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Showing posts with the label #Faith

“Faith-righteousness”: Saved by what you believe.

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FAITH RIGHTEOUSNESS /'feɪθ raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through orthodox beliefs. I coined the term “faith righteousness” some years ago. It’s a common American belief, based on several false ideas. First of all misdefined faith. Properly faith means trust; and Christian faith means trust in God. When we Christians talk about “justification by faith,” what this properly means is we trust God, and God considers us all right with him based on that trust. Y’know, like when Abraham trusted God, Ge 15.6 which was the foundation of their relationship. (And the foundation for Paul’s teachings on justification. Ro 4.3 ) But in popular American culture, faith means one’s belief system . It’s a definition we find all over Christianity too, especially among Christians who don’t care for the word “religion,” and like to use the word “faith” instead: “I don’t have a religion; I have a faith.” Meaning—to their minds—they don’t have rituals they d

Grow your faith!

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As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.) More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith. Yes, that’s faith . I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hoping it’ll be good if you wis

Certainty isn’t faith.

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Certainty may come later. Till then, we have faith. “I know this to be true, because I have faith.” I’ve heard more than one Christian say such a thing. It’s ’cause they don’t realize that’s a self-contradictory statement. Hebrews 11.1 KWL Faith is the solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen. Faith isn’t the solid basis of knowledge , but the solid basis of hope . Properly we hope certain things are true because we have faith. We don’t know yet. Gonna know eventually. But not yet. So when I read in the scriptures God’s gonna resurrect me someday, I gotta admit: I don’t know he will. Because the basis of knowledge is experience, and I haven’t had the experience of being resurrected. Yet. Now, Jesus did have the experience of being resurrected. He taught on, and believed in, the resurrection. Mt 22.29-32 He stated he’s the resurrection, and when we trust him, we’ll experience it. Jn 20.25-26 That’s why it’s an orthodox Christian belief. That’s why

Is faith a gift?

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Mixing up the types of faith, is why a lot of Christians don’t develop their faith. Oh, I won’t bury the lead. Is faith a gift? Well, supernatural faith is a gift. The other types of faith? Nah. I know why various Christians claim faith, all faith, is a gift. It’s usually ’cause it says so in their church’s catechism. Fr’instance the Heidelberg Catechism: 65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: Where then does that faith come from? A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments. Various scriptures indicate that people have faith after hearing the gospel, Ro 10.17 and the writers of the catechisms kinda stretched these verses to imply it was the gospel, and God granting us the ability to understand the gospel, 1Co 2.10-14 which generated the faith in us. It wasn’t our ability to trust what we heard; it was God sorta flipping a switch in us so that n

Doubt’s okay. Unbelief’s the problem.

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Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Unbelief is. I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend? ” ’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief. Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all. Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want u

Jesus stops the weather.

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Mark 4.35-41, Matthew 8.18, 23-27, Luke 8.22-25. Right before this story, Jesus had a really long day. He’d been teaching the crowds, likely healing the sick, and he needed some sack time. So he got the idea to cross the Galilee’s lake. Mark 4.35-36 KWL 35 Jesus told them when that day became evening, “Can we cross to the far side?” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus as-is into the boat. Other boats came with him. Matthew 8.18 KWL Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake . Luke 8.22 KWL This happened one day: Jesus entered a boat with his students and told them, “Can we cross to the far side of the lake?” Matthew 8.23 KWL Entering the boat, Jesus’s students followed him. Luke called this particular body of water a λίμνης / límnis , “lake,” although the New Testament frequently refer to it as a θάλασσα / thálassa , “sea.” Homer used it to refer to the Mediterranean, but ancient Greeks really just mea

Faith is not blind optimism.

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Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in. As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine. Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.” No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith. No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism becau

Can’t divorce works from faith.

