Grow in Faith by Forgetting About Your Faith

Every Christian knows the importance of faith. Believers who want to see and experience the power of God manifest in signs and wonders, particularly healing, are especially eager to grow in faith. We often read books about people with enormous healing ministries, such as Smith Wigglesworth or John Wimber, and try to imitate their faith and ministry tactics. This is valid – but only up to a point. God doesn’t want his children to need to become little Wigglesworths and Wimbers in order to walk in the miraculous. It’s supposed to be something so much more natural, easy, flowing.

So often, in our zeal for faith, we’ve turned faith into a work – something we have to produce by our spiritual efforts and enthusiasm. However, faith comes by grace – it’s a gift of God. The way we grow in faith is counterintuitive – the more you think about faith, the more self-absorbed you’ll become, and the less you will focus on God. And faith is a God-fixation. Simply put, if your focus is on your faith, you will lose faith. If you become absorbed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, your faith will soar, and you won’t even realize it!

Let’s take a look at what is commonly referred to as “The Hall of Faith” in the Bible: Hebrews Chapter 11. Most preachers speak about the litany of Old Testament “faith heroes” in this passage and how we are to imitate them – again, valid up to a point. But the main point of the passage is actually that there’s something better for us, there’s a higher way of faith than there was for them: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40). The chapter actually concludes with “the better way” at the beginning of chapter 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Heb 12:1-2). These heroes of faith are cheering us on not to focus on them. They’re pointing us to the ultimate hero of faith who is now the revelation and bestower of ultimate faith: Jesus Christ. We look to these heroes of faith for inspiration, but now they’re looking at us. We are now the true heroes of the “Hall of Faith” – we have something better than what they did (a revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ).

So what are we to do now for faith? Simple: look at Jesus, and faith happens. When we fix our eyes on Jesus in any given situation, he will look at us and see faith, releasing his grace. If you know your faith is lacking, don’t fix it by focusing on it. Forget your faith, fixate on Jesus.

The more you focus on your faith for a situation, the more you’ll be made aware of your own inadequacy, and the less likely you’ll be to act. For instance, when you pray for healing, are you thinking about your level of faith, or how much God loves the person and wants to heal them? If you’re thinking about yourself, your confidence will probably drop, because we are always inadequate on some level. But if we think about God, well, the possibilities are limitless! And it’s no longer about us, our sin, our spiritual gifting, our faith index, our track record – it’s all about God and what he wants to do!

I challenge you to look at the miracles Jesus performed in Scripture. Every single time someone was healed (except for one, where the man’s focus on disappointment rather than Jesus delayed the miracle [Mark 9:14-29]), that person was not thinking about their faith or eligibility for healing. They all made a beeline towards Jesus – they were thinking only about him! They looked at Jesus and his grace and he turned to them and saw their faith. Jesus had to remind them that they had faith, he brought it up:

“Hey, you have faith, that’s what allowed for this to happen.” “Ohhh really, I didn’t know that. I was just thinking about you.” “Exactly!” (my paraphrase).

I am sad to say that our preoccupation with faith is killing faith. Every time I ask myself whether I have enough faith, the answer’s always No. But when I ask questions that focus on God’s character, “Do I have a loving enough God,” the answer is Yes! The question is not, “How’s my faith level,” but “How’s my Jesus level?” And when I have this God-fixation, I have faith, without even knowing it.

Gospel of Lazarus and Epistle of Apollos

I ran across two interesting views on the authorship of two of the books of the New Testament.

In the first, Ben Witheringtom argues that Lazarus was the actual author of the Gospel of John. The article wasn’t written recently, but then neither was the Gospel according to John.

In the second, Ronald Nash argues that the anonymous book of Hebrews was written by the famed Apollos (Martin Luther thought the same). This second one is actually a recording of a class lecture. It’s worth your time to listen to the whole course. Just leave it on in the background at work for a week instead of Pandora.

Fear and Loving

Andrew,

I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but it seems you’re courting the great big no-no of building a whole theology out of one verse. I could just as easily point to “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” which has the added benefit of being so true God put it in the Bible twice (Prov 9:10 and Psalm 111:10). Why not build off those instead?

Like I said, you may be right, but I’d like to see a little more support.

Fallen From Grace

Fallen From Grace

-Andrew Jasko

Lucifer fell from grace. Kings and Queens fall from grace. What does it mean for the Christian to fall from grace? This phrase, “fallen from grace,” is rather common in our vocabulary. It usually conjures images of televangelists and charismatic leaders who slipped into a sex scandal or embezzlement scheme. It only appears once in Scripture, and its application would be a surprise to most:

You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

What is the “worst sin?” Sexual immorality? Pride? Unforgiveness? Murder? According to Scripture, these sins don’t cut you off from God’s grace. In fact, whenever you commit any sins of this sort, terrible as they may be, you have the opportunity to experience more of God’s grace: “Where sin abounds, grace super-abounds” (see Romans 5:20). God is waiting for you with wide open arms to receive his grace!

But Legalism. Legalism is the sin where you set your own will in opposition to receiving from God. In all other sins you still maintain a link to God through the blood of Christ and the Spirit of grace. But legalism means an obstinate rejection of Christ’s work. It says “No” to Christ’s work and “Yes” to my work. I am a good Christian because of what I do, I have God’s favor because I do good works, because I am obedient. I maintain my forgiveness because I confess my sins – because I repay my debt to God. But grace is all about God; there is no room for “I” in grace, only “him.” His works, his obedience, his forgiveness, his blood, his righteousness, our debt paid by him. Legalism cuts us off from God because we openly (or unknowingly) reject the finished work of Christ – the free gift of God – and rely on our own righteousness, our own spirituality – which is no righteousness, no spirituality, in the sight of God (that is, apart from our union with Christ).

We have nothing to offer God except that which we have received in Christ. It’s an all or nothing deal – it’s all about God, and nothing about us. This is the freedom of the Christian. Freedom from having to measure up, the freedom of security, and the blessing to fail or succeed without our Father’s love for us rising or falling. To reject this is to put ourselves under the iron yoke of law. And according to the standards of God’s Law of perfection, “Your best isn’t good enough.” But Christ’s best is more than enough. Let us resist resisting Christ. Ruthlessly root out legalism from your life. If you have fallen from grace, surrender your tower of Babel, cut down your throne of me-righteousness, and let Christ lift you back to the heavens.

Sifting Scriptures of Fear Through the Sieve of Love: 1 John 4:18 as a Hermeneutic

Fear is a powerful motivator. It keeps people in line, saves them from their own stupidity, protects them from an unforgiving world. There are many Scriptures that seem to use fear of judgment as a motivator for the Christian. As a matter of course, it only makes sense that churches have historically utilized these Scriptures to provoke holy living in their congregants. Some churches have gone to an extreme and harped on doctrines concerning judgment and wrath (although it should be noted that a majority of these doctrines are directed not towards believers, but unbelievers). Most, however, pit the Christian on tightrope, as it were, held in tension by the two opposite ends of fear and love. “We need fear and love,” we are told, because our sinful, fallen human natures are too – well, sinful – to allow us to live by love alone. That sin-nature needs a steady diet of fear, lest it threaten to devour the “good nature” part of the believer that lives by God’s love.

Is this really what the Bible teaches? To what extent can we love someone while constantly fearing their punishment and wrath? To what extent can we stay sane (psychologically and spiritually stable) under such bipolarity?

There are Scriptural warnings, wakeup calls, and maybe a threat of judgment here or there (though once again, I challenge the reader to carefully examine such passages of judgment, as very few are directed at believers). There is the concept of “the fear of the Lord,” which many, however, argue is not the same thing as fear of wrath, especially not in light of Christ’s work.  With all of this in mind, I question whether Scripture actually advocates fear as a primary motivator for growth and living. Fear may be like an emergency EKG used to shock people awake out of complacency or sin; but one cannot live hooked up to electric shock without getting burnt out.

Even if we believe that fear is a biblical motivator for normal Christian living, is it necessary, is it God’s best? Is there any getting beyond it, is there a higher way? If you’re a fear-monger (I jest), if you are convinced by Scriptures that we need a daily dose of fear, then I challenge you to get confused by this Scripture:

“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” (1 John 4:18, NIV).

There are some difficult Scriptures that seem to put fear of judgment into the heart of believers. But could these Scriptures present a less than ideal motivation for righteous living? Maybe they are intended for those who, out of complacency or ignorance, will not align themselves with a lifestyle founded upon a connection to God’s love. Maybe these Scriptures are not intended to be the bread and butter of nourishment for the sincere believer.

 

1 John 4:18 flies in the face of conventional conceptions about biblical fear and love. It states in no uncertain terms that love has NOTHING to do with fear – especially fear of God’s punishment. Simply stated, as far as I can tell, this verse states that there is no balance between fear and love; there is no combination, no tension, no paradox, no compromise. Fear always and only weakens love. Fear and love are antithetical, oppositional, hostile to each other. Choose one and you will lose the other.

Let us question this puzzling Scripture. How much fear is there in love? “No fear.” NONE. Does love compliment fear? “No. It completely annihilates it.” What is the relationship between God’s love and God’s punishment? “They are opposites. If you live in God’s love, you shouldn’t be thinking about God’s punishment at all.” What does it mean if I’m a Christian and I regularly use fear to motivate myself, especially fear of God’s punishment? “You haven’t reached maturity. You aren’t living in God’s best for you. You are experiencing a subpar existence. There is so much more for you. God’s love is perfect – it lacks nothing, is all-sufficient, and certainly does not need fear.”

Beloved brothers and sisters, I suggest to you that living by fear is biblical, living by a combination of fear and love is biblical – but living by love alone is more biblical. It is the highest way, the way God intended.

Do you struggle with Scriptures that seem to suggest God’s judgment? Do not fear. If you think yourself to fall into categories that may incur judgment, throw yourself upon the infinite reservoirs of God’s love. Moreover, interpret passages that speak of judgment through the higher rule of God’s love: if one lives by love, one need not fear judgment. If there seems to be a contradiction between Scriptures, keep studying; but give preference to Scriptures that emphasize love over those that seem to emphasize judgment. God’s will is not that we live in fear of him, and it is certainly not that Scripture would be a nightmarish source of fear and judgment. For many, the Bible is a book of torment. But to his children, God wills it inspire freedom; a freedom that crucifies all fear, more and more, until we all live in the overwhelming perfection of his love.