Monthly Archives: July 2017

Faith is not ‘just’ faith!

Christians often talk about faith as if it’s meaning is so self-evident that any discussion on its nature is superfluous. Yet, we do well to be reminded that error can so easily creep into the crevices of doctrine that are ‘safely’ assumed and taken for granted. Yes, faith is a simple concept and by necessity must remain so, but adopting an indifferent approach toward its nature, may well result in the unwitting ‘believer’ embracing a false hope.

It is important for Christians to have faith; this is foundational to Christianity, but it is also equally important have the right kind of faith. So, let us briefly consider some ‘types’ of faith that have been adopted, rightly or wrongly, that we might have a better appreciation of which kind more adequately represents the kind God approves.

Some Christians consider faith as purely an action of the mind—a rational assent. They adopt this version of faith because they believe that it prevents their trust from being contaminated by human emotions, leading to an intransitive form of faith (i.e. faith that exists without anything to have faith in). Consequently, rational assent assumes a simple subject-object relationship in the believing process, e.g. the believer (the subject) assents to certain truths about Jesus (the object). Because it seems so straightforward, those who embrace faith as rational assent, draw comfort from the fact that their faith is ‘pure and uncontaminated’ by human feelings or actions—objective!

But its so-called objectivity exposes its greatest flaw. The apostle James appropriately reminded the first readers of his epistle that legitimate Christian faith must always have some kind of practical involvement with religious life. Faith that is not validated by faith-generated action is actually fictional; James calls it a demon’s faith, a belief in God without practical submission to him! However, in James’ estimation, a faith commitment to God must be expressed by a lifestyle of practical submission to God’s will—loving charity. Whilst we may concede a cognitive element to believing, it appears from the Bible’s point of view, if loving action doesn’t accompany rational assent, then faith invariably proves to be futile.

But with this emphasis on works as the validation of faith, we can find ourselves in the territory of the opposite error to faith as rational assent—faith as faithfulness.

Some Christians believe that the notion of faithfulness better reflects the kind of faith that is advocated by Holy Scripture. After all, faithfulness is a noble attribute that the Bible promotes. Unlike rational assent, faithfulness strives to prove its own legitimacy through practical obedience; it seeks to ground belief by integrating faith with works. In fact, many highly devoted believers, pastors, and missionaries have believed, and do believe that striving for a more radical devotion ‘proves’ trust in God. In fact, some 17th century Puritans used a practical syllogism to show the faithfulness/faith connection: Valid faith in God must involve prove itself with religious good works, I am doing religious good works from a ‘right’ motive, therefore my faith must be is valid!

However, as noble as this approach might seem, faith as faithfulness has the proclivity to become nothing more than a trust in human effort—effectively a good work. In the process of proving one’s rightness in God’s eyes through faithfulness, the focus of faith reflexively shifts from God to self. It doesn’t require too much imagination to see how such a version of a faith can be prove to be nothing more than a trust in ourselves! Yes, faithfulness is good but it can never be any more than the fruit of faith—not faith itself.

Finally, we come to a version of faith that, I believe, represents the kind of faith desired by God: faith as perpetual heart-felt trust.

Above and beyond an act of the intellect, genuine faith must involve absolute devotion of the self, a genuine recognition of my own inadequacy, necessarily resulting in an abandonment of my entire self to God. I cannot control the faith agenda by thinking or working, but must yield my whole ‘self’  to God. This kind of faith is not simply adding trust to reason or action, but represents an abandonment of any reliance on human capacity. As such, faith represents surrender of ‘all’ human control to Jesus Christ.

Since faith is total abandonment, it necessarily involves complete trust. It is so comprehensive, it even relies on God to every aspect of life. This kind of faith believes that every decision, action, and endeavour requires a resolute trust in God—even the smallest. It also believes that nothing done for God can be done without God. As it abandons itself to God’s moral will, it invariably leads to a loving care of others; in Paul’s words ‘faith expressing itself in love’!

Not only so, but this kind of faith is perpetual in nature. I don’t leave it behind at the evangelistic rally maintaining it as a memory, it accompanies every moment of my life. Far more than a punctiliar faith decision, faith ‘in Christ’ draws the believer into an atmosphere of faith, where Christ dependency becomes the perpetual modus operandi of all of life.

In this regard simple trust in God characterizes every: action, practice, and endeavor. Faith gets us right with God, faith keeps us right with him, and faith empowers all subsequent righteousness practicing—from ‘first to last’ (Rom 1:17). This is why Paul, consistent with his own stated practice (Gal 2:20), says in Romans 1:17 that the righteous will live by faith.

So as you can see, the subject of faith should not be taken for granted. In the end, errors in understanding faith come from creating a version of faith that appears to trust in God, while subtly maintaining human control. Until we come to terms with our desire to be in control, we will never come to terms with faith as God intends it. Perhaps the way ahead for those of us, like me, who are weak in faith, is to take small steps of abandoning ourselves to God. Once we experience God’s blessing, as we trust in small ways, it will invariably lead to a greater dependency and abandonment to his will. Why not start today, I am!