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James 2.20-26. To demonstrate how works are part of faith, James pulled two examples out of the bible: Abraham and Rahab. Both are good examples of faith. So much so they got listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11… for the very same two acts of faith James brought up. He 11.17-19, 31 Now, how do we know these two people had faith? Because they acted on that faith. Abraham trusted God so much, he was willing to sacrifice his son to him. Ge 22.1-14 Rahab believed so strongly God was giving Jericho to the Hebrews, she risked her life to hide two Hebrew spies from the king’s messengers, then sent the messengers on some wild-goose chase while she snuck the spies out of there. Js 2 Which I didn’t really need to recap; here’s what James wrote about it. James 2.20-26 KWL 20 Do you want to know, you silly people, how faith without works is useless? 21 Our ancestor Abraham. Wasn’t he justified by works when he brought his son Isaac up to the altar? 22 You see, sin

Unproven, uncomfortable, devilish faith.

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James 2.18-19. More than once in these James articles, I’ve mentioned Christians who don’t realize sola fide means justification by faith alone ; who think it means salvation by faith alone. And because they know we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 they therefore insist faith isn’t a work. Can’t be. ’Cause we’re not saved by works. I don’t know that James suffered from Christians who believed the same way for the same reason. More likely he was just dealing with people who don’t understand what faith is. Lotta Christians have that problem. Some of us still think it’s the magic ability to wish so hard, stuff comes true. Which is what’ll happen when you base your theology on Disney princess movies instead of your bible. It’s why James had to demonstrate, from the bible, why this sort of thinking was all wet. But first his comment about how even demons , the lesser gods of Greek mythology and the fake gods behind idolatry, also have faith—for all the good it does ’em.

Is our faith living, or dead?

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James 2.14-17. So now we’re at one of the more controversial passages in Christendom: The notorious “faith without works is dead” bit. Properly faith is a synonym for trust, and when Christianity talks about faith we mean trusting in God. We figure there’s something of substance holding up our beliefs: God himself. He’s real and reliable, and will do as he said he’d do. It’s not just “faith in faith”—that we imagine what we want, believe really hard, and stuff will happen. That’s how magic is supposed to work, and we all know magic isn’t real. But you’d be surprised how often people think faith works that way. (Or that magic is real.) Now if faith is based on something solid, it means we should be able to stand on that faith, right? Should be able to act on it. Should be able to do stuff based on our trust in God. If I trust in a stepladder I should have no trouble standing on it; seems kinda stupid if I never use it because I really don’t care to test it. What’s the poin

Justification: How God considers us right with him.

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The part of our salvation that kinda falls on us. JUSTIFY 'dʒəs.tə.faɪ verb. Show or prove to be correct. 2. Make morally right [with God]. [Justification dʒəs.tə.fə'keɪ.ʃən noun. ] In our culture we tend to use the word “justify” to mean we have a good excuse for what we did. Say I took someone behind the church building and beat the daylights out of them. Ordinarily, and rightly, that’d get me tossed into jail for battery. When I stand before the judge I’d better have a really solid reason for my actions. “He started it; I just finished it” might work for most people, ’cause it sounds badass. But it’s not legally gonna work. Outside of movies, the law doesn’t give free passes to badasses. Juries might, but there are a whole lot of those guys in prison. Nope; justification means I need a legal reason for why I shouldn’t be jailed or institutionalized for my behavior. Like I reasonably feared for my life otherwise. Only then might my act be justified, and I’d be

“I’ve never heard that before.”

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When ignorance disguises itself as skepticism. In bible studies, whenever certain topics came up in the passages we’re reading, my habit is to bring up the different beliefs and interpretations which different Christians have about them. You might notice I also do this on this blog. Yeah, I do it all the time. For three reasons. My church is hardly the only one out there. Hardly the only denomination; hardly the only tradition. Hardly got a monopoly on the truth. Lots of other Christians have pitched their two cents on these issues. Some of their ideas are useful. And some of ’em aren’t. They’re problematic. So it’s a bit of warning: At some point you’re gonna run into people who actually believe such things. (Even in your own church—what with the way Americans switch churches so often, not everybody grew up with your traditions.) You’ll wonder why the two of you seem to be talking past one another. Helps to know where they’re coming from. In general, it’s not wise for Christi

Don’t just believe. Behave.

