Crazy Faith

CC BY-NC-ND, Calcutta Rescue, Flickr 90-year old man with leprosy in Calcutta who regularly visits the clinic to have his wounds dressed. Many leprous look much worse.
CC BY-NC-ND, Calcutta Rescue, Flickr

Faith is never common sense. This is where we sometimes get mixed-up. We can think we’re demonstrating faith for things that, with time and brainpower, we can figure out. You know: God, I trust you for money for…when we know a check is coming and auntie told us to simply call if we ever needed help.

If we can figure it out, it’s probably not faith.

Now before you stand me down, I’m fully aware that faith is necessary to sustain every part of our lives, including our general well-being. Faith is not a “crisis-only” apparatus, although some people view it that way. Our very awareness of God comes through faith and by it we are born anew.

Yet Jesus spends a great deal of time drilling faith lessons into the disciples. I’m talking about faith to trust when situations are beyond all hope. And usually when the teacher keeps talking about a certain thing, it means the subject is important and will be seen again.

A Simple Command

Hebrews 11:1 is the Bible’s hallmark denotation on faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). God thought it really important that we were clear about this. An incident with Jesus in Luke 17 richly explains faith and this great verse.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem from the Galilee region and encountered a band of lepers. This is indeed the story of the ten that were healed with one returning to say thanks, but I only care to deal with the first half of the story. These lepers would have been calling aloud to all passersby; it was required by law due to their contagious disease, which had separated them from society.

But when they knew that Jesus was present, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” There is no indication that Jesus drew near to these folk or talked in-depth with them, although we cannot know; instead, he gives them a simple command: “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

They would need to present themselves before the priest, as detailed in Leviticus 14, whenever they could prove that their leprosy was cured and to be restored back into society. We are told nothing more of the initial encounter.

The Ease of Faith

Common sense folk have tantrums at moments like this one. They’re like Thomas for whom seeing was believing. What do you mean, “Go show yourselves to the priests?” You’ve gotta do something and make this better! It’s why we want your help. But they miss the point of what they’ve implied.

Admittedly, Jesus’s command is a glaring lesson on faith, and reading it makes things go off inside me—just like this passage: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water. And He said, ‘Come!’” (*mind explodes*) You see, faith is an invitation into the supernatural that truly matters when situations are dire: God, I trust you for money because I lost my job—and now it’s the local food pantry and possible foreclosure.

Shockingly, what God requires at these times is our full confidence in him and for us to rest and accept the reality of our petitions granted—and what a chore that presents to us and all our striving. But that is the only posture of faith.

And this makes all the difference between two people on the same pew because one is trusting God for mere results while the other is just trusting God. Those who rely on God must “believe that He is”—or acknowledge more than his existence but the deeper aspect of it, that he is good and merciful such that it compels them to draw near to him.

John expresses this clearly: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Faith is about more than getting God’s stuff; it’s about getting to know God.

What the Lepers Teach

Jesus gives them a command that doesn’t make any common sense, but options don’t matter when you’re desperate (unless you have leprosy and your name is Naaman, remember him?) They probably knew Jesus was a twinge eccentric, and a 60-plus mile hike down to Jerusalem would be putting full trust in him.

But something happened and, from the sense of the text, it wasn’t long after they met Jesus: “And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back…” These ten trusted Jesus so much that his words alone were enough evidence of their cure. It is the same quality of faith the centurion demonstrates (Matt. 8) at which Jesus himself marvels.

We cannot know if any of the lepers bore lingering doubts or if the miracle occurred for them individually as they each decided to truly believe. Certainly they had already tried various unhelpful remedies, so it couldn’t have hurt to do what Jesus commanded, which reminds me of another set of lepers, the four in 2 Kings 7, who also got it right: “Why sit we here until we die?”

And when our situations have walled us in and circumstances are blackest bleak, we too will cry out to Jesus and he’ll offer us a similar challenge. The only question we must then assess will be how well we trust him.

