troubleshooting to trace the issues.
What I’d like to propose now is sort of a dummies guide for diagnosing problems in our Faith. I’m going to assume that not everyone understands what constitutes our Faith, and one needs to know what Faith “is,” to diagnose any problems.
But first, let me tell you what Faith is not. When someone says they “Believe in God” that is not the same as having “Faith.” One can “believe” something but still not act upon it. If I choose to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, that requires no action on my part – I just wait for it to happen. But for me to believe that the Son of God rose – that takes Faith! Belief is not the same as Faith.
What about “acceptance.” If I say I have accepted Christ as my savior, isn’t that the same as Faith? No, millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions around the world, have accepted Christ as their savior. But they lack Faith! When Billy Graham had his many gospel crusades, it’s estimated that 215 million people heard him live and that 2.2 million people responded to the invitations to become a Christian. But get this next part:
“In a 1990 interview with PBS, Billy Graham himself stated his belief that only about 25% of those who come forward at one of his events actually became Christians. In recent years, studies have shown that only 6% of people who “come forward” at an evangelistic crusade are any different in their beliefs or behavior one year later.”
Wow – and that was with Billy Graham as the witness for Christ!
Belief is not Faith, and Acceptance is not Faith.
What if I say I “Trust” in the Lord. Isn’t that the same as Faith? Nope, all it means is that I trust that God is responsible for everything that happens. In fact, I can get quite cynical and start blaming God when things to go as I planned. I am observing what happens, and assigning God as the source of my consequences, but not really accepting the outcome.
Belief is not Faith. Acceptance is not Faith. Trust is not Faith. By now you must be wondering, okay then, what is Faith?
Faith is when Belief, Acceptance, and Trust all come together as one resident process to transform us. You see, Faith requires a belief based in knowledge. Faith requires an Acceptance of Christ thorough an emotional assurance of his presence, and lastly, Faith requires a Trust such that you put yourself entirely into the “custody” of Christ.
As Christians, having Faith is not something we do blindly – it is something we become. Unfortunately, the word Faith as used in the bible has been corrupted by secularist. We are mocked as being irrational because we have “Blind Faith.” But that is not what the Bible means when it discusses Faith. There is nothing Blind about “Faith in Christ,.”
When the Apostle Paul describes “pistis Christou” (Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16), his meaning doesn’t require an abandoning of reason. In fact, it needs a reason! Once we develop this biblical “Faith in Christ” it becomes centering and transformative.
Paul describes how “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
And as followers of Christ, we know that we must exist through our “Faith in Christ.”
This is what Jesus was talking about in John’s Gospel when he said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:5)
Without Faith in Christ, we cannot do anything. Without living in Faith our beliefs systems crumble, our assurance in our values rattle, and our trust in humanity begins to sink like stones in the water.
But what should we do when we have a crisis of Faith? When we are having a crisis in our Faith what do we do to restore it? That brings us back full circle to my antique tractor. How do I get my Faith, like my tractor, to start and keep it running?
Just like the tractor, we need to look at the individual parts that make it run. Let’s start with the part of Faith that comes from Belief based in Knowledge – it’s a lot like the wiring in a vehicle.
If we think about the wiring as the circuitry the tractor needs to operate, that’s like our core body of knowledge that we carry within us that shapes our beliefs. Don’t we even use that expression – “That’s how we are wired?” Are religious beliefs are wired according to the wiring diagrams found in our biblical texts. If your Faith doesn’t turn on – look to how your wiring is affecting your beliefs.
Has your confidence in the bible been hijacked? Or maybe you’ve been walking on eggshells about this whole thing around the Bible as “inerrant,” the Bible as “infallible.” Perhaps you read what seems to be contradictions in scripture. Or, maybe you choose to believe part of the Bible and ignore other parts – that’s some crossed wires right there. If one lacks confidence in the bible – the electrical circuit needed to guide Faith – they might be headed for a meltdown.
How does one fix that? Easy, we need to find the shorts. We need to find the faults in the wiring. That is why we need Bible Study and Sunday School, and even more critical is the need to read our Bibles on a regular basis. This is a time when we learn to navigate those difficult passages. The reality is when a person reads the bible long enough and often enough – they discover new interpretations all the time. Once the short circuits are fixed, and our wiring back in order, we are ready to operate our Faith at peak performance. We get back to “firing on all cylinders” as a mechanic might say!
By the way, if you are overwhelmed by the Bible (as most of us can be), let me tell a little secret. God gives us knowledge as we are ready to accept and digest it. Many people do not realize that, as Methodist, we are not taught that the bible is inerrant? We do not have a doctrine of infallibility. It would never have occurred to John Wesley because it was never really considered. Instead, Article IV of our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, with the wording from the Evangelical United Brethren Church, says this: “We believe the Holy Bible, Old, and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation.”