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James 1.22-25. I grew up among Christians who believe they’re saved by faith. Not, as the scripture teaches, God’s grace. It’s weird, too; they read the very same letter of Ephesians as the rest of us (“by grace ye are saved” Ep 2.5 KJV ), yet they somehow bungle their interpretation of 2.8 (“for by grace are ye saved through faith” Ep 2.8 KJV ) and assume through takes precedence over by . This isn’t a unique phenomenon either. To this day I run into Christians who think they’re saved by faith. All they gotta do is believe in Jesus—which is correct; it really is all we gotta do—and they’re saved. But they’re not saved by believing in Jesus. Nobody is. We’re saved by grace. If we were saved by faith, it’d mean in order to be saved, I have to believe certain things. Believe ’em really hard. Reject every other belief, no matter how likely I might be to believe them instead. Sort out my beliefs so I’m believing all the correct things. Get my theological ducks in a row. A

Questioning authority.

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Which I do. Which we all should do. Regardless of how much it irritates the authority. I’m a trained skeptic. Seriously. I have degrees in both journalism and theology. In both fields, we’re taught to ask the question, “Is that really true?” Don’t swallow whole what anyone tells you. Anyone. Fact-check it. In journalism, that’s done by finding a valid authority on the subject, and a second source to corroborate the first one. (I know; internet “journalists” seldom bother to find that second source, but they never went to journalism school, and it shows.) In theology, find a proof text, and make sure you quote it in context. One will do; more is better. Problem is, people are very, very used to having their every statement accepted without question. So when I ask “Is that really true?”—just doing my duty as both a journalist and theologian—they take offense. What, don’t I trust them? Why not? What’s my problem? Since I give most people the benefit of the doubt, no I actual

God must be our first resort. Never our last.

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Let me reiterate: There’s nothing at all wrong with asking God for things. Jesus teaches us to do so in the Lord’s Prayer : It’s all prayer requests . (Even the parts Christians claim are “praise before the requests.” Asking that God’s name be blessed, his kingdom come, his will be done, are meant to be stuff we want.) When we need something, God expects us and invites us to turn to him for help. In contrast, our culture encourages us to be independent. Do for ourselves, then ask for help. And you wanna avoid asking for help as long as possible. The world isn’t kind. They don’t help you without first asking, “What’s in it for me?” Strings get attached. They expect cash, or a quid pro quo… or at least a pizza. As a result, a lot of Christians only turn to God when we need help with big things. The stuff we can’t handle. The stuff we need help with—and other people aren’t willing to give it, so in desperation we turn to God as a last resort. Or a long shot. A “hail-Mary,” as

Doubt is our friend.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s unbelief. Doubt means we kinda believe. It’s a start. Matthew 21.21 KWL In reply Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you: When you have faith, and don’t waver, not only will you do the miracle of the fig tree: If you tell this hill, ‘Be raised and thrown into the sea,’ it’ll happen .” Because of bible verses like this one, where Jesus contrasts ékhite pístin /“[maybe] have faith” with mi diakrithíte /“don’t waver,” people assume he’s comparing opposites. Wavering, or doubting, is the opposite of faith. Either we have faith, or we have doubt. So have faith, and never doubt. Doubt is bad. Doubt is evil. Doubt is how the devil gets us to never do what the Spirit wants. But because I studied logic in school, I learned a lot of supposed “opposites” aren’t really. What’s the opposite of big? It isn’t small. Those are contrasts , not opposites. Same with hot and cold, black and white, young and old, male and female. Especially male and fem

Santa Claus and misplaced, misunderstood faith.

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It’s not Christian to trick children. Years ago round Christmastime, one of my 9-year-old students asked me, “Mr. Leslie, is Santa real?” Oh good Lord, I thought, her parents haven’t had the Santa talk with her? I punted. “Ask your mom.” This girl’s mom was one of those people with the common misconception that the way you keep your kids innocent is by keeping them ignorant. Of course this doesn’t work. You know this from when you were a kid: When you had serious questions, you sought answers, and if your parents didn’t have ’em, you’d go elsewhere. Usually to school friends (who don’t know anything either). Sometimes authority figures, like teachers (i.e. me), or pastors or mentors or people the kids believe are experts. Which is why I got all the questions about Santa. And God. And why people are so terrible. And how babies are made. And the definitions to certain terms the children’s dictionaries correctly didn’t include. And that’s just fourth grade; you should see what ju