Also on this topic: Our ConfessionGetting Faith Right, and When the Bottom Falls Out

Deadly Admonitions

CC BY-NC, Thorius, Flickr

I stood in line in an office store behind three people in lively conversation. It was obvious from their speech that they were Christians and, upon listening closer, one of the two men there was a new Christian. I heard the woman convincingly tell this gentleman, “That’s the Lord’s way of keeping you saved.” What that meant I didn’t have a clue, but I was now interested to know. It became apparent that this man was trying to quit smoking. Then, the other man there, evidently a veteran Christian, advised his friend, amidst much that he said, “Well I always tell folk to smoke, drink, cuss…till you stop. You’ll get tired of it.”

The scenario was not unlike another a friend of mine related to me. He had a friend earlier in his life that was a philanderer. This young man had sought spiritual help during a church service when at some point an old church mother said to the gentleman, “Oh, you’re just being a man, baby.” May God have mercy upon these men and all like them just beginning the Christian life and even greater mercy upon the sincere ones who counsel them with error!

Let me offer some scriptural context for what I am about to say. It would be proper to claim that the holiness of God and his righteous standards are in judgment against all ungodliness. And to the extent that we side with righteousness, we judge indeed (1 Cor. 2:15). As Christians, however, we do not judge other people in a way that presumes our own innocence of sin or immunity from their sort of sin. This is Christ’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1-6).

The good that I find in these two accounts is persons who have clearly perceived an antagonizing trait working negatively in their lives and, to some degree, impeding their full fellowship with God. Their humility makes them ready to receive the grace of God for strength to overcome their struggle. But the great misfortune for souls like these is to become enjoined to well-meaning Christians and their counsel that is not only unscriptural, but is also simply not thought out.

What could these two young men possibly hear in the advice that was given to them? Perhaps, “Continue to have all the uncommitted sex you want. You’re a man and men are highly sexed creatures. You’re only doing what is natural to you and for your body. God doesn’t condemn you yet, baby.” And perhaps, “Smoking is a vice you must rid yourself of. But you’re a new Christian, so it’s understandable that it might not be so easy at first. Don’t worry too much about it. When the time comes you’ll get tired of it, and it’ll stop.”

I consider this advice godless and (unintentionally) deceptive. It is godless because it does not rely on the spiritual grace God provides to overcome sin and so effectually undermines the work of Christ. “You’re only doing what’s natural to you”—yet if it’s natural I should continue with it, but why am I conflicted and in turmoil about it? “When the time comes…”—you mean I can’t expect God’s active help in quitting this habit, but it will rid itself sometime in my future? What if that’s ten years down the road? The men would be justified responding this way.

Moreover, the advice is deceptive because the New Testament scriptures constantly explain the flesh, the lower, carnal nature and strong coercion in humans in constant battle against the Spirit of God, something the advisors surely understood. The reason why these men were calling on God is because they had become enslaved to their deeds; after a while people grow to hate the addictions that enslave them.

Now consider the ones who frolic in sin and enjoy it and haven’t yet discovered sin to be a hard taskmaster. How would they respond to this advice? “Cool! I can be a Christian and continue to score with every girl I want. God wouldn’t give me my sexual nature just to condemn me for it. It’s a wild buck right now, so I’m going to enjoy the ride while I can.” He will say, “Whew! I really didn’t want to give up my cigs. Quitting would be hell itself. Really, what does it hurt?” (And this indubitably raises the question about whether smoking is a sin or not, but this is not the topic. It is a sin for this man because his conscience tells him so, 1 Cor. 8:4-13.)

The advice given to this kind would send them back into a possibly worse form of their wrongdoing. And how do we defend these admonitions when the conduct becomes strong vice, broadly defined as inordinate sex, substance abuse, or no respect for life?

I need not go on. These two men were on a path to freedom (and hopefully still are) until meeting up with damnably bad advice. What God requires of us in our struggles is that we are always swimming against the current of sin, as tough as it may be. Where sin may be at work in our lives, he requires our utmost efforts to rid ourselves of it as we rely on his strong, supporting grace.