Faith is Not a Good Idea

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.

Sears Tower

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

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

Continue reading

How Can I Know I’m Really Saved?

Hitchhiking

It was “cry night” at camp and I was the only kid in my cabin who wasn’t crying and who didn’t go forward for the altar call. Upon returning to our cabin for discussions and prayer all eyes turned to me, as if they were asking, “Mike, what’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you go up? Should we be concerned about you?” I simply explained that I’m already a Christian and didn’t feel the need to go forward and recommit my life to Christ since I’m already trying to live for him. I didn’t understand why my friends kept going forward every summer.

Since that time, I’ve realized that many struggle with security of their salvation. They question whether or not they have saving faith, or if they’ll be one of those to whom Jesus says, “depart from me, for I never knew you.”

Here are a few questions to consider if you (or someone you care about) struggle to have security of your salvation.  Continue reading

What’s it Mean to be a “Salty Christian?”

One of my favorite types of posts to write are responses to questions that readers have submitted. If you have a question or suggestion for a future article, please visit here to Ask a Question. Here’s the question for today:

Salt and Pepper

“I came across a passage that I think is really important in the Bible and once again, I wish I knew what it meant. Col 4:6 – let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. I have heard various interpretations of what that means and I still can’t say I really get it or remember. Yet it’s obviously so important, giving instructions on how we should behave with non- believers.”

The short answer is this: Salt was a preservative that kept meat from going rancid. In the same way, because Christians have received the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our words should be marked by graciousness and a life-giving spirit.  Continue reading

How Can I Know God’s Will? (it’s not so difficult)

Discerning God’s will plays an important role in the Christian life. This is because we want to live obediently, not in our own self-determined way. If we trust God and if we are called to participate in his sovereign plan in this world, then it’s important that we don’t mess it all up by missing out on “God’s will.” Right?

But here’s the thing… we make this way too complicated and mysterious. In many ways, discerning God’s will is pretty simple. Read Scripture, and obey it. Don’t steal things (even if they’re little things, like someone else’ login to get free Spotify). Don’t cheat on your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife… be faithful. Keep your word. Work hard. Be the same person when you’re at home, work, church, with your friends, and when you’re alone. This isn’t rocket science. Most things in life don’t require deep introspection to discover God’s will… just obey what God has plainly given in Scripture.

But what about the other stuff? What if you’re trying to decide a new major in college, or whether or not to look for a new job, or if you’re supposed to marry that guy/girl you’ve been dating? Here are three “simple” steps to living out God’s will in your life.

Telescope at Beach Continue reading

How to Read Your Bible

The Christian who doesn’t read will always struggle to hear God speak. Because God has chosen to give us his Word in written form through the Holy Bible. And as Mark Twain is supposedly said, “He who does not read has no advantage over he who cannot read.”

While it’s helpful to remember that God speaks through his Word, I have a feeling that many Christians open their Bible, read the passage, and then think, “Ok… now what?” So then they re-read a few verses, pray, and then close their Bible after wondering if they just failed at reading their Bible.

Fellow pastors, we need to stop telling people what to do without equipping them how to do it!

As a youth pastor, for many years I was far more guilty of this very thing than I’d like to admit. Over the last few years I’ve started prioritizing teaching students how to read the Bible, not just convincing them that they should read it. So whether you’re a teenager or retired, I trust the following could help you grow in your ability to read and understand the Bible in your personal life. bible-study Continue reading

Living an Undivided Life

A photo by Dietmar Becker. unsplash.com/photos/8Zt0xOOK4nI

It’s easy for people to pick on teenagers for having such a clear distinction between who they are with their different friendship groups. We all know someone who is totally different person depending on who else is around.

While it might be most obvious with teenagers, aren’t we all like that to some degree? Think about it…

  • If your church friends saw you at work/school, what would they think?
  • If your work/school friends heard you at church, would they be surprised?

God calls us to whole-hearted and undivided people who love and honor him. If that’s what we want, then it’s good to take a moment from time to time and recalibrate.

We can easily allow our “Christian life” to be expressed here and our “normal life” to be lived over there. Instead, what would it look like for us to live one faithful life?  Continue reading

Every Prayer is an Act of Submission

There is no such thing as a prayer that commands God and tells him what to do. Such an act is not prayer, but an attempt to take God’s throne.

Every prayer is an act of submission and trust, recognizing that we live under God’s authority and sovereignty. We pray because we know who is in control. And we pray because we know our own limits.

Prayer reminds us that we are not soverign. It is an act of humility and faith. Anyone who comes to God with pride may be call what they’re doing “prayer” but they have not really prayed… they have simply displayed their sinful arrogance and shown God and others who they believe is king.

God calls us to pray, and he acts in response to our prayer. This is a great mystery to be worked through and considered (and that is far beyond the scope of this blog post!).

Here’s my point: Yes, God calls you to pray and he answers prayer. But do not approach God as if you are the one with authority. Prayer is always an act of submission.

Can God Out-Vote You?

We all want to rule our lives and call our own shots. It’s just reality. This is where our trouble with God comes in… Because we grasp for the authority that only He should have.

