Monday, June 9, 2008

Faith - Pt 2 - Faith and learning from Jesus

Lee Carter writes...
“… one thing is clear: by choosing to depend on God the Father, Jesus was able to perfect the life of faith. Jesus humbly lived a life of active, obedient and faultless confidence in what his Father said.” (p. 98)
“As we read and think about the Scriptures, God (by his word and Spirit) helps us to grow in our understanding of the majesty and awesome importance of Jesus Christ. And as we grow in our appreciation of Jesus, we grow in our faith in him.” (p. 100)
In the case of saving faith in Christ, our knowledge of him comes by believing a reliable testimony about him. … the reliable testimony that we believe is the words of Scripture. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 713)
It’s vital that Christians understand what faith is, and what it isn’t. But once we have this foundational understanding we can then talk about what faith looks like, and how it manifests itself in the life of the believer. Maybe this is why I find stories of faith so helpful – stories help to put flesh onto the bones of solid biblical truth.

In the four gospel accounts, the Lord Jesus shows us what faith in God looks like as he walks and talks with his followers. He also says some really interesting things about faith. In recent months I’ve been studying Chapters 12-19 of Luke’s gospel, where Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem and travels towards the city knowing that unimaginable pain and suffering await him there. This context makes me listen carefully to everything he says, especially when he talks about faith. In Luke 17:6 Jesus tells his disciples “if you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” I’ve always struggled to understand what Jesus was really getting at in this simile/hyperbole combination. But – upon reading an old commentary written by Norval Geldenhuys (what a wonderful name!) – I think I understand it better now.

Initially I was dismayed to discover that a characteristic of the mulberry tree made Jesus’ image of a flying and transplanted sea-worthy tree even more impossible – in Jesus’ day, the root system of the mulberry tree was considered to be so strong and robust that it would last for 600 years! But then Professor Geldenhuys said something which completely changed my perception:

The Saviour replied [to the disciples] that they have no need of more faith, but of the right kind of faith – a vigorous, living faith. The grain of mustard seed is exceedingly small, but it contains the germ of life which, when it germinates, shoots up irresistibly into a tree. If the disciples had had faith of the same quality of life and vigour, no problem or task would have been too difficult for them.” (Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke)
It’s still a challenging image, but it does remind me of Peter and John healing the lame man in the power of Jesus’ name (Acts 3:1-10). And then, when I think of the sheer miracle involved when God grants the gift of faith to sinners who are completely lost in darkness, suddenly it begins to make more sense.
… although it is true that initial saving faith and initial repentance occur only once in our lives, and when they occur they constitute true conversion, nonetheless, the heart attitudes of repentance and faith only begin at conversion. These same attitudes should continue throughout the course of our Christian lives. Each day there should be heartfelt repentance for sins that we have committed, and faith in Christ to provide for our needs and to empower us to live the Christian life. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 718)
A friend of mine was raised as a Christian but wandered away from God in her youth. About seven years ago she discovered she had a potentially fatal disease and as she underwent treatment – not knowing if she would live or die – she answered God’s call to repentance and faith. Today she is a passionate advocate for the gospel. I talked to her in the supermarket the other day, and she said something very interesting: “if you don’t fear God and are not humble before him, your faith doesn’t grow.” I’ve thought about it a lot since then because it reminds me of what Jesus said when the disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing their little ones to him for blessing. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). The kingdom of God belongs to those who are not proud, but have a simple childlike trust in God and dependence upon him. To continue in faith, we need to maintain humble, repentant and obedient hearts before God and depend upon his strength.

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