Our doctrine says don’t sweat it. God will lead you. He will help us organize the wiring- harness. If you are having a crisis of Faith and you can’t even get started – check your wiring. Just open the Bible, and God will work with you to reveal all that is necessary for your salvation.
Now, what if your Faith is like my Tractor when it is trying to turn over, and it goes, grrrun grrrun, grrrun. You’re not getting a spark. Your Faith is a bit run down. Faith runs on emotion. It is our spark, our enthusiasm. This sounds just like my tractor battery. You see, we might have proper wiring, but if our battery is almost dead – we can get going. In Hebrews 11:1 we read: “Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That conviction is a spark that ignites the fuel of our Faith. If we want assurance, we need a spark.
When I was folks about their conversion story, I often hear about a spark or light that shined. Now, some people don’t have a big conversion story – they just felt a spark of the Holy Spirit working through them. This is very common. Most people do not realize that John Wesley was a Christian for twenty-two years before he felt his spark of assurance. He tells of how he felt his heart strangely warmed (at Aldersgate). That sounds like a glow plug in a diesel engine that finally ignite. His internal fuel combusted, and he was granted the assurance he wanted. We even sing a hymn called Blessed Assurance – it talks about how we are confident that Christ is within us. We need assurance to sustain our Faith.
How do we create that spark? Easy, let’s look at my old tractor – when my battery is weak, I put it on a charger. I harness the power of other sources to reenergize it. That is what the Christian community – your larger church family is for. This is also why John Wesley insisted that the Methodist Church deploy small groups. It is in these small groups we are held accountable and encouraged in our Faith. We keep one another’s batteries charged up.
Isn’t that another expression we use at times when we are invigorated by a revival or a good sermon – “I got my battery charged?”
Finally, let’s look at what happens to us when our Faith begins to waiver because things are just not turning out how we expected. Maybe the trust meter is declining. This happens when we encounter hypocrisy in our own church. Or when we are forced to witness awful things done in the name of Jesus. I won’t even discuss the latest Priest scandal because it is so tragic for those abused children. We all have our own stories, and experiences, maybe even right here in this church. Our Faith in one another can erode when we start to lose trust in our community and our family. Or maybe we merely just think God has abandoned us. We wonder, where is God?
I like the story of Daniel and how the King decreed that no one could pray to anyone but him for thirty days. When Daniel refused to stop praying three times a day to YHWH, the King was forced to put him in the lion’s den. Now, if I was Daniel, I might have felt compelled to think – what is going on here? I pray morning, noon, and night. I worship God with all my Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind and look where I end up. I’m served up as Dinner.
But Daniel did not let this clog up his fuel lines of Trust. He kept right on praying, and God sent an Angel to close the mouths of the Lions. Daniel 6:23 says that “The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”
Daniel never stopped Trusting in God. To keep our Faith fully intact we also must sustain our Trust. How do we do that? Just like in my old tractor, we find out what is clogging the fuel lines. What is blocking our ability to have a conversation with God and to discern his plans?
Does anyone here know why a fuel filter gets clogged up? Because there is junk that gets into the fuel. How does Junk get into our lives that block us from communicating with God? It’s easy because we are swimming in junk. The secular world is flooding our world with garbage through all forms of media. Movies, music, culture, and even education. Our children are the most vulnerable – and social media is corrupting civil discourse.
The only defense we have, to keep our fuel lines unblocked, is to avoid the junk as best as we can. Limit our exposure to negative influences. We can also put a little hi-test into our tanks! Let’s feed on good sources of Christian music, and culture, and conversation. But even more than that, go right to the source for your fill-ups.
Go to God in prayer as often as you can. Let him fill your tank with his gift of Grace.
I started this conversation by asking the question – how do you know if your Faith is real? The answer is simple – you don’t unless you run a diagnostic:
- Check that your wiring is free of short circuits – avoid crossing your wires of scripture. And remember, you only need the wire harness that’s fitted for you. God will let you know what is sufficient for your salvation.
- Make sure your battery stays charged. When your running low – don’t avoid others – get around them. Let them recharge that spark of emotions – that Blessed assurance of the Holy Spirit.
- And finally, make sure your fuel lines are not clogged by all the garbage in the world. We are not designed to run on ethanol – we need Hi-Test right from the source of God through prayer.
The Apostle Paul was clear when he told us “For in [the Good News] the righteousness of God is revealed through Faith for Faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by Faith.” (Romans 1:17) We cannot live – if we don’t fully understand that Faith in Christ – is not Blind. It needs Knowledge, Assurance, and Trust. And it’s on us to us to keep our Faith tuned up and running at full capacity. Just as Jesus said, this is the only way we can live.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)