 

 

 

 

Windows, Mirrors, and the Christian Life

For those of us who have grown up watching children’s television in Australia, and have seen the ABC program Playschool, looking through a window (whether round, square, or arched) is a means of visually expanding our horizon, finding out about something we didn’t know before. Windows often provide us with a glimpse of an unfamiliar world, a realty that was previously hidden from us.

Our technologically advanced world is filled with all manner of electronic ‘windows’ that give us easy access to a new perspective on  the world. However, as access to the information through these windows becomes easier and quicker, the world as it is presented to us is increasingly defined in terms of human self-interest, gradually losing the sense of divine mystery.

Of course, those providing us with these ‘windows’ are very willing to provide the accompanying rationalization for the content: why that war is justified, why we need those consumer goods, why that seductive movie should be watched, why a life of material indulgence is so important, and so on.

The world presented to us should not be dismissed lightly. Through constant engagement within this interpreted media dialectic, which determines what and how we think, the difference between fantasy and reality can become so blurred that for many unwitting souls it is virtually indistinguishable. Taken to its logical conclusion then, these windows become little more than mirrors; mirrors in which a self-oriented reality is reflected as an image of its deluded self back onto itself!

But what if there was a window that we could look through; a window untainted by the agendas of false reality and self-delusion that showed us things as they really are? Such a window would seem out of place in the world we have come to experience, and yet the world so desperately needs such a window to shed light its delusional self, to bring in a sense of reality that transcends human self-interest.

When Jesus Christ came into the world he provided such a window; a view into a reality that was ‘not of this world’—a view of the world interpreted in light of God’s kingdom. Jesus also shed light on the world he encountered and exposed it for what it was—a reality of selfish human agendas. Although many were fascinated by his person, what he taught, and what he did; in the end these same people crucified him because he did not fit into and promote the patterns of their artificial reality; that is, he did not seek and promote human power, glory, and riches.

Yet, there were a minority that accepted the reality that  Jesus presented, for what it was—the truth. They joyfully embracing Jesus’ humble message, and were saved from the consequences of falsehood, ultimately attaining the eternal life he promised to all who would look into the window of God’s truth.

In Jesus’ material absence, the authentic followers of Christ continue to provide this window into God’s eternal reality. Empowered by the Spirit of God, these genuine followers of Christ bring the truth of Christ’s presence to bear on the world: serving, loving, giving, proclaiming , and revealing Christ as they go. These Christians provide an aperture for God’s kingdom to break into this lost and deluded reality, giving those within it a truly valid alternative, and a hope that this world simply cannot offer.

Nevertheless, the power of the world’s influence is strong, and its proclivity to deceive even Christ’s followers should not be underestimated.  Christians, like the rest of hapless humanity, are under constant attack to conform and become mirrors of human self-interest; having the shiny appearance of a divine window but reflecting the vain principles and self-serving values of a fearful world.

Against such a threat, the New Testament apostles offer both encouragements and warnings. John exhorts us, ‘Do not love the world, nor the things of the world’, and by so doing wants us to keep our focus on the father’s agenda that our love for him might to be extinguished by temporal distractions (1 John 2:15-16). James challenges us toward a pure and undefiled religion that sets aside our selfish agendas and by consider the needs of those less fortunate and keeping ourselves uncontaminated by worldly agendas, values, and morals (James 1:27).

Indeed, being faithful to Christ against  these challenges is not without cost, as Christ reminds us; if the world hated him for opening the window of  God’s truth on its falsehood, they will hate his followers for the very same reason (John 15:18).

The secularizing power and prevalence of the modern world is ubiquitous. Avoiding being overrun by it, whilst simultaneously making a stand for the truth which exposes its falsehood requires nothing less than the power of God. Yet, as authentic Christians, making such a stand is the only real option, because capitulating to this world’s agenda forsakes the only hope of humanity.

If the lost world is to embrace the ‘real’ message of hope that Jesus Christ promotes, they they must know the truth, even if its initial confrontation is painful. In such an endeavor, we should be encouraged by the Apostle John’s words, ‘You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.’ (1 John 4:4 NIV)

It is easy to become a mirror with a religious gloss; a sanctimonious reflection of the world’s values. It requires great fortitude to become an authentic window of Jesus Christ, shining forth the eternal truth and glorious hope offered to this broken world by Him.

In the end, the difference between being a window or a being a mirror comes down to having the courage to allow God’s love and Christ’s abiding presence to boldly shape who you are and the way you interact with others; allowing it to shine through in even the smallest ways.

Which one will you be?

Is our world really out of control?

The recent events of significance around the world remind us that the world is an unstable place. But could the multitude of terrorist attacks in prominent Western cities, the ongoing conflict Syria, the constant threat of North Korean instability, and various other less prominent but equally significant local ‘crises’, implicitly embellished by the media as requiring a ‘global’ solution, be conspiring together to bring into sharp relief that the world is really in a paradigm shift toward tighter control on every level.

