Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Right faith and wrong faith in contrast

1. Introduction:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not
see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.3 By faith we understand
that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made
out of what was visible. 4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than
Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of
his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.5 By faith
Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could
not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was
commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please
God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he
rewards those who earnestly seek him.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about
things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith
he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Hebrews 11:1-7

This essay will attempt to give a biblical foundation for a definition of faith, and contrast this with what the Bible calls unbelief (wrong faith).

This essay is divided into two parts.

Firstly, right faith is described. Using the Bible, what constitutes or makes up faith is examined. Next, we look at the relationship between faith and works and faith and action, and the tension between the two as it is described in the scriptures. The role of faith in the prayer life of a believer is considered and the various stages in the development and expression of faith allude to.
This half of the essay concludes by alluding to a characteristic of God often overlooked in New Testament Christianity, that of Gods creativity. An explanation of the relationship this has to the Rhema word is attempted.

The second half of this essay examines the concept of wrong faith. It explores the antagonistic relationship between faith and fear. In particular we examine the Greek word Diakrino. We look at the difficult sayings of Jesus in the context of right and wrong faith. We conclude this part of the essay by examining an object lesson which displays Christ’s understanding of wrong faith and his attitude to it; The lesson of the fig tree.

We conclude by examining faith in the context of the church today.

All biblical references are taken from The Zondervan NIV Bible unless otherwise stated.

2. Right Faith

What is right faith?

6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to
him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek
him. Hebrews 11:6

The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews gives us some remarkable insight into the world of true faith. From it we can draw several conclusions about the nature of faith and what true faith is concerned with.

1) Faith is essential to the Christian life, for

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

2) Right faith believes.

This means there is a fundamental trust in the goodness of the object of that belief. While many, if not most people believe that there is a God, the vast majority’s concept of God is one who is remote, authoritarian, and unloving or careless towards his creation. In contrast the picture of God, painted by the Bible is of one who is intimate and caring toward mankind, the pinnacle of his creation. His love extends to the point of sacrificing his own son to redeem fallen mankind.
This faith based understanding is even more remarkable when it is demonstrated by the prophets who spoke the word of God concerning God’s plan for salvation without having a full picture of the way in which God’s redemptive plan was to be worked out.

3) Faith brings life, and is demonstrated by lifestyle. Faith “takes dame religion by the hand and drags her into the everyday world, introducing her to friends, neighbours and associates.”

17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Rom 1:17

4) Faith also assists the Christian to endure hardship. Here is an example from the life of Moses.

“27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered
because he saw him who is invisible.” Heb 11:27

5) Here we see yet another important attribute of faith. True faith sees that which is unseen. (Heb 11:1) This ability of faith is the free gift of God and is available to all who earnestly seek him. Eugene Peterson in his Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral work quotes Richard Wilburs determination;

“ My eye will never know the dry disease
of thinking things no more than
what he sees.”

Faith, Works and Action

“We live by faith, not by sight”2Cor 5:7

Much of the New Testament letters concern themselves with the tension between faith and works, and the tension between law and grace. These tensions are very much interlinked. James attempts to resolve it this way

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith
without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. JAS 2:18
Romans 8 and verse 31 Talks about Israel having faced the same tension;

but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why
not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They
stumbled over the "stumbling stone."
Rom 8:31

As with the example of Moses (Heb11: 27) we can see that faith is demonstrated in action. Even more so faiths true nature is only revealed by action or by the spoken word.

  • Abraham’s faith was revealed when he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac.
  • The Canaanite woman’s faith was revealed as she pleaded for her daughter, demonstrating her belief in a merciful and compassionate God.
  • Joshua and Caleb’s faith is clearly contrasted with the unbelief of the spies in their report back after reconnoitering the Promised Land. This exemplifies courageous faith, which will be discussed later.
  • The woman healed of the issue of blood was healed owing to faith demonstrated by touching the Messiahs robe.
  • Salvation came to the thief on the cross when he said “remember me when you arrive in paradise.” (paraphrased)
  • Moses’ faith was to be demonstrated through speaking to the rock, but his unbelief was displayed when he struck the rock. Our actions and words not only testify to our belief but also to our lack of belief.
  • The faith of the Centurion was displayed when he declared “Surely this man is the Son of God.”

Faith, Prayer and Maturity

Faith is by nature a gift of God. All faith begins as an expression of intellectual assent. These two statements appear contradictory at first glance. However it is impossible to believe in God unless he gives one the ability to, and in order to believe we must chose to believe in the invisible, the unseen. This is the primary grounding faith has, the fertile soil in which it grows. According to Ken Chant it is impossible to believe what ones rational mind rejects. With the rational mind we choose to believe what God has said to be true.

Faith begins to grow in the believer and becomes more evident as the life of God grows in them. One such demonstration of faith in the life if a believer is in the demonstration of the character and qualities of Christ, their “Christlikeness”. Evidence of Christ’s indwelling is seen in lives which are irrevocably changed; gangsters give up their life of crime, drug addicts break their addictions, sinners come to repentance, and the proud and arrogant become meek. This is the natural outworking of the spirit of Christ and the individual soul living in relationship. While faith can be expressed serendipitously, trust must come from a long-term relationship.

The third manifestation of faith is evidenced by a bold and courageous spirit. Frequently this type of faith is seen in the realm of spiritual leadership, and involves the impartation of divine vision. This type of faith is not as frequently operative in the lives of all believers. It is seen usually in response to the rhema word. Biblical examples include Moses knowing Gods way to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and Peters bold statement about who Jesus was.
All these manifestations of the life of faith can be present in the life of the believer but they must begin with the first.