The question we each need to ask, especially we who call ourselves Christians, is this: Can God out-vote me?

When my opinion differs from God’s Word (yes, I’m assuming you believe the Bible to be the Word of God, trying to prove that is subject for another post), will I stand corrected, or will I bend Scripture to my opinion?

We can bend a Scripture to our own wills in a few ways:

  1. Simply ignore that passage in favor of other passages we like more. This isn’t always intentional, but it happens when we only read portions of Scripture we like and avoid the parts we don’t. It also happens when we only read the New Testament and ignore the Old.
  2. Claim the verse only referred to people in that culture but doesn’t apply today. Sometimes this is actually the case, but be careful about jumping to this conclusion before taking the passage seriously and doing your homework.
  3. We simply assume that our opinions are biblical, and therefore don’t need to actually read it. Maybe you grew up in church, so you think you know “enough Bible” to get by, but that’s just it… the Christian life ought to be about treasuring and honoring God our Savior… not just “getting by.” Often, this mentality reflects a misinformed faith, and leads people to think they are spiritually “fine” when they aren’t (let Jesus’ words here be your warning).

I suspect that most American Christians fall into the third category. National polls have shown that although most Americans consider themselves Christians (see here and here), very few actually read the Bible despite affirming their belief that it is the Word of God (check this out), and only 9% have a “biblical worldview” on a theological and a variety of lifestyle issues (see here).

This tells me that although many people believe the Bible is the Word of God, they simply assume that they understand it well enough to say “My opinion is the Bible’s opinion.” This is a position which is increasingly difficult to hold, especially as sexuality continues to hold front-stage in national debates.

Who Holds Veto Power?
So… When it comes to discerning right from wrong… Can God overrule you? Can He out-vote you? Or do you hold veto power?

How you answer that question reveals who really has authority in your life. And there’s no such thing as a Christian who serves himself first. The call to follow Christ is a call to put yourself aside.

Theology isn’t the goal of faith, Love is

Evangelical Christians have a habit of being known more for what we believe theologically/ideologically than for how we live. And when those outside our camp think about how we live, “hypocrite” is the frequent accusation. I’m not here to debate whether or not that’s a fair accusation, but I’ve been challenged twice just today to remember the centrality of love for God in the Christian life.

I was rereading Revelation 2-3’s letters to the churches and was struck again by the Letter to the Ephesian Church. Here’s what immediately jumped out at me:

“I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (vv.2b-4)

What Caught My Attention
As someone who named his blog “Living Theologically” I doubt I need to tell you that theological faithfulness is important to me. The name of this blog isn’t just an idea that I came up with, it really is a description of how I think, make decisions, observe what’s around me, even how I make jokes (or attempt to, at least). Accordingly, I naturally filter what I hear and read through a biblical and theological lens.

The Ephesian Church did the same thing, and yet they were rebuked because the did this at the expense of love. How often do I, and how often do we as thoughtful Evangelicals, think theologically in a way that separates doctrine from love?

No Division Necessary
Theological faithfulness and passionate love for God belong together. One without the other either leads to sterile faith or rootless faith. Scripture consistently affirms God’s passionate love for humanity. Why, then, do we who desire to know him thoroughly fail to show the kind of love towards him that we are trying to understand?!

As I/we continue to grow in our understanding of who God is and what He’s done and what He’s calling us towards, let us do so with our eyes firmly fixed on God Himself, not on our theology books or creeds. When we desire theological clarity more than we desire intimacy with Christ then we are in danger of forsaking our “first love.” As the A.W. Tozer quote above reminds us, “The Devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.”

The Heart of the Christian Faith is Love
The heart of Christianity is love: God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for each other. As the Apostle Paul concludes in the famous “love chapter,”

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (vv.1-3)

Theological precision is good, it’s something I am committed to – but love is better. I know from experience the coldness of theological faithfulness when one’s heart begins to harden towards God. I want a soft heart that is filled with wonder that God would love me. I want a discerning heart that would give someone a word of comfort and hope before I jump to correct their theology.

I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are many who hear the words to the Church in Ephesus and are convicted about forsaking their love for God in exchange for theological accuracy. Let’s not throw theology in the dumpster or say it’s not essential (it is, just read the words to the Church in Thyatira!), but let’s remember that Love is primary.

  • Do not let God’s love for you grow boring or theoretical
  • God is more than “a good idea” …  ask yourself whether or not you have affection for God
  • When God’s love for you (or your love for Him) begins to grow cold, you can assume that your love for other people has already iced over. You cannot love God without loving other people (1 John 4:20), so if you want to recover your love for God then send some “Thank You” cards, give to those in need (out of genuine love, not pity), and listen carefully to those around you (and refrain from being the “answer guy” who knows the solution to all their problems… just listen).

Note: I heard John Piper talk on the relationship between the heart and the head last year at a Gospel Coalition: New England conference. I haven’t read his book Think, but I know it dives into this topic more fully… if you hear nuances of what Piper writes about in this post it’s probably coming from the talks I heard last year. 

I’d love to hear from those of you out there who share this struggle with me, please add your insights in the comment section regarding the relationship between theological faithfulness and all-out love for God. I know I’m not alone…