Jim grew up in church and still believes most of what he learned there, but his life doesn’t look like you might expect. He cusses, drinks more than he should, has been known to sleep around on occasion, and hasn’t gone to church (or read the Bible) in well over a decade. But overall, he’s a good guy who tries to look after his friends as best he can. When Jim hears coworkers talking about religion, he often jumps in to offer the “Christian perspective.” He considers himself a Christian (although he’s quick to admit “I’m a bad Christian”).
While friends like Jim don’t really care what label you give them, it’s worth our time to figure out what’s going on when religious ideas seems to get confused as faith.
What is Faith?
The Bible defines faith this way,
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)
Faith isn’t simply a “good idea.” It’s assurance and conviction in what is unseen. The visible is interpreted through the lens of the unseen – faith shapes life.
- Because God is holy – I live my life to worship and honor him
- Because God is merciful and gracious – I am accepted because of his provision, not my performance
- Because God is the judge – I live according to his law
- Because God is faithful – I will trust him even in the midst of suffering
- Because the Bible is God’s Word – I will read it, understand it to the best of my ability, and obey it as the very word of God
Faith is Not a Good Idea
Ideas belong in the realm of knowledge and theory, not life. A good idea may be something you feel strongly about, but it won’t ever become reality until you have faith it will work.
Jim has many Christian ideas, but he does not have faith. His theories are shaped by what he’s been taught, but the transformation ends there. Jim’s life remains separate from his ideas… there is no Hebrews 11:1 faith in Jim’s life because there’s no assurance or confidence that what is unseen is really true. His religious ideas remain abstract theories that aren’t worth testing with his life.
Your theology is always lived. What you believe always influences your life. There are many professing Christians with good theology, but their lives contradict what they claim to believe. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- Embracing a radical view of tolerance where everyone is accepted by God because “God is love” flows from a low view of sin because of a low view of God’s holiness.
- Believing that some drug addicts should be allowed to die when they overdose (rather than being resuscitated) reflects a thin understanding of the biblical teaching that all people have been created in the image of God (Imago Dei).
- Losing faith in God’s existence because of personal suffering primarily reflects the assumption that God owes us comfort and happiness and that we have the right to judge God’s actions.
- Forgiving those who have offended and cause hurt is following the example of God who saved sinners by grace through Jesus Christ.
- A life of prayer is impossible for someone who is self-sufficient, but is the natural overflow of someone who believes God is sovereign and gracious.
Hebrews 11 continues by listing example after example of people who lived by faith. They took God at his word and obeyed, even when there may have been plenty of reason to doubt. Consider their examples, and then evaluate your life.
In a conversation with Jim, here’s what I’d have to say:
Jim, I think you have good ideas. Some of them are even great ideas. But I don’t think you have faith, because I see this disconnect between what you think and how you live. Take a look at what you think and what you say about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and ask yourself, “Am I giving this God what he deserves?”
Remember what you say about the gospel – that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to save sinners. Do you think he did that so we’d say nice things about him while continuing to live however we want?
Jesus really is trustworthy. Faith is more than a good idea. And you have lots of good ideas, Jim, but I want to invite you to faith… to really trust God because of what he’s done through Jesus.
Christians live with an internal desire to become like Christ and a real-world effort to obey God’s Word. Without those things, someone may have good Christian ideas, but they don’t have faith.
Here’s more good news: God saves the Jims of this world too…