Faith- filled prayer can be a powerful weapon in the hands of a believer.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have
received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

Faithful prayer can make the sick whole again.

Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if
you've sinned, you'll be forgiven--healed inside and out. Jam 5:15

Gods Creativity and the Rhema word

The courageous type of faith can only be demonstrated in the light of a clear unequivocal word from God, a word which is personal and specific. In New Testament Greek this concept is encapsulated in the word Rhema.

The perception amongst many Christians is that the creative nature of God somehow disappeared after the sixth day of creation. Those who read their Bible regularly are struck however at the remarkably creative ways God interacts with his people, he never acts twice in quite the same way;

  • He speaks to a king through a hand writing on a wall.
  • He rescues a prophet from starvation by means of ravens.
  • He defeats an army through ditches dug in the desert.
  • He rescues a family from embarrassment by turning water into wine
  • He got taxes from the mouth of a fish.
  • He healed with mud and spit.
  • He defeated and army with clay pots and torches.
  • He slew a giant using five smooth stones, a sling and the courageous faith of a shepherd boy.

God still works miracles today, we too need to look with the eyes of faith.

3. Wrong Faith

Faith and Fear

The word of God λόγος (logos) needs to be revealed in much the same way as the Rhema word needs revelation before true understanding can take place. There is however a degree to which we need to take some responsibility in receiving Gods’ implanted word.

2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the
message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not
combine it with faith. Heb 4:2

The second part of this essay examines the concept of wrong faith. Those mentioned in the passage above were condemned because of not activating their faith.

There is an antagonistic relationship between faith and fear. By its very nature fear is the antithesis of faith . Fear is disbelieving God. It is not believing that God is good and a rewarder. Therefore fear is really belief in something which is erroneous. Scripture tells us that;

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
have been called according to his purpose. RO 8:28

It goes against all the evidence that shows God to be trustworthy and faithful if we fear him. It is fear that cannot live in the presence of God’s perfect love.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1John 4:18

Fear is wrong believing. Below are listed nine common symptoms of wrong belief. Note that unbelief is, at its heart, self focussed whereas faith focuses on the glory of God.

1. Remorse over yesterday's failure.
2. Anxiety over today's problems.
3. Worry over tomorrow's uncertainty.
4. Procrastination with one's present duty.
5. Resentment of another's success.
6. Criticism of a neighbor's imperfections.
7. Impatience with youth's imperfection.
8. Skepticism of our nation's future.
9. Unbelief in God's providence.


If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must
believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown
and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything
from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. James 1:5-7

To get a better understanding of the enemy of faith we need to examine the Greek word διακρίνω (Diakrino). In the passage above the word doubt is translated from the Greek to waver, stagger or doubt.

It is in the context of faith that Christ makes many of his “difficult” statements.

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;
anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38
anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39
finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake
will find
it. MT 10:37

Christ is saying if our eyes of faith could only truly see Jesus for who he is, love without bounds (without wavering) can be our only appropriate response.

We conclude this part of the essay by examining an object lesson which displays Christ’s understanding of wrong faith and his attitude to faith;

The lesson of the fig tree.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the
roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you
cursed has withered!"

22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23 "I tell
you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the
sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will
happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for
in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when
you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that
your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. " MK 11:20

Jesus’ remarkable statement about faith is made in the context of the cursing of the fig tree. According to G. Christian Weiss this was not a fit of anger, but a profound spiritual lesson. Weiss’ essay encapsulates the subject so well that I have sought to paraphrase it here.

Fig trees produce two different types of fruits, and are known by different names in the Middle East.
The Baakoor are the early figs which mature in spring while the regular figs are called Kirmoos and mature at the end of summer beginning of autumn. Baakoor cannot be dried or left to ripen, but must be eaten from the tree in their “green” state. They have a soft puffy consistency and are sickly sweet to the uninitiated.
Interestingly also, the fruit appears before the leaves in fig trees, which when fully developed are large in size and heavy in texture. If the early fruit had not developed by the time the leaves had formed, the conclusion would be that they would not grow on that tree.
In cursing the tree Jesus was telling a dramatic parable. Jesus loathed hypocrisy, condemning profession without productivity, without fruits. “This fig tree,” says Weiss “by its show of leaves, should also have had fruit, but its leaves were only an empty, false profession.”

4. Conclusion

In many ways the church of today sadly reflects the barren fig tree, having fruits without leaves, and profession without productivity. While at this point in time the church may well be seen by many as irrelevant. The church of today has been wracked by theological and denominational division. She has been plagued sexual scandals and the like. Divorce statistics in the church mirror those of the world. Prosperity doctrine and other false teachings abound. Ultimately, however the church will be the radiant bride. In some ways we reflect the nation of Israel in their oscillation between belief and unbelief, right faith and wrong faith.

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out
of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those
who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? 18 And to whom did God swear that
they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that
they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Therefore, since
the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of
you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel
preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to
them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have
believed enter that rest, just as God has said, HEB 3:16 to 4:1

Gods’ word however is irreversible. The same God who created the universe holds the Church in the palm of his hand. Ultimately Gods’ sovereign purposes will happen. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. Christ will return to a radiant mature church. The church will be the city on the hill that cannot be hidden, the church of “irresistible” influence. That is the vision God has placed amongst the called. That is a task the chosen constantly work towards. But we need the faith gift of God, his divine revelation, and the boldness to approach his throne with confidence, not wavering.

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