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Friday, September 14, 2012

Acquiring Faith

Blaise Pascal is famous for his gambling problem. No, just kidding. He's famous for his "wager". Pascal's Wager goes something like this: "God may or may not exist. You have to choose which one you live by. Based on the gain of the existence of God and the loss of failing to live as if He exists (as opposed to little lost or gain if He doesn't exist), it would be better to choose to believe that God exists." Something like that. There are, of course, problems. Paul said that if our faith is not true, we are "of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:19). But the real problem is in the concept of choosing to believe. Actually, Pascal suggested choosing to live as if God existed, but that doesn't help. We are not saved by living as if there is a God. We are saved by believing -- faith. So in order to be of any value, we'd have to choose to believe. And that is a problem.

You see, we do not have the ability to choose to believe. I've heard people say it, but it's just not the case. Here, try this. Try, just for the next five minutes, to choose to believe that you have a unicorn in the room with you right now. I'll wait. You see, you can't. There are a variety of reasons you can't. No evidence. Violates rational thinking. Violates what you know. Okay. So, for various reasons, you cannot choose to believe.

What can we choose? What affects what we believe? Well, there are also a variety of things there. There is that which makes you feel a certain way. We would like to believe those things that make us feel good, make us feel like a part of a family or a group or a meaningful movement or some such thing. We want to believe things that make us feel good. That's an influence. Another is that in which we immerse ourselves. Children are immersed in the teachings of their parents. Until they get some contrary or divergent information, they believe whatever it is into which they are immersed. Opposing data will be required to change that. (And that opposing data is waiting at the doorstep. Don't doubt that for a moment, whatever you parents are teaching your kids.) Now, see how these two work together. I want to believe things that make me feel good, so I would choose to immerse myself in that which makes me feel good. Thus, I have influence on what I believe even if I don't have the ability to actually choose what I believe. And these two factors -- how it makes me feel and that to which I'm most subjected -- are only two of many others.

Here's the real problem, though. If it is true (as we certainly believe it is true if we believe the Bible) that we are saved by faith, and faith is not something we can choose, how do we come to it? What is it that brings us to believing in Christ if it is not, as is so often suggested, our choosing to do so? Faith is not generated by going through the will. How, then?

The Bible offers two answers to that very important question. First, "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). Thus, all-important faith is acquired by hearing specifically the Word of Christ. Not good arguments. Not well-spoken presentations. The Word of Christ. Good speaking and rational arguments may be used to open doors or push aside obstacles, but faith is not arrived at by logic or oratory skills. It is by hearing the Word of Christ. But that's not all the Bible has to say on the subject.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29).

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).
According to Romans 12:3, God gives to each a measure of faith. It is a gift. Paul says that we are granted to believe. Peter says that we "obtain a faith". Jesus said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven" (John 3:27).

We are, indeed, saved by grace through faith. That is not of ourselves. Not the salvation, not the grace, not the faith. It is a gift of God. We cannot be saved apart from faith. God demands faith in order to save us. But God doesn't demand from us that which He does not supply. He provides faith. He provides repentance (2 Tim 2:25; Acts 11:18; 5:31). God creates the new nature in us, then gives us the will and power to do as He asks (Phil 2:13). Faith is God's gift to us, granted through the means of the hearing of the Word of Christ. It cannot fail. And it doesn't depend on us.

1 comment:

Jeremy D. Troxler said...


Another great topic and good insight. It has been such a release of bondage for me personally to really spend time coming to grips with really accepting through study that God is Sovereign. That probably sounds basic but what I have noticed is that although many of us claim to put our faith in God we behave as if we are functional atheists. We are still trying to work things out and make things like faith, salvation, atonement, redemption happen through our efforts. These works-based approaches are not the Gospel message. Gift is the operative word, I believe, that illuminates. Such things are given by God - He shines the light of Truth in our hearts - He does the atoning work - He redeems His people - He makes that which is unrighteous to be seen as righteous - He makes that which was dead to be alive - HE, HE, HE not ME, ME, ME.

On a somewhat related note, my wife and I had my daughter at the hospital this morning and she read aloud a description of narcissistic characteristics in people. I don't remeber the exact wording but the three in paraphrase were 1) grandiosity, (2) unwillingness to admit fault, and (3) expectation of exultation of status in society. My comment to her was "that describes every person in the United States."

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of receiving the gift of faith is humility. I don't see how it is possible to really understand even a glimpse of the Truth of the Gospel and allow for boasting, or any semblence of self-aggrandisement. Lord, help us to think afresh daily the serious, obvious and disturbing truth of the accuracy of the Romans 3 description of our hearts - "no one righteous" and "desperately wicked." If the recogintion of that state doesn't first drive us to our knees (face in hands in sincere repentance) and then cause us to rise with utmost confidence because of the unshakable power of the Holy Spirit working in us knowing that God is faithful and has given us this gift such that we can have the opportunity to live in accordance with the purpose for which we have been created; then there may be some good grounds to really question the label "Christian" we assign to ourselves possibly a touch too quickly.

Thanks again for the reminder and challenge.