By Faith Alone

What drives you? Are you working for the weekend (like everybody)? Do you run from fears of failure or inadequacy? Does social censure silence you? Are you paralyzed by worry? Does a need to please pull your strings? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are a sinner. In Romans 14:23, Paul declares that whatever is not of faith is sin. Now, you might say, “Wow, that’s a pretty stringent standard.” I’d agree. And yet, it’s not just a standard but a living reality with a definite experience.

I look at Paul’s indictment of most of my default motivation as stringent because I’m mired in a view of Christianity which just peers over the top of the hedonistic flood of our world. I am accustomed to the religiosity and moralism that masquerade as faith in Christ. The false religion that I’ve always taken for granted has given me ample excuses for my rejection of Christ. I’ve not seen any inconsistency in flailing about while elbow deep in “ministry.” I have been much like Peter, Christ’s most enthusiastic sycophant. But how did Peter deny his Lord or fall beneath the waves? Faithlessness will always produce unfaithfulness. The drive to survive will drown us every time.

Though Paul’s standard seems to border on impossible to the American Christian mind, he simply was describing a spiritual truth which could never be otherwise. Faith (implicit trust and loyalty) is the one thing that God requires of us. Through faith our ancient aspiration to supplant our creator reverses and creation begins to renew. In the garden, our native state was faith and to it there was but one alternative. Now, the alternatives have proliferated beyond number and there is but one place to find faith, at the foot of Christ’s cross. There the Son of Man (“adam” in Hebrew) rejected all other options and hung his fate on his God. Having been vindicated, he requires all who are his to accept his brand of faith.

God deserves our implicit trust but he doesn’t require it only for his satisfaction. Galatians 5:6 declares that the only thing that matters is faith working through love. Love is the goal and faith is the means. The eternal Godhead bound by self-giving love has poured out that love upon us inviting us into their fellowship. But we can’t give self without faith. Fear and worry, the antitheses of faith, pull all of my attention onto my own well being. Within that tunnel, the best I can do is damage control. I can feign love if it will advance my situation or forestall negative consequences. Without faith, I succumb to this world’s counterfeit for love, lust. As St. John says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

I want to ask you as I’ve been asking myself, can you abandon fear and worry? Can you abandon yourself to God’s faithfulness? Can we release back to Satan any version of Christianity that would excuse faithlessness and compensate with outward conformity? Can we confess that we’ve been no better than unbelievers as we’ve lobbied and campaigned against certain behaviors all in response to a fear mongering political machine? What if we did our best at work out of worship to our God rather than aspiration or intimidation? What if we loved our family rather than appeased them? We can. We must. It is the essence of our profession, not some state of super sainthood. To enter the experience of God’s kingdom under Christ, we must repent.  That is, we must turn away from our problem solving and pleasure seeking to hang our fate (both immediate and ultimate) on the faithfulness of our Abba Father. Go to the cross and once again be saved from this present evil age by the faith of Christ.

Friend of a Friend

As a missional movement, we’re constantly aware that without God’s provision, we will burnout, fail or burnout and then fail if not for the provision of God through prayer.  Our leadership team is reading through the book that Richard Foster calls the best book ever written on the subject of prayer, Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer.  I first read this work nearly fifteen years ago.  I’ve still not gotten over it.  As I read through it for what must at least be the fifth time, the insights continue to strike my forehead with same dizzying force as when I first read it.  I’d like to share some of them with you through this blog.  

I’m currently in chapter 7 of the book so you’ll have to read it for yourself to get insights from chapters 1-6, I suppose.  Here is a quote from Murray’s exposition of the “Friend at Midnight” story from Luke 11:

When I come to God in prayer, He always looks to what the aim is of my petition. If it be merely for my own comfort or joy I seek His grace, I do not receive. But if I can say that it is that He may be glorified in my dispensing His blessings to others, I shall not ask in vain. Or if I ask for others, but want to wait until God has made me so rich, that it is no sacrifice or act of faith to aid them, I shall not obtain. But if I can say that I have already undertaken for my needy friend, that in my poverty I have already begun the work of love, because I know I had a friend Who would help me, my prayer will be heard. Oh, we know not how much the plea avails: the friendship of earth looking in its need to the friendship of heaven: He will give him as much as he needeth.'

Mismatch

So, I was walking around my office and praying for the church the other day when this box of matches caught my eye.  I felt God’s Spirit say, “This is the church.”

Jesus wants his people to light the world.  We won’t if we remain confined together.  To reach ignition, we have to make contact with the world and face a little friction.

Of course it’s safer for the match in the box, but the match wasn’t designed to remain in the box.  Nor was the box designed to preserve the matches.  The box is simply a convenient container with which to carry and deliver the light-bringing potential resident within each match.  So it is with the church.  We should gather, but our gatherings must never become an end in themselves.  Instead, every believer present at a gathering should feel tension to engage those in his or her sphere of influence with the expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Hebrew writer said it this way:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV

A disciple of Jesus Christ whose whole attention is on the rest of the church is out of sync with his purpose.  He’s not a match.  He’s a mismatch.