Monday, November 19, 2007

Little Big Words: Faith

(A communion meditation based on Galatians 3:23-29)

We’re talking about some of the little big words that are important in our life with Christ. Last week we talked about grace. Next week we’ll talk about love. Today we turn our attention to faith.

The kind of faith about which the New Testament usually speaks is really trust. What we call “saving faith” is really “saving trust.” There is a differentiation here that is crucial because a synonym for “faith” is “belief” and these days to “believe” usually means to accept certain things as facts. “I believe in this doctrine,” we say, or “I believe in that doctrine.” “I believe this politician’s words” or “I believe in that politician’s words.” Such belief is acquiescence to a particular way of thinking or talking.

Saving faith is not belief in a certain doctrine or a certain theory or a certain system. Saving faith is belief in a person named Jesus Christ. Such saving faith is much more than belief that Jesus Christ existed or that he is the Son of God or that he is the Messiah. Saving faith is having a trust in Jesus Christ in which you throw your entire life at his feet knowing that only in him can you find life.

I tried to think of some parallels to such trust, of some situations in life in which we give ourselves up to someone else because we have no choice. In a way, it happens in our relationship with a doctor. I believe that my doctor is a doctor. He has the diplomas on the wall, the antiseptic office, and all the instruments that a doctor should have. But my belief that he is a doctor does not help me at all. When I am sick, though, I believe in my doctor in the sense that I trust him to know what to do to help me get better. In a limited way, then, I entrust my life to him because I can do no other. Similarly, I know that my accountant is a CPA. He has all the credentials. But just believing that he is a CPA does me no good. Once a year, though, I take my piles of papers and receipts and records to him and I say, “Please save me!” I put my faith in him in the sense that I trust him to help me in my helplessness. Again, marriage works this way. I believe and I know that my wife is a woman and that she is a good woman. But she helps me (and I her) because of our relationship. I go to her in marriage and say “Here I am with all my good and bad, with all my strengths and weaknesses, and I trust you to help me.”

So you see there are some situations in our lives in which we throw ourselves on the mercy of others because we really have no choice and because we know that, in a limited way, they can “save” us.

Saving faith in Jesus Christ is that kind of trust, only now the stakes are much higher because we are talking about being saved from hopelessness and lostness; we are taking about being given life and hope and grace and love.

There is something very radical about such trust. Earlier in this chapter Paul had said, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-7). In the story in Genesis, the statement “he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6) comes after God had told Abraham that he, though at that time childless, would have many descendants. Abraham’s belief was a radical trust, a radical leap of faith. He trusted in God’s destiny for his life even though he had no evidence at that moment on which to base his trust.

There’s something—a lot, in fact—to be said for letting go of your past, of your fears, of your own hopes, of your plans, of what you think you know and just stepping out on faith. It’s really the only way to reach the ultimate goal. You may recall that famous sequence in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in which Indy has to face a series of challenges to get to the place where the cup of Christ could be found. After he made it through the first two challenges he came to an opening that led to what looked like a bottomless chasm. The opening on the mountain face opposite him was much too far away to jump. There was nothing before him but air. Going by the clues in his father’s notebook, he realized that he had to take a leap of faith. He stepped out into the nothingness—and found solid footing beneath him. Only in so doing did he reach his goal.

Trust is the key. God’s gift of faith enables us to step out and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When we do that, because he is the Son of God and the Messiah, we find life and love and hope and joy and grace—we find salvation.

As we gather around the Lord’s Table today we celebrate the little big word “faith”—and remember that in the leap of trust we find salvation.

To where does such faith lead us? It leads us to family. “In Christ Jesus,” Paul said, “you are all children of God through faith” (v. 26). Through our trust in Christ we become part of the family of God; we belong to him. We all need to belong; there is no greater belonging than to belong to the family of God. When we are adopted into his family, we receive his Spirit that constantly reminds us that we belong to him (4:6). Our identity becomes caught up in the fact that we are God’s children.

There is something special about family. Now, every family is a mixed blessing and some family situations are downright bad; we all know such truths. Still, for most people, home and family have a very powerful draw, as becomes so obvious this time of year. Why is that? Among other reasons, it is because home is where we belong and family is who loves and accepts us no matter what. We find much of our identity in family; we often look like, talk like, and sometimes even think like our family members.

Saving faith leads to a similar circumstance. Paul said, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (v. 27). In the waters of baptism we have put on Christ; we have become enveloped in him. Thus we now find our identity in him and we find our true nature in him. We are members of God’s family and we are clothed in Christ. We belong! That identity also affects us for the better. We are to be always growing in Christ and daily reclaiming more and more of our true nature in him. It all happens because of faith.

As we gather around the Lord’s table today we celebrate the little big word “faith”—and remember that in faith we become members of God’s family and we become clothed in Jesus Christ.

Such faith is available to all and all who take the leap of faith are equal members of the family. All of us who have faith in Jesus Christ are baptized into him and have clothed ourselves with him. Therefore, Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). We are one. We have all been saved by the same Jesus Christ in whom we have all had faith. Were it not for faith in Christ none of us would be a part of this family of faith, but because of faith in Christ we are all members of it.

I don’t know why it is so hard for us to accept the fact that, in Christ, we are all equal. We are all sinners saved by grace through faith. We are not classified any longer by our gender or our social standing or our ethnicity; we are all under the heading of “Christ Jesus.” In him we find life. In him we find meaning. In him we find community. In him we find each other.

As we gather around the Lord’s table today we celebrate the little big word “faith”—and remember that in faith we are one in Christ Jesus.

No comments: