… welcome to a question I’ve been mulling over (struggling with?) for a while now. If anyone has any light to shine or stories to share, I’m all ears. I’d really like some feedback on this one…
There’s something that has always confused (bothered? disturbed?) me about how Christians talk about “believing” in Jesus. I’ve been wrestling with what it means to “believe” something for, oh, probably about ten years by now. But… it’s foggy in my mind, and I need help with it.
On the one hand, it’s never seemed quite right to me for ‘belief’ to mean “just professing something”… but, then again, it’s never seemed quite right for ‘belief’ to mean “100% doubt-free”. Otherwise, that means that if you have any doubt ever, you don’t believe.[want] But, doesn’t having faith, or believing, mean not doubting by definition?
If you pushed me to come down one way or the other, I think I would have to say that the belief that Jesus asks us for is absolute knowledge that he is Lord over all that is, the maker of all things and the judge of all men. Jesus wants us to take him as seriously as – no, more seriously than – the food we eat and the walls we walk around and the illnesses and deaths we face.
Of course, if I have this absolute knowledge, it means there’s just no room for any kind of fear, anxiety or rebellion… or any kind of garbage behaviour. Since I have all these in spades, what does it say about my belief? Can I rightly live in peace, knowing my belief falls as far short as it does?
One piece in the puzzle is that, if I reduce ‘belief’ to mentally agreeing with something, I can get away with both believing in Jesus and feeling afraid and rebellious all the time. After all, there’s no reasonable expectation that mental agreement with something should extend to my emotional life. After all, isn’t faith letting your mind agree to something when you don’t feel like it?
This is tough like a rubber cookie. The more I chew, the more my jaw hurts, but it still. won’t. crumble.
One way I’ve been trying to make sense of this is through the Old Testament. It seems to have a different perspective on the question of belief.
Reading the Old Testament, it makes sense that, while Jesus, Paul and others talk about ‘believing’, what they mean extends far, far beyond mental agreement. They are Hebrews, and what they are talking about has as much to do with faith and faithfulness as it does anything else. The Old Testament talks about faithfulness a lot, mostly with respect to God.
When the Old Testament talks about God as faithful it presents God as being unchangeable. Being dependable… established… trustworthy… stable… solid… always there. To be faithful, one must be not only gracious in character, but also established and permanent. Faithful things – large rocks… oak trees… God… are not easily blown over or moved because they have permanence and solidity.
To be a faithful person, then, means to demonstrate that same tenacity with regards to God – permanent belief regardless of circumstance.
Faith then becomes constant, repeated, obedience. Faith is faithful action – action that takes place because of belief. Those who are saved are those who, in the lives they live, demonstrate this faith. It doesn’t matter whether they lived before Abraham, (Abel? Enoch? Noah?) before Moses (Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Joseph?), before Jesus (David?) or at any time after (Paul?).
In this picture of faith, faith is rightly measured over a long period of time (a life!), and it doesn’t make sense to measure faith in just a moment. We may act faithfully within a moment, but if faith has an enduring quality, then faith can only be fully demonstrated through endurance. And… at the end, after the full distance, we will be judged.
In my mind there is a picture of a criminal, hanging in agony next to Jesus. He cries out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Is his faith false just because he is about to die? No! If he were given another day to live, would he spend it with Jesus? Yes… he would. Jesus looks at him and says, “You will spend your next day with me in Paradise.” It is not the length of time that proves his faith but rather the quality of it. Long or short is not the question. Enduring quality is the question, and if it is built in a single moment, its enduring quality is true nonetheless.
Now I take this picture of what it means to be faithful, what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ… my thinking changes.
It means that, for better or for worse, a single moment of belief does not necessarily constitute faith.
One disturbing thought is that even those who have really believed can fall away – if faith is enduring, then what does not endure is not real faith, even if there were moments or times of genuine belief. I am torn on this thought. If I reject it, it becomes very difficult to make sense of passages like 2 Peter 2:17-22[pet] or Philippians 3:8-16[phil], which seem quite clear in their intent. It also seems to clarify Hebrews 10 and the entire book of James. I would love to whitewash these passages and say, “They never really believed to begin with”, but these passages don’t seem to be saying that. They seem to be saying that there are those who both believed and fell away.
Scripture is quite clear that we are saved by our faith and judged according to our works.[sort]The faith that saves us is a faithful life lived out – which is rightly assessed when our lives are finished. This leaves us, like Paul, striving for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We are running to finish the race we started and receive our reward. We are aware of the fact that if we don’t keep running, we will not finish , and so, we keep our eyes on God Who is Our Strength and who will carry us, with power beyond ourselves, to the end… if we act in faith and submit to him.
Of course, this thinking doesn’t really explain a “moment of salvation” or assurance of salvation well at all. But then a “moment of salvation” doesn’t really address some of the Scriptures listed above.
I am attracted to this thinking because it makes sense of how doubt can co-exist with faith in a real person’s life. It doesn’t have problems with the truth that, in every race, we can take steps back as well as forward. There are moments of doubt as well as moments of faith, and in the same way that a single moment of belief does not justify everything, a single moment of doubt does not wipe away everything.
Like I said, I’m really struggling on this one. Thoughts?
- Of course, what I want more than anything is for there to be a place of no doubt whatsoever… and for me to be there.↵
- I know two plus two equals four, regardless of feeling. Most of the time.↵
- 17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves[a] of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” –ESV↵
- 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. –ESV↵
- Sort this one out!!↵