Christians love to dramatize world crises and look for potential Armageddon scenarios: where the threat of a thermonuclear conflict, worldwide pandemics, or some untimely natural disaster is seen as harbingers for the end times. But, could it be that these dramatic events we encounter in the media on the daily basis that cause so much anxiety, are more of a smoke-screen for the real threat.

Whilst we may get the alarmed that the world is in disorder, on a more subtle level should we be concerned that the world is being moved more toward a controlling ‘order’? By way of practical example, we should remind ourselves of the ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives. It is now virtually impossible for a person to move from one place to another without having their mobile phone ‘ping’s tracked, their presences appear on the recordings of the multitude of CC TV cameras out there, and all their financial transactions tracked instantaneously. And this is what we know about! Perhaps it’s not the world disorder that should concern us, but actually its order!

It’s a gruesome thing, but I am told that if you slowly boil a frog in water the hapless creature only becomes aware of its terminal plight at the bitter end. In seeking to make sense of the quantum changes that are overtaking our world, I feel somewhat like that beleaguered frog that has just become aware of his horrible plight at the 11th hour.

Could it be that the current world disorder is merely the prelude for a new world order, where through the hegemony of global organizations in concert with trans-national financial, technology and media companies issues, and  ultimately the spiritual powers behind them issue a new regime of control, where only those benignly complicit with these ‘systems’ flourish.

Recently, the renowned international diplomat/U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger launched his book World Order.  Kissinger, a long-standing advocate for world unification, rose to prominence during the USA’s Nixon administration in the 1970s and has been a key participant in central foreign policy events since. He believes the twenty first century’s ultimate challenge revolves around how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent historic perspectives, violent conflict, proliferating technology, and ideological extremism.

Kissinger observes that there has never been a true ‘world order’, an order that could ensure peace and stability between nations. However, does this ‘new world order’ hides a dark under-belly. Although organizations such as the IMF, UN, WHO, and Greenpeace appear relatively innocuous, they ( or more accurately the people that control them) are key players in the push toward a system of world governance superior to, yet independent of, sovereign nation states and the values that formed them.

Given that the agenda behind this ‘alleged’ World Order is inherently secular, such a large scale shift should give Christians sober pause for reflection with issues such as: the integrity of the family, the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the value of the human, and personal privacy firmly on the agenda.

Regrettably, many Christians make the mistake of ‘simply’ equating worldliness with personal immorality. Such a naïve view leaves them open to be blindsided by the subtle and nefarious forces manipulating our systems of: economics, technology, politics, and social structures. In actual fact, worldliness has far more to do with being complicit with  the ‘systems’ of the world, and forsaking Christ’s lordship in the process, than it ever has to do with capitulating to personal sin.

If Christians are not more attentive to their engagement with the world on every level, they, like the unwitting frog might discover our demise too late and find our entrapment so overwhelming that escape seems virtually impossible; such that capitulation or exclusion become the only two options. But, really, is this anything new?

The agenda of this world is, and always has been, self-serving and has always been set against the agenda of Christ and his kingdom. Let’s be realistic, the early Christians in general and their chief advocate the Apostle Paul in particular, did not live in a world shaped by Christendom where the world was crafted to make their religious existence comfortable. They lived in a world shaped by imperialist Rome and its ubiquitous and comprehensive influence; a world where to be a follower of Christ was to set you at odds with the status quo of society—this was their normal!

When Paul wrote to the Romans and exhorted them, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed with the renewal of your mind, and that by testing you may discern what the will of God is …’ (Rom 12:2), he genuinely knew the pressures of ‘worldliness’. Paul firmly had in mind that Christians should present themselves to God, holy and acceptable, in his service—uncompromised by and disentangled from the world’s agendas, priorities, and values.

Back to our current world; interestingly, in a 2007 interview Henry Kissinger said, ‘On one end of the spectrum there is globalization and the other end religion…’ Wait a minute, surely his categories are crossed? How could globalization and religion be at odds? However, this is no false dichotomy, or categorical mistake, in Kissinger’s mind religion divides and world politics unites!

To put it simply, independent religion has no legitimate role in this new world order. Therefore, let the Christian be warned that authentic Christianity and globalization are not deemed compatible by those advancing this agenda. Be assured, the pressure to conform to this new order will become increasingly great: social pressure, economic pressure, technological pressure, political pressure etc. will all increasingly turn up the heat beneath the metaphorical ‘pot of life’ we Christian’s swim in.

Up until now Christian complicity with the first world has come at a low perceived cost to our faith, but from now on we will pay a higher price for remaining loyal to Christ, his values, and his cause in the public domain. Will we simply continue to conform to this world, allowing our uncompromising loyalty to Christ to be subtly eroded as we are gradually boiled alive by secularism and its growing tentacles? Or will we courageously choose not to capitulate to the world and its systems, and make a stand for Christ? It is a choice we all must make—sooner or later!